Does religion distort our sense of morality?

I’ve read many theoretical arguments against religion, and many people oppose religion based on harms religion has inflicted, through religious wars and inhuman acts carried out in the name of religious dogma. But the idea that religion is blinding us to the most morally significant issues — while focusing our attention on matters of lesser, or no, moral significance — is a new one to me:

“We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education,” [philosopher Sam Harris] said… “These are issues which tremendous swings in human well-being depend on. And [they’re] not at the center of our moral concern.”

“Religion has convinced us that there’s something else entirely other than concerns about suffering. There’s concerns about what God wants, there’s concerns about what’s going to happen in the afterlife,” he said.

“And, therefore, we talk about things like gay marriage as if it’s the greatest problem of the 21st century. We even have a liberal president who ostensibly is against gay marriage because his faith tells him it’s an abomination…

Harris also said people should not be afraid to declare that certain acts are right and others are wrong. A person who would spill battery acid on a girl for trying to learn to read, for instance, he said, is objectively wrong by scientific standards.

Many people falsely conflate religion with morality. Religions have often acted amorally/immorally (Exhibit A: the decades-long, global Catholic Church sex abuse scandal). And morality exists in our minds and hearts (and genes), independent of religion.

We can judge morality and live moral lives, whether or not a God (or gods) exists. It’s fair to ask whether religion is helping people improve their moral compasses or has warped the compasses people would have developed without religion through their inherent moral sensibilities.

Posted by James on Saturday, March 27, 2010