Discussion: How do we know worshiping the divine is moral?

A recent exchange I had on someone’s blog post about morality and what standards we use to gauge them had me thinking about a question I never really asked before in regards to theism.  In this thread the theist was arguing that God represents an objective standard to what is moral and what isn’t moral, and atheists have no objective standards for morality.  I feel theists are equally subjective and I think atheists can objectively evaluate the morality of actions through non-divine standards.  I honestly couldn’t get through to to this person to convince them, but no matter.  The question that occurred to me that I had asked before is “by what standards to we decide that we should be worshiping Gods and living according to their desires?”

I mean let’s say there is a God, by what basis do we decide that this is somebody we should worship?  If they have a bunch of rules for us to follow do we get to question whether those rules are something we should follow? If we do not it seems following those rules is not based on a decision about the rightness of the rules, but rather a default position to authority.  Are we to follow all those who are more powerful? Is it a duty to a creator to follow rules blindly?  Are we to follow those who promise consequences that make us fearful should we choose not to follow?

Despite the claim by many theists that God represents an objective standard of morality it does not seem that morality plays a role when it comes to following God.  One can’t say, “Following God is the moral thing to do,” unless we are somehow able to evaluate the rules that God wants us to follow.  In which case God is no longer the standard that we judge the morality of the rules.  Can we even say something like “God is good” ? Aren’t we using a separate standard to evaluate God’s goodness.  It seems God is only good because of his power, not his morality.  Thus whatever happens to us or anybody else is because God allows it to be so, making everything simply good.  The punishments, the rewards, the rules, everything.  I guess it’s always bothered me to give anything that much authority.  Even if I had conclusive evidence of God’s existence, I think I would still want to evaluate him.

I mean let’s say God and the Devil stand before you, incarnate in some human form.  How is one able to tell the difference between the two?  How do I measure God’s goodness?  Is it that one sends me to punishment while the other does the punishment?  Surely it’s by one having a greater power over the other.  Because it cannot be by actions of goodness, because according to at least the definition of the Christian God, anything that God does is good.  Because God is the supposed objective standard of morality and my differing is not permissible if I wish to be moral.

It seems to me that what religion then teaches us is that worship is to be given to beings who are more powerful.  If that powerful being is deemed to be the standard good then whatever that being does is by definition good and we cannot question but follow blindly.  The consequences of our actions have no bearing on the situation providing we are following the rules laid out by that being.  What then is the value of our ability to reason?  Isn’t existence then rather empty having to set aside reason to follow blindly that which is defined as the ultimate good?

It still seems to me that someone had to have a pre-defined notion of good to even decide that God met the ultimate definition.  More importantly I think it seems worth asking the question whether the worshiping the divine is even a moral action or an action meant simply to ensure obedience to entities more powerful than ourselves.

51 thoughts on “Discussion: How do we know worshiping the divine is moral?

  1. The whole thing about worship is kind of iffy. These gods are described as sufficient and complete in and of themselves. To “need” something should be considered a flaw. So, demanding or even asking for worship on the part of a god indicates there is something they lack, something needed to make them whole. If this need were expressed by a person, we would urge them to seek psychiatric help, no?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh I agree. But I think even if God didn’t command to worship, it seems many theists still take worship as sort of the thing you should do for a God that created this world. Presumably religion developed before writing and I don’t know that worship was founded on any sort of written commandment by the God that they should be worshiped. More likely out of fear of consequences.

      But yes, most certainly, any being commanded to be worshiped is suspect, but humans are pretty good at putting people on pedestals and worshiping them without any particularly command to do so! lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Worship, according to The dictionary is the “feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity”. Even believers know this is an unsettling contradictory practice. I did a worship post a year ago and the religious commentary was changing the definition to a more palatable version. “Celebrating” the greatness of god. The term worship when I was in, was more of a groveling humility. I’m not surprised they’re trying to change the definition.
    The absolute morality they seek is actually found in questioning his authority and calling the inadequacy of faith for what it is, and striving for laws that supplant it. We’ve proven time and again that we can do better than what god (the writers) had in mind. Gods absolute morality fights change, fights equality, fights fairness to women and minority lifestyles, and has fought social justice, lagging 500 years at best, only relinquishing because the majority knows better and makes it so

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks Jim. I, of course, completely agree with you, I guess my context for this post is the previous discussion where we are told that God represents some objective standard, but it seems that to even say that God is an objective standard we either have to have some sense of what is good and bad on or own, or simply be expect to follow blindly. And if the latter is true than knowing the difference it seems that right and wrong become meaningless because anything that powerful does, allows to happen etc is then simply by definition good and just. Morality even ceases to be a concept that has any meaning. There is no reason that goes into worshiping a deity, and there is no reason that can be used to evaluate the rules of that deity. Existence becomes meaningless except to do the bidding of another being’s wishes.

