Monday, March 02, 2009

Desire Utilitarian Implications for Theistic Ethics

In my last post, I compared the view that holds that those who believe in God are, by that fact alone, morally superior to those who do not to one that holds that people can disagree over the source of morality without recognizing that morality exists and its institutions are well disagreeing on the moral facts.

In that post I condemned theists who embraced arguments that allowed themselves to assert their own moral superiority over others. In this post I want to add that (1) atheists are also capable of presuming their own moral superiority over those who disagree with them, and (2) the moral principles on which this blog is built is capable of supporting the conclusion that atheists and theists are moral equals.

Let me start with the latter point.

There is no God. Consequently, man does not get his morality from God. Instead, God gets his morality from man. Like all fictitious characters, God gets his morality from the mind(s) of the author(s), who will inevitably assign to God his or her own view of what ought and what ought not to be done.

This view defaults to the position that the atheist and the theist are moral equals. Both get their morality from the same source . However, one group says that what is true of morality is a part of the world itself, while the other assigns morality to some set of facts the same moral facts to God.

Christian morality, the one that I am most familiar with, has a long history of writing new moral discoveries into its text – from the end of the Divine Right of Kings to the abolition of slavery. They have invented a number of distinctions whereby the give themselves permission to pick and chose whatever text they like.

Take, for example, the claim that the coming of Jesus enables the Christian to pick and choose among moral principles he does not like. He can declare the prohibition on eating shellfish to be purely ceremonial and thus not a prohibition that needs to be followed any more. At the same time, he can assert that homosexual relationships are still prohibited.

These types of distinctions do not spring from the mind or the word or the will of God. They spring from the mind of the person who is telling us what God thinks – which is actually telling us what the speaker thinks – his own prejudices which he then assigned to a god to give them more weight.

So, there is a reason why religious morality is on a par with secular morality. There is no basis for declaring, at least without proof, that one set of claims represent moral superiority over others, at least not based solely on the fact that one person assigned his prejudices to a God that does not exist and the other denies the existence of a God.

Now, let me go on to the first claim – that theists do not have a monopoly on the "we are morally superior to you" attitudes that are found in arguments alleging a link between atheism and immorality. There can be no doubt that there are atheists who link theism to immorality in the same way that there are theists who link atheism with immorality.

The practice of seeing other groups of people as morally inferior is not a religious problem. It is a human problem.

Remember, man does not get his morality from God. Instead, God gets his morality (or immorality) from man – from those who invent him. None of the evils that one person has ever visited on another has ever come from God. Every one of them is an evil that one person is capable of visiting on another in the absence of any divine source – because every one of them was, in fact, an evil that came from people living in a godless universe.


Justus Hommes said...

I believe God does exist, but I see no inherit difference in the personal morality of theists and atheists.

Your criticism of Christianity writing new discoveries into their text is a point of contention. Yes, there have been and continue to be people who use the Bible to support their prejudices and immorality, but I would argue that those people do not see the trajectory of the Bible, and miss its central message, found in both the Old and New Testament

Micah 6:8 - He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

Mathew 22:37-40 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

From the mouth of Christ himself, everything else in the Bible must be interpreted through love if it is to be correctly understood.

As you said, this is a human problem. Yes, there are all too numerous examples of Christians claiming moral superiority based on select verses taken out of context. But atheists have Christopher Hitchens also, we Christians just have a couple thousand years head start.

Luke said...

I don't usually mention typos, but you've got "Both get their morality from the same source" twice in a row.