A common comment that will be thrown at you when debating or discussing with a theist will be that "if you don't get your morality from god, where do you get your morality" or "are atheists then immoral" or something else of that flavor. There are many way to address these comments such as discussing where morals come from and the definition of morals, which can be tricky, or that morality is intrinsic in each being and you don't need god to have them or that morals preceded religion and there are plenty of examples that can go along with that last point. These can all be very effective but I heard something the other day that I felt made a lot of sense.
When asked "were you a moral person", the person, who was an atheist said, "you're right I'm not moral because morals is a set of behavioral guidelines derived from authority whether real or imagined and I don't use morality in my day to day life to make decisions, however I'm a very ethical person, and I think that social ethics as they evolved out of social dynamics, are a better course to pursue then morality, because if you're being a moral person, and you are doing what the authority has instructed you to do, that authority may not in itself be moral. So for me social ethics are the way to go."
Now I understand that by ethics are defined as moral behaviors. But the distinction is blurry to me. So I would like to hear your opinion on a) the differences between the two if there are any in your view and b) your preferred method to answer this question. How do you answer someone who comes at you with the "morality" argument?
I agree. I think that too many responses to the "where do you get your morality from" question fall into one of the following 3 categories...
1. "Your theist morality sucks anyway." (supported by lots of perverse bible quotes)
2. "Your theist moralist doesn't matter anyway." (supported by lots of examples of bad theists in history)
3. "What is morality anyway?" (supported by esoteric and pedantic semantics and philosophy).
All of these try to position that "Atheists are right, Theists are wrong." Atheists might be right. And it might feel good to assert that "rightness". But it doesn't "sell" the proposition to the undecided (who are going to vote on how to treat Atheism) and only perpetuates the acerbic conflict between the two camps. I like the "Atheists from the same place as Theists" because (a) it is a crisp sound bite, and (b) it circumvents the entire line of attack.
Sadly, qouting an often times over-used/under-used one liner 'stupid is as stupid does'. I think that 'stupid', like 'blame' is always available for the opportunist. A good hammer in the right hands can do wonders, 'stupid' can be considered the tool of choice for anyone with an axe to grind, myself included!....... ;p(
Your middle paragraph undercuts the argument that ethics are better than morals. First, it says that morality is defined by an authority figure. Then it says that the authority figure may not be moral. But, if that is possible, then it can only be because morals are NOT defined by the authority figure but are somehow separate from us all.
Personally, I think the latter is the truth. The distinctions some draw between ethics and morals is not meaningful to me in this context.
Like everybody else on planet Earth, I get my morals from a combination of empathy, reason, and community standards. The difference between me and a religious person is that the religious person pretends he gets his morals from religion.
Religious people pick their church based on their individual moral feelings, they pick which parts of their holy writings to take seriously based on their individual moral feelings, and they pick how to interpret their holy writings based on their individual moral feelings. They say this is not true, but it obviously is.
Words are more useful when they have distinct meanings. A lot of people use "morals" and "ethics" interchangeably which doesn't do either word any good. However, a lot of philosophers maintain a distinction I feel is useful.
Ethics is the result of analysis and rational consideration. Morals is by rote. You do something because you are told it's right. So, you aren't doing it because it's right, you're doing it because you were told to do it.
Obviously, atheists as skeptical, thoughtful people should be ethical rather than moral.
Taken from Yahoo:http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080605174356AAAIOo8
"Atheists, who make up somewhere between 3-14% of the population make up just 0.2% of the prison population.
Christians, on the other hand, who make up 81% of the population make up 84% of the prison population.
In fact, a Christian is at least 15 times more likely on average to end up in jail than an atheist.
What does this tell us about the usefulness of the Bible as a moral guide?"
I don't know if those stats are currently valid, the comment was made 5 years ago, but I'm sure it's not too far off from the truth.
I have been working off and on with local temp. agencies. (Sadly these were the first employment options that were available to me before a more professional posting became available). I have noticed that many of the kids and adults that are with these programs have rather serious legal entanglements, and are either new theists, or old theists. A few are very out spoken about their beliefs, but as I observe them they seem to have very limited insight into their own function, attitudes, and impulse control. For many they have pursued their belief as a 'recovery' modality, but the recovery seems to not allow them or influence them for any deep insight into their own function or responsibility. I find that these folks mix their fantacys of drugs, violence, 'getting the man', etc. in one breath, then in the next breath mention their religion, belief in the christian 'god', and evanlgelism. It seems likely that there is a dissociation/double- think process involved at some deep level, where the awareness of disfunctionality is not linked to any personal responsibility or insight.
I wonder what the underlying differences between theists and atheists really are.
Are atheists actually 'smarter' than theists?
Are atheists generally more capable to do their own insight or evaluation(s) concerning socialization, personal responsibility and ethics?
What happens in a atheist/theist during the process of 'deconversion' or 'conversion'?
During a psychology class years ago, it was mentioned that very creative people can be both very mentally ill, and more capable to manage their instability than others, and that this instability is really a major part of their success as creatives. Are atheists comparatively more 'ill' than the regular population, and also have a greater/lessor part of effective coping skills?
As a population, are atheists more 'creative'?
My only response to that, James, is that I am a writer and a painter, and I have excellent coping skills to deal with the fact that I am batshit crazy.
So if you are '..batshit crazy', what is your metric?
When I am talking with 'non-nerds', it is painfully obvious that I must sound crazy to them! I have a tenency to mumble slitly under my breath when I deal with, for me, 'nut cases'. As a retired prof. told me once with a puncuated tone of voice, 'James I think you mumble so you can be insulting without being assulted'. Ever since, when in the presence of folks that appear more on the edge of balistic unraveling or self abuse, I fall back into my old behaviors so I can atleast follow quietly the old adage, 'to they ownself be true!'
Some of the temp. agency work I have been posted to recently seem to offer a daily revisiting to my 'mumble' behavior. Just the other day, working with 5 other people trying, as a group, with one 'supervisor', to take down two temporary walls, I noticed that all my recommendations for the needed tools, process, and labor deligation were ignored, and that only one person (myself) seemed to have any idea how to pull down an 8' wall without a puncture/crushing injury, or an understanding of basic physics. I quietly mentioned to the 'supervisor', that '...if you like I could offer my services for a remedial physics class..' After nearly two hours of grunting, wasting time(apparently this was the primary reason..;p( ) we finished up. It appeared finally that 'following instructions, stupid or not' is more important for the temp. 'supervisor', than a rational solution. I wonder if we multiply this fiasco by 10^n, would be have a model for western civ, in the 'temp. universe'?
Penn Jillette, in his book "God No" says something to the effect of, "What if God were to speak directly to you and tell you to kill your spouse or children. If you were to say no, then in my book, you're already an Atheist. There is Doubt in your mind. If you would, Please reconsider."
It's at this point I begin quoting scripture at this poorly thought out argument about Atheists being immoral, pointing out all of the ridiculously bad moral judgments, Such as the invasions, genocides, random stoneings in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and the like. Jesus condemning a fig tree to death because it didn't have a fig for him to eat is a good question of not only morality, but also sanity. Lot offering up his daughters to be raped sends up a red flag also.
How does the Golden Rule apply to masochists. Is it ethical to beat and humiliate them?