The “Morality from Religion” Myth

In a nutshell:  Morality does not come from religion.  Morality comes from an internal sense of right and wrong.  It’s deeply genetically coded into our systems and is based on one simple question:  Are we hurting anyone or anything?

It’s really that simple.  There are always exceptions, but there is an absolute when it comes to right and wrong, and that absolute follows the same Golden Rule that every great spiritual teacher taught us; “Treat others as you would treat yourself.”

Rarely have I felt more frustration than when engaging some Christians in relation to the Bible as the source of our human morality.  I’ve constructed detailed arguments (See “The True Christian Job Description” for more), I’ve read the Bible in several translated versions for clarity, I’ve used both analogy and statistics to make things more obvious, I’ve put examples into a personal context, I’ve framed them in every rational way imaginable, but no matter how factual my arguments have been, I get the same result: Flat out denial or anger, and on the rare occasion; threats.

The Roots of Morality

One day, it all became clear:  Friends of mine who weren’t raised particularly religiously, found themselves in the position of needing to plan for the birth of their first child.  In almost a panic, they started going to church on Sundays for “practice” and told me that they needed to get religion and fast, so that they would be able to instill morals and ethics into their newborn baby.

The light went on:  Theists unanimously agree that belief in a creator (God) is intrinsically responsible for providing the moral, ethical and other foundations necessary for a healthy society.  And that was the basis my friends felt they needed to “get religion” as quickly as they could.  But in that same moment, I realized that the question of clinging to such irrational beliefs has little to do with the Bible or the God of the Bible.

A few physical neural pathways formed from early indoctrination weren’t enough of an explanation (see my “Why Christians Cling to Irrationality“ article) as to why this knee-jerk reaction occurs, even in my not-particularly religious friends.  I realized that it lies somewhere else; perhaps somewhere deep within our evolutionary coding instead.  So, showing that morals exist outside (and in spite of) religious belief would be a powerful tool to expose one of Christianity’s most pervasive and fundamental lies.

Oddly enough, most followers of the Bible I have spoken with have no idea that they have unwittingly been made hypocrites by a religion that stands for something other than what they believe it to stand for.  I don’t know who’s to blame, especially since indoctrination happens long before any child can make their own decision on what, if any religion, they might like to follow.  Often, and quite conveniently, by the time someone makes the choice to empower and inform oneself by actually reading the Bible, it’s often too late and too deeply ingrained for them to escape.

So, for those who have not done their own research (which statistically speaking is an overwhelming majority of those who call themselves Christians), I will make it absolutely clear about where the God of the Bible stands in relation to questions of morality as a starting point:

If we were to seek out the most detestable character in any book that’s ever been written, we don’t have to look too hard or dig to deep to find the one clear winner.  The character I speak of is a petty, vindictive, unforgiving control-freak who believes in keeping slaves as well as selling daughters into slavery, who believes the spoils of wars should include rape in addition to slavery, who has commanded parents to kill their children and children to kill their parents, who has personally murdered countless children himself (including millions of unborn fetuses and first-born infants), who is an insatiable ethnic cleanser, racist, and genocidist, who holds grudges that have resulted in entire populations of people, animals and plants being wiped off the face of the Earth through a mass drowning, who has wiped out entire nations of people he disagreed with, who has damned all humans to lives of suffering (with the added bonus for women of painful births), who’s further damned any human who doesn’t follow every one of His rules and His commands to the letter (including the killing of your children part), or who doesn’t agree that His wisdom in all of these matters has wisdom that is far beyond our understanding and worship Him unquestionably as a result”¦to an eternity of suffering in a pit of fire from which there is no escape.

Yes, I know it sounds like I’m making this up, extrapolating and interpreting the essence of the character in order to make a point, but honestly, all of what I just described below was taken from the character’s own words.  There’s no room for misinterpretation or error; it’s exactly who the God of the Bible claims to be.  Yet whenever I present even this summarized detail of the God of the Bible to any of its followers, I’m met with an even taller and thicker brick wall.  It seems that summarized atrocities can actually be more capable of inciting the kind of violent reactions I’ve personally experienced from Christians.

My point is simply this:  If one feels the need to cling so desperately to a belief such as the root of their morality, it seems only fair to be familiar with the entity (the God of the Bible) who is one’s role model; the character that one is supposedly guiding one’s entire life by.

