No thesis, this. It’s merely one person’s take on the questionable, even dubious, link between religion and morality.
Doesn’t history belie that almost universally accepted view that morality flows from religion? Does not all good come from God/religion, as claimed in the Bible? People who practice religion always live in accordance with moral principles, do they not? Are not all or most “religious” people kind, compassionate, empathetic, collegial, and loving?
A definition or two might prove helpful before we continue.
Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” As for the other crucial word, the dictionary defines morality as “conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.”
Traipsing through human history—ancient, proximate past, recent, present—we are forced to acknowledge that people of religion—that is, practitioners of virtually any religion—do not necessarily exhibit morality in thought, word, or deed. This seems to be true for all or most religions. Witness even the somewhat-shocking immorality of Buddhist Myanmar in its genocide of the Rohingya, resident Muslims without the rights of citizenship. Like many others, I had always thought that Buddhism is a philosophy/religion/lifestyle of compassion. We may be forced to consign “Buddhist compassion” to the trash-bin of shattered expectations.
There is afoot the demoralizing realization that this, that, and/or any religion simply doesn’t measure up to its advertising. According to the Bible, ancient Hebrews exterminated the resident peoples of Palestine because Yahweh gave Palestine to the Hebrews, thereby snatching it from the original residents. The Catholic Church soaked its hands in blood during multiple Crusades and the nearly endless Inquisition, and at other times during its history (and more recently by its despicable involvement in “priestly pedophilia” and its dismal “Episcopal cover-up” with “papal” cover-up to boot). Ancient and recent Islamic jihad had been and is today rampant as well as raging. How people of religion, supposedly moral people, came to accept, endorse, and embrace dreadful despots such as Franco, Mussolini, or Hitler almost a century ago … and in the view of this writer, Donald Trump of late … has shaken all sense of rationality, logic, and morality.
It may be that the only truly consistently peaceful religion is Baha’i, ironically a religion under ferocious attack since its inception. Perhaps, the Christian crusaders, the Islamic jihadists, the Hebrew Maccabees—ancient and modern—as well as the Buddhist persecutors of the Rohingya Muslims are simply part and parcel of religion itself. That is to say, religion is essentially divisive, toxic, and even murderous! Too many people of religion promote a particular god, denigrate the gods of others, manifest disdain toward all “false” religions—that is, those not their own—and even bask in their god’s approval of their hatred for others.
Decades ago, cigarette manufacturers were forced to post on every pack of their products the warning that cigarette smoking can be hazardous to your health. It may be time for bishops, priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, shamans, medicine men, gurus, etc. to issue a similar warning to their unwary followers: Religion may be hazardous to your health. If you can hate somebody in your god’s name, what could be better? You spew out your venom, useful as cathartic therapy probably, and voilà, you’re guaranteed a high place in paradise for your hatred. A near-perfect scenario! All those ancient hatreds, animosities, feelings of vengeance and/or resentments remain alive and well today! The ancient ways have merely evolved into modern modalities.
The point of this rant is the author’s carefully considered conclusion that religion is for the most part not a force for good but rather a most powerful force for evil. Ironic indeed, when one listens to a practitioner of religion who insists that his or her religion is saving humanity. Who can possibly call the process we are witnessing salvific?
But all is not lost, at least not yet. Humanism is on the rise. A secular humanism that acknowledges human beings must do for one another what has traditionally been expected from a god or gods. We must uplift each other, treasure one another, and—to appropriate a religious term—even redeem ourselves. What has transpired heretofore simply has not worked toward the overall benefit of womankind and mankind.
Nicholas Molinari spent some years in active ministry as a young, apostolic Roman Catholic priest. That career crashed in the Vietnam War years when he with good intentions accompanied a Marine Sergeant to the home of the mother of a recently killed Marine. He still recalls the name and the horror that good woman experienced when she opened her door to discover a Marine and a priest standing together. Marine and priest didn’t have to say a word. The mother knew immediately, was devastated, and could not be consoled! Molinari never wanted to be in that position of harming another human being to the core … as a priest … again. He found leaving the priesthood to be an easier chore than leaving his faith. But, about two decades ago, Tom Flynn spoke at a conference in Rockleigh, New Jersey, sponsored by the Center for Inquiry. He described the seven years of renunciations he endured before freeing himself of his childhood Catholicism and of belief itself. Molinari’s process of renunciation has gone on for considerably longer, but this essay “shows and tells” where he stands today.