Essay:Godless morality

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Before the essay, a bit of a background.

At the university, I am taking a course on critical thinking. As part of this course, we are having 6 speakers come in to speak about various topics. One of them, Reverend *****, whose name has been removed for privacy reasons, is a liberal minister of a Church. He presented, in an interesting format, his overall beliefs. It was his argument that "God wants us to be moral" that I took issue to. In addition to explaining our distention or assertion of his beliefs, we also had to explain ours. With that in mind, I present my response to his presentation.

I make no secret of my disdain for religion, holding it as an unfortunate blight on the face of mankind. Having seen and heard much of the horror theism has wrecked on mankind, I shifted from a deep theism of my youth, assured of the existence of God, to a blunt, antitheistic view. Much can be written, and indeed has, of the existence of a higher power, but it is not the purpose of this dissertation to wrangle with the existence of a heavenly might.

Without hesitance, I renounce the praise of any god, choosing to expend my admiration on the creator of the imaginary creator, our own minds. I eschew the fragility of the altar of religion, but spend my life in the praise of knowledge, ever seeking answers to the questions I find, staunchly admiring those who dare to question with impunity. Without arguing on the existence of a power cosmic, I shall seek to contrast my own views with that of Reverend Harold -------, specifically focusing on the question of from whence morality springs. My views in life are based on not one source, but a compilation of several, neatly fusing the ideas of several thinkers, and modified over time when better ideas are found. It is, admissibly, difficult to describe beliefs when they are composed from such, but in three words, I consider myself a humanistic stoic atheist.

Stoicism, as founded in Hellenistic Greece, is a philosophy that advocates a complete detachment from negative emotions such that a devout follower seems almost non-reactive. Eschewing emotions such as anger and sorrow, a Stoic aspires to become a “sage”, a person of moral and intellectual perfection, achieving freedom from suffering through said detachment. Above all, the Stoic approach is simple: follow where reason leads without regret (1). Although moral and intellectual perfection may be impossible to achieve, it is nonetheless interesting to regard the conflict and overlaps between Stoicism and the United Church, as presented by Rev. -------, particularly in regards as to why it is desirable to do “good”.

At the crux of Rev. -------’s presentation were his experiences during the Cold War, the duration of which saw two rival superpowers vying for supremacy. This period is known for a sharp war of ideals, in which America saw communist Russia as a penultimate evil, eclipsed only by their conspiracy to destroy America. Russia, meanwhile, eyed the democratic United States as a despicable aggressor, having forsaken them as enemies after their Herculean struggle against Nazism. This war of ideals had no true right or wrong, but paranoid fear, bristled hostility, patent anger, and utter hysteria gripped the factions on opposite sides of the Pacific. As a way of bridging this gap of fear, Rev. ------ participated in a program whereby members of his congregation traveled to meet with members of the Russian Orthodox Church. Whether by design or coincidence, participants in this program inevitably found themselves exchanging ideas. The results of these were simple but vital: his congregants learned that the feared enemies were still people, people who dared to have different ideas, who may or may not have any admiration of the system they lived with. Coming home, it was the exchange of ideas, of human thoughts, of knowledge, that successfully diffused fear, not the prayers they inevitably offered together.

As previously mentioned, Stoicism encourages emotional detachment only to the point of ignoring the negative emotions of life, opting to instead find beauty in negative spaces. It is reasonable to state that there is no such thing as a tenet nor any sensible ideology that advocates continued suffering, ignorance, and fear. Stoically, ------ and his congregation confronted peacefully those who dissented, and the result saw an elimination of fear, a removal of ignorance, and a deep benefit for those who traveled. As ------ did, it is stoic to wish to remove fear, and to do so in a positive way. (1) Ultimately, Stoicism argues towards a human equality, a mutual happiness bought about not by the world reaching similar conclusions, but by an honest philosophy of “live and let live”. By his actions, by his character, this philosophy seems to be one that Rev. ------ would agree with. Furthering his wish for the removal of the negative was his time taken to chastise extremism on any spectrum, arguing that it tends to show the worst of any person. Rather than embracing extremist and intolerant beliefs that have driven many such as myself from religion, Reverend ------ embraces the view that people have a right to belief in whatever, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and all religions considered equally, and just as much right to disbelieve.

