286. The Intricacies of Morality and Existence in a World of Belief
Based on the Theory of Morality and Existence by William Search, as explored in his books "Why" and "Conversations with chatGPT: Exploring the Theory of Morality and Existence", and inspired by Kenan Malik's "Has Society's Moral Compass Evolved over Time?" and "The Quest for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics".
The Contested Foundations of Morality
Nietzsche posited that our modern era's moral framework, which champions the weak and the docile, is the root of its discontent. Indeed, history has shown that it is often the strong and the "evil" who have driven humanity forward. Many critics of Nietzsche argue that his amorality, rejection of God, and historical view of morality are inextricably linked. A pervasive existential fear of a godless world echoes the Dostoevskyan sentiment, "If God does not exist, everything is permitted."
In a yearly lecture to theology students training to be Anglican priests as part of their apologetics course in the United Kingdom, the atheist perspective is presented, which consistently elicits the same response: without religious faith, there can be no anchor for moral truths. Consequently, values become a matter of personal preference or political need.
The lecturer's response is that, indeed, as an atheist, one must pick and choose values, but not in the same way one would pick apples, a shirt, or a holiday. However, believers must also select their values. Despite their faith in God and divinely sanctioned moral norms, humans still must draw the moral boundaries.
The Shifting Interpretations of Religious Texts
Consider the Bible. Leviticus endorses slavery and demands the execution of adulterers. Exodus forbids witches to live. While modern Christians no longer accept these commands, the past saw thousands of witches burnt and millions of people enslaved due to the belief in divine sanction. Christians still hold diverse opinions on issues such as the execution of gays, the banning of abortion, or the ordination of women. These varying beliefs stem from different interpretations of the same Bible.
This pattern holds true for Muslims as well. Although the Quran remains unchanged for the past 1400 years, Muslims interpret it differently depending on their pre-existing moral views on women's rights, homosexuality, apostasy, just war, and punishments. Jihadis, moderates, and liberals all read the same book but come to remarkably different moral conclusions.
The same principle applies to followers of non-monotheistic faiths, such as Hindus, Buddhists, Confucians, and Jains. Religious believers interpret their Holy Books or sacred traditions to fit their own moral universe, which exists independently of these texts and traditions. Societal changes lead to shifts in moral values and believers' interpretations of divine will. Religious injunctions may appear absolute and inviolable, but human understanding of them has evolved over time. There is no escaping history.
In conclusion, the complex relationship between morality and existence transcends religious and non-religious perspectives. While moral principles may be rooted in religious texts or divine revelations, humans inevitably interpret and adapt them to fit their own moral compass. As societies evolve, so do the moral values and interpretations of God's will or ethical imperatives. This fluidity in moral frameworks demonstrates the intricate dance between our ever-changing world and the foundations of our beliefs. Ultimately, the search for a definitive moral compass might be a never-ending quest, as individuals and societies continue to grow and redefine their ethical boundaries. There is no escaping history, but perhaps it is through our collective journey that we come closer to understanding the complexities of morality and existence.