Saturday, 28 July 2007

Morals, Part I: Separating Morals and Religion

Of late, I seem to be confronted quite a bit with regards to the issue of morals, whether it is online or otherwise.

An atheist friend, of whom I was recently of acquaintance, posted me a set of rather challenging questions, some of which I hope to present them adequately, without the usual lame quips and sniggers (tsk tsk).

By conservative accounts, I should fall under the category of "extremely indulgent/immoral" infidel: I love sex outside the normal realms of marriage, generally ignore calls for myself to be married, drink my occasional beer and whiskey, smoke my cigars and.......well, I break most of these traditional, archaic rules without so much as batting an eyelid. Well, I guess you could call me loose, although that sounds kind of insulting (loose change doesn't sound flattering. Neither is a "loose" person), or an infidel (That sounds cool, but turn the clock a few hundred years back, and this ignominious charge would have caused me to lose my head literally).

In short, most people will consider myself a poor critic of morals, if morals were to be preset along the lines of religion and conservatism. Having said that, it is because of my aversion towards the norms of morality, which ironically allows me to explore the outer limits of morals and mere trivialities.

With that, I shall proceed to present my anachronistic views concerning morals.

Absolute, Religious Morals

One of the most disconcerting, prevailing trends I hate to contend with is the constant trumpeting of morals by our religious brethren: The argument goes that God, the high and almighty deity who creates us in his own image, bestows upon us the ability to differentiate right from wrong, good and evil, and so on. As a deity-dependent race, we lean upon this deity as a metaphoric crutch, and derive our morals from this deity in the form of scriptures, written by illiterate, desert tribes or a distant, bygone era.

In fact, our inference to morals almost always invokes a scripture of some sort: Whether it is the Koran, the Bible or the Torah, the respective religions unequivocally refer to their respective holy books for advice with regards to morals.

Because of this stubborn insistence to equate morals with religion, morals have become rigid and stymied to become unreasonable laws unto themselves, yet flexible enough to allow religion to wrought the most unspeakable crimes in human history.

In particular, scriptures from the Torah and the Old Testament (the birth of the wretched Trinity: Christianity, Catholicism and Islam) tend to present us with the most succinct examples of such a spell-binding way of enthralling the masses with absurd morals. Witches, of all people, cannot be allowed to thrive; that such women are insufferable to the Jews became bound by the OT as absolute, irrevocable law. Mose's tablet of Ten Commandments, however, is given a far more liberal leeway: "Thou shalt not murder" is one law that does not seem to border the OT Christian tribes one bit (if you believe the stories are authentic, that is), as Christian tribes maul and unleash their loving wraths upon their neighboring, infidel tribes with gee, not to mention the booty that was to be shared amongst the faithful. Apparently, murder is ok, as long as your victims are of the broomstick sort who fancy a hot night brewing some strange concoctions in a dinghy little kitchen, plus those who happen to worship another deity that is supposed to make your God feel jealous and perhaps a little inferior (The patriarchal Gods of monotheism tend to be a little too chauvinistic, plus a little bit of inferiority complex syndrome).

In short, religious morals tend to bend in accordance to the will and whim of an imagined deity: Nothing at all is mentioned about conforming to evolving philosophical and moral concepts that would genuinely benefit mankind and civilization.

Absolutist, non-conformist laws are thus the hallmarks of archaic religions. The older the religion, the less likely people will conform to them. This trend, however, is not the benevolent result of religion: 3 centuries of enlightened thinking and secular humanism in Europe has been infused into our memes. This could explain why a fundamentalist Christian is less prone to violence of the suicidal kind (i.e terrorism) than its more violent counterpart, the fundamentalist Muslim.

The Conjoined Twins: Morality & Religion

One of the most perplexing questions concerning morals is the attempt to forcibly separate this mismatched pair of conjoined twins: If morals cannot be derived from religion, then from whence do we seek the most suitable set of moral codifications?

In a bid to elucidate this supposed conundrum, I would first examine the role of religion, and why its rigid set of morals do not conform with society's more humane needs.

