The idea that you must have religion to have a sense of morality is something that’s bothered me for a long time. Religious types claim that if a belief or act is not supported by their religion, it simply can’t be moral. Naturally this allows them to justify all sorts of evil actions of their own, which are actually based on their own personal prejudices. I gotta hand it to religion: it sure makes a great excuse!
This isn’t just philosophical rumination, because God — at least the God of Christians and Jews — repeatedly sanctioned or ordered immoral acts in the Old Testament. These include slavery Leviticus 25:44-46, genocide Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18, the slaying of adulterers and homosexuals, and the stoning of non-virgin brides Leviticus 20:10, 20:13, Deuteronomy 22:20-21.
Was God being moral when, after some children made fun of the prophet Elisha’s bald head, he made bears rip 42 of them to pieces 2 Kings 2:23-24? Even in the New Testament, Jesus preaches principles of questionable morality, barring heaven to the wealthy Matthew 19:24, approving the beating of slaves Luke 12:47-48, and damning sinners to the torments of hell Mark 9:47-48. Similar sentiments appear in the Quran.
Now, few of us see genocide or stoning as moral, so Christians and Jews pass over those parts of the Bible with judicious silence. But that’s just the point. There is something else — some other source of morality — that supersedes biblical commands. When religious people pick and choose their morality from Scripture, they clearly do so based on extra-religious notions of whats moral.