TCS Daily

Religious Right and Wrong

By Alan W. Dowd - December 13, 2007 12:00 AM

A week after Mitt Romney took to podium in an effort to answer the not-so-quiet questions about his Mormon faith, Mike Huckabee has raised the issue again, with an offhand comment about Mormon doctrine to The New York Times Magazine.

To some voters, it seems like much ado about nothing. To others, it's a critical issue. To still others, it's a somewhat sad case of déjà vu.

In October, perhaps sensing the looming controversy over Romney's Mormon faith, CSPAN replayed then-Senator John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech and Q&A with Southern Baptist leaders.

"I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 election," Kennedy began, citing the spread of communism, childhood hunger, failing farms and the forgotten poor. He reminded his hosts that he fought—and his brother died—for an America without religious tests of any kind. "No one suggested then that we might have a 'divided loyalty,'" he intoned, no doubt shaming some of his hosts.

Then, perhaps intentionally and wryly imitating the pattern of a creed, he delivered his confession of non-faith: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute...I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish...I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end...where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind."

Kennedy won over many of those in attendance and enough of their fellow Protestants to settle the sad controversy triggered by his Catholicism. Yet 12 presidential elections and, incredibly, almost 50 years later, a sizeable swath of this great, multi-religious republic has qualms about Romney's religion. According to a Pew survey, 25 percent of Republicans—and a whopping 36 percent of white evangelical Protestants—say they are "less likely to vote for a Mormon candidate."

And so, Romney set aside a day last week—in 2007, not 1907 or 1807—to re-remind America that we are a country of many faiths. He's no JFK, as the old saying goes, but he was equal to this important task.

Following Kennedy's script, Romney explained that terrorism, a rising China, oil dependency and the breakdown of the family are the pressing issues we face. But he noted that when "our nation faced its greatest peril," the Founders "sought the blessings of the Creator." Freedom and religion go hand in hand, he declared, adding "religion requires freedom."

This has always been true. Moses, it pays to recall, argued that God's people had a right to assemble and to worship. Acting as heaven's ambassador, Moses outlined God's reasonable demands: "Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert."

Closer to our own time, as Romney explained, the ancestors of our Founders were people of intense faith, who came to this continent to practice that faith and build a society shaped by that faith. Since then, faith and people of faith have played an indispensable role in America.

Twenty years before the Declaration of Independence, Gen. George Washington had a minister detached to his regiment. Later, he warned that "Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Jefferson's masterpiece document announcing the nation's birth invokes "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and claims that all people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights."

Echoing Washington and Jefferson, Romney argued that "Reason and religion are friends." Americans, he continued, "share a common creed of moral convictions."

Alexis de Tocqueville came to a similar conclusion in the 1830s, when he described religion as "the first of America's political institutions." Sometimes Americans went too far in their religiosity, at least in Tocqueville's view. "In the midst of American society, you meet with men full of a fanatical and almost wild spiritualism," he observed. "Religious insanity is very common in the United States."

But Tocqueville recognized that America, for better or worse, was infused with faith. "I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in religion—for who can search the human heart?—but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions," he concluded.

Indeed, it was the Civil War that birthed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," with its stirring, almost terrifying, messianic stanza, "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." And with nearly the same fervor, people of faith struggled for women's voting rights, for fair labor standards, for civil rights and equality among all races, and today for unborn life.

Yet in spite of this rich religious heritage, Romney warned, rightly, there are some in our country who want to establish "a religion of secularism."

Romney says he will be a bulwark against that effort. "Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me," he concluded, applauding what he called "our nation's symphony of faith."

Like Kennedy before him, Romney has also sought to reassure his critics. "I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest," he vowed. "A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."

Romney took care to detail the dangers that follow when a religion hijacks the state, pointing to our jihadist enemies. And he reminded his audience that the Founders were also against the opposite extreme—"the elimination of religion from the public square." Another enemy of free peoples—the Soviet state—is a grim reminder that banishing faith leads not to utopia, but to ruin.

Romney's religion—a religion which didn't even exist when the country was founded—does not disqualify him from serving as president, just as Jefferson's Deism, Kennedy's Catholicism, Carter's born-again experience, Bush's evangelicalism or Lieberman's Judaism didn't disqualify them from—or qualify them for—high office.