The Studies & Statistics

I first set out to see if answers to questions based on difficult moral questions would be vastly different across a few broad categories.  The categories for our study were simply: 1. Atheist; 2. Agnostic; 3. Mystic; 4. Religious. The reason I included mystic is because it’s a vastly overlooked kind of spirituality that actually covers a wide range of beliefs. Mysticism is defined as “having an import not apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence; beyond ordinary understanding, typically in relation to spirituality.”

Then, the survey’s only prerequisite was that any participant must possess a confirmed stance on one’s belief system in relation to religion and spirituality.  Then, each participant was presented with a series of moral questions authored by a psychiatrist, designed to address the very core of ethical and moralistic beliefs.  Questions put participants in a position of making a life and death decision involving strangers, friends, family, celebrities, politicians and anyone in-between. There were no “right” or “wrong” answers, only moral choices based on instinct.

But “right” or “wrong” wasn’t the point, which was also the main hypothesis of the study:  The answers themselves were not as relevant as the pattern of answers that emerged.  In other words, if morality and ethics came from religion as most believers and theists statistically believe, then the answers between all four groups should differ, and greatly.

But, what we found quite conclusively is that the differences between answers were statistically insignificant, and that those who had never even read a single verse from the Bible possessed as much capacity for making moral decisions as anyone else did.  If Christians were right in their assertions of the basis of morality, then there’s no way this could be.

(The study results can be seen on my “Survey of Morality and Ethics” page.)

What I find perhaps more disturbing though is (according to Richard Dawkins in “The God Delusion”) wherever Christianity is most prominent, death rates, rates of disease, violence, rape, murder, assault and hate crimes, virtually across the board, are also the highest.  So, I decided to research this myself to find out, for myself, whether I could uncover data manipulation or bias on Dawkins’ part.

I first decided to look into murder rates:

The homicide rate in the 75% Christian United States averages around 4.2 murders per year per 1,000 people.  In a 39% Christian Canada, there are only 1.5 murders per year per 1,000 people, and in the 0.7% Christian Japan there are only 0.5 murders per 1,000 people per year.  Yes, it’s perhaps one of those instances where no concrete conclusions can be conclusively drawn, but as I started to plug in each of the above scenarios, the result is the same:  In places where Christianity is most prevalent, death rates, rates of disease, violence, rape, murder, assault and hate crimes are also in the highest percentages.

I then decided to look into the opposite; life expectancy rates:

I looked to the United Nations’ Human Development Report and found that the least religious countries like Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom all have longer life expectancy, more adult literacy, higher per-capita income, lower homicide rate, and lower infant mortality rates than the most religious of countries.  In fact, the fifty nations now ranked lowest by the UN in terms of human development are highly religious nations.

Nostrils flare and denials start flying at me, as well as the usual “you can make statistics say anything you want,” but facts are facts, especially when they don’t involve sample groups, but entire populations, and especially when all the above instances only confirm the same result.  And, if it answers nothing else, it at least shows that morality most certainly does not correlate with religion, and that religious faith does little to ensure a society’s health.  Such a worldwide phenomena is impossible to ignore, and at minimum, warrants discussion and further investigation into why this might be.

Inevitable Conclusions

There are always exceptions, but the facts indisputably reveal that the overwhelming percentage of humans simply are not born “evil,” contrary to what religions like Christianity would like to have us believe, nor do we get our moral values from religion either.  In fact, history has repeatedly shown that the bulk of the violence throughout history was in the NAME of religion.  Since atheist-leaning countries are actually safer, healthier places to live, the hypothesis that morality and ethics come from religion is in shambles.

It is actually becoming glaringly obvious that it’s DESPITE the indoctrination of our children that they still manage to evolve into kind, respectable people with compassion for others and the world around them.  I believe deeply believe in empowering ourselves as well as embracing rather than denying our humanity.  As a result, the facts decisively show that the best way to instill morals and ethics into children is to SHIELD them from religion.  Perhaps simply treating them as you wish to be treated instead of throwing them into the wolf den of Christianity could change their world for the better in ways we can only imagine.

Religion, as I discuss throughout my articles, excels most at confusing the most basic of human issues, it works tirelessly to shield its followers from the truth, and it holds up the most ethically questionable character in all of history as the role model we’re supposed to guide our lives by.  Yet people still pass this irrationality down from generation to generation (Although in FAR fewer numbers as USA Today shows), and I can’t help but to hold out hope that this can change.

