Thursday, June 21, 2007

Funamentalist Moral Relativism

I have been reading my way through the new atheists: Harris, Dennett, Dawkins, and Hitchens. I have also been reading the writings of Hume on religion along with other classics. I do not know to what advantage the exercise might accrue, except maybe to become a little more informed about my convictions or lack there of.

I am tempted to move on to other topics, but since I am well into reading a large collection of writings about atheism, I feel duty bound to complete the reading.

What strikes me most about the large organized religions is the moral relativism contained within their holy texts along with their instructions to do what we in secular democracies consider immoral and have made illegal. Stoning people to death for apostasy comes readily to mind. Finding an objective moral code within religious texts is a heroic effort in apologetics and logic chopping. Throughout the ages, many people have spent countless years trying to make sense of it all to no avail.

To the extent that people base their moral beliefs on holy books, they have no claim to absolute and objective moral values. A capricious god may overturn their highly cherished beliefs by instructing them to do something enlightened folks consider abhorrent or unthinkable. The religious zealot, the one proclaiming access to objective values, never puts together a consistent or coherent account of those objective values. This is not to say that religious folks are the only ones guilty of this, but I would much rather be a religious skeptic searching for certainty rather than one claiming certainty for beliefs of which there is little evidence or sound argument for their value.

One continually catches President Bush claiming moral certainty along with his bankrupt moral hypocrisy. Take stem cell research. If he truly does believe that stem cell research kills a soul (according to his religion), then why does he not campaign against all stem cell research instead of only the federally funded research? He throws a bone to his most ardent religious fundamentalist supporters. No other explanation comes forth.

As a religious skeptic, this fa├žade of moral objectivity and certainty, distresses me. Otherwise, I would not care about religious belief at all. Yet the religious fundamentalist extremists not only hate folks like me, but also hate each other even though the similarities of their moral and worldly outlooks are barely distinguishable. Some religious extremists sound less disturbing in their pronouncements because they live in secular societies that have outlawed the most blatant moral outrages enjoined by the holy books. However, I cannot help but believe that the true fundamentalist whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim would love to see me thrust into the public square and stoned to death by the true believers. That is what the holy book enjoins them to do to unbelievers.

I have yet to meet a true religious fundamentalist who has reconciled their religious beliefs and moral values with the hard won freedoms and rights accorded them under democratic secular societies. They cannot do it. All they can do is wallow in their false claims of objective moral certainty, and hate someone enough to wish public stoning were still the norm everywhere.

I do not plan on waiting around for the first religious extremist with all his attendant moral relativist baggage to cast the first stone. Some moral values really are worth protecting whether one can state an ironclad case for their objectivity. The hard one freedoms of secular democracy is one of them.

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