Is religion the source of morality? Many believe it, as Dostoyevsky who, in The Brothers Karamazov, says that if God does not exist then everything is allowed. It is therefore the sacred texts, especially the Bible in the West, and their commandments which dictate morality. As we have been told for millennia, we end up believing it.
But this belief does not hold water. Indeed, which commandment or which religion prohibits slavery, human trafficking and pimping, cannibalism, rape, pedophilia, genocide, torture, stoning, genital mutilation, kidnapping and drug trafficking, when all these things are repugnant to civilized humans. Which commandment or which religion advocates gender equality and freedom? Furthermore, some commandments are downright ridiculous, such as: “You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk” (Deut. 14:21), while some sacred texts are patently false, for example Genesis with its two different creation stories, as well as tales of the Flood and Exodus.
In fact, the foundation of morals does not require any god. One way is to base it on facts, another is to base it on the well-being of sentient beings, still another on the need to be able to live together.
Based on the facts, it is said that humans were born free, so that freedom is a moral value. From this we deduce human rights and other moral principles.
Others, such as Sam Harris, base morality on the well-being of sentient beings.
Finally, based on the need to live together in society, we can prohibit anti-social behaviour such as murder, cannibalism and rape. The last two options overlap somewhat, since well-being promotes living together. They would probably have to be combined in order to solve moral problems such as euthanizing the elderly to reduce the population or promote economic growth.
It remains to be seen whether individual freedom is preferable to submission to the State in order to promote living together. A priori, the two are equally valid. But it is clear that Western civilization, the “free world,” has “performed” better than regimes dominated by the State or the Church, such as Islamic regimes which have stagnated for nearly a thousand years and other totalitarian regimes such as Nazism and Communism in the USSR and China under Mao. This “performance” can be measured objectively by progress in health, longevity and prosperity, all of which are useful for living together. Curiously, this progress coincides with the liberation of the West from Christian religions.
It would therefore seem that freedom is a value to be promoted, with all that such freedom implies: human rights, gender equality, etc. One could object to this by saying that China’s oppressive regime is performing very well. However, since Mao, China has copied the West’s advances, and it is not clear whether it could do any better if left to its own devices. Fortunately, like Mao, Xi Jinping is not immortal.
So we do not need religion in order to have morals. Worse still, a moral system based on religion and the so-called “will of God” is harmful, because it only reflects the prejudices, whims, conceits and ignorance of those who wrote those famous sacred texts. Because of them, we came to adopt the death penalty, the execution of gays, stoning of those who have sexual relations before marriage, etc. On the other hand, by basing our morals on defensible human principles and whose effects we can measure, we avoid such aberrations.