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I’m continuing my reporting on the next installment from Conservative Estimate, the recently founded website that is devoted to demolishing Conservatism.

Yesterday Alfred George showed that by pointing out that “Religion is not a good basis for morality, and that using it to enforce morality generates weak and servile characters.”

Today he considers the reason why society does not need Religion to  will see why society does not need Religion to compel morality, and why Religion does not produce virtue in society.

Follow me across the orangey thingamajig for an account of today’s post.

Mr. George begins by noting that Immanual Kant discovered a different source of morality:

As Immanuel Kant pointed out long ago, there is another source of ethics and morals besides religion—a source that is even more reliable than religion. It is clear-sighted reason. A person attains the level of integrity mentioned yesterday by coming to understand that you should always do the right thing just because it is the right thing. Once a person truly sees that, all other internal forces and desires fall into line. Why would you do anything but the right thing if you really understood that it was the right thing?
He then points out that we need some training in order to see what is right, and that even once we have that training, we will still not always be able to tell what is right, simply because we are not omniscient. Under such conditions, we can only go with our best guess, and deal with the consequences later. If we follow this rule, “we can be sure that we will always be acting out of good will, which is perhaps the highest rule of all.”

The Myth of Religion is not nearly as good as clear-sighted reason:

The Myth of Religion, however, does not provide us with any way of mitigating the roots of bad behavior. By relying on the force of punishment, it keeps bad people divided in soul, and gives them no training in trying to see what is right and act on it.

Hence Religion is a weak substitute for integrity. To try to use it to restrain bad behavior in society is an insult to one’s fellow citizens, and a debasement of Religion itself—the purpose of which is to reconnect each individual to their spiritual source.

Mr. George then goes on to show that Religion cannot establish virtue in society because
using fear of divine retribution to control behavior does nothing to improve understanding of what is right. It only imposes rules and regulations, leaving people in ignorance about whether the rule and regulations actually are correct. If their fear is sufficiently great, some people will abide by those rules and regulations. But to the extent that their fear makes them susceptible, their character is submissive, and their personality is not integral. As a consequence, they will always be susceptible to a force that threatens a more terrible fear. Such people are not reliable actors in society.

Religion, therefore, is no guarantor of good behavior. The persistence of the Myth of Religion is a persistent bit of wish-fulfillment on the part of the human species. Despite more than enough historical evidence that Religion does not make a society moral, a great many people cling to the Myth that it does—probably because they don’t have the integrity themselves to see any other power but fear that can keep them in line. . . .

Religion, when used to frighten people into compliance with supposed divine retribution, simply cannot make a society moral or virtuous.

You can read the whole post here.

Tomorrow Mr. George will show that Religion claims to have three sources of truth: revelation, moral sentiment, and right reason. The he will take up the first of these sources and show that it is not reliable enough for the needs of society.

I’ll be reporting back each day as a new installment appears.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Comparitive religion from Oromis (5+ / 0-)

    My eleven year old son and I have been listening to an audio recording of "Eldest" by Christopher Paolini.  In the book, Eragon is being tutored by a wise old elf named Oromis.  My son and i heard this section yesterday:

    From Eldest by Christopher Paolini, page 541-4 (I cut a bit because the exchange is quite long):

    Eragon presented himself to Oromis and said, "Master, it struck me last night that neither you nor the hundreds of elven scrolls I've read have mentioned your religion.  What do elves believe?"

    A long sigh was Oromis's first answer.  Then: "We believe that the world behaves according to certain inviolable rules and that, by persistent effort, we can discover those rules and use them to predict events when circumstances repeat."

    "We only give credence to that which we can prove exists.  Since we cannot find evidence that gods, miracles, and other supernatural things are real, we do not trouble ourselves about them.  If that were to change, if Helzvog were to reveal himself to us, then we would accept the new information and revise our position."

    "It seems a cold world without something . . . more."

