Would there be morals without religion?

The question is NOT “CAN there be morals without religion?” but rather “WOULD there be morals without religion?”

In other words, it is obvious to us modern humans that there can be. But would (did?) moral code have come into existence if man were not at first dependent for it on some sort of spiritual/religious belief? Like training wheels or baby walkers?

My instincts say that the answer is yes. It seems to me that societies in which people help and take care of each other must necessarily be sturdier, and thus survive longer. So even if the system were not spiritually based, any strong society would form some kind of moral system. But I don’t have anything to back that up. Have there been ancient societies that existed without any kind of spiritual system of morality?

Good question!
Personally, I don’t thing it would take Caveman Bob long to figure out that, if he hits Caveman Alphonse with a rock, Caveman Alphonse will probably throw a rock back at him.
Result: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Ahhh…but if you lived by that rule, you would not have named your poor caveman “Alphonse,” now would you?:stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

But does your example really illustrate the beginning of a “moral system?” Are morals really as simple as “nice things you do so everyone else will be nice to you?”

But then we get into the messy question of whether morals must necessarily involve things you do because you know they are “right,” not because they protect your ass.


I’m gonna say that the above example does NOT constitute morality. I’d say that morality is more along the lines of Caveman Bob not throwing that rock because he knows it hurts, and he doesn’t want to hurt Caveman Alphonse, because they are both brothers here on this spaceship Earth.

Back to the OP…did early religions even deal with morality as much as they dealt with keeping the gods happy? In many modern religions, you have gods/a God who can be kept happy by people being good to eachother, but was that the case thousands of years ago?

There is archaeological evidence that some early people buried their dead folks with considerable ceremony. I would think that shows some sense of morality.

But were they burying them free of religion or at least some sort of spirituality? Wouldn’t burial with ceremony suggest some sort of concept of an afterlife?

And would a concept of the afterlife necessariy suggest a system of morality?

No, that’s mortality :slight_smile:

I think one would need to distinguish between morality and ethics, for starters.

It seems plausible that some form of nature worship was one of the first religions, what with those little round fertility statues & all. It is not at all clear to me how this would be causally linked to morals (loose or not).

We’re from the government - we’re here to help.

Ok. maybe ceremony was a stretch. These were really ancient people. They were buried with simple possessions and in a way that suggested, well, love and respect. Could have been morality.
Seems logical to me that religion grew out of morality. That, and discomfort with the unknown.

Hmmm…religion out of morality or morality out of religion?

Or neither?

I don’t see why not. The early ancient greek gods, for example, had little to do with ethics (although interestingly they eventually became so as the needs of the people changed). The morality plays and writings of the time had little to do with religion (although, usually the person committing the immoral act was also acting against a god and so faced divine punishment, but not necessarily because of the immorality but more because they were in opposition to a god). There are examples of this in other cultures as well. For example, the bushido code of ethics and conduct has practically no mention of religion or spirtuality.

In fact, the earliest examples of tying ethics to religion or religious edict seems to primarily a middle east/north Africa thing. The Code of Hammurabi (considered one of the earliest codified legal system) was a result of a divine order. This type of divine code spread with Christianity across Europe and then of course to the Americas, but I think there is plenty of basis to say that people would develop an ethical code without religion.

Define morality.

Define morals.

Morality various from people to people. Even without religious influence, there are certain ways people like to be treated and will actively petition/force/get others to agree with this.

Human males have less empathy towards the children of others than females do. In past ages, it was moral to slaughter the children of an enemy to prevent that enemy from ever growing strong enough to retaliate.

Love, affection, considerate treatment, assistance, emotional support, loyalty, fidelity, avoidance of possessions being taken by others, cooperation are all pretty well basic instincts. So is the protection of off spring.

In ancient times, even mentioned in the Bible, apparently siblings found it acceptable to cheat each other out of power, even to exterminating one and another. Some of that still goes on today. In some cultures, the family bond is more powerful and does not tolerate this, which creates a unified front against any hostile forces and gives the family a greater chance of survival.

In some cultures, it is moral to have sex play among siblings, but not to produce children. Even that was not considered immoral all of the time, but was eventually enforced as being so because of the potential for producing defective off spring, plus a race is strengthened with a variable, ever mutating genetic pool, not a narrow one. So, not having sex with your brother or sister is less based on morality than on racial strengthening.

Killing humans opens various conflicts. In the past it was acceptable to kill those who angered or endangered you. Called self survival. You have a problem? You exterminate the problem. Good for you, but bad for them. Killing competitors without consequences is generally unacceptable because then anyone can kill anyone for any reason, which eventually weakens a comprehensive society. Plus, if you kill Joe, then Joe’s friend can knock you off and your friend can knock Joe’s friend off, then Joe’s friend’s son will kill you friend’s son and, well, you get the picture.

Plus, you can knock off potential innovators of society. What would have happened had Edison, who was not the most agreeable person in the world, was knocked off before developing ways to make and transmit electricity? What if Rospierre (pardon spelling) had been killed before initiating the French revolution? Unhampered killing is dangerous for society and can make things real complicated, so preventing this with various forms of retaliation is created. Morality or common sense?

Most religions set down guidelines designed to improve the societies they affect. Some religions sanction killing in the name of the religion. Morality or a human instigated way to promote the desired religion and to circumvent common laws made by the general masses?

Morality seems to vary according to the influences on general society at any given time.

At one time, taking over a company that did not want to sell would be considered immoral. Technically, the opposing company is stealing the other company or forcing their will upon them. Today, it is considered acceptable practice to steal a company away from those who built it.

Even stealing things. Is it immoral to do this or is it not acceptable because people want to keep what they have?

Some people consider alcoholic drink immoral but in other areas not only is it considered moral, but virtually a sign of being part of society. Now, could strong drink have evolved into being considered immoral because of it’s addictive and destructive effects on some people? If that is the case, then becoming considered so would be actually an accepted survival belief. Cut down the drinkers by making it a bad thing and you cut down on the incidents of tremendous harm it can cause, which then is much better for society as a whole.

Morality could be a commonly desired form of actions and considerations created and enforced by a society to improve the lot of its members and provide universal stability and to promote various forms of intellectual and species progress and development.

Religions might just enforce these sets of rules. Almost all basic religions have similar commandments, which indicates a universal desire to be treated within certain ways and various punishments designated for failing to follow these rules, which act to keep people in line.