When it comes to morality, I’m not sure Shark and Shepherd knows what the flock he’s talking about.

January 29th, 2006

In Mundy on Moral Values, generic viagra tadalafil Rick Esenberg of Shark and Shepherd seems to be saying that there is little value in a moral code that does not rely on – or perhaps embrace – religion as its ultimate source.

I would argue the opposite. The perils of basing morality on a religious foundation are many:

1.) By linking morality intrinsically to religion you beg the question, discount cialis capsule which religion? Would the morals of a Mormen be the same as a Mayan? And if not, which are “correct?”

2.) It frees an atheist or an agnostic to believe that no code of morality applies to him or her.

3.) It ultimately reduces all moral imperatives to “because God said so.”
To turn Rick’s words around on him, that seems like pretty thin intellectual gruel to me.

A well-reasoned moral schema that does not rely on religion avoids all these pitfalls.

I have no objection to including religion in any discussion about morality.

But I disagree that such a discussion would be more valuable, effective, or intellectually satisfying than one that makes sense without resorting to that deus ex machina of virtue: religion.

Forgive the headling, Rick. The pun was too good/bad to resist.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jenna  |  January 29th, 2006 at 10:14 pm

    So what is morality based on, then, if not religious views?

  • 2. Administrator  |  January 29th, 2006 at 10:46 pm

    To be blunt?

    The same thing religion-based morality relies on…


    …fear of the consequences of getting caught in an immoral behavior and being punished for it.

    Before it became an unfashionable phrase, people implicitly recognized this reality by talking about the “fear of God.”

    A non-religious based morality simply substitutes societal consequences for supernatural ones.

    Of course, fear only gets you so far.

    Empathy is needed to achieve the highest levels of moral behavior.

    But self-interest can be a pretty good substitute. One of the reasons I believe so wholeheartedly in the Golden Rule is that it transforms one of humanity’s most base characteristics (self-interest) into one of its loftiest principles.

    And I suppose I could do worse than finish by quoting Thomas Jefferson on a related subject:
    “If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it’s exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.”

  • 3. Jenna  |  January 29th, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    So, non-religious morality is based on fear?

    Fear of consequences?

    Consequences based in the government?

    Such as, jail time, the death penalty, fines, etc.?

    Where did the government find the basis for its laws? In 1775, how did our Founding Fathers come up with the ideas to outlaw murder, stealing, etc.?

  • 4. Administrator  |  January 29th, 2006 at 11:27 pm


    Fear of prison, fines, corporal punishment, social ostracism (it’s very unfortunate that we’ve abandoned this one for everyone except child molesters), etc.

    Let me ask you something, Jenna? What is religious morality based on if not the fear of punishment?

    Why is there a hell, if not to punish the morally unfit?

    (I’d like to recommend The Inferno for a quick refresher on the utility of punishment (or the threat thereof) for enforcing morality. Excellent book.)

    I see where you’re going with the question about the source of law (especially at the time of our nation’s founding).

    But I’d like to respond to that in several ways:

    1.) I never said that religion has NOT been part of the development of our laws or of our history. My statement is that a religious foundation is not a necessary (and possibly not the best) basis for a code of morality.

    2.) Laws and morality are two separate (though often entwined) subjects. You can, and often do, have one without the other. (Speeding is illegal, but is it immoral? Many people would consider adultery immoral (I do), but it’s not illegal.)

    3.) Would you argue that societies that did not have the Ten Commandments were without a moral code? Was murder acceptable in ancient Rome? Did Native Americans embrace incest? (A behavior that is not prohibited by the Ten Commandments, btw).

    Don’t misinterpret my disagreement as a lack of respect. I enjoy a well-argued philosophical discussion.

    By the way, how the hell are you responding so quickly? I swear that first comment was there before my browser refreshed after my initial post.

  • 5. grumps  |  January 30th, 2006 at 5:36 am

    I disagree that non-religious morality is based on fear. It may be as often based on compassion or altruism. Religion makes for a fine base for societal morality. The fear of eternal damnation is powerful only if enough folks believe in it. The flip side of that is the reward, the 72 Virginians of the joke, so to speak.

    If one builds a concious personal morality on the foundations of upbringing, religious or no, outward thoughts (morality is not about what you do for yourself) and societal shaping (no man is an island, yada yada) they will fit very nicely alongside most of those who subscribe to the Hellfire and Damnation crowd.

    We are, in the end, who we chose to be. Unless you believe in Determinism, too.

  • 6. Jenna  |  January 30th, 2006 at 7:45 am

    First, I read Dante’s Inferno when I was a sophmore in high school, and it was excellent.

    Second, I don’t necessarily believe that religious morality is all together based on fear of punishment. My religion, Lutheranism, is based on both the Old Testament, which is largely based on a strong and powerful God, that one should be afraid of, and the New Testament, which is based on a loving and gracious God. He is both, and I think it is very unfortunate if one (I’m not saying you) sees religion as solely a source of punishment.

    Many religious people are moral, or attempt to be moral, because of two reasons, not related to punishment. One, God has asked that we attempt to be perfect, as in his image. As humans, that is impossible, but he has asked us that we try. Two, morality can be based in an attempt to go to heaven, to sit next to God the Father, and praise him for all eternity. I don’t necessarily see that as an avoidance of hell, but an attempt to reach a perfect place.

    Third, laws and morals are intertwined: Why do you think, that just because some guy in the government tells us not to speed, we do so? I believe it started because God has asked us to obey our elders, including our elders in the Government. “Give to Cesars what is Cesars, give to God what is Gods.” Adultery is not illegal in today’s culture–has it always been legal? Perhaps it became legal only when our society became more secularized, and started moving away from morality?

    Fourth, God handed down the ten Commandments to Moses long before ancient Romans or Native Americans existed. I believe that those groups of people descended from people who were gathered at the base of the mountain, and heard the Ten Commandments. God touched them long before they split up and migrated to their individual places on earth.

    Whew! Sorry its so long.

  • 7. Administrator  |  January 30th, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Now see? Soon we’ll be arguing religion instead of talking about morality.

    Both you and Grumps should note my initial response that cites both empathy and self-interest as possible motivations in a non-religion based moral code. (They are not excluded from a religious-based viewpoint either.)

    I never said fear was the sole foundation of either religious or non-religious based morality. But I would still contend that it is the primary mover in both.

    For example, would people follow a moral code if there was no fear?

    Seriously, Jenna, Sin is all about fear and punishment. You can be as new testament as you like about it, but if it isn’t about punishment why did Jesus have to be scourged and ultimately die?

    Was he not standing in for us?

    And won’t you suffer a similar punishing fate (eternal death/the absence of God’s love) if you do not accept Jesus as your savior?

    And Grumps, if there was no fear of prison, or other socially constructed punishments, what percentage of people do you think would behave morally simply from the goodness of their hearts?

  • 8. Michael Caughill  |  January 30th, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Thanks for this discussion, by the way.

    I’m working on a sequel to The Abortionist that explores the differences between a morality based on religion and one based on evolution.

    Your arguments are helping me think about how various characters would approach the discussion.

    If it makes Jenna feel any better, the bad guy is the one who doesn’t believe in God.


  • 9. Rick  |  January 30th, 2006 at 10:41 pm

    What the flock?

  • 10. From Where I Sit » &hellip  |  February 2nd, 2006 at 1:23 am

    […] I’d barely recovered from my last religious wrestling match with Rick Esenberg of Shark and Shepherd when he decided to endorse this anti-atheist diatribe by Dale Reich. […]

  • 11. From Where I Sit » &hellip  |  March 7th, 2006 at 11:07 pm

    […] And the root source of morality. […]

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