Morality vs. Religion
“Morality and religion exist as mutually exclusive concepts as one does not automatically predicate the other.”
Taking an oath on the Bible is something of a conflict of interest – considering what’s written in it.
When asked about why religion is necessary, one of the common answers most people will probably tell you (even if they aren’t believers) is that religion provides a framework for moral behaviour. So allow me to permanently fix that problem by blowing this fatuous assumption out of the water once and for all.
The Devil God made me do it
It is always perplexing to me that the books that are purportedly the doctrine of morality are rife with acts of violence, usually outright genocide often commanded by the deity in question. Strangely enough, religious believers never question these things, because anything is justifiable in God’s name.
Even more surprisingly, believers justify these acts of violence by saying that “God told them to do it” even if it means taking the lives of thousands. To what extent then does one certify a religious text as any kind of authority on morality, when it often seems to perniciously contravene that very same thing?
Consider the Muslim terrorists who blow up air-planes and destroy office buildings. According to the Koran, they are being moral by slaying infidels. The same can be said of the Egyptians who circumcise girls (by cutting off their clitoris) and the pious Christians who kill abortion doctors and homosexuals.
The really frightening thing is that the people who do these horrific acts are not psychopaths. They are rational, intelligent and if you get the chance to talk to a few of them, often seem like very likable people. It’s just that they believe quite blindly in fact, that they are acting morally according to holy scripture.
Consider the commandment that says “Thou shalt not kill“. It actually comes with a hidden escape clause that says in essence “Unless God authorized it“. This subjective interpretation of scripture and what it supposedly asks people to do automatically invalidates religion’s capacity to be any moral authority.
For where the pro-life pundits follow this command with deadly obsession, to the point where even non-sentient human cells are considered lifeforms, they will actually sanction the death of a living human being in exchange for the preservation of a single microscopic building block of life. How is that moral?
The Pro-Life Hypocrisy
Emotional ploys like this are at the center of the abortion/morality debate
Consider the hypocrisy of Christian pro-life supporters. They will argue that abortion is murder, even if the abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. They rationalise that the mother has already had her life and so her death at the benefit of the unborn child is more acceptable than abortion.
Consider this: When people are given a choice between saving one life and saving thousands, most people choose to save thousands – despite the fact that such an act is the same thing as condemning that one life. We could easily justify the sacrifice of the one as being a moral act by way of utilitarianism.
However, many pro-life anti-abortionists are not utilitarian by any stretch of the imagination. Their logic completely robs the woman carrying the unborn life of any right to life herself. This essentially means that the clump of cells growing in her womb is substantially more valuable than the womb housing it.
Those same pro-life anti-abortionists rationalize that the destruction of a foetus to get at the stem cells in it is also consistent with murder, even though an early stage foetus has no consciousness, and is thus neither sentient nor has the capacity to endure suffering as it doesn’t yet have a nervous system.
More importantly, what about the millions of lives that could have been saved by the stem cell research? Christian apologists have a very weird kind of logic where lives that are susceptible to pain and suffering are somehow less valuable than cells that don’t have the capacity to experience any such thing.
The Great Debate: A Matter of Sentience
It is fascinating to me that these people make such a big deal about the destruction of a foetus, when women shed unfertilised ova every 28 days and over 300 million sperm cells are irretrievably lost every time a man ejaculates into a woman. What about all those potential human lives that never lived?
