Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Why Must Religious Morality Always Be Negative?

Over at Paryngula, PZ takes Minnisota columnist Katherine Kersten to task for a pretty batty rant about New Atheism, or atheism, or materialism, or something. It changes. She trots out a many of the tired old gambits many on the religious right have been riding to death for years (If there's no god, how come there's altruism? How can we believe that life has value if there's no afterlife?), puts a bow on them, and sets them out there as if she came up with some fresh new line of reasoning. Our Squid Overlord fisks her better than I ever could, but a thought occurred to me as I read her article which kind of struck a chord: perhaps because I'm a recovering Catholic.

Why the growing audience for notions like these? Religion poses a serious challenge to our cherished idea of personal autonomy. Unlike our forebears, we define freedom as the right to live as we choose -- to "be ourselves" -- unconstrained by social norms or a morally grounded sense of guilt or shame.

It says a lot about the religiously devout that when they speak about morality, it is almost always about constraint and control, about shame, fear and guilt. That's a pretty sad way to live your life. They can't be moral on the grounds of love? Of concern or empathy? They can't do the right thing out of simple kindness?

Why is it that they feel incapable of behaving themselves if they're not constantly beaten over the head with accusations of fault and dire warnings of eternal torment?

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