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Atheism/changing morals - followup

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Question
Hi,

You wrote: "To my mind, anything that is harmful to the tribe is "immoral." So the obvious things like murder, theft, etc. are going to be "universal," as far as that's possible."

It had been normal tribal custom to kill members of the other tribes if there is any benefit.  It is considered moral among the tribal men. Does that make murder moral? If everyone can have personalized morality, it does not make sense as even murder, theft (e.g. robbing rich persons who earned through illegal means) can be justified. Can you explain. Please note I read already other articles in net about this issue.

Regards.

Answer
One of the problems that always creeps into a discussion of morality is the tendency to conflate terminology. You initially brought up morality and ethics. Invariably, however, the topic of law creeps in. So letís clarify. Generally speaking:

Morality pertains to personal matters.
Ethics pertains to professional matters.
Law pertains to society in its entirety, in all sorts of matters.

You can see that there are similarities between all of these, but they are not the same. As Iím sure youíll agree, there are many completely legal practices in the realms of business and politics that are unethical. And there are many completely legal things that many people consider immoral. And while the difference between ethics and morality is not so clearly delineated, I think most people consider morality to be of a ďhigherĒ level than ethics, i.e., some things may be unethical, but havenít gone into the realm of being immoral. (On the other hand, some people may not make such a distinction.)

The example you gave of tribal murder is a perfect example of the law vs. morals. Itís no different from capital punishment in modern society. Itís legal here in the States, but millions of Americans are opposed to it because their morality (whether religious in nature or not) says capital punishment is immoral.

I disagree with your claim that personalized morality means anything can be justified, for two reasons. First, there are clearly people in the world who already justify to themselves all manner of atrocious behavior, whether legal or not. ďHe deserved it,Ē is a common excuse that people might feel is justification enough for a particular action. So, clearly,

But I disagree also because I donít see any evidence of it. The claim is often made that, lacking a universal morality as decreed by a deity, people would rape and murder at the drop of a hat. But I can tell you from personal experience that this is baloney. Iíve personally known literally hundreds of atheists in my time, and I would say that most of them are the most moral people I know. Iíve been told by Christians that I personally ďact more Christian than most Christians.Ē And my reasons for having the morals that I do have nothing to do with religion, nor have they anything to do with the laws of society. They are purely a matter of my own beliefs on what is right and wrong.

Further, I've asked many religious people this question, and always got the same answer. The question is this: If it could be proved tomorrow that (fill in whatever god you believe in) did NOT exist, that (fill in your holy book of choice) was written by men without any sort of divine influence, would you change your personal sense of morality? Would you think it's okay to murder or steal, for example? And the resounding answer I always hear is, "No, of course not!" Because their personal morality is not actually dependent upon religious beliefs.


Anyway, as I said before, thereís much more to this discussion than Iím willing or able to go into. You mentioned reading other internet articles, but there are complete books available for you to read, if you need further information, which obviously will go into much more detail than any article.

Atheism

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Vincent M. Wales

Expertise

Skeptic and atheist for more than three decades.

Experience

Living as a non-believer in an increasingly religious nation... and writing about it.

Organizations
Atheists and Other Freethinkers (Sacramento)
Freedom from Religion Foundation
(founder of) Freethought Society of Northern Utah

Education/Credentials
Not really applicable.

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