WHICH GODS DO NOT EXIST?
No Gods Are Watching Our Behavior
Rules of human behavior have often been associated
with supernatural beings
who were the originators and enforcers of these requirements and
But as religion declines in the advanced parts of the world,
moral systems based on divine sanctions are being replaced
by moral systems based on the observed
effects of various behaviors.
We can create wise ethical
systems without claiming anyone watching
1. HOW MORALITY GOT
CONNECTED TO RELIGION.
2. HOW MORALITY CAN BE
SEPARATED FROM RELIGION.
3. RATIONAL BASES FOR
4. WHY DO SOME PEOPLE
THEY ARE BEING WATCHED BY GODS?
5. NO GODS ARE WATCHING
DO NOT EXIST?
No Gods Are Watching Our Behavior
by James Leonard Park
1. HOW MORALITY
Historically speaking, most of the religions that developed on planet
have had very strong moral components.
In fact, some religious believers hold that
morality is the central
meaning of their religion.
For such believers, giving
up religious beliefs means giving up
But perhaps the various forms of approved human behavior
and disapproved human
emerged from the practical needs of living together in human groups.
And then these
practices and standards were incorporated into
whatever religions also developed in those human groups.
In practice this connection between group-morality
and prevailing religions has worked well
in the sense that it has kept order in each group of human beings.
When the children were instructed in proper forms of behavior
and what kinds of behavior to avoid,
they were also taught that gods
were watching their behavior
to make sure that they kept within the rules as laid down by the group.
As the origins of moral rules of behavior
were obscured by the passage of time,
the rules continued to be reinforced as a part of the culture or
And organized religions have been the main carriers
of whatever moralities developed within each ethnic group.
2. HOW MORALITY CAN BE SEPARATED FROM
If it is true that the moral systems of any human
really emerged from the practical
experience of that group,
then the loss of religious beliefs should not basically undermine
The parts of the moral system that will collapse without supernatural
are the irrational
parts of the moral system.
For example, almost all human groups
have rules against killing other members of that group:
"Thou shalt not murder".
This is obviously a practical and functional rule of behavior.
The tribe will do better if murder is prohibited.
This prohibition against killing members of one's
did not extend to killing members of other tribes.
Often, in fact, part of being loyal to one's own group
required willingness to kill
members of other groups
as a means of keeping one's own tribe safe.
Tribal warfare has been common since the beginning of recorded history.
And often the religion of each tribe was invoked
to support warfare against other tribes.
When cultures become secularized
—that is, when
they create rules of order
that do not depend on
supernatural beliefs and sanctions
then they almost always incorporate the rule against murder
into the new system of laws.
Murder is prohibited in every known human culture.
And each system of laws has it own ways
of enforcing the rule against murder.
However, other moral rules change
when religiously-based morality is replaced by secular rules of
For example, what foods are
and what foods are prohibited
probably originally emerged from the experience of the tribe:
Some foods proved to be good to eat and other foods made them sick.
And these rules about foods
became part of the religious system of morality
right along with all the other rules of behavior.
When such a culture becomes secularized,
the rules about foods that lack a rational basis usually disappear.
For example, if the eating of pigs caused sickness in ancient times,
then all those kinds of meat were prohibited by divine order.
But since modern methods of preserving and preparing meat
make pork, ham, & bacon completely safe,
then secular rules no longer prohibit such foods.
However, people who are strictly religious will hold
to the religious morality
even when it no longer makes any practical sense.
There are religions alive in the world today (notably Judaism and
that prohibit the eating of any products that come from pigs.
Other religiously-based systems of morality
prohibit the eating of meat from any animals.
3. RATIONAL BASES FOR MORAL
In the modern world, we can base systems of moral
behavior in reason
rather than depending on religious beliefs
to carry the rules into the next generation.
For example, food-science can tell us what foods are good to eat
and what substances are poisonous.
We do not need to depend on ancient religiously-based food-rules.
Marriage has also been a major part of social order
in each culture.
Some cultures endorsed a man having as many wives has he could afford.
Other cultures put an upper limit on the number of wives (4 in Islam).
But most cultures of the modern world endorse monogamy
having only one spouse at a time.
We can listen to arguments for and against each
And in fact, in the Western world almost every culture
is now discussing whether people
of the same sex should be permitted to marry.
Some advocates of traditional marriage say
that their gods have ordained
that people should only marry according to the pattern they grew up
Usually they omit mention of other religious systems
that provide for different patterns of marriage.
And one-by-one the secular governments of the modern world
will permit couples of the same sex to create some kind of legal
that looks like marriage in many respects.
When morality is based in reason,
then people can argue for changes in the cultural rules for
If morality were based only on unchanging religious beliefs,
then, of course, the rules could never change.
However, there are a few religious traditions
that do provide for new
revelations from the gods.
In other words, the gods can
change their minds.
Or the religious leaders can create new interpretations.
And new rules of behavior become standard within that religion.
A non-threatening example is
the Roman Catholic rules about meatless Fridays.
