The Bible does not contain a guideline of moral absolutes

January 25, 2008 at 9:54 am 76 comments

Ten Commandments 2(The following entry was originally posted as comment #87 on 8 Reasons why I no longer believe)

After I left Christianity, understanding morality was one of the harder challenges I had to face. I had been told all my life that without God, we had no basis for our morality. Without that lifeline, I have to admit that it was pretty scary there for a while.

Many theists approach this subject from a false premise. They ask a non-believer where the universal standard of morality comes from if not God. Rather, I submit that there is *no* universal standard of morality.

To a theist, that is scary. I understand that. It is cold. It is harsh. It is raw, amoral naturalism. My wife recently asked how our children were going to get their morality if I was no longer a Christian. Wow. She knows I am a good man, but that Christian mindset that there is no good without God is so ingrained in her that she is not even aware of it. That any morality can come without God is inconceivable to most of us!

But now that I have been away from Christianity for a while, and have had a chance to observe my former faith from the outside – I think I have a pretty fair idea what is going on. The bottom line is, I do not believe there is a universal standard of morality.

Yet, how do Christians gain their morality? Supposedly from Scripture, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. However, now that I have seen Christianity for a while from the outside, I no longer think that is the case. Christians think that is where they gain morality, but in reality, I think they are doing what we all end up doing in the long run – gaining what we can from our society, from our culture, our own gut instinct, and yes our religious traditions – and taking our best stab at it.

I am reading a book right now called, “Science and Ethics: Can Science Help us Make Wise Choices?”, edited by Paul Kurtz. It is very enlightening! It gives data and informed opinion on some of the uniquely modern ethical challenges of our times. What does the Holy Bible say about the ethics of cloning? Stem cell research and other kinds of biogenetic engineering? Does Jesus ever say anything about a patient’s right to medical privacy, psychotherapy or chemical treatment for mental health? What ethical standards are sent down by God concerning euthanasia, unnecessary suffering or prolonging the life of the elderly?

I remember my old pastor lambasting Christian psychology, because he believed the Bible was sufficient for all our needs. Yet, I don’t see how 2000-3000 year old sacred texts can give insights, much less absolutes, to critical issues like cloning, embryonic stem cell research, or any of these other moral problems of our day. These are sophisticated and challenging problems worthy of debate. The ancient writers of Scripture simply could not conceive of such things, and the Bible is just not equipped to handle these types of issues.

Does the Bible contain a guideline of moral absolutes? I submit that it does not – in hindsight, I don’t know what moral guidelines it contains beyond “Do unto others…”. I found an interesting book on Google Books recently, that I will get around to reading someday soon. It is called Bible Defence of Slavery: And Origin Fortunes and History of the Negro Race, by Rev. Josiah Priest, originally published in 1843, it appears to contain over 500 pages of a Biblical defense of Negro slavery.

I want to read this as a historical perspective, because I want to get an insight into the moral justification some Christians once used for what they believed was perfectly just, good and right – the subjugation, and ownership of an entire race of human beings. I am certain that you think slavery is abhorant, as do I and 99.99% of modern westerners. That is the morality of our modern culture. Yet, that used to not be the case. Where did Rev Priest think his pro-slavery morality came from? The same place the modern Christian thinks they got theirs:

From page iv of the introduction:

The question, “Is slavery, as it exists in the United States, justifiable?” is one which, at least, admits of discussion. IF it be in harmony with the immutable principles of truth and justice, and not a ‘crime against humanity’, and a libel upon our holy religion, let i tbe so understood and practised by our honest citizens, whose highest ambition consists in faithfully serving God…

“But Rev Priest was obviously twisting the Scriptures to suit his pro-slavery desires,” the modern Christian will say. Maybe so – but I don’t know. That is why I want to read the book, although I am certain Rev Priest will be just as sure the modern Christian is wrong in their anti-slavery stance.

If God is the ultimate arbiter of morality, who is the ultimate arbiter of theological study and Biblical interpretation? What good is a holy book of moral standards if we cannot interpret or agree on what those standards are?

I do not want to hijack this article to be a tirade against slavery. The point I am trying to make is, that ultimately, whether we realize it or not, the ultimate arbiter of morality is not God, not the Scripture, but ourselves.

