Saturday, August 29, 2009

johnemack said:

Posted by JohnEMack21 of 36 warn tnr respond

The relationship between religion and ethics is complex. A religion claiming to be a source of ethics has one very useful feature -- like the civil law, it serves as a mechanism to convert ethical problems into legal dictates. Thus, a difficult ethical question such as "Will killing Mr. X result in the greatest good for the greatest number?" becomes the manageable religious dictate "Thous shalt not kill." Of course, the religious dictate may be arbitrary, or it may stem from a metaphysical theory which will result in ridiculous dictates.

Still, some such source of simplified rules and axioms and rules seems necessary to reduce the infinite complexity of ethical considerations to a manageable set of "rules to live by." This consideration leads to a second difficulty: doing purely secular ethics is at least as problematical as doing theology. If God does not tell us to do the right thing, why should we do the right thing (for that matter, why should we do the right thing because God tells us to -- because we will go to Hell? This is the the logic of the civil law projected on a cosmic background, but at least it is an incentive to good conduct. Purely secular reasons (as opposed to secular incentives) seem flimsy. The greatest good for the greatest number?

Why should we care? Because good behavior is "civilized"? Who is to say, and why should we listen to them? Because there is a categorical imperative? Do we know there is such a thing any more than we know if God exists? And if there is, absent incentives based upon it, why should we care? The problems is that secular reasoning is no more a necessary or a sufficient guarantor of good behaivor than theological reasoning is. And at least religious grounding for such behavior has some historical basis.

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