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avalmez's avatar

Can a religion or philosophy be immoral?

Asked by avalmez (1606 points ) April 5th, 2009

can a religion or philosophy espouse ideas, ideals, beliefs, rituals that are so counter to contributing to the good of humanity that it is undeserving of the respect of humanity (both religious and a-religious alike)?

if yes, cite a specific example. if not, provide a supporting argument.

and think about this question in the context of history perhaps.

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53 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

You can define a religion or a philosophy and define morality in such a way that they clash, sure. For example, suppose you established (or hypothesized) a religion that practiced cannibalism.

Your question presumes a certain definition of morality, not necessarily a universal one. Here as in so many other cases, definition of terms is the key.

Is this a school assignment, by any chance?

Darwin's avatar

If you aren’t a follower of that particular religion or philosophy, sure.

avalmez's avatar

i wish it was a school assignment…school is a distant memory to me..sorry to learn my q seems sophomoric :)

here, throwing fuel to a fire…female circumcision, the Crusades, Jihad…that’s the kind of ideal or ritual i have in mind

are there certain things go beyond the bounds of, if it floats your boat?

rooeytoo's avatar

There is sure a lot of weird and disastrous stuff that goes on in the name of some god or another so I would say according to my definition of immoral, yep no doubt about it!

avalmez's avatar

regardless or your moral and/or religious persuasion, many evil and immoral acts have taken place in the name of religion. even science is not exempt…the scientific experiments undertaken by the Nazi’s in the name of science?

i guess what i am hoping to explore here is whether whatever floats your boat just doesn’t cut it no matter what, and that therefore certain absolutes might exist

upholstry's avatar

Satanism is immoral by definition.

Christianity is immoral to people who don’t practice it.

Qingu's avatar

Yes. For example, the Bible condones slavery (Leviticus 25:45, 1 Tim 6:2), killing women who cannot prove their virginity (Deuteronomy 22:18), and genocide (Deuteronomy 13:15, 20:15, and the entirely of Joshua, much of Judges, Samuel, and Kings). I believe all of these things are completely immoral, and therefore, so is the religion that is based upon this book and the idea that a just god inspired such laws.

The Quran says women are worth half as much as men as witnesses and in inheritance, says you can go into your wife like you can go into your field (i.e. rape her), and says apostates should be killed. This is immoral, so is the religion based upon this book.

rooeytoo's avatar

Is there any religion that does not put women in a lesser position than men? That is why I am opposed to organized religion, it all makes me a second class citizen.

avalmez's avatar

@upholstry not true about christianity and many other religions. tolerance is a virtue adhered to by many, but not necessarily in all cases. it’s the other cases that are interesting to contemplate.

@Qingu just as scientific thought advances with time, so does spiritual knowledge. what was accepted as non-heretical in either case a century or more ago is now known as false and so discarded.

avalmez's avatar

..in many cases but not all…what are current exceptions?

Ivan's avatar

Yes. See: Every religion in existence.

Qingu's avatar

@avalmez, when did Christians and Jews discard whole swaths of the Bible? Far as I can tell they still include Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Bibles they pass out at church. They even continue to call the thing “the good book.”

avalmez's avatar

@Qingu you just provided an example of feeble morality

@Ivan your philosophy is likewise an example of intolerant hubris and imho immoral

lefteh's avatar

To me, it seems like when immorality and religion intersect it is due to an individual or group justifying their actions with a holy text, rather than the holy text itself.
For example, Westboro Baptist Church.

avalmez's avatar

westbro baptist church…ill have to google that later

Ivan's avatar

@avalmez Haha. Essentially all religions were founded in times when the accepted norms of society were much different than they are today. Our morality, as a species, changes over time. If I just wrote down everything I believed to be generally accepted as moral today, someone finding it thousands of years from now would most likely find it abhorrent. This is true for every ‘holy text’ in existence. They attempted to establish a moral code that fit within the socially accepted norms of the time, but they have since grown outdated.

Every religion, in one form or another, promotes concepts that are, by today’s standards, immoral. I don’t see how realizing this makes me intolerant, but whatever.