Lastly, something that I find extremely disturbing (while we’re on the topic of morals and ethics) is that those who speak as loudly, as vividly, and as passionately about the fallacies of organized religion as I do, have unanimously received the most hateful and serious threats from Christians.  It’s incredible how a difference of opinion transforms into blind rage with these people; a rage that needs to be experienced to be believed and appreciated. It can infect even the most gentle of people.

I am open to discussion and ideas regarding this concept, from both sides of the shore.  I can’t help believing that when there are human traits so deeply steeped in denial, beliefs so deeply that they will be maintained at all costs, that passion for one’s religion and the God of their religion simply wouldn’t manifest as that kind of irrational behavior.  I’m researching any clues that morality comes from evolutionary processes instead of religious ones.

Keith Cleversley

NOTE: Please be respectful of the immense effort and research that goes into writing my articles.  Do not re-print or re-post any of my work without receiving explicit and express permission from me first. Feel free to link to my articles whenever you wish, and I am always available for interviews or comments.

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5 Comments

  • Erine Judge
    June 8, 2009 at 1:02 am 

    I have read a lot of your views and I have to agree…if I were looking at them with a Humanist View.

    The people you speak of are mostly humanist also, playing church to feel that they are “doing the right thing” and working towards heaven….but they also are not true followers of Jesus. There are SO few that you would not even notice them, unless you were watching for them.

    On thing that a person like yourself can not understand id the if there is a God, then He has the Right to do what he wants, because he owns everything….the creation asking the Creator why he was made this way don’t get it.

    If there is a God, and the Bible is true, then Man is the one who created all the suffering, Man is the one who murders, rapes, etc…not God. To blame your faults on someone else is the ultimate cop out in any setting.

    To go a step further…when you go to work you are expected to do a job, and follow your job description. When you become a Christian, there is a “job description” to follow also. In your job if you do what you are supposed to, you get paid. In Christianity, if you claim to follow Jesus, then you better also do what you are supposed to do..the big difference is that your entire life changes, and not just for an hour every Sunday, but every day 24/7.

    Everything that you rant against is the Church of this world, with it’s ability to make people think that God is just sitting around waiting to bless them, and all they have to do is “call on His name” and everything will be OK….it does not work like that….and if you ever get to meet a TRUE Christian, then you might have a frame of reference to write about, but until then it is all just your personal views on a subject that has been covered better elsewhere…and has covered ALL the religions of the world….

    You have some well thought out arguments..but that is all they are, arguments….

  • keith
    June 8, 2009 at 8:06 pm 

    Thanks for the input, kind words, and feedback.

    I have read a lot of your views and I have to agree…if I were looking at them with a Humanist View.

    I actually don’t personally look at anything from a Humanist View.

    The people you speak of are mostly humanist also, playing church to feel that they are “doing the right thing” and working towards heaven….but they also are not true followers of Jesus. There are SO few that you would not even notice them, unless you were watching for them.

    It seems you’re saying that most Christians I have read or spoken to aren’t actually true Christians, that they are actually Humanists, yes? And are you also saying that true followers of Jesus are so few and far between that they’re difficult to find? If so, please share how one might recognize one of the “TRUE Christians” that I have yet to meet; I have MANY questions.

    On thing that a person like yourself can not understand id the if there is a God, then He has the Right to do what he wants, because he owns everything….the creation asking the Creator why he was made this way don’t get it.

    You hit the nail on the head on that one; yes, I will never understand a God who regards children and women as property, who orders parents to literally kill disobedient children, and who so freely orders death, destruction, rape, child murder, and plagues whenever He gets upset. Following this logic, any child can be murdered by their parents at any time since they’re the creation of the Creator, and the Creator has given them express permission to do so. But, I also believe that I am the Creator as well as the Created, which is exactly why I hold myself and all other humans accountable, period.

    If there is a God, and the Bible is true, then Man is the one who created all the suffering, Man is the one who murders, rapes, etc…not God. To blame your faults on someone else is the ultimate cop out in any setting.

    If only we could blame it all on man, but the Bible, in no uncertain terms has numerous passages of God directly inflicting suffering on innocent people such as children and babies (Ezekial 9:6), 70,000 innocent people because David ordered a census (1 Chronicles 21), 60 cities so that the Israelites had a place to live, with the added bonus of ordering the killing of all the men, women, and children of each city (Deuteronomy 3). Perhaps I am misunderstanding…how do the above examples count as blaming our faults on someone else?

    To go a step further…when you go to work you are expected to do a job, and follow your job description. When you become a Christian, there is a “job description” to follow also.

    If only Christians could agree as to what the “job description” is, though. And, the job description as clearly expressed in the Bible (see my “The True Christian Job Description” for details) requires more than any Christian I’ve met or researched is willing to follow. Most Christians (most of whom have never actually read their own Bible cover to cover) typically “pick and choose” what they believe is “true” for them or true for the “true followers” of Jesus. But, the God of the Bible (Deuteronomy 5:32) as well as Jesus (Matthew 5:17-19) made it abundantly clear that to follow God/Jesus, you must follow ALL the laws of the Bible, and not just the ones that suit you.

    Everything that you rant against is the Church of this world…

    Christians often couch my discussion and arguments as “rants” yet they never seem to classify their own words as such. Anyway, please clarify or point me to a place that explains this idea of the “Church of this world” that my writing seems to be about.

    …and if you ever get to meet a TRUE Christian, then you might have a frame of reference to write about, but until then it is all just your personal views on a subject that has been covered better elsewhere.

    I would love to meet a “TRUE” Christian, since the large number I have spoken with are quite convinced that they are indeed the genuine article. Also, I’m always open to widening my perspective, and would be very appreciative of links to the places where the topics I discuss have been “covered better elsewhere.” As I explain in “Religion Breeds Irrational Beliefs”, if convincing enough evidence were presented to me (although the Bible speaks quite clearly for itself), I would be the first in line asking to be saved.

    That being said, I will be the first to agree my views are “all just my personal views,” but the main two differences between my views and the views of most Christians I’ve spoken with, are these: 1. My views come from a place of immense research, contemplation, and of weighing my personal experience with the Bible and the scientific evidence we presently have, and 2. I don’t condemn others who believe differently than I do to eternal damnation as the God of the Bible and Jesus do.

  • Allan T Dinegar
    August 27, 2013 at 10:40 pm 

    Hey Keith, your perspective is correct in many ways. I am just curious to why you do put so much effort into getting Christians to see the type of truth you can divulge to them. I know how it can be. I remember trying to get certain Christians to accept reincarnation; that maybe there was no physical resurrection. Jesus had an earthly father, named Ioseph, and he was not born b by a virgin birth. The true name of Jesus was Yeshua Ben Ioseph. this is the name his mother, father, friends, disciples called him. Most likely he never heard the name Jesus referred to him! Now I hold these, and other truths fro those that can see beyond the confines of a Religion based on a very complex mixture of pagan gods, and that the church attributed things to Jesus, that he never would have endorsed! When you tell them certain truths that challenge their distorted belief in a Jesus that didn’t exist the way they think he did. They look at you like your the devil incarnate! I guess this is why the great teachers of the mysteries had exoteric teachings fro the multitude, and the esoteric teaching for those that were ready to hear the sometimes unsettling truth. There was a gnostic teacher, I believe his name was Marcian,, who taught that the God of the old Testament was actually Satan. The God, of the old Testament, or the way he behaved, was certainly not the way I believe our true Father, formless, and perfect, infinite consciousness, would treat members of his creation. For me, thank God, that God is love!

  • Keith Cleversley
    August 27, 2013 at 11:54 pm 

    Allan,

    I am just curious to why you do put so much effort into getting Christians to see the type of truth you can divulge to them.

    Great question; thanks! I actually spent a great deal of time researching my own religion (Roman Catholicism), so much of my research came out of my own search for the truth. So, perhaps much of what I write, at one time, was as much to myself as it is to anyone else. I don’t expect anyone to be converted, but imagine a world where there was no resistance to untruths. We’d be vastly worse off than we are now. So, I’m only a slight drop in a vast bucket, but enough to make a ripple, to perhaps incite an emotional response that might encourage conversation, which could lead to someone eventually giving more thought to something they may never have otherwise.

    People often misunderstand that I’m speaking out against Christianity. I’m really speaking out against those who hijacked the “real” Christianity that the Jesus Seminar uncovered and is hoping to change the world with through their unparalleled pool of highly-respected academics. Jesus and Buddha spoke an identical message, and both, I feel, are equally misunderstood. When we’re told to “Take refuge in Buddha”, watching people turn Buddha into a religious icon that they worship, pray to, and think will save them, makes it clear how much those people are missing what Buddha really meant by that statement. Just as Jesus tried to explain; “The Kingdom of God is within us.” We are all divine beings, we are all God, and the most direct pathway to God is to be brave enough to be true to oneself at any cost.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading some of your work, and thank you for stopping by to read some of mine.

    Peace & Clarity,
    Keith

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