Morality sans religion
Spirituality does not direct moral compass of societies
Several weeks ago, the pope visited England.
There are a lot of people who are unhappy with the Catholic Church right now, so he was greeted by a large number of protesters, lots of angry comments and supportive crowds that were much smaller than expected.
During his stay, the pope happened to make comments that made a number of people even more irate.
“Even in our own lifetimes, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.
As we reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus, a reductive vision of a person and his destiny,” he said.
Essentially, he claimed that the Nazi regime was spurred on by an atheist leader and that atheists lack morality because they are nonbelievers.
Many people think he made these inflammatory comments to distract from the pedophilia scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church.
They say he was hoping to not have to field questions concerning the church’s poor handling of the situation.
I agree that this is most likely why he said those things, and I would be willing to write the whole thing off as just the desperate blustering of an old man.
However, there is a large portion of society that believes that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were atheists, and they are convinced that it’s impossible to be moral without God.
On the subject of Hitler, it’s likely the case that he was not an atheist.
I say “likely” because it turns out he was fairly contradictory concerning religion. On the one hand, he would say things like, “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew, I am defending the handiwork of the Lord,” and, “Almighty God, bless our arms when the hour comes. Be just, as thou hast always been just … Lord, bless our struggle.
During his time as head of the German government, various pro-Christian and anti-atheist laws were passed.
On the other hand, he also made anti-religious statements.
It’s most likely the case that he just said whatever he thought would best serve his desires.
He is quite probably neither representative of religion nor atheism, but just a very bad person whose like we all hope never to see again.
Even if he was an atheist, pointing to Hitler and claiming that he is proof of the immorality of nonbelievers is akin to pointing to those Catholic priests guilty of child molestation and claiming all Catholics are perverts. It’s disingenuous at best and slanderous at worst.
The other issue at hand is whether or not it’s possible to be a moral individual without guidance from some divine power. Studies show that it is indeed possible.
In fact, when researchers look at more secular countries and compare them to the U.S., a nation with a large number of religious citizens, they find that the less influence religion has on a society, the better off those societies are.
Gregory Paul, who conducted such a study, said this: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”
He goes on to say, “The disparity was even greater when the U.S. was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.”
Paul and others believe that this data may actually show that religion has a negative effect on society, but I think it’s unfair to make such a claim based solely on a study such as this one.
The fact is that there are just too many factors involved in the formation, governing and overall attitude of a society to claim that any single aspect is responsible for how that society handles morality.
What it does show, however, is that God is not required for people to be good to each other.
We don’t like to be hurt, and most of us are capable of making a “leap of logic” to the idea that other people don’t like to be hurt either.
We can then decide that maybe we shouldn’t hurt others if we don’t have to.
Morality isn’t handed down from on high, it’s simply the act of considering your actions, weighing the consequences and deciding if what you’re about to do will cause more harm than good.
Consider this philosophical question that’s been modified a bit but was posed initially by Socrates: “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”