Eye in the Sky

The well-known passage from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov — "If God is dead, all is permitted” — suggests that the non-religious would not live moral lives without the possibility of supervision by a god.

But sociological studies suggest that those belonging to an organized religion (as opposed to a disorganized one?) do no better than their secular counterparts in the percentage adhering to widely held moral standards such as proscriptions against lying, theft, and sexual infidelity (cf.:  Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience:  Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?).

When individuals ground their own morality in careful thought and reflection, their moral convictions are often stronger than the morals of those who are simply told what to believe and how to behave.  Religion intentionally conditions adherents to behave by one definition of morality (which may contradict the moral tenets of another religion, or society) within a system of reward and punishment; it teaches people only to follow rules, not to reason right from wrong.

But if we grant the apologists’ premise, if the decline of Christianity, for example, is causing moral behavior to disappear, we would see evidence of that because we have seen the rise of the nones — not a horror film about a bunch of Catholic nuns who return from the dead to rap you on the knuckles with a ruler for chewing gum, but “nones” or those who belong to no religion.  In what ways, specifically, is the world getting worse because Christianity is slipping away?  Religionists take it for granted that the world is getting worse, but the evidence we have points toward the opposite view.  There’s the unprecedented expansion of LGBTQ rights that has swept across western societies over the last quarter century and, in particular, over the last decade.  Feminism and anti-racism have gained a deserved prominence in social discourse, and child labor, at least in the West, is a thing of the past.  Religion can’t claim credit for this moral awakening, rather it fought and is fighting fanatically against it.

You find as you look around the world that every single bit of progress in humane feeling, every improvement in the criminal law, every step towards the diminution of war, every step towards better treatment of the coloured [sic] races, or every mitigation of slavery, every moral progress that there has been in the world, has been consistently opposed by the organised [sic] Churches of the world. I say quite deliberately that the Christian religion, as organised [sic] in its Churches, has been and still is the principal enemy of moral progress in the world.
(Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian)

Taken as a whole, from my seat, the decline of religion has made the world more moral, because when the “promise” of justice is not focused on a life after or separate from this one, we realize we must get it right, do it right, set it right — now.  The religious apologists (Christian, et. al.) predicting we’re in for nothing but mayhem and doom without their guiding hand have it backward.  Nearly every advance in human rights that’s ever been made was made in spite of churches condemning the efforts made by secular moral crusaders.

If abuses are destroyed, man must destroy them. If slaves are freed, man must free them. If new truths are discovered, man must discover them. If the naked are clothed; if the hungry are fed; if justice is done; if labor is rewarded; if superstition is driven from the mind; if the defenseless are protected and if the right finally triumphs, all must be the work of man. The grand victories of the future must be won by man, and by man alone.

Man must learn to rely upon himself. Reading bibles will not protect him from the blasts of winter, but houses, fires. and clothing will. To prevent famine, one plow is worth a million sermons, and even patent medicines will cure more diseases than all the prayers uttered since the beginning of the world.
(Robert Green Ingersoll)

It’s very simple.  Moral progress implies change.  The passion of a reformer is open to change which the dogma of religion cannot abide and must thwart at every turn.  As Immanuel Kant said, "The death of dogma is the birth of morality.”

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