A very interesting friend of mine is a Kurd from Syria who was raised in a private Assyrian Christian Orthodox school and currently studies with me in Switzerland. He speaks Kurdish, Arabic, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Assyrian and Aramaic (which dwarf my own English, Spanish, Serbian, French, Italian combo) and he’s basically a very lax and essentially non-practicing Muslim, who learned how to pray as a Christian before learning to pray as a Muslim.
However, he still believes in a very meta-physical idea of a Supreme Being. Not that I hold it against him, but it led to an invigorating and stimulating discourse on morality while aboard the bus.
You must forgive me for resorting yet again to reproducing the conversation in an adapted dialogue form.
“Morality must come from religion. You see, for better of for worse, humankind believes.” said Salare.
“What do you mean believes?” I asked
“Everyone believes in something. It is an intrinsic part of our being insignificant in this vast universe. A believer will believe in whichever God he wants to believe in. I personally believe they’re all manifestations of one Supreme Being, whatever that is. An atheist will believe in science, or in the education their parents gave them, or in inherited moral values and so forth”
“I disagree with a number of things. Firstly, I like to believe I’m a moral person. I donate blood. I donate old clothes to Serbian families who need it. I help old ladies cross the road. None of these moral values came from religious morals because, as you point out, I received a very correct and secular, I might add, education from my parents.
Secondly, I firmly disagree with your comparison of religious belief with scientific belief. A religious person who believes in God will by definition have faith that their God exists. They will require no evidence to back their beliefs, indeed, they will often ignore contrary evidence to suggest the absence of a God. They might have had personal experiences that are out of reach to other people, but psychiatrists may or may not give these experiences concrete medical explanations. It’s an unchanging, unflinching world view. C.S. Lewis said (absurdly) once of his own religion that “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else”, which is rather misleading because an unchanging and unflinching world view is more like an over polarised pair of sunglasses which shields the beauty of the world from you.
My point is that an atheist who has a naturalist view of the world will base his views on existing evidence and on existing models, themselves supported by ample evidence. It’s a worldview that changes and adapts to contemporary discoveries. And there is ample evidence to suggest that morality is inherited, that it is an evolved trait in our primate species.”
“Adrian, you see, you are a moral person yourself, and indeed there are many like you who are moral for moraility’s sake. But for the same reason that many stores need security cameras to stop people from stealing, many people need to have the feeling of fear in order to stop themselves from killing or stealing. It’s part of the inherent egoism of humanity.
You are clearly capable of maintaining a very correct moral stance yourself derived from your own world views. But there is a problem not within religion itself but within the people who follow it and who engage in perverse acts sometimes despite the fear of being watched by God or by a security camera in a store.”
“Indeed, there are amoral people. What I, personally, find amoral is that many people need to be threatened into being moral, but right you are this is just what defined the diversity of our human species.
However, I disagree with your idea that religion is not inherently the problem. While it is true that many people derive their morals from religious texts, and that many pick and mix according to the day and age they live in (few Creationists would seriously take to heart the Biblical encouragement to slavery), the fact that organised religions can have such a powerful effect on people is to me, damnedly immoral.
For a start, I agree and I am the first to postulate that were religions to be truly inconsiderate of the fates of other people’s souls, and as long as they only promulgated morals that dealt in a similar, if not identical way to the legal civil code, the world would be an infinitely better place, and it would coexist with religion.
However, this is goes against the very nature of organised religion. It is moral for an evangelist to spread the word of Jesus to as many heathens as he can, because they honestly believe they are trying to save other people’s souls. The Muslim Hadith quite clearly orders Muslims to kill or convert unbelievers. It is hard to take that verse as a metaphor as it is quite clearly unambiguous [ed note: Qur’an Sura 9:5 reads as “Kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush: but if they shall convert, and observe prayer, and pay the obligatory alms, then let them go their way, for God is gracious, merciful.” and the Hadith, Volume 4, Book 52, Number 260, Narrated Ikrima reads “for the Prophet said, “If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.”].
My point is that there are a set of religious values which do indeed help to stop violent people from murdering. However, in practice, the leadership of organised religions attach a much higher importance to ‘values’ which help them control their flock.
I mean ridiculous and violent things such as the obsession with sin and sexuality – who you have sex with, when you have sex, how you have sex – and other inane and irrelevant ‘morals’ such as an anti-abortion stance (which is nowhere justified in the Bible, for one), chauvinism (in covering up women’s heads and conferring them less rights than a 6 year old male), anti stem-cell research and a long etc. If the heads of organised religions really cared about morals such as ‘Do Not Kill’ they would issue press statements on every murder committed by a believer instead of issuing inane statements on abortion or Church-State separation. Rather, the Catholic Church will pardon you for murder if you sit in a box, tell an anointed elderly pederast and pray four or five times.”
To this, Salare absolutely agreed.
And thus on the 7th bus stop, Odin said “Let there be consensus”. And there was consensus. And Odin saw this and everything was good.