Religion and Morality

  (09 September 07)
  by Greg Spearritt

Around 2 out of 3 Britons believe religion has an important role to play in guiding morality according to a new poll. I'd love to know what they mean. Is it the idea of cosmic capital punishment that they find so effective? Interestingly, two-thirds of UK citizens polled by Tearfund in April hadn't darkened the door of their local church in the last year. Perhaps that's why the more recent poll finds 4 out of 5 Britons believe their country is in moral decline.


Secular Religions also play an important role in guiding morality. It is not only the Supernatural Religions that give us the socially sanctioned belief systems that underpin our communal moral standards. When Secular Religions decline then moral decline follows. Nationalism and Communism are two notorious examples.
A future contender for the role of underpinner of our communal moral standards is the belief system known as Environmentalism. Interestingly, Environmentalism could perhaps play the role of both a Supernatural as well as a Secular Religion. Not only will we have an Ideology of Ecology, but also a Theology of Ecology. Will Gaia be our new Goddess?

Posted by David Miller

This is my take on what Richard Dawkins has to say about 'the roots of morality' in "The God Delusion":

Quite a few books have been written arguing that our sense of right and wrong is derived from evolutionary changes. Natural selection works via altruism in certain circumstances: kin selection and reciprocity e.g. symbiosis. There is evidence that it also works through reputation (for doing good) and dominance (displays of goodness). It is easy to imagine these selection pressures acting in early mankind. So why should it continue when we are aware of it? Just as sex for pleasure rather than procreation continues, so does doing good for its own sake rather than assisting relatives (and others). Dawkins calls both Darwinian mis-firings. Further evidence comes from empirical studies of people’s responses to dilemmas: it seems to make no difference what religion or race, responses are universal. There is no evidence that religious people behave better than others, in fat it is perhaps the opposite. But belief in God offers an absolute moral position; for the rest of us we decide.

Posted by

I pushed the button too quickly on nth previous post (about Dawkins and morality). Sorry!

Posted by Scott McKenzie

Scott's interpretaion of Dawkin's 'Roots of Morality' is interesting. But, I would suggest, the issues can be made more clear-cut (and hopefully not too simplistic) if we remember back forty or more years to that Science populariser Robert Ardrey and his books, 'African Genesis' and 'The Territorial Imperative'. He claimed that Evolution and Morality are both two-edged swords. Ardrey pointed out that the instinctual armoury of the packs of social animals, holding their territory in common, contained both 'Amity' and 'Enmity'. Amity within the pack. Enmity towards those outside. Internal co-operation. External antagonism. Both equally Instinctual. And both combine to form the basis for Human Morality.

The two aspects of Ardrey's conclusions that I wish to emphasise are firstly that, within the animal pack, the instinctually based Amity behaviour is expressed as co-operation, friendship and mutual aid. This is often overlooked.
Secondly, that within the human tribe, besides the Amity behaviour which we normaly label as 'Moral', the equally instinctually based Enmity behaviour also has moral rationalisations and underpinnings:- Courage, Valour, Patriotism, Loyalty, Obedience, etc. These are based on antagonism, hostility and aggression toward rival tribes. They encourage prowess, fitness, strength, size, endurance, and applaud hunting, fighting, warfare. These are the masculine 'Warrior' values which have been the dominant moral values of all civilisations.

Posted by David Miller

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