The Echoes of the Mind (102) Religion & Morality

Religion & Morality

God works in mysterious ways. ~ common religious expression, emanating from a 1779 poem by English poet William Cowper

Fate can be a bitter pill. Religion sugar coats it with an avenue of appeal. But God is odd. Philosophical believers have often pondered evil acts which escape his omnipotent power to prevent.

Moral events require both an agent (doer) and a patient (receiver). Without both these roles actions cease to be moral. A theft without a thief is simply losing your money.

Lacking agency, all circumstances morph into dicey chance: a thoroughly unsatisfactory resolution. Unchecked uncertainty rubs hard against the desire for some degree of certainty and control.

Morality involves a dyadic structure. When moral intuition kicks in over a perceived injustice, our 2-party schema for morality tries to complete the dyad. If no natural agent can be found, and especially if the magnitude of misfortune is great, it must be an act of God.

When people experience unjust suffering or undeserved salvation, they search for someone to blame or praise, but when no person can be held responsible, they look to the supernatural for an agent, finding God. ~ American psychologists Kurt Gray & Daniel Wegner

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The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery. The Koran often urges believers to fight, yet it also commands that enemies be shown mercy when they surrender. Some frightful portions of the Bible order the total extermination of enemies, of whole families and races – of men, women, and children, and even their livestock, with no quarter granted. Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions are all in the Bible, and occur with a far greater frequency than in the Koran. ~ American religion scholar Philip Jenkins

Religious beliefs and values are transmitted to offspring through repeated rituals and community practices. If religion promotes prosociality, children reared in religious families should be more altruistic.

A survey was taken of households in 7 countries, representing Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu faiths, as well as agnostics.

Across all countries, parents in religious households reported that their children expressed more empathy and sensitivity for justice in everyday life than nonreligious parents. However, religiousness was inversely predictive of children’s altruism and positively correlated with their punitive tendencies. Together, these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism, challenging the view that religiosity facilitates pro-social behavior. ~ French psychologist Jean Decety et al

Religious children are meaner, more judgmental, more punitive, and less altruistic than those raised in a secular environment. The longer and deeper the exposure to religion, the greater the negative relations. Muslims were especially vicious in their judgments and demands for punishment.

Throughout the world, many people think faith in God is necessary to be a moral person. 53% of Americans do. 70% of Muslim adults and 75% of Africans think so.

The actuality is to the contrary. Beyond self-delusion, religion has been a bane to moral behavior and open-minded comity. Instead, religious belief breeds factionalism and societal strife; as the religion-sparked wars, persecution, and social discord throughout history demonstrate. Even now, American Christians, especially evangelicals, approve of torture: the most immoral act (killing at least puts someone out of their misery). It illustrates the moral vacuity exhibited in those who most fervently embrace religion.

Religiosity and hypocrisy go hand-in-hand. It may well be that the faithful consider themselves superior, whence the corrupting influence of feeling powerful is psychologically infused.

I certainly had no idea how little faith Christians have in their own faith till I saw how ill their courage and temper can stand any attack on it. ~ Harriet Martineau