Worship and Moral Autonomy

In “God and Moral Autonomy,” James Rachel argues that God cannot exist based on the following argument:

  1. “If any being is God, he must be a fitting object of worship.
  2. No being could possibly be a fitting object of worship, since worship requires the abandonment of one’s role as an autonomous moral agent.
  3. Therefore, there cannot be any being who is God.” (Rachel 119)

Moral autonomy is the ability to choose what is right or wrong by oneself. Rachel claims that since worship requires abandoning autonomous moral agency, God cannot exist. But what if a person willingly wants to worship God and follow His commands? What Rachel failed to realize was that worshipping God is the choice of the autonomous moral agent and can decide to follow morals out of respect for moral duty. They may try to align their morals with the morals of a higher being (God) which there bases on what is right or wrong. They are not abandoning their moral agency; instead, they are basing their moral beliefs on the morals of God, which is a decision that they made for themselves. Rachel assumes that if a person worships God, then he or she is abandoning their freedom to make their own set of morals, but he did not realize that many moral autonomists who worship God as a moral duty chose to follow his commands on their own.

It can be argued that “the more people decide to integrate the duties of God into their moral beliefs, the freer, and more autonomous they become” (“James Rachels Argument From Moral Autonomy”). The duties of God are not meant to oppress or take away a person’s autonomy. A person controls whether or not they want to take part in the religion and if they want to obey the commands. When people follow their integrate the teaching of a religion to their own morals, they will not feel like they are doing wrong and it will not go agains their morals or the moral law of God.

For example, imagine that someone joins the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). They voluntarily align their morals with that of the group. They do not abandon their morals; they voluntarily base their morals more with what the group’s morals are. An autonomous moral agent who chooses to worship does not abandon his or her moral autonomy; instead, he/she freely chooses to adopt the group’s morals and now decide on what is morally right or wrong based on the alignment with their beliefs and the group’s beliefs.

Rachel’s claim that worshipping God requires for a person to abandon their autonomous moral agency is not true, therefore, it cannot be used in the argument to conclude that God is not real. The claim that God does not exist because Worship requires abandoning autonomous moral agency does not hold true, therefore making the conclusion invalid.

Works Cited

“James Rachels Argument From Moral Autonomy.” Philosophy, Theology, History, Science, Big Questions. 22 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2014. <http://www.apologeticsinthechurch.com/27/post/2011/11/james-rachels-argument-from-moral-autonomy.html#comments>.

Rachels, James. “God and Moral Autonomy.” Can Ethics Provide Answers? (1997): 109-123. Blackboard. Web. 20 Sept. 2014.


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