The Morality of Religion

by wonderfullyrich on November 23, 2004

I wrote this to a friend who’s become fairly religious an once questioned how I would raise a child in a moral sense.


You once asked me something to the effect of how I would instill morals into my own child. My answer was something to the effect of exposing them to reality, providing as much information as possible, and letting them decide. I for the most part stick by that answer, but your question has bugged me for a few months now. Not so much because I have a problem with my answer, but rather because I believe I know what you were getting at. Your method is religion and the church, which paired against my method might seems unconscionable. I’ve been struggling with the how and why a sense of church based morals is lacking to me and I think I have a partial answer in the form of questions for you.

  • What sort of environmental values can any religion teach? Are these values rooted on an understanding of environment that is 2000 to 5000 years old?
  • What form of perspective does the church encourage about economics (money, trade, personal/corporate/governmental spending, interest rates, capitalism/socialism, etc.)?
  • What does the church say or teach about energy policy and oil dependency?
  • Does chrisitianity or islam teach about the effects of genetically modified organisms? If not can it truly make a value judgment based on a lack of information?
  • What sort of values do the many religions teach have about war, the military, and security (to speak of the diverse history of religion in war and of teachings of religion about war)? Can the murder of another human be allowed in a “Just War?”
  • What of privacy, liberty, and free thought in a modern time with infrared cameras and a clash of civilizations?
  • What does christianity and islam say about the art of war as entertainment practiced on the football field, or basketball court? Is this answer an extrapolation based on the bible or on the church’s modern understandings of morals and ethics?

Some of these are incongruities when thought of with religion, but this is my point. While religion and the church teaches one about how to deal with some basic aspects of human life which are indeed fundamental to human existence, (natural, social, political, and economic) reality is much broader, harsher, and detailed then what is taught in most religions. Specifically the environment, social thought, and economics, are areas where I see religion in general is weak. Our lives deal with these issues daily and so faced with the thought of providing values and morals based as a core around religion seems lacking to me.

As well meaning as religions might be, the limitations and focus on basic morals and ethics, misses the reality of our world. When faced with a decision about the purchase of an appliance, I doubt that many turn to god and pray for guidance (although I do admit it does happen). What helps more is a knowledge of how to research, where to find reliable information, how to assess that information, perhaps a history of the product, knowledge of it’s origins and the work environment/ethic creating it, an ability to budget money and time, the knowledge of what and how interest rates might affect them, an understanding of the environmental cost of such a product, experience working with the product or type of product, dimensions of the appliance destination verse it’s size, etc., etc. Perhaps not all of this is not something one would do all in the name of purchasing an appliance, but even if god responds these issues come into play and effect the purchase. To know god is perhaps to understand reality and human/natural history.

An appliance purchaser will providing an answer that is as much an ethical decision as is trespassing or murder (given the long term ramifications on resource usage and environmental impact on future generations). It seems though that this purchase is more out of reach for basic religious tenets. You might feel I exaggerate, but the details matter. History shows this, and Nature (aka God’s creation) reacts to this.

The framework may be something that religion develops so one can judge such a purchase with all the information available, but to me using an ancient framework that is not time adjusted or dogmatic is detrimental to a future member of society.

Religions teaches little about modern capitalism, nor of modern healthcare, or of a modern understanding of environment. During the lifetime of a child, morals and values may be important to ethical decisions, but religion as a source cannot instill an understanding of our world from a modern perspective and any religion may indeed skew that understanding to the detriment of the child or of humanity.

To this end, I find myself willing to expose my child to all aspects of the world including religions of many sorts to provide him/her a broad base from which to design values and morals.

Perhaps you might now understand why I am so upset when I understand how much we are passing off to Casidee’s generation. This is true in the US debt/deficit, this is true of the global environment, this is true concerning unfettered capitalism, this is in water resources, this is true of a historically failing foreign policy, this is true of many aspects that will be harsher for Casidee’s generation because we’ve decided entertainment, guns, and disposable products will make our lives easier.

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