Qingu's avatar

The Westboro Baptist church simply believes what the Bible says: that homosexuality is an “abomination.” In the Bible, God promises to bring a litany of punishments down upon people who break his laws. That’s exactly what those people say on their signs.

avalmez's avatar

@Ivan so things like murder, rape, racism, religious intolerence….these things will someday fit the norms of societal morality? i think not

@Qingu i may believe that someday you will burn in hell for not attaining the objectives of your Maker, but as long as i do not hasten you down my expectations for you, that does not render me immoral for my beliefs (and the above is just for the sake of dscussion)

Qingu's avatar

@avalmez, do you believe that genocide is ever acceptable? Do you believe that slavery should be legal, as the Bible clearly says? Do you believe that a woman who cannot prove her virginity on her wedding night should be stoned to death on the doorstep of her father’s house?

Yes or no answers, please. Then you can lecture the rest of us on our morals.

Ivan's avatar

@avalmez What? When did I ever say that? Most religious texts, the Bible specifically, have countless examples of murder, rape, racism, and religious intolerance being condoned or even encouraged. I can’t predict what the morality of the future will be, but it will assuredly be different than today’s.

avalmez's avatar

@Qingu as i previously wrote, our understanding of spirituality, morals and science advance over time. just as the earth is no longer the center of the universe (multi-verse, whatever), religions have come to understand certain of their tenets are wrong and adjusted accordingly. ok? hope i was clear(er) about that this time

Qingu's avatar

I feel pretty safe in predicting that our descendants will think we’re immoral for torturing and eating our food animals. Beyond that, who knows what morality will look like. I hope they don’t think I’m too much of a jerk.

Qingu's avatar

@avalmez, you think religions evolve over time? I agree. Of course, I’m an atheist, and I think religions were created by human beings.

You’re a Christian, right? If so, what exactly is your interpretation of the verses I brought up? Was Yahweh j/k when he wrote/inspired those lines? Or did Yahweh have nothing to do with those lines at all, and the people who wrote them were simply lying?

Also, how do you differentiate from Bible verses that are “no longer true” and Bible verses that remain true? By what standard, for example, did you decide that Leviticus 25:45 (which allows slavery) is not true?

avalmez's avatar

@Ivan ok, apologies, i see we’re really on the same page wrt the advancement of morality…my point is that is we have to forgive religion for it’s history just as much as we have to forgive science for it’s past.

avalmez's avatar

why don’t you contemplate your own question wrt, “the earth is the center of the universe” (once accepted by all so-called scientists and religious people)? we live, we learn, we grow…once again, neither negates the other

Qingu's avatar

But scientists don’t refer to Aristotle’s works as God-inspired or “the good books.” Scientists recognize that their studies are fallible and that our conception of truth evolves.

That’s what separates science from religion. Religion is based on the idea of “revelation,” that at a certain piont in history a deity revealed a set of essential laws or truths that remain relevant for all time. If Christians treated the Bible like scientists treat the works of Newton or Aristotle, they wouldn’t be Christians.

Also, still waiting for your answers.

Ivan's avatar

@avalmez Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but “science” in essence started with Copernicus and Galileo, who were the earliest proponents of heliocentrism in Europe. I think you are trying to paint science as if it is guilty of all of the same shortcomings and faults as religion. I don’t see them as comparable in this context. Science never proposed a moral code or a book of laws. Science never led to crusades and dark ages and torture. Sure, science has been incorrect, but it has never been ‘immoral,’ so to speak.

As per religion’s evolution, it is difficult to accept the notion that religion has evolved away from it’s immoral past when there are still people who believe those immoral things, and the religion still uses the same book that those immoral things were derived from. I think you mean to say that the religious people themselves have evolved their morality, not the religion itself.

avalmez's avatar

but ok…i’ll go out on a limb in HOPES of focusing the discussion…Jihad as espoused by Bin Laden and many other Muslims is..immoral. Get what i’m trying to get to? The Crusades to rid non-Christians from the holy land were IMMORAL imho. that’s the core of my question.

