"No," say religionists, who rely on the edict of their imaginary friend to give them rules for living -- rules which must followed as absolutes, without question, most of which start with "Don't ..."
"No," say many subjectivists, skeptics and moral relativists. It is foolish, they say, to seek moral law within the universe, or to favour one set of rules over another. If God is dead then anything goes, and all lifestyles equally valid. Go with the flow; do what feels good; act as if everyone were to act as you do ... various forms of whim worship are suggested as alternatives to morality, but few are anything more than either whim worship or the imposition of more or less arbitrary rules.
I think it should be clear enough that there are serious problems with the approaches taken by both the religionists, and by their subjectivist opponents. Can you then have morality without God?
Yes, you can. Aristotle stands as a healthy contrast to both religionists and subjectivists in being the first, most consistent (and most overlooked) advocate of a rational, earthly morality -- his was a "teleological" approach to ethics. We act to achieve certain ends, he said, and those ends must be the furtherance of our lives. All actions are (or should be) done "for the sake of" achieving some goal, with all goals linked together with the end of sustain and enhancing our lives. "The good life," said Aristotle, is something for which to strive.
Ayn Rand, in summing up Aristotle's approach in order to develop her own, explained the contrast between this view and that of religious morality as follows: "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." That was and is the promise of what Rand called the Objectivist Ethics, at the heart of which is her observation that morality is not optional. "Ethics," she said, "is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man's survival..."
This is all by way of introduction to let you know that the Ayn Rand Institute has just made available a free online video lecture by Onkar Ghate on the subject of Religion and Morality. [Free registration is required.] From the lecture summary:
From the teaching of "Intelligent Design" in the classroom to federal prohibition on the funding of stem cell research to the Terri Schiavo case, religion is playing an increasing role in America's public life. The advocates of religion claim that only religion can restore values to America—by combating moral skepticism and relativism with an absolute view of right and wrong, applicable to everyone. If God is dead, it is often thought today, then everything would be permitted. But does morality rest on religion? Can it rest on religion? Are moral absolutes possible with religion? Without religion? What approach to morality can actually bring values to American culture? These are the questions this talk addresses.LINKS: Religion and Morality - Ayn Rand Institute [Free registration is required. Once registered go to the Registered User Page and scroll down to 'Religion and Morality]
New streaming videos from the Ayn Rand Institute - Principle in Practice
RELATED: Ethics, Religion, Objectivism, Philosophy