Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Idée d’jour

One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion. — Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer (1917-2008)

This quote was commended to me by Brother Dave.

The quote begs the question of what we mean by "morality". I suppose "morality" to be a set of commonly accepts principles a society agrees to live by. The best known is the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Or to freely translate Hippocrates: “First do harm.”

And though we naturally mistrust "situational ethics", we have come to accept "situational morality". For example, it's immoral for an individual to lie or misrepresent his/her qualifications. It's not only moral for a corporation to lie, it's expected. It's expected business practice. It's also expected that politicians and their supporters exaggerate and lie. If a mailer goes out with the wrong date for an election, it's not immoral. It's not even gross incompetence. It's a typo.

Sir Arthur's quote also begs the question of what we mean by "religion". I suppose it to mean a set of codes, liturgies, rites, and rules intended to aid our relationship with the divine. Buddhism does not necessarily include divinity, but it is still a religion, with its very own variant on the Golden Rule. If we accept my definition of religion, it would of necessity include teachings about morality. I believe "religion" in this sense precedes humanist or existentialist morality.

What I suppose Sir Arthur meant is that religion has never fully lived up to the moral codes it promotes. An obvious example is the pederasty scandals in the RC church. The extreme wealth of most main-stream churches has been a scandal since at least the time of St. Francis. All I can say, is human organizations have human failings, often enlarged by the size of the organization. This is no excuse.

We all must have code we can live by, as Graham Nash said. If we're radically truthful with ourselves we know we will often fail to fulfill the highest aspirations of that code. Yet, we keep trying. With luck, we improve.

A basic application of the Golden Rule is that we forgive the failings of others as we would like to be forgiven.


Dr. Omed said...

Forgive me if quote myself, "Morals are what people acquire when they lack the mental, emotional, and spiritual capital to afford an imagination."

Phyllis said...

I have often wondered... Do our morals come from religion, handed down to us as we grow up? Or are they something innate within us?
If we had never had any religions in the world that taught things like not killing each other... would society be as advanced now? would we be killing each other more now? Will our morals become more relaxed as we instill more into people the idea that we are all really only highly evolved animals?
Or was there always some extra spark within us that told us that certain things were wrong, and we built our religions around that? And if that is so, then where did that "spark" come from?
I will grant that a lot of harm has been done over the centuries in the name of religion. And also that people who are supposedly religious, or go to church, are capable of horrendous crimes. But would we be better off without, say, Christianity?
I realize I've just written a whole bunch of meandering questions, but like I said at the start, its all just something I have wondered about, and thought I'd see what your thought are....

Jonah said...

Phyllis - one could trace a moral code to <a href=">Hamarabi</a>, whose code predates the 10 Commandments. The code was received from an Egyptian God.

Law - not necessarily synonymous with Morals - tends to be enforced by punishment, which is enacted by a God or by Government. Whether that's necessary depends on your view of human nature.

Personally, I believe humans are capable of great good as well as great evil. Consequently, I believe some form of punishment is necessary to protect from the darker aspects of our nature.

Jonah said...

Brother Dave responds:
It is not that and those who adhere to religion tend to fail the teachings and prescriptions they proclaim. Rather, it is the willful and usually deceitful distortion and invention at the hands of powerful religious "leaders" that I most object to. Religion has, in all its forms, played handmaiden to power and the wealth that directs power. And, it is not simply that corrupt political leaders usurp and distort religion (like Perry, Palin, Bibi, bin Laden or Hitler) but that the "holy men" of the various religions are routinely in the lead, as often as not.

Phyllis said...

Dave makes a good point. How often those in power ruin things for those of us just wanting to live our lives in peace!

I spent some time about a year ago trying to figure out what kind of "church" Jesus of Nazareth, the simple, humble carpenter, meant to form. What was "church" like in the first century?

I believe we have messed it up so bad, with our man made religious structures, denominations, hierarchy...

What I was able to learn is that "church" back then was a small group that met in a home, seated in a circle, each was given the opportunity to speak, there was no leader, no pastor or preist, all were equal. There was singing, sharing, and there was always a meal shared between them.

To my mind, this is SO much more appealing than the impersonal mega churches of today, with their expenses, the pride of the building, number of members, budget, ect, ect... The whole idea of the hierarchy of what we have built into "church" seems never to have been intended.

In fact, the actual design of church buildings discourages the type of participation that the early church enjoyed. With its elevated "preacher" platform, and congregation seats all facing forward, the congregation is the audience, not a participant.

I can picture Jesus sitting and sharing with a small group in a freinds home much better than I can picture him in a mega church with giant TV screens and all the bells and whistles we call church today.