In short, Romney's supporters have plenty of reasons to back him—his proven record as an innovative chief executive, commitment to lower taxes, hard line on the war. And his opponents have plenty of things to criticize—his "evolving" position on abortion, record on spending, the healthcare behemoth he helped spawn in Massachusetts. But his religion falls into neither category.



The details are an important indicator of character
John Kerry and and Teddy Kennedy claimed to be Catholics and yet couldn't find an abortion they didn't support keeping legal, even to the point of supporting partial birth infanticide.

Is your favorite candidate a C&E (Christmas & Easter) Christian who only attends church twice a year to prove he is not a heathen?

Does your candidate apply the teachings of his or her religion in making routine decisions or is religion an add-on to get votes?

Is your candidate doing unto others as the candidate would have others do until himself or herself?

I wouldn't want politicians to have to be members of my church to run for office because we have too many "Christians in name only."

Religious Right and Wrong
Interesting article, well written, but it didn't point out one very important item. When Governor Romney pointed out that he "believes that Jesus Christ is his personal, and mankind’s, Lord and Savior" (paraphrased) he redefined the Mormon Religion. The Mormon Religion is, in fact, a "Works righteousness" religion and Romney's redefining it into a "Faith in God's completed work" religion is just another flip-flop in his (Romney's) public convenience statements.

TBC :>(

According to Milton
Satan is the archangel-uncle of Jesus.

BlackCherokee, I don't know where you get your information on Mormon doctrine. (And I'll confess, I'm a bit confused by your statement.)

But if you are declaring that the "Mormon" religion doesn't recognize Jesus Christ as the Savior of Mankind (collectively or personally), you are absolutely, unequivocally wrong.

From LDS Scripture (Book of Mormon, first published long before Mitt was born): "The Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and ... all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved." (1 Nephi 13:40) There are dozens of other similar statements of our belief in Christ as Savior; I hear it declared every Sunday and believe it with all my heart.

Now, perhaps the confusion lies in the fact that we are expected to DO something with our belief. We are encouraged to follow Christ's example of love and service. As stated by James, and recorded in the New Testament (King James Version), "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." (James 2:26) It's better to walk the walk, than to talk the talk.

Pretty good
I tend to agree, especially with your last sentence. I want a person of faith who does consider his faith in his decision making; I don't want someone who "puts it all in God's hands" and doesn't lead either. I perfer a leader with brains and faith; in that order.

Jesus is the "son of God" and "God in human form"; Satan is a "creation of the Lord" as all angels are.

Not Christianity
John Kennedy's Roman Catholicism was still Christianity, which grew out of Jewish roots (Christ was Jewish, etc.)
Mormonism, despite its misappropriation of the Name of Jesus Christ, is no more "Christian" than Buddhism. Governor Romney might be a Christian, or he might be a Mormon, but he can't be both.

Nevertheless, whatever faith he's accepted, it clearly informs his actions. Is that enough? For many, yes.

Religous Right Left Right Wrong
Romney's remarks seem to have left out any acknowledgement or acceptance of Non-believers, Agnostics, Athiests, etc.. Even Mike Huckabee wrote that he can accept an avowed Athiest or Agnostic of strong moral character as a public official. Kennedy's remarks included comments to include the non-believers in the democratic dialog. I wonder what Romney's position is.

Atheism and Freedom
Imagine, for a moment, that there is no God. You will not face any judgment for your actions here on Earth.

Now, imagine that a clerk gives you change for a fifty when you gave him or her a twenty. You could walk out, and never be caught, and face no Earthly consequences for your actions. Ethical considerations might lead you to return the extra money, but how many people would be tempted to keep it knowing that they would not face any consequences for doing so now or in the hereafter?

Imagine if you found a woman with whom you could cheat on your wife with no realistic chance that you would be caught. Why not? If God isn't watching and making a list, who cares?

Remember one more thing: Criminals don't commit crimes because they expect to be caught, they commit crimes because they expect to get away with it. If there is no prospect of consequences on the other side of life, and they don't believe they will be caught in this one, what is restraining people from committing crimes?

If it is only the consequences of this world that restrain our actions, any number of horrible things become possible. Take a look at Mao Zedong, Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin. These three atheist dictators make the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusaders and even Hitler look like pikers by comparison.