      Like you, I see it as completely obvious that we can do better and on average I think we as a species have been doing better.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. A year ago Mel and brainyawn were arguing gods ultimate, unchanging morality. I asked them to tell me one, and they hand waved for two days and finally quoted the golden rule and love one another. Even those two things carry numerous caveats in scripture where we see divine command and excuses for the occasional road trip to destroy their opponents. That a lot of reading to get only that. I do believe the relevant parts of the Bible could be published in a pamphlet.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I do believe the relevant parts of the Bible could be published in a pamphlet.

          LOL…with a “Well…duh!” at the end. 🙂

          And the golden rule is hardly unique to Christianity nor new with Christianity. It’s been around a long time. I think pretty much most primates have that one sort of figured out! lol

          Liked by 1 person

            1. He disappeared. These guys with no site, vague, long winded. Who knows, maybe he’ll be back as a brother. He was really no worse than Ben or I a few years back. Hell, he’s pretty hardwired though

              Liked by 2 people

    2. I should also add that I am perhaps using a narrow definition of worship here. I like the term celebration better and those who celebrate a creator are probably on average happier more well-adjusted people, but I’m not sure that celebrating such a being implies that we must do everything they say. If you do believe you have to follow all the rules of your creator to be moral, then I would say you are worshiping and not just celebrating.

      Liked by 4 people

    3. To “need” something should be considered a flaw. . . . – Steve Ruis

      The term worship when I was in, was more of a groveling humility. . . . The absolute morality they seek is actually found in questioning his authority and calling the inadequacy of faith – Jim

      I can hardly imagine such statements as NOT being useful by devilry itself:

      1. Insinuate God is ‘flawed’ thus is not a God.
      2. Charge theistic humbleness with being ‘groveling’.
      3. ‘Questioning his authority’ is necessary because of the ‘inadequacy of faith’. Seems kind of circular. ‘Faith is inadequate’ is part of the premise and conclusion.

      Logic, which is so often claimed as missing from the ways of theism, is often missing from secularist arguments as well. However, secularism unlike theism, is not charged with being fabelesque, or antiquated. Both of these – charges of fabelism and antiquatedness – contain elements of judgemental and thus are fallacies of the ad hominem.


      1. I can hardly imagine such statements as NOT being useful by devilry itself

        Not sure I understand what you mean here. Are you saying there is a devil? That would need to be proven.

        1. That is one definition of God. The greek gods certainly had flows. Many Gods were not seen to be perfect, good, could trick and deceive as well as being deceived themselves. I am sure there are plenty other examples of Gods in other religions that could be seen as “flawed” in some way. The definition of a God is not universally defined as being perfect. You are defining God in a very specific way and then using that definition to say that Steve’s statement is flawed. That’s a strawman argument.

        2. Certainly you can be humble without groveling, just like I might be humble towards a respected scientist, but I would neither think that person I was being humble to was perfect in anyway, nor would I assume that person was more knowledgeable than me about every facet of life or even my own field. In the conception of Yahweh there are many denomination that might use the word humble but for an omniscient God that represents perfect morality humbleness is inadequate. By default you are less in every conceivable way than Yahweh, and Yahweh has the ability to torture you for eternity for your transgressions, so groveling seems sensible…unless of course you choose Christianity lite. But sure Jim has a particular experience with his denomination that is not uncommon but certainly doesn’t represent all denomination. It doesn’t make what he’s saying untrue in at least how some denominations define worship. At the very least you are just as guilty as he is of cherry picking the denomination that suits your argument here.

        3. I don’t really see that. You can both question the value of faith, and question authority. Religion generally requires you to have faith in many things not just the authority of God. You can also have faith that a God exists, but not necessarily see God as an authority. Religions generally push the value of faith in of itself as an important virtue in order to convince you of that all the things for which there is no evidence for are true. You added the “because” into Jim’s statement. Seems more like you chose to strawman his argument to try to claim it was circular reasoning.

        Lots of people make logical fallacies, not just religion, you yourself seem to be capable of it as well. Welcome to the club.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. Maybe I’m reading things wrong. You are correct, I’m mistaken about lots of things. It is probably a reason I find solace in believing and reading – occasionally and imperfectly – the Bible.


