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Your daily dose of religious morals

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 25, 2010

Of course without religion we’d have no morals. Who would show us, by example…over and over again, what immorality looks like? As reported in the NYTimes:

Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

The Wisconsin case involved an American priest, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy, who worked at a renowned school for deaf children from 1950 to 1974. But it is only one of thousands of cases forwarded over decades by bishops to the Vatican office called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led from 1981 to 2005 by Cardinal Ratzinger. It is still the office that decides whether accused priests should be given full canonical trials and defrocked.

In 1996, Cardinal Ratzinger failed to respond to two letters about the case from Rembert G. Weakland, Milwaukee’s archbishop at the time. After eight months, the second in command at the doctrinal office, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, now the Vatican’s secretary of state, instructed the Wisconsin bishops to begin a secret canonical trial that could lead to Father Murphy’s dismissal.

Why secular ethics is superior to religious ethics

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on March 12, 2010

As an atheist I usually have to face an iteration of the without-god-there’d-be-no-morals argument. My usual tactic in handling such arguments has been based on Hitchens famous challenge: show me one moral action that an atheist cannot engage in. Now, I’m taking a bit of a different approach. While sticking to the challenge, I take it a step further, by not only asserting that secular ethics is in fact attainable, but by stating that it is superior to its religious counterpart.

There are some schools of thought in moral philosophy that judge moral actions by their consequences only. I partially endorse this thinking, by merging it with the other schools of thought that judge the morality of an action also by the intentions behind it. Consequences and intentions, in my opinion, are both necessary to determine the moral standing of an action or principle.

Based on this I assert that secular morals, derived from our adherence to a set of principles are superior to religious ones, derived out of fear of punishment or promises of rewards in the afterlife. Why? Instead of writing out the theory, let me illustrate through a simple example.

Imagine, if you will, two persons which are presented with an opportunity to steal something in a store. Neither chooses to steal. The first does so because he’s afraid he’ll get caught and punished. The second does so because she believes that stealing someone else’s property is wrong. Both people engaged, or more precisely failed to engage, in the same exact act with the same exact result. They did not steal. However,  we’d all intuitively say that the second person’s act is more moral than the first person’s act, who did not steal only because he was afraid of punishment, if caught. It is a conclusion that requires no discussion; I’d say almost all of us would instinctively deem the second person as more moral than the first. I mean, given a choice of having either one of them as a roommate, who would you choose? I for one would go with the second, and not only because she happens to be female in this example.

The point of this little exercise is that intentions matter in morality. They can add, or take away, from the total moral “score” of an action. Good intentions add to it; bad ones take away points. As such, a set of morals based on principles, will always be superior to a set of morals based on fear of punishment/promise of reward, even if both moral sets are exactly the same and result in identical actions. The former is descriptive of secular ethics; the former is descriptive of religious ethics. As such secular ethics is superior to religious ethics.