Above us, Only Sky

Politics, Philosophy, Science, and Everything Else.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Reason, Religion, and Morality

Reason is a tool. You use it to accomplish goals, but the goals you have, at least the ultimate ones, do not come from reason. The need for food, for sex, for the admiration or our peers, for safety and comfort and health and love- these things all have rational reasons to exist in evolved beings, but as those beings, we do not choose them. They are us, and we simply act upon them. A mother does not love her child because she has reasoned out that it is a carrier of her genes and therefore represents the best chance for those genes to exist into the future, she loves her child because that love is a part of her being, it comes before reason. Therefore, all of our goals in this life are effectively irrational- not because they are wrong or stupid, but because they exist prior to our reason- they drive reason, and without them we would have nothing to be reasonable about.
This having been said, reason is still the very best tool we have for achieving our goals, and thus for being happy. It's like reason is a man driving a car and emotion is his pregnant and due wife in the back seat- every time she yells for him to go faster he feels a strong need to do so, but if he is in heavy traffic it's better for him to go slowly and avoid an accident. Reason allows us to put off some of our drives in order to fulfill all of them better in the long run. It is absolutely necessary to survive as a human being.
Religion is a thing of emotion. It capitalizes on every drive we have- the need for community, the fear of pain, it even tries to control our sexual behaviour so that only with religious sanction can it be satisfied. The problem comes in when religion makes truth statements- things about science, about morality, about race and sexuality and biology and family- statements not based in a reasoned understanding of the topic, but in a need to appeal as much as possible to the emotions. Religion allows us to abdicate our reason when it tells us uncomfortable things. Think gay sex is gross? Religion will tell you it's a sin, and viola, you're not a bad person for hating gays. Never mind that two guys doing it in the privacy of their own home can't possibly hurt you, and reason tells us that the 'lifestyle choice' explanation is highly flawed, as long as we have a bronze-age living manual that tells us it's bad, we can keep saying it's bad in good conscience. Except we can't.

Reason is necessary for morality. Morality must be based on mutual rules about behaviour between individuals. Those rules have to be equal, and have to be governed according to a rational principle, or they can't possibly function. This is because if you declare morality to be something based in emotion, it will always be biased. Some 20-year-old guy gets drunk and causes an accident, hurting your family, you'll bay for his blood, or at least a serious jail term and permanent suspension of his licence- but what if that 20-year-old is your brother or your son, you know he's a good kid, you know he can turn his life around if given a second chance- which side of this is right, if you go according to the emotions? Neither, both- there is no right answer, because both have validity, and a solution is impossible because there is no way to judge between the validity of each perspective. Only if you create and maintain a rational set of rules can a moral system or legal system or any other such thing function.
Religion, however, applies only to the emotions when it speaks of morality- 'do what I say or I’ll torture you forever' is typical, 'eye for an eye' competes with 'turn he other cheek', killing witches is out but shunning gays is ok. Religion allows people to ignore reason and still claim to be moral, but what it is really doing is denying the key component of morality- reason. Religion demands or at least allows for people to abdicate their reason. Without reason, morality is impossible. Therefore religion is not just morally bankrupt- it is necessarily immoral.


At 10:21 p.m., Anonymous Tom said...

Greeting. A friend of mine showed me this site, and after reading some comments, I felt compelled to reply.

First, let me say that I am a Christian, more specifically of the Baptist denomination. As you might imagine, I find that I disagree with your statements.

(Post 1)
I agree that reason is a tool. However, reason is valuable only for situational analysis, and is not valid for making moral judgements. Realistically, the concepts of theft and murder can be justified through reason. These things, to the individual, bring gain and pleasure, and, for that individual, there is little deterrent from these activities, but to avoid harming another person, or avoid the consequences thereof. Given that, performing either of these tasks against a weaker person becomes completely feasible and reasonable, per logical human reasoning, as there are, ultimately, no consequences, if religion is removed. I would love to believe that mankind is, by and large, intent on doing the right thing and looking out for others, however, the truth of the matter is that, logically, there is no reason to, unless one is to gain personally from such activity. For this reason, mankind needs God to exist. Without Him, mankind simply cannot successfully exist, as there would be no fundamental rules of engagement in dealing with others, and we would eventually destroy each other trying to glorify ourselves. You will also notice that, regardless of culture, and regardless of location or isolation, every society in the world started out worshiping something. This is yet another proof that the human race needs God, as, in his absence, it will create one. If there is no God, then God is the only need that man has that has not been legitimately provided for us. This potentiality proves to be highly unlikely, as we all know that we cannot survive without a true need being accounted for in “nature,” or the natural state.

