Morality comes from within, by definition.

The debate about morality trundles on, with the devout claiming there can't be morality without their 'gods', and the irreligious pointing out how insulting that statement is. Only today, I stumbled across a hilarious thread featuring a 'Ken Ham' style evangelist, screaming till he was blue in the keyboard that 'only religious people can have morality because morality comes exclusively from God'. The other side were just as vocal, mainly at how repulsive such an attitude was, and how it tried to steal from us one of the most important and vital aspects of human nature. To sum up the discussion, religious types generally seem to think that the best way to stop humans from immediately breaking out the 'Joker' costume and going on an orgy of violence, rape and public urination is to engender the fear of a wrathful deity, who is apparently watching closely, and just waiting to bang wrongdoers up into a celestial Azkaban for the slightest transgression. (Azkaban? Ass Cabin? Red hot pokers up the nethers...Wait.. what?)

No matter how bizarre these claims might appear to a rational adult in possession of even a basic education, it would seem that the religious aren't just spouting these claims to try and make everyone behave nicely; in many cases they apparently sincerely believe what they are saying, and clearly don't think it's possible for morality to exist without the assistance of their deities. It's an interesting idea, not because it has any validity (you'll recall that 'gods' can't manifest in this universe without ending it) but because of what it says about the worldview of the religious. Even a few seconds thought should enable any tolerably-educated person to immediately see that morality can only come from within. If it isn't a result of an individual's internal mental processes, it's not morality, it's something else, reflecting an imposition from outside. So the religious have gotten it ass-backwards, and anyone displaying moral behaviour because of a fear of 'god' or desire for heavenly reward isn't 'moral', they are simply subjugated, physically, mentally or both.

How can we be so sure about this? For the same reason we can be sure that 'love' can't be enforced on someone else. To love another person is a state that can only arise internally. I'm never going to be able to force you to love a random stranger, no matter how hard I try. What I can do, however, is coerce you into displaying the appearance of love. Given a strong enough incentive (such as... I dunno... excruciating torture or a lotto-sized pile of money), I can cause you to modify your behaviour and act as if you love anyone I specify, even Donald Trump. That wouldn't mean you actually did love old ginger-nuts though. In the same way, I can force you to display the appearance of morality even if you don't actually possess the quality. In fact, if you're particularly weak-willed or gullible, I can even coax moral behaviour out of you by threatening non-existent punishments, or promising imaginary rewards. That's what religious types do, in defence of a spectacular misunderstanding, that acting morally is the same as possessing morality.

This is the essential difference between the religious and the rest of us, in terms of morality. The religious are saying that we don't have morality, and moral behaviour must be enforced, either by the systems of our society, or by their gods, in order to stop us going all Gotham on each other. Atheists, on the other hand, understand that morality does exist; it's an internal ability we can create and learn to use, and we can deploy it to control our own behaviour should we so wish without regard for temporal punishment, OR divine consequence. Interestingly, both attitudes are selfish:- the religious version works by trying to make you believe your actions are being observed constantly, and if you don't fancy the eternal red hot pokers or would like to learn the harp on a cloud, you need to behave, or (pardon the expression) all hell will break loose. It's in your own interests, in other words, because of this imaginary carrot, and this imaginary stick. The non-religious no doubt constrain their behaviour for similar selfish reasons (a desire not to go to jail, for example, or to be 'liked' by others) but they also have something else in play; something more sophisticated, something more human.

They have managed to understand that society works best if everyone acts in an agreed fashion; that the most fun is to be had if everyone plays nicely. Selfish that may ultimately be, but the intervening layer, of trying to make society better, is what really stamps this attitude apart from the medievally-naive worldview of the god-botherers. It's also what has enabled the human race to survive and prosper right up to this point; for the uncountable years before organised religion plopped into existence. We're not here because 'god', we're here because we've banded together against the night, forming societies to enable us to triumph over bigger, faster more heavily-armed competition. We're here in a very real sense because as a species, we like to make each other happy. The religious would prefer to subvert that message, and convince you that you need to make their imaginary super-friends happy, not other real, living breathing people.

Ultimately, you can teach your kids that they have no morality, but must still behave or it's poker-time. Or you can help them understand why other people matter, and let them draw their own conclusions. The only conclusion a real human can come to is the condition we term 'morality'.

I know how I'm raising my kids. Play nicely, you lot!

 

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