Monday, December 14, 2009

Some thoughts regarding religion, and two songs...



A Song

Let's begin with a song. It's a good one....
Some Thoughts Regarding Religion

I'll be moving to Greenpoint soon, so I thought I'd share some thoughts that have been swimming around my head since reading some lectures by a Polish novelist and playwright...


Witold Gombrowicz, in encapsulating Marxist philosophy, said that "the profound and unique meaning of religion is quite simply to transfer justice to another world," thereby deeming it unnecessary in this one. This is one way that organized, institutional religions have come to exploit people, particularly those less fortunate. By subjecting a group of people to a "moral" ideological order, especially a metaphysical one proclaimed to be handed down from unseen (but assuredly existent) powers, appears expressively designed, as Gobrowicz says, to "[maintain] the right of ownership and [impose] bourgeois morality on the proletariat... to mystify and to keep the slave in his bondage."

What is interesting (or, at least one thing that's curious) is that one of the most dominant religious institutions—one certainly prone to allegations of exploitation and manipulative control of the masses—Christianity was founded by exploited slaves rebelling against a dominant regime. These hypocrisies are well-understood, as is the corruptive influence of ideological authority.

What I find odd here is the irony of the "moral relativism" slurs so often thrown by the faithful at non-believers. Without a god, they argue, humans are cast adrift in ethical ambiguity with no way to determine right from wrong. The implication here, which I find pretty horrendous, is that religious folks make ethical decisions guided purely by rules. We don't need to get into the trouble with selective and ever-evolving interpretations of religious texts (once held up to justify slavery, for instance; then conveniently reinterpreted to disavow inequality). More importantly, I think, this line of thinking treats human beings as pretty pathetic and infantile when it comes to our capacity for rationality, reason, empathy, and compassion.

Moral Relativism is predicated on the proposition that there are no simple, objective, absolute truths when it comes to morality. It advances the notion that a moral judgement requires an understanding of context. It also involves an acknowledgement of exceptions to strict black/white rules of conduct (listen to THIS for a good example) and the recognition of grey areas between the moral extremes of obvious right and wrong rarely observed with the idealistic clarity of children's cartoons. There are definite difficulties with Moral or Cultural Relativism, however. For instance, if we must accept cultural contexts as the backgrounds against which we assess ethical dilemmas, there is a hurdle in our way toward arriving at objective agreements about certain acts that we deem unjust. The subjugation of women in certain societies, for instance...

I'm definitely glossing over relativism here, so feel free to elaborate or argue with my summary...



What I'm unclear about is how the faithful claim a moral high-ground when it comes to their stance against Moral Relativism.

Why is it implied that an atheist by essence must be a moral relativist? Why would blind obedience to a metaphysical ideology (however shifting and progressive) bring one closer to objective ethical truths than humanistic reason?

Richard Dawkins has some good points regarding this issue. He is a strident atheist but also a harsh critic of Moral Relativism. He believes in objective, attainable ethics. He explains that cultural differences on ethical issues are surpassable, and that a common, humanistic morality is a realistic and essential goal. And religion is not likely to be the path toward this universal morality. If a man simply chooses not to kill because he is told that he will be punished if he does, then his is a flimsy morality.

Acknowledging cultural differences is not necessarily the same as accepting them as justifications for inequality or injustice. In fact, most of the cultural and societal structures that foster and perpetuate exploitation, repression, genocide, and other unethical atrocities are, like religion, concerned primarily (even if unknowingly) with maintaining power. To me, the notion of an afterlife—whether it's the heaven beyond the pearly gates for Christians or Houri for Muslims—is inevitably detrimental to (demands for and obligations to) justice and equality on this shared earth on which we presently find ourselves.

I'm throwing these thoughts out pretty haphazardly, so hopefully you will chime in. Please tell me what you think. Or, better yet, argue with me.



Another Song

To end things on a lighter note, here's a song I'm listening to right now...


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