Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Religion And Morality

One of the most commonly heard and, in my view, most easily dismissed claims from the religious is that without (most especially but not necessarily exclusively) the Bible, there is no basis for good behavior. My response has always been that humans have empathy. They know what things make them feel bad or do them harm, and it's easy therefore to know the same about behavior toward others. Not to mention that from an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense to have developed the tendency to band together for the common good. (Would that right-wingers hadn't devolved so, recently.) Good and bad are not concepts exclusive to religion.

Anyhow, I came across a couple of bits on everyone's favorite science/atheism site, namely Pharyngula. Naturally, I pass them on to my open-minded readers. Here's a link to a study from everyone's favorite elitist liberal den of iniquity. It shows that atheists are as ethical as church goers. And here's one that goes even further:

I guess I'll have to look the guy up and read what he wrote.

Okay, I did. And I also saw articles claiming to have debunked him. But the thing is, I don't think they succeeded at all. What they did was to come up with a beautiful hedge: lots of people claim to be religious but they really aren't "highly spiritually committed." Hmm. How does one quantify that? In fact, the proposition is self-contradicting: spirituality (whatever that is) is very much claimed by atheists.

To feel connected in some way to one's fellow mankind and to the planet* is, in fact, something anyone can experience, with or without religion. Those of us that do -- for its own sake, I might add, and not for fear of fiery punishment or expectation of eternal reward -- are pretty likely to do the right thing, or so one would intuit. More so, in fact, than those that claim the righteousness of whatever their religious belief might be, as they fly into buildings, strap on vests, kill doctors, burn crosses on people's lawns, murder homosexuals and hang the bodies on fences, or throw rocks at Haitians.

Is how I see it.

[Addendum: In response to Timmyson's comment, below: I should have linked directly to the article, which is linked from here only via another link. I've corrected that above. Meanwhile, the title of the article answers Timmyson's concern: "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies." It didn't look at impoverished nations. Sorry for my laxity.]

[Addendum #2, 2/25: a favorite relative has pointed out that the Matthew Shepard murder (to which I referred in the "fence" reference) might not have been a hate crime. An example of later reporting is here. In that article, though, it mentions the attack came after Matthew grabbed the attacker's leg while sitting next to him... In any case, it's also true that there were people at his funeral chanting anti-gay slurs, loudly, in the name of their god.]
*That's about as far as I can go. I like looking at stars; the cold clear nights we've had of late give spectacular skies and I'm glad they're there. But, for now, I'm more concerned about what we're doing to our earth than what the cosmos is doing to us. Astrology- or other-wise.


  1. Though I agree with the sentiment behind it, based on the video (which unfortunately is all I have time to read) this study is deeply flawed. They say he relied on UN data about nations, but poverty correlates with both religion and crime (and all the other social ills they talk about). This is the oft cited issue with science reporting, that the media jumps from a study of correlation to a report of causation.

    If the study controlled for poverty, rich/poor gap, histories of trauma, etc. then perhaps we could draw the conclusion we both suspect is true. Until then, we're straw men for religious zealots to knock down and appear that much cleverer.

  2. Timmyson: my bad, which I've corrected in the post: I added a direct link to the study (using the pre-existing words "Okay, I did." And I supplied the title, which is "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies."

    So it addressed your concerns by focusing only on thriving countries.

  3. Even if Matthew Sheppard had grabbed someone's leg, making a pass at someone is not a capital crime or there would be no men left. It's a hate crime if you beat someone to death for bumping into you, or touching you, or taking a glass of water from the whites-only counter. And "grabbed my leg" could be code for "accidentally touched me."


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