Beyond Religion: Part 3 – The nature of goodness

Part 2, I questioned how one comes to believe in God. But if there is no God (as depicted in the Scriptures), where does goodness comes from? The stories of Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, Abraham’s Covenant and Moses’ Red Sea crossing are an intimate part of the imaginary world in which most Jewish, Christian and Muslim children are brought up. These narratives have served as a moral compass and have shaped most of the Western culture, and continue to influence its development. So much so, that for many people, moral is intimately tied to one’s religious views. Fearing that the world would be losing its moral compass, a number of faithful have told me “If your claims are true, then everything collapses.” Certainly, one cannot acknowledge that Abraham’s Lord was a mortal overlord and continue to view the Torah, the Bible or the Qu’ran as literal “words of God”… Letting go of the sacred nature of Abraham’s Lord can be a daunting experience for anyone who views moral as a gift of God. This is especially true for the many faithful who are convinced that atheism is evil. They can’t understand how one who rejects the concept of God does not automatically fall into anarchy, evil and other abuses. Yet, many of the most peaceful places on earth have a higher percentage of atheists. How is that possible? For the longest time, it was believed that babies were born with a clean slate, and that it was up to parents and the society to shape their moral. However, recent experimental studies have shown that the basis for our moral, biases and justice is pretty much ingrained in our DNA. These studies show that babies prefer “good actions” over “bad ones”, and that they do not need to be given Holy Scriptures for guidance. The following video is quite telling about our deepest nature.

As babies experience more of the world and become adults, they also become more conscious and responsible for their choices and actions. So why do some people “choose” evil over goodness? Is “evil” a fundamental force of human character? If so, how does it develop? And what is the role of religion in all this? That’s the topic I will explore in my next post. Meanwhile, suffice to say that I must agree, at least partially, with Steven Weinberg who once said in regards to religions, “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Indeed, when children are told they must love and fear God because He judges, rewards and punishes for their actions, and that they must take biblical stories at face value, they are indirectly being told that scriptures are more important then their own personal emotions and experiences. And given that certain scriptures are in sharp contrast with the natural values of love, respect and compassion, the desire to obey God’s commandment and the fear of his wrath, can lead some good people to justify violence, hatred and terror by invoking His name. This is why I believe that if Scriptures can have a certain educational value, they should always be regarded as material that can be discussed, contextualized and criticized rather than sanctified.