portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

faith & spirituality | government

The Separation of Church and Morality: Is morality being held hostage by religion?

This article takes a much needed critical look at the role religion plays with morality and government in the U.S. and some fundamental problems with religous ideoligy.
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.

Thanks Joshua! 02.Jan.2006 20:06


I had clipped Joshua's article from this week's Eugene Weekly. It's good to see it here as well. You tell it like it is Joshua!

Who are the Fundamentalists? Why do millions of people believe in so many harmful and irrational ideas that are found in the bible? We only hear about people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Tim LaHayes and his "Left Behind" series. There is certainly no morality in any of them.

But what we tend to ignore are the people living right in our communities. The scariest part of the Armageddon theology of the New Christian Right is that these people live right next door to us! Joshua mentions the catholics - a group not especially known as Fundamentalists. But they're a bunch of wackos nonetheless (I speak from personal experience). And you've heard of the Mormons. Ever hear of the Foursquare Gospel Church? These last two groups have churches everywhere! The worst part is that they also have schools - their own teachers to brainwash their own children with the bizarre ideas of their founders.

And who are the founders of these two religions? Were they responsible, moral people? I think that Joseph Smith and Aimee Semple McPherson can hold their own with any other psychotic, immoral, egotistical nut case that ever invented a religion.
See:  http://www.freewebz.com/centralcoast/Religion.htm for a background on these two con artists.

Evangelical Atheism 03.Jan.2006 04:45

Matchless Brother

After years and years of having to explain why I am an Atheist, I came up with this short, sweet, and very hard to argue against statement:
"I cannot say whether or not there is a god. I don't think there is. But that is irrelevent. All I can say is that any being worthy of my worship would neither require nor desire it. I try to live my life in a manner worthy of my highest aspirations to goodness, and I fail. But enforced morality, enforced piety, would be an insult to any god. If there is an Almighty, it doesn't need the help of humanity to work its will, and is therefore irrelevent to our own will."

yes, religion has hijacked morality... 03.Jan.2006 16:52

this thing here

the notion that only christians are respectful, caring and giving has to be one of the worst lies perpetrated by the christian church. another, that one can only be a respectful, caring and giving (for instance) human by BEING a christian.

this is just silly. how many people i have met on this earth who weren't christian, and who were genuinely giving people, and how many people i have met who were christians who were mean, angry and just very very dark people. the religion or lack of it seems irrelevant to me.

and frankly, those on the christian right who preach ad naseum about morality and "values" do NOT in my opinion do so in order to further morality or "values", do NOT do so out of any genuine beliefs, but simply as a way to cast themselves apart and attack and degrade those they fear and hate.

those peopleon this earth who are genuinely moral or giving or respectful or whatever one wants to call it, are NOT the ones prancing around with bullhorns, yelling about how perfect they are.

"morality" is overrated 04.Jan.2006 01:29


It seems historically, the ones pushing "morality" are always the most immoral. Funny how that works.

"Ethical christian" 05.Jan.2006 02:50

Tom DeNy

is a coincidence, not a redundancy. There are ethical xians, but it is their attitude and actions toward their fellow humans that makes them ethical, and not their religious beliefs. Any xian who is ethical with religion would have been ethical without it. The same cannot be said of xians who need an instruction manual or fear and threats imposed on them.

It is easy to rationalize repugnant and inhuman behaviour by saying "god forgives me!" The atheist has no such cop-out: anything I or other atheists do we are ultimately responsible for, and unlike xians, we accept that responsibility. You'll never hear an "I was weak!" excuse from an atheist's lips.

When xians correct and punish all the thieves (Falwell, Robertson), murderers (Shrub, Jim Jones), and perverts (Pope John Pedophile, Jimmy Swaggart, Eugene Robinson) among them, then they will be in a position to talk about "xian morality".

yes but 30.Jan.2006 09:41


I completely agree that ethics and morality can, and arguably should, exist wholly independently of any organized religious structures. I also think that a religious/spiritual path can enhance one's contemplations about ethics and morality (and attempt to put this notion into practice on a daily basis). The real problem is not the overlap of "church" and morality, but rather the idea that morality is somehow handed down by a higher power, a power external to ourselves, such as the god of the three monotheistic relligions.