    "On the contrary," said Oromis, "it is a better world.  A place where we are responsible for our own actions, where we can be kind to one another because we want to and because it is the right thing to do, instead of being frightened into behaving by the threat of divine [punishment.  I won't tell you what to believe, Eragon.  It is far better to be taught to think critically and then be allowed to make your own decisions than to have someone else's notions thrust upon you.  You asked after our religion, and I have answered you true.  Make of it what you will."

    My son and I had a nice discussion.  I had little to add. Once in awhile my son's choice in literature turns up a gem.  
  •  Converting religion into philosophy (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady

    So Mr. George is making a philosophical critque of bad religion and that doesn't do anybody any harm.  A lot of religious people interpret their religion as a bad philosophy and wander into confusion.

    But really, religion is not philosophy and Christianity has its own resources within itself to advance the humanistic sensibilities suggested by Mr. George.  

    St. Paul writes:

    Now, dear brothers and sisters--you who are familiar
    with the law--don't you know that the law applies only while a person is living?

    Romans 7:1

    So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.

    Romans 7:3

    "But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit."

    Romans 7:6

    •  You are right that critiquing bad religion . . . (4+ / 0-)

      doesn't do any harm. As to the other issue, I think Mr. George has been clear that bona fide religions, religions that focus on a connection to God and through Him to all things, are not a problem at all.

      I think that the behavior of a person who tried to "live in the Spirit" would be pretty indistinguishable from one who tried to live according to "clear-sighted reason." After all, they would both be trying to do what is right just because it is right.

      •  I agree. (0+ / 0-)

        People who are moral and have "good hearts" would be that way with or without religion. And as history overwhelmingly shows us, religion often adds to the depth and breadth of corruption and bad acting.

        The mistake we have made and continue to make is to give these philosophies a pass from challenge and scrutiny and harsh critique because we have allowed them a level of respect and protection they don't deserve.  "Oh we can't challenge that idea because it's a religious belief" needs to stop.

    •  I agree the Gospel Jesus is humanistic. (0+ / 0-)

      The verses you quote give testament to the "good news" of Jesus' message.  

      Yet St. James tells us that, "Faith without works is dead."  
      Trying to find unity in the conflicting doctrine is a conundrum. Yet aren't the most true things always that way?

      The point Mr. George is making is that motivation counts.  When you do the right thing because you have thought about it and are acting from personal convicition you are solid. You won't be coerced into doing bad things in the name of your religion.....as the song sarcastically says...."Do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end."

      it is dangerous to ignore reality in order to comfort yourself, for once you do, you make it easy for others to deceive you.

    •  Really? You are going to pull out Paul's (0+ / 0-)

      writings as examples of humanism?

      •  Yup (0+ / 0-)

        With the stipulation that the Letters to Timothy are not written by Paul I do say that Paul was a radical humanist.

        What do you have in mind when you think otherwise?

        •  Oh, just women for starters. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          copithorne

          Or how about Titus 1:10-12?  Guess who gets it in the neck there?

          Paul was a very troubled person who felt he was better than everyone else because a god talked just to him and because he shunned sex.

          If you read The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty, you also find that the Christ he was talking about and believed in was not the one that was concocted by the early Roman church.

          •  Letters to Timothy and Titus (0+ / 0-)

            are definitely misanthropic.

            They were also written after Paul died and are misattributed to Saint Paul.

            I don't know if that makes a difference to your reading of him.

            Certainly the whole foundation of Paul's life and approach is the audacious belief that he could have a relationship with Jesus Christ after Jesus' death.  Such an idea is, as Paul says, "a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks."

            That is to say, it stands outside of moral law and rational philosophy.

            •  So there are letters from Paul (0+ / 0-)

              that are taught to Christians as letters from Paul that are not really letters from Paul?  If the church knew this when cobbling together what would and would not be in the New Testament, why didn't they make the correct attribution?  How many other letters from Paul aren't really letters from Paul?

          •  Titus 1:10 (0+ / 0-)

            And I looked up Titus 1:10-12 which only seems to insult the people of Crete.

