31 March 2010

IS RELIGION A GUARANTEE OF MORAL BEHAVIOR?


(This post was originally published in February 2009.
I made some revisions and am posting it again.)

My answer to the title question is an emphatic NO!
I’m not saying all religious people are immoral. The examples I give below represent a very tiny percentage of the religious community. What I am saying is:
Being a believer is not a guarantee of moral conduct.

"Morality is not determined by the church you attend or the faith you embrace. It is determined by the quality of your character and the positive impact you have on those you meet along your journey." ---as stated on The Immoral Minority blog.


Societal health:
A study by the Journal of Religion & Society (2005) concluded: “Higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies... Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional.”
The Cambridge Companion to Atheism came up with similar findings. High levels of atheism are strongly connected with high levels of societal health: low homicide, poverty, infant mortality and illiteracy rates, high levels of educational attainment, per capita income and gender equality.
In a 1999 study, George Barna, found the percentage of people who have divorced as follows:
Jews = 30%
Born Again Christians = 27%
Mainstream Christians = 24%
Atheists/agnostics = 21%
While I don’t personally believe divorce is immoral, many religious groups think it is a sign of moral weakness.
Ron Barrier, Spokesperson for American Atheists commented: "These findings confirm what I have been saying these last five years... It stands to reason that our families would be dedicated more to each other than to some invisible monitor in the sky. With Atheism, women and men are equally responsible for a healthy marriage... Atheists reject, and rightly so, the primitive patriarchal attitudes so prevalent in many religions with respect to marriage."
James Veverka, in "The moral hypocrisy of the Bible Belt," remarked: "We hear an awful lot from conservatives in the Bible Belt and on the TV about how we all should be living. Certainly a culture that teaches the conservative religious values of the Christian right must have clean living written all over it... It doesn't. Far from it... Joining its history of Biblically correct bigotry and discrimination, it is an area with the highest divorce, murder, STD/HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, single parent homes, infant mortality, and obesity rates in the nation. As a region, the Bible Belt has the poorest health care systems and the lowest rates of high school graduation."

Sex and religion:
James A. Haught: “Western religions have spent millenia inflicting shame, guilt, repression and punishment upon human sexuality... The West presents... a long chronicle of religious hostility to lovers -- for no rational reason... Every censorship effort, every attempt at sexual repression, still comes from religion.” (“Sex and God: Is Religion Twisted?Free Inquiry, Fall 1997)
Episcopal priest Raymond Lawrence wrote in a national United Methodist journal: "The churches are in danger of evolving into havens for the sexually suppressed or, worse, communities of profound hypocrisy." (Quarterly Review, summer 1985)
Dan Barker, former evangelical minister and current co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation contends that when religious zealots spend so much time thinking and preaching against sex and homosexuality, they become obsessed with it, and eventually they cannot control their sexual urges.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, another co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation) wrote Betrayal of Trust, Clergy Abuse of Children (1988), which chronicles hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by priests, ministers and rabbis in the U.S. I can't help but think that her husband Dan Barker (above) was right.
When an avalanche of accusations against priests, for sexual misconduct, hit my local area, the newspapers were filled with letters to the editor blaming the church for not allowing priests to marry. However, priests who like young boys are not interested in adult women. Others were saying that pedophiles were joining the church to have easy access to children. But one psychiatrist who had treated some of the perpetrators wrote an article that made more sense to me. He argued that men who were Catholic and knew they had a problem, chose to become priests because they thought that if they prayed enough, were pious enough, read the scriptures enough, they would be cured. We see how well that worked.
I was astounded to learn that some bishops were directing priests to deny communion or even recommend excommunication to church members who were openly pro-choice, while at the same time pedophile priests were merely slapped on the wrists and allowed to move to other parishes.


The news media have covered extensively the sexual scandals of Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, and Jimmy Swaggert, all three ministers who were either morally bankrupt or, at the least, hypocrites. Thus I will not go into the details here. However, suffice it to say they preached often about moral weakness and sin, then did exactly what they were preaching against.

