In order to do what is right, there must be standards which we can choose to follow because we believe they are right.
I read a Facebook post with this quote from Timber Hawkeye’s “Faithfully Religionless” (FB told me a friend liked this – it was not on a Page I follow):
“I’m not against religion, I just don’t believe we need it in order to be ethical, especially since morality means doing what is right regardless of what you are told, and religion is about doing what you’re told regardless of what is right.”
My first thought was “How can you possibly know you are doing what is right?” In order to do what is right – or even to know what is right, moral, or ethical – there must be standards. One important role of religion through the ages has been to provide firm, set standards of right and wrong. The source of these standards is believed to be divine and always right – the source of absolute truth.
Rather than blindly doing what a religion says to do as the non-religious claim, the religious are actually making a conscious choice to be obedient to the standards of right and wrong that they believe have come from a divine source. They are really doing what is right, regardless of what the secular world is telling them. This is morality.
Those who would like to believe they are doing what is right without being told, or in spite of what they have been told, have bought into one or both of two fallacies:
First, if they are doing right according to some legal, ethical or moral rules, then they are doing just as they claim the religious are – they are doing what some authority has told them to do. It is also significant to note that the laws and moral and ethical codes of most societies have been based on the same source as religious standards of right and wrong. There have been shifts over time and with different groups about what is right and wrong, but following any established moral code can be considered doing what one has been told. Of course as with the religious, this compliance is a choice. One can choose not to follow the rules they have been told, but that is choosing to do wrong, not right. One can reject any specific set of rules, but that does not make those rules wrong and their behavior right. If the rules one chooses to follow are not right, then they are doing what they are told, regardless of what is right.
Secondly, without a standard of right and wrong to judge one’s behavior against, there can be no doing right. Someone can do what they think or believe is right, or simply do what they want to do and say it is right. But they are not doing what is right unless it is right. Maybe they feel that they can be their own judge of right and wrong – do right according to their own conscience, rather than what any other authority has told them. If there is no standard other than one’s own mind as to what is right, one is just doing what one chooses to do. They are not doing right.