Religion’s claim to absolute morality dubious
Religion’s claim to deliver absolute morality is controverted both by facts and by logic. First of all, even if we grant that there is some absolute in the realm of behavior and ethics, it is quite a different matter to determine what that absolute is. If we consider the grand sweep of history, Religion does not have a great track record regarding absolutes. Different religions preach different absolutes, and even the same religion may preach different absolutes at different times. Such “absolutes” look suspiciously like “relatives,” since they seem to change depending on place and time.
And if, in the hope of getting beyond relative values, you try to collate the beliefs of all religions to extract the “absolutes” that they agree on, the result would be some relatives that are regarded with something like a general consensus—at least at the time and place you are doing the collating. This too doesn’t sound very absolute.
Most religions make up for this lack of certainty about their putative absolutes by mere insistence. Someone authoritative—let’s say God—laid down their absolutes. So who are you to question them? This attitude is fine for believers within the particular religion, but it has no force for anyone else.
So religion can’t support its claim to deliver absolute morality.
Not every political question a religious one
Religious people tend to think that every political question is ultimately religious, because they believe that all their actions are governed by the religious beliefs to which they subscribe. Here they fail to see the difference between their lives as individuals and their lives as members of, and contributors to, the society in which they live. Since many members of society may not share their particular religious beliefs, religious people ought not to expect everyone to subscribe to their particular notions of right and wrong.
To expect everyone to believe the same religious teachings, to insist that because you would not do something no one else should be allowed to do that thing, to insist on changing laws to penalize others of good will who simply do not believe as you do—all this is a form of self-interest. The insistence that everyone act in accordance with your beliefs is a demand clearly centered in the self.
Religious people try shift this selfishness off onto God. They maintain that it is not they who make the demand, but God. Unfortunately, different religions and different sects tell us that God is making contradictory demands—which cannot be the case. Faced with this impossibility, every religion simply asserts that they have the real secret, and that rival religions are pretenders. And everyone wants their own religion to be the true religion. The wickedness of selfishness thus asserts itself even in the heart of religion.
All this selfishness runs contrary to the first principle of society, which, as we saw when we discussed the Myth of Competition, is cooperation. When viewed as having a monopoly on truth, religion can do nothing to reduce self-interest, to limit self-centered opinions, or to curb self-serving demands.
There is, on the other hand, religion that is not self-centered. That sort of religion, which ties us back to our spiritual source and demonstrates the interconnectedness of all things, may well be able to inform, or even transform, politics. But the vast majority of believers still hold their religious beliefs selfishly, as a mark of distinction from other groups of people.
The vast majority of believers, therefore, cannot bring their religion to bear on the problems of society, all of which involve discovering ways to increase cooperation. Under these conditions, political questions must not have anything whatsoever to do with religious questions: self-centered religion can do nothing to remove the selfishness that destroys the cooperative principle of society.
It is simply not true that every political question is ultimately a religious one. In fact, the selfishness of religion at the present time makes it especially unsuited to deal with any of the problems of society.
Tomorrow we will that Religion is not, as many religionists believe, a superior power to which politics and society should be subservient.
Until tomorrow, then.