What’s an ethics gradient?

Apart from being a sweet name for a pan-dimensional, millenia-old AI General Systems Vehicle (or spaceship, for you non-Banksians), I have no idea. I presume it’s some kind of sliding scale where some stuff’s okay to do and some isn’t and maybe you can choose where you lie on the slope. DIY ethics, choose-your-own-adventure morality. No idea! But it sounds interesting and it’s a conversation starter. Same as a 19th century gramophone.

That sort of sounds familiar to this massive screed I posted the other day. Some innocent/naive-sounding religious commenter at Atheist Ethicist (named, as usual, anonymous) asked the question “if atheists choose their own morality [as opposed to receiving it from on high because the bible = morality – M], what happens when two atheists disagree?” I let him have it with both barrels and included part of my upcoming autobiography, entitled “Why I Am A Self-Obsessed Opinionated Bastard”. I really should’ve approached the point a lot quicker in retrospect. But hey, I’m new to the whole blurging thing and, anyway, what’s a blurg without a whole bunch of narcissism?

The point was this: we don’t sit around and pick our morals from a menu like yum-cha. We don’t say things like “Right, I like killing people so that’s in, but I’d never, ever steal from a blind person. How rude! OK, fine, if I’ve already killed them I’ll go through their pockets but …” No. It’s not a subject for a conscious choice. We arrive at our moral code the same way everybody does: exposure to the values of our family, community, school, friends and other external influences. Of course, this starts as soon as we’re born – look, it really shouldn’t need to be explained, but I suppose if you’ve been marinated in strong Christianity (or any religion) all your life and have been moulded into thinking that anyone without a holy book at the centre of their lives will have no place from which to draw their morality, I can understand your naivety on the subject.

The simple fact is, there are moral constants that humanity more or less agree on, most of the time (except when justified by state or faith-sanctioned executions): killing is wrong, violence is wrong, stealing, lying or any other form of dishonesty is wrong – especially if any of them happen to you, so think about that before you act. Looking at the above list rationally, there’s really no way in heaven or hell that agreeing with them requires, in any way, belief in god. You simply do not need to believe Jesus died for you or that god awaits you in heaven to agree with the judgement of killing someone is an immoral, or evil, action. If you need a two-thousand year old holy book to tell you “killing is bad”, perhaps you’ve been missing something.

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