Evolution of the Moral Compass


Compass: Wikimedia.org – The faces I just grabbed off the WWW.

An oft-asked question nowadays is whether morals can exist without the influence of a deity. To me the answer is an obvious “Yes” but for others the answer is no. Why? Well, because they believe humans are so flawed and damaged that we are incapable of being good without God. We lack a “moral compass.” It’s sad that they think so little of themselves, and mildly offensive that they think the same of folks like me. If you take a commonsense look at the issue, it becomes obvious.

Most of the mainstream religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism) have very similar basic moral rules. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal, don’t murder and so on. These values originated because most primates, including humans, are social creatures. Small groups, then larger groups / tribes figured out that certain actions had unpleasant outcomes while other actions provided benefits. Even these primitive humans were sufficiently intelligent to grasp the concept of providing for the good of the tribe. As humans evolved upwards, their various cultures evolved as well. That’s why nearly all cultures have their own version of the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This grew out of primitives realizing that bashing each other in the head over a chunk of meat was to their detriment. Nowadays we have jails for those who haven’t figured it out.

A few versions of the Golden Rule from various religions and philosophers:

Bahá’í Faith:
“Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.” Baha’u’llah
“This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you”. Mahabharata, 5:1517 “
“…a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?” Samyutta NIkaya v. 353
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18
“And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Luke 6:31, King James Version.
“Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.”
Satanism (from #1 of the Seven Tenets of the Satanic Temple)
“Strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.”
“Do not do to others that which would anger you if others did it to you.” (Greece; 5th century BCE).
“May I do to others as I would that they should do unto me.” (Greece; 4th century BCE)
“We should behave towards friends, as we would wish friends to behave towards us.”
Seneca, a Roman Stoic philosopher:
“Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors,” Epistle to Lucilius 47:11 (Rome; 1st century CE)
“What you would avoid suffering yourself, seek not to impose on others.” (Turkey, Rome, Greece; circa 100 CE)


Over the years various religions co-opted these human principles to give authority to their deities. With Christianity, you either trust blindly in their Jesus or you suffer eternal torment. Rather a one-sided proposition in my opinion. In some other religions, if you’re a bad person you get reincarnated as a beetle or maybe a shellfish. You have to live a better life than the previous one for your next life to move up the food chain. To me, such dogmas tend to remove the best reason for being good – to be good for it’s own sake. If I’m a charitable and decent guy just because I don’t want to end up in Hell (or coming back as a dung beetle Smiley), then I am not being good for the right reasons. I’m a decent guy because I have empathy. Because I’m humble. Because it gives me pleasure to make others happy. And I do this without any belief in Hell, the afterlife, or a need to please some cosmic Saddam Hussein who’s supposedly looking over my shoulder and worries about who I sleep with. And there are millions of people like me all over the world. We’re fine, thank you.

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.”
— – Albert Einstein, “Religion and Science,” New York Times Magazine, 1930

Having said all the above (sorry to ramble so long), now let’s take a look at what I regard as Christianity’s greatest moral conundrum: Abortion. You’d be hard-pressed to find very many pro-choice Christians in America unless you visit the northeast or the left coast (FYI: I’m a pro-life Atheist but my personal views are irrelevant here). Christians almost unanimously agree that life begins at conception. Consider this admittedly powerful quote from Chuck Baldwin:

Legalized abortion is a national holocaust; an affront to our national character; a contradiction of established principles subscribed to from the beginning of Western Civilization; an insult to the principles of our Declaration of Independence; a bane of our national spirit; and a stench in the nostrils of Almighty God.” ~ Chuck Baldwin

(Christian Quotes)

Well said by golly. But there is a problem here. Let’s pretend for the sake of argument that the Christian god actually exists and the Bible is 100% accurate. Then let’s ask a few questions about the god they (you?) worship…

  • How many unborn children died in the Great Flood?
  • How many unborn children died when Joshua attacked Canaan?
  • How many unborn children died when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah?
  • How many unborn children died when their mothers died from starvation or exposure during the 40 years of the Exodus?
  • And during these terrible events, how many infants and young children died as well?
  • If you’re a God-fearing, Bible-believing Christian, can you honestly worship such a bloodthirsty, child-murdering creature and still call yourself pro-life?
  • Given the above, can you honestly say the Bible is a good source of morality?

I don’t remember where I got the original.

And then let’s talk about Islam. You know, that peaceful religion where young women get stoned to death because they got raped. Or where people can die for blasphemy (meaning I really shouldn’t visit Iran) or for drawing a picture of their precious prophet. Where it’s okay to lie as long as you’re not lying to a fellow Muslim. Etc etc.

And both the Muslims and Hindus have been known to kill people of other religions (and each other). Just because it’s another religion. So are their scriptures good sources of morality? I guess not.

But wait! Aren’t there good, moral people who are religious?
Of course there are. Where Christians are concerned I’d say most of them. They tend to keep their commandments for the most part. But let’s not forget how their Bible calls for the death of gay people. Don’t forget how the Old Testament teaches how to be a proper slave master. Don’t forget how many people supposedly died just because God didn’t like how they were living.

Don’t forget the faith-healing cult in Idaho that has let sick children die while they kneel on the floor and babble at the ceiling expecting a miracle. And when the kid dies, they’ll say it’s because they didn’t have enough faith or maybe it was “just God’s plan.” If God already has a plan, do you seriously think He’ll change it just for you? Given the number of Christians in the world, how many times a day is God expected to change His plan?

Irrational beliefs can cause otherwise good people to do crazy things. And yes, there are immoral non-believers out there as well. But it’s worth noting that the percentage of Atheists in the prison system is little more than a rounding error. Christians and Muslims on the other hand… Just damn.

Regardless of what your chosen Holy Book tells you, you are capable of being a decent person on your own. You have your own moral compass to guide you. We’ve all done bad things. I certainly have over the years. Many faiths teach us that unless we believe this or that we will be unworthy of our final reward. But this is just one way that religions make you fearful of thinking for yourself. It’s all about “faith.” They want you to believe regardless of there being no evidence of what they teach. You don’t need a deity to forgive you. If you wrong someone, make it right if you can. And learn from your mistakes. You have one life to live. Make the most of it.

Sources And Related Reading…


2 thoughts on “Evolution of the Moral Compass

  1. kersten

    Excellent and detailed made comfortable reading. Civilisation has extended our moral compass we now have same sex marriage , sexual equality , women Bishops .

    Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.