Struggling with Meaninglessness

searching meaning in meaninglessness

Morality, Animals and Religion

with 12 comments

Religion is an insult to human dignity. 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 Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate Physicist. 

When I was 12 years old, there was a time when I came across a few stray kittens on the roadside. Seeing these little helpless and hungry kittens purring, I took my precious 50 cents and bought some bread to feed them. Thinking back, it’s kinda silly since bread is not a natural diet for cats.

When I was 18, I came across a baby bird on the ground with its leg broken and it just kept chipping. I presume its crying in pain. When I looked up, I saw the mother bird and father bird depressingly looking down at our direction. It clearly fell down from the nest. My first reaction was to carry this baby bird to the closest vet to heal its leg. But I realized there isn’t any nearby. My second thought was, if I can’t help the baby bird, maybe I should use my bottle to crush and end its life so that it doesn’t need to suffer any longer. But I thought perhaps it is too cruel to do it in front of mother bird and father bird. Not knowing what to do, I’d decided to leave it alone.

I kept thinking of the baby bird for the next several hours. In the late evening on the same day, I return to the same spot to see the bird. And its dead. Perhaps its a good thing for the bird but nevertheless, it left me with a moment of sadness.

Back in my teenage days, I wasn’t as actively inquisitive as I am today, therefore I’m sure there isn’t any rational actions behind my encounter with these animals – it’s all emotionally  instinctive. Clearly, altruism plays a big part in our human being’s emotion.

Think of all those small things you did which you do not expect any direct reward or acknowledgement. Like saving a drowning bug in the pond and place it on the ground. Or perhaps you give some coins to the poor beggar on the street. Or helping an old lady who tripped on the road. Or feeding the hungry stray dogs on the street. Or any other deeds which you did that gave you a sense of gratification without expecting any reward or favour back. That’s altruism. And I truly believe, for some reasons, it is innate to human being.

Thus, we need to abolish the notion that morality comes from God and religion. Yes, of course, religion plays a big part in spreading the idea of morality, albeit being hypocritical in some instances. But before I explain what those hypocritical things are all about, first look at these two remarkable quotes below.

‘If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.’ – Albert Einstein, Nobel Laureate Physicist. 

‘Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God’s approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That’s not morality, that’s just sucking up and applepolishing’. – Richard Dawkins, Biologist. 

One of the most ugly arguments from religious people is – If there’s no God, there will be no morality and human being are please to do all sort of evil and this world will become a dark world. Then I will just echo Richard Dawkins answer – so do you mean that you’re doing good things because of sucking up to the God?

Actually, both the argument and reply above are stated from a very extreme point of view. Hence, I do not think it bears any significance or worthwhile thoughts to ponder on. But I guess a garbage argument deserve a garbage reply. Let’s look at other points.

The holy books gave a very simplistic view of human morality saying that human are basically born sinful and we can choose the path of whether to do good or evil in our lifetime. And God list down all the moral values that we should adhere. God defined what is right and what is wrong. And so I was thinking, assuming that the holy book is right, I wonder how the conversation will turn out to be should I get a chance to speak with a Pastor/Priest/Father on this topic…..

Ronn : Is saving life, even if it just an insect’s life is a good moral deed? Like saving a bug from drowning in the pond?

Pastor/Priest/Father : The answer is clear. What do you think?

Ronn : I guess it would be a good moral deed since its a pathetic act to just watch the bug drown and die. I will certainly feel bad and guilty not doing anything to save it from suffering when all I just need to do is to take a stick to lift it away from the water. What do you think?

Pastor/Priest/Father : I think that’s a good answer.

Ronn : But thinking about it logically, even if I save the bug, since it is in the bottom of the ecology’s pyramid food chain, it will eventually be eaten by bird, frog or lizards. It will basically die sooner or later. Plus, the God clearly says in the holy book that human is his special creation while animals are second class life to human. Which means all other animals are inferior to human being. Why do I get some sense of gratification from saving an inferior species like a bug even if I don’t get any direct rewards or acknowledgement from the bug? Why is it a morally good deed to save a bug?

Pastor/Priest/Father: No, I think you get it wrong. Jesus taught us to love and that’s not limited to only human but also including animals. We must spread the love. God knows your good intention when you save the little bug.

Ronn : If we are supposed to love animals, then why religion condone the fact that human being kill animals for their meat? Why is it a morally good deed to prevent suffering by saving the bug but it is also morally okay to slaughter a chicken for its meat? Don’t chicken also value their life and struggle in pain when slaughtered? So what’s exactly morality?

Pastor/Priest/Father: Morality is something defined by God not by us. According to the bible, God created animals and put them under our command. We control their fate and we can choose to love them or eat their meat.

