On morality, a vague concept
Morality is a vague but very important concept. Basically it is the codification of what is “right” and what is “wrong” in a particular culture/society. The ethics, the system of values and principles of conduct that are understood and followed within a society define the morality of that society. Cultures vary greatly and concepts of morality also vary greatly. Religion is usually the moral authority in a society, but despite the conviction within every culture that their morality is the “true” morality, morality in humanity is indeterminate.
In my opinion, the universal foundation of morality is compassion. The foundation of compassion is in the behavior that evolved to protect and thereby insure the survival of infants born to vertebrate species that depended on long gestation times and a long period of juvenile development. Behavior that is protective of offspring is quite evident in many vertebrate species of the world today. Without the inherited behavior patterns of successful care and protection of infant progeny many vertebrate species could not survive. The trait of compassion is also reflected in development of strong family ties. As humanity evolved, and life spans increased, and family groups expanded, the instincts and behavior of compassion extended more broadly to members of the tribal social structure. Those early proto human tribes that could express compassion, support, and protection to the extended family group could best survive and grow through filial cooperation. And through cooperation, early Homo sapiens could develop the physical and behavioral traits that enhanced life supporting behaviors and technologies, such as language, child care, food preparation, cooperative hunting, and very important, defense of the tribe; which included the ability to exert warfare against competing tribes. In my view what we call morality is the fulcrum of the seesaw between compassion and aid (love) and, destruction of rivals (war).
There had to have been quite a conflict between the essential emotion of compassion for children and family/tribal members; and the necessity of being able to displace and kill members of other families/tribes that were in competition for the essential resources of food, territory, water, and other requirements for survival. Authority was needed to provide the direction that allowed child care and protection of family members, but also allowed and encouraged. warfare and destruction of competing tribes. Indeed that is the history of the development of humanity. Those human tribes that survived into the early development of human societies, were the ones that could meld compassion and war into a functional social structure.
But how did the authority for this behavioral dichotomy develop? I think that this capability was found and codified by the concept of direction from a supernatural god(s) as expressed by its/their directions to the tribal leaders. Now, with the authority of a supernatural all powerful being, the people of “God” could exercise the necessary compassion within the tribe to enhance survival of the tribe, often at the destruction of competing tribes, the “others” disowned by the “true God”. This allowed and encouraged direct opposition to inherent compassionate behavior, and also allowed the inherent behaviors of predation and aggression to be directed against others of their species. This enhanced the survival of their tribe at the expense of other tribes. Thus the concept and exercise of what became religion made possible the growth of what we call civilization.
Morality is defined by the survival needs of the tribe, implemented through the window of religion into the structure of government, a window that is opened by the shamans, witchdoctors, priests, clerics, preachers, and pontiffs, the leaders of the tribes. Although morality has its foundation in religion, it finds its force in government. So morality is not an absolute decree by a loving and/or hateful god; it is a pragmatic blending of ancient behavioral traits into societal convictions and conventions that allows a society to do what is deemed necessary by the leaders of the government of that society that allows its leaders to dominate and prosper though supernatural control of the society. (Religions live and die at the hand of man, not God, i.e, Henry VIII and the Church of England).
A simplification?... sure, subject to argument, of course, possibly way off base, perhaps... But still an interesting way to think about the development and purpose of the matters of morality. Of course, many, actually most, of the people that make up the major civilizations on our planet already know absolutely for sure the origin of the absolute code of morality that is the absolute truth. And that is encoded in the structure of the particular religion that their god has given to them. And that, despite what other religions might have to say about morality and what science and reality might have revealed or may yet reveal about humanity and its history, their morality is based on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as found in their religion. And if you don’t agree with them on this, well, in various times and places, past, present, and future, you might not be fit to live upon this earth and take up valuable resources in doing so.
So, is it moral to use reason to deny the existence of God and recognize variability in morality? In my opinion, the answer is of course, it is absurd to deny the application of pure reason in the quest for knowledge, wherever it leads, whatever sacred cow it gores. Dependence upon faith as a moral requirement to provide supernatural enlightenment rather than reason to gain knowledge and solve problems is a pathway to failure. But religion considers human morality as an absolute code delivered by a supernatural being and puts reason in the role of a tool that serves primarily to verify and further the beliefs of that religion. Martin Luther, the champion of the Protestant Reformation expressed his opinion of reason outside of the boundaries of scripture verification in very colorful language.
“Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism... She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.”
