Here’s a bacon cheeseburger. It seems perfectly OK to most Protestant Christians, and to a Catholic, if it’s not during Lent. But the Muslims can’t have it if it comes with bacon, or at all on Ramadan during the daytime. The bacon bit goes for the Jews too, but it also has to be thoroughly cooked for them and can’t be rare or with cheese touching the meat, and, during Passover, the bread has to be unleavened. The Hindus will have to go with a bacon burger without the burger, because: holy cows. The Jains, Rastafarians, and Zoroastrians will avoid the meat altogether. Vedic Brahmins are going to have to pass on the Mushrooms and the Onions. Followers of Yazidism have got to avoid the lettuce. Oh, and the Mormons? They can eat the whole thing, as long as they don’t wash it down with a coke.
For creator of the universe, these god seems pretty finicky about the kind of calories we ingest. And while everyone’s freaking out about cheeseburger ingredients, Aghori monks in India live off of the cremated remains of people as part of their religious practices. People burgers!
Tell me again how morality is objective and absolute across all cultures. If you think that’s the case for even one second, then you’ve never traveled. Seriously why are moral “rules” different from one culture to the next if morality is ingrained in us and absolute? And why do we think that it’s a bad thing that our morality changes?
Morality continues to evolve and improve, thanks in large part to the Renaissance – to free-thinking scholars and philosophers of the enlightenment and contemporary, secular activists, which is a good thing! Religions had people sacrificing their children to the gods, and they thought that was ok. Our stance towards women, slaves, homosexuals, torture, and just about everything in-between has evolved, largely in the last century and a half.
The notion that the best moral guidelines we have were laid down thousands of years ago and haven’t changed since is grotesquely farcical! The problem with religion is that, while the rest of the world is upgrading and improving its morality to stay relevant in a rapidly developing world, religion – steeped in ever-souring moral refuse – is playing catchup. And it’s flat out embarrassing.
Now there are plenty of people who think morality is subjective. Contractarianism, as put forth by Thomas Hobbes, suggests that moral frameworks are determined by social contracts that we reason up and lay down, trading some of our anarchistic freedoms in exchange for the security of a functional society. Things are wrong because we agree that they’re wrong. But even if you disagree with this entire moral framework, altogether, there are plenty of others. You can even believe in objective morality without God, as Immanuel Kant did with his reason-based Categorical Imperatives. Or, as Act Utilitarians believe, you can view something as objectively moral if it promotes the most pleasure and avoids the most pain for the greatest amount of people. It’s not selfish or hedonistic, because it’s proposed in an other-focused framework.
It does present a dilemma, though. If five people have different organs failing, and you’re a match for all of them, under Act Utilitarianism, it would be moral to kill you, harvest your organs, and save the five. Rule Utilitarianism, however, addresses this by promoting pleasure and avoiding pain for the greatest amount of people, in the greatest number of circumstances over time. No-one wants to live in a world where they could be pulled at random from the street and organ-harvested. That would lead to greater, long-term suffering over time with all of us living on edge, in fear of losing our lives or our loved ones.
John Rawls further added to our understanding of moral philosophy in the following way. Imagine any situation, for example: slavery. You have to decide if slavery should be legal. Imagine you’re about to be born into a world where there’s a 50% chance that you could be either the slave or the master, and you don’t get to choose which. By wearing what Rawls referred to as the “veil of ignorance,” you have to make this choice blind, completely ignorant of your future. Having slaves may be convenient, but under the veil of ignorance, would you create a world in which slavery is legal, in which you could be the slave?
Now there are many other theories for how we derive morality, and no one completely agrees on what’s right and what’s wrong, all the time, how to determine it, and why. But the fact is, our models continue to improve. Is morality objective or subjective? Well it depends on your model. We have objective moral standards outside of god, but we also have subjective ones.
I’ve found the best way to look at morality is as the economics of the ethical world. There are some economic models that are better than others, and there may be a perfect system out there that leads to the most amount of wealth and least amount of poverty, but until we find it, we’re going to keep improving our economic models. In the same way, there may be a perfect, moral system that leads to the least suffering and the most well-being for the greatest number of people in the largest variety of scenarios. But until we find it, we’re going to keep improving our moral models.
And I’m glad that’s the case. I’m glad that most people don’t butcher each other to appease the gods – glad I can enjoy a bacon cheeseburger and a coke – glad we can come up with moral societies that enable us all to prosper without being so damn draconian! And I’m hopeful that through reason and critical thinking, things are only going to get better! The next time someone tells you, you can’t have morality without god, ask them why? Don’t be content with easy cop-out answers, and don’t drink the Koolaid.
Alex J. O’Connor:
So there you have it: Thomas Westbrook, of the YouTube channel, Holy Koolaid. I really hope that you enjoy his content as much as I do, and if you did, be sure to check out his channel. The link will be in the description, where there’s going to be a video by me, explaining the origins of morality. Be sure to subscribe, while you’re over there. Thomas makes fantastic content, but in the meantime, you can find me on social media here:
“Our best moral stories don’t tell us what is right or wrong in every situation, but they show us what one character did in one situation at one time. Readers, viewers, and listeners are supposed to extrapolate the moral meaning from the story. We’re not supposed to have it handed to us.”Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
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