Thursday, 27 September 2007

Faith! What is it good for? (pt. 6)

Faith teaches us morality/without faith there can be no morals

The idea that morality is not possible without religion is so obviously untrue that it would be laughable if the consequences of the lie weren’t so serious. If one actually looks at the evidence the implication is almost that reverse is true. Mark Twain once said "The so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive...but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anaesthetic in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve. And every step in astronomy and geology ever taken has been opposed by bigotry and superstition." And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the barbarity committed by the religious, not just in the name of their faith, but because of it. If you look at violent-crime rate figures worldwide and correlate them with religiosity it becomes clear that the non-believers are a much more peaceful bunch than the supernaturally credulous. The same is true if this correlation is made by US state, rather than nations. It seems clear that the more religious a group becomes, the greater it’s propensity for bloodshed. The problem here is that the holy books of the three major abrahamic religions teach barbarity and inhuman acts on a grand scale. They are littered with the depiction and glorification of genocide, incest, slavery, rape and murder, not just witnessed by god or done in his name, but ordered and required by him. Against this background, people of reason have had to fight to gain laws that reflect morality that is obvious to them, but proscribed by biblical law, for the last few thousand years. As Bertrand Russell pointed out “the moral objection [to religion] is that religious precepts date from a time when men were more cruel than they are and therefore tend to perpetuate inhumanities which the moral conscience of the age would otherwise outgrow.” The very fact that people today are more moral than the holy books describe and prescribe should be evidence enough that it is people themselves who determine morality and not their faith. The Bible is unequivocal in its support for slavery, even the supposedly gentle Jesus was OK with it as long as you didn’t beat them so hard you knocked out their teeth and eyes or killed them on the spot (Luke 12:47). He also said that children should be put to death for swearing at their parents (Matthew 15:4-7) though, so why should we look to him for guidance? It should be clear that our modern sense of morals is neither derived from these writings nor should be. Even the most seemingly innocuous of Jesus’ teachings are can be shown to be immoral if one actually takes the time to think about it. Take loving thy enemies and turning the other cheek. Love thy Enemies? Why? Why Should I love people who want to kill me, my family and friends? Standing by and doing nothing while the evil commit evil acts it is within your power to prevent is an evil act itself. There are Christians who say that we can safely disregard the Old Testament as having been written for a different age when times were hard and barbarity was the norm. Though this is questionable in itself, if it is true we are still left with the assumption that the teachings of Jesus in the new testament are the pinnacle of morality and still relevant today. It is apparent from the examples above alone that this is not the case, and they’re not the only instances. Jesus, if indeed he existed, clearly had some very progressive thinking, for his time and place, but he has little to tell us today. Indeed he would have had little if anything to tell the Greek philosophers who predated him.

The facts are that Children demonstrate concern for the wellbeing of others long before they learn to read or are old enough to understand indoctrination from their parents. From this alone it should be clear that the roots of morality are innate. Many “lower” primates have complex systems of morality and justice: reward for good behaviour and punishment for bad, and I can’t recall ever having seen a monkey reading the Torah.

Christopher Hitchens, on his US tour in support of his latest book “God is not Great : How religion poisons everything.” challenges his audiences to come up with one single moral statement made by the faithful that could not easily have been spoken by the secular. Nobody has yet managed it, which surprises me as I can think of a few. How about “Abortion and contraception are the greatest threats to peace in the world today”? An idiotic statement made by Mother Theresa when accepting her ill-gotten Nobel peace prize. OK, maybe it could have been said by an atheist, but it would have to have been a really stupid one.

There are moral atheists, no question. Ask youself, who is the more moral, someone who does the right thing because they believe it to be right, or someone who does it because they believe their god wants it and will punish them if they don’t? Doing things out of fear of retribution or promise of payback isn’t morality, it is cowardice and avarice.

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