Ronn : For the sake of seeking consistency in religion’s definition of morality, can we love animals yet putting them in our stomach at the same time? Or is there a double standard where we can love some animals like dogs and cats and not love some animals like chicken and cow and put them in our stomach instead? So, it is suppose to make sense and be accepted even if its logically contradicts and void of consistency? How about mosquitoes, the number 1 bio-terrorist in the world which we will never think twice to exterminate. Why do God put something which we will never love on the face of the Earth?

Pastor/Priest/Father: God do not think the same way as we human do. We can never understand his thoughts. We need to keep the faith.

Religion is never short of contradictions, no? That’s exactly what morally hypocritical I’m talking about .Another moral hypocrisy is the point that it says Thou Shalt Not Kill but condoning the act of killing in war (because they are enemies, so the double standard applies).

However, putting the imaginary God and religion aside, this contradiction still applies if perceived from an objective secular point of view.  Why do we feel the emotion of sympathy when we see a dying bird or a drowning bug but yet, we do not feel any remorse or guilt when eating, let’s say chicken meat or beef? Believe me, you just need to watch some videos of how animals are slaughter in big farms or dens to turn yourself a vegetarian overnight. In this sense, ignorance is bliss, really.

But think deeper another level again. Why do we feel so uncomfortable watching an animal getting slaughtered alive but it is okay if we put a piece of cooked meat into our mouth? Unless you’re a professional butcher who has already adapted in slaughtering animals, else chances is that you could not bear watching the gore of animals being killed alive. As it turns out, apparently, it’s a psychological flaw that we have which creates such contradiction. A bug. A glitch. A faulty evolutionary psychology.

I will explain that more in the next post.

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Written by elan85

September 10, 2008 at 4:07 am

Posted in Atheism, Philosophy

12 Responses

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  1. A few points I would like to point out. First, feeling good about rescuing a bug does not make it a moral act. Second, the Bible does not say, “do not kill”. It says, “do not murder”. The difference being the motive of the person doing the killing. For example, it is not immoral to kill a person who is attacking my wife or children with the intent of harming them. On the contrary, it is an act of love.

    Russ

    September 10, 2008 at 4:37 am

  2. Religion, mistaken or not, has spurred many of man’s greated achievements. Consider, for example, the progress in mathematics that resulted from Pythagoras belief in the divinity of numbers.

    Like everything that humans are involved in, religion has both positive and negative consequences. Although it is in the nature of peaceful men and women to yearn for a way to resolve the conflict between good and evil, no such resolution is possible — save for a complete human self-annililation via nuclear weaponry. The best that decent people can do is to continue to work and fight to maintain the foothold of goodness in the world. A foothold is all we can have; make it as firm as possible.

    richardcorke

    September 10, 2008 at 8:23 am

  3. Russ, I’m talking about War, a situation when you are granted the permission to freely kill, not killing someone who is harming your children or wife, which is clearly a last resort move to take. Plus, when you try to interpret the essence or gist of that statement above (of the intention of defending and harming) it has a really broad implication.

    Consider the holy war between Christian and Islam. So who is ‘Right Side’ in the ‘Defending’ or who is in the ‘Wrong Side’ in ‘Harming’? Tell me about it.

    richardcorke, if you read my post properly my ultimate message in my essay is about the moral contradiction in human psyche, not morality on a whole – for instance, Why do we feel the emotion of sympathy when we see a dying bird or a drowning bug but yet, we do not feel any remorse or guilt when eating chicken meat or beef? Clearly, such morality turmoil is not something learned from God or the holy book. It must be some innate abilities, something that we are inborn with, that creates such contradictions and turmoils.

    Ronn Yeo

    September 10, 2008 at 3:46 pm

  4. If morality is defined by innate abilities, why do different cultures have different sets of definition? Comparing on insects, the common misconception is that bug eating is disgusting to most people. However, this disgusted people are actually a cultural minority. Do you feel sorry for the bug if its legs are pulled out one by one and after that the head is twisted off, while the bug is alive, so that the juiciest part(abdomen) can be easily popped into the mouth. For many cultures, this is a norm. However for myself, seeing a flying ant who lost it’s wing twisting on the ground causes pity, and makes me want to end it’s misery by killing it. To some people, this does not invoke even the question of morality, it’s just a bug to them. However, does a dung beetle cause any sense of divinity to you? Probably not. But it was a sacred insect of the Egyptians. so should we kill it unfeelingly?

    There are many examples that can be drawn. Cannibalism is taboo to many cultures, but there are also cultures that use to practise it. Which is moral? In India, they have a monkey god, Hanuman. While in China, monkey brains are boiled with hot water, while they are still alive. Again, which is moral? There are uncountable more examples that known or unknown, shows that different cultures have different definition of morality.

