What are the sources of our
values, morals and ethics?
Many Religious folk insist that all values, morals, ethics, concepts of right and wrong, good, bad and evil come from God. They also believe that Atheists -- persons who have no belief in a God -- have none of these things.
I have pointed out in earlier essays I wrote that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I have also pointed out that even those who believe in God still have a subjective concept of all of these things. They have no objective way to determine what God (if there is one) really thinks about these things. The Bible is the work of men with all of their biases and prejudices. There is no objective way to determine the truth or falsehood of a revelation.
So where do our ideas about all of these things come from?
They come from two realizations.
We are all made of the same stuff. Outside characteristics: skin color, biological gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, dress and ethnic practices, may be different. However, inside we have similar fears, desires and hopes. All people are my neighbors.
Everything is connected. We are all in this together. By “all” I mean all human beings, all plants and animals, our entire planet. My health and well being depend on the health and well being of the planet, which depends on the health and well being of plants and animals and on the health and well being of my neighbors, whether they live close to me or on the other side of the world.
From these two realizations, different societies developed different rules all with one basic aim -- to create a society where their people could live in some sort of harmony for the benefit/survival of the tribe or group.
The rules were made for their time and place, and their needs and problems.
It should be no surprise then that different societies, spread across different continents and wide spread islands, across different times/epochs came up with similar rules.
1. Murder is wrong;
2. Incest is wrong;
3. Private property rights should be respected; and
4. The least fortunate in a community should be cared for.
Societies didn’t always agree on how these wrongs should be dealt with, how wrong doers should be punished or amends made to the one who was wronged.
There were also other areas where societies had very different views on such things as homosexuality. Some societies felt that homosexuality was wrong and other societies were more accepting and found places for the persons with a homosexual orientation in their culture.
Some societies were strong patriarchies, where the husband and fathers word was law. Some were matriarchies, where the woman ruled the roost. Some were egalitarian.
Some societies glorified the warriors and other societies honored the peace makers.
Each society crafted rules for correct behavior that best served their purposes. Some of these rules came from fears and superstition, from bias and prejudice spawned by ignorance of the “other” -- the one/s that are/were different, that weren't just like us, the chosen ones.
Where do/did children learn these rules? First we learn the rules of our society from our parents, from what they tell us to do BUT also -- and perhaps more importantly -- what they show us with their own behavior.
We also learn the rules from every person we come in contact with: friends, neighbors, business people, teachers, preachers and pastors. Again we learn from what they tell us -- BUT more importantly from what they show us with their own behavior.
Then we learn the rules from everything that we learn from books and magazines we read, the TV shows and movies we watch, from the games we play, from social media and web sites we visit. We learn from the study of science, history, sociology, psychology, philosophy and religion. Again we learn from what we hear and see BUT more importantly from the behavior we see practiced.
IF we are wise, then we learn from some of the behavior we see practiced -- what NOT to do!
I started by saying that the rules were crafted to create a society where their people could live in some sort of harmony for the benefit/survival of the tribe or group.
The problems that have now arisen over values, morals and ethics, concepts of right and wrong, good, bad and evil come from two major changes in our societies.
The growth of our “groups”! The rise in world wide communication networks and transportation networks, and now with the internet connections our societies (in most cases) are no longer homogenous, tribal groups. Our societies now are formed from a great mix of people from different cultures, ethnic traditions.
The growth of our understanding about the world and how it works, people and how they work, plants, animals and our planet and how they work AND a greater understanding of our selves and how we work.
Somehow, we have to change our societies' rules to accommodate this great diversity and to accommodate our growth and development as human beings. IF, that is, we want to create a society where ALL of the people can live in some sort of harmony for the benefit/survival of everyone.
Somehow, we have to learn how to get along with people that aren’t just like us.
What religion we follow, or whether we follow any religion, is not important. The ONLY thing that matters are our day to day words and actions (our behavior): how we treat other people, how we treat other living things, plants, animals and our planet and how we treat ourselves. All the rest, the doctrines, dogmas and some of the rules are distractions that often lead us astray.