Ethics Part 2: Moral Compasses

As I explained in the previous post, morality is an individual's personal impulses and impressions about what is right and what is wrong.  One idea recent proposed in the field of psychology is that our morality can be broken down into one of five moral compasses.  I'm going to explain each of these moral compasses, and give my opinion on their value to a secular morality.  (I've listed the moral compasses in the order they were presented to me, rather than in any value based order).

Ethics Part 1: Ethics and Morals

I want to do a series of posts on ethics to examine the topic from a variety of angles. Ethics is something I've gained a lot of enjoyment from studying formally, and another thing that I enjoy is sharing knowledge. I'll start with a post that short and sweet by clarifying the difference between ethics and morals.

Ethics, academically speaking, is the branch of philosophy concerned with questions of morality and ethical behavior. Ethics in more practical terms are codes of behavior created by and applied to groups, be they cultural, national, or professional. These ethical standards are the guidelines for what behaviors the group finds acceptable or "right," and deviating from them is "wrong."

Morals are personal. Everyone has a moral compass which is calibrated uniquely (more on the various moral compasses in the next post). This is your own sense of what is right and wrong.

Ethics and morals will not always align. A doctor having a sexual relationship with a patient may not be considered immoral if the doctor is not exploiting vulnerabilities of the patient, but it is always considered unethical by modern professional ethics. On the other side of the coin a defense lawyer may find murder immoral and know his client is guilty, but legal ethics require that every defendant be given a sincere defense regardless of what their lawyer thinks of them. In both of these examples it seems that ethical codes should trump personal morals. Should that always be the case? Why or why not?

Now that I've explicitly stated the meanings of the words I'll try to make sure that I use them correctly for the rest of the series. Feel free to hold me to that with some good natured chiding if you spot a mistake. I think I'll also try to leave an open ended question like the one above in all the posts for this series as well.

In search of reason,


Follow Up to A Secular Nation

An interesting story popped up on my radar this week, and relates directly to my stance on the importance of secular government:

A Hispanic Catholic woman in Chicago has found herself under court order to live like a Hasidic Jew on the weekends including restrictive observation of the Sabbath. The full story is here, the short version is that she recently married a man who shares joint custody of his son with his ex-wife, who switched to Orthodox Judaism after their divorce. The mother of the boy is insisting that he be raised Orthodox as well, leading to the divorce court's decision to force the father and Catholic step-mother to provide a complete Hasidic Jewish environment every weekend when they have him.

The article has all of the details about the restrictions the courts have placed on the family, so I'm not going to get into that here. The point is that a father with partial custody of his son should have the same right to share his culture and the culture of his wife as the mother does to raise the child Jewish.

The argument for secularism goes beyond just Separation of Church and State and the issue of establishment of a State religion. The argument for secularism also addresses cases just like this. The main principle of secularism is that religious considerations should not have influence in the concerns of the law and government. This means that the court should have no authority to dictate a family's religious observations.

By ruling that the father has to obey Orthodox Jewish regulations (which include what can be cooked, when, and how, what you can do with your day, whether or not you can drive your car, and so on) they have squashed any possibility of freely enjoying the time he does get with his son. If he doesn't follow those rules, I imagine that he risks losing any visitation rights to his son. The courts should have no authority to issue custody that is contingent on observing a particular religion.

This is why we fight for secularism, for the freedom of and from religion.

In search of reason,


A New View on Comfort

One of the fascinating things about embracing atheism for me was the realization that there are other completely different world views out there than the one I grew up with. I'd like to share one of these new views that I now take great comfort in.

A disclaimer: I speak from Christianity because it's what I know. If anyone has insight on other religions, please feel free to share it!

On of the major reasons that many turn to religion is the comfort it offers. It gives you the belief that everything happens for a reason, that the suffering of this life is insignificant in the grand scheme of eternal paradise, and that you will see all of your loved ones again; these can all be comforting things. When there is uncertainty in your life, religion is ready with open arms, caring words, and answers.

I frequently hear disbelief from religious people who are presented with the idea that atheism can offer any comfort. It is depressing for them to consider the idea that everything is just random and that death is the cold, hard end.

