Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Morality without God

What would the world be like without religion?

Is such a world even possible?

I've been thinking about these questions a great deal recently. I don't know the answers, but I do think that a world without religion is vaguely possibly, if highly improbable. However, as an atheist, I don't think it's enough to accept the inevitability of religion and therefore shape my image of politics and morality around it. Instead, I feel there's no reason that atheism shouldn't have a consistent world view and morality that can be used as a guiding force to direct life, society and public policy. Atheism isn't nihilism after all - so there's no reason to wander free in a Godless world, making things up as you go. There's also no reason that atheism can't also go forth to convert the masses from their false thinking - it needn't be the default position for anyone who just happens to reject a faith-based belief in God.

In fact, atheism, or at least a non-theistic belief system, has the potential to be vastly more robust than a faith-based belief system. Atheism gives reason it's full breadth of scope to shape our world view in a way that is internally consistent (or at least more so than religion).

Personally, I'm not such a fan of the term 'atheism'. It's a negative term - meaning simply the absence of belief in theism. Atheism alone doesn't help us much in determining the best way to live. This is especially true in a postmodern framework, where the individual is left more or less to their own devices to determine their own morality.

So, when envisioning a world without religion, I'm certainly not envisioning a world without morality. There needs to be a moral system - or in broader terms, a philosophy for living life - that takes the place of the moral authority offered by religion.

However, this could not be done in a raw postmodern way. There still needs to be authority behind morality. I personally see this authority as being grounded in facts about the world, taking human nature, evolutionary psychology, our environment and society into account. Reason and the scientific method could provide a foundation for our morality, which would then need to be built upon to account for more flexible things, such as different cultural considerations. A manifold approach to morality, with levels of flexibility increasing as you move from physical facts to cultural vagaries.

Not an easy task. But it's a necessary project if God and faith are to be removed from our thinking. And given that I have convictions that God doesn't exist that are just as deep as any theist's, then I certainly should be working towards building a coherent moral framework that eliminates God or faith.

This also, thankfully, not a new project. Many before me have worked to build a non-religious morality. I'm reading Derek Parfit's Reasons and Persons again (after giving it a selective read during my university years - and then mainly in the personal identity sections).

Baby steps...


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