I got into a heated debate with this lovely (but unbearably naive) young Christian woman who I dated very briefly about the same issue. When I told her that I was pro choice, I could almost hear her vagina slam shut. She was perplexed as to how a rational, intelligent person like myself could ever sanction the death of an unborn. Our exchange went more or less like this:
Her: “…and I was just so overjoyed about the life growing in her womb that I…“
Me: “Hold up – It’s not alive yet. She’s only 4 weeks in.“
Her: “Silly man. Life begins at conception.“
Me: “Life begins at birth. Before that, it’s just an unfinished biological machine.“
Her: “Many children are born prematurely, and they lived!“
Me: “Vegetables live too.“
Her: “That’s besides the point…“
Me: “That is the point.“
Her: “Vegetables can’t feel pain or cry for their mothers.“
Me: “And neither can an unborn child. What ‘lives’ in a woman’s womb has no consciousness, wants, feelings or sentience. A child doesn’t become human until it becomes sentient.“
Her: “What about children who were born retarded who never developed the capacity for sentience, but lived for some time outside of the womb?“
Me: “They’re as alive as someone in a persistent vegetative state. I’ve eaten cabbages with more personality.“
Her: “So are you saying that if a woman has four retarded children, that you as a doctor would abort her fifth pregnancy?“
Me: “Not only would I abort it, but I would also get her and her husband a divorce lawyer. They’re probably related.“
Her: “Then you could have aborted a Beethoven or a Mozart!“
Me: “Or a Hitler or a Stalin.“
At this point she looks at me wide eyed and wrought with frustration. The smile had disappeared from her face when she suddenly realised that we were on two different sides of the fence. Apparently this was a big deal for her, since her countenance changed almost completely. Now she was yelling:
Her: “Can’t you see that abortion is murder!?“
Me: “Can’t you see that you can’t murder something that isn’t alive?“
Her: “Rationalizing it that way doesn’t make you any less wrong!“
Me: “Using the same vacuous logic, I could argue that rationalizing it your way doesn’t make you right. That doesn’t really prove anything, does it?“
Her: “How can you be so heartless?“
Me: “I assume you mean metaphorically. For unlike me, an early stage foetus doesn’t actually have a heart – or a brain, or lungs, or liver, or spleen, or-…“
Her: “But a foetus is the potential for life!“
Me: “Potential to be is not the same thing as the actuality of being. The two are mutually exclusive.“
Her: “But abortion kills the potential!“
Me: “If that logic were sound, then every sperm in my scrotum is a potential. 300 million of them will die everytime I ejaculate into a woman. That’s like killing the entire population of the contiguous United States. That would make me a genocidal maniac. Concordantly, every ova in your ovaries is a potential and your body murders one every 28 days. That would make you a serial killer.“
Her: “How dare you! Abortion doctors are the real serial killers!“
Me: “Oh really? Then tell me; if you had the opportunity to abort the foetuses of all the serial killers that ever lived, would you still rationalize that it was murder and allow them to be born?“
Me: “That’s the moral slippery slope you’re on, sweety. For every potential Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart you think abortion kills, think of every potential Jeffery Dahmer that the world is spared.“
Her: “Dahmer was a rare exceptional evil that was never repeated.“
Me: “Oh really? There was also Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and many many others.“
Her: “You’re just being a pompous prick. You need to have your own child. That might change your mind.“
Me: “I look forward to having my own child – but that doesn’t negate a woman’s right to choose.“
Her: “But what about the foetus’ right to choose? It can’t!“
Me: “Precisely – because it isn’t alive. I hereby rest my case.“
Her: “I hate you.“
Me: “But yet you love unborn babies… fascinating.“
Look, I won’t pretend that I’m not a pompous prick. But the defense of common sense (or what’s left of it), is not something I take lightly. It’s one thing to fear something we don’t understand. It’s another to over inflate the significance of things we already do. This campaign of theirs reeks of FUDD mongering.
The Fallacy of Human Artificiality
Human engineering (right: a skyscraper floor plan) often mimics animal engineering (left: a bee honeycomb)
A number of pro life advocates have argued that I can’t say that male ejaculation and the female menstrual cycle is murder in the same context as abortion. They argue that abortion is an artificial, man made occurrence, while ejaculation and menstrual cycles are natural. Such reasoning is still flawed.
This kind of weak reasoning is born from yet another popular fallacy that regards humans as being somehow separate from the natural world. But humans evolved from this earth just like all other animals. Isn’t it strange then how we consider all living things on earth to be natural except human beings?
Compare our behaviours:
Beavers build dams. We build dams – only with concrete. Bees build hives. We build skyscrapers. The woodpecker uses sticks to hunt for worms in trees. We use rifles, nets and spears to do the same. Alpha male lions kill the live young of their rivals. We abort unwanted pregnancies. The action is exactly the same.
Humans are just a lot more sophisticated.
Don’t even talk about humans being “out of touch with their world.” That’s nonsense. If that were true, then we could argue that viruses are also out of touch with their world. Viruses are parasitic organisms that if left unchecked, will ultimately destroy their host – but not before spreading to another.
Again, humans aren’t very different in that context. Like a virus, we multiply, almost maliciously, and consume every resource in one habitat, destroying entire ecosystems all in the name of social development. The recourse however, is that the environment usually strikes back, killing us in the process.
Sounds like the action of anti-bodies against a virus, doesn’t it?
