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A Morality FAQ?

from Brother Incitatus

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It is commonly asked by inquisitive, predominantly Christian visitors, 'How can there be morality without God?' Generally the question has been answered admirably, and yet, each new visitor often fails to observe that this question has been answered numerous times before and proceeds to ask it again.

Given that our source of morality seems to be the most confounding element of agnosticism for those of a religious persuasion, have you considered posting a clear, concise, and easily accessible explanation of non-biblical morality (perhaps as a greater FAQ of sorts) on your website?

A polite explanation rather than a condescending one of course, because I believe the ignorance in the matter of ethics shown by many of a particularly conservative religious persuasion is often as much a fault of their familial upbringing and formal education than it is an intrinsic lack of curiosity.

In fact, in my own experience, friends that I've directed toward texts they previously knew little about, both outside their religion and within (astounding how few know the name Origen, or Eusebius, or the pertinence of the Council of Nicea), have always shown considerable enthusiasm to explore these extra-biblical avenues. Of course, they remain Christian, and there's no reason why they would choose otherwise despite what I've shown them. But at least they understand the world outside of dogma a little better than they did, particularly with regard to the truth that empathy is born out of our everyday experiences and reason, not through a pledge of allegiance to a given deity.

I'm certainly not suggesting a cumbersome treatise on the issue. Simply a selection of bullet points and references highlighting a few key figures to have tackled the philosophy of ethics and morality independently of religious doctrine would do. Acknowledging that, while many of these people were superstitious themselves, their conclusions are more often than not based on pure reasoning and not at all on their particular theology.

Just a thought.

The Patriarch replies:

Brother Incitatus

If someone wants to produce what they consider a clear, concise, and easily accessible explanation of non-biblical morality, I'd be only too happy to publish it in the Reflections on Ethics section.

My problem with producing such a document myself is that I personally don't think there is a clear, concise and easily accessible explanation of morality - whether it be based on religious teachings or on secular sources.

There are a number of approaches we can take towards morality, some of which can be expressed as a rule that appears simple and straightforward. However, I do not think that there is any simple rule that can be applied automatically to every ethical dilemma which will produce the "correct" solution.

That is why I have presented the issue of morality on this site as an ongoing debate in Reflections on Ethics rather than through a prescriptive set of rules. I would like to see the section a little more active and a wider range of views presented. But that depends on the willingness of others to contribute.

In the end, morality is a matter of judgement rather than blind adherence to rules, and judgement arises out of exposure to a variety of viewpoints and situations.