Religion is not a thing of emotion. Emotion, really, tells us to do everything that religion does not. Emotion and human reasoning both tell us to have sex with whomever we please, to take what we want, and to pursue our own needs without regards to those of others. Again, both emotion and human reasoning dictate these pursuits. Religion restricts them. I would venture that religion is not based on emotion, but rather, is something that holds our emotion in check. It tempers us and balances our activities and motives. This is far from emotional, and is also above the level of human reasoning.

I am inclined to think you misunderstand Christianity entirely. You stated the following: “Think gay sex is gross? Religion will tell you it's a sin, and viola, you're not a bad person for hating gays. Think gay sex is gross? Religion will tell you it's a sin, and viola, you're not a bad person for hating gays.” You are referring directly to the Judeo-Christian perspective, and, as a Christian, needless to say, I will address this statement from the angle of my religious convictions. Christianity never once states that it is acceptable to “hate” homosexuals, and really, very few Christians do. In fact, I am most certain that, as a percentage, “hatred” for homosexuals is equal among both Christians and non-Christians. In every church I have ever attended, and from every Christian I have ever spoken to, I have been told that homosexuality is “just another sin,” and I believe it to be exactly that. I hate homosexuality with a passion. I believe it is wrong. I do NOT, in any way, hate homosexuals. With that same passion, I hate adultery, theft, murder. I do not hate adulterers, thieves, or murderers, however. It is acceptable to hate an activity, and unacceptable to hate a person who is involved in it. This is the perspective of most Christians, and is actually far more compassionate than that of most non-Christians. Most non-Christians are willing to hate people who engage in an activity due to their choice to engage in the activity. However, as sinners ourselves, most of the Christian community is only willing to hate the sin, as we know homosexuals are no better, and no worse, than any of us. You’ll deny this, but this is truly our perspective as a group. We are stereotyped to be “homophobes” and “gay bashers,” but really, we just hate the activity. We love the sinners, and we hate the sin. For this reason, we do not condone giving homosexuality legal recognition, but we do not condone the persecution of homosexuals either. We have been stereotyped in a manner that causes people to think us hateful when we are truly anything but.

Christianity does not claim that by ignoring God’s wishes, you will be tortured forever. In fact, it states directly that we have ALL ignored the wishes of God, and that we all deserve Hell, but offers us an easy way out. All we have to do is say “God, I’m sorry. Thank you for sending Jesus to pay for my mistakes.” With that, we’re instantly forgiven. We all fail to live up to what God wants of us. We all sin. All God wants us to do is recognize that fact, and be sincerely apologetic about it. If we do, we can be with Him forever, forgiven. If we don’t… well, would you forgive someone who won’t even admit he’s wrong? I think not. Why should God?

(post 2)
You seem to express something of a hated for Christianity in this post. You appear to enjoy catching the verbally inept in semantical arguments, while you’re really making little point with them. God created us with free will, and we choose to do evil, at times. God Himself is entirely good, incapable of doing evil, however, He gave us a choice to do good or evil. God does not rape your love from you. He lets you choose to love Him. We choose the evil. He only allows us to make a choice of our own. You act as though He should force our love out of us. That would make our lives easier, but it would take a lot away from being human, wouldn’t it? I think I’m glad we have a choice.

Really, you’ve little option but to believe in Jesus Christ. He is a factual historical figure whose existence has been proven numerous times. It is factual that He lived and was crucified. These things are not debated. What is debated is whether or not He is the Son of God. In the end, you have to make the decision whether or not you believe him to be God’s Son, however, I can tell you that the Old Testament, written before He was born, prophesies His birth and life some 300 (I believe) times, each of which is specifically fulfilled in the New Testament.

You act as if Christianity demands tithes, or damns you. It does not. You may choose whether to tithe or not, and while a Christian should be willing, he is not damned in failing to do so. God does not need our money, however, He asks for it as it is a sacrifice showing our commitment and dedication to Him, and can be used in an earthly manner, by men like ourselves, to serve others. Christianity does not, however, extort your money. There have been days, and denominations, in which this was done, however, this is no more the case. There are evil men in every church who will use that church to do evil things and gain personally, by, for instance, extorting money. However, this is not something sanctioned by the religion itself.

