There’s a great discussion between Bruce and SB on the “Counter-apologetic pwnage” comments thread regarding religion and morality. Here are my 2 cents worth:
[SB:]The psychological theory you proposed (i.e. most people know what is right and act accordingly, and those that don’t know, or who know but don’t act on that knowledge are consigned to categories of the mentally ill) tells us why people behave as they do, but not what they ought to do. At best it may describe what they ought to do if they want to be like most others. It certainly creates problems when people have differing moral sentiments – how do we know which is right?
[Me:]That is a problem that existed already. The appeal to divine command or the assertion of the alleged “truth” of a religious (or ideological) set of dogmas merely postpones answering the question, and to some degree sweeps it under the carpet. If I just accept what my priest, pastor or imam (or Rick Warren) tells me are the “right” solutions to moral questions, then I don’t have to think about them. But all that has happened is that I am no longer thinking about these questions. Not thinking about them (or letting someone else do my thinking for me) is not tantamount to solving these questions. They’re still there.
So perhaps the best we are able to achieve is consensus. And there are, it seems to me, at least two ways of achieving consensus on moral questions. (Two that spring to mind, anyway.) One occurs if you belong to a religious or ideological community whose members are all of a mind (broadly speaking) on doctrinal matters, and are thus more likely to be all of a mind on how to address moral questions in accordance with the doctrine. (Those who aren’t able to get with the programme are likely to find themselves alienated, or marginalised, or shunned, or excommunicated, or imprisoned, or beaten, or tortured, or burnt at the stake, or beheaded.) The other way involves rational argument and evidence. Now, bear in mind that achieving consensus on a moral problem is not the same thing as solving it once and for all. But it strikes me that the second way is the better way to go in a plural society and–dare I say it–in a plural global community.