Where does morality come from, anyway?

Michael Gerson, in an article for the Washington Post today, seems to argue that you can’t truly be moral without a belief in God. Having realized the impossibility of proving that their particular brand of religion/god is the true one, the religious are now playing the god = morality card on a regular basis. It seems like a desperate ploy to allow the more rational folks to continue clinging to their faith, lest they become a bunch of thieves and murderers.

Gerson, probably thinking himself a moderate, does aknowledge that if our entire population became atheists we would not all immediately jump off the moral bandwagon and start killing each other. He even says that “there is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction”, though several short sentences later he seems to contradict himself by presenting a “dilemma” on how we resolve our “good and bad instincts”. His answer? It must be God! Afterall, without a supernatural power threatening eternal damnation, “love and purpose is a cruel joke of nature.”

I don’t believe in God. I am not immoral (though I am not perfect). I experience love and joy all the time in my life, and I definitely feel as though I have a purpose. The fact that God is not involved in my life does not make this cruel, nor is it dissapointing, as Gerson would also contend. Do I think that my beliefs would work for everyone? No….but a dose of reality for some folks is needed. Morals do not come from religion – they existed long before modern religions came about, and people lived relatively well. Morals change as society changes, though some things (murder) will probably always be viewed as wrong.

Of selfish people, Gerson writes “In a purely material universe, what possible moral basis could exist to condemn them?” Rather than pondering that question, he simply asserts that it is only religion/God that can condemn this selfishness. I would argue instead that it is the value we place on individual liberty, which needs no God to invoke. We respect the ability of adults to decide what’s best for them (at least in theory), up until the point that it infringes on someone else’s liberty (murder, theft, etc). There is a difference between being selfish (i.e. acting in your own best interest) versus the exploitation of others. I wish more people would take the time to understand this idea, since I believe it plays a huge role in the principles that the United States was founded upon. If you don’t believe me, check out the Declaration of Independence.

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