Sunday, May 29, 2005

Morality and the need for God

According Peter Schwartz, religion is not necessary for a morally stable society. Although hypocritical attacks against the phantom 'left' dominate his article, there is still fading evidence of some logical capability ticking away beneath all that political narrow mindedness:
Morality begins with the individual's life as the primary value and identifies the further values that are demonstrably required to sustain that life. It observes that man's nature demands that we live not by random urges or by animal instincts, but by the faculty that distinguishes us from animals and on which our existence fundamentally depends: rationality.

I’ve said something similar on a previous entry. However the real value of religion is not in the explanation of morality, but rather in the motivation for morality.

Atheists frequently recite the phrase “Good men do good things and bad men do bad things, but it takes religion to make good men do bad things.” Then they go on to cite various religiously motivated atrocities.

It would then be logically inconsistent of them to not follow that argument through to its conclusion; i.e. ‘it takes religion to make bad men do good things.’

Morality may begin with the value given to an individual’s life, but there are many individuals who only care for the welfare of one life; themselves. All this high talk about preserving the rights of the ‘universal individual’ means nothing to them. If they can steal, lie, cheat and get away with it, they would do so. The impact it has on the welfare of the others around them has no bearing on their conscience. They are not hindered by the possibility of everyone acting in this way. These are Nietzche’s 'last men'.

This is where all that fire and brimstone stuff comes in. In childhood (also applicable to the folks in the formative periods of civilisation), individuals initially choose the moral options due to the fear of being deep-fried by a giant thunderbolt. Of course, over time they are mentally conditioned into developing a conscience, and as a result realise feelings of guilt for committing a sin and feelings of joy for committing acts of nobility. Yet, it is that unparalleled motivation arising from self-preservation, which sets them off on that track.

Religion shares much of the responsibility for the progress of civilisation. I am of the opinion that for a much of human history, religions have been a force of overwhelming good.

Secular Law and its enforcement by itself cannot govern a society of people who have no qualms about lying, stealing or killing if they feel that they can get away with it. Thus in a way Justice Scalia is right when he says, “Government derives its authority from God”.

The problem is that at some point civilisation will outgrow the beliefs and traditions that nurtured it and kept it safe for so long. With our knowledge of the universe increasing and changing at such an accelerated rate, it seems only natural that more and more people will begin questioning the existence of long held notions such as Divine Justice, Karma and Final Judgment.

Some believe that this point has already been breached. They feel that the counterproductive influences of religion are slowly catching up to it's positive aspects.

Should we react in fear and choose the option of the fundamentalists? Should we try and turn the clock back? The danger in that is similar to the danger faced by an overly protective parent. The child might rebel not only against the unreasonable restrictions, but also, in it’s eagerness for independence, the good teachings of the parent.

So if 'God is Dead' or is in his death throes, what is his replacement? How do we engender a love for the Human Ideal and respect for it's consequential moral codes? What will now ensure the rights of the individual in a global society?

Personally, I think we are all doomed. Conclusive evidence? Click here.


Kieran said...

I was raised by athiests, I am an athiest to this day. I think that I lead a moral life.

Religion is not required to enforce a moral code. What breeds a society's morality is the process of socialization. We are not conditioned by religion and the fear of an almighty thunderbolt if we steal, we are conditioned by mothers slapping of our hands when we steal from the supermarket lolly section.

I am not arguing a pavlovian idea here. :-)

We learn right and wrong from our parents, from our friends and from society at large. Religion has been a tool for social control, but without it society would not collapse. Nor would it have done so in the past.

There has always been "immoral" action and "moral" action, and I would argue that broadly speaking these actions have existed for all time and how religious a society is has made no real difference.

In any such debate mny faveriote example is of a prison in Bolivia. (I saw a doco about this prison, I think it was foreign corrospondent on the ABC, Australia). With cutbacks to the Prison budget the guards were unable to police the inside of the prison. So they withdrew to the outer walls, opened the internal doors and let things take their course.

Order, social control and even law enforcement simply emerged as a matter of necessity. Whilst anarchy reigned initially, it proved unsustainable. The prisoners organized a prisoners council, agreed to the rules by which they would live and got on with life.

I don't know what I'm really getting at with this rant, but basically I think people are basically good, and that without the mechanisms of control such as religion, the few self interested unscrupulous individuals would be unable to signifigantly distrupt the order and morality of the mass of other essentially good people.

John said...

Hi, My name is John from Kyneton.

Please check out 2 related websites.

The Institute For Real God (beyond the usual god-idea cliches )at:


The Coteda Institute which discusses the baneful effects of the anti-"culture" of competitive individualism.