In a Q&A session posted on amazon.com, atheist author Sam Harris answered the following question: What do you think the role of religion is in determining human morality?
It is generally an unhelpful one. Religious ideas about good and evil tend to focus on how to achieve well-being in the next life, and this makes them terrible guides to securing it in this one. Of course, there are a few gems to be found in every tradition, but in so far as these precepts are wise and useful they are not, in principle, religious.
Additionally, Mormons also have a unique perspective that causes them to focus not only on the next life, but also on the well-being of their ancestors. So, they look both forward and backward, and this causes their focus on the present to be further diluted. Harris goes on:
The problem with religious morality is that it often causes people to care about the wrong things, leading them to make choices that needlessly perpetuate human suffering. Consider the Catholic Church. This institution:
- excommunicates women who want to become priests, but it does not excommunicate male priests who rape children;
- is more concerned about stopping contraception than stopping genocide; and
- is more worried about gay marriage than about nuclear proliferation.
When we realize that morality relates to questions of human and animal well-being, we can see that the Catholic Church is as confused about morality as it is about cosmology. It is not offering an alternative moral framework; it is offering a false one.
While we could dismiss Harris’s opinions as being directed only at the Catholic Church, we could see that these arguments could just as easily be directed at the LDS Church. This institution:
- excommunicates women who want the priesthood, but it does not excommunicate members who lead armed insurrections;
- is more concerned about the dead than it is about the well-being of its members living today in developing-world conditions; and
- is more worried about gay marriage than about global warming.
Harris comes to a very unflattering conclusion about religion: “Anyone who thinks that gay marriage is the greatest problems of the 21st century, or that women should be forced to wear burqas, is not worth listening to on the subject of morality.” Obviously an overstatement, but one worth pondering.
All Christians need to look at Harris’s comments and see if our moral values are indeed in the right spot.