Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Religious Morality That Isn't

In a recent post, I discussed how some religious people buy into what they are sold in church about needing a god for morality without giving it much thought. There are more problems with this than those arguments about how we arrive at our moral structures. It should come as no surprise that if they're not thinking about the how, they're not putting much thought into their moral system itself. As with the how, this means a sizable portion comes from being told by some sort of authority figure what is good and bad.

I had a discussion with a religious coworker last year on the topic of the why question of morality. They seem to be a good example of someone just gobbling up what the religious authorities told them without much question. A good indication of this was that they went straight to the topic of murder, which, as I stated last post, is a very cliche topic for the religious to bring up.

But a really funny thing also happened later in the discussion. One tactic religious apologists like to use is to make it seem like the world would just be a chaotic place if morality were at all relative. We were unable to finish this part of the conversation, but my coworker presented a hypothetical where I had a dictatorship, but then my son* takes over and changes a bunch of the rules. Again, since we didn't finish, it wasn't clear where they were going with this, but I suspect it was to present such a system as undesirable because of how it can change on little more than a whim. I hope some of the concern was how it is based on the authority of a human, but I have doubts on that.

There were a few things I found intriguing about this. One is how such people seem to be oblivious to the fact that the are trying to make logical arguments for a morality that they imply one cannot make a logical argument for (because their god puts it in our hearts, or whatever). That lack of awareness has both funny and sad aspects to it.

The second thing that I noticed right away is that they were presenting more of a hybrid relative morality. I thought they were trying to discuss relative morality, but that was not what was presented. With relative morality, morality would be relative to those within this hypothetical dictatorship, meaning those under the rule of the dictator need not agree with said dictator.

What was most intriguing, though, took me quite some time -- months, perhaps -- to notice: They were describing something rather similar to religious morality, much like the morality they subscribe to, particularly in regards to the authority part of it.

This got me to thinking how religious morality actually works. Through this process, I realized that a lot of the morality comes from an authority figure in the church, but I know from stories from pastors who lost their religion that the morality cannot be changed on a whim. I ended up figuring out why this is. While it is a church leader that has to dictate the morality, the morality is not associated with the church leader but rather a person or persons that are long dead, if they even existed at all. In the case of Christianity, this would be Jesus or God. With Islam, it is much the same where it is associated with Allah or maybe even Mohammed. Such a structure can even be found in non-deistic religions. Karl Marx being associated with Marxism would be one example. Or, in the USA, one can find a sort of State religion that worships the Founding Fathers.

All of these systems have the issue that one need not think about what they are doing. They just do what they believe their moral guide wants them to do. It's a scary system. One only needs to look at ISIS to see why this doesn't work. If my coworker's focus was on the idea of morality changing on a whim, their concerns seem to be not in the proper place. The authoritarian system is way more problematic. There could be a system of morality that gets everything wrong but never changes. I would hope my coworker would be more concerned about that system, but then they'd have to reject their own morality, which is why I suspect the focus was indeed on the idea of morality changing on a whim. I'm thoroughly unimpressed.

* Of course it had to be a son in this hypothetical! The regressive moral standards my coworker likely has may not allow for a woman dictator.