'Religious values' are human values

I was perusing WEIT, and Jerry Coyne has an email up from Dan Barker, the preacher-turned-atheist who is now president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. This section stuck out to me in particular:
During my debates on morality I point out that all of the good teachings in the world religions (which show up in all of them) are really HUMAN values: peace, love, cooperation, and so on. Those values transcend religion, and are in fact the values we use when we are judging from the outside whether we think a particular religion is good or not. (So they must not originate from within religion.) When you factor out the common teachings shared by all religions (the good stuff, the humanistic stuff), what you are left with are NOT good teachings. The so-called “religious values” that Christians, Jew, Muslims and other groups hold are divisive, idiosyncratic, and unproductive to moral discourse: what day of the week you should worship, how women should dress, what foods are permitted, whose beards can be shaved, who is allowed to be married, and so on. Thinking of it like that, there is actually no overlap between “human values” (informed by science) and “religious values” (derived from holy scripture).

This is really important. You can't throw a rock at a Christian without hitting some argument about how our most cherished values were bestowed upon us by Christian Truth. This is obviously false for several reasons. First, it flies in the face of our biology and our evolutionary heritage, which have shown that those values had developed among our ancestors and are observable (albeit in more primitive form) in our modern evolutionary cousins – not to mention the fact that humans had survived, spread and multiplied for some 190,000 years before any of the modern religions even existed. Secondly, those values – selflessness, altruism, compassion, charity, kindness, and the like – can be found in cultures all over the world, including innumerable isolated indigenous cultures. And thirdly, many of history's greatest atrocities have been committed under the guise of spreading Christian culture: the Crusades, the Inquisition, Encomienda, the genocide of native Americans, the African slave trade, and (arguably) the Third Reich. If those cherished values were so intimately woven into Christianity, one would imagine that predominantly Christian cultures would have worked to prevent, rather than inspire, so much cruelty.

There are, of course, many 'moral' values that are indeed the product of specific religions. And without exception, they are flatly absurd. So absurd, in fact, that most believers dismiss them as culturally irrelevant. That includes commands specifically given by Christ that modern Christians nonchalantly ignore, as well as the scriptures that are endlessly re-interpreted to make the religions conform to the progress of modern secular humanism.


Popular Posts