Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Morality and Religion

I recently read an article examining the "New Atheist" movement and a counter movement that wants to study religion and how it has impacted civilization and whether there is a group evolutionary advantage to being religious versus being secular.

I found the article interesting and it clearly highlights two major arguments in the study of religion.
The first is that religion has caused a great deal of badness in the world and is the constant source of oppression and willful ignorance amongst a great many people.
The second is that there must be a reason we embrace it so boldly when it is the root of so many evils.

The article then proceeds to discuss the champions of each of these points. It refers to those supporting the first point as "New Atheists" and does not provide a specific name for the group supporting the second argument.

What I find interesting about both groups is that they seem to feel, at least based on the article's exemplification of them, that these two points are mutually exclusive and must be in competition with one-another.
This is far from the truth.
If one examines the situation closely one quickly and clearly sees that one is an examination of where we came from to get where we are today with religion and the other is trying to drive a religion-free end point for society. These are not mutually-exclusive, but valid actions to be taken. One informs us of where we've been and the other directs us to where we are going. The best way to get to where you want to go is to understand where you have been and the path you have already traversed. The New Atheists (at least as painted by the article) are attacking the best hope for understanding why religion is a powerful force among humanity. Understanding that force will be the key to defusing it and allowing for a reasonable and logical path in the future.
What this tells me is that the New Atheists have succumbed to is religious fervor. Their dogma is the eliminate all religion from the world and that appears to include the study of how it came to be. They are what I have previously referred to as Atheists whereas those who are simply lacking faith in any god are atheists. The capital letter matters.
I find this incredibly ironic as the force trying to wipe out religion is doing so with a drive that can only be described as equal to that which powered the Crusades and currently drives the concept of Jihad. They are forming a new religion. They are fueling the "science versus religion" concept and they are generating more push against science by their active drive to force people away from their faith. Those people are embracing their faith in higher levels as a defense mechanism to this attack on their religion and belief structure. The greater the attack on religion from this minority the greater the defensive response will be from the religious. The greater the attack the more damage the attackers are doing to their own cause.
Interestingly enough - this also holds true for all other religions. The more ANY religion drives an attack (whether intellectual, political or physical) against the non-believers the more they damage their own cause in the eyes of EVERYONE who is not a fanatic.

I am not religious. I fail to understand the very idea of creating a religion. I fail to understand how someone can have such blind faith. I fail to understand how anyone can have faith at all. I REQUIRE evidence to belief. Sometimes I find myself holding a belief and not knowing what evidence supports it but then, after reflection, I have always found evidence that reinforces the belief. My belief that humanity is generally stupid and easily led while also being generally neutral or good is built on years of being amongst humanity on a daily basis. My belief that my dog will not try to kill me is based on years of him treating me with love and respect. My belief that pizza is going to be delicious is based on a huge rate of success in which even bad pizza is good (although there are certainly exceptions to this one).
I fall into the atheist category rather than the Atheist category because I simply fail to believe. I do believe that religion has caused a lot of harm in this world but I also believe it has caused a lot of good. I have friends who are very religions but fail to proselytize their religious and condemn that don't follow. I respect those friends greatly. I respect their beliefs greatly. I actually envy them for having been given the gift of faith and the peace it brings them.
I also have people who pass through my life regularly who are very religious and do make condemning statements of those who do not believe as they do. People who believe that withholding legal rights from a population of people because it is not as the bible commands it is the right thing to do (I'll limit my comment on how they don't follow ALL of the commands of The Bible to this one sentence). These people I cannot help but condemn and take offense from. There people, invariably, make comments that apply to me and my opinions in a judging manner. This means that they are either judging me silently all the time or that they are hypocrites. Either way; I cannot abide by that stance without taking notice of it.

So far I have covered the topic of religion quite clearly in this post, at least for the purposes intended and you, the reader, are probably wondering how I intend to fit morality into this picture. That answer is quite simple: religious extremists invariably question the morality of people who disbelieve.
In fact, I think if it came down to it all of the religious people would align and ally themselves against the atheists and Atheists on this point. They, quite simply, believe that one needs religion to tell people what is right and wrong.

This is a concept that I find offensive.
I am clearly able to make a determination between right and wrong. I, clearly, do not go out creating havoc and pain and suffering amongst my fellow man. I do this not because any religion tells me to avoid these things. I do not do them because I know they are wrong.

The article I linked above outlines a few studies that show religious people tend to be more generous and forgiving, etc. I can find this concept realistic if one factors in all of the "normal" people who go to religious worship on a weekly basis. If you include my friends like the ones I respect and admire for their beliefs who do not try to force me to believe as they do. If the world is more filled with people like that than people who try to force their beliefs on others I can easily see those studies having merit.
I, however, can also see those studies being insufficient in size to have a valid data set. I can also see the flaws in the studies.
More importantly I can see the logical flaws that exist in the belief that morality comes from religion.
I leave this concept with the following questions:
1 - Who is more moral: one who avoids doing bad things to others out of fear of a supernatural punishment after death or one who simply finds the bad things morally wrong on the basis that they are bad things?
2 - Who is more moral: the person who gives to the poor and needy in an effort to buy their way into an eternal paradise after they die or one who gives because they can and they want to help others for the purpose of helping others?
3 - Who is a better judge or right and wrong: one who needs someone to tell them what is right and what is wrong or someone who can make that determination on their own?
4 - Who is more amoral - one who wants to protect the rights of everyone or one who wants to enforce oppression on people based on their religion?

For me the answers are clear.
While I still wish I knew what it was like to have been granted the gift of faith in a benevolent deity I find that my moral position in the world is solid without having an organized religion tell me what is right and wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment