Sunday, November 16, 2008

Smite Makes Right

I was reading an article on Slate a couple of weeks ago: "Does Religion Make You Nice?" It opens with the sentence: "Many Americans doubt the morality of atheists." In the opening paragraph Paul Bloom relates to us that in one of her books, conservative commentator Laura Schlessinger "approvingly quotes Dostoyevsky: 'Where there is no God, all is permitted.'"

I suspect, that one could re-write that as: "Many Americans doubt the morality of humans." Schlessinger's version of morality requires a belief in God because it's not about a commitment to ethical behavior - it's about obedience. The divinely-established morality of conservative religiousity doesn't require any cohesive, objective or independent understanding of right versus wrong. God's will and word is what makes right, and is to be followed, even when it is self-contradictory (despite the fact that "You will not kill" is one of the Bible's famed Ten Commandments, capital punishments abound) or leads to effects that one might otherwise be considered wrong or unethical.

This model operates on an understanding that the divine is in the role of a cosmic parent - someone who enforces discipline on a herd of self-centered, willful children, who might be well-meaning, but are incapable of fully internalizing the rules, and therefore WILL, if not carefully watched, do things that they aren't supposed to - even while thinking that their actions are, if not acceptable, completely justified.

Once you start to equate people with a state of perpetual spiritual childhood, it becomes more evident that morality MUST be an external force, that acts to suppress and control the irresponsible and potentially damaging impulses of the overall populace. And in the face of a controlling force that doesn't routinely (or ever) make itself objectively known (while many people claim to have a personal relationship with the Divine, no-one have ever managed to introduce Him to their friends in person, or get Her to be the guest of honor at their dinner parties) you're going to have people that doubt its existence. And in the same way that a child who doubts that a parent will catch them at anything is more likely to "behave badly," a person who doesn't acknowledge the existence of a punishing deity is unlikely to tailor their behavior simply to avoid divine sanction.

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