Freedom and religion-based morality work to check each other. Freedom allows an outlet for people to do what they wish, whereas religion-based morality checks the excesses of unbounded freedom. When either is permitted to exist without the other, they fail.

Any system of ethics that does not have a religious component will fail. If people are only concerned about the consequences of their actions in this life, they will do whatever they can get away with.

Weird standard
When I talk about myself as belonging to some class, e.g. religious people, do I have to mention all other classes in an aside or risk sounding exclusive? If Romney says in a speech, "I'm a Mormon, a religious guy, and it makes what I am", does he have to step aside from the microphone so a lawyer can step in and read a prepared disclaimer assuring all other possible kinds of people that he's not an "exclusive" Mormon or religious guy? If so, what does that have to do with tolerance, i.e., where's the tolerance duty for the people who aren't the same class? Are they absolved of the duty of tolerance because they don't get the same airtime?

None of this seems logical, reasonable or even in the same ballpark as common sense.

May I suggest a few more components?
Fear of post-life consequences isn't the only incentive that keeps me on the straight and narrow. For example, there's the sense of being separated from God by sin, a state a believer finds uncomfortable at best and unbearable at worst. So add that moral incentive to your list.

Another is the knowledge that I know how to be, and certainly can be, a far better man than I am, but I could also be the vile, stupid, life-wasting clever primate the amoral and immoral ape. Living like a human being and not merely a sentient being adds yet another moral incentive to your list.

Another is the fact that the community of saints is a good group to hang out with, but the price of entry and loitering is behaving and keeping one's hands to oneself.

There are yet other incentives beyond the certitude of punishment motivating Christian moral behavior. Lest we become our caricature, let's not forget to advertise them.

You can't be both Mormon or Christian? Your definition of "Christian" must differ from mine.

Christian = a follower of Christ. If your definition is more complicated, that's fine for you, I s'pose, but it wouldn't change my definition.

By my definition, there are plenty of Mormon Christians, Baptist Christians and Catholic Christians. There are likely some Buddhist Christians and Jewish Christians out there, too. (There are also plenty who want to wear the badge, but aren't REALLY Christians.)

Romney is a Buddhist
And so are all of you! We all are, whether we even want to recognize it or not. We don't have to acknowledge it, and that doesn't make us a bad Buddhist. How you act defines how good of a Buddhist you are. But if you accept it and practice it, thats the next level of being a good Buddhist.

I like to see you guys argue over the definition of a Christian. It proves its not absolute truth, its mysticism created in the minds of men. No, it doesn't prove that, we don't really know the truth. What it proves is that religion is personal and we can define for ourselves however we want.

So Publius is controlled by fear
Don't you ever make yourself feel guilty? Or does it always come from your desire to please God?

I appreciate the value of that, but I can't help questioning the lack of personal responsibility it affords. Besides, you can keep the extra money when you get extra change, just repent your sin next Sunday at church, you'll be fine.

This is the concept that spawned the Satanic Bible.

Fear of something created in the minds of men is not enough for some people. Its not practical. Romney did indeed malign those people with his speech. But his intent was to coo Christian zealots with that speech, which he did, but it WAS very divisive for the country as a whole.

anything you can get away with?
That can't be right. Many people had the chance to molest or abuse their kids, and could get away with it, but still didn't, and not because of worrying about being caught.
In fact I resent it that you imply that I would abuse my daughter if I thought I could get away with it. You don't need religion to be ethical.

Excuse me, but by your ....
....very own statement "....lies in the fact that we are expected to DO something with our belief."; you have made my point -- i.e. Mormonism is a works righteousness religion. The passage you quote from James about " without works is dead..." is interpreted to mean that the works are done out of a response to God's saving grace. There is NO REQUIREMENT to do good works (as, by your statement above that you are EXPECTED to do good works). Christ's work was sufficient to cover the sins of all mankind and there is nothing you can do as a Mormon or any other religion to WORK your way into heaven. If you, in fact, do believe in Christ as your savior with all of your heart then the good works will just naturally flow from you because you will just desire to show Jesus to others. If you believe that you must help (Jesus the Christ) out by doing good works, then your religion is a works righteous religious and you will not be saved.

