Many religionists think morality requires religion and that secularists and freethinkers have no standard of right and wrong. In fact, some think their religious sect alone has a monopoly on ultimate truth. We even have a political party that claims it represents all moral values.
Some religious people believe all morals come from God. However, if something is right solely because God commands it, then right and wrong are dictatorial. God could command us to lie, steal and murder, and those things would be right simply because they were God’s commands. The idea that God is good would then have no meaning because good would be defining itself – God is good because God says He’s good. That’s called circular reasoning.
On the other hand, if God commands something because it is right, then right and wrong are determined by a moral code independent of God. People have discussed for centuries how to define this moral code. Those discussions require intelligent reasoning.
Some may argue that human moral judgment is inadequate, so we must rely on God. But if our moral judgment is inadequate, how can we rely on it to know that God is morally reliable or even to know what is true of God? Whenever a moral decision is based on simplistic rules or dogma without careful reasoning, the decision is morally suspect.
Most ethicists have concluded that moral principles are bigger than any individual or group. True moral principles may be universal and enduring, while a particular ethical action may still vary with differing circumstances. For example, a moral principle may require telling the truth, but it would be morally right to lie to a Nazi soldier about the hiding place of a Jewish family. Whether or not moral principles are absolute and unchangeable, human understanding of moral principles has undeniably changed and continues to evolve.
Moral ideas come from many religious and non-religious sources. In fact, the more sources a principle has, the more likely it may be true. No one source has all the answers. Because religions are human creations, they can be wrong. Some Islamic fundamentalists have called for killing anyone who leaves their religion, anyone who criticizes their dogma, and even anyone not of the same faith (infidels). Christian have used Christian dogma to justify burning witches, persecuting infidels, promoting severe corporal punishment of women and children, and defending slavery, racism and segregation. Christian extremists, such as Pat Robertson and Kansas minister Fred Phelps, have demonized anyone who disagrees with their anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-choice, anti-science, anti-infidel doctrine. Religion can be a catalyst for the growth of moral wisdom or it can suppresses that growth.
Fundamentalism is a threat because it promotes inflexible thinking, rejects dissenting opinions and new evidence, distorts scripture to support obsolete beliefs and intolerance, and forces superstitions on others. Fundamentalists are driven by an unreasonable need for certainty and a fear of contradiction or even ambiguity. Their motto is, “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.” For example, those who insist on a literal reading of an “inerrant” Bible prefer the delusion of certainty over reason. They ignore or reject two-hundred years of biblical scholarship because it embraces on-going, open-minded, rational exploration.
Anyone who claims to speak for God, to know with certainty what God thinks, or to know the ultimate truth about anything is a conceited and dangerous person. As Bishop John Shelby Spong says, “Any God who has to be protected from new truth cannot possibly be God.” The same applies to moral principles. Good moral decisions require intelligent reasoning, and that is absent in fundamentalism, no matter what the religion.