Since the advent of time, Man, as a more intelligent animal, has seek to understand his realm, and the predicament he finds himself in. Unlike his quadrupled counterparts, Man has the inane ability to seek knowledge, and unfortunately, his extreme physical weakness, combined with his sheer intellect, combined to give him the sort of limbo that would be his bane for millennial.

There was much that early humans observed, but couldn't possibly comprehend. He learned, for example, that the Sun provided warmth, and it was the Sun that provided sustenance for his crops. Exactly how this rather miraculous events spun about to ensure his survival, Man knoweth not. Natural disasters, wild animals, and diseases threaten his existence, and conspire to wreck fear into his heart. This intense awareness of greatness and weakness were the direct results of his intellect, but in a bid to understand unfathomable phenomenons, he became too smart for his own good: He created his own deities, all of whom were fabricated in his own nasty, convoluted image, attaching these deities to the respective phenomena which he could not explain (Poseidon for the Sea, Thor for Thunder, and so on).

Because of the importance of the Sun to the livelihood of early Man, we find that religions in many parts of the globe tend to revolve around the Sun God: In West Africa Fon People have their Sun God, Liza, while the Chinese have ten suns, 9 of which were shot down by an indignant archer. And the Egyptians, too, have their Sun God, Ra, and so on.

Imagine, then, if these ancients were to learn, to their chagrin, that the Sun is no more anthropomorphic than a fiery ball of gas and other violent chemical reactions, that the tides rise and ebb without the invoking of deities. Would they have expended their energies into building massive temples, churches, pyramids and other places of worship? Would they have sacrificed unto their altars virgins, babies, goats and an assortment of other bloodletting sacrifices, all in the name of some imagined, bloodthirsty deity?

To compound this religious problem that had obviously arose from ignorance, the subsequent emergence of Kings and monarchies gave rise to the ill-effects of theocracy and feudalism. Religion became the accomplice of the most vile and vicious: Ancient Kings and aristocrats have no qualms about sharing their ill-gotten gains with priests and bishops, in return for beguiling the masses to contribute taxes, soldiers and other forms of outrageous demands to boost the war chests and booty of the high and Almighty.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the enigmatic and highly charismatic French Emperor, summed it up nicely: "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich." Religion works hand in hand with tyranny, and few understood this more succinctly than Napoleon Bonaparte.

If nepotism, tyranny and all the ills of monarchy depend on religion as a crutch, then religion would do well to borrow its inspiration from morals: By stressing on codified, uniform behavior which would ensure that the powers-that-be can sit comfortably on their thrones (render unto Caesar that which belongs to him), Religion becomes entwined with what I call the real axis of evil: Theocracy, Nepotism and Corruption.

In the modern day context, politicians who expound and proclaim about the virtues of their respective deities are left off the hook, free to commit every unspeakable crime unto individuals and even whole nations with virtual immunity from those who voted for them in the first place. Priests are allowed to wantonly molest kids because no one would dare point a finger at the parish for fear of a religious backlash. Anyone who even remote makes an unkind remark on some long-forgotten prophet is hurled with abuses and death threats.

Why, you might ask? Because religion is spoken almost in the same breath as morals. If one criticizes religion, one is automatically labeled as an outcast, an infidel, a charge, which in ancient law, demands death upon the offender.

If civilization wishes to progress morally, it is imperative that the chains that religion has wrought and enslaved civilization unto themselves and the powers-there-be, be broken and severed from human consciousness.

What, then, would replace religion, which has been nothing but an almost calamitous curse upon our civilization and indeed, our spirits? Do we really need another moral code to guide us for another millennial? Or perhaps, we have all along harbor an inane code of morality that has, in any case, been our moral compass since the advent of civilization???

(Watch out for Part II)

7 comments:

breakerslion said...

