Religion Doesn’t Solve All Ethical Dilemmas

Jesus and Mo figure that out the hard way:



About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Michelle

    Actually it does…and it says you can’t. I’ve had this argument with several Catholics and now they’re pretty sure I’m a monster for thinking that more lives are worth more than one life.

    • mobathome

      Citation please.

    • Dan

       So do your Catholic friends find the sacrifice of Jesus immoral too then? How about all the God-condoned slaughter in the OT in order to keep Israel ‘pure’? Or Jesus saying its better for a person to be drowned than to cause a child to stumble? Or God killing David’s baby to teach him a lesson? All those passages argue that sacrificing some to save the many, or even just to teach someone a lesson, is not just moral, but actually encouraged. (Of course since the Bible is full of contradictions other verses might say the opposite).

      • Foster

        God, as presented, is omniscient.  He made man, and has the right to allow him to pass from this world to the next.  Man is not omniscient.  He cannot know all the consequences of his actions, which is why it is immoral for an independent individual to actively take another’s life in order to save ten, because by taking the life, the individual human becomes complicit in moral evil, putting himself in the place of God, deciding who lives and who dies.  The old testament is imperfect without the new testament to interpret it.  Christ rebuked Peter for cutting off a servant’s ear.  “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”  That is the witness of scripture for the ordinary Christian today from the mouth of Christ himself concerning physical violence.  Talking about the OT, much of which is allegorical, out of the context of the NT as superior to it, is a misrepresentation of historical Christian morality. 

    • Dark Jaguar

      Let me push this sort of thinking to a conclusion you may find distasteful and see where it gets us.

      At this very moment, there are people waiting for organ replacements who will die shortly without them.  That includes someone waiting for a liver, or lung tissue, or a heart.  At any rate, I’ll make the scenario weighted just a tad.  Would it be moral to kill a drifter for the spare parts needed to save 3 people on the operating table?  If not, why not?

  • mobathome

    It’s immoral, and it might be that you should do it.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    We face terrible, painful choices in life, and we have to make bitter, heartbreaking decisions, and then live with the consequences. We must accept the responsibility for our effort to make the least awful choice for everyone concerned.

    What is immoral is to dodge that responsibility by pretending to rely on a prescribed formula dictated centuries ago by a spook in the sky who is never available to take the responsibility himself.

  • jose

    That kind of ethical dilemmas admit no answer because they are loaded. By the way they are set up, they look for descriptive answers, the same way I would ask “is running 100m in 10 seconds fast for humans?” or “is that building 100 feet tall?”

    The problem is “moral” isn’t descriptive but prescriptive. What the bartender is really asking is “should we kill 1 to save 10?”

    One can say “yes” and the other can say “no”… but which one is true? That’s what moral realists would like to know, but they’ll remain unable to respond as long as they don’t replace their metaethics with something more useful.

    Utilitarians may say yes or no depending on how important the different factors of the question are to them. The most immediate answer would be yes, because you’re saving more lives. Others may say no, because a society that allows those decisions is a society without individual rights, and those are essential for democratic, free societies, so in the big picture, killing that person would be wrong. And the first one will respond “sure, go tell that to those people who will die because of a principle”. Also, what if it’s 100 people instead of 10? 200? In the end, they too will be unable to find out whether “yes” or “no” is the objectively true answer.

    Finally, moral relativists will say it depends on the circumstances. In a society that values individual freedom it would be bad to kill a person to save 10, so in that case the true answer would be “yes, we should kill that 1″, and in other cases, the true answer will be “no”. But how can a well defined question accept “yes” and “no” at the same time as valid answers? What kind of truth is that?

    The answer I think is that “truth” doesn’t apply to moral claims at all. It’s not that something is truly moral, but that we just want it to happen for whatever reasons (and they can be very well founded reasons). All we can do is to examine the complexities of each real world case and try to make a good enough decision. Decision making skills in real life don’t depend on infallible, universal (and nonexistent) systems.

  • Guest

    These two religions are as different from each other as day and night.

    • Dan

       Depends on the location and time period. Christianity was just as bad as Islam, and probably would have been worse with access to modern technology, for 1500 years, until the enlightenment somewhat neutered Christianity. Look at Uganda to see how theocratic Christian nations can still be, and those people are supported by a lot of American right-wing Christians.

      • Guest

        You are entitled to think what you like as long as you know what these religions teach their followers to do. The world will be a worse place if US is destroyed from within and there are many groups trying to do that.

        While you are comparing who killed more people , please don’t forget about the atheists and what they did under the Communist regimes. I doubt you can find any long stretch in history when men live in peace with each other. That goes to say a lot about human nature.

        • The Other Weirdo

           Nice topic derailment attempt. Nobody mentioned anything about destroying the US, from within or from without. The OP isn’t even about the US.

          • Guest

            It is applicable whether you like it or not.

        • Dan

           No, I’m not just comparing who killed more people, but who limited free speech, denied women equal rights, supported slavery as divenly inspired, used the verse about God putting the king in power to justify divine rule, tortured gay people, make free thinkers repent, and stiffled science. Or more recently who sought to deny women the right to vote, who encouraged segregation, opposed civil rights, are against gay marriage, want to keep science out of public school, or whine because they can’t use the force of government to impose Christianity on people. All that was done for centuries by Christians acting directly on their beliefs.

          Atheists have done some bad things not in the name of atheism, but in the name of nationalism, racism, communism, and xenophobia. And all the above actions can be justified using scripture, there is no holy book for atheists to follow, and certainly not one that condones genocide, slavery, treating women and children as property, or denying freedom of religion to keep people from hell.

  • jemiller226

    Good to kill one person to save 10? Perhaps.

    What if one of the 10 is a serial rapist?

    3 of the 10?

    All of them?

    Maybe it’s not a question worth asking.


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