Letting go of divine endorsement

I came across an article – “Are There Secular Reasons?” – which illustrates, much better than I could, a recent phase in my thinking. In December, after several months of personally-motivated wrestling with Islam, I came to the conclusion that all religions are man-made; and while letting go of religious moral codes came naturally and easily (I had long since recognised that accepting any moral code without rational interrogation is dangerous), I did feel a little bit lost without belief in an absolute goodness. This belief had taken root at a young age and remained an axiom of sorts, so I felt like a kid learning to swim without flotation aids.

There are a whole bunch of comments on the article crying foul on the apparent implication that people can’t make value judgments without religious belief, and I think they are right to do so. But I also appreciated this comment in drawing out what should be the point of the article: “Value judgments can never be objective”. My issue has been that I wanted to take on values consciously, and I couldn’t conceive of any basis for values without belief in absolutes. After all, science tells me that my natural inclination towards compassion stems from an evolutionary advantage this afforded in more primordial times, and is therefore redundant nowadays! Reason alone does not inform values.

Now, if religions are man-made, then any values they espouse and the world-views they have erected to support those values are also products of human thinking. So it’s not the notion of divine inspiration in any supernatural sense that I am unwilling to let go of. Rather, I am asking whether mythology (in the positive sense) is an important ingredient in human moral thinking; whether we would be able to reach the dizzying heights of ethics such as “love your enemies” without it. The jury is still out.

I am, however, becoming more confident about taking a pride in my own values, however I arrived at them. My values represent what I want – the type of world I want to live in – and what I want matters; it doesn’t need to be endorsed by some sort of religious world view, nor do I need to let what science says about the origin of my values affect those values. After a lifetime of equating goodness with God, this confidence has wobbled a little without that crutch and then strengthened: I know what goodness is to me, and that’s enough.

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4 Responses to Letting go of divine endorsement

  1. susanne430 says:

    “After a lifetime of equating goodness with God, this confidence has wobbled a little without that crutch and then strengthened: I know what goodness is to me, and that’s enough.”

    So it’s fine if my goodness and your goodness clash? 😉

    • Sarah says:

      Yes! If someone else’s goodness includes taking war captives as concubines because some prophet did it, then you can bet my goodness is going to clash with it. That’s healthy isn’t it? Clashes are inevitable and Humanists argue about everything. 🙂 That doesn’t mean I think goodness is completely arbitrary. Value judgments are highly subjective but they are constrained by our human nature to some extent. We are a family-oriented species so we will always value family ties, for example.

      What do you think?

  2. susanne430 says:

    “We are a family-oriented species so we will always value family ties, for example.”

    Yes, I think MOST people will, while others will not. There are some people who should have cared for their children and loved them, yet they have abused their family by raping their daughters and beating their sons. This might have been “good” for that abusive person. He might have gotten a thrill at the power and pleasure which was “good” for him yet I don’t think I have to accept his idea of goodness. (I might be mixing some of your posts…sorry. I read through about 15 of them last night…hehehehe.)

    My point is that while most of us will consider “goodness” the same not everyone will. If “goodness” is conditional on what I or YOU or HITLER or CHILD RAPISTS feels is “good” then we may have problems. Not that clashes aren’t inevitable. I guess the issue here is more a “divine endorsement” of what is good. You think most people are capable of “goodness” without a need for a god telling them what is good or bad, right?

    I sometimes wonder how much of what we know to be “good” is wrapped up in godly/religious/spiritual influences from the past and how much is due to just our inner goodness oozing forth. I guess it’s impossible to know, but it would be interesting to find out, huh?

    Good thinkie post for the morning! 🙂

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you. As societies, we have some consensus on what goodness and badness is and then make laws to protect everyone. Because as you say, not every individual is capable of empathy or compassion, or of exercising them.

      I think you were thinking of my other post where I said there is good in everyone’s perspective even if I disagree with them. What I had in mind with that was not simply tolerating everything including Hitler or child rape, but rather, avoiding going to the other extreme of tolerating nothing except your own viewpoints. Religious people and humanists alike are equally capable of dismissing the other viewpoint as categorically bad and wrong. And then there is a tendency to stop trying to understand, and instead get stuck with a black-and-white caricature of the opposing view or belief. This is what I am trying to avoid, and what motivated that post.

      I am not really a moral relativist, although I do think moral principles have to be re-implemented continually as circumstances change (with advancement of technology etc.). Moral issues are not straightforward because all human issues are messy really. 😉

      “I sometimes wonder how much of what we know to be “good” is wrapped up in godly/religious/spiritual influences from the past and how much is due to just our inner goodness oozing forth.”

      I have spent a lot of time wondering that! I can see it from both sides. I am planning to write more on that when I get a chance.

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