I’ve said on this blog a number of times before that human beings are nothing more than sophisticated animals, and I will resonate that here once more. When the Biblical command “thou shalt not kill” was conceived, none of the people who first read it had the faintest idea that humans are made of cells.
I’m not saying that to assert that the “do not kill” command could not be reasoned (fallaciously) to apply to cells. Rather, that the command refers to the act of killing another living, breathing human being in cold blood – much like the allegorical tale of Able’s murder at the hands of his lascivious brother.
Any other interpretation is so profoundly silly, that it borders on madness.
The Pro-Life Paradox
So I pose a philosophical question to pro-life advocates: To whom is your pro-life conviction more relevant, the unborn or the living? Doesn’t being “pro-life” automatically create a moral slippery slope where you may have to choose between lives? A clump of cells with the potential to become alive isn’t alive. So by that logic, shouldn’t being pro-life be fortuitous for the one that is actually alive? If this is not the case, then your cause is pretentious at best.
With that said, the position that a foetus is alive (or even a person) must therefore be a matter of opinion – opinion that was inexplicably derived from a “do not kill” commandment that was read into far too deeply, obviously, with the aforementioned God sanctioned escape clause suspiciously ignored.
If the morality that drives the Pro-Life agenda is a function of opinion (since I read the Bible too and I did not impart this understanding from it), then continuing the discussion is ultimately moot. That means the aggressive nature of pro-life supporters is not intrinsically different from indoctrination by force.
Ultimately, they are no different from extremist Muslim terrorists.
The Sexuality Conundrum
That’s why I scoff at orthodox Jews and staunch Roman Catholics who are opposed to the use of contraception. Both religious views interpret the religious commandment to “multiply”, to mean that a man’s seed must not be wasted. But I am now convinced that they haven’t thought this thing through.
How is it immoral to waste a man’s seed by not having a child born from each sexual encounter when the very act of impregnation ultimately wastes most of a man’s seed anyway? If they really wanted to succinctly follow this outdated commandment to the letter, then they would have figured out a way to ensure that every time a man ejaculates, a woman would have about 300 million kids.
Poor woman. Wait, nevermind the poor woman. Poor planet!
The ladies in these relationships are ultimately doomed to have as many kids as her husband’s libido has the unction to muster – even if they’ve already spawned an entire football team, complete with spare players on the bench, a coach and cheerleaders. I feel truly sorry for these orthodox Jewish vaginas.
They must take quite a pounding indeed.
The same logic is why many religions are thoroughly against masturbation, even though the act has been proven to physiologically aid in the sexual development of all who practice it. Did you know that gorillas, chimps and many ape species masturbate? Again, Humans aren’t radically different here.
…but I digress.
What isn’t surprising though is how these patriarchal, monotheistic religions are often inconsiderate and sometimes downright cruel to women. Islam and Christianity have a long track record of treating women like assets – which is not surprisingly why sex before marriage is also considered to be immoral.
I’m sure I’m going to hear from some irate Bible and gun toting redneck from the right, so let’s set the record straight: Fornication isn’t a sin because the Bible said so. Fornication is a sin because women were traded as commodities to invading kingdoms and used as political gifts to forge diplomatic alliances.
So just like your export crop, the women had to be untouched. They fetched a higher price that way. This was going on centuries before the first word in the Bible was ever written. The Bible came around long after countless cultures upheld the practice of bartering women. It seemed like a good idea back then.
That was long before we had the good sense to give women equal recognition by having them upgraded from being second class citizens. When our collective consciousness was raised about how society unfairly oppressed women, it automatically invalidated all the archaic “moral codes” that besieged them.
Of course, religious folk will argue that this “raising of our consciousness” is a bad thing, since reason is the enemy of faith. I would utterly destroy that argument by certifying that reason is the enemy of madness – not faith. The problem is that believers often fail to successfully differentiate between them.
With that said, we need to explore:
The Truth about Morality
My contention is that religion is a grossly unreliable basis for morality. Even if we were to use the character of Jesus in the New Testament in some counter argument to this problem, we still see a situation where his father, God almighty, allows for his only son to be slaughtered for the sins of mankind.
The funny thing is that Christians traditionally accept this logic unquestionably, because they were already preconditioned by the Old Testament to accept that you can’t get forgiveness for sin without killing something. So following on that logic, it was only rational that Jesus should die a fitting death. Right?
