There is only one morality…is it yours?

Posted: 2 March 2013

Morality2I was having a conversation with someone the other day and the topic turned briefly to politics. In discussing the various political parties I made the comment that while I don’t have any favoured political party, I would vote for a party on the basis of their stance on moral issues e.g. abortion, same-sex ‘marriage’ etc. After all, if a political party doesn’t understand the nature of marriage or respect the value of human life, I don’t really care how wonderful their economic policy might be. The person I was speaking with, who was also a person of the Christian faith, thought that to vote that way might be good for me, but it was not something that could or should be practiced by those who have no faith. This person believed it was better to encourage people to focus on issues we held in common such as the value of education and the importance of good healthcare.

This got me thinking, are moral issues private issues? Are my beliefs in particular key issues of morality dependent on my belief in a Supreme Being and adherence to a religious system? There are plenty of faithful and well meaning people out there who live by a strong moral code and are probably unable to annunciate any reason for their choices apart from their religion. Of course if someone decides to live an upright life because their faith encourages them to do so that is fantastic. However, it seems to me that we really need to be able to give better reason for living a certain way than because ‘God says’. I am not meaning to lessen the importance of God, but in a secular state God does not feature highly, and there is a growing secular movement hinging its success on telling people that certain aspects of morality are specific to religion and therefore not applicable to a large portion of society. If they are correct, if abortion is only a problem for the Pope, and if marriage between a man and a woman is just a venerable tradition, then it is true that believers have no right to encourage their chosen morality upon those who do not share their faith. But what if they are wrong?

This notion of morality needing religion is a commonly held thought out in the marketplace amongst people of faith or of none, but when one stops to think about it, it does not make sense. Morality does not rely on religion for its validity anymore than I feed myself daily because the law says that suicide is wrong. I look after my life (and respect the lives of others) because it is the right and proper thing to do; because I innately identify that life has some sort of value. I do not need a law to tell me that killing is wrong. Similarly, morality is not a set of rules that religions have come up with to either burden or bring joy to their adherents. Religions promote morality because a moral life is the behaviour proper to human beings. Morality is not right because religion says so; religion says morality is right because it is.

It is no coincidence that the bulk of the Ten Commandments of the Judeo Christian faiths form the basis of every developed legal system in the world. A government cannot, for example, decide to hold an election to see if its citizens would like to legalise murder and theft. A government exists to encourage and ensure that right and proper models of behaviour are lived out among its citizens. And the Latin root of the word ‘moral’ means just that – the proper behaviour of a person in society. Even the definition implies that this behaviour is something that is self-evident.

Of course the reason that secularists do not like talking about a moral code being ‘normal’ or ‘self-evident’ is because it leads to questions about how humans have an innate sense that some things are more right than others. If the thought is progressed far enough eventually the matter of God comes up, and those who don’t want to have anything to do with greater being become somewhat frustrated. While we do not necessarily need to take a conversation that far it is imperative that those we come in contact with leave us simply understanding that morality is good for the human person, any human person, and if something moral is worth its weight then it transcends all religion and is common to us all.