Sunday, January 20, 2008

A question concerning the relations of religion to morality

1.) Consider the following cases of the relation of morality and religion.

a) The 9/11 hijackers thinking they are doing the will of Allah by attacking the World Trade Centers.
b) A Christian refusing to get an abortion even though carrying the child to term would cause economic hardship.
c) A religious couple delaying sex until marriage because of their religious beliefs.
d) Hakeem Olajuwon refusing to market an excessively expensive basketball shoe because of his belief that Allah does not approve of gouging the public. (Remember the kids who were murdered for their Air Jordans?)
e) Thomas Jefferson saying that we were endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights.
f) Girls forced in the name of religion in Colorado City to enter into polygamous marriages with older men.
g) Martin Luther King’s conviction that there is a law above the laws of the state of Alabama which make it wrong to discriminate against African Americans, even though it’s the law.

All these are instances of religion influencing morality. But they don’t seem to be all equal. What makes the effect of religion on actions good, or bad, or in different?

5 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, Wonderful question!

However, your spectrum or range of such questions is far too short.

The number of differences between what different religious sects believe "God wants" are far more wideranging and numerous than those you briefly mention.

Such questions are exactly the kind that stimulate thought and help people recognize the extreme difficulties once one introduces authoritative "religious demands" into the ethical arena.

I think it makes relatively more sense to more people if one speaks less in terms of "what God wants" and more in terms of things that cause others pain, both physical and mental, and in terms of things that cause others pleasure/satisfation, both physical and mental. (Helping others can bring satisfaction as brain imaging has demonstrated, feeling secure is satisfying, feeling loved, laughing with others. Solving a difficult problem, or graduating from college can also cause great mental pleasure/satisfaction. Stimulating the growth of new neurons via intelligent stretching of one's mind is also a way to beat depression.)

In response, religionists warn that if you make "pleasure" your goal you might not seek higher pleasures/satisfactions that benefit yourself and society, but fall into the deepest depths of selfishness, addicted to fleeting physical pleasures and even ones that may endanger your life, and that contribute nothing to society.

However, western religion's answer appears to consist of authoritarian (and often sectarian) laws, with imaginary carrots of eternal happiness or eternal punishment dangled before each devout religionist, kind of like a Divine Dr. Pavlov might employ, along with voicing eternal threats toward people of rival sects (or of no religion).

Personally, I would like to see all the children of the world learning pragmatic practical lessons in moral wisdom as taught by wise men in wise sayings drawn from all cultures and all times.

However, religionists would not like such lessons being taught in public schools. If anything is said about Jesus it must be that he was far more than just a great moral teacher. Therefore, due to the rejection of such a course by religionists, the world's children are not going to be taught such a class anytime in the near future, and hence they are not going to be taught early in life how to make practical moral comparisons based on the wisdom of people from all times and places in the past and present.

Amanda said...

Very cool post.

But first, I disagree with your first premise. You state, "All these are instances of religion influencing morality." It would be easy to argue that it is the other way around. For example, I could say morality affects religion. Where does religion come from? Does our sense of morality help create it? This is almost an egg versus the chicken question. Certainly both affect each other - the forces push in both directions. At minimum we can say we have created religion. But from what have we created it?

You also say, "they don't seem to be all equal." But where did you get this idea? I would agree with you but that's because we're both referring to... our morality? I can tell you I'm not referring to my religion. It's my sense of morality that directs me to do certain things. It's also, to some degree, my sense of morality that helps me determine which religion to accept.

In response to Edward, it's an excellent idea to consider "wise sayings drawn from all cultures and all times" but 1) it's not possible and 2) this can lead to far greater frustration and confusion. Many people/groups disagree with each other. Anyway, listening to many voices is wise, but it's no panacea.

Jason Pratt said...

{{However, your spectrum or range of such questions is far too short.

The number of differences between what different religious sects believe "God wants" are far more wideranging and numerous than those you briefly mention.}}

Thank you, Ed, for utterly missing the point yet again.

(At least he spared us a pointless spamming expansion of the list, which everyone here is already aware can be done, including Victor. Thank God for small favors! {g} The rest of the comment isn't bad, but still doesn't address the actual question being asked. Not that anyone would expect Ed to try to actually answer a question, germanely or otherwise, I guess.)

Amanda's answer was far more germane (and even challenging) to the question at hand. Good job on that one. {bowing in her direction} {s!} Looking forward to more comments from her.

JRP (passing through on ID4th)

One Brow said...

This seems to be a special case of the more general question of the existence of absolute morals. I tend to abstain on both questions, in general because I see little practical difference between the existence of absolute morals or not, and in this case in particular because it seems people choose religions, or sects to fit their morality at least as much as their morality is guided by their sects.

IlĂ­on said...

Amanda: "[said things]"

It seems to me that the ideas you've expressed touch upon what (some) evangelicals are getting at when they say: "Christianity is not a religion; it's a relationship."