If God is so powerful and so mighty, why torture a good man for people he’s never met? The God of the Bible doesn’t actually change across testaments. It’s the same big bad dictator with an insatiable taste for blood. It’s just that this time around, he has fully upgraded from animal flesh to human sacrifice.
Isn’t it curious that Christians often look down on other more garish religious cults on their practice of human sacrifice, when they rarely flinched at the idea that Abraham was commanded to slay his son Isaac and that Jesus was actually sacrificed as an offering, all in a bid to appease their almighty God?
Why does no one find this strange?
I’m sure that God in all of his wisdom and might have just wiped the slate clean and just said “Y’know what? I’ll let this one slide. But don’t do it again, aight?” God seems to have taken the more dramatic route to achieving exactly the same thing. I fail to see the logic in such morality, provided one exists.
If God really is a “moral” God, then morality is not that which is good, but rather whatever whims are dictated by this universal tyrant. Religious folk believe that religion is necessary for morality because they’ve spent their entire lives being spoon fed a doctrine that upholds certain behaviour as such.
The truth is, if you taught the same behaviour to anyone without the religious association for their entire lives, you will get exactly the same result, minus the dogmatic fallacies. This is a classic case where people fallaciously believe that sequence automatically implies causality. They believe that morality is religious.
Morality and religion exist as mutually exclusive concepts as one does not automatically predicate the other. You can be religious and immoral, just like the Christians who fornicate six days out of the week and show up at church on Sunday. You can also be moral and non religious, like the many atheist human aid organisations that assist the poverty stricken around the world.
Morality cannot be defined by an ancient book written at a time when we lacked the ability to understand our world and each other, in a culture that was more obsessed with indoctrination than forging diplomatic relations, where women and non whites are recognized as inferior, second class citizens.
The world has long since evolved in consciousness beyond the age when a Bible and a Koran would have no doubt found good soil. The nature of the people of today’s world has invalidated much of what we understand to be moral as defined by these religious texts, despite their undeniable popularity.
The Source of Morality
Just as how you wouldn’t slaughter an entire country because their religion differs from yours today (as was done in the Bible or as commanded by the Koran) you should likewise recognize that your morality does not come from your religious belief. Your religion is not enough to determine your morality.
Think about it:
There is no Biblical commandment that says that you shouldn’t download movies, games or music from the internet (don’t tell me about “thou shalt not steal” – you can’t download a car). There’s none that says you shouldn’t inform investors about movements in a company whose stock they should buy or sell.
There’s no command in the Koran that says you shouldn’t sell tickets to a game at a price that is higher than their market value. There’s no command that says you shouldn’t sell Chinese knock off iPhones on eBay as the real deal, nor one that covers intellectual property rights, racism or even sexism.
So how do we know these things are wrong? It comes from the collective enlightenment of society. Natural, intelligent people came together and thought about how the advancements in society could be abused to cause harm and created laws that would govern these things – usually after the fact.
Even if these men and women weren’t around, at times when you do wrong, you are often consciously aware of it. You didn’t need the Bible to tell you that fencing stolen property is wrong, or that physically assaulting a woman during a domestic dispute is wrong. You instinctively know these things by nature.
I will concede that not everything that is wrong is easily determined. Men have oppressed women for centuries because they thought it was their right as a male to literally own a woman, inasmuch as he owns a horse, cattle, property and other goods and services. Only very recently did we changed our thinking.
I still find Christians today who break copyright infringements on a regular basis and correspondingly claim that there’s nothing in the Bible that warrants against it. So even though they are “God fearing Christians”, they still distribute unlicensed music and video files on the internet indiscriminately.
In fact, I can find religious folk of any doctrinal persuasion, who despite the inferential logic taught from their religious texts, still commit immoral acts – largely because they don’t understand them to be immoral. What this proves is that morality is not static, which is what belief in scripture seems to assert.
Morality governs our propensity to determine harm caused to others – harm that is often not defined in religion at all. Religion actually bends our natural moral propensity to genuinely believe that an otherwise immoral act is sanctioned by God. In short, it causes intelligent people to say or do stupid things. This is what exposes religious pundits who speak utter nonsense.
If Haiti suffered destruction because of their voodoo, then how do we explain the much bigger earthquake that just hit Chile? Is it that Chile’s non-existent voodoo was stronger than that of Haiti’s? Or was it that they sinned far worse than Haiti did? The Chileans are far more religious than the Haitians and don’t have human rights violations anywhere near as bad as it typically is in Haiti.
