People like Dr Martin Luther King and Bishop Tutu have certainly been inspiring leaders in their struggles for freedom and against racism in the USA (King) and South Africa (Tutu). Both are recognised as great moral leaders of their time. Both are also recognised as religious leaders. And, I agree, we can find many other religious believers who are positive moral examples.
But do we have to conclude from this that religious belief is a precondition for morality? No, of course not! Dr King and Bishop Tutu were involved in great moral struggles, but the struggle was not against atheism. In fact, they were allied with many atheists in these struggles.
No, Dr King and Bishop Tutu were struggling against other people of religious belief, predominantly Christians! That is why they so often resorted to religious rhetoric – their racist opponents were religious
It has been the same with other great moral struggles. Religious leaders did play an important role (together with secular leaders) in the struggle against slavery. But let’s not forget that religion was also used to justify slavery.
It’s not surprising that religion should be centrally involved in such moral issues. After all religion developed as an important mechanism for codifying moral values, ethics and legality in the social evolution of humanity. So religious teachings became an important way justifying different moral positions, both good and bad.
It’s only natural, therefore that today religious believers will participate in moral debates (on both sides). Religious teachings are used to justify the different positions in most debates. Surely this shows that religion is not a source of humanity’s morals and ethics.
The fact is that religion gets its morals and ethics from mankind, not the other way around. There is no justification for religion to claim any special role in, or knowledge about, morality.
Common values, common action?
Limits to respect and toleration
Overcoming religious problems
Faith and terrorism
Do you believe your religion?
Do religious leaders believe their religion?
Religion and morality
Religion and children
Crimes of Communism and Christianity
Atheism and religious diversity