Is God necessary for morality? The question came up in class the other day. It is a perennial question, though one that is essentially beside the point. Whether you believe God decides what is right and wrong, or you believe that people do so, you still have to choose a moral system. It isn’t as if God or people offer just one.
If you say God decides what is right and wrong you have to decide which god is God before you can follow the moral system of that God. Most people follow the gods of their parents, but is this really a sound enough basis on which to determine one’s morality?
If you take another track and look for the common moral themes among religions you might come up with a generic list of values that all gods seem to support, but no religion agrees as to how to apply these values, so you are again forced to choose. For example all religions support modesty regarding women, yet for some Jews this means married women should wear wigs, while for some Muslims it means women should cover both head and face. Who’s right? And what do we make of women who refuse to do either? Are they immodest?
I think the best we humans can do vis a vis morality is to follow the advice of Rabbi Hillel. Without any reference to God, he simply defined the entirety of Torah as not doing to others what you do not want others to do to you. If you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge. If you don’t want to be killed, don’t kill. If you don’t want others to burn your holy book or outlaw your religion, don’t do the same to others. If you don’t want someone to discriminate against you because of your race, color, creed, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, politics, etc., then don’t engage in discrimination on these grounds yourself.
Honestly, I can’t think of a better moral guide than this.
Sunday, April 17, 2011
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