Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Contributors to Morality: Real and Not

How does religion relate to morality? Ophelia Benson has a few characteristically sharp words on that:

The truth is that religion has nothing to offer to morality. It may have some utility as a morality-assistant, but it's worthless at moral reasoning. That's not to say that no religious people can engage in moral reasoning, it's just to say that the religious part doesn't add anything to the reasoning. Well it doesn't. Moral reasoning is secular, and religion either gets it dead wrong, or muddies the issues, or simply applauds what everyone knows anyway.
That sounds about right. In a similar vein, Christopher Hitchens is fond of noting that the fable of The Good Samaritan includes a character who does a good deed well enough in advance of Jesus's time that Jesus should adopt it and reissue it without much in the way of elaboration -- indeed, without any explanation, as was his wont with parables. His audience is reported to have understood the principle, although this would be difficult to understand if we assume that Jesus was contributing something genuinely new and essential to human morality.

Hitchens is is also fond of asking people to consider whether the ancient Jews really could have gotten far past their alleged captivity had they only realized that murder, theft, adultery (etc.) were wrong after Moses showed it to them etched on tablets.

Don't forget: Ophelia Benson is co-author of a new book that will be hitting stores and prickly sensibilities soon: Does God Hate Women? I think I know the short answer; I look forward to the book-length answer.

No comments: