(This is a transcript of Al Stefanelli’s “Voice Of Reason” segment on my American Heathen® Internet Radio Show)
“With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” – Steven Weinberg
If something is good simply because a god has commanded it, then anything that a god commands could be considered good. Of course, this means that the very nature of the diverse interpretations of holy books and the resultant actions that are perpetrated on our society gives no way to predict what god might desire next. Ergo, bashing babies on rocks, flying airplanes into buildings and murdering physicians would just as likely be as good as loving your enemy, giving to the poor and taking care of widows and orphans.
On the other hand, if god given commandments are based on the inherent goodness of an act, then we have a standard of goodness independent of god. Thus, a god cannot be the source of morality and we must seek it though the world in which we have evolved. And we have found it.
Enlightened Self Interest…
Enlightened Self Interest is behavior that maximizes the intensity and duration of personal gratification while cooperating with others in a selfless, altruistic manner. But, cooperation is a two-way street. By default, it demands reciprocity. This is where justice comes in. Justice determines fairness, allowing cooperation to operate at peak efficiency.
Enlightened self-interest is both moral and ethical because it encompasses desire for personal happiness, the happiness of others, justice and cooperation. This is not selfishness, because from a secular point of view, selfishness is both immoral and unethical. It promotes behavior that often results in harm coming to others, which makes them unhappy, and in turn, makes us unhappy. Thus, in the words of Abraham Lincoln,
“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
The task of moral education is to help people to predict the consequences of actions they are considering. What will the long-term, short-term and immediate rewards be, and what will be the drawbacks? This is the basis for morality and ethics. No holy book, fear of punishment or reward by a mythical and non-existent deity is needed because evolution and natural selection have already solved the problem for us.
Religion, The Bad Apple In The Bushel…
Religion and it’s accompanying unnatural degradations, bigotry and intolerance are the result of vain attempts by ignorant men of long ago to accommodate human needs by basing moral and ethical behavior on the perceived commands and desires of mythical deities with bad attitudes. Religious morality is counter-productive to the survival of our species.
If we do not plant our ethics in the improvable and adaptable soil of science, then natural selection and our own willful ignorance will insure our demise in short order.
When mystical elements are introduced into morality, the whole system ends up being corrupted. A supernaturally based morality is removed from the natural human realm, where it is needed, and placed in an imaginary one. This removes human responsibility and allows horrific acts of violence to be passed off as morally acceptable if only for the sole reason that someone believes a god told them to do it. If you do not agree, then consider how religion can justify as morally acceptable actions such as genital mutilation, honor killings and flying airplanes into buildings. These are only a minuscule example of what happens when non-empirical and competing ideologies are flooded into a multi-cultural society. Serious doctrinal disputes often result in war and terrorism.
The basis of any religious moral code centers around the superstitious and imaginary dream world of those who have devised the code. This dream world cannot be verified by facts or observation, but must be accepted on faith alone. The basis of a secular moral code is human need. The understanding that what is good supports basic human rights and anything that threatens it is bad. We do not need a supernatural deity or an ancient holy book to determine this.
If we stay the course of what religion interprets as morality then the mysticism of the cult-du-jour will completely prevail over logic and reason and we will retrogress into barbarism where the death penalty is the required punishment for adulterers, homosexuals, disobedient children and countless other people. There are sitting US politicians that already believe these characteristics should be punishable by death.
Reason, Not Delusion, Continues To Advance Our Societies…
In spite of our societies being steeped in religion, every advancement we have made toward a tolerant society has come about through our use of reason. Reason is what defines humanity and insisting upon using faith to acquire knowledge flies in the face of everything that we have achieved as a race because doing so requires us to accept the imaginary as tangible, which is nothing more than an escape from reality.
This is known as delusion, and it is, for lack of a better definition, mental illness. It should come as no surprise when a religious person draws a completely different conclusion about reality than someone who uses logic and reason as their tools. The indoctrinated bases their world view on the arbitrary and the subjective, and encompasses their perceptions based on what they understand to be the desire and will of their deity. This process is almost completely emotional. Reliance is not based on objectivity, but unquestionable intuition that is not to be examined on a deeper level unless it does not veer from their scripture.
The end result is the believer being devoid of objective standards and each person of faith interpreting truth and morality in their own way. Subjective morality is problematic because it requires definition solely on the prejudices of their religious organization, leaving them without a discernible ability to determine right from wrong, rendering morality meaningless. This is irony at its zenith, because most fundamentalists preach against moral relativity. The cause of society’s moral collapse is religion, itself.
When a society removes moral responsibility by belief that the acquisition of knowledge comes from an unknown and mysterious venue, it loses its ability for rational conceptualization of values because they are stripped from the reality of this life and placed in an imaginary next life, which is a recipe for disaster. As we have seen, separate and subjective moral value systems are not conducive to conflict resolution in any way other than ultimately using force. The history of religion is a history of war. Another problem with rejecting reason as the foundation for morality is that anything that is contradictory to the religionist’s world view is rejected purely by emotion. Thus, we have a very well documented anti-intellectual attitude at the core of most religions, and this is promoted in their holy books, as well. Eve’s sin of eating from the tree of knowledge is a perfect example.
Self-Esteem v. Self-Degradation…
Plainly, there is nothing mysterious about morality. All we need is healthy self-esteem, the desire to learn and compassion for each other and we have won most of the fight to becoming a moral person. Christianity promotes the belief that humanity is born into the world already depraved and compares us as filthy rags in the sight of God’s eyes. Reason or logic doesn’t even come into the picture, but they cling to the belief that only the bible, with its primitive system of rewards and punishments, can hold society together. What they fail to understand is that much of the decay of modern society is due to the unquestioning acceptance of religious dogma and doctrine.
Religious morality is harmful and benefits no one. There is nothing inherently positive about pursuing a “higher” morality. It is detrimental to the health of the individual and to society when a literal acceptance of any “holy” book is adopted. It results in a false view of reality, destroys self-esteem and causes division on many different levels.
There is no god, there have never been any gods and the various saviors that are worshiped throughout the world, including the character portrayed as Jesus Christ have likely never existed. The fact that billions of people believe in gods does not reflect anything other than evidence of mass delusion. If our species is to survive, we must remove ourselves from the self-induced mental torture chamber that is religion.