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I’m continuing my reporting on the next installment from Conservative Estimate, the recently founded website that is devoted to demolishing Conservatism.

Yesterday, Alfred George showed that the last two sources of religious truth, moral sentiments and right reason, are not sufficiently sturdy to support moral behavior in society.

Today he shows that Religion cannot deliver on its claims of absolute morality and that Religion is not at the root of every society question.

The account is after the double orange bubble-and-squeak.

Mr. George begins by pointing out that, though Religion continually claims to possess absolute moral principles, it always produces only relative moral principles:

Religion does not have a great track record regarding absolutes. Different religions preach different absolutes, and even the same religion may preach different absolutes at different times. Such “absolutes” look suspiciously like “relatives,” since they seem to change depending on place and time.
To compensate for not actually being able to deliver the promised absolutes, Religion simply insists that it has:
Most religions make up for this lack of certainty about their putative absolutes by mere insistence. Someone authoritative—let’s say God—laid down their absolutes. So who are you to question them? This attitude is fine for believers within the particular religion, but it has no force for anyone else.
He concludes that religion can't support its claim to deliver moral absolutes.

He then goes on to note that many religionists, probably under the delusion that they actually possess moral absolutes, believe that their personal religion has to enter into every aspect of their lives, and especially into every question of politics. In this Mr. George says, they are simply mistaken:

Here they fail to see the difference between their lives as individuals and their lives as members of, and contributors to, the society in which they live. Since many members of society may not share their particular religious beliefs, religious people ought not to expect everyone to subscribe to their particular notions of right and wrong.
Mr. George then points out that the demand for everyone else to live according to one's own principles, and to try to punish them for failing to do so—
all this is a form of self-interest. The insistence that everyone act in accordance with your beliefs is a demand clearly centered in the self.

Religious people try shift this selfishness off onto God. They maintain that it is not they who make the demand, but God. Unfortunately, different religions and different sects tell us that God is making contradictory demands—which cannot be the case. Faced with this impossibility, every religion simply asserts that they have the real secret . . . .

All this selfishness runs contrary to the first principle of society, which, as we saw when we discussed the Myth of Competition, is cooperation. When viewed as having a monopoly on truth, religion can do nothing to reduce self-interest, to limit self-centered opinions, or to curb self-serving demands. . . .

The vast majority of believers, therefore, cannot bring their religion to bear on the problems of society, all of which involve discovering ways to increase cooperation. Under these conditions, political questions must not have anything whatsoever to do with religious questions: self-centered religion can do nothing to remove the selfishness that destroys the cooperative principle of society.

Hence it is not true that political questions need to be controlled by religious beliefs. On the contrary, because of their uncooperative tendencies, religious people are almost uniquely unsuited to handle society's problems.

It is simply not true that every political question is ultimately a religious one. In fact, the selfishness of religion at the present time makes it especially unsuited to deal with any of the problems of society.

You can read the whole post here.

Tomorrow Mr. George wiil show that politics and society are not, and ought not be, subservient to Religion.

I’ll be reporting back each day as a new installment appears.

Originally posted to ThePlainThinker on Tue Dec 11, 2012 at 05:43 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  So, to summarize in my words (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mindara, radarlady, tytalus, atana

    Absolute morality in a given religious group is only described as absolute and enforced as such when these values support the selfish interests of the group's current religious leadership.  If the selfish interests of the leadership changes, then so does the "absolute" morality that they espouse and enforce in others.

    So, to answer your question, who made religion king? I would answer it this way:  Religion was made king by religious leaders who have an interest in ruling a kingdom (or a church or flock) while actual kings and politicians see a benefit in elevating and using these pre-organized groups for their own selfish interests.  It is, in other words, a knighthood based on the interests of those in a position to make the rules.  

  •  Religion creates morality (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mindara, Teknocore, radarlady, atana

    Actually it's the opposite way around. Homo Sapiens created a morality that guided human behavior during the 130,000 years of our existence. It's what makes us work as a society. But unlike most of our animal cousins we are capable of observing the fact that we are observers. We can create complex moral models to embody our moral beliefs. Religion hoists itself up to a position of importance by climbing over the ladder of human morality, and so many times just gets it wrong.  Religions say that thou shalt not kill. That morality is part and parcel of being human in a working society. Religion adds nothing to it except that it doesn't quite get it right. The most conservative of our religions are the most blood thirsty, demanding death for sinners and death to our enemies or even death to the enemies of our friends. As George showed, the religious then justify their extreme positions by transferring that belief to an absolute god. The older I get the clearer it is to me that religion adds nothing. You can get to the good aspects of religion without believing. But you can't generate the absolute passion for your beliefs over others without religion. Religion doesn't product absolute morality but it does produce absolute belief that your morality is the only true morality, a hypothesis that is ridiculously easy to disprove.

  •  Every living system requires regulation (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Teknocore, radarlady

    of its processes in order to survive. Societies are living systems with processes carried out by individual behaviors. Ethics, morality and law are regulatory systems. None of them are ever perfect or optimal; they evolve over time, and like all products of evolution, they can preserve many historical quirks and frozen accidents.

    No doubt attributing morality to gods has been useful, especially to priests, in many times and places. But at least as early as Plato's dialog Euthypho, ca 400 BC, the idea that morality depends on religion could be shown to be problematic.

