Over time, there have been a great many efforts by the religious to prove the existence of their gods. Obviously these have failed as those efforts were attempts to prove the unprovable. Similarly atheists have engaged in attempts to disprove the existence of gods. This task is harder and also fails for the same reason. These are not so much attempts at proofs as they are arguments to convince unbelievers or wavering believers one way or the other. Most people pay no heed to any of it.
There are, though, modern atheists of a scientific bent who are eschewing attempts at disproving a god’s existence and, instead, are investigating our natural receptiveness to religion, how religion evolved, and what if anything might take its place. Part of this investigation is examining the linkage claimed by religion between it and morality.
My point here is that religion may be a context for moral discussions but it plays no real role in shaping moral behavior. The basis for my argument is that children’s moral sense of fair and unfair and right and wrong are developed far before their understanding of their religion.
“Any school yard child has a well-developed idea of what is right and wrong.
If you similarly test the same child’s understanding of his religion’s moral requirements,
I think you would find them quite vacuous.”
If you can think back far enough do you remember what you were thinking attending church services as a child. I can barely remember back that far (it has always seemed to me that females have better long-term memory than males as most women I know have more vivid childhood memories than most males) but I do remember wanting to avoid going to church as a child because it was intensely boring. The only relief from the boredom was an occasional song but, since we were American Protestants, the singing was off key and the accompaniment was indifferent.
But any school yard child has a well-developed idea of what is right and wrong. That doesn’t mean we didn’t test those limits, but we did know them. If you similarly test the same child’s understanding of his religion’s moral requirements, I think you would find them quite vacuous.
This also shows up in parents’ moral instructional interventions. When parents interrupt their child to address their behavior, the arguments are always emotionally based, e.g. “how would you like it if . . .” or “how do you think she felt when you . . .” that is these comments are rooted in making emotional connections with others. You won’t hear a parent asking their child “What would Jesus do?” Children are taught to consider and read the emotional fabric of others lives as their basis for moral behavior, not religious precepts.
There is now evidence that whole countries which are the least religious also tend to be the least violent. Apparently morality is not dependent upon religious instruction, nor is it intimately linked to religion itself. So why are religions so heavily linked to morality and social order? I think the answer is: in politics, you follow the money, but when it comes to religion you follow the power. Religions have made deals with political power structures (to get protection, to get funding, to get political power, etc.) and by claiming that religions (the opiate of the masses) keep the social order by legislating morality, they have acquired such power.
The amazing thing is that the political powers bought the argument. It may be that the cost to the political powers was small and the benefit, of being supported by the religion (divine right of kings, etc.), so large at the time that it was a bargain.