God, responsibility, and ethics

The religious argument that says it is their God that shows us all the right and wrong ways to act has always seemed full of holes to me. I have seen many of these bubbles pricked in the past on this site, but I am worried by another one, which has a long philosophical history. Of course, it may be just me…

If this mythical god knows in advance what we will do, and what will happen to us in the end, and if that same god is willing to forgive us our sins regardless, where is the motivation for we mere mortals to act in a responsible manner? In other words, if our lives are preordained and we are just acting out her master plan, why should we worry about what we do or to whom we do it? The whole concept  seems to say, “Each person is already doing what he or she was pre-ordained to do, so why even worry about it?”

And even if those mere mortals are exhorted by the representatives of a god to act in some proscribed manner (the most important of which always seem to be absolute obedience to that same god), what can we do if our decisions are made by god’s plan before we come to a decision point? That mythical god has it all covered, so we can just relax and go through the motions.


With gods out of the picture, as they clearly should be, human beings are perfectly capable of determining rights and responsibilities, both individually and societally. Based on the realities of current times, and taking into consideration the needs and rights of the people within any given society, human beings form governments and make laws to give themselves a framework within which they may work. That is much better than letting one entity control your life, although that can sometimes happen in societies as well.

We can benefit from the experience of the previous generation, who spent a lot of time thinking about this, and come up with rules by which all members of society should abide. These will change as mankind and his societies evolve, rather than staying the same since before the Dark Ages, as do the morals espoused by religion.

Each time we make a decision, we and those around us will watch to see how it works out; whether anyone is harmed, or perhaps the result is a positive one for ourselves and others. We should learn, then, by our experiences and by that of others, what is good for society (first) and for ourselves (second). Over time, those considerations form the corpus of our current set of ethics.

An example. Once we have determined that eating clams is not an abomination except during certain seasons, discovered by some method similar to the science, we change change our attitudes. Thus, the biblical moral from 2000 (or more) years ago can be safely discarded in favor of a rule that says shellfish should not be eaten while they are toxic, which can be extended into the ethic that one should either serve nor eat clams when it could damage anyone.

Much simpler, much cleaner, none of this “abomination” rubbish. Instead, a rule made by experience and science, wherein one can protect oneself and ones neighbors from illness or death. Then, perhaps in another 2000 years, if science develops a method to keep shellfish from becoming toxic, or if evolution teaches our bodies to ignore shellfish toxins, we can abolish the shellfish rule altogether.

Thousands of such issues exist, most of which are much more complex than shellfish. Over time, a body of evidence accrues which clearly shows how we can avoid hurting others, and especially how to help ourselves without hurting others. That body of rules could be defined as ethics, and the behavior evinced while acting according to those ethics could be defined as personal and public responsibility.

This is not difficult if we simple pay attention to what goes on around us, watching carefully what hurts and what helps, and applying the results to how we live our lives. I know, it’s more difficult than just doing what some mythical god and his marketing team tell you to do. The problem is, what they are telling you is a combination of what you want to hear and what they want you to do. You are thus enticed by the former and peer-pressured into the latter.

However, being involved in the process is not only better for you and society, it is a democratic process, rather than the sole commander process preferred by religions. You get to help decide what is right and wrong, and to learn the same from many other people, coming to a consensus rather than just being a sheep.

Instead of just following orders, you can make decisions to the benefit of yourself and others, learn to be responsible for yourself and others, and throw off the shackles of the religious marketing department that just wants you to do it their way, by commandment, instead of the intelligent way, by trial, error, success, and consensus.

Embrace critical thought, rather than pass laws against it, helping yourself and society rather than a mythical god that just wants to tell you what to do.

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