I can’t stop thinking about clichés!
Here is another one. Philip Adams uses it a lot, but he is not the only one. This cliché is ‘It is possible to live a moral life, or to have a good ‘morality’ without being religious at all.
This repost is in response mostly to Christians who say “Look. What is ‘moral’ derives from some kind of code outside of humanity. Without something ‘other’ (like God) then kit is not possible to have a really moral life. Christians say “Well if you claim to be ‘moral’ where does ‘morality’ come from?
Well, one place morality comes from is ‘our group.’ This means that what is ‘right and wrong’ depends upon the collective, but unconsciously held, sense of what is good and what is bad. This works ok, so long as ‘our group’ does not mix much with ‘their group’ that will have another sense of right and wrong.
In a globalised world, this is getting harder and harder.
Just yesterday, we saw the case of a former Imam who presided over the marriage of a 14 yr. old girl to a 35 yr. old man. For ‘our group’ this is immoral, and illegal, so he was convicted. But for their group, it was ok, presumably. The problem comes when we ask the question ‘well whose group is gong to win in the competition for what ids right and wrong?”
Most of he time we never get there. In the small family groups in which we live, maybe of about 50 people, morality is imposed by the group on is members, without much questioning about where it comes from, or why it is that way. Mostly ewe get along fine, living this unconscious morality.
This is even so for Christians.
One can step back from he idea of ‘our group’ and ‘their group’ and say ‘But there are universal human values that everyone should adhere to. After all, we have the ‘universal declaration of human rights.’ Even this will not work, because there is no ‘universal agreement’ or at least world wide agreement about what these human rights ought to be.
In one case it comes down to ‘might is right’ and that ‘history is written by the winners’. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, and until the outcome of the conflict is known, who will be declared ‘immoral’ is up for grabs.
The other way of approaching morality is to ask the question ‘Well, what does it mean to be a human being?’ Often this question is also not within the realms of becoming conscious, so we are back with ‘might makes right’. The person who has the power to force another person to behave in a certain way, imposes their morality on those who don’t.
This applies to the morality of how we treat refugees, of whom we let out on bail, and whom we lock up and for how long.
The best thing I heard about ‘non religious’ morality came from an atheist, Douglas Murray, who was speaking on the ‘Late Night live’ programme, with Philip Adams, and was I think a challenge to him. Douglas Murray said something like “Our values do not just hang in the air. They have a history. And in Europe, our values have been shaped by Christianity. I accept them, but I don’t accept the God who is supposed to be behind them.”So Douglas Murray is acknowledging the historicity of his value system. He has a sense of where they came from.
Which gets me to the idea of a process whereby we might proceed with one another.
For my money, the morality of a thing depends upon the story that one tells ones self about that thing. Morality is based in narrative.
Christians cannot prove the existence of God, but we do have a group of stories (including the story of our God) that tell us what things mean. As we seek to work out what is right and wrong, we can refer to our stories, and ask ‘Well how is this story important to us now, and what can we do about it so that our lives are found within the world described by that story?’
Then we can ask the same of other people “Can you tell us the story of how it came to be that you are as you are? This at least, though not the end of the matter, at least gives us a way into the meaning of life for those who do not share our story.