The Myth of Religion 4

The Myth of Religion 4

Last week we began our discussion of the Myth of Religion—the belief that morality and decent behavior in society depend on Religion. On Friday we learned that there are three sources of truth claimed by Religion—revelation, moral sentiments, and right reason—and we saw that revelation is not reliable enough to ground moral behavior in society.

Today we will look at the remaining two ways that Religion claims to access truth, and it will become apparent that neither of them is reliable enough for society to depend on.

Moral sentiments just as unreliable as revelation

Moral sentiments, the second religious means of attaining truth, are generally considered reliable by believers, and especially when they come in the form of conscientious restraint. Believers trust the deep intuition of the heart or the still, small voice of the mind—particularly when it follows on a penetrating session of inner focusing, meditation, or prayer. They tend to consider this feeling or voice to be God’s, and so they regard it as having a similar sort of reliability as revelation. For the sake of this discussion, we will not contest the believer’s contention that God is trying to communicate with him. We will just show that, even if this is the case, the messages received by believers are insufficiently trustworthy to form the basis of societal norms.

As anyone who has spoken with believers can attest, their highly personal inner experiences of communication from God are quite likely to give rise to dissimilar responses in different people. Two individuals seeking guidance on the same issue may very well receive diametrically opposed feelings or advice. And this is the case even if each seeker believes that his channel of communication is clear.

But more often than not the channel is clogged by the various vices to which human beings are susceptible. Selfishness, greed, willful ignorance, thoughtlessness, and malevolence are just a handful of the innumerable sins that can block or distort the communication. And many of them hide just outside of awareness, so that the seeker cannot tell that the message has been garbled.

All things considered, then, moral sentiments cannot establish universal ground rules for society. At best, they can only be valid for one person. And that person runs the very great risk that they are not reliable for him or her either. Nothing with this sort of variability can provide the assurances of good behavior that society needs.

Right reason also unreliable

Right reason, the last of the religious means of attaining truth, is considered the least reliable of the three. Of course, the faithful do believe, for the most part, that our intelligence is a gift of the Creator, which He must have intended us to use. Its proper purpose is to discover truth. Since, as they see it, the truth cannot be different from God’s order, then, if the intellect is working properly, it will attain to God’s order. This is called right reason.

But believers also think that reason can be easily corrupted. It can be deflected by individual self-interest and personal blindness so that it does not arrive at God’s truth. Because of this, believers consider reason to be the least reliable of the three ways of accessing truth. They think moral sentiment is more reliable, since at one end of the communication is God’s truth, even if the message is gets twisted on blocked in transmission. And they consider revelation the most reliable means, since it is supposed to be God’s very own word.

Now believers are certainly correct in their claim that reason is susceptible to deformation. But they are wrong in thinking that revelation and moral sentiment are more reliable than reason in reaching truth, as we have seen over the past two posts.

On balance, considering the drawbacks of revelation and moral sentiment, reason is in fact the best available tool. It does not rely on vehement assertion or violence as revelation does when it is confronted with competing revelations. Nor is it so highly personal that we have to put up with widely varying opinions, as is the case with moral sentiments.

Reason is an uncertain tool in the search for truth, but it is no more uncertain than revelation and moral sentiment. And it is much less violent and subjective.

Tomorrow we will show that Religion’s claim to deliver absolute moral truth is unsubstantiated, and that Religion need not, contrary to the beliefs of many hyper-religionists, be implicated in every societal question.

Until tomorrow, then.

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