      2. There is no question that submitting your will—“not my will, but thine be done” creates a blanket faith ability to overlook or excuse contradiction and the absence of god working in our lives. He’s nowhere to be found, and what you say about logic is errant. I’ve been on your side. Every jot and tittle is waved away by confirmation bias with miles of apologetic excuses.
        I can question your god (the writers) because the higher morality is always found ahead of the churches and its followers by 100s of years. Morality of the Bible reflects the times they lived in which was brutal and grotesque. Christianity has dug in its heels and resisted equality at every turn, with warnings and end time retribution “at the doors” yet, we’re still here, in the safest time in the history of the world. Not because of more religiosity, but because of less. Because if secular law trumping biblical archaism. Any mom and pop or three person committee can do better than 1500 pages of ambiguous immortality.

        Liked by 6 people

  3. .  Can we even say something like “God is good” ? Aren’t we using a separate standard to evaluate God’s goodness.  It seems God is only good because of his power, his morality.  

    I don’t think this is why people say god is good. It’s inherited and with monotheism, the theist would not a have a god that is not good and invented Satan a being powerful as god. And this is why my ancestors were wise in thinking their god indifferent and that attributes of good or bad couldn’t be claimed for god. It just was. And all they needed to do was appease the gods to avoid misfortune

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t disagree with you. But I guess that’s partly my point there is no evaluation being done really of God’s goodness. It is merely a given, and the assumptions by many theists is that we can’t evaluate goodness on our own. Thus God is good only as a matter of authority not through any objective determination of goodness. It just seems a rather scary position to argue from if you’re a theist. lol Whatever trumped rule your religious authority figure tells you you should be following you have to do it!


      1. In this case, and I agree with you, that religious people who hold onto this theory cannot be said to be moral, in the real sense of the word, as they have not evaluated their reasons for acting, unless of course to be moral is to do what the messenger of god says is moral

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Well said. Now it’s not that I think that one can’t believe in God and be moral, it just doesn’t seem to be the case in a religion which holds God to be the objective moral standard. If we are allowed to use other criteria in which to evaluate morality and thus decide that given how God is portrayed in our particular religion He does appear to be good and moral, I think that’s fine. I feel like Hinduism is a little like that because there seem to be particular Gods that people choose to follow over others, perhaps for their own reasons. Or gods they pray to for different reasons. Anyhow it seems such a religion that allowed one to evaluate the morality of a God would certainly prone to error and subjectivity…which I think is okay, but this doesn’t sit well with many people in Judeo-Christian religions.


  4. If believers are told, for example, that they are not to lean on their own understanding, and that their god’s ways are higher than the believers (as noted in the bible), then as you said to Jim, morality ceases to be a concept that has any meaning. God is only good and moral because someone once said so and wrote it down.

    There’s no accountability to the “men of God” and writers who made such claims. Simply put, believers are trusting men who said God told them. They are worshiping the precepts of men and their subjected standard of morality. Therefore, worshiping is an action meant simply to ensure obedience to men who claimed/claim positions of power and had/have agendas.

    You wrote: “Thus whatever happens to us or anybody else is because God allows it to be so, making everything simply good. ”

    As Carl Sagan once wrote:

    “Many religions lay out a set of precepts… and claim that these instructions were given by a god or gods. For example, the first code of law by Hammurabi of Babylon… was handed to him by the god Marduk… this is a bamboozle… a pious hoax. …if Hammurabi had merely said, “Here’s what I think everybody should do,” he would have been much less successful.

    Believers are gullible, and it’s predominately due to fear of questioning, fear of punishment and fear of the finality of death.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Nicely said and I agree. Thus it seems to me that a theist shouldn’t question the morality of the atheist or make the claim that the atheist is immoral but rather that they are unwilling to follow God’s rules blindly and obediently. I would still argue that there is a great deal of subjectivity by the theist in determining what God’s rules actually are!

      As the Good Without Gods video I’ve posted many times before discusses that authority can’t be used as a basis for immoral and moral. We’re not doing what’s right, just doing what we’re told. We need reasons why something is wrong or right. And to quote the video: “Once we’re dealing with valid reasons, we’re having a conversation that has no need to refer to scripture or authority, divine or otherwise.”