I think that the term "morality" is hopelessly tainted. I think we should discard it in favor of "ethics". The US Army used to, and probably still does, offer up "moral dilemmas” to determine if troops had the right attitude. The most famous one deals with driving a truck full of soldiers toward a bridge that is obstructed by a child playing in the roadway. You honk, but the child won’t move. Do you stop? The “correct” answer is “no”. This could be an ambush, and you are responsible for the lives of the soldiers in the truck. This is not a moral dilemma. You have committed an immoral act by running over the child. Somebody (the child) got screwed. You can lay it on the heads of the hypothetical ambushers, the US Army for putting you there, or on an inattentive parent, but the fact is, you did the right thing, and the right thing to do was immoral. Morality is not the only, or the ultimate consideration in every decision. The trick is to live with the decision and not spend the rest of your life second-guessing. I think one of the most harmful aspects of religion is that it trains one to live in the past.

L>T said...

That's a good take on Christian morals. I'm looking forward to part II

knicksgrl0917 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BEAST said...

Breakerslion:

I have often argued the fact that "morals", or ethics in your opinion, must always be compared with two polemic, diametrically opposed qualities.

In the case you have mentioned, when you need to choose between the lives of your own soldiers and the children involved, it would definitely help if a third moral factor is taken into account (whether the truck can be reversed, or steps taken to check whether it is an ambush, etc). Of course, it is very easy for me to say this, since wars are far more complicated, but again, wars are basically unethical in the first place,if you know what I mean.

I>T:

I wouldn't have been writing this subject if my friends haven't kept pestering me for a take on this. I hope they read this and stop bothering me.

Beast

Anonymous said...

Morality or ethics or whatever you choose to call it, can be simplified thus :

Is a moral act appropriate in a given situation? Is it designed to do the most good?

Is conforming to a moral act absolutely necessary?

If, by not conforming to the moral act in question, leads to more liberation and personal freedom at the expense of pragmatic concerns, is such an act justified?

If ethics are to be abolished, what would take its place? Overthrowing established values will mean another set will take its place. Then, the values formerly rejected by conventionality becomes the establishment, an universal yardstick in which 'lesser values' are weighed, judged and found wanting. A cycle thus ensues.

Ethics is a gray area. Is there such a thing as objective and subjective in this murkiness? Or is the interpretation of wrong and right validated by authority and not necessarily the judgment of the individual?

For instance, murder and rape are outlawed in civilizations, but the same restrictions are waived when some authority sanctioned such violent acts in the name of god, king and country.

What may accepted as the norm to someone may be anathema to another.
The homosexual community view restrictions of gay unions a blatant infringement of their human rights. Yet many others, also justify their objections by pointing out the problems the gay population may bring to their culture.

I believe that morals and ethics, with regards of being viable or not, simply transcend with merely being a matter of subjectivity or objectivity. Certain yardsticks must be in place to provide a stable framework in which society can thrive, but on the other hand, leeways must be granted because humankind are creatures of free will.

Ethics and morality? It's all about balance.

Anonymous said...

Morality or ethics or whatever you choose to call it, can be simplified thus :

Is a moral act appropriate in a given situation? Is it designed to do the most good?

Is conforming to a moral act absolutely necessary?

If, by not conforming to the moral act in question, leads to more liberation and personal freedom at the expense of pragmatic concerns, is such an act justified?

If ethics are to be abolished, what would take its place? Overthrowing established values will mean another set will take its place. Then, the values formerly rejected by conventionality becomes the establishment, an universal yardstick in which 'lesser values' are weighed, judged and found wanting. A cycle thus ensues.

Ethics is a gray area. Is there such a thing as objective and subjective in this murkiness? Or is the interpretation of wrong and right validated by authority and not necessarily the judgment of the individual?

For instance, murder and rape are outlawed in civilizations, but the same restrictions are waived when some authority sanctioned such violent acts in the name of god, king and country.

What may accepted as the norm to someone may be anathema to another.
The homosexual community view restrictions of gay unions a blatant infringement of their human rights. Yet many others, also justify their objections by pointing out the problems the gay population may bring to their culture.

I believe that morals and ethics, with regards of being viable or not, simply transcend with merely being a matter of subjectivity or objectivity. Certain yardsticks must be in place to provide a stable framework in which society can thrive, but on the other hand, leeways must be granted because humankind are creatures of free will.

Ethics and morality? It's all about balance.



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