Sunday, July 28, 2019
The simple answer, no, moral values cannot exist on their own. The danger is a morality based on individual proclivities. At the same time the other side of that answer also no, “religion” is not a valid basis for morality even if morality must have a valid basis. This depends on our definition of religion. A belief in God does not mean a belief in religion is one defines religion in a specific way. We need a belief in God that overcomes that weakness of a general belief in the validity of religion. Moral values require a belief in a God since moral values cannot provide its own validation. A lack of validation morality is always inevitably reduced to individual choice. Every concept of God does not meet this requirement. This position is consistent with a particular theological exegesis of the Bible. I believe in God and not in religion.
A world without a commitment to something greater always suffers from the threat of anarchy. Getting human beings to consistently believe in anything is hard enough: this is the reason why religions have held societies together even if any given religion does not do that well. Evidence shows us that if we look at the human societies across the world (currently and historically) we see that anarchy (social collapse) is held back from exploding in our faces by something called morals. Yet neither a particular religion nor a particular set of morals are “moral” enough to defend morality. The creation and maintenance of workable behavior between individuals is the requirement for all human civilizations. For better or worse this functional workability is only possible because of moral values. Yet at the same time we have just as much evidence that any given set of moral values (though not all sets of moral values) has resulted in the exhibition of immorality.
To defend moral values is not a blanket defense (or attack) of religion since some religions are more successful at protecting its adherents and others will not. We need to be able to distinguish between different kinds of religion. The Aztec Indians committed a greater and greater number of sacrifices, bludgeoning hearts out of the chests of its victims, but this did not save their nation from being conquered. While we may accept that a “religious” nation like the US may be more ethically beneficial to its members because of its moral foundations (even if not perfectly actualized) we cannot assume that is the result of religion in general.
The fact is a religion was also practiced (for example) by the Nazi’s. Stalin and Mao’s were just as religious as everyone else despite claims to the contrary. I have yet to see a form of atheism that does not also function by a kind of religious zeal meant to bring about social salvation. Marxism claims for itself a kind of millennialism: a future golden age where social happiness will exist for every person. Socialism today continues to contain the same preconceptions and (like these other systems) will force its religion on everyone else. Probe enough and all the hidden ideas are revealed.
The Catholic Church burned heretics at the stake. Luther’s Reformation of the Christian religion did not prevent the murdering religious or political enemies. Even in our own time one cannot be ignorant that the Muslim religion (not really different from these other religions) has always desired the political power to impose its religion on all unbelievers. An uncritical acceptance of only the good examples of religion fails to take into account the horrors of religion. Any given religion may advocate good as well as evil. Likewise, the concept of “morals” as a basis for religion is itself no guarantee that that system will extend those morals to the “insider” and to the “outsider.” We have plenty of examples that this kind of religious equality seldom happens.
This in no way suggests that we can get rid of the need for strong basis to anchor moral beliefs. To me some kind of universalism is the test of any moral claims. We need a set of ideas that make possible a kind of universality that is required for morality even if the actuality of those beliefs is never perfectly fulfilled. There are enough examples to indicate that moral values will not be accepted without something to base those moral on. Universal acceptance needs a universal source. Even if this is the case we must be aware that a murder happened between brothers in the first family described in the Bible. We have enough “unmorality” what benefit would we get from removing all moral boundaries.
The absolutes of moral boundaries are not any better than the absolutes of “unmoral” boundaries. Study enough history and we will discover 4000 years of war, genocide, and torture. Watch 1000 hours of police documentaries, investigations, and autopsies and see the horrific things that human beings do to each other every day. Are we better or worse if we follow the moral injunction “to do unto others as we would have them do unto you?”
