Why Humans Persist in Believing in Universal Morality: The Need to Believe (Part 1)

All human belief systems (secular ideologies as well as religions) are based upon the conviction that all human behaviour is governed by one unique moral code which is fixed, objective and universal, in the sense that it transcends humanity and applies equally to everybody for...

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All human belief systems (secular ideologies as well as religions) are based upon the conviction that all human behaviour is governed by one unique moral code which is fixed, objective and universal, in the sense that it transcends humanity and applies equally to everybody for all time.

Regarding the origin of this universal morality, for the Western religious ideologies this is held to be God himself. For secular ideologies, such as communism, socialism, social democracy, fascism, and liberalism, the origin of their particular moral codes is never specifically identified, or even mentioned, but universal and transcendent moralities are nevertheless implicit in the ideologies, and so are held to exist by implication.

All ideologies, it should be noted, secular no less than religious, are based upon some sort of belief in the supernatural. The religious belief in morality’s divine origin is obviously supernatural, but the secular ideological conception of an implicit universal and transcendental morality, being as it is beyond the laws of nature or the understanding of science, is no less supernatural, as we shall see shortly, and despite any and all ideological claims to secularity.

All ideologies, religious and secular, deny that morality is simply a product of the human mind. The reason that they do this is that if morality were perceived to be simply a collective product of the human mind, as science informs us that it indeed is, it would be nothing more than fallible and changeable human opinion. And moral opinion may indeed change over time, despite the transcendental claim that it is fixed forever, as the changed Western moral beliefs regarding slavery, sorcery, blasphemy, judicial torture, capital and corporal punishment, theism, minority rule, racism, nudity, animal cruelty, homosexuality, and smoking in public places illustrate.

As morality that was perceived to be solely a product of the human mind would also not be transcendental (i.e. reaching beyond humankind – presumably to some elevated and mystical form of being or existence), any ideology based upon it would be denied the enormous moral authority that derives from being the one organisation on Earth that supposedly represents that transcendent, universal morality. It is this unique moral authority that a universal and transcendental morality supposedly confers that makes the concept so attractive to all ideologies (and that also explains the Western triumph of monotheism over polytheism).

All ideologies, religious and secular, are created for the same purpose: to attract adherents to their cause in order to help attain the objectives of their founders. This is done by providing a more inspiring and elevated worldview than is common in their communities. Significantly, to this end all ideologies, regardless of whether they are religious or secular, exploit morality as the medium through which to attain their objectives, and accordingly each makes the same two fundamental moral claims. First, that they uniquely represent the one, universal moral truth, and, secondly, that they have the attainment of the highest moral good as their principal objective.

Thus, for example, the principal Western religions each claim (contradictorily) to represent God’s word, and to be dedicated to attaining His objectives on Earth. Communists and socialists on the other hand, claim (implicitly) to be representing the universal moral truth in their attempts to attain ‘social justice’; something that they assert to be the highest moral good humankind is capable of attaining here on earth.

While all ideologies aggressively support the claim that there is only one universal morality, as noted, they each mean by this only their own particular morality. They all, in fact, deny that any morality other than their own could possibly be the universal morality. The widespread and popular belief that there is a unique, universal morality in existence is therefore not supported by the evidence. All that we have on Earth in reality are thousands of ideologies, religious and secular, the believers in which each contradictorily claim that their ideology uniquely represents the one and only universal morality.

For the concept of there being one, universal morality to be feasible, every individual and every community would have first to accept the identical moral system as being the only legitimate one, and very clearly, they do not. While most individuals, including those who consider themselves to be secular, still generally believe in some form of transcendental moral universalism, either explicitly or implicitly, in aggregate they and their communities tend to believe, not in one, but in very many different versions of it.

The supernatural belief in the existence of one universal, objective, and transcendental moral code is perhaps humankind’s greatest and most persistent delusion. It has survived even the Western cultural transition from a religious to a secular worldview, and so long has philosophy lain entwined in bed with religion that philosophy departments throughout the world still harbour moral objectivists who claim mystically to be able to reconcile the supernatural existence of a universal morality with their otherwise strictly secular beliefs.

The question as to just why the belief in a universal, transcendental morality has been so enduring in human thought over the ages calls for an explanation. Interestingly, the concept of transcendental morality is always expressed in the form of an ideology, either religious or secular. To judge by the remarkably similar type of promises and moral claims that ideologies always make, it would seem that they are formulated specifically in order to gratify one inherent and profound human psychological need; namely, the need to believe that there is greater significance and meaning to human existence than appears empirically to us to be the case. The gratification of this need is the principal thing that both religious and secular ideologies offer us.

As we know, the religious concept of a universal morality openly asserts, in the form of a divinity, the existence in the universe of a higher form of spiritual being or existence than humankind. This blatantly supernatural concept is, however, intellectually unacceptable today for all those who regard themselves as secular. Nevertheless, as human beings, secularists by and large remain susceptible to the same psychological needs as everybody else. They therefore square the circle intellectually in their minds, and smuggle the supernatural in through the back door by continuing to accept the highly ambiguous and mystical concept of a transcendental universal morality, while rejecting the blatantly supernatural concept of a divinity.

Obviously, no universal and transcendental morality could exist were there not some form of prior and superior being, or existence, behind it, responsible for its creation, and from which logically it must emanate. Believing implicitly in the existence of such a morality thus allows the emotionally needy secularist to believe in something superior and spiritual that transcends their empirical existence, while sparing them the intellectual discomfort of acknowledging the presence of the supernatural in their worldview.

What our Passions demand, our Reason, it seems, will always justify.

Click here to read Part 2.

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  1. Alan Collard Reply

    Very good article.

  2. Harald Sitta Reply

    I like it.The most intense cultists are those denying being cultists..:-) “One World-er’ a cult ..

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