Wow, thank you!! I in fact agree with your viewpoint, but keep in my mind that a lot of this argument is opinion-based and has to do with one’s perception of the human condition, basically—and that varies from person to person.
I wrote a lot a lot about this, but TL;DR: I would argue that morals come from the human desire to live in societies as opposed to the desire for reward in an afterlife, especially considering many polytheistic religions do not offer automatic reward for good behavior after death. And people who are not religious do not always do bad things; people who do bad things are not always non-religious. It goes both ways.
Put this under a cut for length, if you read it and find any errors in my discussion of certain religions or disagree with me on any points/have anything to add, let me know!! I’d be curious to hear all of your thoughts.
So, my longer points:
- Humans before gods as we know them:
- Distinctive gods grew from groups of people, not single individuals. Perhaps thousands and thousands of years ago individuals had an idea of a higher power, in order to explain the world around them, but gods of the wide-worshipped sort grew from the entire cultures. Almost any god you can name in almost any pantheon was probably not the invention of a single human.
- Therefore, people groups came before organized religion. That raises the question of how and why people decided to live together instead of separately, in nomadic family units. Keep in my mind this is thousands and thousands of years ago, in pre-history, during the Ice Age and the epoch of the hunter-gatherers. The answer is survival, simply. Life is easier when the work needed to survive is divided amongst multiple people instead of a few. And in order for people to coexist peacefully in the groups that aided their longevity, there had to be rules. Don’t kill each other, don’t steal each other’s shit, etc. So people (for the most part) in those groups followed those rules, not because they believed they would be rewarded by a god for doing so but because they had to if they wanted to stay in the little society that was making life easier for them. And those who didn’t follow the rules would be punished, because discord would defeat the purpose of coming together in the first place: self-preservation.
- As Earth slowly came out of the Ice Age, the possibility of farming emerged. Farming allowed humans to stay in one place instead of continuously moving around to find food, as had been necessary before. And with farming there came towns, because, again, living with other humans when there’s a lot of work to be done is mutually beneficial. So the same rules applied as before: in order for this whole living-together thing to work, there needs to be some rules.
- not all religions offer rewards for good behavior in the afterlife, exactly
- For example: look at the religion of the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans. They believed that after death, 90% of humans went to Hades and spent eternity in the Asphodel Meadows, which wasn’t reward or damnation. It was just a place for the neutral souls—not a good place, not a bad place, just boring fields, basically. Admission to the Fields of Elysium was EXTREMELY hard to gain; you basically had to be a hero of the mythical sort of super super super righteous, and pragmatically speaking most humans just aren’t that perfect. Then there was Tartarus, reserved for the really bad. But most people, if they were realistic, believed they would probably spend eternity in the Fields of Asphodel. And yet those two civilizations were some of the greatest in history—it’s not as if anarchy broke out without promise of eternal bliss.
- Or observe Hinduism, in which one continuously dies and is reborn in an almost endless cycle until the soul is pure. Karma, a multi-faceted composite of your thoughts and actions, determines how good one’s next life will be. I.e., a righteous man could be reborn as a minor god, whereas an evil man could be reborn as a cow. However, being reborn into better circumstances isn’t a reward, exactly, for one is still living, undergoing the travails that come with life. When one’s atman (spirit) finally reaches moksha, it can rest. However, since one cannot know when they will reach moksha, one does not strive for reward for good behavior—only for good karma, and one can improve their karma throughout each life.
- Society is far more godless than it used to be and “morals” are arguably better
- The world is less religious than it used to be. It’s a fact. Think about the power the Pope used to hold and the power he holds now.
- There are more open atheists in the world.
- Even many people who believe in some sort of god seldom or never go to any sort of religious service.
- And yet the world has not fallen into anarchy. Plenty of people are good without a god or gods.
- (And plenty are good with one/them.)
- Lbr, some humans are always going to do bad stuff
- It’s human nature. We are all subject to extreme emotions, to moments of desperation, to times of trouble, any or all of which may lead us to make choices that are considered morally bad. And honestly at one point or another almost every single person WILL indulge in the urge to make a morally questionable decision. We will all lie or cheat or steal, even if it’s something tiny. And some of us will do far worse… but those few are a minority.
- And in that moment, as someone is about to commit a serious crime, how likely is it that a thought of God will actually stop them? It might stay their hand, it might augment their guilt, but stop them completely? It’s doubtful. If following the moral doctrine of a certain religion was truly that important to them, it’s unlikely they’d be in the position of doing the deed anyway. I’m not saying it’s impossible for a potential criminal to change his or her mind this way, but my point is that I don’t think that crime rates would be exponentially higher without religion because I don’t think religion is stopping thousands of criminals anyway.
- All of this being said…
- I believe morality can exist without religion, but I do think religion is a necessary and good part of society. I’m an atheist, but I don’t understand (and in fact dislike) atheists who aim to destroy religion completely. What is the point of that? Religion helps people, betters people, saves people, gives people purpose. If people honestly love their god and find comfort in religion against the harsh, oft-depressing nature of life, what is the problem with that? I don’t see one.