Worship is immoral

Aikin and Talisse (potentially startling many readers of 3 Quarks Daily) argue that religious belief is morally wrong.

The thought is frequently associated with Bertrand Russell: The worship of anything is beneath the dignity of a rational creature.  That is, we argue that worship is immoral.  Consequently, for any type of religious belief, if it requires one to worship anything, then it is intrinsically immoral.  The argument turns on the claim that any conception of worship that’s worth its salt will involve the voluntary and irrevocable submission of one’s rational faculties to those of another.

That idea resonates with me, whether I know how to defend it or not. It addresses what I dislike about “faith,” even (or possibly, sometimes, especially) the liberal kind. I dislike the hierarchical aspect, the (at least implicit) demand for submission, the abdication.

The challenge we pose to religious believers is to formulate a conception of worship that at once makes worship distinguishable from lesser attitudes and actions (such as praising, thanking, appreciating, admiring) and yet non-submissive.  We think that there is no such conception.  That is, any conception of worship that does not involve morally objectionable submission will be indistinguishable from, say, thanking, praising, and admiring.  But the religious believer holds not only that God is entitled to thanks, praise, and admiration; the religious believer holds that God (uniquely) is entitled to worship.  Yet worship is morally wrong.  Hence so is any mode of religious belief which requires it.

That works. It’s quite possible to admire, praise, and thank other people, and still be on a footing of equality. Of course it is, and what a hell life would be if it weren’t. I enjoy admiring people. But worship? Hell no. That would be wrong. If we really do have an overlord who demands worship…we’ll just have to say No.

76 Responses to “Worship is immoral”