Religion and Obligation – But I don’t want to obey?…
People often don’t like religion because they don’t want to obey
A lot of people react to religion and want nothing to do with it. Not because they’ve considered its truth claims but because they feel it is constricting. Interestingly, we got our modern English word “religion” from the Latin word religio meaning “obligation” or “bond.”
So, it has been recognized for a long time that religion is binding. The question is, why? Why should anyone obey a religion?
If the religion’s truth claims are accurate then there would be a good reason to obey. Otherwise, I’m not going to be bound by a religion just because that’s what my grandma believed… No. If you’re going to tell me what I can do and not do, you better offer some good reasons why I should listen.
God demands obedience
1 Kings 8:60-61 says, “The LORD is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD.” It is admittedly a big claim that “the LORD is God,” and He alone. But if that claim is true it seems to make sense that the LORD could demand obedience.
So, the question it seems we need to answer is not: “Should I obey?” But: “Is it true?” A lot of times it seems we’re tempted to go at it a different way. We’re tempted to think: “I don’t want to obey, therefore I won’t consider if it’s true.”
We can see the ridiculousness of that thinking when we apply it to a different context…
Imagine you’re driving on the highway with me. I’m going 95 when the speed limit is 70. You’re concerned because you know there are often speed traps in the area. Also, you don’t want to die. So, you say, “Perhaps you should slow down. There could be a speed trap.”
I, however, am rather content with the speed I am going. But you see a police car ahead. You very kindly warn me: “Um, that’s a police car… See it?! He’s right there! Slow down!”
But I don’t listen. I want to drive fast so I ignore the possibility of a cop car.
Religion and obligation
Ignoring information that might be pertinent because we want to do what we want to do might be problematic. Just because we don’t want there to be a cop to enforce the rules does not at all mean there is no cop.
I understand people not wanting to be obligated by a religion. We all naturally want to be in charge; we want to do what we want to do. We want to be God. But we can’t be God if God is God.
If God is, then God is in charge. He is God. If the religion is real, it necessarily leads to obligation.
That brings up the very important question: “Is God?”
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved
Imagine I gave you a pill that made you feel morally obligated to give me money… Kinda random but hear me out. After the pill wore off, what would you think of your moral conviction to give me money? Would you regret it? Question it? Probably both.
That’s what moral conviction is if we’re simply evolved creatures. Why? How is that so?
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved
Naturalistic evolution teaches that our sense of morality evolved. That is, our “moral genes” just happened to make us better suited for survival, and thus those with a moral characteristic passed on their “moral genes.” And so, we have morality. But, so the thought goes, just as the Neanderthals died out, morality could have died out. Or certainly, a different form of morality could have won out.
In fact, Charles Darwin says in The Descent of Man that if things had gone differently for humans they could have evolved to be like bees, where “females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters.” The atheist Michael Ruse in his book, Taking Darwin Seriously: A Naturalistic Approach to Philosophy, says, “Morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes.”
So, if we’re simply evolved from monkeys, morality is the equivalent of taking a pill that makes us think certain moral convictions are right. But the reality would be different. We, based on this view, only have those convictions—whatever they are: treat people nice, don’t murder and maim, etc.—because we happed to evolve that way (“took the pill”).
Of course, just because the way that you arrived at a conclusion was wrong, does not mean that your conclusion was wrong. In a test where the answer is A, B, C, or D, I could just choose “C” because it’s my favorite letter. I may be correct in my answer, but I certainly don’t have a solid reason for believing in the validity of my answer. In fact, probability would say my answer is likely wrong.
Another problem with wholesale naturalistic evolution is if we believe it explains everything then it in some ways explains nothing. Gasp. Yeah, that’s not a good thing.
If evolution explains morality, then I’m moral because of evolution which at least in some ways undercuts morality. Some people even say that religious people, like people that believe in Jesus, are religious because they evolved that way. Believing in a higher power brought some type of group identity which led tribes of our ancestors to be more likely to protect each other and thus survive and pass on their genes. And so, religion is the result of random mutational chance.
In fact, you could argue all of our thinking processes are the result of evolution. We’re just matter in motion. We’re all just responding to random whims. From belief in morality to belief in evolution, we’re just evolved to think this way… We can’t do anything about it. It’s programmed into us. It’s the pill we were given…
But if all this is a pill we’re given—what we’ve randomly evolved to think—what should we think?… Isn’t all our thinking just built into us through evolutionary processes?…
Alternatively, Christians believe that humans are created with an innate moral sense.
So, it seems morality is either a fiction with no basis in reality or God created us and explains reality—explains why we have an innate sense that we should treat people nice and not murder and maim.
There are big implications for either view. What is your view? And why?
Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
I recently read Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue. Kreeft is a Roman Catholic philosopher, theologian, apologist, and a prolific author. He is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College.
Here are some quotes from Back to Virtue that stuck out to me:
“We control nature, but we cannot or will not control ourselves. Self-control is ‘out’ exactly when nature control is ‘in’, that is, exactly when self-control is most needed” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 23).
“Nothing is so surely and quickly dated as the up-to-date” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 63).
“It is hard to be totally courageous without hope in Heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope in Heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope that your story ends in anything other than worms and decay” (Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 72).
“The only way to ‘the imitation of Christ’ is the incorporation into Christ” (Ibid., 84).
“There are only two kinds of people: fools, who think they are wise, and the wise, who know they are fools” (Ibid., 99).
“Humility is thinking less about yourself, not thinking less of yourself” (Ibid., 100).
“God has more power in one breath of his spirit than all the winds of war, all the nuclear bombs, all the energy of all the suns in all the galaxies, all the fury of Hell itself” (Ibid., 105).
“We can possess only what is less than ourselves, things, objects… We are possessed by what is greater than ourselves—God and his attributes, Truth, Goodness, Beauty. This alone can make us happy, can satisfy the restless heart, can fill the infinite, God-shaped hole at the center of our being” (Ibid., 112).
“The beatitude does not say merely: ‘Blessed are the peace-lovers,’ but something rarer: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’” (Ibid., 146).
“There is only one thing that never gets boring: God… Modern man has… sorrow about God, because God is dead to him. He is the cosmic orphan. Nothing can take the place of his dead Father; all idols fail, and bore” (Ibid., 157).
“God’s single solution to all our problems is Jesus Christ” (Ibid., 172).
“An absolute being, an absolute motive, and an absolute hope can alone generate an absolute passion. God, love and Heaven are the three greatest sources of passion possible” (Ibid., 192).