The View From 1776

Can You be Moral and Ethical without being Religious?

The absence of morality and ethics is nihilism, the complete denial of Divinity or any ordering principle.

An emailer asserted, “One can be moral and ethical without being religious.”

My reply:

Sorry. It’s impossible to be moral and ethical without being religious. Without religion, there is no standard for acceptable (moral) conduct. Otherwise you’re simply a nihilist for whom nothing is forbidden.

You can be, as apparently you are, a materialistic, atheistic socialist, but that is still believing in a religion, albeit a secular and materialistic one in which the only standard is the current opinions bouncing around in the minds of intellectuals under the rubric of social justice. That, of course, is what your coreligionists Lenin and Stalin used as the standard to liquidate an estimated 20 million dissident Russians. Today’s standards, under the religion of socialism, of course, are unlikely to be tomorrow’s (cf. Stalin’s abrupt switches in the Popular Front era). So you are obliged to read the New York Times every day to determine which of your beliefs from yesterday are no longer valid.

To this another emailer wrote. “Whoa…?Had to go to the dictionary for this one…
? ?- n, form L. religio, reverence for the gods, holiness, in LL.(Ec.) a system of religious belief. ?1.a) believe in a divine or superhuman powers or powers to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe.
I suppose the terms moral and ethical relate to some sort of standard, but where is the component related to a deity? ?You made me think, as I consider myself ethical, moral, but areligious. ?Maybe a marginal agnostic.
My reply:

Your main point, I believe, was:

“I suppose the terms moral and ethical relate to some sort of standard, but where is the component related to a deity?”

The shortest answer is that the component related to a deity is first clearly articulated by Plato and Aristotle in the concept of natural law, which forms the essence of Western civilization until the remarkably ill-named Age of Enlightenment.  It was to this concept of natural law that Thomas Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence (“the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”), in an America still untainted by the godless secular materiality of liberal-socialism.

Plato’s idealism led him to conclude that the ideal, or perfect, forms of everything were of divine origin and that what we observe with our senses in this world is no more than a vague shadow of the perfection of divine reality. 

For a good analogy, look at the propositions of geometry.  Geometric logic can lead to complex and explicit understandings of spatial relationships, but everything in our realm of being is at best an approximation of pure geometric forms.  No matter how fine the tolerances of any manufacturing process, no physical representation of a geometric form will be perfect, if for no other reason than the gaps at the sub-molecular level.  Yet we know that the theoretical understandings of geometry work and produce effective results. 

Liberal-socialism, particularly the Positivism of Auguste Comte, propounded the doctrine that the only reality is what can be detected by our senses.  One must then ask, how much do Einstein’s special and general theories weigh?  what do they smell like?  how do they taste? Not even liberal-socialists deny the existence of mathematics, but mathematics is the science of things that exist in a non-material realm that can be accessed only in the mind, via revelation, or, if you prefer, inspiration. 

In precisely the same way, the natural law propositions relating to human nature and morality are not “things” which you can taste, smell, or weigh.  But morality has real existence and it works.

It also must be acknowledged, even by liberal-socialists, that no intellectual’s mind created the the laws of science.  Nonetheless they exist and they came from somewhere out of non-being.  Liberals, however, having observed these laws, immediately puff themselves up and declare that they created everything with their minds and that there exists no higher source of legitimacy than the minds of intellectuals.  Professing to have discovered the so-called laws of history, intellectuals hubristically claim the power to control human destiny by reshaping political society (as in Lenin’s New Soviet Man).

Philosophy, or love of wisdom, is the process of seeking to glimpse as clearly as possible the ideal forms of behavior, which we call morals.  In Plato’s Parable of the Cave (in The Republic), a savior archetype manages to free himself from the chains of human, sensual life and look straight at the source of light (divinity), then descends back into the cave to free other captives with the knowledge he has imperfectly viewed.  The similarity to Moses’s descent from the mountain bearing the Ten Commandments is not accidental.  The oldest know law code, that of Hammurabi, asserts that its legitimacy derives from the Babylonian god Shamash.

