15 November 2014

A.C. Grayling on the immorality of (Fundamentalist) Religion

Not intending to offend my religious friends, I find the following from humanist philosopher A. C. Grayling's The God Argument: the Case Against Religion and for Humanism interesting and provocative, if a bit tendentious:

[R]eligion is a bad source of moral insight. This is not least because it is in fact either irrelevant to questions of morality, or it is positively immoral. This claim undoubtedly seems contradictory or merely polemical at first, but reflection shows otherwise.
   Consider the primitive form of Christian morality as set down in the New Testament, which collects the religion's foundational documents. In a few respects it is the same as all other moral systems, in enjoining brotherly love and charity: that is a commonplace of any reflection on what would make for good lives and societies. But then it differs, with its own particular set of injunctions: give away all your possessions, take no thought for tomorrow (consider the lilies of the field), do not resist anyone or anything evil (turn the other cheek), obey the authorities (render unto Caesar), turn your back on your family if they disagree with you, do not marry unless you cannot contain yourself sexually. This is the morality of people who genuinely believe that next week or next month the world was to end, that this world does not matter — indeed, is ripe for the furnace — and that one should ignore its demands and realities.
   This is not a livable morality. The additions of the church, claiming to have continuing authority in revealing the deity's requirements, and further irrelevancies and distractions. To live as a serious person in a world of many difficulties and demands, one needs something vastly richer and deeper than these anchoritic nostrums, hence the irrelevance claim.
   The immorality comes hard on its heels. When fundamentalists of one or another religious tradition deny rights to gays, deny education and health care to women, practice genital mutilation, amputate limbs as a punishment, stone adulterers to death, use murder against those they oppose, extol suicide bombing in acts of terrorism in the name of their faith, religion becomes positively immoral.
  Much religious energy is devoted to interfering in and controlling sexual behavior, either by prohibiting most forms of it, together with representations and even thoughts of it, or by preventing sensible management of its consequences as in the case of abortion. In countries where the religious cannot stone or imprison those they regard as sexual malefactors, they send the press complaining letters about nudity on the cinema screen and teenagers buying the morning-after pill while ignoring the fact that automatic rifles, handguns, shells, cluster bombs and rocket launchers are being exported from the country they live in to regions of the world gripped by poverty and Civil War. With such examples in contrast, religion has little to offer moral debate.

    My only argument with this is that by using the word "religion" to essentially mean fundamentalist monotheism, he is conflating things that are not in fact equivalent. Many people find consolation in religion without believing it to be the sole source of what is good and moral. But the point as to those who insist that all morality must derive from revealed religion is, I think, quite right.

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