I once worked with a guy who told me the new boss was not a moral individual. Well, I got that, and was ready for more! What’d he do? Juicy details in order! But I personally had not noticed immoral behavior from my boss. He seemed okay, within boss limits, I guess.
So I questioned my co-worker about this, who told me the REASON the boss could not be moral was because he WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN. Okay, wait a minute. You have to be CHRISTIAN to be MORAL? So I had to close the door to my office and have a conversation about this, where upon my judgmental co-worker (judge not lest ye be judged!) had to hastily backpedal because clearly, our many interactions had demonstrated me personally to be a very moral person, and I was most definitely NOT a Christian, especially in the particular sense of the word he seemed to think implied morality.
In fact, I have noticed, when it comes down to actual Christian behavior, there are proportionately more atheists who act like they have Christian values that card-carrying Christians. Wasn’t Ted Haggard a mega-Christian, the meth-taking, gay-banging minister? Wasn’t Jimmy Swaggart, the multiple-offense prostitute-frolicking guy, a Christian? How about W Bush and Dick Cheney, the guys who can’t leave the country now because they would be arrested immediately for war crimes and sent to the Hague for trial, kind of like mass-murdering Serb Slobodan Milosevic? Seems like a whole BUNCH of Christians have some serious moral problems! And check out the marriage-satisfaction statistics in the US. If you are a Bible Belter (aka, “Jesusland”), you are MUCH more likely to cheat on your mate and/or get a divorce than any non-believer in any so-called heathen region of the country. And, do I even have to mention the Catholic Church? Hum! Hum, hum, hum!
So then, what makes a moral life? Let’s just say it and get it over with: RELIGION OR LACK THEREOF HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH MORALITY. That’s why you can have reaaaally religious individuals who would gladly cut up their neighbors and feed them to the dogs, and completely non-religious individuals who will defend the lives of people they don’t even know because they are internally motivated into “doing the right thing”.
Here’s a book for you that summarizes the above: The good life : the moral individual in an antimoral world, by Cheryl Mendelson. Her thesis is this:
You must reflect and examine yourself and your beliefs in order to become a moral individual. Through reason, deduction, and personal examination, you can come to a valid definition of what is right and what is wrong.
The problem with religion – and not to mention, conservatism, Bircherism, lefty-ism, and extremism of any stripe – is that adherents to these loosely-defined “philosophies” are presented with a book, or a political platform, or a speech, to which principles they will stick to without question. In fact, questions are actively discouraged, as is any sort of self-reflection, because they threaten the stability of the producing organization’s status quo. And when you ask someone where some particular concept of their morality came from, they say “My dad”, or “My Bible”, or “My preacher”, or “My precinct committee chairperson” or “I saw it on TV.” What does the Tea Party make it a POINT to stand on? “Our principles”, or, actually, somebody else’s principles that the Tea Party has bought into without reflection or forethought.
I just have to say, is this not the LAZIEST thing you’ve EVER heard of? Just gulping down sets of beliefs without even THINKING about them, like Big Macs for one’s own citizenship and humanity? Who would do this, anyway?
Easy answer: true believers. Proselytizing Christians come to mind, but also those people who litter political comment boards and public forums with threats, expletives, and crap they’ve gleaned from horseshit ninth-tier websites like Mike Huckabee’s. If you need somebody else to tell you what to do – the Bible, the Koran, the Republican platform, Grover Norquist, Karl Marx, Howdy Doody, L. Ron Hubbard, or Michael Rennie as Klaatu – you’ve screwed the pooch on your mission to become a fully-functioning grown-up human being. After all, even criminals have codes. And a LOT of completely immoral (i.e., criminal) behavior is either directly encouraged, or encouraged-by-interpretation, through passages or statements from the aforementioned sources (except maybe for Michael Rennie).
Obviously, morality is a complicated idea. If you say, “Treat others as you would like to be treated”, well, what if you happen to be a psychotic sado-masochist? If you say “Thou shalt not kill”, how do you deal with the travesty of capital punishment and the deep irony of warfare? If you say, “Girls can marry boys, but NO to you two over there!”, how do you conclude if that’s fair if you can’t resort to that stupid book and have to DECIDE FOR YOURSELF?
It’s hard work. Let’s get busy.