Can one be moral and not believe in God?
Morality is a code of conduct developed by society or any other
dominant group in society such as religion. This code of conduct is then
accepted by individuals and guides their behavior. The individuals use
the code of conduct to rationalize their behavior. The society must
consider this code of conduct as being significant to its existence.
This is because society is self-preserving and will always come up with
rules and codes of conduct that protect it. Morality codes are
universal, but most vary with small differences. Based on this argument,
it is possible for someone to be moral and not believe in God.
Morals are a set of rules or codes of conduct that should be obeyed,
and they differentiate right from wrong. Aristotle noted that ethics is
a general guide to behavior that individuals adopt as a guide to their
life and decisions, as long as this behavior is in sync with the
society’s moral code of conduct. Society is self- preserving, and it,
therefore, comes up with a code of conduct to preserve itself (Hauser,
2006). For example, killing is prohibited in most societies. This is
because, if people are allowed to kill each other indiscriminately, it
will reduce security levels in society and no one will be safe. Thus,
society comes up with a moral code of conduct that preserves human life
through protection from arbitrary killing.
Sinnott- Armstrong states that there is no relationship between God and
morality. He argues that the common action is to belief in God, and this
tremendously motivates moral behavior. Belief in God comes with promises
which are a motivating factor for moral behavior. This is because human
beings are conditioned to pursue actions based on the rewards that come
with the behavior. Thus, human beings will do what is right and avoid
wrong because the wrong comes with punishments (Sinnott, 2009). However,
society is mostly religious, and some of the most religious societies
sometimes violate human existence to the highest degree. This means that
a belief in God does not always lead to moral actions.
Atheists believe in right or wrong based on preservation of human life.
This is because human life is important and should be protected and
preserved. Giving the example of terrorism, most terrorists believe that
their actions are in obedience to God. However, these actions are geared
towards destruction of human life, which is morally wrong. Atheists, on
the other hand, believe that human life should be preserved, and
arbitrary killing is morally wrong. In such cases, religion is viewed as
a destroyer and not preserver of human life (Sinnott, 2009).
Atheism seems to have a rational way of morality than theism. Atheists
believe in right or wrong based on the outcome of an action. This is in
direct correlation between an action and its advantage to society.
Theism, however, does not question what is taught by beliefs in God
(Gert, 2004). Thus, theism can be viewed as irrational and unrealistic
because the belief is in a being that cannot be questioned and neither
does it have physical contact and communication with human beings. Thus,
it just might be that this belief in a supernatural being may be human
creativity (Sinnott, 2009). The unquestioning belief in what this
supernatural being teaches human beings may actually contravene what is
right or wrong in the preservation of society.
Additionally, there is no empirical proof that there is a connection
between God’s existence and moral behavior. Human beings act primarily
to survive. Thus, moral actions are geared towards survival in the most
comfortable ways. For example, if someone gets lost in the woods and the
person finds a dog that guides the person to a village, the person might
tend to think that the dog is sent by God (Gert, 2004). However, it may
turn out that the villagers have trained their dogs to guide human
beings to the village because there are many people who get lost in the
woods and need help (Sinnott, 2009). Thus, the village occupants train
their dogs in a bid to human preservation and not a belief in God. Thus,
the dog will actually have been “sent” by the villagers and not God.
Belief in, God on the other hand, justifies some actions which can be
considered immoral in the secular world because there is no logical
reason to commit such actions. For example, some religious dogmas are of
the opinion that twins should be murdered because two children cannot
exist in a womb (Sinnott, 2009). Scientific investigations and empirical
researches have shown that this is possible and thus, a belief that it
is not ungodly puts human life at risk with no empirical justification.
Religion, which is the belief in a supernatural being, is usually
grounded on stories. These stories are a justification to behavior. It
should be noted that morality and religion may overlap in some cases
(Sinnott, 2009). Some moral codes of conduct are derived from religious
teaching. For example, the moral teaching that it is wrong to steal has
a religious background to it. Morality teaches that one should work hard
to earn what he wants, while religion will teach that one should not
reap from where he or she has not sown.
However, religion may justify some actions that are considered morally
wrong. Morality of the other hand may justify what is considered wrong
in religion. For example, most anti- abortionists will argue that
abortion is wrong because it is a threat to human life. Pro-abortionists
too, agree that abortion is wrong but can be justified in some cases.
If, for example, a pregnancy carries a health risk to the mother or the
fetus, the pregnancy has a rational basis for termination (Gert, 2004).
This is because the termination aimed at preserving human life and thus,
logical sacrifice based on provable reasons should be made. Thus,
morality differs from religion is a guide to a code of conduct while
religion is more of a belief on a supernatural being who guides human
Morality being a guide to human code of conduct protects human beings
from exploitation. Religion, on the other hand, may justify human
exploitation on the basis of race, religious beliefs, or gender.
