I read posts here that call different things, "harmful to humanity." Others call something, "good" or "bad" or "evil."
A very simple question, who gets to decide the definition of "harmful to humanity" and what is there critieria? The same for "good," "bad," and "evil?" These are not material terms. If everything is material isn't there just "is" and not these moral declarations if one is being thoroughly atheist?
Help me understand your position so I am fair and honest about the views. Thanks.
** As is my custom, I am replying before reading the replies, so my response is not influenced by others.
You are right, in the abstract - everything is relative.
BUT, there are social norms that define the basics of what is "good" and what is "bad". And the things and acts that fall under the "good" or "bad" label change over time as well. Slavery was good, now bad. Smoking - was good, now bad. Using racial epithets - used to be generally good and acceptable, now patently bad.
There are even differences in this between societies today. There are Middle-Eastern countries where stoning an adulterer, or even a woman who is raped, is considered a morally "good" thing. Here it is morally, ethically, and legally abhorrent.
You get the idea.
So, I think you have to rely on your own moral compass to define what is good, bad, evil, etc. to you. Feel free to share those with others here. However, you may get some who disagree with you; you may get others who will ask you to define and expand upon what makes something "good" or "bad" in your eyes.
Discussion and civil discourse is a "good" thing. It helps us all understand each other just a little bit better, every time (ok, most of the time ;) ).
I just posted an entry to my blog that deals with my ideas on what makes revealed religions "bad". The root reason, I believe, is a false moral system that leads to and reinforces fundamentalism and can even promote a persecution complex. Rather than me re-explaining it, please have a look at it here.
Thank you for your gracious replies. I am gathering the most here would view morality as defined by majority consensus with some saying it is hardwired into us. True? But what if two major consensus groups come into conflict with one another, one calling something "good" the other deems "evil" and vice versa?
Then you have religious wars, lol.
Actually, the best example of that might be slavery/abolition in the U.S. I believe that everyone could see the 'evils' of slavery, but a lot of slave owners couldn't bring themselves to accept that evil because of the dependency of their wealth upon slavery. The pro-slavery arguments mostly revolved around state rights/autonomy because there really weren't many other options for defending the practice - outside of biblical endoresment of slavery.
In most secular instances, however, reasonable compromises can be met. Where many Atheists detest religious morality is that there is no reasonable justification for it - just particular interpretations of particular scriptures by people who claim to be an authority on what some unproven figure 'wants' or 'prohibits'.
But what if two major consensus groups come into conflict with one another, one calling something "good" the other deems "evil" and vice versa?
@ Wretched Saint - You will find them on on-line forums presenting their cases and each accusing the other of using biased information.
Wretched - (though I suspect that you are neither wretched, nor a saint) - this happens all of the time in war. Soldiers are consistently indoctrinated to believe that the "enemy" is evil, and even less than human, hence the terms Americans have coined, such as "Nips" for Niponese, "Japs" for Japanese, "Gooks," "Krauts," and more recently, "Towel-heads."
A soldier who views his antagonist as human, finds it more difficult to take his life.
"History," it is said, "is written by the victor." In some cases, so is morality.
The old testament is full of instances in which the Israelites conquered other peoples, slaughtering hundreds, if not thousands, yet they believed their god gave them permission to do so, and in some cases, actually ordered it. When one crazy old man claimed his god gave him a vast territory, and thousands of his descendants believed it and used it to justify usurping the land from all those who had made it their homes for countless generations, I can see little in that that is moral. Yet if one believes in the omnipotence of "El Shaddai," as he introduced himself to Abraham, or "Yahweh," as he introduced himself to Moses (and I maintain they are not one and the same), and if one believes the words of the Bible, that this god sanctioned the invasions and genocide, then that same one must believe that it was the "moral" thing to do, though my own moral compass, unaffected by scripture, determines that it was not.
What else can one do but to remain as objective as possible? Thinking through every little consideration of a moral conflict is probably not what most people would do. They would more likely defend their way of life. Secularism versus Christianity or Islam. India versus Pakistan. Israel versus Iran . . . personal morality is often usurped by larger concerns.
RE: "personal morality is often usurped by larger concerns."
Interestingly Exile - and I'm not disagreeing with you at all - that could almost qualify as a discussion topic in and of itself. When does personal morality give way to larger, societal concerns?
Japan attacked us, but Viet Nam did not. The war in Viet Nam saw far more young (then) people following their own personal morality, in protesting the war and in actually leaving the country, giving up their US citizenship and risking prison in order not to participate in a war that violated that morality. Yet in WW II, few, if any disputed that the US was "right" in going to war against Japan, because our "tribe" was in effect threatened by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
When, exactly does national or societal morality trump personal morality? I don't expect you to have the answer to that, but it's worth kicking around.
Til now, it's not really something to which I've given a great deal of thought, but it's certainly something to consider.
I really think the largest determinant of when our personal morals gets usurped by a larger concern is attributable to social norms.
Immediately after 9/11, it took time for the doves to appear among the hawks. Around the water cooler, in bars and parties, the country beat the drums of war with a clearly distinct unison. The social norm? Patriotism in response to attack. Even the doves, for a while, sang the same song.