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Friday, January 11, 2008

Edelman's Moral Quandaries (Pt. 2)--Divorcing Morality From Religion

Ah, the infamous 'religion' thing. Edelman has a clearly atheist viewpoint on the subject of religion. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and this isn't in any way an attack on Edelman, but simply a point of explanation. His viewpoint is shared by quite a lot of people, including me to some extent. Religion is a wonderful, beautiful thing, for some, or it is a bigoted, ignorant cloud to others. Who holds the correct viewpoint is irrelevant.
Having said that, Edelman presents this point on the subject of divorcing morality from religion:
I don’t think anything good comes from the belief that we should refrain from murder, theft, and rape because someone wrote it down in a book five thousand years ago. Those of us who don’t believe in an all-powerful Being In The Clouds are just as capable of defining principles of morality and sticking to them — in fact, I’d argue that we’re more capable. If you want to continue to believe in God, great; but we can agree on moral principles regardless without the intervention of priests, pastors, rabbis, popes, ayatollahs, imams, or prophets. What I’m saying is that the species needs to be able to think moralistically in a way that’s inclusive of both religious and non-religious people.
    This is a very difficult idea to discuss. One of the reasons why it's difficult is because our society is built upon religious principles founded by Christianity. The solution to this is to think about religious ideals as non-religious. In the U.S., most of us hold on to the same basic ideals. Murder, rape, molestation, extortion, theft, and similar are bad. Adultery is not an acceptable behavior, even though many people, religious or not, do it. But, for non-believers there is no need to believe in God or to follow codes of conduct presented in the Bible such as going to Church on Sunday and the like.
    I can't say I necessarily agree with Edelman that non-religious folks are significantly more capable of adhering to moral laws than religious folks. Perhaps the reason this is said is that we often see and hear about religious people breaking their own 'laws', but are not exposed to the same treatment of non-religious folks. There aren't any news reports stating that "the agnostic anti-believer was caught with a young boy last Tuesday". The problem with religious people is that they often try to set rules that are unrealistic. The notion of sex-after-marriage is, socially speaking, an unrealistic desire. I certainly think this is a better option than the ones we are dealing with (i.e.: taped events, random sex, promiscuous sex, and the like). Regardless, it is unrealistic. Teenagers and adults are not going to follow this rule, or at least a lot of them won't. If that were the case we wouldn't ever have had to think about the issue of abortion, as there would be no pregnant teenagers. Well, that's probably not entirely true. The number would just be drastically lower.
    The most important point that Edelman makes is that discussion of morality should be all-inclusive. When it comes to moral quandaries in politics, we should have input from both the religious and non-religious side, and both sides should work together to find good solutions. That goes for any type of political discussion among all types of politicians. There is no reason why only religious people should be allowed to define moral issues and one of particular interest is on the issue of science.
    Science, which I'm using since it is directly related to genre fiction, is something that must be understood before you can make policy on it. There have been many issues involving scientific discovery that have plagued those who considered themselves the makers of moral policy. At one point we had issues dealing with slavery, something which we consider now to be immoral. This became an issue of race and ethnicity and, in the U.S., the treatment of such races and ethnicities by Whites. We often consider this the White/Black issue, but it extended beyond that to Asians and Hispanics. What science has to do with these issues is that it was originally used to define race as a hierarchy, with Whites at the top and Blacks at the bottom. Science was, for a while, used as a basis for determining that Blacks are sub-human, or not-quite-human. With the advancement of technology, however, this was proven to be a load of crap. We found that aside from skin color, Blacks are not that different from Whites, and neither or Asians or Hispanics. In fact, we're all basically the same, with the exception of minor genetic differences that vary from person to person. Science found out that there really aren't any physiological differences that are consistent, even in skin color. But for a time the law held firm that Blacks weren't the same and should be treated differently, despite the grand letter of science flooded much of the White world and began to gain acceptance. We all know the result and while racism still exists, it is not in a form that is outwardly condoned by the government. Jim Crowe is gone.
    Now, we are plagued by issues of stem cell research, the ethics of cloning, and even concerns over nano-technology and bio-manipulation. I'll avoid the stem cell issue as that is a particular hot one, and move to the others. Many considered cloning to be mankind's attempts to 'play God', and so it was determined that cloning technology should be stifled. We can clone some little cells and the like, but we're not allowed to go around creating Dolly over and over, or any other such thing. The fact is that cloning is actually a part of our society, just not in a form you might consider to be 'cloning'.
    However, many of the moral quandaries surrounding technology like cloning, and even bio-manipulation, are influenced by religious ideologies, and rarely, if ever, concerned with the reality of the situation. Cloning should be a controlled technology, as we don't need to develop super soldiers and the like. However, it should never have been banned by any notion of 'playing God', but banned because it was considered entirely unethical or wrong from a humanistic standpoint. Many scientists believed that with controlled cloning and research they could create organs that are not part of a living organism like us (humans), and that it wasn't an issue of morality. Others did not. Still, the issue should have been approached entirely from the point of view of people discussing people issues. Cloning is not a religious issue and while both religious and non-religious people can talk about it, it should remain a non-religious or at least ambiguous issue.
    The end result on the subject of science, which goes directly with Edleman, is that we should look at it from two viewpoints and find a middle ground in which both viewpoints are allowed, but at the same time are not entirely inclusive. One should be able to talk about science without saying "cause God said so". That little phrase has been the cause of so much turmoil in the world and it shouldn't exist in policy, since it's introduction has ruined the lives of a lot of people in the past. We should be cautious how we incorporation religion into moral decisions. Should we divorce religion entirely from morality? I don't think so. There is a necessity for religion to exist, which I won't discuss here. But we should certainly do as Edelman eventually suggests and try to find that middle ground where discussions can be made from a more level-headed approach.

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  1. I've been trying to say that for the longest time, you just said in words I've never been able to find. When I get into discussion like this, they say things like, "God said so," and while that's great for ruling individual lives by their choice, "God said so" also brought about the Inquisition. Nice post, I liked it.

  2. Well thanks :). I really had problems with this one. I had it about 50% written a few days ago, and then I realized it wasn't going to work, so I deleted all but 5% of it and rewrote what you see now. It's a difficult subject to discuss.
    Another argument against using the "God said so" reasoning is that not all Americans are God-fairing people, and some of them that are God-fairing people don't follow the Bible. So, it's somewhat unethical to use God as a reason for instating moral policies in a country so diverse.
    And yes, things like the Inquisition or even the witch trials, burnings, executions, and the like were all factors condoned by "God said so", in some for or another at least. That's not to say that religious people are evil, but that "God said so" really isn't a good enough reason to do something...

  3. You did a ver good job. By the way, I sent my essay to you. I hope it was to the right e-mail.

  4. Well thanks!

    I did get the essay. I sent a reply email, but I plan to read it this weekend.