Welcome to my series of articles on the topic of morality and religion. This box will appear at the top of each article as a table of contents for the series. They are intended to be read in the following order:
2. Objective Morals
3. From Human Nature
4. The Problems With Faith
5. Doing It Right
Where do our feelings about fairness, empathy and suffering come from in the first place?
As social creatures, these feelings are ultimately based in traits that resulted from the process of natural selection: our natural human tendency as social creatures to solve problems, care for and protect ourselves and our communities, and alleviate hunger and pain. So it’s only natural for us to develop beliefs and communal guidelines about the pros and cons of different behavior to eliminate undesirable feelings.
These stem from survival instincts. In the history of our evolution, the creatures most capable of high rates of survival were those that worked best together. Natural selection favored those creatures with dispositions toward fairness, cooperation and reciprocity since the social groups they formed provided many benefits that aided survival.
So we actually appear have inherent, although vague feelings which we now call “moral feelings” inherent in our biology. Further evidence for this view is seen in other animals who have been observed to insist on behaviors we would consider moral.
These feelings in us can be shaped to a great degree, but the general concepts are largely universal among humans. This can be seen in the many common feelings among all people in all cultures, such as notions of fairness and caring for those in need (both skewed in various ways by cultures, but the core concept is present in all of them).
So the big thing that religionists overlook when they discuss morality is the simple fact that people have natural feelings and emotions that we can’t ignore – except with intense indoctrination (such as in Abrahamic religious fundamentalism). So morality isn’t always even about the “logic” of what people believe. Most of us have natural empathy and desires to help others, and it just bothers us in our core to see suffering.
This fact should not be feared or denied, as is the common reaction from religious groups. Many of our natural feelings are good. And the better we accept and understand our own nature, the better we can build upon what is good and reduce what is not.