And Qingu,, your just wrong to assert religious people dont recognize that their beliefs are infallible. Human sacrifice? Who today accepts that as acceptable?

avalmez's avatar

and btw, why should eating plants be more moral than eating animal flesh? living things are living things, no?

avalmez's avatar

and why would non-human carnivores likewise not also be lesser beings for not being vegetarians?

avalmez's avatar

answer: vegetarianism is a religion, of sorts

Qingu's avatar

@avalmez, why were the Crusades immoral? Yahweh explicitly commands his followers to “annihilate” the inhabitants of the holy land (Dt. 13:16). Joshua carries out this command repeatedly, to much celebration.

Are you saying Yahweh was immoral for ordering this genocide? are you saying that Joshua was immoral for following it? Your avoidance of answering this question is pretty conspicuous at this point.

Also, “life” is not the basis for modern morality. Consciousness and the ability to feel pain and suffering are. Plants are not conscious; (many) animals are. Livestock animals suffer tremendously in factory farms and I am pretty sure people living 100 years from now are going to think we’re barbaric for cutting off chickens’ beaks and forcing cows to eat food that gives them ulcers.

avalmez's avatar

religious people learn spiritual things as certainly as scientists learn scientific things…neither is always correct, and precedent does not condemn one or the other as a failure without redemption

Qingu's avatar

What spiritual things did you learn and how did you learn them?

fireside's avatar

My dad said that when he was a little boy the school principal told them that if they walked on the grass it would cry. This seems to be at least anecdotal evidence that plants have consciousness.

avalmez's avatar

@Qingu plants are not conscious? you can’t know that…and if we change the discussion to free ranging animals, then what? it’s ok? humans are omnivores as are many other animals and some plants…i don’t condone the bad treatment of animals or plants…living beings of all kinds and at all levels of the food chain give themselves for the survival of other life forms, and that’s just how it is.

i think the greatest spiritual thing i have come to learn is that there are no absolutes, no one knows with certainty the absolute truth. but, many have come to know aspects of the ultimate truth, religious and scientific alike. to deny another is to deny important aspects of all. And with that, pas!

Qingu's avatar

@avalmez, consciousness seems to require a brain. Or at least a nervous system.

Jeruba's avatar

@avalmez, I wouldn’t say sophomoric. It was worded a lot like an assignment, though: “if yes, cite a specific example. if not, provide a supporting argument.” Some folks who come to a website looking for homework help actually post the assignment in its entirety, occasionally even including question numbers and textbook page references. Thanks for your clarification.

avalmez's avatar

and, about free ranging animals…ok nor not?

Qingu's avatar

Consciousness requires an ability to internally simulate sensory input. Brains and nervous systems provide that ability. Plants have no such similar structure.

If you think plants have consciousness, what is the physical basis for their consciousness?

I eat free range animals. I don’t have a problem so much with the death of animals (since they would all die naturally anyway) so much with the intense and prolonged suffering we cause them in factory farms. I’m not sure if people will be okay with it 100 years from now. Probably not. I admit it’s morally superior to be a vegetarian.

avalmez's avatar

@Qingu simulate sensory input? clarify this point please for further consideration.

as far as a physical basis for consciousness, at the most rudimentary level, consider the venus flytrap.

and as for the mistreatment of animals, i agree, let’s stop that…it renders them less flavorful :)

Qingu's avatar

Light waves are external stimuli. Plants grow towards light because leaves which absorb more light will simply grow more.

In animals, eyes react to light waves. But the eyes tend to be connected, by nerves, to a brain. The brain, internally, creates a simulation based on the eye’s reaction to the light waves. In humans, this simulation is simply our “vision”—what you see when you look around. In more primitive animals, the simulation may lack color, or even definite shapes and forms, but it’s still an internal simulation.

That simulation ability seems to be necessary for a consciousness to emerge. Consciousness is also a simulation of the brain. It’s sort of a running story the brain creates that simulates its own processes.

It may be that things that can simulate their surroundings with their brain aren’t really conscious. I doubt the boundary between consciousness and non-consciousness is clear (much like the boundary between life and nonlife), but it’s pretty clear it requires some kind of nervous system. In the same way that “life” generally requires cells.

