When crafting public policy and electing public officials our decisions are driven by our moral principles, as well they should be. The debate should be focused on what's right and what's moral, not what's Christian. Unfortunately that's not the case. The harsh reality is that many Americans continue to believe that morality is exclusive to their religion. It's nearly impossible to win an election in the U.S. unless voters think the candidate believes in "God." So we find ourselves with an evangelical in the White House and a Congress that is governing based on religious ideology.
A war has been waged on non-heterosexuals, tax dollars are being poured into "faith-based initiatives," Oregonians' right to die with dignity is under attack, and creationism is finding its way into science classes. It's time that we ask some serious questions about morality.
Why should not believing in "God" be perceived as a moral weakness rather than a sign of intelligence? Why are religious leaders, rather than environmentalists among others, automatically granted moral authority status? There's nothing in Webster's definition of morality that infers that one must be religious to be moral. What makes us moral? Does religion have a monopoly on morality? Recently I spoke with several local church leaders and asked them questions like these. The answers were disturbing.
According to the ministers I spoke with, the answer to every moral question is found in the Bible. No ifs, ands, or buts. It's a one-stop shop for right and wrong.
When questioned about what the most significant moral threats to our nation are, one issue clearly stood above the rest: Homosexuality. Apparently, it's not corporate greed or government corruption we should worry about. It's those damned gay people.
As a result of the good work that many Christians do, Christianity receives a great deal of credit while the enormous problems that come with this fundamentally flawed, narrow philosophy are largely ignored.
To begin with, the idea that one book, one person, or one institution should be the ultimate guide for how one lives is absurd. Basing your moral principles on a single source of information goes against basic common sense and is a recipe for disaster.
Catholicism actually has a morality loophole called Sacrament that is particularly detrimental to accountability. Sacrament makes it possible for people to commit horrific atrocities in the morning and by nightfall be cleansed of their sins. All that's required is that you confess your sins to a priest and pay penance to God. As long as you're sincerely sorry for what you did and you say your prayers, God will forgive you.
Historically, religious ideology has fueled endless hatred and violence from the Crusades to Oklahoma City and 9/11. The most dangerous and destructive homegrown terrorists have been Christians. Timothy McVeigh and Eric Robert Rudolph were both followers. Despite the Bush administration's efforts to demonize environmentalists and non-human animal rights groups, right-wing Christian organizations such as the "Army of God" remain one of America's top terrorist threats. We cannot place all the blame for terrorism and bigotry on religion but, we must recognize that it is a common link that plays a major role.
Former biology and geology professor Frank Zindler is an internationally renowned science writer and linguist, director of the American Atheist Press, and editor of The American Atheist Magazine. In an essay titled "Ethics without Gods," he said this about morality: "Our ethics can be based neither upon fictions concerning the nature of humankind nor upon fake reports concerning the desires of the deities. Our ethics must be firmly planted in the soil of scientific self-knowledge. They must be improvable and adaptable."
Chapman Cohen, the third president of the National Secular Society had this to say about morality: "The religious theory of morality simply will not do. It turns what is fundamentally simple into a "mystery," and then elevates the mystery into a foolish dogma ... Morality has nothing to do with God; it has nothing to do with a future life. Its sphere of application and operation is in this world; its authority is derived from the common sense of mankind."
Morality should be about empathy, decency, and compassion. It should be about ending suffering. It should be about living peacefully with all forms of life. As long as morality is being judged with draconian methodology rather than sound rational logic, the possibilities for progress will continue to be suffocated.
Joshua Welch is a local free-lance writer and political activist.