Dropped by Technorati today to see who might be linking to me out there, and discovered this: a whole, brand spanking new blog dedicated to asking me a question. But the blog owner never told me he had this question to ask, so it's just luck, really, that I found it at all.
I tried to answer his question in a comment there, but ran up against the 2000 character limit (hey, it's a complicated question), so I decided to transpose the comment here. Click the link above to read Guy's question first.
You should have left a comment on my journal telling me you had this question. I only found your entry here by accident. (OK, so ego surfing can't really be called an accident, but I don't do it that often, so coincidence, perhaps, is a better word. It might otherwise have been months before I knew you had written this.) I shall endeavour to answer your question to the best of my ability.
First of all, I do not believe in absolutes. I don't believe anything is 'inherently right' or 'inherently wrong.' No man's actions are either right or wrong in and of themselves. They can only be judged to be right or wrong in relation to how they affect one's fellow men. As Donne said, "no man is an island." Man is not a solitary creature. We are a social animal by nature. We desire the company of a group or a tribe. In fact, the entire Old Testament of The Bible is about the creation of a tribe. But a tribe cannot survive without rules of conduct. If, as you say, we were to kill and steal from each other without regard, no tribe or society could survive. Clearly rules are necessary. But whence come those rules?
You attribute them to some God. I do not.
Who is right? Difficult to say. I see no evidence anywhere that such a person as your God exists, however. Lots of hearsay, but no solid evidence. Like our court system, I will not allow myself to be swayed by hearsay. I can only accept actual evidence. I see none.
So, I hold no belief in a God of any kind. Yet I cannot deny that morals exist. You have them. I have them. As I said in my original journal entry, mine and yours are probably virtually identical. You say that without God, there is no reason to abide by any moral laws. I disagree. If I transgress a 'moral law,' I cause hurt to a fellow human being. Because empathy is a characteristic humans posess, I am able to imagine how I might be hurt by the actions of another, and so I am able to understand how my actions might hurt someone else. This is how morals are born. Because we do not wish to be hurt by the actions of others, we agree not to hurt them in return.
What I am talking about, of course, is the so-called 'golden rule': "And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." (Luke 6:31). Of course, Jesus was only rephrasing Judaic teaching - good Jewish Rabbi that he was: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary." (Talmud, Shabbat 31a).
Also: "Do for one who may do for you, that you may cause him thus to do." -The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, circa 1900BCE, ancient Egypt, long predates the Judaic reference. The sentiment has been expressed in virtually every religion, and culture around the world, and is as close to a universal truth as exists. It is, however, an obvious one, and needs no Supreme Being to point it out. All other morals derive from this basic premise. The laws are many, but as the Talmud said, all but commentary on the first.
And here I am. I do not kill, lie, cheat or steal. I am faithful to my wife and family. I honour my parents. I do not covet my neighbour's ox...or other belongings. I believe I am a moral person, but it is not out of any fear of a God. By your reasoning, as an atheist, I should be lying, and cheating, and stealing, yet I am not. Is there a fault in your reasoning, or can you explain?