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Am I Moral?

Entry 684, on 2008-01-29 at 21:07:40 (Rating 3, Philosophy)

Recently I have listened to many podcasts which discuss the idea of morality and how it relates to religion. The subject is also covered in Richard Dawkins' book, The God Delusion. A common defence of religion (usually when all else fails) is that its needed because without it we would have no objective reality.

I have several problems with this. First, like many religious arguments, its effectively circular. Why do we need religion? to establish morality. How do we know that morality is the real one? Because its established by a religion. Religious morality is only objective if god exists. If he doesn't (and after any reasonable, objective examination he clearly doesn't exist) then the morality in religion has been invented by the same people who invented the religion - so its actually subjective.

Not only is it subjective, but its less universal than the morality most people have "built in" through their social evolution and its also dishonest because its a subjective morality being portrayed as if it has some special status.

That's why I say religious people are necessarily less moral than atheists. If the religious person follows the teaching of their religion they will have to do many immoral things (see below) and if they pick and choose which morality espoused by their religion to follow they are being disloyal to their beliefs. So by my estimation they just can't win either way. Well, there is one way they might win and that is to prove their god exists (but see below).

In the paragraph above I said that in order to follow religion a person would need to do many immoral things. I should clarify that idea. First, I was really referring to the two big religions in the world today: Christianity and Islam. Anyone who literally follows their holy books is anything but moral because they will need to kill innocent people just as a result of the commandments of their imagined god.

Secondly, the idea that just because god says its moral it must necessarily be so doesn't really follow. Why does god have the right to define morality? Does might make him right? Should we follow his authority or is the morality he has decreed just some sort of test (the Christian god has a history of these tests). It seems to me that we are better just to do what's right according to our conscience. Some people are so antisocial that their conscience won't be a good guide, but the idea works in the vast majority of cases.

I also mentioned the idea that if god could be proved to exist then maybe we should follow his morality. But I don't think that is true. Even if there was proof that the god of the Bible really exists I still wouldn't follow his morality because I don't believe it is worth following. In the Bible god killed thousands of innocent people (the devil killed none, by the way) so in what way is he moral?

There are only three possibilities (continuing with the idea that he exists at all) to explain the anomalies. The first is that he isn't good at all but he's actually evil. The second is that the seemingly evil commandments are some sort of test. The third is that my personal moral sense is so far off track that I am totally deluded. No matter which of these is true I can't follow gods morality. Of course, I have a far simpler explanation: god doesn't exist and the Bible is a load of irrelevant myths.

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Comment 1 (1076) by WF99 on 2008-01-30 at 12:34:46:

"That's why I say religious people are necessarily less moral than atheists."

From a Christian perspective (all that I've been exposed to, really), it's this very reason that makes you unspeakably immoral, as atheists do not intend to glorify God in anything they do, and their only motivations in doing "good" is to help humanity.

"Should we follow his authority or is the morality he has decreed just some sort of test (the Christian god has a history of these tests)."

There's something I haven't heard; could you expand on that?

"Even if there was proof that the god of the Bible really exists I still wouldn't follow his morality because I don't believe it is worth following."

Assuming that there is a god, that's a pretty foolish statement.

"In the Bible god killed thousands of innocent people (the devil killed none, by the way) . . ."

There's an interesting perspective that I've never really considered.

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Comment 2 (1080) by OJB on 2008-01-30 at 13:22:52:

What has glorifying god got to do with morality? I think morality is more to do with making the world a better place, with helping others, etc. I can't see how any of these relate to praising god. By making praising god (and specifically preventing consideration of alternative beliefs) a requirement of religion I think morality has been thrown away. People should think more about what is genuinely right instead of just accepting the teachings of a church or what's written in an old book.

There are several stories where god tests man. The Garden of Eden is one. Then there's the one where Abraham is asked to sacrifice is son. I'm sure you know your Bible better than me and can think of many more.

So you are saying we should do what god tells us no matter what. Just because he's powerful we should do everything he says. Blind acceptance of authority is a dangerous thing, don't you think?

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Comment 3 (1083) by WF99 on 2008-01-30 at 13:46:14:

The gist of last week's sermon, I believe, was that we were created to glorify God, and that not serving that purpose is selfish and sinful. You can glorify God *by* making the world a better place, but since you don't believe in God, you obviously don't intend to do that and therefore everything that you do is evil.

That's from the Christian perspective, of course.

I wasn't considering the garden of Eden in this discussion because that test was straightforward and the consequences were clear. Abraham sacrificing Isaac is different, but still separate from the Mosaic Law in many ways. To name a few, the Abraham's command was made specifically to him, and later renounced. I have a hard time swallowing that God would use a whole set of regulations merely as a test and then punish those who follow it.

When it comes down to it, I'd be willing to blindly follow any authority with the power suggested in Christianity!

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Comment 4 (1086) by OJB on 2008-01-30 at 15:56:01:

Do you really believe that? What sort of megalomaniac monster would create us just to worship him? Why would god need that? To me that is just childish and obvious nonsense. And to make things worse, god wants us to worship him, then hides. Remember that most people in the world don't believe in your god. What's that all about? It doesn't make sense, does it?

I don't take the "test" scenario too seriously because I don't believe god exists anyway. But the idea makes just as much sense as a lot of the convoluted rationales religious people have invented to explain this sort of thing.

So if an authority figure is powerful enough you will obey without question. That's not good. There have been an awful lot of bad things done over the last 2000 years as a result of that attitude!

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