This morning, my son Sacha and I went for our standard morning walk. I adorned myself in Baby Bjorn, baby, and book - Atheism: A Reader. Off we went.
"David Hume. Oh, David Hume. Such rapturous paeans I have for thee," I think as I read an excerpt from his The History of Natural Religion, a book I own but is buried in the unpacked boxes of our still incomplete move.
Hume enumerates the ways in which humanity creates double standards for its deities and inevitably demanding much less of the deities' moral character than they do of their own, taking this so far, we might infer, that we praise them for their genocides. Hume writes,
But as men farther exalt their idea of their divinity; it is their notion of his power and knowledge only, not of his goodness, which is improved. On the contrary, in proportion to the supposed extent of his science and authority, their terrors naturally augment; while they believe, that no secrecy can conceal them from his scrutiny, and that even the inmost recesses of their breast lie open before him. They must then be careful not to form expressly any sentiment of blame and disapprobation. All must be applause, ravishment, extasy (sic). And while their gloomy apprehensions make them ascribe to him measures of conduct, which, in human creatures, would be highly blamed, they must still affect to praise and admire that conduct in the object of their devotional addresses. Thus it may safely be affirmed, that popular religions are really, in the conception of their more vulgar votaries, a species of daemonism; and the higher the deity is exalted in power and knowledge, the lower of course is he depressed goodness and benevolence; whatever epithets of praise may be bestowed on him by his amazed adorers.
This brought to mind two things:
1. Morality cannot be the system by which a religion judges us.
2. Serving God, at least an allegedly omnipotent and omniscient God, is worse than giving welfare to Rupert Murdoch or the Saudi royal family.
Morality cannot be religion's judgment tool because morality exists independently of religion. One need only ask the simple question, "Can God do anything immoral and properly declare that it is moral?" Can God murder an innocent baby or rape a child and declare it moral simply because he did it? Of course not. The standard by which we judge his actions are independent of whether or not God says the action is good or not. Religion's judgments as they relate to what occurs in the afterlife, then, cannot be based on a system of morality that human beings can derive independently of God's guidance or interference (depending on how you look at it). Religion must instead base its judgments on something else: adherence to its extra-moral tenets.
If morality were the guide, then any human being could obtain the benefits of paradise no matter the face of God they claimed to view. The Zen Buddhist would have just as much right to enter the gates of heaven as the Christian. The devotees of Thor and Poseidon might both walk onto the fields of Asgard or attain the summit of Olympus. The Hindu and the Muslim would both receive the bountiful service and succulent thighs and nipples of 72 virgins in the afterlife.
[Question: Do they remain virgins even after you enter into coitus with them? And as unwed women are they then burned alive in heaven in an honor killing by their celestial male relatives? Just a thought.]
But that can't be the way of religion for its claims must be super-moral. They must transcend moral notions and add onto them particular tenets of devotion to the group. Then, having usurped the minds of their adherents, they convince the believers that their beliefs in the tenets - 72 virgins in heaven, transubstantiation, cyclical birth and death, and so on - are in fact the reason that they are moral. The believers mind has been shown some bait and then had it switched and they become a vehicle for a virus that supersedes actual ethical behavior. So the service to God becomes the most important thing and that service is the determining factor in one's entrance into the afterlife.
Secondly, if God is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, then what need does it have for anything? If it is able to do anything, then it is able to satisfy its needs at any time. Indeed, it would seem to follow that it is constantly satisfied. What need of fellowship with human beings? What need of servitude from human beings? Why must we serve a being so perfect that it can serve itself. Why not focus on those less fortunate like us? Indeed, isn't it the height of selfishness, and then by extension the height of gullibility for its followers, for a perfectly powerful being to demand service from those so much less able than itself? Shouldn't it help us in some clear way without outrageous demands of idiotic servitude?
It's worse than welfare for Rupert Murdoch.