In all honesty, we all have a religion, and we all have faith in something. Religion is something you pursue with zeal, if you check the definition, and you are zealously making an effort to discredit my faith. In this, you have a religion of your own. You put your faith in science, without knowledge or proof of its validity. Every day, we all put faith in things we cannot, in any way, prove. Your faith in science is no different than my faith in Christ as God’s Son. It is no more sufficient, no more valid, and no more legiitimate. I deserve no more than you to be called “slightly retarded” or a “crazy person.” I don’t deny that much of science is legitimate and valuable, however, I do believe that God can coexist with science. Science is simply natural law, and I believe God created that law along with the universe. In creation, you can even see a “style of sorts.” You might have noted that every single thing is made up of smaller things. Cells of atoms, beings of cells, solar systems of planets, galaxies of solar systems, universe[s] of galaxies. Each of these things has a core, or nucleus, of sorts, with various, less dense, surrounding material. This cannot, however, be attributed solely to scientific law, as the cells and atoms do not attain this state from simple gravity, but from magnetism and other means, which, while similar, is not a matter of gravity. This, truly, is an undeniable “style” of creation, I believe. Everything of something smaller, be it in nature, in society… everything is made of many small pieces, in in the natural state, these small pieces generally have the same orientation towards the whole (ie universes, galaxies, solar systems, planets, cells, atoms). Of course, this is all faith. You may believe it to be a creation of its own. I believe it a creation of God. Neither of us can truly prove the other wrong. Of course, in an infinite universe, the odds of the existence of God truly HAVE to be 1, or 100%. In any case, I would love to see the “scientific” odds of the existence of God vs. the existence of the universe, as it is, occurring without outside intervention and orchestration. Statistically, there are too many “givens” for it to occur without some sort of direction, and statistically, I would almost be willing to guarantee that the existence of God is more likely than a lack of Him.

(Post 3)
Actually, organized religion is specifically what led to the colonization and establishment of North America. Protestants came here seeking freedom to practice their religious beliefs. Ultimately, this began a movement towards “freedom,” which is the same movement sweeping the world today. The concept of the freeman determining his own destiny grew in strength specifically as a result of the strength of North American nations in modern times, which resulted particularly from these individuals seeking religious freedom.

You claim we should not be Creationists. I ask you, however, how this harms you. It does not, in any way. This is my faith, and I’ve every right to believe it as it is. Equally, I am not “homophobic.” I detest homosexuality, however, I have nothing against those who are involved in it. I do not have to believe in what you do to avoid “hating,” or even disliking you. Why can’t we disagree without you claiming hatred on my part? Surely, there are some hateful Christians, however, their hate parts ways with their religious values. Were they sticking to their values, they would hae noe hatred int heir hears for these people. Really, it is rather hateful of you to believe that I cannot disagree with your values without holding hatred for you personally in my heart. You really do appear to detest a portion of Christianity. You don’t have to, however, and I can’t help but wonder why. We do not hate you, though we respectfully choose to disagree with your beliefs. Can’t we disagree and get along?

You mentioned donations. After you’ve attempted to discredit Christianity in so many ways, I would have hoped that you would have recognized the charitable good Christianity has done. This religion literally sends billions of dollars every year to help the needy, as Christ called on us to do. I don’t really want you to show us recognition, however, if you want to point out negatives, please don’t ignore the positives, of which there are many. Truthfully, in the Christian doctrine, the words of Christ Himself, you cannot spot one negative thing. The only negatives you ever see of Christianity are where we, as Christians, fail to live up to our obligations. This is regrettable, as Christ’s message is truly flawless. Unfortunately, we, although Christians, are still only human, and therefore, we will make mistakes.

I don’t know if you will ever decide to believe in Christianity. You may not even know, at this point. The decision is yours. Regardless of your decision, I hope you will take a second look at the faith itself, simply for the purpose of recognizing that it is, in and of itself, a positive, good doctrine. We may not always live it as we should, and we may not always follow it as Christians, however, if we did, the world would surely be a better place. Please don’t fault the values of my faith for my inability to live up to them. Unfortunately, I’m simply not a good enough man to do it. All I can do is give my best effort, and ask the Lord to forgive me where I fall short.

Respectfully, and with best wishes,


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