We don’t need religious morality

I’ve heard the argument many times about how religious morality is the only objective set of moral beliefs, and that without religion morals are nonexistent and thus we need religion. I disagree with this for a couple of reasons. First of all, each religion has their own set of moral codes that claim to be objective based on their books. This means each individual religion has a moral theory separate from the others’. They then look at atheism and see that it has no specific moral theory, so they figure that it must not have objective moral truths. This is true for atheism as a whole, it does not have one moral theory attributed to it. However, that’s because atheism is not a moral theory, it is a cosmogonic theory and a natural theory. Atheism in principle says nothing about morals because it is not concerned with that. The reason that ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is an objective moral truth in religion is because religious moral theory defines moral truths to be those that god commands. It is objective because you have set up guidelines for moral truths, and that falls into the guideline of being one of god’s commandments. On the other hand, atheists can create this type of moral truth in the same way, they simply have to define their terms. If an atheistic moral theorist argues (like I might) that morality is based upon the well being and health of humans, and to be moral is to promote well being and health, then we have a foundation for objective moral truth. We can say with surety that rape is immoral because it does not promote well being and health, and we have an objective moral truth.

We have to see religious morals as what they are, simply theories. There are so many of them that they must each be given equal weight, and because of this no one religion can claim objective moral truths based on the existence of their god, because each religion can do the same. Instead we need to go off of our innate sense of right and wrong, which in many cases contradicts religious morality. For example, in the old testament god commands genocide against moabites and canaanites. This was used for centuries to declare holy war as an objectively moral action. However, nowadays many of us question whether this was in fact moral. In “Is God a moral monster” Paul Copan argues that god set up his morals based on the society that existed at the time, and that the morals used then are not applicable now. If this is true, why should we take religious morals to mean anything? He claims that because killing and stealing are consistently defined as immoral throughout the religious texts, they are objectively immoral and cannot be argued. I agree with the conclusion here but not the thinking. In his worldview, the old testament was  the first moral code by god, and the  new testament was simply an update on the moral code of god. In this respect, why don’t we have an update yet? It’s been thousands of years and yet the same moral codes apply to us as did the people living in the first millennium? I think religious morality is shaky at best, and when we follow it we are ignoring the great debate of moral philosophy by copping out. We say, we already figured it out no need to think about it more. This is frustrating for me, especially because much of religious moral philosophy include things like slavery, holy war, and the subjugation of women.

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2 comments on “We don’t need religious morality
  1. A huge problem with religious morality is that it is based on something that is open to interpretation. If I can reinterpret the scriptures of whatever religion to suit my own chosen morals, then the basis for those morals is unstable. And we know that religious texts can be interpreted to suit a wide spectrum of theological preferences due to volume of differences in denominations or sects within each religion.

  2. List of X says:

    The problem with religion-based morals is that they could always have religion-based exceptions: “thou shall not kill, except infidels are ok”; “thou shall not commit adultery, but concubines are acceptable”, and so on.

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