    When you see the baby bird on the floor, there was pity, and you somehow wanted to help it. You saw that as the right thing to do. An immigrant from another country with different culture would probably pick up the bird, bring it home, and thank his god for providing a meal for the day.

    The common reason to cause the difference in morality between human beings, is as oft repeated on the passages above, culture. It is in the upbringing, how your mother pointed out that “the bird is so cute”, or that “play with the cat”, or even what kind of food she puts on the table that causes you to feel the way you feel. Religion is part of your upbringing, and therefore also impacts on your morality.

    The need for morality, rather than the definition of morality, is common place everywhere, or so it is thought, or assumed. This, however is again according to upbringing and experiences again, rather then innate abilities. The drug lord, the serial killer, “criminals” as a whole are DNA wise also human. But to most, morality wise they are far from human. Perhaps it is that when we grow up, the sense of family, the sense of helping others will profit yourself, that is what leads us to be as moral as we can.

    From my viewpoint, the upbringing is the cause of morality, not innate ability, and religion, is a part of the upbringing.

    nonsensical nonsense

    September 11, 2008 at 3:01 pm

  5. nonsensical nonsense,

    you have just echoed my words really well, and that’s the message i would like to spread to people – there’s no absolute morality.

    thanks.

    Ronn Yeo

    September 11, 2008 at 7:30 pm

  6. While on the part of innate abilities, i will explain more in the next post. stay tune. 🙂

    Ronn Yeo

    September 11, 2008 at 7:35 pm

  7. Your belief in the lack of absolute morality should lead to the fact that moral induced by religious belief are not exclusively hypocritical at all, since all morality are hypocritical. Double standards are also in every morality. The definition of what can be killed has always been decided by the need and wants of the culture itself. Should a life be ended as an individual chose? If the answer is yes, then is murder a crime? If not, should all of us go vegetarian? If so, are plants not life? If it’s argued that the definition is too broad, then what if you apply it to a cockroach or a lizard? Both are non-human, non-plant life creatures. Do you hesitate to squash a lizard, and not at all when it is a cockroach? How about a cute guinea pig, instead of a filthy rat? Both are mammals!

    The definition of what is “good” or “nice” and what is “bad” or ” ugly” has always been defined by the individuals and cultures. Double standards always applies because good and bad are subjective. Religion introduces many types of morality in it’s many different variation. Having “faith” is as subjective as having a “feeling” of what is right or wrong, just that one is defined by God, and some by men. And for atheists, both are by men.

    My point is that the negative terms you have put religion under is not entirely deserved. Religion DOES impose morality onto many people. And if you think being moral is good, religion does do good. Even if their claim to be the source of morality may not be true.

    Contradiction and hypocritical acts are common place, because the human thought process causes us to classify things into categories. Thereby setting multiple standards for different things. It is no different from putting an Ace above a King all the way down to a deuce, when they are essentially still cards, and they can all be easily redefined the other way round.

    nonsensical nonsense

    September 11, 2008 at 10:40 pm

  8. Only God can define absolute morality. If God does not exist then I agree that there are no absolutes. Then the question must be answered, does God exist? Is there evidence that He exists?

    The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. [Psalm 19:1-3]

    The Bible insists that the evidence for God existence is clearly displayed and declared by the creation to all men. It does not matter if you are Chinese or Russian or Indian, all men of every language experience and observe the same heavens, the same creation. The heavens and the creation not only declare that God exists, but they also declare His attributes. They declare what He is like – That He is all powerful, knowing, eternal and wonderful. God insists that the evidence for His existence is clear. He has clearly shown who He is through the witness of the creation. He has made His existence obvious to all men.

    And, the Bible insists that when men deny the obvious, that the are without excuse,

    For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. [Rom 1:20-23]

    It is interesting that your post has much to do with a bug (that is, if you actually read the above verse.)

    “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.”

    “Something” never came from “nothing”. To reason that the heavens and the universe spontaneously created itself from nothing is unreasonable. It is not scientific. It is foolishness.

    Russ

    September 12, 2008 at 12:41 am

  9. Two Thoughts on God:
    I. Since we cannot perceive a god with any of our senses, the burden should definitely be on believers to prove that a god does exist rather than on nonbelievers to prove than a god does not exist.

    II. If only God can define absolute morality, are we submitting to a power ethic? Just “might-makes-right” on a grand scale?
    God obviously thinks it’s moral for hyenas to eat zebras alive and other brutal things like that. Why can’t I judge him for that? I think God’s decision to allow such things is immoral. Of course, I am being arrogant enough to insist on my own moral code; and I am arrogant enough to tell god that mine is more compassionate than his is.

    richardcorke

    September 14, 2008 at 1:32 pm

  10. There are many things that you believe that you cannot perceive with your senses – evolution for one. You believe in evolution because you believe that the evidence supports evolution but you cannot perceive evolution with your senses.

