Many believers think that the only way to be truly moral is to follow a religion which teaches us morality. How would you respond?
Throughout their history, one of the great selling points of religions – in particular the monotheistic religions – has been their importance as a bedrock of moral values. Without religious faith, runs the argument, we cannot anchor our moral truths or truly know right from wrong. Without belief in God we will be lost in a miasma of moral nihilism. “To remove God,” as the theologian Alister McGrath has put it, “is to eliminate the final restraint on human brutality”.
Looking back on history, one might question just how successful God has been as “the final restraint on human brutality”. What really concerns me, however, is the way that religious concepts of morality degrade what it means to be human by diminishing the importance of human agency in the creation of a moral framework. From a religious perspective, it is the weakness of human nature that ensures that God has to establish and anchor moral rules.
In truth, morality, like God, is a human creation. Even believers have to decide which of the values found in the Torah or the Bible or the Quran they accept, and which they reject. What God provides is not the source of moral values but, if you like, the ethical concrete in which those values are set. Rooting morality in religion is a means of putting certain values or practices beyond question by insisting they are God-given.
Is it just religious believers who look for ethical concrete?
Not at all, secularists often do too. There is, for example, an increasingly fashionable claim that science will decide which values are good and which are bad. I’m as critical of the false certainties of a morality rooted in science as I am of the false certainties of a divinely sanctified moral code. The desire to set moral values in ethical concrete is a yearning for moral certainty – a fear that without external authority, humans will fall into the morass of moral relativism. But there can be no getting away from the fact that as humans we have to stand on our own feet, think for ourselves, create our values and practices, and bear responsibility for them.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Kenan Malik on Morality without God
Kenan Malik was born in India and lives in England. He writes about science and the history of science and has often defended the Enlightenment and its values. This is from an interview he have to The Browser.