Short answers

I mentioned that believers can resort to a quick and easy way with difficult questions that secular thinkers and atheists can’t, and that this lack is perhaps one reason students are always moral relativists. We can offer reasons for thinking X is better than Y, or for thinking Z is entirely unacceptable in any moral universe we can think of (executing gays for being gay, genocide, murdering women for talking to an unrelated man), but we can’t hand out anything as brisk and simple and conversation-stopping as ‘God said so.’ Believers* have a short cut which unbelievers don’t have. Believers have an answer that is both quick and easy, while unbelievers have to spend time and effort if they want to explain to skeptics why executing gays for being gay is unacceptable.

Believers have an answer that is both quick and easy, and that’s why it’s such a crap answer. Quick and easy answers are worthless for such disagreements. They’re worthless because they have no content. They’re empty. Saying ‘God said so’ is exactly the same thing as saying nothing. It’s like holding up a street sign rather than saying anything. Why shouldn’t we execute gays for being gays? Why shouldn’t we kill women for talking to an unrelated man? Because Galer Street. That tells you just as much as ‘God said so.’ Just saying a name doesn’t tell us anything. All ‘God said so’ really means is ‘it’s what I think and “God” is like an official stamp on what I think’ – which leaves us exactly where we started. ‘God’ is just the label people put on what they already think is good. They don’t put that label on what they already think is bad. They don’t punch ‘God’ into a good-bad computer they have so that they know which goes with what. They just take God to endorse what they think is right, and that absolves them from the work of testing what they think is right.

This is one of the great appeals of theism, of course, but it’s a snare and a delusion. The shortcut is a shortcut because it leaves out so much, and that’s not a good thing. It may be needed in an emergency, as ‘because I said so’ is sometimes with children, but for the long haul, it’s necessary to do better than that. The answer from authority is impoverished, and morality is not a subject that thrives on impoverished answers.

*Believers here means dogmatic believers. Not all believers are dogmatic – though even many liberal believers betray an odd certainty about certain attributes and views of God. They’re very sure God is good and benevolent and compassionate, for one thing. But they don’t use the ‘God said’ shortcut. Mostly.

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