Where do you get morality from, if not the Bible?

I’ve taken some time working on the answer to this one, as I think it’s a very important issue to clarify. (That’s why I haven’t posted very much all week.)

I recieved my morality from my parents.

I was raised by my mother and stepfather, and my birth father (whom I visited frequently) to be kind, generous, and helpful to others. Since I’m sure some will wonder – my mother and stepfather were both practicing Catholics during most of my childhood (cutting back to non-practicing through my teens and early adulthood), and my father (as far as I could tell) was an agnostic.

My parents received their morality from their parents, and so on, each generation passing along their established rules of right and wrong to the next. With each passing, the new generation evaluated those rules, considered which still applied and which did not, and adjusted their morals appropriately.

I’m fairly certain that some of the morals that my parents and grandparents followed came from the Bible – but I’m just as certain that much of the morals in the Bible were rejected by them as well. And those morals that they chose to follow are universal to all people, regardless of religion – don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie, and treat others as you would like to be treated.

The Golden Rule is a wonderful thing – but it’s not exclusive to the Bible. In fact, it can be found in at least 21 different world religions, some of which predate Christianity and the Bible. That consistency shows me that humans have developed a sense of right and wrong on their own, with no divine assistance.

Human morality has also  improved over time. What was permitted and forbidden in Biblical times has changed, as humanity understands more about the world and itself. I could not see myself adhering to any moral code from the bronze age, or even a few generations ago.

Slavery was permitted long ago, but now we have (mostly) come to the understanding that owning another person (to ANY degree) is terribly wrong. My parents grew up in the 30s and 40s, and maintained certain attitudes that I found to be rather racist – they taught me that whites and blacks shouldn’t be permitted to marry, for example. I rejected that, and still do.

My own attitude towards homosexuals has changed as I have matured and realized that all human beings deserve to be treated as such.  Likewise, there may be things that I do or subscribe to today that my children will find immoral, based on knowledge we develop in the future.

I could never adhere to a moral code that isn’t open to scrutiny and reevaluation.


2 Responses to “Where do you get morality from, if not the Bible?”

  1. 1 Ken
    January 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

    Excellent reply. I hope you are as clear and concise with the remaining questions (they look like they might be fun to answer… except the few that don’t make any sense at all).

    One aspect that might also illuminate the egocentric nature question, (which is: “Where do you get morality from, IF NOT THE BIBLE?”). Would be to ask where the BILLIONS of non-christian religious folks get their morality. As an atheist I don’t believe any book of mythology is necessary, but I understand how some people might think a magic book is required (because they haven’t really thought about it very hard). But it is the height of arrogance to think that the bible is the only religious source for “moral codes.”

    • 2 Sam
      June 6, 2010 at 5:39 am

      Never mind non-Christians; where do Christians get morality from?

      “He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.” — Exodus 21:17

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I am an atheist, a person who does not believe in the existence of any gods.

Many people don't know a lot about atheists, and have questions about them. In this blog, I do my best to answer them, to help build an understanding between atheists and theists.

Do you have a question? You can post it in the comments to any of my blog entries, and I will do my best to answer it in a new entry.


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