Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Religion and morality: choose any one

A CBC article published on March 15, 2012 has the headline, "Catholic University in Ottawa opposes free condoms."

The first sentence sums up the controversy: "A Catholic university in Ottawa is under fire from its students after it prevented the student association from offering free condoms."

The position of the Church (and of Saint Paul University, connected to the University of Ottawa) reminds me of the arguments made by the automobile industry a few decades back.

"No, it would be disastrous," they claimed, "to install seat belts in all vehicles. That would have the horrible, terrible effect of making our cars safer. And when that happens, people will simply drive more dangerously, leading to more vehicular fatalities."

Fortunately, seat belts (and later, air bags) were mandated by government regulation, with the net effect of saving over fifteen thousand lives every year in the United States alone.

Similarly, the Church argues that if sex is safer, more people will have sex, which is intolerable (for reasons that still elude me). Yet any moral philosophy would recognize that an intervention that significantly reduces the spread of disease and limits the number of unplanned pregnancies (leading to fewer abortions or unwanted children) is an unambiguously good thing.

Though often claimed, I do not accept that morality and religion are related. They are often, as in this case, in direct opposition.


  1. I think that many people feel that "fear of god" is a good thing. It's like people who don't do bad things because they're afraid of getting caught, rather than because they want to do the right thing. If one person tries not to do bad because they're afraid of eternal damnation, then why wouldn't all people be similarly motivated?

    I've had enough people tell me that I should believe in god because when I die, if I'm wrong, then I'll spend eternity in hell. My answer has always been that if I've tried to be a good person and that's not good enough for their god, I wouldn't care to spend eternity with them anyway. If fear of hell is what stops people from hurting others, I have to doubt that they're really a good person.

    Morality is doing right for its own sake and living comfortably with yourself during life, and religion appears to be doing right to avoid punishment after death, and to get reward after death. In very simplistic terms.

    1. Tara,

      Though I agree that many people believe "fear of god" is a good thing, I heartily disagree with that contention. If the only reason you do not regularly commit heinous acts is fear of the invisible man in the sky, what kind of person are you? Morally speaking, that is an abominable position - cowardly, selfish, and craven. Despite what many religious folk claim, I think they behave civilly because they are decent people, not because of fear of retribution after death.

      Whenever I hear, "Believe in god or you'll go to hell," I always wonder, "Which god?" This gambit is so common it has a name: Pascal's wager.

      I have heard many fulminations against heretics and non-believers, but never a reason (beyond social coercion and material bribery) that one should believe in one particular god over another. Why Jesus instead of Allah instead of Vishnu instead of Yahweh instead of Ra instead of Enlil?