So either God got it wrong, or religious morality is obsolete.
Jesus Christ and Superman are both based on the same ancient “Sun God among men” mythology.
While the Bible can certainly be a source of inspiration and the Koran can be a seat of good values, neither text is any more or less powerful than a romantic novel, a philosophical treatise, a radio program or a television show, because these things are all cultural human expressions perpetually frozen in time.
If you read comic books, you would notice that every 20 years or so, the story of Superman is retold, by a newer artist / writer team, to update the story to reflect the more current trends in society. For e.g.: In 1978, Lois and Clark used typewriters at the Daily Planet. In 2010, they are using computers.
Despite the fact that Lois and Clarke are well over 100 years old, they never pass the tender age of 28 and 31 respectively, because that’s how we know them. However, if you read a copy of “Action Comics” circa 1941, you will see a Superman who talks about black folks in a way 2010′s Superman eschews.
Unlike the Bible, the Superman tale is recognized for what it really is and is correspondingly updated to appeal to younger audiences. The Bible and Koran never go through such updates, because even though they are not radically different from comic books, people value them for more than they’re worth.
Ancient Comic Books
Did I just compare these holy texts to comic books? You bet! They are both anecdotal, moral allegories of Gods among men. Just as how we learned “thou shalt not kill” from religion, we also learned that “Great power comes with great responsibility” from comics – both teach that good triumphs over evil.
There are enough copies of Superman translated into enough languages, distributed widely enough in the world to give some archaeologist from the 32nd century the idea that Superman may have been a real person. For all we know, the fantastic tales of the Bible may have been ancient Superman stories.
Marvel Comics bases its stories on real places and real events, just like the stories in the Bible. You see the same trend in Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code” and similar works. The stories in the Bible are not unique to the Bible either. For example, Noah’s Ark is really a retelling of an ancient Sumerian tale from the Epic of Gilgamesh – and archaeologists still aren’t sure if it is legend.
How do we know that 2,000 years from now, some future man won’t be digging through the rubble of today’s cities, only to find a copy of Spider-man and wrongly assume that the moral tale in the 22 page book is significant? What makes you think we didn’t make the same mistake with the Bible?
I just blew your mind, didn’t I?
While I will concede that the Bible and the Koran both have incredibly useful and timeless knowledge, neither is current enough to prevent their followers from capriciously making up stuff as they go along where the books do not explicitly address more modern issues. They are both dangerously obsolete.
As such, you will have some Christians whose morals are radically different from others. This is what gives rise to fringe cults in Christendom that separate families, and cause severe psychological damage to others. This is what also creates the extremist Muslim regimes bent on complete world indoctrination.
I remember growing up in Church and having to deal with people who thought it was immoral for women to wear pants or jewelery. They also believed that it was immoral for young people to have boyfriends and girlfriends, to go to the cinema to see a movie, to go to parties or to listen to popular secular music.
In Islam, it is immoral for a woman to pray in the same mosque as a man, to look up at another man who is not her husband, to go unaccompanied by a male to public places (she can go even if the male is her young son) and in some Islamic territories, to speak to a man without being invited to do so.
All of these people believe that they are being moral by following the values put forward by literary works that were written at a time when morality was primitive in comparison to our standards today. This would explain the grossly irrational and primitive behaviour exhibited by most of its sincerest followers.
Christian rock band ‘Third Day’ redefines the moral understanding of what Christian music should sound like.
Today’s morals are tomorrow’s folly. The people who truly understand that are the ones who know what to take from the Bible or Koran and what to reject. There’s nothing wrong with rejecting something from religious teaching. Most religions haven’t been updated in centuries. So that is perfectly rational.
But one of the greatest gifts of mankind is the capacity for common sense. Even though the term “common sense” is perhaps the greatest oxymoron ever coined (as sensibility is anything but common), it is easily defeated by the curse of mythological affinity which surreptitiously dulls our capacity for reason.
Critical thinking is what shapes our understanding of morality. It is the reason why intelligent Christians don’t go around slaughtering homosexuals and why intelligent Muslims don’t fly commercial airliners into buildings. These people have both rejected some part of the Bible and the Koran respectively – and so far, it appears that neither Allah nor Jehovah has chosen to smite them for it.