2007-08-07

Religious fundamentalism meets humanist ethics

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by Neil Godfrey

Although the reason many religious fundamentalists are opposed to abortion and euthanasia is really strictly doctrinal (God says don’t kill), they ironically find themselves couching their arguments in other ways entirely, even if it means they must deny and manufacture facts to do so. It is as if they know that their doctrinal reasons have no real basis and that morality truly is grounded right where humanists know it is, after all.

The fact that they manufacture is that embryos and people in vegetative states really do have self-conscious awareness and hence really do suffer from the act of terminating their existence. The fact that they deny is the scientific one that these have lost or have not yet acquired the ability for self-conscious awareness.

Why is it necessary to push this misrepresentation? I suspect it is because deep down they know, as well as any humanist does, that the true grounding of morality lies in the question of what causes harm to others.

Maybe there is some underlying sense even in the religious fundamentalist that it does not make sense to with-hold tears at the news of the wiping out every man, woman and child with a single blast in a major Japanese city or small Afghan wedding party, but to let them flow in outrage over the removal of life support from Terri Shiavo.

The biblical command not to kill expressly does not apply to peoples of other faiths or homosexuals or astrologers or adulterers or sabbath breakers or teenage rebels. God clearly excuses, even on occasion commands, the killing of all those.

But it does apply, according to these fundamentalists, to zygotes and the brain-dead. You can kill Moslem families without a tear but not a zyogote. God may have so designed the reproductive system so that by far most fertilized eggs die by natural attrition anyway, but that’s his business and doesn’t count. In fact, if you kill a zygote you are a murderer and must die, either at the hands of God or man. If you are a president responsible for the deaths of heathen or socialists you are a saviour.

None of this makes sense in the cold facts of science and what we know about the brain and self-conscious awareness.

The only way to truly justify the killing of those who lack the self-awareness of those we see functioning around us is to falsely attribute some level of the same self-awareness to those who clearly by the hard facts of science do not have it.

And this, of course, means science must be attacked (again) too, or at the least finding scientists who are driven more by religious beliefs than the research and evidence accepted by their peers.

If there is any positive to come out of this situation it is that such religious fundamentalists demonstrate that ethics can only really be grounded in what does real harm to people — and not on the arbitrary decrees of some holy book.

How many religious fundamentalists are content to proclaim no more than “God says don’t kill zygotes” without appealing at some point to a law of “suffering” — either a law that all fertilized eggs (or even all involved mothers) will themselves really suffer harm?

P.S.

And of course we have all those (no doubt often well-intentioned but still damaging) lies being told about unimaginable harm that will come from masturbation and premarital sex and gay marriages. Some even find it necessary to select from statistics to “prove” that pork is more harmful than other meats to justify a religious taboo.

The fact is that all these messages and threats of harm are not the biblical reasons — they are an admission that people know deep down that “God says it” is not enough. Our moral sense can only be justified ultimately by what does harm and good to others. Nothing more or less.

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Neil Godfrey

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One thought on “Religious fundamentalism meets humanist ethics”

  1. Interesting points, but I’m not sure what ‘your’ point is. Religion is based on faith rather than reason?

    I don’t think that has been an issue for several millenia. Why raise it now? Do you expect to convert the intolerant to tolerance based on reason? They’ve had 2,000 years to adapt. You’re not going to do it with a blog, although I applaud your efforts.

    Live your own life according to your own reason. Keep your own faith that evolution works. In their system whoever is not just exactly like them, (consider the fragmentary protestant church for examples), is a threat and must be removed. Thus they condemn themselves as they condemn others. The end result of their evolutionary path is extinction.

    The end result of their systems is an ‘end times’. And that means they will all be dead.

    So either way, you win. They lose. Let it go.

    See my web site, http://web.archive.org/web/20150801082715/http://euthanasiaclinic.com/, for more on Euthanasia

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