Does Religion offer Good Guidance and Morality?

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What is the source of morality? Is it the Bible?  Nope. God? There’s no proof of it. Could it be religion? That would bring us back to the tenets of that particular religion. In his exceptionally revealing book Godless, the ex-Christian Evangelist Dan Barker, keenly observes:

The bible nowhere states that every human being possesses an inherent right to be treated with respect or fairness… A true moral guide should have some principles. If humans are supposed to treat other humans in certain ways, or to avoid treating humans in other ways, then there should be some examination of the general value of human life and of human rights. Yet this is not to be found anywhere in the bible.[i]

Needless to say I am still shocked by how many Christians and devout Theists make the mind-boggling assumption that atheists are immoral because they are without God only to needlessly reinforce this statement with overstated statistics. It seems to me, at least, to be a good way of avoiding having to answer for where morality comes from to begin with, especially when religion seems to have just as many morally depraved sinners as the next lot. Elizabeth Anderson, sheds some light on the matter, when she pragmatically states:

Few people of religious faith object to atheism because they think the evidence for the existence of God is compelling to any rational inquirer. Most of the faithful haven’t considered the evidence for the existence of God in a spirit of rational inquiry—that is, with openness to the possibility that the evidence goes against their faith. Rather, I believe that people object to atheism because they think that without God, morality is impossible.

If morality was a universal constant, as many theologians have postulated, some feeling which compels us to do good and move us towards a standard of love barely attainable in a single life time, then we would have to first prove that all atheists are everywhere steadily decreasing in morality at a rate which far outstrips that of your average devout religious believer—since this is the only way we could satisfy the claims which religious people tend to make when they say God is the source of all morality. The hard truth of the matter is there are just as many upright, honest, and moral atheists as you can find anywhere else. So we cannot claim all atheists are amoral or incapable of great love and kindness merely because they lack a belief in God. 
Now I’m utterly certain there are numerous religious advocates who will deny this claim outright, and moreover, they will state quite dogmatically and emphatically that all atheists are Godless immoral hedonistic heathens destined to burn an eternity in Hades. Sure, some atheists may fit the bill, but just a few, if not as many as religious ones who certainly do. The majority of secular thinking atheists, however, are decent people and to overlook this fact seems to be the best give away to identifying a dishonest person with a not so hidden agenda. Barker again goes directly to the source and makes the irrefutable evaluation:

Rather than asking believers the silly (to them) question “Is God moral?” it might be more meaningful to ask: “What would the bible have to say in order to be immoral? Or, what if it mandated rape? What if it commanded stealing, lying, or adultery? What if its main characters called names, issued threats and acted irrationally? Then would it be immoral?  Exactly how bad would the bible have to get before it is discarded?[ii]

The Christian Holy Bible does command or encourage all of the above. Clearly, the deficiency of religious principles in regards to ethics is apparent in the doctrines of faith, and in the barely moral, or rather, commonly immoral guidelines of the religious holy books.  

Another Approach 

“Morality is not really the doctrine of how to make ourselves happy but of how we are to be worthy of happiness” –Immanuel Kant

        Anyone who has studied the sociology behind moral philosophy and societal ethics can tell you that human morality is often overlapping, regardless of culture, religion, or ethnicity. C.S. Lewis was no stranger to overlapping moral philosophies either, and was privy to the quality of permeating ideologies which seep into human consciousness. In his short, but precise, novella The Abolitoin of Man, Lewis ends the book with a list of parallel ancient truisms in what he titles the “Illustrations of the Tao.” In mentioning the overlapping philosophies of Zarathustra, Jeremiah, Socrates, Gautama, and Christ Lewis uses this coalescence of concepts as grounds to offer the theory of a universal law of morality, the lofty assumption being that it is God’s law, which makes itself apparent throughout space and time. I do not rightly see how this theory can be proved.  As for such a theory like this, Stephen Hawking, a scientist with a real understand of what qualifies a good theory, has this to say:

Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.  On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory.[xx]

Considering the new evidence we might conclude that Lewis, although well intentioned, has created a useless theory, or rather a non-theory. The important thing to look at, however, is the various overlapping ideals which came before the birth of Christ. We could assume then that these concepts do not stem from or originate in Jesus, but rather were revised by him to fit Jewish tradition and ways of thought—this is the adaptive genius of the Nazarene. To claim Christ is the Son of God and so the eternal source of these universal axioms, to have them exist beforehand throughout all eternity, only to be repeated by great Philosophers and later by a select series of prophets, and finally Jesus is a palpable redundancy.
If God’s moral law was universally accessible by means of osmosis then it would prove to be a problem for the theologian, since all peoples undoubtedly would be affected by it more than they are, and all religions would be equally valid. Furthermore, the redundancy of having to repeat an (assumed) universal principle only goes to show that it is not a constant, or else not constantly detectable, and that we must be perpetually reminded of it. This alone is not evidence enough to show any universal morality, as the kind Lewis believed in, exists. If anything it shows that it doesn’t likely exist. Another factor which invalidates Lewis’s theory of a pre-existing universal morality is that in reality people do not spend all their time searching out or reaching such golden rules, in fact the majority of people, even good and honest people, often times go against the wisdom inherent to such axioms by deliberately ignoring or breaking them (sometimes for valid reasons). 
This isn’t to say there aren’t any better moral truths out there waiting to be revealed to us. What we have observed up until now is that, even though religion has frequently touched upon deeper profundities, morality is less likely to come from religion let alone from any assumed divine source than it is to come from our human intellects and human consciousness. Religion seems to serve as a tool of reflection on these moral values (and as a litmus test to detect whether you have any morals at all), but it is neither the source nor is it the only means to understanding them.
            Kant reminds us in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals that what we need to utilize in defining any semblance of morality are the tools of philosophy and science:

Would it not therefore be wiser in moral concerns to acquiesce in the judgment of common reason, or at most only to call in philosophy for the purpose of rendering the system of morals more complete and intelligible, and its rules more convenient for use (especially for disputation), but not so as to draw off the common understanding from its happy simplicity, or to bring it by means of philosophy into a new path of inquiry and instruction? Innocence is indeed a glorious thing; only, on the other hand, it is very sad that it cannot well maintain itself and is easily seduced. On this account even wisdom- which otherwise consists more in conduct than in knowledge- yet has need of science, not in order to learn from it, but to secure for its precepts admission and permanence.

            Indeed, I feel there are deeper axiomatic truths worth discovering, but we will have a better chance of securing such truths if we look from within and not from without. Science, psychology and philosophy do a fine job at equipping us with the tools we need to facilitate our goals of reaching a deeper level of insight and understanding of such moral principles.

[i] Dan Barker, Godless, p.171
[ii] Ibid., p.168
[iii] Mark Twain, Bible Teaching and Religious Practice, from: “Europe and Elsewhere and a Pen Warmed Up in Hell.”
[iv] Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation, p. 17
[v] Ibid., p.18-19
[vi] Ibid., p.14
[xx] Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, p.11


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