Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Religion as a basis for morality

In his book The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky writes the following “if god does not exist, everything is permitted.” According to Dostoevsky, and theists in general, once you remove God from the equation, there is no reasoning for morality.

The fear of the lack for a secular moral basis, is a big reason for the religious appeal to otherwise rational people.


After observing the behavior of both groups, the theist and the atheist, I’ve noticed that it’s simply not the case, and often it’s even the opposite, morality for religious people, tend to extend mostly to people sharing the same believes, and even then it doesn’t necessarily include business practices, or when it contradicts the individual’s self interest.

I recently came across the United Nations human development report, while going over the list, it was apparent that the atheistic societies, are ranked on top for gender equality, charity, and the least homicides, and the bottom is populated by the most religious societies.


The dileama of morality, why be moral, or why are we moral, is an ongoing debate within the philosophical community, almost every philosopher struggled with this question.
There are a range of different theories for morality; they include, morality being entirely influenced by exterior reasons, to it being an innate quality.

One of many, is the social contract theory by John Lock, according to this, it’s a choice society has made, for its survival, and comfort, (Lock used it first as an explanation for morality, Socrates and then Plato used it as the foundation for social law) and the Richard Dawkins theory, caring/sharing being innate due to evolutionary sexual selection.


I hope that at some point humanity will discover a conclusive reasoning for morality, in the mean time, I’ll focus on the phenomena of theists being less moral then their contemporaries.


First let’s take a look at the text that is supposed to be the moral grounds for religious morality, they include the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Quran, in there the danger of using god as a moral authority is apparent, there you get reasoning to kill in the name of God when the underlying reason is nationalism and ignorance; it’s the cradle of racism and bigotry.


The above is a testament to what happens when God is used in a subjective manner, to serve the needs of the day, God did not create the golden rule, and so didn't he order genocide, but only in the name of the organized ideal, the good and the bad has enough merit, to make its believers act in his name and only in his name, since otherwise this same individuals, wouldn't be able to morally justify, such immoral behavior.


It’s the same when it comes to personal moral reasoning, if you use God as a moral source, you are left with a subjective outcome, when the reasoning for being righteous in personal or business dealings, is because of the word of God, you will have the backing of God when ones subjective consciousness leads him to a biased outcome, even if it’s not morally right, and once you have god on your side, there is no need for second guessing you are not even allowed to.


On the other hand the theist who is moral let’s assume because of the social contract theory, there will be a constant measure for morality, does the outcome fit into the contract, and even if personal bias would lead to the wrong conclusion, at least there is no religious conviction, therefore he/she would constantly second guess themselves.

5 comments:

Chasid Kofer said...

I am not sure if you mean to say this.

I think someone who is moral because of religion is moral because of the wrong reasons. He is merely being a good foot-soldier, while the intrinsic right and wrong do not affect him.

This opposed to an atheist, or to someone that is moral because of the deep right and wrong conviction, he or she feels.

Dont know said...

Nice piece
I think it should be distinguished between hurting other peoples feeling versus giving from yourself to others like giving charity or doing a favor etc. religious people give much more charity to others (to religious people) then non religious, (at least the religious people that I know). but at the same time they would easier hurt other peoples feelings.
But you wrote according to the UN human development that even giving charity is more by atheist societies.
Could you please post a link to that report?

You shouldn’t ignore the fact the Old Testament is the first text to mention the golden rule. “Love your fellow like yourself”, (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you) it’s an extremely ethical idea which you can’t practice just with a social contract.
There is many other ethical rules in the old testament that weren’t to common at that time.

In general typical people are doing what the were told when they were kids, no matter whether they were told to be moral in the name of god, or they were just told its right to do this and its not right to do that, ordinary people when they grow up don’t question things they were taught when they were young.
And this is the cause to most people’s ethics and morals.
The problem begins for the person who constantly thinks asks questions; his ethics is much safer with religion then with a social contract .the reason is
because humans aren’t like robots, they’re operating by two opposite forces logic/emotions you may know what’s right and wrong, and still not control yourself to do what’s right. So with religion you have an additional force to do what’s right.

nishkusha said...

