What stops you from killing your neighbour

So last week I had an interesting conversation with Mark of the North on Twitter. Now, had you asked me a day before this exchange, I would have told you I thought conversations of any real value are impossible on Twitter, or any social networking site for that matter. I have since upgraded my opinion from impossible to extremely rare.

A few comments about the religious Yellowknife landlord forced to pay a gay couple after the human rights commission found he had violated their rights for kicking them out because of the nature of their relationship led to a discussion on morality.

The crux of the discussion: Where does our morality come from? Is morality possible without religion? What stops you from walking across the street and shooting your neighbour for playing his music too loud for weeks at a time? Law might prevent you from pulling the trigger but what if you removed law? If you or your parents’ religion had not taught you murder was wrong would you stalk across the street, shotgun in hand?

To me, the answer to the second question is your neighbour would probably live to play hsi music too loud again. But, if you are indignantly answering these questions with “I am not religious and I am moral,” I wouldn’t be so sure about the separation between your moral values and religion.

I am not religious, but my parents and grandparents are. In fact,  my grandparents are old world religious complete with some very interesting superstitions that intertwine with more modern Catholicism. So despite my lack of religious servitude my morality is most likely derived from those values.  Further, I have a gay friend who came from a very religious background. My friend was constantly conflicted because her lifestyle was contrary to her upbringing. So, despite not being religious herself she still had to constantly battle religious values that taught her people such as herself were abhorrent. 

Western culture is built on Christian values. Many would argue we and the United States are secular nations built on capitalism, but are we?

Sure Canada is built on freedom of religion and freedom of culture, but even the first line of our constitution outlines where our allegiance lies. It states, with little ambiguity, “Whereas Canada is founded upon the principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

Surprisingly, at least to me, the American constitution does not mention God, anywhere (except in the date, but it is not a religious reference). When the American constitution was drafted its creators thought the modern government should be separate from religion. I said earlier this surprised me; It seems the religious overtones in the U.S. are stronger than they are in Canada, despite our constitution directly referencing God.

Regardless of whether the constitution references God or religion, many of our laws are based on a Christian morality, albeit over the past few decades there has been substantial separation; the legalization of abortion and gay marriage highlights that fact.

Another example is the so-called western effort to bring democracy to the middle east. I read two really good articles in Harpers Magazine and Al Jazeera that spoke to why these efforts fail. The obvious political blunders and motivations aside, both articles either editorialized or referenced sources stating that the western and middle eastern philosophies, due to religion, are so fundamentally different it makes one-size-fits-all democracy impossible. If you took religion out of the equation would that still be true?

So, what do you think? Can there be morality without religion? And, is religion-based morality what we has a modern people want? Religion has for centuries been  the cause and justification for war and oppression to the point that perhaps even its moral base is questionable.

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