Moral objectivism and a punishing God

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 80:1-7 (2019)
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Abstract

Many moral philosophers have assumed that ordinary folk embrace moral objectivism. But, if so, why do folk embrace objectivism? One possibility is the pervasive connection between religion and morality in ordinary life. Some theorists contend that God is viewed as a divine guarantor of right and wrong, rendering morality universal and absolute. But is belief in God per se sufficient for moral objectivism? In this paper, we present original research exploring the connections between metaethics and particular conceptions of God among religious participants. Study 1 shows that, when controlling for religiosity, age, and belief in God’s loving characteristics, it is belief in God’s punishing characteristics (specifically, the existence of Hell) that uniquely predicts rejection of moral relativism. Study 2 shows that followers of Abrahamic faiths are more likely to endorse moral objectivism when thinking of the Divine, regardless of loving or punishing characteristics. And Study 3 shows that priming for moral objectivism makes theists more likely to endorse God’s punishing characteristics. A general picture is suggested by these data. For Abrahamic theists, God’s particular characteristics are not germane to the question of whether his moral commandments are real and objective. And while theists strongly endorse God’s loving characteristics, focusing on the objective nature of morality can highlight God’s punishing nature, reminding theists that objective morality requires a divine guarantor of justice to enforce it.

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Author Profiles

Mark Phelan
Lawrence University
Hagop Sarkissian
CUNY Graduate Center

References found in this work

The moral problem.Michael Smith - 1994 - Cambridge, Mass., USA: Blackwell.
Moral realism: a defence.Russ Shafer-Landau - 2003 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Ruling Passions.Simon Blackburn - 1998 - Philosophy 75 (293):454-458.

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