Can One Be Moral and Not Believe In God?
PHI208: Ethics and Moral Reasoning
Prof. Michael Kellam
October 2, 2013
Can One Be Moral and Not Believe In God?
Is it possible for an individual to live morally without believing in God? For someone who believes in God this may be a difficult question to answer. Whereas, someone who does not believe in God might immediately say that having morals has nothing to do with religion. So, to answer this question, we will look at what it means to have morals, compare the views of an Atheist and a Catholic, and look how ethics plays a role in answering this question. In the end, we will see that it is not necessary to believe in a higher power to live morally.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a moral is defined as “concerning or relating to what is right and wrong in human behavior” (2013). For many years it has been debated on what it means to have morals. Some believe that a higher power such as God set forth rules or guidelines as to how to live morally. Others believe that people do not need a higher power to determine how one should behave in life. Ultimately, the answer lies in each individual and their understanding, and each answer may vary. However, there is a universal understanding of what is right and wrong. Everyone could agree that it is wrong to commit murder. We could all agree that we should treat others with the level of respect that we wish to receive. But where did the underlying rules of morals come from?
Whether a person is religious or not, each person could agree on the concept of the Golden Rule. According to Mosser (2010), “…the best-known version comes from the Christian Bible: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Sec. 2.1, Para. 19). Simply put, do not do something to someone else that you would you not want them doing to you. If you do not want someone to cheat off your test, do not cheat off someone else’s test. If you do not want your significant other to cheat on you, you should not cheat on them. No matter what background people may have, we can all come up with the same conclusion that there are good and bad actions. But how does each person’s background effect their understanding of what is moral?
Someone with a religious background, such as a Catholic, will tell you that God laid out the rules of what it means to have morals. Cynthia Stewart (n.a.) states, “Catholics see the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew scriptures as the basic groundwork for moral action, which together with the life of Jesus provide a deep and abiding understanding for how to act with love and justice in the world” (Para. 3). The Ten Commandments are typically thought of when determining what God considers to be sins. Catholics believe that how an individual behaves here on Earth will determine what they are to expect in the afterlife. If you live a life filled with love of God and his children, you will obtain eternal happiness in heaven. However, if you live a life of evil actions and choices you will be punished by going to hell.
On the other hand there are the nonbelievers, such as Atheists, who do not believe in a God. According to Walters (2010), “…philosophical atheists put a high premium on reason, insisting that a rejection of God-belief must be based on the same judicious scrutiny of available evidence and arguments called for in examining any claim” (p. 12, Para. 3). Some people are just raised not to believe in this higher power, others may have had a bad religious experience which led them to this understanding. For these individuals they look at the situation at hand and determine through logical thinking and reason what they must do in life. They do not look to a higher power to decipher what they should do, but look within themselves and what is expected of them from their community. For example, if an Atheist sees someone steal something from an...
References: Hitchens, C. (2007). Finding Morals Under Empty Heavens. Science & Spirit, 18(3), 66. Retrieved from ehis.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu
Lawler, M. A. (2013). Virtue Ethics: Natural and Christian Theological Studies, 74(2), 442. Retrieved from ehis.ebscohost.com.proxy-library.ashford.edu
McCloskey, D. (2008). Adam Smith, The Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists. History of Political Economy, 40(1), 43-71. Retrieved from ehis.ebschohost.com.proxy- library.ashford.edu
Moral. (2013). Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved from www.merriam-webster.com
Mosser, K. (2010). A concise introduction to philosophy. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Retrieved from www.content.ashford.edu
Stewart, C. (n.a.) Principles of Moral Thought and Structure. Patheos Library. Retrieved from www.patheos.com
Walters, K. (2010). Atheism. [Electronic resource]: a guide for the perplexed. Retrieved from Ashford University Library Ebook Collection.
Please join StudyMode to read the full document