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Agnostic clarifies logic on morality

Sat., Feb. 26, 2011

Boy, talk about your bone-headed statements. Mine, that is.

My last column, which argued that morality is either self-generated or nonexistent, must have struck a chord. I received far more e-mails than usual, ranging from strong approval to disbelief that I could be so moronic – though the latter opinions mostly came from people ordinarily on “my side,” i.e., amongst the secular.

The criticism? Only of this particular piece of obtuse cheese: “I doubt that my own morals have anything whatsoever to do with an outside source.”

I then said that, despite reading thousands of books (to which I plead guilty as charged), they had no effect on me. Wow. Simply amazing.

And I went on to contradict even that woefully dim-witted claim, saying that many of them have been “influential, inspiring, uplifting,” etc., etc.

Huh? Say what? As Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Avatar” questioned, “Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?”

More importantly, I might add, “Is it catching?”

Apparently not, since sharper minds than my own made quick work of the evisceration I so richly deserved, and left nothing but a small stain to mark my passing. I hate it when that happens.

Oh, well. I just had an attack of the dopeys and went into a momentary stupor. I was working on something else, but needed to get my column in, and apparently decided the fastest way to do it was to back up a clearly ludicrous claim, piling dumb upon dull. I did a good job of it, too.

I stand by my original claim, that morality is “either arrived at freely, or nonexistent.” That is, we choose a moral code, for a variety of reasons: family upbringing, religion, social standards of conduct, and so forth.

Which is to say that, in direct contradiction to last month’s incomprehensible logic, outside sources bear a hugely significant role in creating our personal moral standards.

We do, however, still freely choose, or we are not moral. Forced morality, as I said, isn’t in itself moral, which is why God cannot mandate it.

If somebody is holding a gun to your head, telling you how to behave, morality is no longer the issue, just survival – no matter who has the gun.

Enough on that. Onward.

I brought up the entire issue in response to the collective number of e-mails I’ve received that have told me that morality without God is impossible. Theodicy – the so-called problem of evil and suffering in light of God’s innate Goodness – has also generated its share, so let me quickly dispatch with that.

It is, quite simply, a nonstarter for the nonbeliever. Folks who don’t believe in God just acknowledge that humanity often behaves indecently, to say the least, and that while it is something to address and try to correct, the ineffectual squirming by the faithful, in an attempt to justify the unjustifiable, is really just kind of funny.

The most common defense I’ve likely heard is that we need to suffer in order to feel joy. God doesn’t like it but allows it out of necessity.

Simply put, no lows, no highs. We have to have the one for the other.

Really? Is God that unimaginative? That’s the best He could do, by way of “human nature”? How lame.

Here’s a simple and obvious alternative: We’re born unhappy and live the rest of our lives in a continual arc upward, toward more and more happiness. You’re born low, so to speak, and finish high.

That works. You get the contrast without all the torture.

Just suggesting, in case He wants a do-over.

Donald Clegg, a longtime Spokane resident, is an author and professional watercolor artist. Contact him via e-mail at


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