It is with this that I can bring the focus to morality. Rev. ------- made his statement that God wants us to be moral, and laid out his basic tenets of morality: keeping your faith personal, minimizing suffering, helping others, and allowing mutual, equal happiness. This begs the question, though: what, exactly, is moral? We can make a few reasonable assumptions: it is good to a larger amount of people to reduce suffering overall. It is also better to reduce suffering without inflicting pain on an individual for the overall gain of another. It is reasonably moral to be charitable, and to give what you can, and noble to inflict hard times on yourself for a greater gain of another or a group.

Honestly: I don’t believe “god” wants us to be moral, seeing as to how I don’t believe in god. Considering that -------, and any theistic individual, can be moral with God, and I, and any atheist, can be moral without any god, a larger question must be asked. If a person is moral with God, and another person is moral without God, is there a difference? If we work mutually work towards righteousness, despite a divide in beliefs, do the results vary? I contend that the results do not differ, but the means to the results do. We can observe two types of morality through God, and three types of morality without God. A theist can be moral because they fear the wrath of God if they are not, or they can be moral because it pleases God to be moral. A secular individual dispenses morality to a different source: humanity. A secular individual can be moral out of fear of repercussions for amorality, or moral for societal praise… but the highest calling is morality for the sake of morality. (2)

The standard model of God calls for an all-knowing god, infinite in knowledge, everlasting in love, omniscient of everything that has been, is, and ever will be (5). If such a god exists, as is posited by the major Abrahamic religions of today, then it is observing every action performed by every person, despite already knowing what those actions would be. Morality, if God knows everything, has already been pre-ordained, set into action before you even knew your own existence. The omniscience of a higher power wipes out morality from good to merely to being an action, pre-determined though divine knowledge before it happened. (4)

Morality without god, however, transcends this nuisance of omniscience. A great person is the one who is good because, deep in their heart, they enjoy seeing other people happy. The most admirable human is the one that gives happily, knowing that another person will receive happily. The greatest good is performed not for acclaim, not because it is the will or in the view of a cosmic power, but because it is great to do good. (2)

Complicating the statement that God wants us to be moral is the truism that it is impossible to know the will of any god, due to the impossibility of definite communications with such an entity. A person who prays to any god and states that the one particular god desires morality could be right, but they could just as easily be wrong. A person may have communicated with God, and could be lying about the will of God.. Even worse, that god might even be a sadist, taking pleasure in suffering, and their honest will might be for humanity to regret their own existence, laughingly mocking prayers as futile and pointless. It is simply impossible to know with any deal of precision what a god wants (2), and how to act accordingly. At the same time, a person who does good for society can observe the exact effects of their actions, marveling at the smile on the face of a fortunate individual.

I therefore argue that not only is there no need for a god for one to be moral, but that an atheist has a stronger obligation towards morality. Morality needs not stem from religion, but it should stem from a wish for humanity to prosper joyfully. Yet… the world deserves a right to believe what it may. I rest confident knowing that Reverend ------- and I share the belief that religion is the realm of the believer, and belongs among those who hold it dear, kept personal and shared amongst those who want it. A personal faith, so it happens, does nothing to besmirch this world, and a passionate desire for righteousness in the name of God compliments neatly for a passionate desire for human joy in the name of knowledge.


(1) "Stoicism." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2011. Web. <>.

(2) Singer, Peter. "Godless morality." Utilitarian. January 2006. Web. 21 Feb 2011. <>.

(3) "What is Omniscence?." Atheism.about. Web. 1 Mar 2011. <>.

(4) "Goodness, Morality and the Ten Commandments."Why won't God heal amputees?, 2006. Web. 15 Feb 2011. <>.

(5) Smith, Wallace. "How is God Omnipotent, Omnipresent, and Omniscient?." Cogwriter. Godhead and the Nature of God, 12 2007. Web. <

Professor comments: 13/10. Outstanding paper, look forward to the next one.