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Published: Friday, July 5 2013 10:55 p.m. MDT

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Wastintime
Los Angeles, CA

@Jeff

" What I don't grant to my non-believing friends is any authority to define morality."

Really Jeff, which nonbelieving friends of yours have asked for the authority to define morality? And since you're not granting them any authority, then certainly you do not expect to be granted any authority yourself (or through your church) to define morality either I hope.

Many nonreligious groups organize to achieve good social purposes every day, arguably more effectively than religions. What religion has cured a disease? Further, it is much easier to discern what a utilitarian, for example, believes than say a Mormon since utilitarianism does not change but Mormonism can change on a dime depending on the latest prophetic pronouncement.

Wallypacker
Orem, UT

Organized religion has such a bad track record. "Flat Earth" has happened too many times. Not to mention the inquisition, etc. The Mormons say that Indians are lost Jews. DNA says some anthing else and very convincingly. Religion is just an excuse to control people.

Jeff
Temple City, CA

@ Tyler D: Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius were believers. Note, that I didn't say what specific thing a believer believes in, but they had formal, fixed systems of belief that they followed. Spinoza was Jewish--a believer. I'm not a fan of Hume or Harris.

Let's grant that "the well being of conscious creatures" is a moral standard. Now, define "well being." What standard do you use for "well being."

Even in this context, define "conscious." Do you mean plants? Do you accept that inanimate objects have a consciousness or a spirit? If so, what do you do when their well being conficts with someone else's?

As you see, your attempt at defining morality is inadequate without an anchoring belief system. Even in the case of Hume (and probably Harris, though I suspect he won't admit to it) there is a foundation of Christianity against which they push, giving them an organized center to rail against (if railing is what Hume really did).

No, I stand by what I previously said: non-believers' morality is suspect because they formulate it themselves (with their own private definitions).

Jeff
Temple City, CA

@ Wastintime:

I can see that I need to make a clarification.

The discussion in these threads is not whether or not a particular belief system has moral authority, but whether or not it is good for America that people are abandoning religion in general. I make it no secret that I believe in Mormonism, but I would use that as only an example of how someone may determine pretty accurately where I stand on whether or not something is a moral issue.

By "non-believing friends," I did not mean non-Mormons, but atheists and agnostics who claim that they can be moral without religion. I do not dispute that.

My statement about their lack of authority to define morality is meant to emphasize the extreme individualism of my non-believing friends. Each personally claims morality, but each defines it differently from the others. By contrast, most practicing Mormons define morality in a similar way; and, indeed, most practicing members of any religion (or organized philosophical belief) do the same.

Individual non-believers (non-adherents to an organized belief system) lack authority to define morality precisely because they insist on absolute individualism.

mark
Salt Lake City, UT

Jeff, I think you are trying to be sincere and thoughtful, and I applaud you for that, however, I think your analysis is seriously flawed.

You talk about not granting your atheist friends the authority to define morality. That's fine, but, on the flip side, I also do not recognize your authority, or any religion's, to define morality either.

You seem to argue for religious moral authority thus: What is moral to one is not moral to another, and they often disagree on what constitutes morality. The lack of a focused, organized religion means--in a secular sense--the lack of a focused, organized definition of morality.

Perhaps. But, again, on the flip side, I see no focused organized religious definition of morality. Religions differ drastically on what they define as moral. For instance some religions see it as okay to stone people, the bible itself calls for this, others see that as immoral. Some see drinking as immoral, others do not. Some religious

mark
Salt Lake City, UT

(Darn it, hit the submit button)

Anyway, some religious people see watching tv as immoral, some do not. Some see contraceptives as immoral, some do not. Some see certain swear words as immoral others. . .

Well, anyway, you get the point.

So where are we?

I don't see your authority to define morality, and you don't see mine. I see no moral consistency within the religious community, you see no consistency within atheists.

Perhaps, we can see that morality is not for others to decide for us. We truly get to choose are own morality. And we get to choose where we find guidance for our understanding of morality. Be it religion, philosophy, friends, parents, etc, each of us gets to find guidance for our own morality as best suits us.

That is freedom.

And as long actions do not directly harm others no one, not government, not religion, has a right to force any concept of morality on any of us.

"Of course it is bad for society that the number of religious people is declining."

Of course it's not bad for society, rustymom. You know how I know? Because I am not bad for society.

