Sunday, March 31, 2013

Religion offers only morality by assertion

This brief exchange demonstrates:

I find it sad (but not at all surprising) that this person is unable to give an intelligible response or just admit that we're in the same boat, and we ARE in the same boat despite his original arrogance. But even if he had responded it would have just been an appeal to the Bible, which doesn't establish anything but poor reasoning skills. A Muslim would have appealed to the Qur'an, a Hindu to the Shastras, and a Zoroastrian to their Avesta.

I don't believe in an absolute or objective morality NOR do I accept blanket moral relativism. I would rather proclaim my ignorance on the matter. There might be such a thing as 'objective morality' which we can come to understand someday on the basis of neurological studies and the distinct concept of morality (which I have written about elsewhere), but I have no argument or evidence that this IS the case today.

But just because something is difficult (deciding on universal rights and wrongs for humanity) IN NO WAY implies that all positions are valid or that we must tolerate injustice in the name of ignorance. That is not, in fact, how society works. I also REJECT the idea that morality is only 'one' thing, indeed it seems to be a whole collection of different things all mixed together.

Our Empathy strongly compels us to interfere when an innocent person is being harmed (physically or emotionally). When it comes to human interactions, one of the areas we now better understand, is that relationships need to be based on Informed and Empowered Consent - relationships that are not based on informed and empowered consent are abusive. This is a beautiful set of fairly objective criteria that we can use to evaluate complex relationships.

What we DO have evidence for is that humans are exceedingly poor at sussing out how we ought to treat one another - and that Religion is more than passingly competent at corrupting what little empathy we have for one another (see image).

What we can do is argue, debate, and create laws to try to ensure that our lives are as safe, prosperous, and equitable as we can make them.

But there is a lot of complexity, even in the seemingly 'obvious' areas.

For example, look at the concept of 'murder'. Thou shall not murder. Pretty simple right? What about when god commands genocide and infanticide?

"Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1 Samuel 15:2-3)

What about self-defense? What if it's an accident? What if it was a reasonably foreseeable and preventable accident? What if the person has brain damage and isn't in control of themselves? What about protection of an innocent life from imminent danger? Even religious opinion differs somewhat on all of these positions.

Early law on murder (such as the Code of Ur-Nammu and the Code of Hammurabi) had little subtlety and meted out the ultimate punishment in retaliation (with the state acting to murder the guilty, often using horrific methods). As we have slowly progressed and learned our laws have evolved along with our understanding, modern law on 'murder' is extremely complex and nuanced as a result (and still has a long way to go IMHO).

How about Slavery? Surely treating another human being as your property whom you can beat at will (so long they get up 'within a day or two') is something blindingly, obviously, categorically, WRONG? Right? Surely... Well, no, humanity failed at that one for thousands and thousands of years, eventually encoding it into their religious texts as endorsed by their respective 'god'.

I don't think there is a clearer or more obvious failure of religious appeals to authority than the calls to slaughter infant children and the endorsement of slavery.

These complexities are why a SECULAR morality that presumes our IGNORANCE and strives to grow based on actual knowledge, rather than asserting ABSOLUTE rules, is the superior methodology.

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