Religion: A Great Tragedy According to Arthur C. Clark

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on June 11, 2011 0 Comments

“One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion.”–Arthur C. Clark

I wonder if Clark ever considered whether it would be any less tragic if morality was not hijacked by religion (assuming it was ever hijacked). Even if there was never anything but secular morality, each secular group could have claimed moral superiority over all the other secular groups and used that “superiority” as an excuse to wipe out the other groups. 

Morality, by definition, is a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct. How tragic or virtuous a moral system is depends on the ideas of right and wrong. For example, even if people never worshiped any gods, they might still find it appropriate to stone someone to death for spitting on the sidewalk. Further, in the whole of human history most groups, tribes and countries did not regard war as immoral, so if the superstitious elements of religion were surgically removed so that only the moral code remained intact, that moral code would still allow for acts of war and the tragedies of war. Wars may not be fought in a god’s name but would still be fought in the name of “good” and “good” is just god with an extra ‘o.’

Without the gods and deities, the good, bad and the ugly of any moral system would not change much. Also, consider that the atrocities that are blamed on religion were ‘morally’ justified according those who committed them–and worshiping gods was considered a ‘moral’ virtue. Thus, it is entirely possible for a religious practice (like sacrificing a goat to the gods) to become part of a system of ideas of right and wrong.

That begs the question: Did religion hijack morality or did morality hijack religion? In either case, it makes little or no difference. The tragedies attributed to religion are really caused by bad ideas of right and wrong, i.e., bad morality.

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