the moral consequences of belief in god, or theism necessarily leads to intrinsicism

“As for God, his way is perfect; his word is flawless; he shields everyone who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30)

Religious faith directs the believer to ascribe moral perfection to god and the Bible categorically. In other words, religionists believe that whatever god does and whatever the Bible prescribes are necessarily correct simply because the former is god and latter is his divine word. I have referred to this in previous posts as “giving god a pass” (see here, here, and here).

The basic premise behind a belief in god is affirming that a categorically perfect/infallible being can exist in reality. After such a concept is adopted, it is usually augmented and shaped by the particular scripture to which the believer subscribes (e.g. the Quran, the New Testament, the Torah, et al). This premise is precisely what invigorates the moral intrinsicism which necessarily follows from theism. Without it, religion itself simply implodes.

Such a being is of course chimerical – no different than a square circle or a unicorn – since it not only undermines the very concept of morality itself, but further relies on supposed “knowledge” which is “revealed” apart from that which is rooted in the senses. Such “knowledge” is not received from a divine realm, but is instead manufactured, amounting to little more than a series of faith claims – viz. claims that have no basis or referent in objective reality.

Further, such a being is akin to the cognate of Kantian (deontological) notions of moral “duty.” For Kant, an action is “moral” because it was done out of “duty,” without any consideration of consequences or personal motives. Even if one wants to do a deed – or refrain from doing a deed – because one desires in doing so to be moral, the Kantian perspective holds that such actions have no moral value whatsoever. Kant would also say that if lying is wrong, then it is never okay to lie – even to the Nazis looking for the Jewish refugees hiding in your basement. Consequences do not matter to Kant – only the universality of the moral principle under consideration and the [absence of] motives on the part of the doer.

“Good” produced by “duty,” i.e. without considered motives or consequences, is much like what drives Islamic terrorists to kill “infidels,” Mormon rapists to impregnate underage girls, ultra-orthodox Jews to engage in embezzlement scams, and radical Hindus to behead their wives – to name but a few. The moral rationale adopted by each of them is firmly rooted in moral intrinsicism, i.e. if god commands/allows/permits such actions, then they are by definition morally good and right since god is a categorically perfect being, his word is flawless, and these believers are taking “refuge” in him.

Moral intrinsicism is merely the aggregate of theistic assumptions coming home to roost.

the end of theism

In the early 18th century, Leibniz wrote Théodicée in response to the contentions of Pierre Bayle, a French religious skeptic who, among other things, maintained that reason ultimately led one astray and that a “proof” of the insufficiency of human reason was that compelling philosophical proofs could be offered which undermined the tenets of Christianity entirely – including the persistent presence of evil. Bayle averred that no rational defense could be made for the existence of evil vis-à-vis a Christian conception of god. Leibniz, however, disagreed and offered a defense of god’s existence, goodness, providence, and absolute perfection despite his seeming toleration of evil. In doing so, Leibniz introduced and coined the term theodicy, which has since referred to any attempt to vindicate god qua god in relation to evil and innocent suffering.

I have written elsewhere regarding the origins and development of religious belief from animism to monotheism, and there I stated:

“…removing the possibility of multiple deities in conflict multiplied the already existing problems for monotheism. As we have touched on previously, a singular god is either deficient or immoral (or both).”

This, in a sense, is what I like to call the “brick wall” of monotheism, i.e. that god cannot be either all-powerful or morally good – to maintain one, one must logically give up the other.

One way to try and get around this logical impediment (viz. the “brick wall”) is to try and conceive of god as an impersonal force (much like gravity). However, this route presents its own philosophical problems since implicit in the identification of god with such a force is the admission that it cannot be moral (otherwise there would be no need to reduce god to a force). If god is not morally good in any sense that is relevant to humans, then he cannot represent our highest ideal(s), which necessarily negates any worship of or devotion to him. In fact, if god is neither moral nor all-powerful, and represents no human ideal, then it begs the question: “What good is god?”

Other attempts to sidestep around such brutal moral atrocities as the Holocaust – or any intensely gruesome event marked by dark human brutality – include appeals to the divine will as “mysterious.” However, if the divine will is mysterious regarding the most violent and horrendous (i.e. most obviously immoral) of human actions, then how are we:

(a) able to claim that we understand the divine will regarding any other act, since there seems to be no prime value to anchor a moral system based on theistic beliefs, or

(b) able to look to the divine will for moral guidance in any meaningful way? If no moral guidance may be inferred from god or a belief in his existence, then what purpose can religious belief possibly serve?

This seems to be the end of theism. Any path taken in effort to solve the logical conundrums presented by monotheism only leads to contradictions, begged questions, and conclusions which directly undermine the discussion of god in the first place.