Monday, September 1, 2014

Because of Belief? Or In SPITE of Belief?

One popular attack on Christian moral belief is to point out that a person who belongs to a religion has done terrible things. Therefore, the religion is the cause of these acts. The problem is, the attack makes the presumption, but does not look for other causes which may be the most probable cause. In other words, would the person still do terrible things if he belonged to a different religion or no religion at all?

For example, I once knew an atheist who saw the phenomenon of lynching African Americans in the American South as evidence of the evil caused by religion—the South was the "Bible Belt" after all and the Southerners supported lynching. Therefore Christianity is to blame, right?

My response was to point out that Christians of other regions of the world did not behave in a similar way and in fact even some Christians in the region opposed such behavior. I also pointed out that in the South, African Americans were viewed as being less human than whites whereas elsewhere in the world, even if they were not treated as equals they were not treated so unjustly. So it struck me that the cause of such behavior was not Christianity but the views in the South that felt non-whites could never be allowed to rise to the level of whites.

In other words, there was flawed reasoning involved in saying "Christianity" was to blame. The more probable cause was the vicious racism that was born out of legalized slavery and resentment that it was overturned. It's a view that one didn't have to be Christian to hold.

The technical term for this is vicious custom, where people living in a region of the world adopt behavior that goes against the religious beliefs but is held to be "normal." This is how we see things exist like the French custom of openly accepting the taking and keeping of mistresses even though the Church explicitly condemns sexual relations outside of marriage.

Other behavior includes the Spanish mistreatment of natives in the New World, Catholics from the South trying to "explain away" the Papal condemnation of slavery etc. These are all cases where the actual teaching was set aside to justify a behavior that was condemned. In none of these cases could we say that the Church taught doing these things was morally good.

Yes, you will find Catholics advocating behavior that the Church calls evil. But it is wrong to hold that the Church is to blame for their doing so. We can make a modern case today of Catholics who ignore the Church teaching on abortion. Because the Church has made clear that abortion is always evil and never to be permitted, those Catholics who say or do otherwise are acting in spite of and not because of their beliefs.

Basically the only connection between the Catholic Church and the behavior of a Catholic doing it was the individual. As a syllogism:

  1. Mr. Jones is a Catholic ([A] is a part of [B])
  2. Mr. Jones is a Racist ([A] is a part of [C])
  3. Therefore Catholics are racists (Therefore [B] is a part of [C])

The problem is, the fact that Mr. Jones is related to both groups says nothing about the Catholic Church in relation to racism. We can use our original example of Southerners and lynching to show why such reasoning is false:

Undistributed Middle


The same format works for the common "Christians are homophobic because that man is a Christian and a homophobe."

That's why it's wrong to judge a religion by the behavior of an individual before it is determined that the individual is acting because of his religious beliefs and is not perverting them.

No comments:

Post a Comment