Martin Luther, Erlangen Edition v. 16, pp. 142-148
I wonder about the morality, or absence of, in the religious teachings of Martin Luther. Of course times change for both the religious and the secular and few today (in most cultures) would publically characterize reason as the handmaiden of the Devil. The development of science and technology into the secular cornerstone of modern life has dulled the broadsword of religion in much of the world today. But religion still claims absolute morality based on the ancient scriptures of that particular religion as the moral authority that allows marginalization of the secular, rejection of whatever science and knowledge is contrary to belief and faith, and embracement of ridicule, untruth, and even violence in protection of the faith.
Religion, any and all religions, can provide the moral authority to kill, enslave, marginalize, seize property and territory, pauperize, cull, and terrorize those human beings that openly reject or culturally do not accept and bow to the reigning form of religion within a society. The above sentence is quite true because the word CAN is used; thus indicating that secular societal norms can, and often in our modern world do, deny the imposition of religions to control every aspect of the lives of individuals. This allows for pluralistic societies to exist and prosper; despite the often violent and always repressive aspects of fundamentalist religion to deny freedom of thought and expression to all who would question and especially to all who would deny the supernatural foundation of any particular organized religion. The longest wars and the most violent and verbal conflicts are usually those between religions, even different iterations of the same religion, and each conflict finds the moral authority for dealing death, taking territory, and imposing slavery within the scriptures that define that religion.
The tenets of organized religion codify the morality that controls behavior within a society. Every religion has its own concept of morality and its own laws of behavior based on the definition of morality supposedly given by the deity that founded that particular religion, thus moral codes are variable and even though each religion considers their interpretation of morality as absolute, human morality is relative and almost universally dependent on the moral laws of the organized religion that controls each particular society.
Moral codes that direct human behavior have been promulgated pretty much ever since humans developed language, and they all provide the basic agreements for group cooperation that foster group survival, including the elimination or control of other groups through aggression and force, behavior considered moral by many even today. Over centuries humanity has struggled to define what constitutes “proper behavior” within a family, tribe, society, religion, state, and nation; and has striven to mold a moral code that all members of the group, large or small, are required by common agreement to honor. “Do not do unto others what you would not want done onto yourself” is usually the basic tenet of these codes and they have been the molding force in creating modern societies. However this basic tenet of morality is generally restricted just to those of the same society and culture, and not to the “others” that compete for resources and lebensraum (living space).
So does morality have an answer to all or some of the questions below (just a few of hundreds that come to mind), and if not, can a moral code be developed that will guide humanity into a future compatible with the resources of our Earth and the instinctive nature of humanity?
It is moral for a society to give everyone the freedom that everyone desires? Despite the beliefs of some cultures that only their culture has a God given right to survive.
Is it moral for everyone of every culture and religion to have the right to reproduce and rear offspring as each individual and/or pair/group deems desirable for themselves?
Is it moral for society to allow human populations to increase to the point where the carrying capacity of the Earth for human civilization collapses?
Is it moral to segregate and relegate a culture considered to be inferior to roles of servants or even slaves?
Is it moral for a religion that is created by “The One True God” to allow the existence of any other religions on the face of the Earth?
Even though consumption of meat powered the evolution of humanity into sentience, is it moral for humans to kill and eat animals?
Is it moral for humans to eat some animals and not others?
It is moral for one to pretend to believe in the God of a specific religion for the purpose of fitting into a community, establishing an economic foundation, finding a spouse, and avoiding death and torture?
Is it moral to preach that God will provide salvation and prosperity in exchange for a donation to a religious organization?
Is it moral for a human society to suffer the existence of any religion that is based on supposition of the existence of a supernatural god (s)?
Is it moral to create terror in other societies through random executions and public beheadings of individuals of other faiths and competing societies because interpretation of scripture or actual text of scriptures says that it is?
As long as we ascribe to and obey the human formulated edicts of a supernatural god the future of humanity will be controlled by those who would use the authority of religion and government to cloak and finance their institutional and personal agendas. Could we, the human we, find a way to incorporate into a universal morality, individual human freedom, compassion, social connections, a contented and a comfortable way of life; with preservation and conservation of the Earth’s natural resources, pursuit of knowledge, adventure, and respect for all variations of humanity that also respect the basic tenets that allows humanity to survive the excesses inherent in the biological and behavioral baggage that is part and parcel of humanity? Good question... we’ll have to work on that.