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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Freedom, Virtue, and Morality

The march of militant atheism continues unabated with the newest attack on God and those ignorant enough to believe in Him, resting on the mistaken belief that it is religion and God that establish the morality of a people. Of course this, like so many positions held by the glitterati rests firmly on ignorance and the absence of critical thinking. It would seem self-evident that the morals of a culture are established by the individuals that make up that culture. For example, (and I am not making this up) it is considered bad form to kill and eat your neighbor in most Western Cultures, but to the Cannibals of New Guinea, this is acceptable and indeed – expected. In some cultures it is an accepted practice for a man to have multiple wives while in most Western Countries it is frowned upon – outside of Utah. The point is that the atheists have started with a false assumption and that is that the morality of a culture is based in religion. It seems more likely that it is the religion that reflects the morality of the culture not vice versa.

Nevertheless, there does appear to be certain universal beliefs that are common to all cultures. For example, murder is not condoned by any human society but is prevalent in the animal kingdom. Adultery is another moral concept that seems to be common, even in those societies where multiple wives are permitted. So while there may be a fundamental moral code common to human society that still does not make morality and religion synonymous. The morals of a society may be related to the religion but the morality of that society is still reflected by those who do not believe in the religion. Thus the question becomes, without religion would a society degenerate into barbarism? This may be an unanswerable question since no known society exists that has no religion, even the Neanderthals seemed to have believed in a higher power. Even the most secular power today, has laws that govern that society that reflect the religious beliefs of the founders.

However, this opens the question “can a religious based society be barbaric” and act in an inhumane way. In effect, can religious people act in an immoral way in the name of God? Obviously this answer is yes, because we have many historical examples from all parts of the world. The Catholic Church persecuted Protestants, the Spanish Inquisition tortured and killed Jews as well as witches and heretics; the Protestants persecuted and killed Catholics. Even the Hindus have a violent record. Since the Western World has separated church and state, these religious persecutions have largely stopped today, except for Islam.

Islam purports to be more moral and virtuous than all other religions and has the objective of converting the world to Islam. Islam does not separate church and state, and the church is the state. Therefore, in the Muslim countries the morality of those countries is rooted directly in the religion. The most visible evidence of this is in the veil worn by women. Even in the more enlightened Islamic countries the women wear head scarves instead of the Burqua. But the question becomes does this enforced “modesty” indicate a higher level of virtue than that shown in Christendom or is it merely a reflection of the lack of freedom? The argument mounted my Muslims is that if freedom permits immodesty then freedom is wrong.

Does a woman who chooses to not wear a headscarf – as in the West – act immodestly? Does a man who chooses to shave his beard less manly or immodest? Do Draconian punishments for petty crimes, like cutting of the hands of thieves, make the Islamic countries more virtuous? Is the person who has the freedom to choose between modesty and immodesty, but chooses modesty more virtuous than the person who is forced by law to be “modest”. Is that person who is acting under duress even modest or is he simply enslaved? These radical Muslims – more accurately Islamofascists – clearly think that their opinions of what is “proper” transcend freedom of the press, speech, religion, and assembly. Clearly, in their eyes enforced “virtue” is to be desired and any person who chooses to deviate from their view of conduct must be harshly punished according to Shar’ia Law.

The reality is that morality is established by the society and while the morality of the culture can stem from religion, that religion cannot triumph over personal freedom. This means that the while the militant atheists are entitled to their opinions, they do not have the right to dominate or eliminate religions practice. It also means that the enforced modest and virtue associated with Islam is equally wrong because religion cannot overcome individual freedoms.

1 comment:

bethcmorley said...

This brings up the notion of free-will. Even Muslims read the Old Testament so let's go back to the first act of free-will - Eve ate the apple. God, who by every religious belief is all-powerful, could have prevented Eve from eating the apple. He could have prevented the fall and thus corruption of man - but he didn't. Why didn't he? He wanted us to CHOOSE to be obedient. Obedience and faithfulness to God means nothing if we don't do it willingly and of our own choice. Jesus did not surround himself with only virtuous and pious individuals, but with the lowest and most immoral people of society. Why? because they were the ones who needed to learn the most about morality and honoring God. A faith untested, a morality that is never tempted cannot be true and cannot be authentic.