Of the three monotheistic religions reviewed above, Christianity is the only one which claims preeminence of moral teaching and asserts that its moral code, based upon the sayings of Jesus as related in the Gospels, is the foundation of civilized conduct.This claim is false and contradicts all credible historical and religious evidence: there is little connection between morality and Christian imposed conduct; it is tenuous at best.
In the struggle for self-preservation, when satisfaction of primary needs are at stake, all means at man's disposal are applied to gain the desired ends and no methods, however injurious and unfavorable to others, are precluded out of consideration for morality. The application of moral codes in situations threatening survival or the well-being are luxuries a man can ill afford and would do so at his own peril. For the prudent man will not treat the preservation of his basic interests as a sport which is the domain of fair play and gentlemanly conduct.
It is virtuous for man to strive for perseverance in existence and maintenance of primary creature comforts and to do so with all means at his disposal - regard for morality, religiously induced or otherwise, never played a conclusive role in such efforts, although there have been cases of intentional self-destruction (in whatever form) but such acts, by definition, served the perpetrator's interests.
It is well to define the concept of morality, as distinguished from ethics. Ethics is a code of conduct conducive to an atmosphere of social tranquillity, the compliance of which can be enforced by penal provisions. Such a code is typically mandated by an institution of authority, i.e., a government, to promote harmony and facilitate untroubled and peaceful intercourse among its inhabitants, The prudent government leaders will only seek laws to promote such conduct which can be enforced and provide appropriate sanctions for violators. Ethics is only a small part of morality. That part of morality which does not embrace ethics deals with conduct conducive to the promotion of compatibility and amity among men which cannot be enforced by sanctions and which elicit approbation,
admiration and esteem of humanity in general. Transgressors face censure and opprobrium by the offended or harmed. Examples of the former are: laws against perjury, theft, murder, polygamy, prostitution, libel, bearing false witness, abuse of children, etc. Examples of the latter are: charity toward poor and weak, orphans and infirm, care of others' needs, kindness to animals, respect for parents, helping a neighbor or friend, tolerating dissent, kindness to children, keeping one's promise, tolerance of other religions or views, etc. Ethics and morality can never be in conflict.
The degree of morality is the measure of civilization; the control of the savage instincts of man by civilizing, i.e., moralizing, his conduct and making him fit for a harmonious community life.
What are the sayings of Jesus as reflected in the Gospels which support Christianity's claim of indispensability to civilization? Almost all of the moral preachings of Jesus are taken from the Old Testament and are of Hebrew not Christian origin; so is the golden rule and the Sermon on the Mount, pointed to with pride by Christians as the sublime crowning essence of their morality.
As for the other sayings not of Hebrew origin, to turn the other cheek, to give to anyone who asks, not to turn anyone away who wants to borrow, not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will take care of itself, anyone who humbles himself will be exalted, sell everything and give your money to the poor, bless those who curse you, do not ask for your property back from the man who robs you, to lend without any hope of return, to love one's enemies, to do good to those who hate you - can anyone really believe that such totally absurd, impractical, visionary and imprudent advice, standing morality on its head, wholly incompatible with human nature and going against all conventions, could be offered by a divine personage possessing the wisdom of heaven? Or that the suggested conduct could have any influence on the civilized conduct of man, on civilization? Or will such counsel confuse, demoralize and frustrate anyone wishing to follow the divine precepts?
Elsewhere, what are the well-to-do to think of Matthew 19:23-24, "... it will be hard for the rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven"? Matthew did not enlighten the reader about the definition of "rich man". It was the wealthy, those extremely wealthy Christians, who contributed lavishly toward the building of Churches, to the financial support of the Roman Church and the Papacy during the Dark Ages (for a time the wealthy Jewish Pierleoni banking family was the sole support of the Church) when such support saved the Roman Church from financial disaster. The funds were gratefully accepted and the donor graced with the most lavish papal blessings. And it was the faithful rich who were the most prolific purchasers of papal indulgences and thus bribed their entry into heaven. Pope Alexander VI (1492 - 1503) amassed a great fortune as Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia; Pope L.
X (1513 - 1521), son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, the wealthy Florentine banker, both, as Vicars of Christ, had no difficulty dealing with their or other people's riches. What is one to think of John 8:7-8, "If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him cast the first stone at her"? There are no perfect humans, everyone has sinned at one time or another; does that mean that no one should ever accuse another of any misdeeds, however outrageous? No judicial administration would be possible. What about all the accusations of ritual murder, image desecration and desecration of the consecrated host invented by the clergy? All these were later admitted by the Church to have been false and the Jews unjustly vilified.
But even some of the objectionable moral teaching of Jesus which are wholly impractical and unsuited as. guides for moral conduct (such as, to love one's enemies, to bless those who curse you), which Christianity claims as its own by virtue of original revelations in the Gospels, were propounded over 2,000 years before Christianity in a collection of Babylonian precepts in a more literate and discreet version:
"Do not do evil to one who has a dispute with you;
Return good to one who does evil to you.
Maintain justice for one who is bad to you;
Be pleasant to your enemy ..."
Needless to say, none of the above precepts for moral condu were taken seriously by the Babylonians.
In a direct challenge to man's earthly desires based on envy, hate and pride, and in response to his limited intellectual adequacy, a religion arose on the Indian subcontinent possessing sufficient lucidity to stand well above past and present religions in its pragmatic approach to life. For it held that, among other original beliefs, the religion of an experienced man cannot be the same as the one taught to a child; that what was meant to satisfy a child's need for security would not be adequate to nourish the mind of a grown man; that mystic rituals so pleasing to an impressionable young mind would discourage a grown man wisened by experience. It admonishes man to follow such moral precepts, among others:
(i) Subdue the passions of the senses.
(ii) Be charitable to your neighbor.
(iii) Have pity on those who desewe pity.
It condemned any effort to seek salvation by sacrificial or ritual acts; that a state of happiness is attainable in this life through the complete elimination of selfish desires; that we possess everything within us to find ourselves richer if we just shut our eyes and our hearts against the illusion of the world and admonishes man to follow certain fundamental moral precepts: generosity, benevolence, cooperation, service, courtesy, sympathy and honesty. But what is most important, it taught tolerance of other religions and beliefs; that meditation alone can secure salvation; that the human mind cannot conceive
God except behind the veil of human language; it did not claim to possess exclusivity or preeminence.
This is an eternity removed from the crude anthropomorphism of monotheistic religions, which falsely took credit for a morality they did not originate. What a breath of fresh air. What a nobility of spirit. What a present to the dignity of man and contribution to civilized conduct - no supernatural revelations, no, divine punishment for transgressions, no miracles or colloquy with a Deity needed to teach man the obvious: the importance of moral conduct and getting on with his fellowmen based on common sense. All this was part of the religious teachings of the Upanishads, a segment of literature of the Veda, the Bible of the Brahmans, which came into existence about a thousand years before Christianity. It influenced Gautama Buddha (563 B.C. - 483 B.C.), the founder of Buddhism.