The Question of Morality

So, for a long time I’ve had a real problem with the arbitrariness and complete subjectivity of morality. It long felt to me that it was an idea people liked to brandish whenever they wanted to let their moral outrage be known (“how dare they!; this is morally reprehensible!”), and yet something they often hid behind when they wanted to excuse themselves (“well, morally, I don’t see what’s the problem”). It is simultaneously something entirely limited to the individual and something people like to assume is universal (or at least, universal to their ‘group’). If it’s universal, then “my morality” is right and its “those” people who have a problem, and if it’s merely individual, then “it’s alright, as long as everyone follows ‘some’ moral code”.

I’m starting to believe that there is actually no such thing as ‘morality’, at least not in the sense that the concept doesn’t exist, but that it doesn’t exist in the way people generally think of it. There is no ‘universal morality’ into which each individual and each society is attempting to tap because ‘morality’ in itself does not contain “right” and “wrong”. Instead, it is a set of parameters for a finite amount of “possible actions” that are adopted by an individual at one time (though this is not necessarily constant from one moment in time to the next), that enables the individual to decide which actions they are comfortable with and which ones they can judge and look down on.

This set of parameters is largely influenced by society, yes, but it is ultimately solely dependent on the individual and their desires (hence why children rebel and reject their parent’s morality, and why people will rise up and demand things). ‘Morality’ is the movable benchmark set by ourselves by which we judge others while enabling us to be comfortable with ourselves. That is not to say that it cannot signal to the existence of a ‘real’ universal distinction between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, but that each individual’s morality is nothing more than a deluded attempt at achieving that possible distinction, while at the same time focusing solely on themselves. In other words, morality is not about “what’s right and wrong”, and it’s not even about “what’s right and wrong according to ‘me'”; it’s about “what I feel comfortable doing that allows me to achieve the things I want while allowing me to judge others as inferior to myself”. The first two propositions would necessitate the individual to judge themselves, but people don’t like doing that (guilty feelings tend to be excused away as quickly as possible). Therefore, morality is mutable and completely depends on “what I want”.

This is why people don’t like to put themselves in other people’s shoes; it changes and/or challenges their morality. “Being on benefits is morally wrong”, until you have to be on them, then it becomes “Not giving people enough money to take care of themselves is morally wrong”. “Killing is always bad”, until you are in a situation when you feel that is either your only option or the “morally right” thing to do. Then you change your tune. “The death penalty is morally justifiable” until you have to look the convicted criminal in the eye and pull the switch yourself. “My actions are not morally wrong because I’m not hurting anyone”, yet “Wow, I cannot believe how morally disgusting ‘those’ people over there are”.

So, yeah, I am really annoyed by the arbitrariness of the whole concept, and more so than that, by the claims of the morally righteous. It’s one thing to say “I think” and “I feel” and “Well, to me…” and another entirely to say “You’re wrong”, “I’m right”, “The fact is…”. One admits the subjectivity of the opinion, and another is utterly ignorant and self-righteous. Now, I don’t exclude that there can be a thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and I can accept that our attempts at pretending to know what these things mean are indicative that they actually do exist and they are merely unavailable (in a direct sort of way), but it strikes me as hypocritical to confuse one for the other. It annoys me even more when people try to put God into the argument – whether you believe in his existence or not (I’m not going to get into that debate; if you can look at the world and go ‘Nope, no God here’, then there’s no argument I can make that will change your mind).

The word ‘moral’ does not appear in the Bible as such. In the NIV, it appears once as “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21), which the International Standard Version translated as “everything impure and every expression of wickedness”, and the King James has as “filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” (note that neither “moral” nor “morality” appear in either version). The Greek word for moral/morality is “ηθικός”/”ηθική” (ethikós/ethiké), which doesn’t appear in the Greek versions of the text (in fact, it doesn’t appear in the Greek New Testament at all).  That the Greek word for ‘morality is ethiké is not surprising given that the philosophy of morality is “ethics”, which I think tells us something interesting about God.

God is not a “moral” being because he doesn’t need to make Himself “feel good about his actions” nor does He need to justify His right to judge. His “right and wrong” distinctions are not influenced by society nor by a need to “comfort” Himself. He is merely the ‘source’ of good, and as such everything that is not Him or does not conform to His will is not good. God doesn’t need a measuring stick to say “well, this is mostly good”, but humans do in order to be able to co-exist and tolerate ourselves. If we had strict divisions between right and wrong we wouldn’t be able to live with ourselves. So, no, God isn’t with you “morally”, he doesn’t back “your morals” because your morals are selfish and desire-driven. That’s what they are intrinsically.

Morality is what each person tells himself he can comfortably live with. It is a deluded concept that, though we’d like to say “points toward the existence of actual good and wrong”, kinda also hides it by making us complacent with ourselves and pandering to our desires.



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