God-based morality is not good morality. It cannot be. Firstly, despite all the arguments that there cannot be morality unless it is God-based, there are no tenets of God-based morality. If there were any, they’d remain unknowable. Secondly, there’s no way for us to distinguish good from evil on the God-based narrative. Thirdly, what possible metric can one be using to establish God-based morality as superior?
Take any religious “objective morality”. That is, any objective moral construct that a religious person believes is rooted in their God. It can be Christian/Biblical, Muslim/Koranic, Hindu/Vedas, Jewish/Rabbinic objective morality; it doesn’t matter, so we’ll refer to this group as “Religious Objective Morality”. None of them have any tenets; there is nothing you can know is good or bad from the Holy Texts. The Abrahamic dependence on shouting “The Ten Commandments” at this stage is an impotent defence; although it says not to kill, in a lot of other places God requires killing. The preference one way or another for which commands are preferable is an entirely subjective call. People superimpose their own conscience onto the text to filter the good from the bad, such a distinction is not inherent in the books. Religious texts are authored by men or are a rather subjectively collated anthology of censored books.
Despite Caroline Smith’s belief that a pre-1940s culture was more religious and therefore better equipped and more confident in their morality―and that such confidence would have given people the strength of conviction to stop an ISIS of the time―such an assertion is false. The Christian Mediterranean did not have the strength of conviction to stop the encroaching Islamic Conquest in the 8th century. Perhaps the Mediterranean Christians did not know whether to love or to kill their new neighbours. How would they have known? There is nothing obvious in the Bible about what to do that isn’t contradicted somewhere else. (The bitter irony is that ISIS does have the strength of their moral convictions and I don’t know how one can use Religious Objective Morality to say they’re wrong.) And that is the first major downfall of Religious Objective Morality: actually distinguishing between the morally good and the morally bad is subjective.
Despite the human limitations to Religious Objective Morality―the idea that it is objective, but we don’t know what it is―the religious maintain that, regardless of our ignorance, such an Objective Morality exists. That makes it superior to any secular morality. Many religious people will implore this discussion to move away from the content of the Holy Books, and to God’s nature. Although God’s nature is unknowable, conceding to move the conversation this way does allow each religious person to ignore the horrors present in their Books. But God’s nature is unknowable. This leaves Religious Objective Morality open to a bigger criticism than a woolly or subjective distinction between the good, the bad and the ugly: the content of the “morally good” and the “morally evil” could be swapped around and no religious person can be properly equipped to tell the difference. This has lead to a lot of people thinking they are acting according to God’s nature when, in fact, they are making it up as they go along, incapable of really knowing what God considers evil, and what God considers good.
Perhaps I am showing an unjust lack of charity to this particular system of basing good and evil in God. Perhaps it’s practical failing―not being knowing and thus having no practical use―is imagined. Perhaps we can know God’s nature. There must be something “from the very definition of God” we can use here. I have expressed my distaste with using a religious Book to define God before: it is meant to be God’s word and I don’t trust anyone, God included, to be honest about their guilt or possible wrongdoing. Nor do I trust God’s followers to be honest about Its slights. I, therefore, do not trust the religious Book when it says something like “God is good”. That’s like trusting a ‘not guilty’ plea from a defendant or their lawyer before evaluating the evidence. It’s a nonsense approach.
A more reliable way of defining God is using the Ontological Argument: a maximally great being. Anything less than a maximally great being is a magical faery or a lower-case “god” (like the Greeks believed in). Part of this definition―”a maximally great being”―includes ‘moral perfection’. What does that mean? There are a few option: circularly make “moral perfection” and “God’s nature” synonymous, leading to a content-free definition that remains practically unknowable; call on an external arbiter of morality, to which God conforms; or, having been made in God’s image, we just sort of know through our conscience.
Our conscience is something to explore. But it is flawed as a way of knowing God or morality. A long time ago Caroline Smith spoke of the “universal innate apprehension of the moral law”. She used it as evidence for God. But we can turn it on its head and use it as a method for understanding God, if we assume God’s existence (which we must to evaluate Religious Objective Morality). However, I argued then, as I shall again, that such a universal understanding of morality doesn’t exist; our consciences are not universal. There are sociopaths, psychopaths, misogynists, homophobes and ISIS. Universal morality would be something to behold, and perhaps an understanding of God could be reached in such a world where that existed. But it doesn’t, not here.
Finally, and most pertinently (to the question of why God-based morality is superior), what metric are you using to establish that Religious Objective Morality is superior to secular moral ideas? If God-based morality is better because it best reflects God, then that’s circular: that is how it’s defined. You might as well say it’s best because it is itself. It’s meaningless. Secular morality is superior because it generates knowable content; it has utility and can be meaningfully followed. Some forms of secular morality are objective and measurable. Secular morality has aims in keeping with what society needs. By what metric can you say God-based morality is better?