            The people of Crete are cretins. Everyone knows that.

  •  Religious Right Christianity (3+ / 0-)

    is a political movement disguised as a religion.  You don't need to diminish the value of religion and Christian values to defend liberalism, because the four gospels are so liberal that they embarrass the crap out of the right.  It seems like reinterpreting Jesus to satisfy their political needs is almost a full time job for them.  You would think it would tire them after a while.

    Jesus would not have been a gun nut.  he wouldn't have wanted to deny water to Mexicans crossing the border into the US.  He wouldn't have condoned the torture of prisoners.  He wouldn't have yelled out, "Let them die!" at the Republican debates.  He would have told the people screaming about gay marriage to look to the mote in their own eye first.  He would have exhorted them to have pity and to help the poor and infirm and elderly.  We know all this about him because it's right there in print.  Even if it's all myth in the end, it's a liberal myth that makes them uncomfortable and forces them to take extreme measures to deny it.

    •  No, Jesus would have carried a sword. (0+ / 0-)

      He would have rejected the idea that his ideas were for all people (pearls before swine,  I came only for the house of Israel).  

      Leaving aside the fact that "Jesus" was most likely a fictional mythological character based upon OT writings and some pagan biographies, he exhibited behavior and made statements that fly in the face of the benign loving community activist that liberal Christians see when reading the gospels with their rose colored glasses.

      The reason the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) can not be sources of morality is because their texts, philosophies and the gods portrayed within them are not moral.

      •  Reconcile that with this, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cassandra Waites

        the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Hate to make you uncomfortable posting gospel, but it's that kind of discussion.  Keep in mind that Samaritans were heathens.  When he was asked how to love thy neighbor, he told this story:

        Jesus answered, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he travelled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, 'Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.' Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?"
        Full disclosure: I'm a Jew, not a Christian, don't really care if Christ really existed or not, don't believe in miracles or resurrections, etc.  But I think it's an unnecessary mischaracterization of a powerful voice of compassion and concern for your fellow man.  This is one reason why Bill O'Reilly rails so often against the "Social Justice" Christians.  People like him are uncomfortable with the real New Testament.  He really would like to imagine Jesus with a sword,.
        •  The reason that you and I can (0+ / 0-)

          point to totally different attitudes reflected by this character is because the reports of thing he said are totally made up. And since the authors of these texts weren't sitting right next to each other making sure that the stories matched, we get nice Jesus and not so nice Jesus.

          I don't know where you get "the real New Testament" as being different from the one where Jesus was rude to the pagan woman who asked him for help...who said he came with a sword to divide families against each other... who was rude to his mother at the wedding in Cana...who blew off his mother and siblings when they came to see him.... who killed a fig tree because it wouldn't give him fruit off season... who asked grown men to up and leave their families high and dry to follow him (no time even for one disciple to attend a family funeral)...   But most of all, the character of Jesus approved of the concept of hell and everlasting torture. This idea is immoral, period.  And Jesus was not above not only endorsing this idea, but threatening whole towns of people he never met with hell for not wanting to hear his preaching.

          I am constantly amazed that this character is presented as a model for morality.  Just the hell thing alone disqualifies him.

          The fact that people exhibit kindness and compassion towards their fellow beings has much more to do with their innate humanism than anything to do with this fictional character.

    •  Do we make God in our own Image? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dumbo, Cassandra Waites

      Dumbo,
      Your post causes me to think that the Jesus you know is very different than the one I was introduced to in my parents' church.  I like you and your Jesus much better.  

      The members of my parents' church would be shocked to learn that they were aligned with a modern political movement.  They see themselves as being  THE way to salvation as passed down to them by Martin Luther.  They would tell you that they are far older than the Tea Party. They are the religion of the righteous German people rebelling against the pope.  

      They know, but it is irrelevant to them that Martin Luther was spared being burned at the stake only because the German Princes were tired of paying taxes to Rome.