Aristotle said that everything we observe with our senses in this world can be described in terms of motion or energy, and that the nature (or natural law) of things is their potential energy or motion.  Human potential for Aristotle was expressed in ethics or morality.  Behind all of this lay what he called the Unmoved Mover, i.e., the god-creator of being out of non-being. 

As far back into antiquity as archaeologists and historians can go, human behavior and human aspirations have been the same as we observe today.  Collective, societal forms of government and ideas of permissible social conduct vary over the centuries, but all individuals have always had some sense of what they believed was fair or unfair to them.  This is the human potential imparted by the Unmoved Mover, god-creator.  The role of religion and philosophy is to study nature with the aim of conforming individuals’ ideas of fair and unfair conduct to the highest aspects of nature.

For more in that regard, see Return of Pharaoh, the God-King.

Liberal-socialism, however, completely eliminates this aspect and says that humans are no different from earthworms crawling across an electric grid, with intellectuals at the switches to administer stimulating shocks in order to control human behavior.  That is what atheistic, secular materiality, expressed as psychology, boils down to:  humans are merely receptors and reactors to material, sensual pleasure or pain.

Even secular scientists in astronomy and nuclear particle physics are led to speculate whether our observable world is static, always existing and in its present form, degenerating, expanding, or collapsing.  For anyone who thinks very long about the matter, it is impossible to escape the logic that from nothing (the chaos of Genesis) came being, and that somewhere beyond our physical realm lies a state of non-being (Heaven) in a realm entirely beyond the capacity of humans to understand or observe.  Steven Hawking, for example, allows for the complete suspension of the observed laws of physics in the naked singularity of a black hole, where matter and energy as we know them cease to exist in those forms.

The sumum bonum, or supreme good, was for Aristotle individuals striving toward morality within a society that supported religion, tradition, laws, and education aimed at instilling and preserving the morality that is man’s distinguishing characteristic or potential, imparted by the Unmoved Mover, the God existing in a state outside being itself who created the observable cosmos.

This is the Aristotelian doctrine incorporated directly into Christianity in the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 11/21 at 02:27 PM
  1. Great work once again, Tom! And I mean both this post and Return of Pharaoh, the god-King.

    "Half or more of the nation believe that a liberal-socialist President has the powers to accomplish mutually exclusive economic results, in effect to be in two different places simultaneously." I am going to quote you in the future! This is what Nicol
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  04:58 AM
  2. I will not go very deeply into the ties on the symbiotic relationship between leftist economics and leftist cultural socialism (the subsidization of morally unvaluable "enterprises") which devalues man as leftist economics devalues the market. Relativism devalues humanity. All ideas are not equally valid. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union grew out of the rejection of Christian moral principles and the rise of paganism. The Maoists in the "cultural revolution" destroyed churches and people systematically. The leftist politician has no basis to stand by moral absolutes so he or she will lie and say anything to attain his or her goals, whatever they may happen to be at any given time. As another person once observed, the Democrats once wanted the right to own slaves, today they want the right to destroy the human fetus. One thing remains unchanged: their platforms were maintained through using semantics to deny the truth of their objects' humanity.

    This is because, as C.S. Lewis cautions in Miracles, "Our own situation is much like that of the erudite limpets... When we have removed from our idea of God some puny human characteristic, we (as merely erudite enquirers) have no resources form which to supply that blindingly real and concrete attribute of [His] Deity which ought to replace it." We "build up Man as a sort of amorphous jelly."

    I believe that your good use of the term Liberal-socialist is very useful to people. There is economic socialism and then there is social socialism, as opposed to social capitalism, which American conservatives have amassed a wealth with in the knowledge of man as man, rather than man as thing, through the ages.

    The closer that you come to the truth, the closer you are to God. May he bless the souls of those that serve Him. Even those as Plato, who sought the "source of the light" from their cave. I pray for your reader also, the one that wrote to you that "one can be moral and ethical without being religious." I am sure he or she is a very good person.

    "God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain." - C.S. Lewis
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/22  at  05:04 AM
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