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Jeff – “Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius were believers… Spinoza was Jewish--a believer”

The Buddha was virtually silent on questions of metaphysics and we know he didn’t believe we had souls (i.e., no atman). And to not know the difference (with Spinoza) between ethnicity and what the man actually wrote is simply… well, I’ll be nice… but c’mon man… at least try.

As to the rest, including your complete non-sequitur conclusion let me just say 1) please consult a dictionary because “well-being of conscious creatures” is about as simple as I can make it, and 2) again, please read up on the folks you are attempting to discuss. Hume and Harris could and did construct entire moral philosophies without ever lifting a word from the Bible. In fact Harris demonstrates repeatedly the immorality of the God of Abraham religions and his views are as close to objective morality as we can come (without positing a “Big Brother” in the sky) and are a far cry from the moral relativism you imply for non-believers.

And if pushing against religion somehow makes them believers, well again, please look up the term “non-sequitur.”

Tyler D
Meridian, ID

@Jeff – “Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius were believers… Spinoza was Jewish--a believer”

The Buddha was virtually silent on questions of metaphysics but we know he didn’t believe we had souls (i.e., no atman). And to not know the difference (with Spinoza) between ethnicity and what the man actually wrote is simply… well, I’ll be nice… but c’mon man… at least try.

As to the rest, including your complete non-sequitur conclusion let me just say 1) please consult a dictionary because “well-being of conscious creatures” is about as simple as I can make it, and 2) again, please read up on the folks you are attempting to discuss. Hume and Harris could and did construct entire moral philosophies without ever lifting a word from the Bible. In fact Harris demonstrates repeatedly the immorality often involved with religious belief and his views are as close to objective morality as we can come (without positing a “Big Brother” in the sky) and are a far cry from the moral relativism you imply for non-believers.

And if pushing against religion somehow makes them believers, well again, please look up the term “non-sequitur.”

Jeff
Temple City, CA

Mark,

Simply: Individuals cannot take upon themselves the right to define morality.

You do not grant me any authority to define morality for the same reason I do not grant it to you or to my atheist friends: we are only individuals; we represent no one but ourselves.

Whether or not you agree with religions (or governments or even quasi-religious philosophies), they gain their authority for definitions from their numbers. Individuals may not speak for the multitude unless the multitude gives them authority to do so. Even in pluralistic societies like America, we insist that our consensus on morality be established by the largest numbers possible.

I also submit that it may even be dangerous for individuals to believe that "not government, not religion, has a right to force any concept of morality on any of us." The news is full of people whose individual morality is anything but innocent, and I hope either government or religion may put a check on others like them.

Without the consensus that religion may provide, we are in danger of breaking apart from our own centrifugal individualism.

mark
Salt Lake City, UT

"non-believers' morality is suspect because they formulate it themselves "

"Whether or not you agree with religions (or governments or even quasi-religious philosophies), they gain their authority for definitions from their numbers."

You are absolutely wrong, Jeff.

What you are proposing is that morality can be dictated by majorities, that if a majority says it is moral then it is, or conversely if a majority deems something immoral then it is.

That borders on madness.

As a rational thinking human, I get to determine what is moral for myself. You seem to want to base your personal morality on what someone else tells you morality is. You want to forfeit the ability for thought and determination. Such is your right.

But I reserve the right to determine for myself what is moral. I sure don't need a religion and the men that have created them to tell me what is moral. And I sure don't need a vote of the people.

Where I gain my insight into morality also is up to me, be it religious or secular.

That is freedom.

EternalPerspective
Eldersburg, MD

There is no coincidence in the timing and effect of events that moved America from a country of pioneering nation builders to generations detached from that period, who revel in prosperity and the associated pride that wisdom now trumps the laws and ways of God.

Those who do not believe say it is "enlightenment" that has caused the abandonment of organized religion, whose impetus is a vastly changed culture that no longer needs the "man-made" sale of religion. Rather, focus on intellectual and innovative marvels of human engineering has removed the "wool" from the eyes concerning the "ignorance" of religion.

But, how enlightened are a people who are drowning in the sorrows of addiction, violence, selfishness, sexual deviancy, and other dangerous behaviors that most certainly have obvious consequences or are of themselves the same?

