Wednesday, April 12, 2006

On Religion and Morality, a Follow-Up

After a lengthy and, unfortunately, incomplete conversation with my friend--lets call him Retrop--he made a strong case that perhaps the offensiveness and dramatic generalizations I made in my last post were obscuring my point. Sometimes I forget that you readers are not, in point of fact, in my head and, oftentimes, have to wade through a lot of B.S. to find out what I am trying to say.

Case in point.

Let me make some things clear so that, in the event that my inevitable and previous tangential ramblings obscure(d) what I say(said), some things will not be too tainted.

  1. I do not believe that religious people are inherently immoral. That is not what I am saying at all. I believe the best way to say what I was getting at is that religious people, when they are moral, are so in spite of religion altogether. I will better explain my rationale for this later.
  2. I do not believe that atheists are inherently moral; I was making the point that atheists, when performing a good deed, do so in the name of morality and morality only.
  3. By and large, Statistics is crap. Whoever it was that coined the phrase, "the numbers don't lie," was completely full of crap; Statistics is arguably the scientific study of making numbers say what you want them to say.
  4. I absolutely enjoy a marketplace of ideas. I search it out. I'd be lying if I said the intent behind my bold statement was not the resulting conversation I had with Retrop. To dissenters and agreers I say "bring it on." Why else would a life-long atheist attend a catholic institution for higher education? Nothing excites me more than someone telling me or trying to prove that I am wrong, except, maybe, actually being proved wrong. I believe the term Devil's Advocate applies to me nicely, but I do not particularly like the Christian connotation. I feel like I have done my job as a writer blogger and/or friend if I make you think.

Now that that is out of the way, let me deal with this issue of morality and its definition. defines morality as the following:

1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
3. Virtuous conduct.
4. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.

So, in my humble opinion, morality is far more than this definition. (Especially #2 since it contains not one, but two statements that are paradoxial to me.) Aristotle even wrote an entire book attempting to fully define morality. I think, without getting into too much detail, the largest aspect of morality that this definition neglects is (what Aristotle referred to as) continence--the absolute desire to do what is right because it is right. Additionally, it is a resolution of both the heart and the mind, in that the correct course of action is first reasoned followed by the heart's desire to see it through.

This is why I say atheists are moral for morality sake. If they do not desire for good to be done, it will not be done; so logically following, any good done by an atheist is "moral" by the above definition as I see it.

Next on the Aristotelian heirarchy of morality to which I am referring (why reinvent the wheel?) is resistence--this is the level in which I believe religious people are by default. Those who are resistent still do good deeds, but not because they truly desire to see good done.

Take Christianity for an example (let's face it, statistically speaking it is far more likely than not that this is somewhere in your background).

Christians believe in Heaven and (some of them) Hell; some believe in a middle-ground suspended animation whatnot. They believe good deeds and following the Christian moral compass (God, The Bible) will get them into Heaven. They believe not doing so will get them into Hell (don't want to go there!), that other place, or simply deny them passage to the promise land.

This is a system of reward and punishment. By default, Christian's do good deeds such that they may see that reward or because they fear the punishment for not doing them. In either case, they do not desire to see good done so much as it is merely a good investment in their soul.

Granted--as I said before--Theists can and are moral beings much (most) of the time. But they are moral in spite of their religion. Christianity, for example again, implants some key moral foundations. The Ten Commandments are, for the most part, good ideas--some of them. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm down with stoning a man just because his hair is below his shoulders.

Theists who are moral have taken the teachings of their respective religion, their community, their surroundings, their experience in total, and internalized it in such a way that they desire to do good for good's sake.

I'm sure I have more to say on the subject, as I was on somewhat of a roll, but I fell off that roll, and now I'm going to relax. It is bound to come up again at some point. But for now, to dissenters and agreers I say: Bring it on.

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