Kenan Malik on Morality Without God

Religion is often presented as the guardian of moral values. The problem with this, says the author and broadcaster, is that it diminishes what it means to be human. He draws on Plato and a medieval Arab poet to explain why.

Interview of Kenan Malik in The Browser:

Many believers think that the only way to be truly moral is to follow a religion which teaches us morality. How would you respond?

ScreenHunter_13 Aug. 12 19.05Throughout their history, one of the great selling points of religions – in particular the monotheistic religions – has been their importance as a bedrock of moral values. Without religious faith, runs the argument, we cannot anchor our moral truths or truly know right from wrong. Without belief in God we will be lost in a miasma of moral nihilism. “To remove God,” as the theologian Alister McGrath has put it, “is to eliminate the final restraint on human brutality”.

Looking back on history, one might question just how successful God has been as “the final restraint on human brutality”. What really concerns me, however, is the way that religious concepts of morality degrade what it means to be human by diminishing the importance of human agency in the creation of a moral framework. From a religious perspective, it is the weakness of human nature that ensures that God has to establish and anchor moral rules.

In truth, morality, like God, is a human creation. Even believers have to decide which of the values found in the Torah or the Bible or the Quran they accept, and which they reject. What God provides is not the source of moral values but, if you like, the ethical concrete in which those values are set. Rooting morality in religion is a means of putting certain values or practices beyond question by insisting they are God-given.

More here.