Everyday Ethics

One of our regular
commenters, Steve Allen, recently wrote the following in response to Paddy’s post about buying the gender of your child:

To my way of thinking, we are EITHER
accidental accumulations of atoms, and our actions and experiences are without
moral weight, OR “faith” as you put it, (ie that we were created by
God) has a place, and our actions and experiences do matter.

I cannot see the logic of the person who
asserts both that we evolved from the primordial soup and that we have any
moral obligations to anyone at all.

Personally, I am of the latter view –
that we are ultimately accountable to the god who created us – and that means I
would always let him choose the gender of my children, and that I’m pro-life.
That’s because I believe he knows better than I do.

I just had to respond, as I think this is one of the biggest and best questions this blog can address. First, Steve, I thank
you for your thoughtful and ongoing contributions. Second, I heartily disagree.
I’ll explain my reasoning below, but first I’d like to encourage other readers
of this blog to weigh in, since this is such a central issue in the theory of ethics. I would
really like to hear some other thoughts on the topic.

For myself, I see
ethics as easily separable from religion. Steve argues, if I’m understanding him aright, that we are accountable
ultimately to God, and that that is the only true source of our morality and moral
obligations. Without a supreme being, our actions are meaningless: ‘without moral weight’. If we are accidental, we have no need to concern ourselves with ethics.

I would argue, on the contrary, that our accountability to our fellow humans quite
suffices to encourage our desire to behave in ways that ensure society functions
properly. But more than that, I believe it’s in our nature as humans to want to
do good (as well as bad). 

I’m cynical enough to believe ‘good’ is a human construct, not an absolute, but I’m also hopeful enough about humanity to rest assured we all have something in us that responds to fairness, kindness, and a desire to treat others as we’d like to be treated. I believe right and wrong don’t have to be handed down from on high to have a place in our conduct.

Without bringing thousands of years of philosophy into play (heck, we all know we could start with Plato’s Republic and go on from there), I’ll just say that, for me, I choose to do what’s ‘right’ out of love for my fellow man, not because I fear being judged after death, and not for any particularly spiritual reason. I just respect and cooperate with others with whom I share space on this precious planet from an instinctive and yet carefully cultivated place in my consciousness that responds to my sense of what’s honorable and just. Whether it’s more universal than that – whether an absolute justice exists – doesn’t really matter to me.

How about you? What forms the central font of your moral code?