Religion and Morality

Critique of the link between religion and morality Ethics A2, Edexcel

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  • Created on: 20-05-09 11:05

Issues about the nature of religious morality

- Moral teaching based on scripture is unreliable because sacred facts are culturally relative and era dependent. The moral teaching they offer is not intended to provide eternal moral values and treating them as such leads to problems of interpretation

- If religious believers are morally good only in the hope of receiving divine reward and avoiding punishment, is this genuine goodness?

- Religious moral teachings derive from secular values, and are given religious significance to increase their authority

- Too much pressure is put on religious believers to live up to unrealistic standards of goodness

- The demands of religious morality are sometimes counter intuitive

- Society only appeals to religious morality in times of crisis, not for guidance on daily moral living

- Resisting moral change in the name of religion can prevent moral progress

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Connection between religion and morality

- Aquinas' arguments were based on Plato's archetypes, which claimed that the contingent realities of which the human mind is aware are just copies of a greater, unseen reality, which is eternal

- The goodness, virtue or truth found in human beings are a reflection of the supreme goodness of God

- God's moral perfection and authority are evidence for His existence

- F C Copleston claimed, 'I do think that all goodness reflects God in some way'

- He also argued that it is necessary to refer to God in order to be able to distinguish good from evil

- Bertrand Russell argued that these things (i.e. good and evil) are loved and hated because they are innately good and bad, without the need for God at all

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The Euthyphro Dilemma

- 'Is the holy loved by the gods because it is holy? Or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?'
- Existentialists believe that if God does not exist, everything is permitted
- Religious believers argue that morality is meaningless for anything other than personal satisfaction

Problems with the link and Euthyphro Dilemma

- Religious believer would say that if God does not give explicit advice in the Bible, there is sufficient evidence and guidance fpr Him to make a logical decision

- Within the Bible, God asks for many things that don't seem particularly moral, e.g. 'Do not boil a kid in its mother's milk'

- Does God forbidding something make it wrong? If this is the case, He could forbid anything which would trivialise God's lawmaking authority

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The Euthyphro Dilemma

- Many people can make reliable judgements when they don't believe in God, therefore we must be able to be moral without consciously deriving moral standards from Him

- If moral behaviour is motivated by fear of God's punishment, it is a questionable basis for morality

- The line of argument that God commands what is good assumes a link between morality and God. However, it suggests that moral values are not established by God's will but that He operates according to laws already in place

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God and morality

Abraham & Isaac

- Perhaps the most challenging of the positions is does everything God commands automatically become good?

- The story of Abraham and Isaac sees faith put to the test as Abraham is told to sacrifice his son

- Soren Kierkegaard asked if it was ever reasonable for man to abandon what he believes is intrinsically good, and concluded that it was as faith is the highest virtue

- John Habgood disagreed; 'If morality is supposed to be universal, can it really be discounted, even under such extreme pressure from God?'

- Feminist theologian Daphne Hampson proposed a reading from Sarah's perspective, who recognised that God was offering a stimulus for moral debate

- There has been no explanation for God's command, but rather qualifications e.g. Abraham was acting in faith/didn't understand

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God and morality (contd.)

- 'The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction' Richard Dawkins

- Job, a righteous and wealthy man, is an easy target for Satan
- Habgood observed that Job's situation is resolved by a new encounter with God, as is Abraham's

- R A Sharpe challenged the misconception that if more people believed in God, there would be less immorality: 'We are predisposed to think of religion and morality as intimately connected'

- Traditional interpretations of Shariah law prescribe severe punishments for extramarital sex etc, and there are other examples of religiously motivated morality that are a cause for concern:

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God and morality (contd.)

- Condemnation of certain medical services (e.g. abortion) based on belief in the soul, harassment at entrances to clinics, attempts to block forms of contraception

- Condemnation of certain sexual behaviour as God disapproves, discrimination against women in accordance with scripture and blaming such minorities for incurring the wrath of God, thus allowing 9/11 etc (Westboro Baptist Church)

- Environmental negligence caused by the thinking that earth will be returned to a paradise like state, rendering its immediate condition unimportant

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God and morality (contd.)

= The power of the religious conscience to lead believers to perform actions which appear morally wrong to non believers is worrying for many secular thinkers

= There can be no guarantee that the conscience comes from God

= Freud understood the conscience as a moral policeman, the internalised super ego, which controlled and socialised man but which was capable of doing great damage to his mental health, particularly when it was confused with religion

= He believed that the Christian conscience frustrated the development of sound mental health by imposing rules upon the individual which had no basis in reality but in a 'universal neurosis'

= Sociologists propose the view that the conscience is a product of upbringing, education, socialisation and circumstances - therefore it is not inherent in human beings and does not owe its origin to God

= Decisions made on the basis of the conscience must therefore be understood as relative and situational, and cannot be universalised

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Richard Dawkins

- Propounded the view that religion leads to evil, likening it to a malignant virus which infects human minds

- Dismisses religious faith as 'an indulgence of irrationality that is nourishing extremism, division and terror'

- Believes that fundamentalist Islam and evangelical Christianity are responsible for misleading education and inciting fear and 'child abuse'

- He defines 'child abuse' as Muslim/Christian parents referring to their children as a member of their religion

- He links the events of 9/11 and 7/7 with religiously motivated terrorism

- Maintains that morality evolves - it is not given by God and we do not need to depend on God or religion to teach morality

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Religion and morality

- Kant argued that all humans are obliged to pursue summum bonum which ultimately only God can bring about, therefore it is contradictory for atheists to pursue it as they don't believe that He will ensure its realisation

- Nietzsche rejected Christianity and belief in God because it encourages a 'slave morality' by which suffering and weakness are admired

- He believed that the 'autonomous man' will have 'developed his own, independent, long range will, which dares to make promises; he has a sense of power and freedom, of absolute accomplishment'

- A potential reason for the lack of moral assertiveness is that religious believers are encouraged to focus on the next life where all injustice will be removed, thus taking away some of the motivation to deal with it on earth

- However, Charles Taylor observes that 'the moment one loses confidence in God...one becomes more self reliant'

- J A T Robinson and Joseph Fletcher attempted to incorporate the influence of social changes and make them relevant to Christian morality (however, critics stated that religious morality could not and should not change)

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Religion and morality (contd.)

- The parable of the Good Samaritan shows a priest who turns his back in the vulnerable, but rather than reject religious morality, it is thought to have been a prototype for situation ethics

- Habgood writes, 'when faced with a crisis of confidence, [atheists] may see the need for something more than instinct, custom and social convention'

- For many believers, the only good reason to perform a morally good action is that it conforms to the will of God

- Religion and religious morality exist because the atheistic system proved fallible

- A C Grayling put forward an argument for the irrelevance of religion to contemporary morality; 'There is a widespread supposition that a religious ethic...is inherently more likely to make them good'

- He also suggests that modern society values e.g. freedom, achievement and saving money etc oppose Christian values, 'It tells people to take no thought for tomorrow, to give their possessions to the poor'...

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