Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What is morality?

The term “morality” can be used either
  1. descriptively to refer to some codes of conduct put forward by a society or,
    1. some other group, such as a religion, or
    2. accepted by an individual for her own behavior or
  2. normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.
One of the words that has been the core of many issues between theists and atheists is the word morality. The definition I have cited above is taken from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and will help us to understand this term and how it's used. Christians and other theists expend a lot of time and energy throwing this word around at atheists and agnostics and pretty much anyone who does not agree with them or believes in their God as they do. After giving this issue much thought I think I have found a reason why they do this and also what the confusion may all be about.

For the purpose of this post I will stick to using the descriptive definition outlined above instead of the normative one. It is my opinion that the biggest problem between theists and atheists is that the source and basis of our morals are derived from two very different places. I've always said that morals in general are not divine as theists believe, but rather a very human and societal phenomena. For instance, you don't need a deity to teach you through so called divine revelations written in an ancient book that murder, rape, etc. is wrong.  All of the worlds societies that have progressed have been those that have done so through unity. A society where murder is rampant and killing is not punished or socially acceptable is a society that would soon come to extinction. 

Each society has a set of laws or a judiciary code that its citizens must abide by. In these codes many of these moral laws are included. The judiciary system is in charge of making known to the residents of its districts what the laws are for that community. They differ from state to state but in general most moral laws are covered. Such things as polygamy, incest, child molestation and other moral codes are included in such laws. Another function of the judiciary system is to enforce those laws by incarceration, fines, executions, and judge through a jury of ones peers what action should be taken depending on the severity of the crime.

These laws and codes of conduct are decided upon by political representatives of every state here is a description of how the legislative process works in the U.S. government.

How Are Laws Made? Laws begin as ideas. First, a representative sponsors a bill. The bill is then assigned to a committee for study. If released by the committee, the bill is put on a calendar to be voted on, debated or amended. If the bill passes by simple majority (218 of 435), the bill moves to the Senate. In the Senate, the bill is assigned to another committee and, if released, debated and voted on. Again, a simple majority (51 of 100) passes the bill. Finally, a conference committee made of House and Senate members works out any differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. The resulting bill returns to the House and Senate for final approval. The Government Printing Office prints the revised bill in a process called enrolling. The President has 10 days to sign or veto the enrolled bill.

The above description is the process specifically used by the U.S. government to come to agreement on what laws are to be enacted. Every modern day society has their own laws and legal processes and methodology of instituting those laws. Ancient societies since the beginning have had laws to regulate the behavior and conduct of its citizens or members of their tribes etc. As you can see it's quite clear by this example that laws and moral codes are very much a human invention. 

Christians on the other hand believe that the laws or the moral codes we live by were given to man by God. They cite the ten commandments of the Old Testament and they point to the scriptures as the source of all good. But in all reality they ignore that fact that ancient societies that predate the Hebrews already had laws and moral codes of their own.

Leviticus generally deals with laws of the priests but aside from this book the laws of God for his people are pretty much scattered throughout the Pentateuch (traditionally the five books of Moses). But upon closer analyses there are some laws that are completely irrelevant to a secular society. But these laws are derived from a religious culture and society and thus include a lot of excess baggage regarding how the god of their belief system want to be treated. An interesting thing about the Bible is that it defines morality by what God says is moral.

Another interesting thing is that the Bible also considers nonbelievers of God as immoral and corrupt. This is the Christian's favorite quote when dealing with atheists and defending their belief that God is the source of all morality.

1The fool says in his heart,“There is no God.”They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;there is no one who does good.2The Lord looks down from heavenon all mankindto see if there are any who understand,any who seek God.3All have turned away, all have become corrupt;there is no one who does good,not even one. Psalm 14:1-3 

Christians claim that there is such a thing as objective morality which makes certain acts wrong and unacceptable whether you think so or not because these laws come from God! That's quite the claim in my opinion because I don't accept it as true. I am convinced that morality is subjective to a society and their culture. Let me explain: In some ancient and even modern cultures it is traditional and even socially acceptable (moral) to practice female genital mutilations on young girls. The Hebrews/Jews also practiced and still practice male genital mutilation for religious reasons as they believed God had commanded them.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the cutting, or partial or total removal, of the external female genitalia for cultural, religious, or other non-medical reasons. It is usually performed on girls between the ages of four and 10. It is also called female circumcision.

12For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. 14Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:12-14

Our society doesn't even have a problem with male circumcision and many males have it done at birth in a medical facility. Today at least here in the States the medical profession cites health reasons for performing circumcisions. But it's become sort of a tradition in our own culture and not motivated by religion.

Based on the standards of men if we are to judge God by the same moral code that theists like to judge others then the good Lord fails miserably and is not moral but immoral. The fact that he is God and supposedly our creator does not in my opinion give him the right to kill. Based on the Christian idea of morality it is not defined as a culture or a society's code of acceptabe social conduct. Morality is what God says it is and is subject to whn God says it's immoral. For instance in the so called ten commandments one of the laws is:13“You shall not murder. Exodus 20:13

Apparently these laws don't apply to God.

"See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. Deuteronomy 32:39

Also, despite his law he then commands the Hebrews to do what he strictly forbade.

7They fought against Midian, as the Lord commanded Moses, and killed every man. 17Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, Numbers 31:7;17

The so called objective morality that Christians claim are not objective at all they are entirely subjective to what they interpret to be the whim of God. Morality like all the gods are the inventions of men and are basically defined as what is considered socially acceptable behavior by a particular culture or society. No philosophical mumbo jumbo needed. 

Note: As always all biblical citations are from the New International Version of the scriptures. 


Gert, Bernard, "The Definition of Morality", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =



  1. I like to point out when debating theists that god is a murder. I think in future I may use the example you showed of go not obeying the ten commandments. That is way more powerful.

    So Thanks :)

    1. I've been using this argument for years. Trust me go to Exodus 20 and go through the commandments and then go through the scriptures. God has violated them or made the Hebrews violate them to carry out his evil will at times. Here's one more example.

      4“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Exodus 20:4

      8The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Numbers 21:8

      It's quite fun reading about God violating his own commandments. Of course theists will justify God as the creator and since he makes the rules he can change them.

    2. This is great really. I have just never looked at it this way I always just was shocked with the blood that I could not think that god was good. But violation of the commandments...that’s just a silver bullet for an argument.

  2. When I've pointed out some of the things you did in your post, they eventually end up saying that the 'holy spirit' tells each of us what is moral and that morals are a law, much like gravity.

    I'm glad gravity isn't as unpredictable and unreliable as this holy spirit, or we'd all be floating up to the moon.

    1. Christians will always find some nonsensical argument to justify their insane and nonsensical beliefs.

  3. Funny how Christians claim god is good, but if a general or dictator gave a command like god's genocidal one would likely wind up facing international military action - and a UN tribunal and most would think it right.

  4. I've always said that if a man did half the things God is said to have done in the Old Testament he would be called a monster. Mao and Hitler are considered two of the worse of the lot but the bibilical deity makes what they did look like childs play.

  5. Well, killing virtually every living thing on the planet except a few (or 2 for non humans - the Buybull tends to give different stories of the same thing) of each species is about as bad as you could possibly get. Luckily that monster is fictional.