So, not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve decided to find out just how many people can become outraged when I choose to talk about Religion, Agnosticism, Atheism, and Morality, as you can see from the title of this post. Notice, also, that I state religious people, including your garden variety religious person.
Basically, religious people break down into two groups with variations throughout: your garden variety religious person who believes in God and believes in the tenets of their religion but isn’t fanatical about it, and highly religious people, who are different from your garden variety religious person, and by those I mean those who believe their religion is not only a part of them but also determines the outcomes of their lives. You know, like football players who tell you that God won the game for them, as though God gives a shit about football (Though, considering he is God, he doesn’t give a shit about anything, because, let’s face it, God doesn’t shit). They are a separate animal from the garden variety religious person, and I’ll deal with them first.
So are highly religious people moral? Short answer: No. But that’s being flip about it. The long answer isn’t really that much more but begins to point out the flaws in their beliefs.
You can be moral and highly religious; so, yes, there could be highly religious people who are moral, but they are not moral because they are highly religious, as being highly religious is not a pre-determinate of being moral. The idea that you have to be religious to be moral is a bunch of hockum. And, no, I’m not going to go into the history of religion and the atrocities committed in the name of religion to prove what has been proven over and over again. Suffice to say Daesh believes itself to be highly religious and therefore moral. And before you jump all over me that I’m singling out Islam, The Westboro Baptist Church believes much the same thing. Not to mention all the other fringe religious fanatics out there, who seem to be multiplying hourly (The Duggars are a fine example of their own little island of religious insanity).
And this is where the whole thing falls apart. After all, what is the justification for morality in this instance other than religion and God. God makes you moral, either through punishment or reward. You do good, you go to Heaven. You do bad, you go to Hell. With fanatics, it’s not just doing good or bad, it’s doing good or bad the way they describe those terms, add onto that their belief that they must act upon those beliefs of what is good and bad. It’s not enough that they denounce you for your behavior, they are here as God’s crazy-eyed right hand to meet out his vengeance should you do what they consider bad.
Which isn’t that far off from what the garden variety religious person believes, really. It’s just a matter of degree. Your garden variety religious person believes pretty much what the fanatic does. You do good because of God; you do bad because you choose to defy God. The difference is is that your garden variety religious person simply is too lazy or too non-committal to take their religious belief to the extreme their religion, if they were to follow it precisely, demands. So today’s garden variety religious person is just a few steps away from your religious fanatic.
But does that in any way make them moral? Again, the short answer is No. If your only reason for behaving in a positive manner with your fellow beings is because you fear the external inducement of going to Hell or crave the external inducement of getting into Heaven, then clearly you are not moral. You behave the way you behave based solely on these external inducements. By contrast, the Agnostic or the Atheist who behaves magnanimously with his fellow beings without these inducements is considerably more moral. All she/he receives is inner well-being and adherence to her/his own code of conduct.
That’s not to say Agnostics and Atheists don’t do bad things. They just don’t have a ready-made outside justification for their behavior like the religious do. What’s more, they are in essence less hypocritical simply again by the nature of their lack of belief in a God, because, unlike the God-Fearing or God-Loving, when they behave badly towards their fellow beings, it is out of their belief system. When a religious person behaves badly towards his fellow beings, it is antithetical to the teachings of their belief system i.e. hypocritical or their belief system is so distorted that it is used as justification i.e. hypocritical.
None of this is new. Certainly Sam Harris,Richard Dawkins, and others have touched on these arguments. It’s just that it seems we are coming around again to this foolish belief that the religious are somehow more moral, even as they deny that we are killing the planet, they deny children education and welfare, they start wars based on their conviction that their God is greater than the other loony’s God, and that it is perfectly all right to believe in a loving God who tells you to help your fellow beings and then not help your fellow beings.
The religious are delusional. In many cases that delusion is mild and comfortable and even admirable. But in a growing number of cases that delusion is violent, hateful, and downright destructive, all couched in the language of morality, when all it truly is is a selfish fear of a wrathful, jealous being who demands complete fealty even as it destroys wantonly. If, on the other hand, you believe God to be merciful, loving, and kind, then you behave the way you do either because you believe he will reward you for your good behavior or you think he’s a pushover and it will not matter what you do, he will reward you.
Either way, religious people are not any more moral than anyone else. They simply have delsuions which allow them to claim to be so.