Morality without Religion and Tradition

Morality without Religion and Tradition

After we completed our discussion of the Myth of Tradition yesterday, we noted that a serious question had arisen in the course of the past few weeks.

Having shown that neither Religion nor Tradition can guarantee the moral behavior that society needs, it becomes necessary to address the question, “How can we be moral without Religion and Tradition?” Today we answer this question.


From Morality to Love

We have seen the neither Religion not Tradition are able to engender absolute morality. Mythers are simply mistaken in asserting the opposite.

We have taken some pains to point out that Religion and Tradition are not utterly false and worthless. Both can be sources of great wisdom, instruction, and solace. Those who find that Religion and Tradition provide them with principles that are life-affirming, inspirational, and helpful in living their lives should by all means stand by their religion and their tradition.

But because Religion and Tradition have no foundation for their claims of absolute morality except insistence, such people should not try to impose their beliefs on those who do not find Religion and Tradition attractive or helpful. Conversely, those who reject Religion and Tradition should not try to browbeat religionists and traditionalists into rejecting the beliefs they find congenial. Nothing is more pointless and acrimonious than partisan warfare in which each party demands that the others recognize principles that are not their own.

If neither Religion nor Tradition provide absolute morality, however, how can we be moral?

The only reason anyone would ask this question is because he doesn’t see any other source of morality. There is another source, however, and it is located inside you. You can be a moral person simply by refusing to do anything wrong.

And the chorus rises up immediately: “But how do we know what’s right and wrong?”

The fact is that if you are concerned with this question, you are already more ethical than most people. You are especially more moral than those who think they know right and wrong based on what someone else or some organization tells them. As long as you are seriously concerned with whether you are doing the right thing, you are doing the best you can under the circumstances.

Now if you want to perfect your sense of right and wrong, you will have to root out all fear in yourself, because it is fear that makes us act badly, out of our desire to avoid the things we fear. Your ability to act rightly will become perfect when you master your fear of death, because if you do not fear death, you do not fear anything. And then there is no reason at all to allow yourself to do anything wrong, because there is no outcome that you are tying to avoid. Having mastered fear, you become a virtuoso of life: you are beyond freedom and restraint, completely flexible in your responses to the ever changing events around you.

(A similar answer to the question of living morally was presented at length by Aristotle in his treatise called the Nicomachean Ethics, in which he shows that nothing more is needed for human beings to learn to act morally than sustained contemplation on which it means to live a good life. We cannot follow Aristotle’s argument here, but we recommend it to everyone who wants to figure out the best way to live without having to submit to the dictates of a particular religion or tradition.)

Ultimately, there are only two forces that govern human behavior: fear and love. Because these two forces oppose one another and exist in varying degrees in almost everyone, there are two types of Religion: the Religion of fear and the Religion of love. And there are two types of Tradition: the Tradition of fear and the Tradition of love. Where fear is the dominating force, morality has to do with punishment and submission. Where love dominates, morality has to do with generosity and freedom.

Of the two forces, love alone is compatible with creativity and joy. And with real morality. You can be perfectly moral by being perfectly loving. That’s all there is to it.


Our investigation of the first six Major Myths have so far taken us to a general consideration of morality in human life. The seventh and last Myth deals with a particular aspect of morality, namely the way in which we interact with our fellow human beings in regard to monetary transactions. This is the Myth of Capitalism, which is the subject of the next series of posts.

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