Just What Is Moral?

Bonobo and the atheist

What exactly is morality, and is it unique to humans or, more specifically humans that subscribe to some religious doctrine?  There is Greg Epstein’s  Good without God and now there is Franz de Waal’s The Bonobo and the Atheist  that altruism and compassion are not uniquely human traits. Bonobos have gained greater attention over the past decade for their peaceful nature and willingness to share resources.  There has been, perhaps, an over emphasis on their nature of solving conflict with sex.  The same behaviors in humans would be classified, by even the most forgiving liberals, as a form of sexual addiction.

But most primates have worked out a moral order of some sort, sharing, mourning the loss of non-family members, comforting others with hugs of reassurance when fear sets in.

Bonobos hugging

The germ of this post came to me moments before I got word of the Boston Marathon bombing.  What was most striking was that I saw so many social media posts from people who said that their reaction was “Nothing”.  Not numb.  Not angry.  Just nothing.  Is it crisis fatigue or lack of empathy that would still exist in a troop of bonobos?  Yesterday I saw a quote about only 6% of scientists being Republicans and that scientists can’t explain why the number is that high.

Morality, so often in humans, is about judgment or after life reward.  Doing good for after life reward has always felt like a dog that sits for a treat.  And I say that fearing I am insulting the dog whom I think has a higher spirituality than those who are altruistic only to make sure they have a better seat in heaven.  Yet I have grown just as weary with atheist absolutist.  Who feel they have imperial evidence of the absence of God or gods.

I remain on the side of the bonobos, ready to share, read to give hugs of reassurance, and giving warning hoots in times of crisis.  Where morality fits into that is still unclear to me.



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