Religions cannot claim a monopoly on objective morality: The debate is based on flawed definitions

(If you don’t feel like reading this whole post, scroll to the purple text, which is the main point of this post).

I generally stay out of the objective morality debate between theists and atheists because the conclusion that atheism has no objective morality is a fallacy: it assumes that atheism takes positions on things outside the scope of supernatural belief. But I wanted to add my two cents to the argument. The idea that atheists have no objective morality is wrong. It’s religion that has no objective morality.

Christianity, for example, draws 100% of its (what they call) “morality” from the Christian scriptures. But there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other religious texts in the world. By definition, this makes Christian morality subjective to the book from which this morality originated. Christian morality is subjectively different from Islamic morality, or Buddhist morality, or Konkokyo morality. Christians draw their morality from a book based on the flavors of their own likings.

To further illustrate this point, let’s look at the human consumption of animals. Christianity tells us that after Noah’s flood, god gave (some) animal flesh to humans to eat. Most Jews, Christians, and Muslims see no moral problems with eating animals. Many Jains and Buddhists, on the other hand, believe that it is immoral to eat animals. When left up to religion to decide, the answer is subjectively based on which religion to which one subscribes.

The secular version of morality, on the other hand, is rather simple and not subjected to variations among different religions. Secular morality goes like this: Is the action that I’m about to take a form of violence? If yes, then I will not take that action. If no, then I’m free to take that action.

Violence, be it physical or structural, is not subjective. Harm is harm. If our actions harm another person or animal then it is not moral. If our actions harm no other person or animal, then it objectively is moral. (Of course, this in no way implies that atheists, Christians, or any other group of people follow these morals. Case in point, most people eat animals, despite the fact that doing so harms animals).

But all of this is irrelevant. No religious person makes the argument that you need the bible to know that murder is wrong. Instead, people are confused about definitions. Here is the main point of this post:

Outside the scope of harm, what religious people call their monopoly on “objective morality” should instead be called something like “Christian ethics,” “Islamic ethics,” etc, because they have no basis in morals. Ethics differ from morals in that morals are within each individual. Everyone knows murder is wrong. Ethics, on the other hand, are socially constructed. An example of an ethical question is this: Is gay marriage ok? Because gay marriage causes no harm, the answer cannot come from morals; rather, the answer is subjected to our ethics.

Here everyone answers the question based on their ethical understanding. Christians can say all they want that it is unethical to have same sex marriage, to not tithe, and to not honor the sabbath, but they cannot say that these things are immoral. And if they take the position that these things are unethical, they must admit that their positions are subjected to the religious belief to which they belong.

To sum up, here’s a table to help you better understand.

  Morals Ethics
Where do they come from? An inner sense of what is right and wrong. Social constructions, religious texts.
Example Murder is wrong because it harms people. Homosexuality is wrong because the bible says so.*
What happens if you act against them? You feel guilt. Society looks down on you.

*Of course, this is BS. It can easily be argued here that Christians who try to deny the LGBT community certain rights cause harm and are, thus, being immoral.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political scientist.
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1 Response to Religions cannot claim a monopoly on objective morality: The debate is based on flawed definitions

  1. Pingback: Animal rights despite the bible: Morals vs. religious ethics | The Atheist Papers

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