One of the problems in discussing moral issues is that so often see is individuals who want debate moral problems from a distance. In such debates the individuals are not affected by the consequences of their own moral (or unmoral) claims. To me this invalidates their moral claims. The tendency is to want to exist in a bubble of invulnerability. This happens when individuals give to themselves the power to chose or deny morality from a position of deliberation isolation. From there such individuals presumes that they can function morally or amorally all on their own. The problem is why anyone should agree when they may benefit greatly from violating other’s moral rules. Morals are meant not to just limit our misbehavior but protect us from the misbehavior of others (the others who may be in a position to do great harm to us). Why should I not torture you (and your spouse, your children, grandmother and grandfather, cousins, aunts and uncles , and best friends, everyone you know all for the sake of my own fun), and then kill you and take everything you own if something is not strong enough to bind me morally. Remove the very concept of moral rules and we end up like any number of places in the world where they are doing great violence. This is happening as we speak. Moral binding does not work perfectly but that does not mean that all evils would disappear if moral binding disappeared.
This is not to suggest that we do not have thousands of historical examples of individuals or entire societies who were bound by one set of morals but denied those morals to another. Those who follow one set of morals feel no moral compunction to extend those moral rules of anyone outside of their moral (social, familial) group. Wars have been fought over this kind of identification. Within that sort of social group all neighbors were treated with utmost kindness, like one’s own family. Outsiders to that social group are composed of the rotting skulls of one’s enemies in some distant field. Such a field will most likely be far enough away to pretend that all around them are white picket fences, clean streets, bright flowers and right behaviors. My experiences in life have led me I have a great aversion to theoretical hypocrisy.
However, while believing that universality is necessary criteria for morality (something that could be provided by God) I would not use the word “religion.” This is why for me the question itself is a distortion of the problem. I could answer yes or no: though my answer would be directed at another question. In the New Testament Jesus Christ attacked the hypocrisy of the religion of his time as being guilty of great evil because it was ritualistic and not authentic. Jesus was Jewish but he opposed the Jewish religion in the form that was practiced by the nation of Israel at that time. In fact, the same reasons that Jesus opposed religion could be applied to any religion, wherever we find it. By his own definition Jesus claimed he did not represent a religion.
Religions from its historical origins have all functioned by way of a kind of bargain system. If I give this sacrifice I will benefit positively or negative: I do this thing and I will receive something for it or I will be protected from some evil that could happen to me. This benefit could be crops growing or riches coming or the protection from harm, violence, or disease. The bargain may include the fixing or limiting of violence or sickness or some other negative. Wherever we find religion, throughout all time and in all cultures, it functions in this sense.
Therefore, we may define religions (in and of themselves) as functioning by a particular set of rituals that are used by individuals to negotiate protection and benefit to whatever deity they hold allegiance. A deity may be anything: a rock, a tree, an animal, a political system, a famous person. The rituals will be performed to earn the “special” standing before (that) god. The kind of Theology is meant to engender some a level of piety (an indication of a particular worth) or a particular sacrifice that will make the crops grow, give protection to danger, heal sickness, make one popular or rich.
The comparison that Jesus makes is between a religion based on the works of human beings or a faith based on the work of God. The New Testament counters the religious definition by it “rains on the just and unjust equally.” Being wealthy or healthy is no proof of God’s blessing any more that poverty or sickness is a proof of Gods curse. There is a Theology consistent with this. The protection and benefits that Jesus describes are for a future eternity beyond this life. It is unfortunate that many Christians have wrongly used the miracles that Jesus did to establish his divinity as an indication of God’s rules of function for all time. That is used to support this concept of Christianity. The Bible does not defend this position.
To the contrary the Bible shows that most of the apostles died horrific deaths through torture. One would think (if these beliefs are true) that these persons who lived, ate, and traveled with Jesus (and gave up their whole lives) would have received the greatest benefit from their commitment. If one’s religion functions by this premise these are demonstrate examples of a complete failure of that set of beliefs.
