F Rosa Rubicondior: Religion: An Abdication Of Moral Responsibility.

Friday 13 April 2012

Religion: An Abdication Of Moral Responsibility.

Artist's impression Australopithecus africanus
Zdenek Burian/Getty Images
Why are the religious right so keen to persuade us that morality comes from gods?

I've already written in Xeno's Religious Paradox about how this notion is simply untenable and leads to conclusions not supported by reality. The plain fact of the matter is that human morality is more of an argument against gods than it is for them.

Let's go back to the plains of East Africa to the early childhood of mankind; to a time when our ancestors had moved out of the forests (or maybe due to climate change, the forests had moved away from our ancestors).

Here we were, a puny ape, walking upright and able to throw sticks and stones, maybe even sticks with stone points tied to them as simple spears. We were surrounded by predators like lions, hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, crocodiles, pythons and poisonous snakes and out there in the grasslands was food a-plenty on the hoof, if only we were big enough to catch and kill it and not get caught and killed by something else out looking for dinner. If not, we would have to depend on foraging for insects, lizards, roots and berries in season; more gatherers than hunters.

We were never going to succeed as a species unless we worked together as a team and we were never going to work together as a team unless we all understood the first rule of teamwork - trust.

Trust means you can depend on other team members to play their part and they can depend on you. Betrayal of trust would have meant exclusion and almost certain death. To be in the team you had to do your bit. That might have meant simply being a look-out for predators looking to catch their dinner. It might have meant being a beater who drove the gazelle towards the spear-throwers. It might even have meant being the one who made the spear tips and tied them on the sticks. Or it could have been the ones who stayed behind and looked after the children.

Trust meant you got your share of the kill because you had played your part. Trust meant that the handful of people who actually made the kill didn't make off with it and keep it all for themselves. We are still the only ape which shares food!

A successful group would have been the group which understood the basic rule of treating other people the way you would want them to treat you, and the most successful groups, by definition, would be the groups which left the most descendants. The most successful groups would have been the ones who understood that you succeed by doing least harm and that generosity pays off in the long run. The most successful groups would have been those groups who cared for one another and gave a helping hand when one was needed.

The most successful groups would have been the altruistic ones because altruism produces more survivors who carry the genes for, or the cultural idea of, altruism.

In short, the most successful groups would have been the groups with morals and ethics and they would have taken the land formerly occupied by those without them. Groups with morals would have been the survivors. The survivors were the ones who cared for one another.

And then we evolved religion and created gods. In our primitive understanding of the world, in which the unexplained was explained by magic, and magical forces were reified and given human-like characteristic, those things which caused bad things to happen were bad spirits; they were the ones who you didn't want in the team. The ones who caused good things to happen were the good ones. They were the ones you would want in the team and so they must have had good team skills. They must cause good because they care about us!

But, they were powerful gods weren't they? They were gods who could cause magic and control a world in ways far beyond the capabilities of mere humans. How could they possibly have got these morals from humans? Obviously, they must have given them to us! How could it be otherwise?

And that mistake set us up for the sucker punch.

That set us up to fall for the notion that 'good' must have come from a god; that somehow 'good' was whatever a god said was good. And who told us what the gods said? The priesthood, of course.

And so we abdicated responsibility for our own morals and handed them over to the priesthood. It seemed so right at the time and so much easier too! All we had to do was gather together to be told what was right and what was wrong; what was good and what was bad. And the priesthood used our naive gullibility for their own ends and took control of our society and set kings and rulers over us to help in that control in an unholy alliance designed to control the people. Our caring and sharing cultures had succumbed to a parasitic class, facilitated by the memetic parasite of religion; a parasite of our own naive creation.

And so we believed them when they told us to kill the Canaanites to take their land, to enslave the Africans and take their countries to teach them 'morality', to slaughter foreigners by the tens of thousands with machine guns for a few yards of territory, or to kill the Jews because God didn't like them, to destroy the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour for the God-Emperor, to drop atom bombs on the Japanese to teach them civilised ways, or to fly planes full of people into buildings full of people to show them how great Allah is.

And we told ourselves we were being good because God said so, or so the priesthood and the theologians told us...

Would you buy a used car from this man?
But we have grown up now. We no longer see the world as controlled by magic spirits. Science has shown us that there is never a need for a god to explain anything; that including a god in any explanation simply adds unnecessary complexity whilst adding nothing useful to it. Science has shown us how human psychology and primitive ignorance in the childhood of our species combined to produce the naive reification of gods.

And so we now have the knowledge and understanding to take back our morality and to develop it with us as we progress instead of it being used to control us and to hold us back in some imaginary world of magic spirits and all-powerful deities who dispense morality to us through the priesthood and whom the priesthood has declared immune from enquiry.

We are now capable of looking back at our history and, with a shake of our head, conclude that if religion told us that was right, religion was wrong.

No wonder then that the political right employ craven lick-spittles like William Lane Craig and other religious apologists to bamboozle the ignorant, the credulous and the intellectual indolent into continuing to abdicate moral responsibility and allowing the priesthood to keep it.

No wonder then that self-serving charlatans are advocating a creed of greed and selfishness, division and discrimination - the very antithesis of what our morals first evolved to give us and which made us succeed against the odds in a hostile environment. A society based on caring, compassion, teamwork, cooperation and a willingness to lend a helping hand to those down on their luck or suffering misfortune. A society which values all its members and not just a small, powerful elite who require us to be primitive in our understanding in order for them to get away with it and make off with the results of the kill and keep it for themselves.
Religion is an abdication of moral responsibility and an abandonment of our humanity.


