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Christian virtues and values
The Bible
Religion, Superstition and Pseudoscience
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Is God real?

Is religion necessary for ethical behaviour?

Many religious people believe that our ethical principles are adopted from religion and that even atheists derive whatever ethical principles they have from one religion or another.

This page shows that this claim is absurd.

Written 2015/11/07 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com

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It can easily be shown that humanity does not derive ethical standards from religion.
  1. Many of the examples of behaviour that we see in holy books such as the Bible are rejected by modern people as unethical. For example, the idea that it would be justified for a whole society to be exterminated because they were bad influences is quite abhorrent to modern people, yet this is what Moses, one of the most 'holy' of the prophets of the Old Testament, ordered the captains of Israel to do. (Numbers, 31:15-18. Moses did exclude the virgin girls who he said could be saved for the use of those doing the extermination.)

  2. The laws set down in holy books such as the Bible are not justifiable under any reasonable system of ethical behaviour. The fact that we do not, for example, kill an animal because it has been approached by a woman intending to have sexual relations with it, as is set down in Leviticus 20:16, shows that our ethical standards come from elsewhere than the Bible.
We do not believe it justified to kill anyone who tries to convert us to another religion (as commanded in Deuteronomy 13:6-10) because we have ethical standards that are based on modern ethical philosophy, not on writings in old books.

Obviously even the great majority of those who follow Christianity (and Judaism and Islam for that matter) pick and choose which commandments written in the Old Testament (sacred to all three religions) they accept as justifiable and reasonable. They use ethical standards acquired elsewhere than in holy writings to decide right and wrong, and to select those rules and actions in the 'holy books' to take notice of and which to put aside.

Traditional Islam holds that Mohamed was the ideal example for Muslim behaviour, yet no decent modern Muslim would say that having sex with a nine-year-old girl was an ethical thing to do.