      I wonder when religion was not a tool of a political movement?

      •  When I was a kid back in the 60s, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Naomi Loschen, copithorne

        religious political activism always meant liberal activism.  They were the ones standing outside the prisons to protest against the executions (they still do, to).  They protested the war.  They marched for civil rights.  It wasn't until about 79 that we started to see the right-wing southern form of Christianity make its comeback via Jerry Falwell.  I think it actually surprised many people.

        I'm not a Christian.  I'm a wayward Jew off in his own headspace that in some ways is closer, I suppose, to atheism or Hinduism, take your pick.  But my acquaintance with Jesus comes from reading the Gospels.  I know just how messed up the Old Testament is, especially with its recounting of the horrible genocidal wars in Kings.  They can't be reconciled.

        •  That is cool! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          copithorne

          I was a kid in the '60's too....it sounds like you had exposure to a much larger world than I did.

          Maybe it is worth a diary sometime to share my little corner of Nebraska fifty years ago.  Sometimes it is difficult to  understand why we have red states.  It is more than religion.  They have adopted an extreme right wing philosophy in large part because of their isolation and narrow world view.  Many really would like to go back to the way of life in 1962.

          Taking the stands you mention, against capital punishment, Vietnam and civi rights abuses, where I grew up would have taken a lot of guts and mostly wouldn't have seemed relevant.  

          There was no opposition to the conflict in Vietnam.  We had a role of honor in a prominent part of the church to honor the "brave boys in the military fighting for our honor and freedom".

          Nebraska isn't the south - in fact it wasn't until the '80's I learned about civil rights violations and protests.  As far as I knew slavery ended with the civil war and that was that.  There were no "whites only" signs because there were whites only.  We had so few people of color that I remember clearly when I saw a black person for the first time and he was attending college with my sister at the University in Lincoln.  I was six.

          Every little town had a butcher, there weren't huge packing plants exploiting Mexican labor.  The farmers in my area didn't work for a corporate farm.  They owned their own little plot and they didn't utilize migrant labor.  They worked their kids, traded work with their neighbors and maybe had a hired man.  Every little town had a market, a dime store, a dress shop a church or two and a bar.  You had to drive an hour to get to a mall.  Entertainment was Lawrence Welk on Saturday night - maybe roller skating in the town hall.

          There was not a single execution in the state of Nebraska in the years I was growing up - 1959 through 1994.

          We saw the protests on the six o'clock news but those people were generally accepted as kooks.  It never occurred to me to associate what looked like violence and anger with Christianity.  

          What was happening by '79?  I don't know - Jimmy Carter, was the first evangelical president with Reagan riding in for the eight years behind him.  There was the crash of the farm economy in the '80's. The rise of Walmart and the decline of small town main street.  The churches were empty.  The military was still struggling to escape the Vietnam debacle. Suddenly the world wasn't safe anymore.

          I think the predominant force in what you described as a "right-wing Southern form of Christianity" is really a culture that is a yearning for a time when it was easier to pretend the world's problems didn't pertain to them.

          BUT it is dangerous to ignore reality in order to comfort yourself, for once you do, you make it easy for others to deceive you.  This made easy work for the likes of Falwell, Dobson, Reed, Limbaugh , Murdoch, etc.  

          It isn't religion that is bad, it is choosing not to think critically that is bad.  Religion becomes the vehicle for the acceptance of magical thinking.

          •  I just paid more attention to the news, maybe. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            copithorne, Naomi Loschen

            I remember people like Martin Luther King and Daniel Berrigan.

            Wiki on Berrigan:

            Daniel J. Berrigan, SJ, (born May 9, 1921) is a Catholic priest, peace activist, and poet. He achieved fame and notoriety in 1968 when he and his brother, Philip, were put on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for their involvement in antiwar protests during the Vietnam war.
            Regionally, there may have been big differences, but there was no conservative pro-war religious activism.  Religious ACTIVISM, getting your hands dirty, was all liberal.