Morality dictates that all human beings are equal and should be treated
as such, based on the fact that they are human beings. Religion,
however, justifies discrimination of other human beings based on
physical differences (Sinnott, 2009). For example, colonial masters in
Africa believed that they are a superior race, and it was their God-
given right to subdue Africans because they are from an inferior race,
according to their religious teachings.
The principal of utilitarianism by Jeremy Bentham is one of the most
important guides of morality. This principle is aimed at presenting a
moral judgment based on experience and not dogma. This principal is of
the opinion that a morally correct action should produce the most
pleasure and a wrong action is one that causes pain (Mason, 2010).
Therefore, the best moral law is one that produces pleasure to the
biggest population possible. The modification of this is the inclusion
of higher and lower pleasures. Higher pleasures are those that stimulate
the intellect while lower pleasures are those that only satisfy the
flesh. Morality should, therefore, promote pleasure (Gert, 2004).
In such circumstances, morality differs from religion and the belief in
God because religion conditions a person to think along certain lines
only. Thus, it limits intellectual exploration and is routine. Morality,
however, allows intellectual exploitation especially if this
exploitation respects human life and seeks to improve it (Haidt, 2006).
For example, belief in God limits the human mind to believe that
children are God- given and if someone cannot have children, then it is
the will of God. However, morality supports scientific interventions
such as In vitro fertilization. This allows people who cannot conceive,
receive scientific help.
Thus, if a person strongly believes that lack of children is strictly
God’s will, the person may not seek scientific interventions. This
also limits scientific exploration of methods of intervention (Mason,
2010). However, if a person believes that scientific interventions can
be used to conceive, the person has a broader worldview and can explore
unnatural methods of conception. This intellectual stimulation enables
people to think broadly and come up with ways of improving humanity.
This stimulates the intellect which is pleasurable due to the
Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals identifies two primary types of
morals the slave morality and master morality. Master morality finds
the good in society and promotes it. It encourages courage, and heroism
(Mason, 2010). This kind of morality is exploited by the society and
promotes the existence of society. The courage and heroism are not tied
to God, but it is found through exploration. Thus, individual human
efforts are the basis of heroism, and they are recognized as so. This
exploration is based on intellectual stimulation and not supernatural
powers (Gert, 2004).
Slave morality, on the other hand, reinforces weakness. Human beings
are conditioned to believe that what harms the weak is bad and what
helps them is good. The harm is believed to originate from an evil
source and the good originates from God. This gives human beings a slave
and prevents them from taking control of their situations in order to
improve their lives. Thus, morality is not tied to religion because a
person who does not believe in God can still experience the good because
the person has a master morality and can exploit her circumstances to
increase pleasure. Thus, one does not have to believe in God in order to
experience the good.
In my opinion, one does not have to believe in God for the person to be
moral. Morality emanates from wisdom and one does not have to believe,
in God to have conventional wisdom (Mason, 2010). Wisdom dictates that
human beings should act in certain ways in consideration of other
people’s feelings and well being. This has absolutely nothing to do
with religion but is based on mutual respect and respect for other human
beings for peaceful coexistence (Gert, 2004). For example, it in morally
wrong to steal from a person because this causes the victim emotional
anguish, deprives someone of an item that she has worked very hard to
acquire, and it is socially undesirable (Gert, 2004). Thus, conventional
wisdom dictates that one should not steal because he may not like the
same to be done to him. This is mutual respect based on wisdom.
However, as much as one does not have to believe in God in order to
live a moral life, most moral teachings have a religious background. For
example, religion teaches that human life is sacred and should be
preserved (Mason, 2010). It is on the basis of this that religion
forbids murder because that which is sacred should be respected and
preserved. The moral teaching that human life is precious and should be
protected seems to be guided by the Godly teaching that, human life is
sacred and should be respected and preserved (Gert, 2004). Thus, in this
case morality can be linked to the religious teaching of preservation of
human life because it is sacred. However, as much as a belief in God
guides action, morality is more based on conventional wisdom derived
from rational and logical thinking, which promotes pleasure and reduces
In conclusion, one does not have to believe in God in order to live a
moral life. This is because morality is guided by wisdom which emanates
from logical thinking. A belief in God negates wisdom and conditions
human beings to believe in what God teaches without questioning. Some of
these actions which religion justifies by invoking God’s name, but
which conventional wisdom proves is wrong. Thus, a belief in God does
not always guide one to do what is moral. Atheists generally live a
moral life which is guided by intellectual exploitation of what is wrong
or right based on its impact in society.
Gert, B. (2004). Common Morality: Deciding What To Do. New York: Oxford
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in
Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Hauser, M. (2006) Moral Minds: How Nature Designed our Universal Sense
of Right and Wrong. New York: Harper Collins.
Mason, J. (9 Feb 2010). “Morality Without God” Talking Philosophy.
United Kingdom: Talking Philosophy.
Sinnott, W, A. (2009). Morality without God? Oxford: Oxford University
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Can one be moral and not believe in God?