Morality and politics:
I know our lawmakers cannot be perfect and I don’t expect them to be. But when they campaign on moral issues, then disappoint us, then they are hypocrites.
U.S. Representative Mark Foley (Catholic & Republican) who was known as a crusader against child abuse and exploitation, resigned following a scandal involving teenage male Congressional pages. His replacement, Tim Mahoney (United Methodist & Democrat) ran on a platform of restoring morals to Washington. What did he do? He had a two-year affair with a former staff worker. Just about the time that hit the news, it was discovered that he had been cheating on that mistress with a second mistress. Larry Craig (Methodist and Republican) who repeatedly voted Nay on gay rights issues was caught in an airport restroom, apparently soliciting men for sex.

Religion and crime:
There have been many notorious criminals who were church members. You may remember a serial killer who called himself BTK (Bind, Torture and Kill) in Kansas. David Rader, who killed at least 10 people, was a Deacon and the Congregational President of his Lutheran Church.
David Ludwig, the Pennsylvania teenager who killed his girlfriend’s parents was a home-schooled Christian. Mark Chapman who murdered John Lennon had been described by his friends as a “Jesus freak.”
One of the evilest Christians I know of is Fred Phelps, the preacher who pickets and disrupts military funerals. He physically and psychologically abused his wife and all of his children. The only reason he is not in jail is that he convinced his sons that if they told the truth and he was put on trail, that they would go to hell. Phelps is convinced homosexuals are responsible for all the evils in the world. (His son Nate's blog, A Journey to Reason, tells much of his journey from his father's home to atheism. Read his speech to the American Atheists HERE.)
In a report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (1997) approximately 80% of the U.S. population claimed some affiliation with a religious group and 80% of the U.S. prison population stated a religious preference. Logical, right? But then why, if (at that time) 10% of the general population claimed to be atheist, only 0.2% of the prison population said they were atheists? There are many religious people who argue that prisoners choose to say they are religious because there are benefits to doing that in prison. If that is so, then our prison system is violating the church/state separation provision of the Constitution.
One of the biggest crimes of all, which senselessly kills innocent people every day, is terrorism. Many people don't want to admit that the terrorists are religious people, but that is exactly what they are. They may be of a different religion than those who are shocked by their immoral acts, but as I pointed out in a previous post, Christians killed at least 50,000 people, just as senselessly during the 1st Crusade, and did it in the name of Christ.

Steve Allen: “It is frequently argued that a return to formal religion is the solution to the problem [of corruption.] But the prescription leaves something to be desired, for one finds practically no formal humanists, agnostics, or atheists in the ranks of the corrupt. Most of the embezzlers, swindlers, con-men and thieves... are card carrying members of one religion’s denomination or another that formally pays respect to the Old and/or New Testament.” (Ripoff, a look at corruption in America, 1979)

I repeat, I’m not saying all religious people are immoral. These cases represent very few people among the religious. What I am saying is that being religious is not a guarantee of moral conduct.

William Lobdell: “To the chagrin of evangelical pollsters and leaders, Christians–for the most part–don’t act any differently than atheists. And, in fact, in some categories (divorce rates and racism) evangelicals act worst.”

I know most religious people are good, honest, ethical people. Most non-religious people I know are also good, honest and ethical, yet they aren’t that way because they fear retribution in the afterlife.
copyright 2010 C. Woods


Click on this link for an article by Paula Kirby: "Morality: no gods required."
Click on this link for an article by Austin Cline: "Irreligious People Just as Ethical as Religious Churchgoers"




6 comments:

Tim said...

