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Atheism, Morality

Roots of morality?

Morality. It’s a question I can’t get out of my head. And I don’t mean morality as it’s interpreted today, in terms of sexuality. Who’s having sex with who and how and are they married and what not. That seems to be the only thing morality is concerned with today. Greed, corruption, theft, murder are all bad and condemnable, but show us a sexually ‘immoral’ person and we all get up in a lather. Not I, though. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the other immoral things. To cheat, to lie, to wrong, to kill, and so on. And the moral actions too. Altruism, philanthropy, kindness, helping the needy and so on. What is the root behind all this? What stops us from wronging someone? What makes us help others, especially those who can’t return the favour?
Tough questions. I struggle to find the answer. Why should it make us feel good to do the ‘moral thing’? After all, it’s not giving us any tangible benefit. Not cheating at cards, for instance, might lead to me losing the game, and that doesn’t make me happy. Spending my hard-earned money on someone else in charity only means I have less to spend on myself. I’m sure similar emotions would be felt by almost everyone. Then why do we do it?
Some researchers in such fields, socio-anthropologists perhaps, say that it’s a social imperative. Any group where individuals don’t help each other is doomed to fail when competing with a group where they do help each other out. On the face of it, it makes sense. ‘Higher’ animals like primates do show some rudiments of social responsibility more than ‘lower’ animals. Makes sense that a group would prosper if its members were aiding each other. But which individual would be most benefited in such a group? The one who was most ‘moral’ and helped everyone else, or the one who helped only those who were in a position to reciprocate and not others? The latter, of course. He’s conserving his resources and making use of them in the most efficient manner and evolution would reward him. Similarly with humans, the person who cheated just a little bit, enough to benefit himself but not to trouble others too much, or one who could cheat more but slyly enough so as not to get caught would be the most successful. The one who doesn’t give to charity or help those in need would have more for himself. So why do we do it?
I think it’s because of the belief in god. That there is balance in the world. The belief, ingrained in us from childhood, that if we do good it will come back to us. If we help others, we would get it when we needed the same. That there were consequences for our actions. And this belief gave us meaning. “tu bhala kar tera bhala hoga. Aur darvesh ki sada kya hai?”
But take god out of the equation and you have nothing that ensures this balance. Then why would you do right by anyone? Why wouldn’t I cheat at that game of cards, once I was sure I wouldn’t get caught? Why wouldn’t you murder someone if it helped you in anyway? Why would you or I give to charity to help unknown people who couldn’t repay you? Why would Bill Gates set up a charity worth millions instead of spending it all on himself, buying everything on this earth? Why would I teach any hypothetical kids of mine to be moral, do good, help others, be kind? Why would I not tell them to be supremely selfish and do whatever it took to succeed? Why wouldn’t I do it myself?
If the law of averages governs my life events and some good and bad things are going to happen to me irrespective of my actions, I might as well do all the bad I can safely do to maximize my chances of getting as much ‘good’ as I can in life. After all, all my wrongdoings aren’t going to come back and bite me in the ass! Why would you help a person dying on the street? He will almost certainly not be there if ever you are in such a situation! The same principle would apply to every human transaction, every interchange. Greed, selfishness, callousness would characterise our actions. Even the most intellectual people would find it hard to rationalize moral actions on an individual level (how I hope I’m wrong!). No, if there is no doctrine of ‘karma’ that holds true, we might as well do pretty much what we please.
This was one of the major questions I struggled with when I was reading “The God Delusion”. Dawkins, of course quoted extensively from the Bible to make the point that wherever we get or morals from, it’s most certainly not from that book. He might be right. I haven’t read the whole testament, but what I have read, i.e. the first few books up to Job, don’t disprove his claims in anyway.


About hbhatnagar

I need to fill this up with much better content than I had populated it with earlier. Why I write a blog maybe? I started blogging in 2009 or thereabouts. I was a newly turned atheist and wanted to converse with others of the same persuasion. We're not exactly a big population group in India! It didn't go very well and I sort of lost interest, posting a few things now and then. I got a lot more regular over the last few months and have been posting almost daily since February '15. There were many reasons why I gradually became more regular in posting, but one way or the other, here I am! So this blog has taken shape, being at different points in time my showcase, my comedy club, my art gallery, my book club, my therapist, my close friend, my innermost self....but always my little corner of the world. You are all welcome to visit and I hope you stay awhile! A few points about me because I don't want to lead anyone on(and trust me this does become an issue more often than I'd care to admit). I'm Indian, the brown-skinned variety; if race, ethnicity or skin colour is an issue, you don't have to get to know me any more than what you see on my blog. I'm 40, so if age is an issue, please be informed accordingly. I was a doctor, an ophthalmic surgeon for 10 years before I quit practice.


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