While it can be argued that results from fruits of prosperity have improved convenience and worldly knowledge, the same cannot be said that abandonment from organized religion and God has created a greater quality of life and meaningful existence.

In fact, it is quite the contrary, where such trends have given rise to more sorrow, anger, and lack of fulfillment than ever before.

I-am-I
South Jordan, UT

I suppose the religious subscribe to the idea that religious equals moral. This would explain the feeling that less religious people equals less moral people and ever less moral society. This idea of religious equals moral does not appear to hold true all of the time. At the same time let's not pretend that non religious, atheist, agnostic do equal moral.

I identify as both religious and spiritual. I also identify as an intellectual and I believe the scientific method to be very useful but as an intellectual I have to say it is flawed. It tries (emphasis on "tries") to understand only that which can be observed. The scientific method is great, but it is what it is, one method for understanding the existence. Simple logic would say why narrow your pursuit of understanding to one method when several are at your finger tips and can be used simultaneously? I guess the answer is that you do not believe them to be beneficial, but believing so puts one in a similar position to the religious extreme that doubt reason. As I see it reason and religion/spirituality must exist together in same way or another.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

I think what you do is vastly more important than what you believe. I think people will be punished for bad deeds in the afterlife, and rewarded for good. I don't see people being punished for 'not believing' something. That is just rediculous. Again, it is all about what you do, not what you believe. What do you think is better? A religious person who believes but treats you bad, or a person who doesn't believe and treats you well... I know who I would think is in a better position.

Twin Lights
Louisville, KY

Brahmabull,

Agreed. But thoughts and beliefs lead inexorably to actions. Sure there are religious folks who do not treat folks well and vice versa. But overall, the religious I know (in a variety of faith traditions) do get better at how they treat others. Certainly it can take some time.

I-am-I

No, it does not hold true all of the time. And I know non-religious folks who are quite moral.

But my experience is that as societies lose religion, they slowly lose the moral foundation. It doesn't happen overnight but it does eventually happen. The ship loosed from anchor does not speed away but drifts.

skeptic
Phoenix, AZ

It is sad to hear Bible thumpers lecture about morals, if they would read the Bible they would learn it is for the most part a fictional history of immorality.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

Twin Lights

"But thoughts and beliefs lead inexorably to actions"

I agree that thoughts lead to actions, but not the beliefs part. At least to the degree that believing the Joseph Smith story doesn't equal one having good actions. Even believing the bible doesn't lead to good actions. You must have a good heart. Again, like you said, it goes both ways. There are bad and good in both the believing and non believing categories. Religion helps some, it hurts others. Lack of religion helpls some, hurts others. I still think that if a person is generally good of heart then religion won't make a difference. You can be spiritual without being religious.

Semi-Strong
Louisville, KY

Brahmabull,

Twin Lights here.

I understand but I disagree. If one truly believes the story of Joseph Smith or of Paul or of Moses, then these lead to certain critical beliefs about life, eternity and what actions are expected of us.

There is NO doubt that having a good heart is key. “The captains and the kings depart. Still stands thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart.”

AND

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he”

Honestly, I question the “you can be spiritual without being religious” concept. I think we can do so for certain periods, but our spiritual development ultimately requires interaction with other believers to both serve and to challenge our assumptions. I have never been impressed that the monastic life serves most folks well. The same translates (to a degree) to our solo navigation of the spiritual world.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

Twin Lights

Point taken, I agree with you. The thing is for some people, I think an increasing number of people, they don't need others to bolster or challenge their beliefs. They do it themselves. If you are spiritual without religion and a church building to go to it is a more pure thing. You don't have everybody else influencing you on what you should and should not believe. You can ponder and decide these things on your own, free of outside influence. I can see many people need others to confirm their beliefs, and make them stronger as not to stray. But if your beliefs are strong enough, shouldn't you be able to stand on your own?

snowyphile
Jemez Springs, NM

My wife is Buddhist. Her variant is practical, about supporting your family and behaving yourself. Her visits to a temple are few and far between, but she never errs. Imagine what society would be like if it were all saints.

A Scientist
Provo, UT

"There is NO doubt that having a good heart is key."

Countless atheists have good hearts. No god needed.

Indeed, who has the truly genuine "good heart" - the one who does good because of "fear of The Lord" or "to earn blessings in heaven", or the one who does good for the sake of doing good?

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