Hi I just read your article, as a Christian it is a shame when I read that many Christians are not living upto the standards they so eagerly speak about. However, I think the main focus that you're missing is the fact that Christians don't pretend to be perfect themselves. The message Jesus brought was a message for humanity that it needs to be saved because it is so badly messed up. In terms of the atrocities which have been done in the name of Christ. While it is a terrible thing when people do not match up to the ideals of the one they claim to follow, I must make mention of the fact that 50,000 people in the crusades does not match the 20 million + that were killed by Communist Russia (an athestic philosophy), plus the many that have been killed in other communist countries such as China, North Korea, etc.
While it is shocking that Christians would do terrible things, they are convicted by their own teachings. Atheism has no such fall back, whem atheists such as those in Communist countries make people dissappear there is no reason why they should not. They are simply following their beliefs to their logical conclusion that religion is a plague and thus should be wiped out by force. This is a perfectly acceptable atheistic mindset. It fits with natural selection and survival of the fittest. There can be no 'moral or ethical' cry from other atheists that you are a hypocrite or callus or cruel. Survival governs atheism and the evolution they subscribe to. Therefore while there may be moral people who are atheists, they have no foundation to condemn the actions of others, except for the case of the 'good of the community' and as the saying goes one man's treasure is another man's trash.

C Woods said...

Tim,
One of my problems with religion is that so many religious people say that to be moral one must believe in God, and in particular the god they believe in. If this were true, then everyone would have been raping and killing each other until, say Moses gave them the ten commandments, and then all of that would have stopped---at least by the Jews.

Another problem I have with some religious people is their "holier than thou" attitudes, and not just with atheists ---but with other religions and other sects of their own religion. It's okay with me if you think your religion is true, but every sane person has to admit s/he is not in possession of the whole truth. Zealots and terrorists, for example, when they kill abortionists or fly planes into buildings are positive they know the whole truth. They don't. I don't. No one does.

I take my moral codes from many sources. I don't think religion is all bad and of course nearly every religion has some form of the "Do unto others...." rule, which is one I agree with. I take my life philosophies from sources as diverse as Confucius, Mark Twain, and Lazarus Long. I know that no one can live without harming others, but basically, I attempt to do as little harm as possible to other people, other living things, the planet, etc.

Of course I have a foundation to condemn the actions of others. My foundation can be kindness, common sense, reason, what makes sense, what works, ---among others. For example, I think that honesty works to help every one get along together better than deceit. I think talking things out & compromising works most of the time before violence becomes necessary.

What makes your Christian "foundation" any more moral or any better than the foundation of others, whether they be Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or non-believers? Are you a moral person just because you fear the wrath of God? If you lost your faith tomorrow, would you change into a raving, raping, thieving, adultering murderer? If you aren't one now, I doubt that would happen.

And then there is the ongoing debate about who killed more people, Christians or atheists. The fact is, that it is possible for atheists or theists to devolve into stupidity and inhumanity that result in slaughter. On one hand, during the crusades, the Pope may have thought God commanded it and the Stalins of the world have done the same in the name of the state. Both want to hold onto power. I, of course, don't think religions should be wiped out by force ---to me that is an illogical conclusion. On the other hand, religious people have tried to wipe out Jews, for example, during the inquisition. I hope you don't think that was a logical conclusion.

I take exception to your statement that there would be no 'moral and ethical' cry from atheists over murderous behavior of an atheist despot. That is demonizing all atheists. Do you think we have no feelings for other human beings? I've fought for human rights all of my adult life ---and I don't care whether an atrocity is at the hands of a secular leader, a religious leader or an atheist, I will protest, there will be a cry from me.

And what is wrong with "for the good of the community?" I don't really like paying taxes, but I know paying them is for the good of the community. Sure I'd like to keep all of my money and spend all my time thinking about myself, but I know some people are less fortunate than I so I am willing to give some of my time and money for the good of others. Doesn't religion expect the same?

I'm sure we're really not that different except you think a god exists & I don't. But if you met me and if we didn't talk about religion, I bet you would never guess I am an atheist.

Gary said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog, Beyond Black and White. I've added a link to your blog in there, and have begun blogging again.....and loving it! Thanks for the inspiration.

Craving Something said...

I don't usually post comments on blogs. Dialogues such as these tend to stir great emotions. It is sad that people of all philosophical and religious strains can so easily be drawn into behaviors that range from being merely unkind to totally depraved and destructive. The reality is that though you can legislate morality (which all laws do), you can not legislate a changed heart or heart that will do kindness to others. Laws are established to restrain evil, to punish injustice, and create an orderly and civil society.

