Religion and Morality

This blog was named Liberal Values back when the Republicans were the dominant political party and the media spoke of how they won based upon values issues. The blog was named to point out that liberals also vote upon values when we disagree with conservatives on the issues. Two areas of research which made the news last week show that, contrary to the view of many social conservatives, morality is not necessarily based upon religion. There’s even a silver lining for conservatives here. As many of them do not believe in science, they can easily ignore these findings.

Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology at Harvard University, discussed how biology, not religion, has formed the roots of human morality:

Recent discoveries suggest that all humans, young and old, male and female, conservative and liberal, living in Sydney, San Francisco and Seoul, growing up as atheists, Buddhists, Catholics and Jews, with high school, university or professional degrees, are endowed with a gift from nature, a biological code for living a moral life.

This code, a universal moral grammar, provides us with an unconscious suite of principles for judging what is morally right and wrong. It is an impartial, rational and unemotional capacity. It doesn’t dictate who we should help or who we are licensed to harm. Rather, it provides an abstract set of rules for how to intuitively understand when helping another is obligatory and when harming another is forbidden. And it does so dispassionately and impartially.

While biology provides the core of a common human morality, religion is often abused as people attribute their personal beliefs to God to justify their views on controversial issues:

God may have created man in his image, but it seems we return the favour. Believers subconsciously endow God with their own beliefs on controversial issues…

“People may use religious agents as a moral compass, forming impressions and making decisions based on what they presume God as the ultimate moral authority would believe or want,” the team write. “The central feature of a compass, however, is that it points north no matter what direction a person is facing. This research suggests that, unlike an actual compass, inferences about God’s beliefs may instead point people further in whatever direction they are already facing.”

“The experiments in which we manipulate people’s own beliefs are the most compelling evidence we have to show that people’s own beliefs influence what they think God believes more substantially than it influences what they think other people believe,” says Epley.

This becomes even more dangerous when politicians like George Bush and Sarah Palin use God to justify their political views and policies.

Sarah Palin Says United States Should Rededicate Itself To Seeking God’s Will

Palin Graham

Sarah Palin said the United States should rededicate itself to seeking God’s will in a video released Friday by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Palin is a young-earth creationist who believes she will see Jesus in her lifetime. As mayor of Wasilla she tried to stack the local school board with creationists and tried to pressure the local library to remove books which social conservatives found offensive.

This is hardly the first time that Palin has expressed such theocratic sentiments confusing “God’s will” with governing. In June 2008 she described the Iraq war as a “task that is from God” and even described the Alaska gas pipeline as “God’s will.”

As repulsive as these beliefs are, they are apparently mainstream in the GOP. For example, George Bush has expressed the belief that God chose him to be President and advised him to go to war in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld used biblical imagery to sell Bush on the Iraq war. Jacques Chirac has also been quoted as saying that Bush had justified the Iraq war based upon biblical prophesy.

Religion Continues To Influence Public Policy Even With GOP Out

Sarah Posner argues in The Guardian that the influence of religion on government has continued despite the Democrats replacing the Republicans. The most obvious example was in the restrictions on the funding of abortion added to the House health care legislation.

Instead of questioning how religion – exclusively the conservative variety – became so intertwined with politics in a secular democracy, Democrats decided to embrace it themselves. Candidates now need the imprimatur of a Bible verse to have credibility with “religious” voters. Democrats must abandon their supposedly strident views on reproductive choice to satisfy pastors who essentially campaign from their pulpits. Candidates now feign embarrassment that they once spoke at a Planned Parenthood dinner. The party believes it must recruit candidates who are “pro-life,” even if they oppose providing basic health services for women, and participate in misinformation campaigns designed to portray coverage for abortion as complicity in genocide.

The “new” and avowedly more “centrist” evangelicals and Catholics sought by the Democrats claimed to care about global warming, poverty, and healthcare reform. Yet some of them have signed onto the Manhattan Declaration, which too compares abortion to genocide, and elevates gender and sexuality issues above all others. This constituency may indeed care about those other issues. But when it comes down to the wire, the abortion issue matters to them most.

Democrats need to decide what matters to them: winning elections by compromising the freedoms of American women, or standing up to church bullies.

Washington Cop Killer Dead, Possibly Along With Huckabee’s Presidential Aspirations

Maurice Clemmons, the suspect in the police shootings in Washington, was killed during a confrontation with Seattle police this morning. Now that this phase of the story has ended, the lingering question is how it will affect the political career of Mike Huckabee. Huckabee had commuted the sentence of Clemmons while governor of Arkansas.

This will certainly leave Huckabee open to the Willie Horton type of ads run by George H. W. Bush against Michael Dukakis. Huckabee cannot necessarily be expected to have been able to predict the consequences of his decision, and I would hope the result of this is not to inhibit all governors with political aspirations from showing leniency when deserved.

The important question is how Huckabee came about making this decision. Joe Conason argues that it was based on Huckabee’s religious views, believing Huckabee’s decisions were biased by those who claimed to be born again:

Huckabee has proudly declared on many occasions that he disdains the separation of church and state, insisting that his strict Baptist piety should serve as the bedrock of public policy. Nowhere in his record as governor was the influence of religious zeal felt more heavily than in the distribution of pardons and commutations, as his own explanations have indicated. During those years he granted more commutations and pardons than any governor during the previous four decades, many of them surely justified as a response to excessive penalties under the state’s draconian narcotics laws. But others were deeply controversial, especially because so many of his acts of mercy appeared to depend on interventions by fellow Baptist preachers and by inmate professions of renewed Christian faith.

No doubt word spread among the prison population that the affable governor was vulnerable to appeals from convicts who claimed to be born again. Clemmons too was among those who benefited from Huckabee’s tendency to believe such pious testimonials. “I come from a very good Christian family and I was raised much better than my actions speak,” he explained in his clemency application in 2000. “I’m still ashamed to this day for the shame my stupid involvement in these crimes brought upon my family’s name … I have never done anything good for God, but I’ve prayed for him to grant me in his compassion the grace to make a start. Now, I’m humbly appealing to you for a brand new start.”

Surely the most notorious instance of misplaced mercy involved Wayne Dumond, a rapist and murdered now deceased, who was originally sent to prison in Arkansas for raping a distant cousin of Bill Clinton. During Clinton’s presidency the Dumond case became an obsession among certain right-wing pundits and politicians, who insisted that Dumond had been framed and brutalized by the “Clinton machine.” When Huckabee became governor, he supported a parole for Dumond, winning applause from the Republican right — until the former prisoner raped and killed a young woman in Missouri. Dumond later died in prison, under suspicion that he had murdered at least one other woman after his Arkansas release — a tragic outcome for which Huckabee has repeatedly tried to blame others, including his two Democratic predecessors in the statehouse.

It does sound like there is valid criticism of Huckabee on this, but I would prefer to see more sources on the decision before coming to any conclusions. As for the 2012 race, it looks like Tim Pawlenty has fired the first shot:

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty became the first likely GOP presidential candidate to criticize Mike Huckabee’s pardon of a suspected killer during his time as Arkansas’s governor.

Pawlenty said that he would not have granted clemency to Maurice Clemmons, who was suspected of fatally shooting four police officers in Washington state on Sunday before being shot and killed by police in Seattle Tuesday morning.

He continued, “In Minnesota, I don’t think I’ve ever voted for clemency. We’ve given out pardons for things after everybody has served out their term, but again, usually for more minor offenses. But clemency, certainly not. Commutation of sentence, certainly not.”