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  • Writer's pictureJason Capp

Morality is Not Exclusive to Religion

It is believed by many that morality was formed by religion and for religion, but in reality, morals and ethics have evolved alongside humanity since the beginning.

Morality can be defined as principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. It is a particular system of values and principles of conduct, especially ones held by specified people or societies.

To put it plainly, morality is a system in which we decide what is right and wrong.

Throughout history, morals and ethics have changed with the times, and even in the modern age, morality can differ between countries and cultures. For example, what is considered good in the United States may be considered bad in Turkey, and in some cases, opposing moral views can exist next door.

One historical construct that has attempted to manage morality has been religion, and it is within these religions that morals, ethics, and a code of conduct have a stronger foundation and a long track record. Most of humanity for thousands of years have depended on religions to be the institution to teach the world the difference between good and evil, and it is why to this day that religions continue to enforce their rules and moral codes to ensure protection from evilness or even damnation.

The Original Need for Morality

However, no matter how hard religion tries to argue that they are the source for understanding good and bad, morality was not birthed out of religion.

As humans evolved, we began to understand the ramifications of certain actions. Things like hurting, stealing, and killing quickly became things that were frowned upon, and as society developed and communities and tribes formed, humanity saw the importance of following certain rules to preserve their species.

Human beings are also social, and like lions, dolphins, wolves, and other social animals in the wild, there are certain codes of conduct that are instinctual for the safety of your kind. Human tribes did whatever it took to stay alive, and because tribal nature always thinks about the group as a whole, rarely-to-never did humans perform overly selfish actions.

When humans started to become more individualistic, that is when living became much more complicated. Individualism unfortunately breeds negative emotions like greed, jealousy, and envy, so when humans moved more towards a dialectical social construct, a need for morals and ethics to help manage poor behavior was needed.

Morality and Religion

Shortly after moral code became a necessity, religion emerged to build upon morality by expanding social scrutiny of human behavior to include the supernatural.

Religious leaders would use agents like watchful ancestors, spirits, gods and goddesses, angels, and evil beings as effective strategies for restraining selfishness and building more connected groups. Religion essentially built off the foundation of early morality and moved towards the sky.

One of the great advantages of religion is that it has high adaptive value, and for the longest time, religion enhanced group survival by keeping everyone together and under the same moral umbrella.

Robin Dunbar, a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, believes that a critical event that happened during human evolution 500,000 years ago is the cause for both our amazing ability to grasp language and think religiously. He believes it was from around this time that mankind began struggling with the concept of morality severely and saw a need to worship and follow the supernatural.

Morality Does Not Need Religion

A common argument that is used today by religion leaders, unfortunately, is that atheists have no reason to be moral. As history can point out, though, this is blatantly false, and some would even argue that the morality of both sides blossomed from the same beginning; survival.

Religion in many ways was born out of a need for an organizer of morality, and it has held on to that title to this very day. Morality was not born out of religion, but religion was born out of a growing need for morals and ethics.

In the modern age, morality in atheism takes form in many ways, some of which were borrowed from religious influence and others created to further strengthen humanity moving forward. Some common arguments from atheists is that religion has not always been against things we find reprehensible today.

In most religions, the justification of war and killing, slavery, and torturing prisoners, for example, were morally right for centuries. Christians, as a whole, did not oppose these very issues until roughly the last 100 years. This is seen by many as an evolution in human morality and an overall growth by the species, and yet, religion continues to present itself as the moral authority despite not always sharing the same convictions of society.

Everyone Has Their Own Morality

At the end of the day, we are still human beings. We exist as both individuals and social beings, which means we must find ways to be better to one another and create a world with a lot less hate and a lot more love.

All of us are developing our own morals and ethics, because we have all experienced different things that have helped mold us. Our family and friends, births and deaths, religiosity and secularism, our personal experiences, and so much more have sculpted a moral compass that points a very particular direction, and often time, that direction will cross others harshly.

Instead of thinking poorly of those you disagree with, try to put on their shoes and walk a mile. Religious individuals and atheists can coexist, as long as both sides can swallow their pride and learn to understand the heart of the other. This can also apply to all areas of life, from deep political differences (Republican vs Democrat) to diet (Vegan vs Meat Eater).

Each of us are on our own journey, and we are all building our own morals along the way. One thing that is nice for us to understand is that no living being is perfect, so we all have room to grow and learn. Today, instead of enforcing your moral convictions on those before you, why not learn to understand theirs? Give it a try.

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