    However, is it reasonable to believe in evolution? Is it reasonable to believe that the universe spontaneously created itself from nothing? I do not believe that anything can come from nothing and there is nothing in science that would suggest otherwise.

    The Bible teaches that God is outside of time. He is eternal. The Bible teaches that “time” was created as well as the physical universe. If such a Being exists, He would not be subject to the laws of science but He Himself would have established the laws of science – the very laws that clearly teach that “something” cannot come from “nothing”.

    God, by establishing scientific laws that prohibit “something” coming from “nothing” and then creating a universe that defies science then clearly proclaims that He exists.

    Death is the result of man’s rebellion against God according to the Bible. God is the source of life. When a person rebels against the source of life, the only result can be death just as when you unplug a light from the socket it quickly burns out. It may continue to glow dimly for a period of time after being disconnected from the socket but there is no doubt that it cannot continue to glow for long.

    Such is man. Mankind has been separated from God by his sin. He may continue to glow for a short period of time, maybe 50 or 100 years, but the darkness of eternity awaits him.

    Jesus did not come to condemn mankind. He came to rescue mankind from certain death. Jesus suffered on the cross to pay the price for our sin. He did not suffer the cross for His own sin – He had none. Instead, He willingly endured the cross to pay the price for our rebellion against God. He suffered to restore man’s relationship with God and to make peace between God and man. He suffered for you and me because He loves us and is not willing that anyone should perish but that all should come to repentance.

    Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

    Russ

    September 16, 2008 at 2:03 am

  11. nonsensical nonsense,

    i have re-read over and over again your comment but i do not understand what you’re arguing against (in relative to this particular post). The only significant point i can see is that i’m guilty of putting religion’s morality in a dark spot.

    If you really understand the essence of my essay above, i’m not condemning religion’s view of morality. Not even close. Like you do, i’ve acknowledged before (several months ago, in one of my earlier essay) the role of religion in constructing the society throughout the history. I’m merely highlighting the contradictions of absolute morality which we could easily detect if we bother to think objectively and rationally for a few seconds.

    Ultimately, I’m more bewildered on why we have conflicting emotions within our psyche when it comes to morality.

    richardcorke,

    I share a similar view with yours, somewhat…

    Russ,

    You asked me is it reasonable for me to believe in Evolution which can’t be perceived with my senses. But have you perceived God with your senses before?

    You do not believe that anything can comes from nothing, but think about it – when you do not know how certain things happen, is it because you insist not to believe how it could happen or is it because you simply DO NOT KNOW how it happened.

    If God creates science as what you have said, what makes you think God didn’t create Evolution?

    It is incredible if you bother to just shift your perception a little, you will see a whole new picture, no?

    Ronn Yeo

    September 16, 2008 at 8:00 am

  12. God could not have created both the scientific laws and evolution because evolution is contrary to the laws of science. Again, something cannot come from nothing. Life cannot come from non-life. Even the simplest forms of life are of a complexity that we still cannot understand nor duplicate. The massive amounts of information contained in even a single celled life form could not have come about from non-life.

    Again, God, by establishing the laws of science and then creating life contrary to the laws of science declares that He exists.

    I cannot know you unless you choose to reveal yourself to me. You cannot know me unless I choose to reveal myself to you. It is impossible to know another unless they choose by their own free will to reveal themselves. No one can know God unless God chooses to reveal Himself to mankind.

    Every religion on the face of the earth is an attempt to know and please or appease God. Every religion on earth is man’s attempt to know God but every religion is destined to failure unless God chooses to reveal Himself to man. Every religion on earth is man attempting to reach up and know God. That is, every religion except one.

    Christianity is exactly the opposite. Christianity, according to the Bible, is God revealing Himself to man. Consider this familiar verse:

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. [John 3:16]

    Notice who did the loving – who did the giving. Christianity is not man attempting to reach God. Christianity is God reaching down to man and revealing Himself is the person of Jesus Christ.

    Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? [John 14:9]

    It is pointless for me to “change my perspective”. It would be like an astronaut attempting to land on mars by just haphazardly changing his perspective and shooting his rocket in any direction. I cannot know God by haphazardly guessing. I can only know Him if He chooses to reveal Himself to me. Apart from God revealing Himself to mankind, mankind has no hope of understanding or knowing Him just as I could not know you unless you had chosen to reveal yourself to me.

    Russ

    September 16, 2008 at 11:19 pm


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