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  1. Werent we just talking about throwing stones at "straw men"!? "'good' was whatever a god said was good. And who told us what the gods said? The priesthood, of course." This is not the standard Christian position and you know it.

    1. Er. What has the "standard Christian position" (is that a slightly sexier name for the missionary position?) got to do with factual religious history?

    2. Point taken. You are correct. The behavior of Christian people in history does not in fact have anything to do with whether or not Christianity is true. Still, by misrepresenting the Christian position on morality, a giant straw man has been erected by the author.

    3. Aren't you ever embarrassed about needing to redefine 'Christianity' and deploy the 'No True Scotsmen' fallacy so often?

    4. In what way have I redefined Christianity? The Bible is no more redefined than the nature of gravity is redefined. Our understanding of gravity is more refined now than it was when Newton described it. But the nature of gravity itself did not change from then to now. In a similar way our understanding of God is more refined now than it was in ancient times, but the nature of God has not changed. So if thats what you mean, no I am not embarrsed to have a more clear view of the nature of God than those in the past. As I assume you are not embararsed by brother Newton's science.

    5. In the standard apologists' way. You conveniently exclude anything which is embarrassing whilst claiming credit for anything credit-worthy.

      In this instance, as you know, you excluded the Christian claim that their morals come from god because you couldn't think of a rational way to attack my article.

    6. I don't deny that morals come from Gods nature. I take exception of your claim "that whatever god says is good and that priests tell us what God says".
      It is this idea that is the straw man you attempt to use. Which is what i said from the beggining.

    7. >I don't deny that morals come from Gods nature.

      So your claim that "a giant straw man has been erected by the author" was false.

      Do you never feel any shame at needing to use falsehoods and attempted deceptions to trick people into falling for your superstition? Is the problem that you are too afraid of your imaginary 'friend' to concede that some of the arguments against it are valid?

    8. Are you purposely misreading my posts? Becuase you are continuing to beat away at the straw. Morals being part of God's nature is not the same thing as "whatever God says is good, and that priests tell us what God says." How many times must I quote this before you address it? I mean you dont have to address it, its your blog....but please understand that you are being evasive and dishonest

  2. So can you explain where "Morals being part of God's nature" and "whatever God says is good, and that priests tell us what God says" differ in meaning? Because I'm confused.

    For you to state baldly that "morals are part of God's nature" means that you must believe that God has a nature, and that it has been communicated to you. (The non-theist stance is that expounded by Rosa: that morals are an intrinsic part of *human* nature.)

    For this fact to have been communicated to you, somebody must have stated it. Ultimately, this will have come (first or second hand, or further removed, who knows) from either a priest (in a sermon in church, perhaps), or from a book, most probably the bible (written down by members of the "priesthood", basically).

    Therefore, "morals [are] part of god's nature" now *equates* to "whatever god says is good", and the analysis above suggests that "the priests tell us what god says".

    Please examine this argument and see where I've made the mistake of equating these two. Maybe not directly and literally, but certainly in intent.

  3. I'd like to add a few points. The first is that to have reason to believe that something is "in the nature of someone (or thing)" does not necessarily require communication in the sense that it is implied here.

    The second is that to state that "morals are part of God's nature" does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that "whatever God says is good." The statement that "whatever God says is good" may be true, but is, in any case, a separate theological debate to be had. The point is that I don't think you can assume the link in the same way that kindness being part of someone's nature does not infer that everything they say is kind.

    The third point is that even if we assume at some point that priests were solely responsible for communicating what God said to the people, we should not simultaneously assume that everything they said was "of God."

  4. Here's the issue of good or evil - that is morality - seen from another angle: http://www.iep.utm.edu/aq-moral/#H1 .

    A quote: According to Augustine, “things that exist are good” (Confessions VII.12). This claim is meant to express a basic metaphysical idea, namely, that if something exists, then it necessarily has some degree of goodness. Augustine’s argument for this claim is as follows. We can divide existing things into two categories: incorruptible things and corruptible things, with the latter being inferior to the former. If something is incorruptible, then by definition it cannot be made worse; that is, it cannot lose whatever goodness it may have. On the other hand, if something is corruptible, then it can be made worse. Notice that a thing’s being corruptible presupposes having goodness. Otherwise, it would not have any goodness it could lose. While this argument may be sufficient to show that corruptible things necessarily have goodness, Augustine uses it to identify a problem with the view that something can exist even if it has no goodness at all. For if something has no goodness, then it cannot lose goodness and must therefore be incorruptible. And since incorruptibility is better than corruptibility, it looks as if something lacking goodness is better than its corruptible counterpart, which has goodness. Clearly, this is incoherent. Augustine writes: “What can be more monstrous than to maintain that by losing all [its] goodness [something can] become better” (Ibid.)? Yet this is precisely the implication of claiming that something with no goodness whatsoever can exist. According to Augustine, the only remedy for this problem is to deny the existence of things that have no goodness. If something exists, then it must necessarily have goodness.[End of quote]

    I think this opens up for the the conclusion that everything that Almighty God created must have been good from the beginning. So whatever God says in the Bible must be a good thing, for example denouncing homosexual people or never eating meat coming from pigs.

    1. Love the way scientifically illiterate people like Augustine of Hippo tried to force-fit the world into their preconceived notions. As we now know, substances which change over time (become corrupted) do so because of a natural process and for those few which don't, like diamonds and gold, we know why. There is no 'good' and 'evil' involved and nothing to which we can ascribe morality.

      Augustine once famously declared that even if Earth isn't flat, there can't be people living on the other side of it because, as descendants of Noah, the couldn't have got there. For some reason, this 'brilliant' argument from the 'father of Western Christian Theology' is never quoted as proof that we aren't all descended from Noah. :-)


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