Morality not soley from the Bible

Sara DeNunzio

I am a non-believer.

You may, therefore, define me by whichever descriptor suits your worldview. I could be a naturalist, a materialist, an atheist, a secularist or any other term that allows my beliefs to be defined in relation to others who believe essentially the same thing. I will not be offended if you call me any of those things. I will be put off, however, if you decide that my non-belief makes me immoral.

I think there is a prevalent mindset among much of the religious community that can be simply stated: One has no measure of morality without religion. With growing regularity, I have been experiencing the fruition of this belief among people I know. An acquaintance wrote to me recently, “I don’t think you can be a good person without religion because people are inherently self-serving. Without an externally defined set of rules (and, presumably, the threat of punishment for breaking them), human beings will act only according to their own interests.”

At this point, I was suddenly reminded of a delightfully irreverent moment in cinematic history in which the former Angel of Death rails about the way religion inhibits our actions. “Out of fear of some intangible parent figure who shakes a finger at us from thousands of years ago and says, ‘Do it-Do it and I’ll f—ing spank you.'”

Granted, Dogma was not exactly the most seriously intellectual consideration of the state of religion in the world today, but it did raise some interesting and, I think, relevant questions. Do we only behave in a moral way out of fear of being ‘spanked’? Are sympathy, empathy and altruism irrelevant concepts? Without the looming presence of an all-powerful authority figure, would the only compass guiding our behaviors be the furthering of our own personal agendas?

There are many reasons I think the answer to the above questions is an all-encompassing “No!” Here, I am only going to present one of them: It is possible to criticize religious texts and teachings on moral terms outside of the tenets the religion itself. In other words, there are some things in, let’s say, the Bible that are considered to be fables meant for personal interpretation rather than literal examples of proper behavior. The Bible seems to me a pretty poor source of objective morality. There are things in both the Old Testament (such as slavery) and New Testament (such as the inequality of women) that are rejected in today’s society as archaic ways of thinking.

The point of this isn’t to trash the Bible — there are certainly some things in there worth reading and absorbing. The important thing to note is that we, as individuals, as parishes, as denominations and as religions, decide what exactly is good about the Good Book. One decides the degree of interpretive leeway using something we like to call “common sense.” Common sense is actually a very important concept in the question of morality since it is a universally shared sense of decency that we often turn to when making moral judgments.

It’s a pretty classic chicken or egg question. It appears that we, as humans, have some basic sense of right and wrong that transcends the various religious institutions. But where did it come from?

This is a question that even we heathens are exploring, even if we tend to look for the answer in different places.

Sara DeNunzio is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].