First, let's review what the classic definition of morality is.
Morality, in its classic form, is the guide used to determine the difference between a right action and a wrong action. Some definitions add in these words: "... based on the values of the society." Seems like a simple addition at first glance, but take a moment to think about it and you realize this opens a whole host of variables.
One of the examples from yesterday's video is the example of the moral standing of "rape" based on social norms. I know rape is wrong, you know rape is wrong. But where does that belief of "wrong" originate? Let's take a look at that first. In reference to the debate, a man rapes a woman. He has acted in self interest and done something morally wrong... based on the values of our society. An animal, let's say a shark, forcibly copulates with a female. Is it rape? Most of you will probably say, no. The shark, per it's genetic programming, is carrying out instructions programmed into it's DNA to ensure propagation of both his genes as well as that of the female. This act has ensured the continuation of a bloodline that has remained unbroken since the birth of life itself.
Now, why would this act be acceptable for the shark, but not the human? The core argument is based on our perception of reflection. Being able to reflect on an action is the basic requirement for all moral standing. Most would agree that a shark cannot look back on it's actions with any feeling or justification. It is a creature run by the programming of it's instincts, therefore it's actions cannot be morally correct or incorrect. The limitations of its perception rob it of any moral standing whether it be positive or negative IN OUR VIEW, which is again based on our society's values.
We as humans, have the ability to reflect on an act. Our society is, as we like to see it anyway, based on cooperation. But this view does not stretch globally. Totalitarian authoritarians are motivated by self interest alone. Different countries experience different ranges of morality based on the laws that have been established. What may be moral for one area, may be punishable in another. The same applies within a country's borders. A man steals from a corner store, but takes care not to injure or threaten anyone. Some may say even tho his actions were morally wrong. However, consider the factor that this man has a child that he was not able to feed and what was stolen was intended to aid the child. The act now becomes more complex as the lines of morality are now blurred into a monotone grey area most of us fail to consider when presented with the question of morality. How do we un-blur that line? We could ask a series of questions such as:
"Why can't you provide for your child?" - This question itself can seem condescending to both the questioner and the questioned. Would it be morally right to ask this question? If the intent was to provide assistance and not to ridicule, then yes. It could be considered morally correct to ask this particular question.
"What items did you steal?" - Let's say a bag of chips and a soda where stolen on behalf of the child. Most of us would automatically point the finger and state the action of stealing those items in particular was morally wrong as these items provide little nutritional value, if any.
Think one step further ahead. Let's suppose that the chips and soda where something that doubled as making the child happy. Something may have occurred or a situation may have presented itself where the child was robbed of all happiness and the father wanted to bring the child their favorite snack as a sign of affection which also shows the father knows their child well enough to know what they like. With this extra moment of though, we're now right back where we began aren't we?
Let's continue to the core of this article. Is God necessary for morality?
When we think of this question, each of our answers with vary from one to the next. When the question is posed to a Christian, or someone of a sub-Christian faith, the thought automatically turns to the Holy Trinity and the values associated with that religion. If we take this same question to a Buddhist, the question of morality will fall into the pursuit of inner peace through the separation of the soul from the materialistic world. That morality would view any attachments to the physical as being morally wrong, or questionable. If you pose this question to a Muslim, the differences in values again present themselves based on the ideals of their God.
The idea of the ruler/lawmaker has always been an element of our culture. Those who view a god as an enforcer of morality, often refer to god as the reason behind their actions. That they feel they will lose favor if they do not follow the ideals of the god in question. Some even go as far as to state such arguments as: "If it weren't for God and his/her (depending on your beliefs) moral teachings, the world would be evil and chaotic." - Unknown.
This is a powerful idea in of itself, but is by no means the only idea. As discussed in the debate I posted, the atheist approach is also in play. From the atheist standpoint, morality is determined by the values of the IMMEDIATE society, which is based on the idea that if you know your actions harm another but you still carry them out, your action depending on the circumstances can be considered either morally right, or morally wrong. The reason I included the word immediate and placed emphasis on it is due to the fact that collective ideas on the nature of ourselves determine morals.
An atheist doesn't rely so much on the idea of God as they do the idea of what it means to be moral based on the way the feel towards themselves and their surroundings. As in all else, this concept of reality and morality comes with it's own set of problems. Those who do not rely on a god find ways of justifying even the most brutal actions in the name of self serving interests. Another example discussed in the video was the Nazis.
Granted most of them were religious since the crimes were based on religious association, which was based on false prejudices but some were atheists. Those who were stated to the people they were torturing that because their lives would all end in death with no afterlife or moral judgments passed, they could behave as they wished with no worry of any consequences to their self serving actions based on the self dictated "moral" value that they were cleansing the world of "evil". This is however not to say atheists in general behave this way. The vast majority are well adjusted members of society with the view of cooperation being the core of both moral and physical survival.
Take a moment to revisit the examples presented above or reflect on some of your own. Place yourself in both the view of the morality of God and the morality within self.
While looking at this with the views of both sides, how did you feel and what conclusions did you draw from the process of working out which moral standpoint you ended up in?
Morality is an idea. An idea that each of us hold different degrees of value. Each of us has the freedom to determine our own moral identity. This leaves us with an infinite range of possibility where black and white views on right and wrong can nearly cease to exist. But they do exist. I think most of you would agree that it's easier to find examples of what is morally wrong, rather that morally right. Remember one thing on your quest for moral identity - The darkness cannot exist without the light, nor the light without the darkness. To understand what we are, who we are and our place in this world, understanding the value of contrast is the core of your identity.