The School of Psychological Sciences

Religion, morality and democracy

First, I have seen very little to convince me that the three major monotheistic religions have any positive role in offering moral guidance, today. Whereas in the past, when those religions started, they may have played a positive role, I think that today they make us morally regress, because while human morality has evolved, the religious scriptures remained fixed.  To my mind, many of the Bible stories are of limited value in offering moral guidance at present,  and I think in our days science and moral philosophy (starting with Plato and Socrates, through Kant, and to more recent moral philosophy) can contribute a lot more to enhancing our moral behavior.

Second, history teaches us that religions often have had a stronger impact in creating, rather than solving, conflicts. This is more so today, where we find multiple religions share the same geographic area. A lot was written on this, by people such as, Richard Dawkins’ ( “The GOD Delusion“), Hitchins (God is not Great). It is possible,  as some scholars in the field of history have suggested, that Dawkins’ analysis may be somewhat biased. Nevertheless, from my observation of history, I can see that  the more power all three religions have had, the worse use of it they have made. A few examples illustrating these are: The Inquisition in Cristianity, the state of Islam today and unfortunately for us, the religious Messianic groups in Israel, one of which that had produced Igal Amir (the murderer of the Israeli prime-minister Rabin). If there is a lesson to be learned from history, it is that the only times when religions have played a positive role in society was when they had no executive power.  I am, therefore, a strong supporter of the separation between state and religion, and I am also convinced that Israel has made a crucial mistake in not implementing this principle, like the US constitution or the French republic.

Third, a few words about the tensions and dangers created by religions now-days (I focus on Israel and Europe, the two places I lived most). While I am fully supportive of freedom of religion, I believe that it should be subjected to certain limitations, when it comes into conflict with humanistic values, such as, rejecting of any type of discrimination. Unfortunately, people have used religious freedom to justify various types of discrimination: gender, sexual orientation,  ethnic, etc.

In Israel, for example, some religious groups have used their religion as a motivation to discriminate against non-Jews and to aggressively persecute mixed (Jew/NonJew) couples. It is incomprehensible to me that any Jew, with a memory of the discrimination suffered by our ancestors in the past, can behave this way towards others today (click here for a sad image of Racism in our football). Messianic religious Jews in the West-Bank are also among the more ardent opponents of the two-state solution. They see no moral problem in maintaining the West-Bank Palestinian population devoid of basic human rights or in carrying out ethnic cleansing.  For many of them, giving up on any part of the Biblical land for a Palestinian state could postpone the coming of the Messiah and the world’s redemption (a VIDEO of an Israeli settler telling to Palestinian farmers that the land they live on belongs to Jews by divine decree, and that when the Messiah will arrive they will be “our” slaves.)

In Europe, a similar problem is created by Islamic extremists who have taken advantage of the openness of  Western society multicultural and multiethnic values, to attack it. Obviously, Western democracy has the right to defend itself. While doing so, by singling out people on the basis of their ethnicity (or origin) is unacceptable, I think that a public debate and stronger scrutiny of the various religious doctrines is in order. Unlike race, or gender, religion is a choice, and our society does not have to tolerate religious doctrines that endanger its core values. In this spirit, I fully endorse the French law limiting the wearing of the full veil in public space. It is argued that wearing veils expresses modesty or shyness. I think this totally misses the problem. Full veils create an asymmetric situation in which the veiled person can see and observe others without allowing the same opportunity to the other.  As reciprocity is a prerequisite of human interaction and facial expression plays a large part of it, it is natural that people would feel uncomfortable.  Regardless of security hazards, I see no reason why this needs to be tolerated.