When I first realized my atheism, I agreed with this analysis. There were now so many holes in my understanding of the world where my belief in the divine used to sit. I am still filling many of these holes with new understandings, and constantly revising them; it's an interesting journey.

Back on point however, the idea of my purpose and what happens when I die were one of the first things that I addressed ... mainly because the idea of hell still had me terrified, but I'll discuss the afterlife in another post. As I have turned the idea over in my head, I realized that atheism does offer comfort in the face of suffering and uncertainty. Among other things, it offers the idea that our suffering isn't a mystifying punishment or attempt to teach us a lesson. It's simply cause and effect, and we can make reasonable, reality-based decisions about how to deal with it.

A Secular Nation

Watching this video made me feel a bit ill. As far as I know Newt Gingrich is a pretty intelligent fellow, so I can't tell if his ideologies simply leave him with a blind spot, or if he is being intentionally dishonest. Either way, there are so many things wrong with what he is saying in this clip that I couldn't address them all. What I want to focus on is his attack on secularism and his attempt at revising our history.

Secularism is not a campaign to eliminate Christianity or any religion. It is a concept that the government and other public institutions should exist separate from, independent of, and indifferent to religions and religious beliefs.

Learning to Clutch... The Definitions

Since the topics we’re going to be writing about are often misunderstood or unclear, I thought it would be good to explain the lexicon we’re using. After all, you can’t hold a constructive conversation if people aren't using the same definitions.

I want to start by dispelling common misconceptions about “Agnostic” and “Atheist.”

An Atheist by definition is simply someone that doesn’t hold a belief in a god or gods. Theists propose god concepts, and those that aren’t convinced by any of them are Atheists.

An Agnostic by definition is someone who simply claims that they lack knowledge or certainty about a topic. You can claim to be Gnostic or Agnostic about any topic, we’re just most familiar with it in regards to religion.

This means that rather than a continuum from Christianity/Islam/etc. to Deism, to Agnosticism to Atheism we have two axis overlapping.

No Drama Commenting Policy

Alright so,

We know the things that we're posting here will be controversial and they will push buttons that most people don't like pushed. We know that conversations can very quickly degenerate at the smallest perceived slight from either side. So we're stepping in early and creating a comment policy.

In general, Mike and I always choose our words very carefully in order to be as inoffensive as possible while still getting our point across. Our goal is to create dialog about ideas that are not often discussed, not to offend. I'm not saying it won't happen, but it's not the point. We love debate and different points of view, but we're also very firm believers in the value of online civility and respectful conversation.

With that in mind, we reserve the right to delete comments if they strike us as:
  • rude
  • judgmental
  • ranty
  • attacking
  • trolling
  • off topic

This doesn't mean, of course, that you can't disagree with us or other commenters - that would defeat the purpose - you just need to do so constructively and with respect.

If you are immediately offended by something here, don't comment right away. Step back, think about what's actually being said, and come back to it. We promise to do the same with our responses.

Please make your own arguments for or against the topic rather than issuing a list of quotations. We're interested in talking to the reader, not in responding to their ability to copy and paste. However we reserve the right to respond in kind if you choose not to take the time to write your own opinions. If you do quote someone that isn't a household name, please provide more than their name for identification.

Hopefully this will help create a constructive and generally friendly atmosphere where everyone feels like they are being heard and not attacked.

Never stop questioning,


PS. Inspired by Offbeat Mama. Thanks Offbeat Mama!

Without A Clutch

"That grinding sound is your paradigm shifting without a clutch."

This quote explains our recent predicament pretty clearly. Less than a year ago and only a few months into our marriage, we both woke up and realized/admitted to ourselves that not only were we no longer actively religious, we didn't really believe in the supernatural anymore. We both come from Christianity, and our stories are decently similar, perhaps we'll share them at a later time. The realization and acceptance that we are atheist has been by far the most crazy, world-shifting, thing we've ever done, and we're still reeling from it.

This blog is an attempt to explore the worlds of atheism and secular humanism, figure out where we fit in, and understand how to view the world without religion guiding us. The posts will be random, whatever strikes our fancy as worth exploring, and debate is always welcome.

Thanks for reading along, and we hope you'll add your voice to the discussion.

Never stop questioning,