The question is where does one base their moral foundation; where do they find truth? Ultimately truth has to come from outside ourselves whether I glean it from others or attribute it to a supreme being. From a Christian perspective I would say that all truth is God's truth no matter where it is found.

The failure of a person to live according to their moral code does not negate the moral code. Rather it affirms the need for a moral code in the first place. It is a shame that Christians who "preach" a code of living are then found to betray it. But their failure does make the truth obsolete or ineffectual. I believe that we should legislate morality because in doing so we create a more civil, healthier, and productive society. However, I am not naive to think that in doing so it will eliminate evil or injustice. Rather instilling moral law increase, to some extent immoral behavior because there is a standard by which the behavior is judged. I know that people are unkind because I measure it against my standard of kindness.

As a silly example. In a polite society it is kind to open the door for a woman. If we see someone who doesn't not open the door we automatically consider them unkind. Do away with that as a standard and people who open a door for a woman will be seen as condescending, sexist, or prude (the new standard).

I have chosen a worldview where God through His Son Jesus has shown a way of love and forgiveness in the midst of truth and justice. It has been trampled on by both insiders and outsiders, but those actions do not diminish its truth.

Grace and Peace.

C Woods said...

CRAVING SOMETHING wrote "I have chosen a worldview where God through His Son Jesus has shown a way of love and forgiveness in the midst of truth and justice. It has been trampled on by both insiders and outsiders, but those actions do not diminish its truth."

I SAY: Sorry it took so long for me to post the previous comment and to respond. (I have been involved in other projects and haven't opened my blog for weeks.)

To CRAVING SOMETHING: How do you know your truth is as true or more true than the truth of any other sect of Christianity? or a Jew's truth, a Mormon's truth, or a Muslim's truth? I know plenty of people who are absolutely sure they have the right answers through their religions, yet they are of many different faiths. Each feels as strongly as the others that s/he has found the one true religion.

I am a freethinker/atheist who is willing to change my mind if presented with convincing evidence. I had my first doubts about religion more than 50 years ago. Since then, I have not been presented with anything that convinces me that ANY religion is true.

Look at the right sidebar to find my posts on Why are there atheists? and Why I am an atheist ---in 3 parts. (Or search for them in the search box at the top left of any page.)

The reason I am not religious isn't for lack of a religious upbringing. Perhaps it is because of it. I found most of what I was taught in Sunday school, church, religious camps, youth group, vacation Bible school, reading the Bible (cover to cover, several times) and from my parents so utterly incredible that I just couldn't believe any of it.

Just think of how you look at other religions and what you find incredible about them. Mormons wear "magic underwear"? Rattlesnake handlers think god will protect them from the serpents? Fundamentalist Muslims want to kill all the infidels ---all of those who don't believe as they do? Christians eat the body and drink the blood of Christ?

As Dave Barry said, “The thing about religion is that everybody else’s always appears stupid.”

You say we all find our morals outside of ourselves ---from others or from a god. I agree. Morals have been different at different times and in different cultures. That is one of my objections to those who take the Bible literally. If we took the Bible literally, we would stone disobedient children, keep slaves, not mix different fibers in one piece of clothing, not allow women to speak in church, and never eat pork or lobster, for example. Yet most of those who say they take the Bible literally, disobey most or all Bible laws, yet condemn homosexuality because the Bible says so. That kind of picking and choosing what to believe or practice is beyond reason.

The Bible (or any other "holy" book) makes as much sense to me as any myth or fairy tale. Such stories can teach us things, they can warn us against evil doers, they can introduce us to those who do good, and they can convey some universal truths, but in the end, fiction is fiction, fantasy is fantasy, myth is myth.

Although we all find our initial morals from without, we need to sort them out, reject some, accept some. and finally internalize them. And we can change our minds if we realize we were wrong or have learned something new about an ethical issue.

In the end, we have to find strength within ourselves. I believe we have to find what we need to get along in this world within ourselves instead of looking outward.

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