Amy at Texas Faith: Can you have morality without the existence of God?

TEXAS FAITH: Can you have morality without the existence of God?

Question by

When President Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty exactly 50 years ago, advocates called it the moral obligation of a wealthy nation. Johnson said he was doing it not because it was efficient or helpful or politically expedient (which, of course, it was for liberals), but because it was right. The idea of advancing public policy in moral terms is hardly new. The Civil Rights movement invoked a moral imperative in its quest of public policy. Social conservatives want a government that reflects values they consider fundamental and unchanging. The impetus of President Obama’s health-care initiative and its various government precursors was, at least at some level, a moral one.

Robert Barron, a Catholic priest, notes in a column that one of the most common observations made by opponents of religion is that we don’t need God in order to have a coherent and integral morality. After all, aren’t there plenty of good, moral people who don’t believe in God? But supporters of religion warn that without God, there’s moral chaos. Barron suggests removing God is tantamount to removing the ground for basic good, and once the basic good has been eliminated, all that is left is the self-legislating and self-creating will. Thus, he says, people of faith should be wary when atheists and agnostics blithely suggest that morality can endure apart from God.

So what is the relationship between morality and the existence of God? Can you have one without the other?

For all the talk by politicians and policy advocates about the morally in advancing various programs, good government typically means managing a competition between various secular interests in a way that benefits the common good. It’s about reaching a consensus in the community. It’s relative. But can morality ever be relative? And if not, doesn’t that mean it requires, at its heart, something absolute — like God.

What is the relationship between morality and the existence of God? Can you have one without the other?

Read the Panel

AMY MARTIN, Director Emeritus of Earth Rhythms and Writer/editor Moonlady News Newsletter

Since one out of every four people has no religious affiliation, and many of them veer toward agnostic, if morality was dependent on the existence of God we’d be up to our necks in murder.  Secular Europe would be inundated in crime, yet their incarceration rates are far lower than ours. Jails in the U.S. are chock full of Christians and others who pledge belief in God. Some even use religion to justify their deeds, such as Muslims who kill daughters that “shamed” them. White supremacists who murder ethnic people, and all the way back to the Nazis and before, were sure that a Christian God ordained their actions.

Morality resides in the thought process, how we reason and rationalize, how we debate and discern. In matters of policy, it’s all about who gets to be the decider of what is moral and what is not. God has no dog in this hunt.

All humans do the mental dance of justification. That does not relegate us to a world of moral grey. As the yin-yang symbol of Taoism reveals, in darkness there is a spot of light, all light contains a spot of dark, and the line between them is Mobius thin. In other words, purity is an illusion. Let go of the illusion and the decision becomes clear. Is it compassionate? That is the bottom line of morality.