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Reflections on Ethics 2
A Response to Talk Back #8

By: Liam Walsh

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I was both amused and interested in this site as it seems to show thought and humour in an area of discussion in which both are normally muted. However, I felt a familiar sense of frustration when I read the comments of James Krieg in Talk Back #8.

Before I go any further I should say that I feel no hostility toward the author and he is completely entitled to state his opinion, though I reserve the right to disagree with it.

What disturbs me is the familiarity I have with the attitude expressed. The idea that a system of morals / ethics is indivisible from belief in a deity is a deeply held prejudice that I have (to my cost) seen before. I live in a predominantly Catholic country. Catholicism is seen as part of family and tradition, so any difference of opinion on religious matters is seen as an attack on social values as opposed to an individual's decision on personal values.

Ethics / morals and (at their root) patterns of social behaviour are as much a product of environment and the evolution of social groups as they are of religious belief. Doesn't it stand to reason that social groups will thrive in the long-term if the behaviour within the group is (at least perceived to be) beneficial to the individuals in it? Is it surprising then, that most successful peoples have rules dictating "good" behaviour towards others? (I acknowledge that the definition of "good" depends on the society in question and may vary from the Christian conception)

Whole cultures have survived without a single dominating religion dictating rules of behaviour. Conversely, predominantly Christian cultures have possessed immoral and unjust class systems, holy wars / crusades and atrocities on a grand scale while still supposedly guided by the tenets of Christianity which specifically preclude such acts.

(Were the crusades or the inquisition moral acts?)

On a personal level, my behaviour is largely based on the values of the people I grew up with and I have every intention of passing on the same set of values to my own children.

I have no difficulty with the idea of respect for others without the usual religious context. I have not, nor do I now, consider myself amoral and would be disturbed if my kids committed immoral acts.

It is ignorant to equate agnosticism with immorality without knowledge of the individual involved. I do not advertise the fact that I am an agnostic, but I am honest about it when asked. I have repeatedly seen suspicion toward me personally and a hostility to unorthodox thinking.

This, together with knowledge of atrocities committed in the name of benign religious philosophies surely raises the question: Is religion really such a force for good when it produces such wholly irrational intolerance in people?



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