Does Ethics Need God?

I have friends who are religious (either culturally or in practice), friends who identify as agnostic, and friends who identify as atheist.  I enjoy the company of each one of them for various reasons specific to the individual person, and each of them is more or less benevolent.

My friends who enjoy philosophy, religious or not, are constantly asking the harder questions, and if I asked them why they want to be good people then that would spark a very thoughtful and stimulating conversation.

Then there are other friends who don’t dig beneath the surface.  They don’t spend a lot of time examining their own existence, and if you ask the question “Why Be Good?” then they might just say something like “Because it feels good” or toss in a cursory comment about karma.

My religious friends turn the conversation toward God and a justice based on the belief that the creator of the universe, although incomprehensibly infinite, has personal qualities (i.e. God can make and has made choices) which need to be added into the equation for a system of ethics to be complete.

My friends who profess atheism bring up concepts like social contracts and pragmatism as the bedrock of ethics.  So my question is: Does ethics need God?

The followup questions might be: Is ethics something objectively true? Does it require some permanent standard? If not, then what value does it have and why should anyone come to an agreement on justice and right behavior?

I ask these things because I am seriously interested in a friendly conversation with people who are at peace after giving this some thought.  I’d be interested in your comments below.

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