Moral objectivism and a punishing God

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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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Archival date: 2019-03-05
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2019-03-05

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