All of that said, all Christian religions have always believed that Mormons are works righteous and unless your religion, IdahoSpud, has been redefined by the Mormon hierarchy, I have no reason to believe otherwise. My understanding is your beliefs have you being resurrected by faith, but exulted to “godhood” by works. So, what is it?

religious politicians
So it seems like this article is just saying that both JFK and Romney were members of weird religious cults. That'
s why they came up with the notion of separation of church and state, because they recognized that both religious and non religious people can both misrule their countries. So it should be irrelevant.

religious politicians
So the article is basically saying that both Romney and JFK are both members of weird religious cults. But why would that matter? We know that both religious and non-religious politicians usually screw up their countries, so what's the big deal? Anyway we know that the next prez, whether religious or not, will be a big-government statist, because all the candidates likely to win are that.

"You don't need religion to be ethical."
Why not?

What is your rationale not to commit incest?

Noah's daughters had no problem. Noah wasn't in any condition to argue (his daughters got him drunk).

I don't support incest or abusing children, but why is it wrong?

Why is it important to be ethical? What value does it have?

(Answer or not. Just questions to ponder.)

There's a lot of confusion on the works/grace question
Mormons absolutely believe that we are saved by the grace of Christ and only by the grace of Christ. We can't earn our way into Heaven, because we all sin. Only the grace of Christ can save us.

But we are also "commanded" to keep his commandments. That's why they are called commandments. When the young rich man asked Christ what he had to do to inherit eternal life, Christ recited the commandments. The man said he had done all of those things. Jesus the told him, "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me." Elsewhere, Christ commanded us to, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

There are numerous times we are "commanded" to do things. Read the Bible. It's all there in black and white.

So bobjones is controlled by multi-culti dogma
No matter what the source of mores happen to be, if they're commonly held and socially enforced, they'll evoke fear and guilt. Why else would many Americans experience a twinge of fear and guilt when multi-culties throw the word "divisive" at them? And why would they break out in a cold sweat when called a racist, sexist, bigot, zealot, etc?

Romney maligned no one in his speech. Rather, he appealed to all Americans endowed of reason and good will. That's why his speech was so powerful and so effective. And that's why you're now throwing words like divisive and zealot at him, bobjones. Ergo, it is the reason and good will of Americans you fear, particularly when the same transcend your dogmatic beliefs.

You are correct if one takes the perspective that there is a God...
I agree that being closer to God, being surrounded by good people (I assume this is what you meant by "community of saints," if I am wrong, please feel free to correct me,) and improving oneself are all powerful motivators. However, they all presuppose a belief in God. My suggestion is that atheist value systems can never work because they do not impose the same sort of self-restraint and responsibility that religion-based systems impose. For an atheist, that is not going to work.

Any sensible atheist argues that we need some sort of moral system to make a civilization work. The problem is that any moral system inevitably breaks down when somebody knows they will not be caught, or believes that they will not be caught. Atheist moral systems work only so long as there is a perception that you are likely to face the consequences of your actions. When there is no risk of consequences for your behavior, why bother doing ht moral thing? The simple fact is that only God can fill that gap.

My post was not intended to provide an exhaustive list of the motivators that a belief in God creates, merely to point out the fatal flaw in any moral system that does not rely on punishment/reward for one's actions when one is not likely to face the consequences here on Earth. Thank you for filling in some of the gaps my post left.

I fear that when I do something wrong, that I will face the consequences on the other side. I also look forward to going someplace nice when I die because I have not done too many things that are wrong, and have tried to make restitution for the things I have done wrong.

Instead of dampening individual responsibility, I would suggest that the idea of God as ultimate judge requires people to exercise more control over themselves, rather than less. In particular, almost every religion that considers the question of forgiveness for sins requires that the person actually feel remorse and realize that they have done something wrong. Failure to control yourself does not mean that you get forgiveness, it means that you are in big trouble.

The only way you could view a belief in God as requiring less exercise of personal responsibility is if you define personal responsibility as inventing your own moral code as you go along. I will freely admit that I don't do this, I follow a code that has been around for some 2,000 years, and a code that is much the same as the moral codes most atheists have suggested. The difference is, I believe I will be punished if I violate this code when nobody can catch me.

No atheist system of morality can boast the same.

I didn't say anywhere that you were a child molester...
I said that people who do not believe in God will not have any incentive to stop them from doing something like molesting children in a manner such that they will not be caught, assuming they have the desire to do so.

Saying that they don't have something to stop them from doing something horrible is not the same thing as saying they have something motivating them to do something horrible.

Christian Liberty
Martin Luther suggested in Christian Liberty that when you love God and have complete faith and trust in Him, you can DO nothing to earn God's love. Instead of doing good works to earn God's grace, you will try emulate Jesus out of gratitude for His Grace.

I believe these fundamental concepts are what makes Christianity so difficult for many.

Reciprocity. When someone treats you well, most will generally reciprocate. Jesus treats us better than we deserve and some will reciprocate and others will resent Him.

You made a good point publius
"...I follow a code that has been around for some 2,000 years, and a code that is much the same as the moral codes most atheists have suggested. The difference is, I believe I will be punished if I violate this code when nobody can catch me."

Thats a concept worth contemplation. Where does an atheist's moral code really come from? You have to start somewhere. The obvious answer is parents, or authority figures, maybe peers. But I can't help wonder, given the grand influence of religion on mankind over centuries, that even an atheist gets his moral code at least in part, or at least indirectly, from the example religion provides. I grew up Catholic, went to CCD, got confirmed, went to church pretty often, so regardless of my beliefs now, I can't deny the 10 Commnadments and what little I actually learned from all those experiences contributes to my framework of morals. The 10 Commandments are a splendid thing for all people to understand and contemplate, but you don't need to be a Christian to adopt them. Thats my personal story, every person has their own, but I wonder if there is a common thread similar to this in each atheist's story.

I wonder, our culture being the way it is, if something like the Ten Commandments that is so mainstream, almost becomes a product of mainstream beyond being a product of religion. So a person can use it for moral guidance and never learn another bit about religion at all.

I think of marriage the same way. Marriage is a religious institution traditionally. I still remember when I learned the benchmarks of Catholicism as a tween (baptism, confirmation, marriage, etc.), I was very surprised marriage was a step on that path. I had no concept that marriage was a religious thing, other than people got married in churches by priests. I still don't view it that way. I view it as a government institution. Thats why atheists are allowed to get married. Its why homosexuals will be allowed to get married some day. I think its inevitable.

misunderstood you then
I thought you meant that if a guy doesn't have religion, and knew he wouldn't get caught, he would molest this children. So I took offence because I don't believe in religion, nor molesting any kids, even though I could have done it without getting caught. Many guys like me around with high ethical standards and no religious beliefs.

don't need religion
My rationale not to commit incest, or indeed harm any kid is my blief that it's wrong to initiate violence or harm to others. I've had many chances to to wrong things in my life, and could have gotten away with it, but still didn't do such things. Some guys lately are describing this in libertarian ways as 'UPB',universally preferrable behaviour.

Why? "my blief that it's wrong to initiate violence or harm to others."
I don't disagree with you, but why do you and I believe this?

There are still people who don't believe this. Why do they believe the way they do?

but if we are all sinners, and saved only by grace...
then religion is irrelevant to public morality, at least for christians. if i know that i am a sinner even for committing the tiniest of transgressions, and i know that only grace, and not correct behavior, can save me, then what's stopping me from committing a bigger crime? i am guilty whether i stole a cookie once as a child or killed six million people, but once saved i am saved no matter what i did. it is a sin to lie, after all, but all his religiosity hasn't stopped GWB from being one of the biggest liars ever to occupy the white house.

we have free will, which means that, unfortunately, some "bad" things are going to happen. only a coercive system built on the fear of getting caught can reduce the number of bad events, but the more coercive the system, the less free we are. i'm willing to accept a few bad acts in order to have more freedom, and i happen to think the libertarian idea of drawing the line at acts that hurt others in a physical or material way is a good standard to use.

I happen to agree with most of what you said.
I tend to believe that a law is not justified unless it attempts to prevent harm done to someone else without that person's consent. I stress 'consent' to prevent the government controlling what I eat or drink, what drugs I take, who I have sex with, etc. unless I put others at risk by my actions.

The problem with a moral system that is not based on religion is that people are far less likely to control their own behavior when they do not expect to face the wrath of an angry God, or lose the possibility of a pleasant afterlife in proximity to God. An atheist value system can rely on only on punishment and/or social consequences that occur during our lifetimes to deter or punish us for bad behavior. If a person believes that they will not be caught for doing something horrible, or that they are powerful enough that their fellow citizens dare not do anything to stop them, what will stop them from doing that horrible thing?

The only way to plug this gap in an atheist moral system is to minimize it through expansive surveillance networks and secret police to deter or catch wrongdoers. Religion permits a society to rely on moral restraint in these types of situations where the government does not or cannot tread without crushing liberty.

In other words, there can be no freedom without religion, and the moral restraint it imposes. At least, not for long.

As to the specifics of doctrine you discuss in your first paragraph, I can't comment. I don't know what religion you are discussing, as I have never heard the specific doctrine you are discussing advocated by anybody. I, personally, am a former Episcopalian who left the church after it began admitting gay bishops in direct contravention of the book it claimed gave it guidance. I now consider myself a Deist, and as far as I am concerned, the only place I am likely to see God's handiwork (until the Apocalypse,) is when I die.

Sorry, didn't make that clear.
I do believe that atheists can have high moral standards, and be perfectly good people. I know plenty of them who I would be much more likely to trust with my children than some of the "Christians" I know.

However, there are a lot of people out there who will not be good people without religion to restrain them. These are the people I am worried about, and the reason that religion is an integral part of freedom.

Freedom does not require that everybody go to church, but it does require that a large percentage do so.

Moral concepts like the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments only take us part of the way to a funct
Your thoughts on the universality of concepts like the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule in Western culture are almost certainly valid. These concepts form the basis of nearly every value system in the West, atheist or religious.

I think that the key part of the statement you quoted was the second. When a clerk gives me the wrong change, I know God is looking over my shoulder, so I give it back. If I knew that I would not face any consequences on this Earth or afterwards, I would keep it. After all, why not?

Most of the criminals out there who plan their crimes do so with the intention of getting away, if they believe that they can evade police here on Earth, what is their incentive not to rob/rape/murder if they do not believe they will face judgment in the afterlife?

This does not mean that all atheists are going to run around molesting children and robbing people at gunpoint, it simply means that a large number of people will. The absence of God removes a huge self-regulatory mechanism, and a free society will not survive for very long without people moderating their own behavior in private as well as in public.

As a final note, you are almost certainly right about the gay marriage question. It's coming, the only question is: How soon? If the homosexual lobby was smart, they would push for civil unions and tolerance, not marriage and approval. They could have civil unions in two years, marriage will take twenty-plus.

You are just being selfish!
"So, in abbreviated form, the reasoning goes like this: I ought to be unselfish because it is better for the group, which is better for the species, which is better for me. So why ought I be unselfish? Because it is better for me. But looking at what is better for me, is selfishness. So all of this so-called description of where morality comes from, gets reduced to this ludicrous statement: I morally ought to be unselfish so that I can be more thoroughly selfish. That is silly. Because we know that morality can't be reduced to selfishness. Why do we know that? Because our moral rules are against selfishness and for altruism. They are against selfishness and for the opposite. When you think about what it is that morality entails, you don't believe that morality is really about being selfish. Morality is about being unselfish, or at least it entails that. Which makes my point that this description, based on evolution, does not do the job. It doesn't explain what it is supposedly meant to explain. It doesn't explain morality. It is simply reduced to a promotion of selfishness which isn't morality at all.

Morality is something altogether different. We may debate about all that moral views and understandings entail, but one thing we can all agree on, I think, is that when we are looking for a definition of morality, we know it isn't about selfishness. It is about not being selfish, just the opposite. That's why these explanations don't work. They either smuggle morality into the equation by describing the behavior that is meant to be explained by evolution so they depend upon morality to do the job, or else the descriptions and explanations end up being reduced to selfishness, which isn't what we're trying to explain. We're trying to explain why one ought not be selfish, not why one ought to be selfish."

I tend to disagree with the last paragraph.

Maybe a better term is enlightened self interest. It is in your best interest to treat your family well. In many societies children are supposed to care for you in your old age. Plus, you spread a part of yourself out into the world.

I can understand an explanation of morality based upon enlightened self interest, a rising tide lifts all boats, more life is more opportunity, etc. If a religion can help people understand this and to give people tools to practice this behavior, why oppose religion?

some bad, some good
That's life, whether they have religion, or whatever. Some nasty people out there. And since that's the case, we should be able to protect ourselves against them. I have also intervened a few times in my life when I saw other people abusing some weaker ones. Those guys were really, really unlucky that I happened to be there. They didn't realize that you have to be careful of even old men because you never know what training they have done had. But if anybody out there says we need religion or else we will molest our own children, I think it says more about that guy than about anybody else.

to PUblius re police state
You make it sound like it must be either; relgion or a police state to restrain people. But let's imagine your very suburn where you live; if all people lost their faith, and there is presently not too bad of a police state, do you really think so many of you and your neighbours are going to be doing.....what? I think the majority of people aren't looking for chances to rape and pillage. And in those case where they do, then there's still possibilities like the victim himself can take action, or a friend of theirs can, help, or go outside for help. It's not either religion or gestapo necessary.

Saved by grace
People are emotional beings, like it or not.

How do you feel when you are treated with respect by your boss and by your peers?

How do you feel when someone forgives you for something you did to them, either on purpose or by accident?

Did you feel you deserved forgiveness?

God forgives, when you ask for it. But you have to ask. But why would you ask forgiveness in the first place? What motivated you to ask forgiveness for anything you have done?

Since none of us are perfect, we make mistakes and muddle on. God understands and forgives, not for anything we do for Him or for others, but because He loves us. That is probably the most difficult part many have with God. Even though they don't think they deserve the love of God, they get it anyway.

Saved by grace: another chance
"Christianity differs from other religions in its emphasis on grace. Lots of religions are bargaining opportunities: "I'll do this for you, Allah, or Vishnu, and you'll do something or me." As we saw on Sept. 11, bargaining religions can cause big trouble sometimes: Fly an airplane into a building, and you get a big reward. Christianity, though, is about grace. We can't buy God off. We can't trade with him. Some folks never understand this, but those who do find it's enormously liberating.

Grace means that when a prodigal son returns, his past is not held against him. Some people keep close records of wrongs and hate the idea of brand-new beginnings, but Christmas celebrates liberation from the past. "He rules the world with truth and grace," the old carol tells us, and the beauty of Christian belief is that truth and grace go together in displaying the "wonders of His love." "

You're right.
It is not a simple choice between a religious populace and a police state, but the record of humanity is pretty clear that as the religious percentage of a population dwindles, that state is likely to expand and crime is likely to skyrocket. Take a look at Europe, and even the USA.

Government itself is responsible for some of these difficulties, through social policy. When government takes it upon itself to provide health care to everybody, or welfare for the poor, much more effective private (mostly religious,) organizations tend to shrivel up and die because nobody believes they are necessary.

Finally, let me note again that I am not suggesting that a sudden dramatic rise in atheism will turn everybody in to rapists, murderers and child molesters. Atheism does not inherently make somebody evil or even less-good. Atheism does, however, remove a critical check on the behavior of many people.

When people believe that they will not face the consequences for doing something bad, or that they are too powerful for anybody to impose consequences on them, they are more likely to do that something bad. Atheism does not mean that all of your neighbors or mine will turn in to Vikings overnight. It does mean that those who might be tempted to engage in a little rape and pillage will be more likely to do so.

An armed citizenry can prevent a lot of this, and I'm all for it. Religion cannot and will not ever prevent all crime and antisocial behavior, but it can prevent a lot of it without requiring a greater degree of government intervention.

Religion and morality
Several participants in this discussion have contended that people are more likely to behave morally if they believe that they will be punished in the next life if they don't, and rewarded if they do.

If that is so, then the Christian religion is not necessary to promote such behavior and may even be an impediment. For Christianity, as some of the commenters have emphasized, teaches that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by our works. Without faith in Christ we are doomed to unhappiness in the next life. Behave as well as you might, without the proper beliefs you will suffer in the hereafter.

Which branch in particular?
I've never heard this, and if true, it is a ridiculous doctrine. I don't believe it is true of any doctrine, and would ask you to prove it.

Christian empathy
The Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself, is a powerful motivation, for those who can think a little and control their passions.
Why honor your parents? Do you want your children to honor you?
Why not screw anyone you can? Diseases, fathers and husbands coming after you, ******* children who later track you down and kill you, and do you want your wife or children committing adultery?
Why not steal? Do you want someone to steal from you?

Most Christians believe they are saved by God's grace by faith in Christ. Good moral behavior is a side benefit of living in God's grace.

Maybe those who are less sophisticated believe they need to have carrots and sticks. But Jesus said many times, one cannot earn your way to heaven.

Religion in American Life
Left's face it. Religion, including Christianity, and Judaism is a collection of absurdities. The Judeo-Christian god is an egomaniacal sadistic dictator. God, as described in the Bible, as Thomas Jefferson and many other thinkers have pointed out, is by a long shot morally interior to his followers. The Bible is full of bad history and self-contradiction. The Bible is a mixture of great literature and barbaric blather.

The problem is that people have what is apparently a genetic disposition to believe in whatever makes them fell good. So we get the phenomenon that people who don't believe in Moses or Jesus believe in socialism. You have to be pretty stupid to believe, with the Christian Right, that the world is 6000 years old. But you have to be at least equally stupid to believe in the social, defense and economic policies of the Democratic Party. The latter form of stupidity is more likely to do practical harm to this country and to western civilization.

Whatever we are pro-science or pro-religion, let all who love America, love freedom and love the Constitution unite against the leftists who only goal is the destruction of our country and all that it stands for.

not even carrots and sticks
So that means that some need religion to behave, some need a government to tell them how to, and some guys don't need either, because they simply think it's not preferred bahiour to hurt other people. In fact, I think that's the default setting with humans, and the ones who hurt are the abberation.

Too many can be persuaded by those abberations multiplying their influecne.

Why do 'friends' try to persuade you to do something illegal or immoral with them?

No disrespect to Germans, but too many were persuaded to do many bad things in WWII. (I know many were and are ashamed.) And a simimlar madness occurred in Rwanda and Cambodia.

If religions help reinforce empathy and good will, don't knock it.

You despicable fraud
"This does not mean that all atheists are going to run around molesting children and robbing people at gunpoint, it simply means that a large number of people will."

Do not even pretend to preach about that which you have no understanding. Your slur is a base and vile libel, and only suggests the vileness of the person who wrote it. All that your passage does is reveal the deep intolerance and malignancy of the religious fanatic.

re ;abberatios
Sure, they can be; persuaded, brain-washed, peer-pressured, and the ones doing it are iterested in control. Naazi fascists, commie fascists, american liberals, all make use of whatever they think will work for them in order to manipulate people. No disrespect to germans taken, all are just as vulnerable, including americans. For example, most there also have been brain-washed by their gulag schools to think that most of those millions of jail birds should actually be there for things like smiking dope and not payng their taxes, etc.

You're on to something
Certain men discovered nature some time ago, and from that point on understood that human nature is distinct from nature, such that discrete human habits are a matter of local convention and not a matter of the nature of the locals. This resulted in the realization that human nature is comprised of a set of qualities commonly shared by all men. It also resulted in the realization that man's commonly shared nature is the res of human dignity.

Next, we factor in ideals, that is, man's capacity assess the value of a present state against some ideal state. The present state of human nature is obviously flawed, such that man can imagine an ideal human nature cured of these flaws. But how to bring this about?

Here is where we factor in political and religious ideologies and the res of human dignity. If we say that (1) there is a God, and (2) God endows each individual with the full value of his human dignity as well as the obligation to bear the costs for denigrating his own human dignity as well as others', and (3) God has revealed the only attainable ideal human nature as well as the only way to cure the flaws in human nature to attain this ideal, and (4) all other ideals are flawed, and thus so are all other cures, then we have the foundational premises for the Christian moral system. Note that the second premise is the key to human freedom - each individual's human dignity belongs to him alone by the grace of God, who will enforce that gift.

Next, let's examine the historical set of atheist premises underlying socialism: (1) There is no God, (2) man belongs to nature, which is wholly accidental and material, and therefore any loss of human dignity arose when men began presuming some human dignity apart from nature, (3) nature reveals the only attainable ideals for humanity, and therefore man must abandon all contrary ideals and return to nature to be cured of his flaws. Not surprisingly, by denying human nature and dispossessing individuals of their inviolate property in the dignity of the same, these foundational premises endowed the socialist state with the mandate to "remake man". What resulted was the murder of over 100 million men at the hands of the socialist state.

Now is where we factor in your claim about punishment in the hereafter. God designed and built this universe and everything in it, and He's told us the truth about ourselves. When we deny these truths and attempt to remake ourselves or the universe according to our own ideals, we fail miserably and at great cost. These miserable failures occur and their costs accrue in this life as well as in the next. Therefore, we needn't limit our criticism of atheistic moral systems to theory.

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