    Plato thought that ethics exists as abstract forms, like logic or mathematics, well outside the realm of any putative deities. In contemporary terms, we can view ethics as evolutionary strategies. Some ethical strategies benefit society and lead to their own continuance; some harm society and are eventually self-limiting as a result. But there are also parasitic strategies that harm society's long term survival prospects, like diseases that kill their hosts. And there are helpful strategies that may be pushed out by harmful ones -- e.g. the benefits of freely available scientific information can be stifled by excessive intellectual property rights.

    All of which suggests that ethics and morality can be studied analytically and may become social sciences... but we are unlikely to learn much about them from theology

    However, religion too can be viewed as social behavior that has persisted throughout human existence, and this begs for a similar analysis. Merely excoriating logical errors of religion seems unlikely to dispel them, to judge from Plato's failed attempt 2,400 years ago. It might be more useful to try to understand, in scientific terms, what has made religion so enduring a fact of human existence.

  •  In the modern context, the religious wars of the (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Teknocore, radarlady, atana

    Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries did, where people died for their confessions, and the Founding Fathers did not want to have that happen here, and wrote in the anti establishment clause without being clear about what 'establishment' meant, so as to allow distinguishing between a government buildingandpaying for a church and staff of a particular confession only, and giving huge gobs of money to religious institutions to run schools and hospitals run in accordance with only the recipient's moral notions, and guaranteeing free exercise of religion withouth remembering that for many their free exercise is defined by their ability to force their views on those who do not share them.  In the most current iteration, religions' practice has been when enshrined in the Constitution a defense to many an act or omission which in a person not relying on a religious defense is called a felony.

    •  There are religions without an all-powerful god (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Teknocore, radarlady

      e.g shamanism, which was probably the prehistoric progenitor of all religions. People have believed in and practiced religions in which a "God" was not important.

      But what all religions do accept is the existence of spirits. In shamanism, there are spirits of ancestors and many nature spirits. Over time, some of the nature spirits grew into "gods" with priesthoods -- and if one priesthood should prevail over all others politically, monotheism can emerge.

      •  And, of course, some forms of Buddhism (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        radarlady, GDbot, atana

        Some forms of Buddhism, as I understand it, see only two real things in the universe:  Nirvana, a state of non-being, and Karma, a law of cause and effect in nature that acts impersonally on all moral action in a way that is similar to how gravity acts on mass as described in physics.  Everything else in this form of Buddhism is just a manifestation of the temporary state of being.   Even the historical Buddha, according to this view, was a temporary manifestation of being that is now extinguished for good.  

        What I find interesting about this view is that Karma still acts as a place-holder for a kind of god.  Karma records your moral choices just as the Western God does, it's just that Karma does this impersonally, without approval or anger or anything like a grudge.  It's a god that doesn't care what you do, but doles out consequences for your actions all the same. True or not, it's a fascinating way of looking at the universe.  

        •  Most Buddhist traditions do have gods (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          and boddhisattvas though, because Buddhism syncretized many deities of earlier religions, just as Christianity made them saints.  So e.g. Tara, who was a Tibetan forest goddess similar to the original Durga (who was a tiger goddess, in pre-Vedic times), became a boddhisattva.

          It's interesting that non-western religions don't generally focus on creation as the defining act of the most powerful god. E.g. Brahma, the Vedic Hindu creator, is not the head of the pantheon, who is either Shiva or Vishnu depending on the form of Hinduism practiced. In the ancient Greek religion, the creation did not involve a creator god at all, and none of the Greek gods ever claimed to be the creator. In Abrahamic religions, the creator god gets all his authority from the fact that he is the creator. This is derived from the Babylonian creation story Enuma Elish, in which Marduk becomes king of the gods by killing his mother Tiamat and building the universe out of her severed body parts. There are echoes of this creation story in the OT: "Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength: thou didst break the heads of the dragons in the waters". Tiamat was a sea-dragon.

    •  That's a concept created by human (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pete Cortez, radarlady

      imagination, of  course!

      So who made religion king?   We (i.e., humans collectively) did . . .  seems to meet some innate inner need (like drinking water, or other thing, and listening to Celine Dion music).   Not saying that we're a sensible species, but we are what we are.

  •  Simple Answer (4+ / 0-)

    YOU DID....and by that I mean American society as a whole.

    The USA is very much out of kilter with other western states in the degree it pays its kow tows to religion in every aspect of public life, and particularly its politics.

    Factors that saw the erosion of the role of religion and its popularity in European countries, such as the two world wars (and particularly WW1), if anything had the opposite effect in the USA.

    There have been reams of papers and stacks of books written on the subject, and the manifold reasons contained therein are too complex and numerous to touch on here.

    But mainly the reason that in the US religion is still king is you my American chums. Because despite every single time religion pooped in the coop you sat back and did nothing to make sure it didnt happen again. YOU let the rise of the Religulous Reich aka Religious Right happen. You let them hijack your politics and society.

    Good news....that seems to be changing now and the lashback has begun.

    If you want to make a personal contribution to the fight its really simple.... just never vote for any politician or public official who spouts religion, and make that very public by writing to them and the papers to explain why.

    Good luck mates, cos from my side of the Atlantic the USA looks like Iran Lite.

    •  This didn't "just happen" (0+ / 0-)

      Powerful, monied interests such as the Kochs and Rupert Murdoch decided it would be useful for their agenda to pump up the power of religion in the US. Much as Constantine the Great gave those bishops who supported him fancy basilica, the TV icons of right-wing religion were set up by money, because they would preach a God that was useful to the monied.

      Americans were admittedly more vulnerable to this attack that many Europeans, because of our anti-intellectualism.

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