David Cameron’s comments about the importance of religion as a guide to the morals of a country got me thinking, and somehow I got to chicken and egg.
So do we get religion, and then religion brings morals attached? Or do we get morals, and then invent a religion to back them up?
Or did they co-emerge, mutually supportive elements of our ways of thinking?
Is it that morals are simplifications, and we need religion to interpret them in relation to life, which is complex?
Or is it that morals are complex and we need religion to simplify them, turn them into some kind of list of commandments?
Being keen to market itself in any way possible, the church body of any religion will go for either of these where openings exist. So sometimes there is a ‘pontification’ on what must be, and sometimes there is reassurance that where our morality seems to have contradictions the church will help guide us through the mess.
People who have tried to do research into morality (from psychologists and sociologists to philosophers and theologians) find it a pretty messy area. Sometimes the contradictions are so obvious that the true conclusion can only be that there are contradictions. You feel OK about killing someone who is otherwise going to kill someone, or lots, but you don’t feel OK about killing someone to save other people’s lives, like throwing the heavy guy off the boat that is sinking otherwise.
The idea that these kinds of things can be reduced through segmentation and comparison is a pretty corrupt part of our brain’s reasoning. For lots of things you can’t cut them up and compare. Like, you can’t keep cutting bits off your body and then deciding when you cease to exist.
If you look at the process of decision-making, which is based on judgements occurring in your head mostly not in your control, morality can only reside in the duty of reflection, with the duty being heavy if the consequences are big, and is a lot lighter for those things that are not so serious.
Where religion just tells people what to do it is in that way acting immorally, because it is taking away people’s responsibility to reflect. So a good religion is one which seeks to encourage and support people in their reflection.
The same applies to politicians. Where they just tell people what to think they are acting immorally. Yet most of what you hear from them are statements about what is right and what is wrong.
A much more moral position would be to offer some thinking and some thinking about that thinking. That should have been the idea in the concept of The Big Society, which seems to be dropping down the list of priorities as the Government takes more and more control of everything. Pretty immoral if you ask me.
When I wrote my book Judgement Day I included a chapter on Morality. I did think about whether to include it, but as the topic is developed, in this novel, as a conversation between people rather than my views I thought it was OK. Let me know if you disagree please.