Edit: Venus fly-traps aren’t anymore conscious than a mousetrap or a thermostat is. A fly lands on it, triggering an immediate response. The reaction isn’t routed through a simulation of the environment or the action, i.e. consciousness. It just happens.

fullOFuselessINFO's avatar

absolutely.
thats where “extremists” come in
followed by terrorism and ‘honor’ murders

ninjacolin's avatar

hmm… i think by strict definition any argument that would be perceived as fallacious is an argument that must also be perceived as amoral.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

As an example, a religion that practiced human sacrifice would be very immoral.

Jeruba's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic, depending on how you defined morality.

wundayatta's avatar

If the religion or philosophy called for its adherents to kill someone else as a first resort, I’d find that immoral. If the religion had everyone commit suicide, that would be immoral.

However, religions are no different than states. States all think they are right and everyone else is wrong. Religions mostly do the same thing. The point is that both states and religions essentially represent the public face of the people who comprise the entity.

Both might develop a sophisticated set of laws, but that’s all they are: human-invented laws. Of course, they claim that the almighty is behind them as an attempt at legitimacy. This allows them to assert that their laws are the best and should be followed by everyone else.

The almighty was invented as a trump card. The nation/religions are like children, squabbling over power. “My Dad has a Chevy.” “Yeah, well my Dad has a Volvo.” “My Dad has a Caddilac,” etc, etc. The idea of the almighty is better than a Ferrari. No one can trump it.

Insofar as religions and philosophies serve to allow a people to impose their will on others, in my mind, they are immoral. Any religion or philosophy used to justify a war is immoral. Bush used the philosophy of Democracy to justify an invasion of Iraq, an immoral intervention.

I am not separating the philosophy from the advocates of the philosophy. We can endlessly go around saying that Leninism isn’t communism and Maoism isn’t communism, so communism has never been tried. Same with religion. The fatwas are not an appropriate use of Islam; the Crusades were a misuse of Christianity. I don’t care. You can never settle the fight of what an “ism” is when there are different versions. People use it for their own purposes, so if people are immoral, then the religion or philosophy used to justify their actions is immoral.

Qingu's avatar

@daloon, there’s nothing in the content of “democracy” that encourages you to go to war to spread it. Same with Marx’s writings.

In contrast, numerous passages in the Bible and the Quran encourage believers to go to war and enslave/kill unbelievers. This isn’t something that you can just dismiss with “people misinterpret religion/use religion for political gains.” It’s in the DNA of the religion itself, the holy texts. Which explains why both Christianity and Islam were incredibly violent for most of their histories.

wundayatta's avatar

@Qingu: Oh, I dunno. Something about the second amendment always seems to create a fuss. And maybe you didn’t read my post all the way, or I wasn’t clear. I am interpreting the religion or philosophy as that which it’s admitted adherents do, not whatever is written in its documents.

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, Wahhabism for example is immoral. The Sharia contains “laws” which are highly unethical. The belief system of the Taliban is immoral. I would rather call a perverse political ideology instead of a religion or philosophy.

Qingu's avatar

Many Muslims and a good number of Christians would say their religion is their political philosophy. For most of history, there was no separation of church and state. Which makes sense, because the Bible and the Quran both contain many laws and are supposed to be codes of social conduct and organization.

Shuttle128's avatar

What is morality and how is it defined?

Is it moral to define something that someone else believes is moral as actually immoral? Whose values do you determine are the moral ones? If people only had two sets of values in the world who is correct? Imagine a world with 50% of the population believing it is moral to enslave people, and 50% of the population believing it is immoral. How do you determine who is correct?

Most of us believe that the action that harms the least, or promotes the most overall happiness is the most moral. Why is that? The reason this is so is because we value happiness. What if society’s values change so that we no longer value happiness as much as say…..pleasing a god? Is it moral to condemn others for valuing some things more than others? Maybe it’s just majority rule. Whichever morality has the most followers are correct? Can that really be true though?

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