A more-controversial change in Roman Catholic rules
relates to divorce-and-remarriage.
The new marriage of any divorced person
was not recognized
by the Roman Catholic Church.
However, slowly-but-surely even the Roman Catholic Church
is moving in the direction of recognizing
what has been happening in all Western cultures for many years:
People are in fact dissolving some marriages and forming new ones.
There is no rational reason to prohibit such changes.
So even the most conservative religious groups
will eventually recognize the
reality of new marriages.
4. WHY DO SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE
THEY ARE BEING WATCHED BY GODS?
If we look at the broad sweep of human religion,
we see millions of people who deeply believe
that they are being watched in their daily behavior by supernatural
What could account for this interior sense of being watched?
There must be something really happening inside us
that makes us human beings so prone to believe
that supernatural beings are paying close attention
to what we do every day.
One major reason people believe they are being
is that their parents and/or religious leaders have told them
that God is aware of their behavior
—and that He
takes a keen interest in how each person lives.
Such beliefs find homes in many different religious traditions.
And few religious people seem to have questioned this belief.
Another psychological reason that might explain
the sense of being watched is the phenomenon of conscience.
Pangs of conscience occur within us
when we violate our own standards of behavior.
And often these internalized standards of behavior
have been given to us by religious teachings.
Wherever we got our sense of conscience,
the concept of gods watching our behavior
might be a simple-minded attempt to explain
why we feel bad when
we violate our own sense of right and wrong.
We project a Big Policeman in the sky,
who can know what we are doing all the time,
even if no other human beings will ever discover
the behavior we feel guilty about.
A third possible source of this sense of being
might be the phenomenon of existential guilt.
This is a sense of guiltiness that is not actually related to any
even tho we sometimes try to blame this guilt on some misdeeds.
According to this explanation,
we are 'guilty' within ourselves
even tho we have done nothing wrong.
Readers who want
to know more about
existential guilt should go to:
"Existential Guilt: Deeper than the
Pangs of Conscience":
5. NO GODS ARE WATCHING OUR BEHAVIOR.
The most common way that morality and religion were
was to teach children that there were supernatural beings
who were watching their behavior
even when no other human beings could see what they were doing.
This helped children to internalize the rules of
Some very religious adults still believe that God is
watching their behavior.
God is keeping a record of the times when each person
has violated the moral rules as set forth in that religion.
And some people even believe that their eternal destiny
depends on how many religiously-based rules of morality
they have violated during their lives.
Luckily, these religions also include prescribed ways
of canceling punishment in
hell for misdeeds during life.
If we used to believe in gods watching our behavior,
we might remember the sense of great relief
we discovered when we came to the conclusion
that the watchers were
ourselves or other
and not any Policemen in the sky with the ability to see everything.
For some of us it might take years
to get beyond this sense of being watched.
If we shift to rational bases for morality,
then we can decide what to do
and what to avoid
based on the actual consequences of our actions
rather than because our actions
follow or violate some ancient set of
And if some of us still believe in gods watching
then the burden of proof rests with us.
We should offer some basis for such beliefs.
Do we have some internal experience
that feels like being watched from above?
If so, might our own consciences
be a better explanation?
And if internalized moral beliefs is a better explanation,
might it be possible to revise
If we conclude that there are no gods watching our
then it is that much more important for us to make explicit to ourselves
the rational bases for our moral standards.
Giving up belief in gods who watch from the sky
does not mean that we will become immoral.
Rather, it challenges us to re-examine all our moral systems
and see which standards of morality have good foundations in reality
and which traditional rules of behavior can be abandoned
because they are relics of past moral systems
that can no longer be defended rationally.
Progress in religious thinking will probably give up
all the beliefs
that attempt to base human morality in divine sanctions.
We can create good moral systems
without scaring people into believing that they are being watched
and that their every move is being recorded by a Watcher in the Sky.
Old religious beliefs can be left behind
once we understand more deeply where they came from.
And if once we believed in some system of behavior
based on rules handed down from on high,
then we will make progress both individually and culturally
when we find better
foundations for the moral systems
that we still believe are worth preserving.
No gods are watching our behavior.
But we can still live very moral and meaningful lives.
January 3, 2004; revised 1-9-2004; 2-7-2004; 3-12-2005; 3-22-2005;
11-4-2006; 9-23-2007; 1-12-2008; 2-1-2008; 3-27-2008; 10-25-2010;
3-24-2011; 3-26-2011; 8-8-2012
James Park is an independent existential philosopher
who believes that we should base our moral behavior
on rational principles that we can debate pro and con
rather than on claims that some behaviors
are endorsed by supernatural beings and others are not.
If you would like to read other cyber-sermons in
go to the following link: WHICH GODS DO
This cyber-sermon about the basis of morality has
become Chapter 3 of
Developing Our Capacities of Spirit:
Go to the description
Go to the complete list
of cyber-sermons proposed for the FUUCI.
Go to the beginning of
Go to other
cyber-sermons by James Park,
organized into 10 subject-areas.
Go to the UNITARIAN
Go to the opening page
for this website: