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.
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.
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