Losing Religion’s Shackles: An Inquiry on Morality and Religion
There is responsibility that comes with freedom. The notion that freedom comes at no cost and works in ways that only improves men’s life is a misconception. Those who opposed free ideas and ideologies that hold liberty above all did not do so because they were brainwashed people that could not comprehend a free society and break their shackles; nor, at least for the most part, they had possible gains to make through sucking up to the tyrannical regimes of the past. Many geniuses opposed the ideas of the American Revolution, French Revolution etc. All great minds of the time knew losing a monarch’s shackles brings with it a responsibility for the people to keep an orderly and just society. The difference of those who opposed these ideas from the ones who supported it lies in their lack of belief in their fellow men.
But before further discussing ideologies; we must have an understanding of human morality so that we can work our way through countless ideologies and explore them. This is why as my first article here, I chose to write about ethics before getting into contemporary issues or pitting ideologies against each other. So, before getting into the discussion of losing a Tyrannical government’s shackles, we would have to explore a similar, but certainly a much more fundamental topic: losing the shackles of religion, and what comes with it.
Most of the religions offer some explanation about creation and the nature of the universe. However it would be absurd to assume it was ever its most important function in a society. This is also why it is a fool’s errand to argue against religion using science. This is perhaps why most militant atheists fail at winning people over. The ones that win people over, however, fight also on the moral and ethical front of the war, which is why they acquire success and write bestselling books. An individual based and thorough examination of these people and their views would take many articles to give them justice (perhaps something I would do in the future), nevertheless, I shall use some of their ideas in order to give clarity and order to my work.
This is a very fundamental yet broad discussion to be had, so it is best to divide it into different articles and start from the beginning: Does ethics and morality have their roots in religion?
To answer this question, perhaps it is better to ask a question first uttered thousands of years ago, in Athens. “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?”. If the answer is the latter, multiple religions coexisting, as it does today, shows that different set of morals exist at the same time. If this is the case, who is to blame a jihadi that is following what he believes are his God’s orders? Who is to blame the conservative Christian fighting against gay marriage? Yes, one could fight all sorts of different beliefs and its followers; but one could never claim moral high ground. Only was that one would do that would be by claiming his god is the one true god and the moral code his religion brings is the only right set of rules. However, one could not form any arguments with logos to back this; and this is not a worldview that is debatable without trying to disprove his religion. It is religious extremism, fundamentalism, and being a member of a herd at its finest. So, this perspective of morality is to be disregarded in this article and the former option to the dilemma will be examined.
If God deems something moral because it is moral by its nature, he serves no purpose than to direct mankind in the moral direction (we shall neglect the problem of many religions to be able to examine this stance further). To be able to take the former stance in the given dilemma, one assumes the ability of telling whats moral. If one couldn’t do that, he would not have been able to say that “God loves something because it is moral”. To be able to say just this requires an understanding of what’s moral and what isn’t.
Leaving the Euphrates Dilemma aside to look into it further in the future; it is best if we look at things in a real world point of view. Let’s assume that there is a new country and it requires a new constitution. If one is to make this constitution moral, and at the same time he thinks morality comes from religion, he is faced with many problems. First being: Which religion to base the constitution on? Even if that is decided, perhaps by simply picking the religion most common amongst people, there are still undecided questions. Which parts of the moral code should be implemented? Today, any person, especially in the western hemisphere, that would say all of it is will without a doubt be deemed a fundamentalist. And as aforementioned, fundamentalists are disregarded in this article to be dealt with another time. The reason for that is nearly no one (chiefly in the western hemisphere) believes the moral code brought by their religion in its entirety. Not all examples can be listed here, but if one reads scripture, he will find enough proof from the punishment of adultery to blasphemy. Then it still begs the question, which parts of the code should be implemented? Dawkins also explores this idea in his book The God Delusion, and gives his resolution to this problem: “If again we must ask, by what criterion do we choose? And if we have independent criteria for choosing among religious moralities, why not cut out the middle man and go straight for the moral choice without the religion?”.
Ethics and religion undeniably have a correlation, perhaps some sort of causation. It may very well be a deity who implemented the sense of morality to humans that Dawkins argues isn’t in scripture. It’s best left to be discussed further in other articles. However, it is shown that it is quite lazy at the very least, and quite bigoted and idiotic to plainly say that there would be no morals at all without religion.
Image By: Arnold Friberg; Ten Commandments