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This reminds me of James Rachel’s Moral Autonomy Argument:

    1. We are moral agents with moral autonomy and a responsibility to exercise it
    2. Abandoning one’s moral autonomy is immoral
    3. God is a perfectly good being worthy of worship
    4. Worship is the recognition of one as inferior and subordinate to a greater being
    5. Worship of God includes the total abandonment of one’s moral autonomy in favour of blind, non-questioning obedience of God
    6. This is immoral, unless we can continuously be sure the being we are worshipping is (perfectly) good, and that the being we are worshipping is indeed a (or the) “God”
    7. To continuously evaluate whether a being is good requires moral judgment, which requires moral autonomy
    8. Therefore it is not possible to continuously evaluate if a being is good while also worshipping it
    9. Therefore, worshipping necessarily requires abandoning one’s moral responsibility, which is immoral
    10. Therefore, no being is worthy of worship
    11. Therefore, God does not exist

    In short – worship makes it impossible to know the object of worship is good, and a non-good object of worship isn’t worthy of worship. It is said that it can be known that God is good, and that God is worthy of worship, which is a contradiction, which cannot exist.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing that John. As is always the case nothing that comes to my mind is terribly original, but I actually feel more comforted knowing that other people have had similar lines of reasoning. I completely agree with her line of reasoning although I’d say that line 11 could read:

      11. Therefore, if there is a God it is only one to fear, not worship.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. That was excellent, John.

      “7. To continuously evaluate whether a being is good requires moral judgment, which requires moral autonomy.”

      Bingo. I posted this comment from a deconvert on one of my posts a few years back. He said:

      “If an idea can’t stand on its own truthfulness, it has to find another way to survive. And often the way that happens is by the gradual, intentional refinement of the hijacking of our emotional architecture.

      Possibly the most effective, most powerful way a belief could do this would be to devalue or eliminate all other sources of self-affirmation— which Christianity does with devastating efficacy.

      If a belief can do this to you, you will have almost no chance of being able to critically evaluate its truthfulness.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Talk about timing. I just had a theist reply to a question I asked with the following:

        My question:

        God Is Good

        Can you actually defend that claim given the historical reality?

        For example, could a designer of extraordinary compassion and unlimited means oversee a world where the very mechanisms necessary to physically experience something beginning to resemble ‘happiness’ (enkephalin and opioid receptors) would not even exist in the world before some 3.5 billion years of terrestrial evolution had passed and untold billions of generations of living things had suffered enormously without as much as the hope of corporeal relief?

        I’m curious as to how you square that physical reality with your belief?

        Her answer:

        Unfortunately, I’m not really into history or science I’m afraid and I can only speak from a viewpoint of having a personal relationship with Jesus and discovering peace and freedom in my life since becoming a Christian.

        I don’t really feel the need to defend anything I’ve written because that would kind of be like me defending God and I believe that God is my defender and not the other way round!

        Liked by 3 people

        1. LOL…So basically you need to follow God’s blog. Currently he appears to be not communicating in any tangible way except through apparently personal relationships. lol

          In a way such responses are sad, because here is a person who seems afraid to think for herself. Her response is one that, if she conjured it herself, indicates her brain was literally preventing her from having to challenge her own beliefs over the physical evidence of what she observed in the world. Any worldview that can cause your brain to do that is concerning. For as much peace as she claims in her life right now, it could easily be subverted by actors with less than the best intentions.

          Liked by 4 people

          1. It’s the kind of response you just leave alone. Nothing could possibly be achieved in talking to this person. And you’re right, it is sad. I guess she perceives some benefits in her shielded off position, but the cost (the real cost) is just so damn high.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. You might be able to get further in person and if she knew you personally at some level of acquaintance. I think it’s also easier to turn off to a stranger. They might be able to be dig a bit deeper for someone they are emotionally invested in.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. Absolutely.

    “We need reasons why something is wrong or right.”

    As many believers have said on this forum and elsewhere, “God said it, I believe it, and that’s good enough for me.”

    Which is why many unethical teachings have been condoned by followers of authoritarian religions.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. “the theist was arguing that God represents an objective standard to what is moral and what isn’t moral, and atheists have no objective standards for morality”

    There is your problem right there. Whos god? And how do we know this specific god is the measure of any moral standard? Because the magic book says so?

    Cultures tend to dictate objective standards for morality. What we may be accustomed to is an entirely different animal elsewhere on the globe. The argument fails upon its premise. If you can’t get past that there is no need for further inquiry IMO.

    Also from what I have seen, an atheist tends to have a much higher standard than the theists who are constantly lying to themselves and each other.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. You do come up with some deeply thought-out quandaries. I understand this one and similarly take issue with blind faith when it comes to supposed sacred texts translated by men, then liberally quoted by didactic clerics. Not for me. I much prefer nature and the still small voice within as my guides. I don’t consider myself athiest, but by your definition, I might be. I just recognize the sacred in the Mystery in all its glorious manifestations – and some unmanifest ‘felt’ energies as well. Aloha, Swarn.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Bela. This post wasn’t meant to convince anybody to be atheist, but was more humanist oriented really. Trying to work through the logical impossibility of the Christian and Islamic God as it is defined to represent some sort of objective standard to morality. I’m not terribly interested in disproving the existence of a divine consciousness only interested in pointing out when the nature of a particular God seems implausible and especially when it takes away from the value of human reason. I guess I especially get a pine cone up my bottom when people argue that morality is borne out of some ancient set of rules communicated through the mind of men from that divine consciousness. It simply doesn’t make sense.

      I think anything that creates would be less interested in worship and more interested in marveling at creation as much as we do. It seems that anything that creates would most likely still want to learn from other conscious creatures even if they were much less powerful. While I might be teaching my sons more, they also teach me things and have been since the day they were born. I love watching my oldest figure things out and see him light up as he both receives and gives love. He develops his morality with obviously my influence, but I know that it’s less about the words I dictate but by the example I live. If a divine consciousness has anything to teach us about morality it would do a better job than what we see everyday and what we see written in the bible or the koran. And if all it could provide was words, it would make sure to be clear and speak in languages all people could understand. But religion seems so obviously a human venture, and thankfully there are many who continue to re-evaluate and try to do things better.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks for the clarification, Swarn. I took your meaning as stated and then just spun my own thoughts off around it. I didn’t at all think you were trying to advocate for theism or atheism, either one. I recognized you were speaking about morality, but I’ve always been a free spirit with regards to any kind of rules around my own personal integrity which, by the way, holds higher standards than your average bear. To me, being moral means being clear in both intention as well as action with regards to oh, say, the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But it also just feels better doing what I know in my heart is right in any given circumstance.

        I definitely agree on obscure language impeding clear direction, if direction was indeed intended. And I also agree with your parenting tactics in that children learn from example far better than from imposing certain moral standards. Of course direction is a part of parenting. But there’s a lot of latitude there, and I did not find religion too helpful in my parenting venture, so we all winged it and the girls are productive members of society with deeply held values. Others seem to need structured religion, and that’s fine by me, as long as they are trying to be better people and not simply telling others how they ought to be living their lives, especially when they themselves are acting in a manner contrary to their conscience.

        Be well. Always love reading your posts. Aloha. ❣️

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I agree with you Bela 100% both here and your first comment. This is not to say I don’t agree with you too Swarn, I do, but I’m in essence very much as Bela. Which happens quite a lot. ❤

          Interesting post sir and superbly constructed as ever.

          – Esme Cloud waving from on High

          Liked by 2 people

  9. Same thing put another way: even if you had outstanding characteristics, wouldn’t you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed if people worshipped you? Those who might enjoy it would be a typical politician or traditional ruler of no brain or accomplishments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree with you. Of course the theist would argue here that you are applying some human standard to God, and God is not human. Just because I would feel uncomfortable with people worshiping me, in no way qualifies me to apply that feeling to God. Which I would say well then fine, but then I would, well if God is so different from us such that is He is beyond judgment from us completely then his rules also cannot be judged. We must simply follow and obey. This is not morality, this is a pure ceding of authority to a dictator. Fear of punishment and the possibility of reward is the only driver here, the motivation has nothing to do with how others might feel about our actions, as long as God is pleased. That’s not what morality is about. The adherence to authority is also a human trait, evolved by creatures who are are societal and have hierarchies. There is no sense to theist logic here.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A vicious circle happens. The theist says we are applying human standards to God, but at the same time says that our morality comes from God — but then God does not practice what He preaches, That is one area where the religionist arguments become ridiculous. Of course there will be moral behaviour without any question of religion. The structure of the human groups depend on it to survive.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yeah. It seems to me that the contradictions and circular reasoning here for theists is so great, that they almost can’t untangle themselves. That is why I wanted to step back and ask what I thought was a more fundamental question…by what value at all do we decide that God is somebody to worship. Are there merits that make us think that God is worthy of worship, or is it something we are doing out of fear, or some sort of feeling that we “must” worship purely out of the way God is defined and the way the religion is constructed? It seems that there is something human at the bottom of the whole project, and that’s what I was trying to get at. Perhaps not completely successfully, as many people, including yourself in comments have said my words with a much greater succinctness. 🙂 Thank you for your comment!


  10. Swarn: I have always enjoyed your comments over at Maka’s place, but for some reason never clicked on the link next to your name! This is a fascinating and humane discussion, and I will follow you here as well! Kudos!

    Liked by 1 person

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