As the gaps in which to hide a God close, the religious have to reach to new areas with which to attribute their god with action. The physical world is nicely explained by science, rendering a God as either inept or lazy (or more likely, non-existent), so it tends to be more intangible areas that are credited to God.
One of these areas is morality. The argument goes that our morals, as a species, are defined by our religion. What proponents of this argument often fail to realise is that it is ultimately self-defeating.
Taking Christianity as an example, it’s very difficult to see where one might look for moral inspiration. As I’ve pointed out previously, the 10 commandments are more concerned with preserving religiosity than shaping a moral, just, fair race. And the God as described in the Bible is hardly a positive influence, unless you aim to be an insanely vicious, vindictive, malicious, insecure person. Yes, Yahweh seemed to mellow a touch in the new testament, but he couldn’t have gotten much worse. Praising the God of the new testament is like praising a murderer for only blinding his latest victim.
So if the Bible cannot be looked to as a source for inspiration on morals (rape: ok. Offering your daughter for gang rape: ok. Murder: ok. Slavery: ok. Beatings: ok. Racism: ok. And so on.) where do the religious turn? The answer has to be fear. I’ve lightly touched on this subject before, when I asked if a religious person can ever really be good. The two topics are highly related as they both strike at the heart of religion-based morality. If you’re religious, and you perform what is perceived as a “good act”, are you only doing it because your God will reward you with eternity in heaven, or because you are afraid that your God will punish you by torturing you for eternity?
If you consider the two salient points above as the main drivers for morality from religion (i.e. morality by example and morality by instruction), you don’t really have much to go on. Any good believer would have to admit that if they did good acts because they fear the punishment, or are eager for the reward, their God would view it as misguided and punishable.
And this is the dichotomy of religion-based morality. If you don’t do good things, your God will punish you with an eternity of torture. If you do good things because you fear this torture (and let’s face it, who wants to be tortured?), then you’ll be tortured. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, literally. It is this that makes any argument for morality from religion ultimately self-defeating when fully explored.
So where do we get our sense of morality from? I’ll cover this in more detail in a future post.