On Saturday, April 27, 2002, Mr. George Nadzan writes, “I suggest that these and similar problems exist in all churches in some fashion.”   If, in fact, Mr. Nadzan is right and the clergy of other churches are indeed abusing their congregants, then does it not seem obvious that churches have only an error-prone relationship to morality, the guardian of which they claim to be?  If even for the ministers, whom one presumes to be closest to divine inspiration, that divine inspiration fails to produce morally upright conduct, should one then not conclude that religion is as impotent in its production of morally upright conduct as any other collectivity?   In other words, should not a religious person be in no way regarded as more felicitously moral than any non-religious person; and should not any religion presumed to be in no way more productive of good than any other country club?

 

If churches do wrong, then their tax-free status should, according to Mr. Nadzan, be taken from them.  That act would place the locus of moral decision-making entirely in the hand of the political hierarchy, presumably by legislative fiat and judicial oversight.  So,  if moral agency is in the hands of the legislature and the judicial branch, but if it is also obvious that no one in our culture trusts a politician, and if, furthermore, religion cannot be relied upon to deliver moral guidelines, does it not seem as though we are very much at a quandary precisely who is to deliver moral guidance for anyone or moral oversight over anyone?

 

To answer my question, I would say that autonomy is at the heart of people’s morality.  If religion is unreliable, then every person has a moral obligation to stay away from those communes of hypocrisy, and he or she has the ethical autonomy to do so; if the government advocates principles of unfairness, then every person has a moral obligation to criticize vociferously, and he or she has the ethical autonomy to do so; if a corporation implements principles of exploitation here and elsewhere, then every person has a moral obligation to criticize and boycott the business, and he or she has the ethical autonomy to do so. 

 

Collective jingoism in the form of flag-waving and simplistic us-versus-them mentalities may be far more dangerous than the occasional Islamic congregation that is critical of this country.  What I see as more of a problem is not freedom of or from religion; what I see as far more dangerous is the apparent inability of people to find their own moral autonomy, their authentic self-responsibility, and their willingness to invest sufficient resources of intellect into trying to figure out what actual state of affairs characterizes the world in which we live.