The Morality of Religion: If This Is Morality, I’d Rather Be Immoral


I’ve been planning a set of posts on atheism and morality for some time now, but kept kicking the can down the road because I’ve had easier things to write about.  I’m still busier than a one-legged woman in an arse-kicking competition, but it’s time to open me gob on the whole subject.  Consider this the prelude.

There’s this perception among too many people that being religious automatically equals being moral.  Do yourself an experiment: hit random people up with a scenario.  They’re on a jury, and have to decide who is the most convincing character witness for the accused.  Would they place more weight on the testimony of an atheist or a pastor?  Based on how atheists are viewed in other surveys, I’d be willing to be the vast majority of the public would plump for the pastor.

They shouldn’t.

Being religious doesn’t automatically make you moral.  We’ll explore that in some depth in upcoming posts.  But for now, I just want to present a case study.  This is what one of the big theological thinkers had to say about genocide, infanticide, et al:

By setting such strong, harsh dichotomies God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God. 

Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.

So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli[sic] soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.

This comes only after William Lane Craig claims God “has no moral duties to fulfill.”  And an enormously long passage of nonsense that snipes at Richard Dawkins apropos of nothing, presents one of the lamest “logical” arguments for God’s existence ever put forth by someone who purportedly possesses a functioning brain, and then childishly claims atheists have proven God exists if they say the God of the Old Testament did something morally reprehensible in commanding the Israelites to slaughter every man, woman and child in Canaan.  William Lane Craig has proven my (and my Christian best friend’s) point that too much prayer completely rots a person’s brain.

Now, better thinkers than me have given William Lane Craig’s reprehensible “reasoning” the disrespect it deserves.  Greta Christina sums up his argument succinctly and without all of the flowers and frills that might make it look attractive to someone trying to reconcile the violent, jealous fuck of a rat bastard deity evident in the Old Testament with the loving, compassionate God they think exists:

And he said that as long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to kill pretty much anybody. It’s okay to kill bad people, because they’re bad and they deserve it… and it’s okay to kill good people, because they wind up in Heaven. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to systematically wipe out entire races. As long as God gives the thumbs-up, it’s okay to slaughter babies and children. Craig said — not essentially, not as a paraphrase, but literally, in quotable words — “the death of these children was actually their salvation.”

That’s what he’s saying.  And the reason why he’s saying it is because the Bible is supposed to be inerrant, and God is supposed to be good, ergo there must be some reason why God can order genocide without being placed in the same category as Hitler, Pol Pot, and Milošević, among other homicidal maniacs of history, and still be considered anything approaching good, much less perfectly good.

If you are an honest person, this is impossible.  If you’re a lying fucktard or a believer desperate to believe, then you come up with this ridiculous shit.  And then you go on to feel sorry for the poor, pathetic killers:

Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli [sic] soldiers is disturbing.

PZ responds:

No. No, I can’t imagine that. I can imagine parts of it: I can imagine a long, heavy piece of sharp metal in my hands. I can imagine a frightened, unarmed woman in front of me, trying to shelter her children. The part I can’t imagine, the stuff I’m having real trouble with, is imagining voluntarily raising my hand and hacking them to death. I have a choice in that situation, and I know myself well enough that if have to choose between killing people and letting them live, I’d let them live, not that it would be a difficult decision at all. I also have no illusion that, in this imaginary situation where I have all the power and my ‘enemies’ are weak and helpless, I am the one who is being wronged.

That’s the morality of an atheist, as opposed to the morality of a Christian theologian.  Which do you believe is the more moral?

Really, what it comes down to for believers is this question: is the kind of God who would tell you to pick up a weapon and hack a baby to death because that infant would supposedly cause you to turn away from God if allowed to grow up really a God worth worshiping?  Do you have a moral obligation to obey such an order?  Will you be able to salve your conscience by saying, “I was just following orders?”

Can you trust the “morality” that emerges from such a deity?  How?

Eric MacDonald is right: “Cruelty does not become something else, just because it is imagined to be the command of a god.”  And if you have to perform such contortions, if you have to twist morality until it breaks and bleeds to get it to fit your concept of a loving, good god, then you’re following the wrong damned god.  And you are destroying your own moral foundation in the process.

I’d like to finish out this post with another bit from Greta Christina’s post (although I suggest you read it in its entirety):

See, here’s the thing. When faced with horrors in our past — our personal history, or our human history — non-believers don’t have any need to defend them. When non-believers look at a human history full of genocide, infanticide, slavery, forced marriage, etc. etc. etc., we’re entirely free to say, “Damn. That was terrible. That was some seriously screwed-up shit we did. We were wrong to do that. Let’s not ever do that again.”

But for people who believe in a holy book, it’s not that simple. When faced with horrors in their religion’s history — horrors that their holy book defends, and even praises — believers have to do one of two things. They have to either a) cherry-pick the bits they like and ignore the bits they don’t; or b) come up with contorted rationalizations for why the most blatant, grotesque, black-and-white evil really isn’t all that bad.

William Lane Craig plumped for option b.  Too many believers do.  And the results are horrifying.  Far too much evil gets done because people believe God is on their side.

 As Blaise Pascal said, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

I’ve seen religious morality.  If that’s what morality actually is, I’d rather be immoral.