The moral issue on religion

Feb 11, 2014

Discussion by: VitorFrota

Hello, Friends. First I like to apologize for any misspelling, I'm from Brazil, a portuguese speaking country, although I speak english as well. Just not so well.


Well, to the issue: after seeing a number of youtube videos, reading some of Dawkins books like "The selfish gene", "The blind watchmaker", and specially "The God delusion" in this case, among another books from other writers like "The end of faith" by Sam Harris and "God is not great" by Christopher Hitchens, I started to think about some of the arguments, specially the moral argument that says that religion is what gives people a sense of wright or wrong. Atheists have been refuting this claim by saying that we get our moral values from something else, most often evolution.


Well, I think the argument is…not flawed, but incomplete. Shallow I would say. And I think that's because atheist have been playing in religion's territory when they don't make any distinction about religion moral standards and society moral standards. Probably because in many ways they look very similar to each other.


Here is what I think: Society moral standards comes from two basic thoughts: an evolutionary need of adaptation in social enviroments, thus increasing the chance of survival, like already suggested; but also cultural traces that may or may not be connected to religion. To give an example of this last one: adultery was a crime here in Brazil until a few years back. It's still morally depraved to have extramarital relations, from a society point of view (and religious too), but it's not a felony anymore. Now, our crime laws are made to reflect those things that society not only find wrong on a moral perspective, but also that poses a threat to the well being of others, something like Sam Harris point of view from where our moral standards come from. So, in a way, increasing the chance of survival of the individuals comes first. I'm not saying Brazil is a promiscuous society, but that, from a social point of view, it's wrong to make a crime of something that affects only the private lifes of those involved, even thou it's not accepted as a moral thing from a cultural perspective. Religion might be connected to this cultural aspect in many levels, and that's what I think makes it a bit difficult to understand it as a different thing.


But religious moral standards are slightly different. The foundation of religion's moral standards is directly the scriptures, and indirectly god, meaning "we follow the scriptures – god made the scriptures". In a religious point of view god is not capable of evil, but it's not that he's not capable of evil in a common sense of the word (or in a society point of view), is just that god can say what is evil and what is not. Wrath, for instance, is a capital sin on the christian belief, but when someone says "god's wrath" that's not a sin, it's justice. Therefore arguments of objective moral values that philosophers like William Lane Craig like to use to defend the moral argument are just not valid, because we can't know what's good or evil just by taking god as a role model for those things, because god can make evil be good and good be evil as well and we make god as we see fit. Religion is a moral shifting ground, nothing objective about it. At the moment a "truth" is revealed to a prophet and added to the scriptures, moral values can go one way or another, not to mention people can actually choose how they decide to interpret it. I believe that's why in chirstianity, for example, we have so different moral values from the old testament and the new testament. It's like "god changed his mind on the subject". That makes wrong wright, and wright wrong. Is it okay to murder an unbeliever? Depends on what god has to say about it. Nothing to do with increasing the chances of survival of the individuals on a society. Some of the "Meme" theory of Dawkins might explain it's shifting better.


This change in perspective does not necessarily follow society's moral standards, because they don't come from god or scripture, but from cultural aspects and the need to preserve a society where individuals can have the most chance of surviving. And I think that's exactly the point where the threat of religion becomes a problem; to atheists the society moral standards are at the top of the respect chain of command; but to theists, god's moral standards are above society's. And this gives room to a lot of things that might look imoral to someone who considers society's moral standards only, but they are good actions if you believe there is some higher moral standard.


Religion is capable of so much imoral things because to religious people they are not imoral at all, because they come from a higher standard of morality. That's how you make a terrorist throw an airplane at the World Trade Center or blow himself up killing inoccent people with a clean conciousness. Other muslims might say they don't agree, that's not god's way, but it is one form of interpreting the scriptures. It would do no harm if society's moral standards were above religion's, but they're not.


So what I'm trying to say it's that judging a religion based act on a society moral standard its not gonna work because they are not the same thing, even thou they do converge in some aspects. I might be wrong, but I don't remember any great atheist arguing religion's moral standards can't be a base to society moral standards for being two different things. I don't know if I made myself clear enought thou. Any thoughts on that?

5 comments on “The moral issue on religion

  • I don’t really have anything to add to your excellent discussion, Vitor. However, there is something I wanted to say about the discussion of the religious basis of morality in “The God Delusion.” I believe that this chapter is somewhat flawed for a different reason. Dawkins only argues the point from one side: that modern morality doesn’t come from scripture. I think this is absolutely correct. However, there is another side of the argument which is completely ignored in that chapter. It isn’t so much that the contents of moral action are dictated by scripture. However, it is clear that the basis for much religiosity is the fear of punishment in the afterlife for moral wrongdoing. Because of this, I don’t think it is really all that relevant what the Bible actually defines as moral or immoral action. The fact is that many people just have a vague (or, for some people, sharp) sense of dread about the afterlife.
    Hence, the morality itself isn’t necessarily religious, but the fear of eternal punishment is definitely religious — exclusively religious. Not to discuss this in the context of the chapter weakens it, I think.

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  • Dave
    Sep 8, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Hence, the morality itself isn’t necessarily religious, but the fear of eternal punishment is definitely religious — exclusively religious.

    Of course the actions that generate this fear/expectation of reward, vary from individual to individual, denomination to denomination, and religion to religion, so the fear in its self, is no guide to any particular moral code.
    (72 virgins in heaven for dying as a jihadist while assassinating heretics??)

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  • Interesting. Religion is dangerous and anti-social. The notion that a “devine being” is real exists in the believer’s mind only. Therefore any wierd idea formed in the mind can be mistaken for message from God. Compare with GW Bush being told to bomb Iraq by God (nonsense imagination off course).

    I’ve got a question. Religion is using ignorance to promote itself and control people. Imagine Africa, how to tell people who barely learnt how to read and write that they should turn to science? Does anyone know R Dawkins ideas for developing countries??


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