In this definition religion is always a flawed system. One of my professors in graduate school did archeological fieldwork with the Aymara Indians in Bolivia. The Aymara sacrificed Llama fetuses and Coca leaves (Cocaine) to the mountain (their god). If they met with disaster they would lay llama fetuses on an altar. If they had a desire to obtain a particular thing they would sacrifice llama fetuses. If they did not receive what they asked for they would sacrifice more llama fetuses. These religious practices were self perpetuating. There was always a need for more llama fetuses. Within that religious system (the dangers of religious systems in general) there was no way to disprove the religions assumptions. Not only that they would punish members of the community for any disaster had they attributed the cause of adversity to a failure of giving enough sacrifices. As a consequence they blamed all misfortune on their own behavior. They also blamed the negative events that happened to another person on themselves. This amounts to attributing a religious causation for every event. Like a thousand religions there is no way out of the circle of religious influence.
If we study religion in cultures around the world, and throughout history, we find that the morals of any given religion may be horribly immoral. There is no way to question either the religion or the moral beliefs. We need some kind of criteria to be able to discern certain religions are better or worse from other religions. In many cultures religion have provided the social, political, and moral structures that were advantageous to the general happiness and cohesiveness to that society. Though some religions have provided moral benefits for its members this does not mean that religion in general is beneficial to members of any another religion or society. In this sense there is nothing inherent in the concept of religion (in itself) that guarantees any successful human value (in terms of if those morals provide basic social functioning [down to the lowest possible threshold]).
My mother had a great deal of contact with missionaries from around the world because of her job. She has told me the story of a friend (Robin) who was Baptist missionary in Brazil to the Jamamadi. Jamamadi - Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamamadi “The Jamamadí, also called the Yamamadi, Kanamanti, Jeoromi. txi, Kapaná, and Kapinamari, are an indigenous people who live in Acre and Amazonas, Brazil.” When the Robin arrived the tribe would kill one of a set of twins because they were afraid that allowing both twins to live would bring horrible misfortune. The feeling of curse was so strong that death was the only option. In this instance the Jamamadi’s religion did not stop the slaughter of a new born child but instead validated those horrific (to our moral) behaviors. It took considerable effort in opposition to their religion to have them do a simple test of beliefs. The test was to discover whether or not if not killing a child would bring disaster. When allowing both to twins live did no cause disaster they soon stopped that practice. The reason to stop this practice was moral but the application was by a method of common sense investigation. The problem is that the ideas of a religion may be so strong as to disallow in form of questioning.
I can only think about this question meta-theoretically. My answer is more about issues we must consider to arrive at possible solutions. It would be theoretically hypocritical to not situate myself within the problems. It is for this reason I am not an armchair philosopher. I take the position there can be no armchair philosophers. Philosophical beliefs are proven by actions in ways that arm chair philosophizing cannot fathom. Wang Yang-ming, who I have referenced on another topic, describes this moral problem in 15th century China. There is no abstract moral knowledge. One does not know morals without acting morally. If one does to carry the moral claims to action no moral claims are valid. Purely theoretical moral discussions can function with a possibility of a fluidity that fails completely when one is at the mercy of another individual’s kindness. Moral discussions need to take place in the arena where we ourselves have lost all hope of rescuing ourselves and must rely on the “moral” kindness of others. It is that moment when one tests the legitimacy of all moral claims.
I cannot deny my solutions will derive out of a specific Biblical interpretation. I was taught this as a child that functions very differently from other interpretations of Christianity. My father was a Baptist minister and later taught theology. He could read Hebrew and Greek and knew the Bible far better than I. I aggravated him to no end with in my incessant questioning of everything. He complained about this more than once. My interests led me toward the intersection between philosophical, psychological, historical, cultural, political, and religious, sources of evidence. I have described elsewhere the requirement of an imaginary conceptual space that all (potentially available) knowledge (no matter how imperfectly assembled at that moment) must be brought together to make intellectual decision about anything. Valid theories must presuppose that the more important the task the more evidence that must be included to arrive at working conclusion.
No, moral values cannot simply exist on their own.
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