Amazing stuff! From all of you....

If I may suggest (and I haven't given it a lot of thought yet, so forgive me if its nonsense) a different point of looking on the religious part of the subject, I would put it like this: We have outgrown the idea of Religion! In other words, Religion has expired.

Let me explain...
When we were little we all dreamed and thought that when we'll grow up and be on our own (or our little minds, mothers and fathers) we will buy the whole grocery store and eat junkies day and night. And we will stay up a whole night playing with the game-boy. I mean...why not? Why would I eat chicken if my mother doesn't force me, and why should I ever go in to bed if nobody is yelling on me to get me PJ's on or else!?
But as we grow older we start to realize how narrow minded we were, and that fear of punishment or authority is just 1 little part of our lives. And that the much greater importance is being successful, educated, and respected. We also realize that our idea of good was as big as our body. And that part of the success and enjoyment in life is eating healthy -or to some people its just eating the real good food, not just sweets- and sleeping well.
That's how I view this whole religion phenomenon. In my opinion (again as of now) the ancient people had no understanding of equality! And definitely not the understanding we have. Its the passage of time and experience that has taught humans the beauty, right fullness and advantage of equal rights and everything that's connected to it! So sure its no big deal for me and you to abide to the moral instinct or contract that we feel we must treat our fellow humans with. But do you really think that these masses would understand morality and abide by it just for the sake of it?
And about your claim that it caused killing of people other then your own; I would guess that the non-religious also killed people because of " nationalism and ignorance". Granted that they didn't sing about it -like king David did, after cutting off the penises of several thousand enemy combatants- but they also didn't think and learn about all the moral ideas that the religious people did.

So I think that 'I Don't Know' is right with his point, but only for the ancient people. Yes its true that they were the first to learn about the concept of "Love your fellow friend like yourself" So this setting was perfect for those people.

But when talking about morality in the current era, what does it help us that they were the first to say or learn this? It doesn't fit with the modern day understanding of human beings and equality, so it only stands in the way of any advanced understanding of morality and it doesn't help anything! It just expires! So it makes sense what Opinion claims about the report and everything else.
Now you can only blame the people who didn't adjust to the circumstanses. But it would be hard to accuse the writer for creating a helpfull guide for his era. (After all he was not god, so how should he know that the whole concept is going to change :-)

Dont know said...

"A picture is worth a thousand words". We can think discuss argue and philosophies about things for years and still don’t be certain. Then we could just open our eyes and see. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqmLmlcTdBQ

To get a right perspective lets compare, this (youtube clip) is how religion deals with things which is wrong according to their doctrine. versus modern democratic people, for example the conservative movement against obama’s health care reform they created chaos by town hall meetings where democratic representatives tried lobbying in favor of the reform.
They were also condemned, but still their action is far a comparison to the religious violent.

Opinions said...

This are the Facebook comments to this post.


Chasid Kofer so ur back to blogging?
August 26 at 7:16pm · Delete


Zalmen Leib as the great book says once a blogger always a blogger
August 26 at 7:19pm · Delete


Moshe Rudner All you say in your piece may be true without it attacking the premise you attribute to theists. Lacking a belief in any sort of metaphysical consequences, intelligent people realize that they have no need to discipline themselves from doing things they would otherwise like to do. Every variable is plain to see (society, family, etc.) and ... Read Moreeverything not negated by stronger inclinations to its opposite "is permitted". Only metaphysical consequences keep people from doing things that they otherwise would have done (once all other variables were already accounted for).
August 27 at 2:23am · Delete


Yazmin Gonzalez I will have to insist that you also make note of religion being corrolated with immorality based on the origin of one's socio-economic class and sex. Religion is not only used by the evil, but also by the hopeless. And because there are so many hopeless people with hopeless cases there is the need for a benelovent giving father figure (i.e. God).
August 27 at 3:10pm · Delete


Moshe Rudner True dat. Low socio-economic status correlates high with religious beliefs as well as with high crime rates, both for obvious reasons. Good point.
August 27 at 3:31pm · Delete