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Religion and morality

You’ve often seen questions like “can you have morality without religion?” or “can you have morality without belief in God?”.

This is a standard debate question, a standard news site opinion piece.

However, it’s also is a non-question, at least so far as Christianity goes.

It’s based on the misconception that Christianity is about behaviour modification.

But Augustine is clear that a virtuous man who is not in the Church goes to hell, whereas a bad man who is in the Church at least has a chance at heaven.

Hence it is not the Christian claim to create “good, moral” people in the first place—the child murderer who has converted has a chance at heaven, Richard Dawkins does not.

It’s that simple.

If Christians were worried about behaviour modification, they would give some credit to the virtuous man—even if he didn’t believe.

But he gets none.

The misconception arises from modernity itself—the question itself doesn’t treat religion as religion is in its own terms but rather as a “social technology” to achieve results.

So the hypothesis is that the social organism dies without religion—something like that.

You need religion to regulate behaviour or to make people reproduce.

Secondarily, people look at middle-class church-goers who seem pro-social and compare them in negative terms to, say, the man I just passed at the station covered in tattoos screaming down his phone “You want me to go to fockin’ prison again! You want me to go to fockin’ prison!”.

I doubt he went to church today, though I don’t know—I’d be surprised, but, well, maybe.

So it’s like the people fighting outside pubs on Sunday and not going to church—“bad people” (i.e. underclass people).

But that’s not about the belief itself—that’s an artefact that comes about because intelligent middle-class people follow inherited social norms.

The belief itself, in its own terms, just wants you in the Church—once in, it would be useful to modify your behaviour; but the primary goal is to get you in the Church, everything else is secondary.

If people say otherwise, say that the Church is about a beneficent moral influence, they’re either lying to make it look good or they don’t know what its acutal doctrines are.

Further, personal experience with Christians shows me that they continue to behave in ways that could be considered immoral (passim, I’m not going recount personal experiences again because I’m bored of it—but we’ll just say the people who have treated me the worst in life have been practising Christians and not atheists or other religions).

So I think this whole idea “does morality depend on belief in God?” or “does it depend on religion?” is a misnomer—that’s not really what the Abrahamic faiths are about.

To think like that is already to think in modern terms.

Further, you sometimes see people say “there would be no mental illness if people were religious”, but that’s not true either.

Augustine was up and down like a kite, he was a labile and moody man; and though he became euphoric when he became a Catholic, by the end of his life, at the end of The City of God, he sounds miserable again (because the conversion euphoria had worn off).

There have always been depressed people, just like there have always been schizo people—it’s just they were called melancholic.

When everyone was religious, they were melancholic about religion instead—just expected to go to hell whatever they did.

I think it’s a naïve optimism when people say “oh, just be religious and you’ll be fine”—what this really means is “shut up, I don’t want to hear about it, I don’t want to know”.

It’s because they don’t know what else to say or do—so they resort to the default.

It’s true that to convert to a belief can make your life filled with meaning and cheer you up—but that works with any belief, not just religious beliefs.

What this demonstrates is that you shouldn’t make assumptions as to what things are.


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