RELIGION AND MORAL BEHAVIOR
Out of good intentions or not, religion is largely an institution designed to control how others behave. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the ten commandments and The Bible serve as the pillar of moral code.
The ten commandments, which were supposedly authored by God and handed down to the prophet Moses say:
1. I am the Lord your God.
2. Thou shall have no other gods before me.
3. Thou shall not use the name of the Lord your God in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and mother.
6. Thou shall not murder.
7. Thou shall not commit adultery.
8. Thou shall not steal.
9. Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods.
These are words that all good Christians and Jews should know and remember. At quick glance, and ignoring the superstitions regarding “God,” the ten commandments themselves seem like worthy recommendations of good conduct. Indeed, religion is largely an institution that glorifies love and respect for everyone, and thus the messages of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are so permeating throughout our world and culture. In many ways the values held by Judaism and Christianity have even shaped the Western legal systems we have today (even despite modern day secularism in politics).
MORALITY IN THE NAME OF RELIGION
Moral actions that are done in the name of religion are a different story, and often not as desirable as the conduct that is promoted in The Bible. Human history has been littered with holy wars, killing and otherwise immoral behavior – all in the name of a supposed all-knowing and all-loving God.
Something just doesn’t add up. What is it about the teaching of religion that can lead people to do such heinous acts?
I have a couple possible explanations. For one, humans are by nature imperfect. Some of them may misunderstand the teachings of their religion. Another reason may be that heavy emotions like greed, lust and hate get the better of an individual despite their religious upbringing. But I also think there is more to it.
WHAT HAS GOD DONE TO HUMAN MORALITY?
Despite the imperfect nature of man, religion itself is a vastly imperfect and out-dated construct of the human mind and morality. I don’t believe the flaw in religious morality has to do with the literal teachings of good conduct, which seem mostly reasonable, but the problem is in the context that they are presented.
A large part of this context is centered around God. God, the almighty inconceivable, is very much the foundation of religious morality. Without His existence, the whole system seems to fall apart. Why? Because good conduct is supposed to get you to Heaven, and bad conduct is supposed to send you to Hell.
The problem with this view of reality is that we are only given an incentive to do good for our own well-being, and we are told to avoid bad to save ourselves from eternal damnation. In other words, religion teaches us very little about the natural good in our hearts, and instead uses bribing and fear in order to coerce us into “good.”
I have a huge problem with this.
These kinds of stories and folktales, mostly to do with God, create a moral foundation of superstition. Without a solid foundations of values and virtues grounded in reason and evidence, of course there is a stronger likelihood of individuals abandoning their value system, acting irrationally, and willing to hurt others for careless and selfish gains. This is one of the main drawback of any dogmatic system.
HOW CAN WE FREE OURSELVES FROM SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS?
I think the best advice for finding one’s morality is to first deny the artificial values of any code of conduct created by religion and society. Certainly one can use religious texts and the values of society as a reference point. But in the end it really comes down to our own mind and rational thought in determining our specific system of values. I can’t imagine that any other being can rightfully make these decisions for us.
Defining one’s system of values is not a simple process. In fact, it is a process that is ongoing for as long as we live and act. We never know when we will find ourselves in a situation where we have to make a tough moral decision. We can look to the word of God, or we can get advice from friends and society, but in the end it is only the individual that chooses the action and bares its consequences. Sometimes we make wrong decisions – this does not mean we will be damned to hell, only that we have gained a new experience to learn from. In this sense if we take responsibility for our actions and the effect we have on the world, then we can never fall in the hands of “the devil.” We only have our self to fail, succeed, and grow. In a way this take on morality puts us in a much greater position of power and change then the morality touted by the traditional religions of the world.