            I suppose I might have experienced it closer to home, as well.  My father has an FBI file on him, I'm sure.  He protested the Rosenbergs execution and was involved for a while with a religious activist group of some flavor of Christianity that was organizing the protests, even though he wasn't Christian.  At one point, the FBI or some other group went through our neighborhood asking the neighbors questions about my parents and slamming the head of that church (his name was Carl Crane or something like that -- I can't find it on Google) for possible communist sympathies.

            We still see a lot liberal religious activism.  Remember the apoplexy of Lou Dobbs that there were Catholic groups that were going out into the Arizona desert to give water to dying, thirsty illegal border-crossers.  Lou wanted a law to make it illegal to give such people water because it was promoting breaking the law.  The premise for this activism, though, comes straight from Luke.  "For I was thirsty, and you gave me water."

            •  I think you were paying more attention too. (0+ / 0-)

              My parents were dustbowl survivors.  No electricity until 1949. No indoor plumbing or TV until the 1960's.  Radio batteries were saved for the Grand Ol' Opry and the grain market and weather reports.  

              After we had TV the news mostly came through my grandmother who watched the six o'clock news and actually took notes.  She enjoyed telling us what was going on.  Our family watched Lawrence Welk on Saturday night and Bonanza on Sunday night.

              Mostly we got up early and worked late.  My parents' childhood poverty was always a shadow in our home.

              Church was conservative and patriarchal.  Women are not allowed in the pulpit or as voting members to this day.  Gay rights, right to choice, right to have an opinion?  Forget about it.  Church was usually my parents' only social event of the week.  We went, listened to the sermon, chatted with neighbors a bit after and went to Grandma's for Sunday dinner.

              I enjoy hearing about the liberal activism you have experienced.  I've flirted with the Unitarian Church and know first hand the good work they do.  They don't seem "religious" to me though.  They are critical thinkers.

              Would it be interesting to you to experience a conservative church?  If so, try a traditional service in a Missouri or Wisconsin synod Lutheran church.  I still enjoy going once in awhile.  I love the liturgy, the hymns, the flow of the service.  It is very structured, predictable and comforting.  Sometimes the music is outstanding - Bach was Lutheran, you know.  The sermons are uneven - you might get lucky.  Don't expect a sign up for anything more political than a soup supper though.  :-)

              •  oh, if I were going to turn Christian, (0+ / 0-)

                I decided a long time ago I'd turn Catholic just for the cool music and surreal ceremonies :)  The rest of it, though, I'm not too sure about.  I've posted about my own religious beliefs before, which tend to be more metaphysical.  And stranger sounding than conventional religion, too, perhaps.  But I don't believe in supernatural things or miracles.

                •  One more thought... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Dumbo

                  My parents' church has lost members.
                  Young folks liked the rock music, hobby groups, coffee bars, purpose driven, gospel of greed and political activism of the "new" evangelical churches better - these are the stereotypical "values voters" I suspect.  

                  I think the same thing happened everywhere.  It will be an interesting phenomena to watch - I keep thinking it has to be a fad.

            •  Thanks, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Dumbo

              It took a lot of courage for your father to align publicly with the left in the McCarthy era.  

              I bet he has a great story.  I'd love to hear it.

              I'm wondering if we would find ourselves totally agreeing with each other if we defined religion the same way?  I probably would define the groups you mention as free thinkers, not religious groups.  

              I definitely agree that traditional, conservative churches are not political.  My contention is just that the same kind of magical thinking necessary to suspend disbelief and accept the bible as literal truth opens them to the deception of the far right political machine.  These people are low hanging fruit.  

              If the bible is supposed to be, "the inspired word of God," you have to take the WHOLE thing, not just the bits you like, right?  Maybe you can still be religious and reject bits, but if you are reading it, thinking about it, discarding what is objectionable, you are reading critically - not in a belief driven way.  Now you are not religious you are just a person acting with integrity.

              I wrote more about my experience below.  Thanks for the discussion.

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