Human nature, in other circumstances, is also clearly constructed for cruel exploitation, uncontrollable rage, icy selfishness and a range of other less desirable traits.Is Gerson really endorsing the "morality comes from religion" argument? It seems that he is.
So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.
Christopher Hitchens is having none of it:
However, it is his own supposedly kindly religion that prevents him from seeing how insulting is the latent suggestion of his position: the appalling insinuation that I would not know right from wrong if I was not supernaturally guided by a celestial dictatorshipCelestial dictatorship...that's rich.
Hitch also points out a whole host of religion-inspired atrocities and evils, contradicting the whole idea that religion is the final arbiter of morality.
Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included the slaughter of other "tribes," the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual "deviants" and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of "deicide," the absurdity of "Limbo," the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice.Ouch.
Hitch has a point though. Either these things are a) completely moral because they are mandated by their respective religions, or b) they are immoral despite the religious inspiration (But wait, an immoral God? Nooooo!), or c) the link between religion and morality is dubious, exaggerated, and/or outright false.
(My vote is for C.) In my view, morality is too complex to be ascribed to one "root cause" like religion. It comes from several factors, parental conditioning, societal influence, individual experience, and cultural consensus.
Oh, I'll concede that religion is part of the "societal influence" (or even "cultural consensus) part of my equation. I'll concede that religion overly concerns itself with moral matters. I'll even concede that religious people often believe they are moral simply by virtue of being religious, whether they are actually moral or not.
But there's no way you'll convince me that religious belief is a prerequisite for moral integrity.