Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. FFRF.org

A simple framework for morality

Vol. 36 No. 03 April 2019
Dan Barker shows off his new book, Mere Morality.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Mere Morality, the new book by Dan Barker, is a compass for how to be good without God 

The following is adapted from the Introduction of FFRF Co-President Dan Barker’s latest book, Mere Morality. It can be purchased through ffrf.org/shop. Dan donates all the royalties from copies purchased through FFRF.

We need a simple way to picture morality. The topic can be bewildering. Hundreds of books, articles, sermons, laws, public policy statements, and university courses have wrestled with it for centuries. It’s a sprawling landscape, but does morality have to be so complicated? Is it so hard to know how to behave?

I don’t think so. I think we can boil it down to a simple guide. Mere Morality is how one former preacher who is now an atheist knows how to be good without God.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis attempted to strip away the dispensable or discretionary doctrines of his faith by boiling the essential tenets down to a “mere” minimum that would be shared by all Christians, regardless of their denominational differences. I am doing the same thing here for morality, reducing essential principles to the “mere” minimum that would be shared by all humans, not just believers. C.S. Lewis would not have agreed with me that religion is one of the dispensable complications that needs to be stripped away from ethics, but at least he would have understood my approach.

This book offers a novel framework for thinking about moral behavior that can clarify our deliberations as we try to negotiate the tortuous hazards of life with minimum harm. My “Three Moral Minds” model does not solve any specific problems. Rather, it serves as a tool that can orient our thoughts as we try to unravel ethical dilemmas. Mere Morality is a compass, not a map. A compass doesn’t tell you where to go, but it does help you determine where you are.

This book started out as Chapter 2 in my book, Life Driven Purpose. That chapter is reproduced here, but is enhanced with material about the biblical meaning of “evil” and “wicked,” gleaned from my research for my book, God: The Most Unpleasant Character in All Fiction.

In a discussion of morality, religion is certainly fair game. But attacking religion is not enough. Just because I am convinced that holy books are inferior moral guides does not mean I automatically have something better. If I claim we can be moral without God, I need to make a positive case for it.