as i rode my bike through the park a few days ago, my mind turned to the meaning of morality and the role of religion in instilling morality in human beings. these thoughts came against the backdrop of needless gun deaths in louisiana, minnesota, and texas. i wondered then and continue to wonder if morality is truly a function of religious belief. are believers any more or less moral than non-believers?
one thinks of all the evil done in the name of religion--the crusades, the havoc wrought by isis and al-quaida, the troubles in northern ireland, the persecution of an ethnic minority in burma, the hindu-muslim conflict in india, the murders in bangladesh--just to list a few. if one takes a literal reading of the bible as one's guide to morality, then slavery, incest, honor killing, the repression of women, and genocide are justified. we see the claim that discrimination against lgbt persons in the name of "freedom of religion" is a valid christian moral choice.
it seems to me that religion is all too often an excuse for the powerful to seek control over those less powerful. one wonders if the source of the problem is not religious belief, if perhaps the world would be better off if the practice of religion were abandoned altogether. are atheists more moral than believers? in many cases, i think so. the tribal nature of religious practice often diminishes individual responsibility for the moral choices that are made. it becomes easier to harm others as part of a group than as an individual, particularly when there is consensus among the members of that group as to what constitutes "good" and "evil." a non-believer must develop a lone sense of what is right and what is wrong. certainly, there are individuals without belief that pursue hedonistic lifestyles without concern for the harm done to others, but belief or non-belief have little to do with such a choice; some self-proclaimed believers live such lives, as well.
when we define morality as making choices which do ourselves and others the least harm or the most good, religion has little to do with it. every day is filled with such choices. do i sit on my rear playing computer games while my spouse labors to take care of all the chores necessary to keep the house running? do i make healthy choices so that i can be more productive, long-lived, and beneficial to myself and my family? do i hoard my money or spend it on that which brings me fleeting pleasure while others are without the necessities of life?
may we embrace a moral ethic which brings us true happiness, increases good, and diminishes suffering in the world. may we not use religion to justify the harming of other beings. may the world be better because you and i have lived. shalom.