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The Christian Delusion 13: Christianity Does Not Provide the Basis for Morality


Here anthropologist David Eller is trying to argue that Christianity is not the basis for morality. I was expecting a reasonable philosophical treatment, but instead there was a sort of wandering approach, looking at all the different ways that people create social norms and rules, and thus proclaiming that there are bases outside of Christianity, including in the animal kingdom, and that morality is not real.

My first problem is that Eller proclaims a definition of morality that he doesn’t defend. Why should I consider a concern to organize one’s life according to social norms to be moral? I think that plenty of times, letting others’ appraisal guide your actions is immoral. Eller’s morality doesn’t account for that, and with the sparseness of his defense of his definition, there is no reason I should accept his definition.

As I read on a Christian blog, a problem is that Eller’s definition, typical of so many anthropologists, there is no escaping moral relativity. Now as Luke says, one can define “Morality” as anything one wants, but when Eller is talking about social norms and such, it becomes clear that he is avoiding talking about what I, and I would guess most people, actual care about when it comes to morality, and that, at its root, would be reasons for action. Reasons that guide what we ought, and ought not do. Even accepting Eller’s definition, it would seem that he lacks justification (and doesn’t even consider important the question) of why we should be moral. If this is a question he doesn’t even consider, I don’t think I’m interested all that much in his analysis of morality. Anthropology and it’s treatment of morality is philosophically lame. To be more generous, when anthropologists talk about morality, they are talking about something different from what many religious people and philosophers are talking about. This chapter avoids the question we really care about.

Kindle Notes:

If there is, nevertheless, one quality that religions seem to share, it is what has been called “agency.” Agency essentially means “intelligence” or “will” or, perhaps most profoundly, “intention” (4522).

If religion is the expansion of society to include nonhuman and superhuman agents, then what is morality (4538)?

morality is not essentially about “goodness,” if only because “goodness” is completely relative (4542).

Note: This of course, depends on your definition of “good.” There are plenty of objective definitions for this.

Michael Shermer’s stab at the question in his The Science of Good and Evil makes a decent first approximation: morality, he says, refers to “right and wrong thoughts and behaviors in the context of the rules of a social group” (4556)

humans-hopelessly social creatures that we are-do and must engage in the appraisal of each other’s actions. Morality is one form of such appraisal. Morality is a kind of talk about behavior, a discourse or language about which behaviors we commend and which behaviors we condemn (4563).

Jainism may have the most stringent morality of all. A religion related to Hinduism and Buddhism, Jainism condemns all injuring of all living beings, even insects and microbes-the concept of ahimsa or no-harm (4637).

If we understand morality properly, as one expression of the human concern to organize one’s (and others’) behavior according to standards of appraisal, then there are at least four other potential bases for moral determination and moral evaluation: nature, reason, philosophy, and culture (4646).

morality is too diverse and contradictory to be natural or real or objective, and the total lack of agreement on moral answers-or even moral questions-contradicts the notion of a single “real” morality (4649).

Note:If we define morality as organizing one’s life according to standards of appraisal, then it would be subjective. Yet is that what we all mean by “moral”? And why should I accept Eller’s definition?

In fact, Kant insists that we should not treat other people as means at all (4670).

Note: Not solely as means. It would be impossible to do otherwise. Get your philosophy straight bro.

We have proved that Christianity is not the only basis for morality, since religion of any kind is not required for morality nor is humanity even required (4729).

Note: Only if we define it according to your rules. But why should I accept your definition?

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