No True Scotsman and Morality
In my previous post, I tried to address the problem that exists (in my opinion) when intentions are considered more important than actions. Tonight, I’d like to start a discussion about actions and belief. Not about how belief influences actions, but about how we view the importance of each in regards to moral reasoning, especially in terms of religion. I don’t have any experience with any religion other than Christianity, so forgive me if this is narrowly focused.
Over the past few months, I’ve participated in some intense conversation about morality and religion, specifically Christianity. I don’t think in general terms, this is a conversation that will ever cease in our culture, which is a good thing in itself. Every ideology, even sub-ideology, must have dissent if it is not to become tyrannical. But what bothers me is a question I never even thought of before joining CFI.
The question is about belief and moral behavior; which is more important? I’ve heard fellow Christians make the claim that an action done for the glory of God is inherently more moral than an identical action done for earthly reasons. This sounds an awful lot like an assertion that Christians are inherently more moral than non-Christians, simply because of the beliefs they hold.
This doesn’t sit right with me. I’m no theologian or philosopher, but (leaving our checkered history aside) shouldn’t we be more critical of our actions, not less, if moral goodness is our aim? Why should our reasons for acting matter more than the result of our actions? How can we dismiss others who do good in this world as morally sub-par, simply because they do not hold our beliefs? We believe in a forgiving God, but does that mean that we are therefore not answerable to our neighbors? My opinion is that we are answerable; no more or less than our non-religious neighbors.
What troubles me the most, is the dismissive nature of the above statement. It says that we don’t have to question our actions, or listen to outside criticism, if we are members of a church. It smacks of the same prejudice in history that said women were incapable of complex thought, or races other than white were sub-human.
If we are going to dismiss any moral thought or theory that doesn’t come from ourselves, simply on the grounds that it doesn’t come from ourselves, then we’ve admitted that it isn’t moral goodness we’re seeking, but supremacy .