Where did this universal morality come from? Well, for one I don’t think it is necessarily universal. But across a single culture the agreed upon moral structure does not seem to need a supernatural origin. Morality seems to be concocted by us humans over time so that we can live civilly with each other. I don’t see why that is so profound, or why it takes a heck of a lot of faith to understand.

- HeIsSailing

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Some People Should Never Be Forgiven The Problem With Pastors: Too educated?

76 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mysteryofiniquity  |  January 25, 2008 at 10:57 am

    HIS wrote: “The point I am trying to make is, that ultimately, whether we realize it or not, the ultimate arbiter of morality is not God, not the Scripture, but ourselves.”

    This is true. Since there are a multiplicity of interpretations of every “teaching” in the bible, it is ultimately up to the individual to follow his/her conscience in all of these matters.

  • 2. Common Ground - Blog Archive » Is Morality Universal?  |  January 25, 2008 at 11:42 am

    [...] an interesting post on de-conversion today about morality. The author asserts that there is no universal standard of morality. Yet, how [...]

  • 3. Austin  |  January 25, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    The morality question is interesting. I would wager tha even if there is some kind of meta-physical absolute morality, we humans live in a state of moral relativism and there is no escape.

    Anyways, even if God exists does that mean that what God commands is moral?

  • 4. orDover  |  January 25, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    For those with a little extra time on their hands, I read a great debate on this topic, which can be found here:

    http://www.theskepticsguide.org/sgublog/?p=37
    http://www.theskepticsguide.org/sgublog/?p=59

  • 5. orDover  |  January 25, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Sorry, this is actually the beginning of the discussion: http://www.theskepticsguide.org/sgublog/?p=17

  • 6. Thinking Ape  |  January 25, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Before venturing into ethical philosophy I thought that I could find what it meant to be a “truly good Christian” by finding the original church in the scriptures. The fact is, however, that even the scriptures themselves represent opposing viewpoints on how to live one’s life.

    HIS, also check out Hauser’s “Moral Minds” – it is a little more scientifically oriented, but presents an in depth case for the evolution of our morality and how it accounts for both our modern “universals” and our moral failures.

  • 7. Samuel Skinner  |  January 25, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    Morality doesn’t exist independently of people- after morality concerns our actions. So there cannot be a platonic ideal out there for use to seize. There is of course still morality. I think the purpose of morality is to achieve the best outcomes (wheter utility, happiness, etc) and there is always a best way to that. Agreeing on the goals is the hard part.

  • 8. locomotivebreath1901  |  January 25, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    “…the ultimate arbiter of morality is not God, not the Scripture, but ourselves.”

    Dooood! Jeffrey Dahmer & Joseph Stalin luuuuv you. And all them suicide bombers too.

    But you’re wrong. The whole premise of the bible is that it does purport to present absolute morality. Check out the list of ‘thou shalt nots….’ Pretty absolute. Not to mention the positive posits of RIGHTEOUS & EVIL. Gotta have a definite absolute yard stick for that stuff, too.

    Can humankind be moral without the Bible tells me so? Yup. It’s called ‘conscience’ – “with knowledge”. Knowledge implies organization, purpose & input. 5 alive!

    Of course, you could simply disagree with me and reiterate your absolute assertion that “The Bible does not contain a guideline of moral absolutes, but that’s the land of non sequitur.
    Absolutely.

  • 9. Richard  |  January 25, 2008 at 4:25 pm

    I have found it helpful to ask where, in fact, we *do* get our moral sense from, before we start looking where it *should* come from.

    From a psychological and developmental perspective, it is demonstrable the case that human beings “get thier morality” from early caregivers. Period. That moral sense is, of course, refined and elaborated upon as the child grows, including elaborations coming from the ambient religious tradition, culture, subsequent experiences, and of course their own choices.

    But the point is that it is simple, deonstrably, indisputably false to say that without religion we have no morality. No, in fact, our most basic, rock-bottom “intuitions” — ethical judgments we make without realizing we are doing so — such as the value of treat others kindly, of treating others as we wish to be treated (sometimes called “reciprocal altruism”), of valuing and protecting and providing for one’s children, of not lying — all these things and more are “grounded”, psychologically, evolutionarily, in our “nature” as social primates.

    We internalize a sense of our relationship with early caregivers and that forms the basis of empathy, social responsibility, fairness, etc. The folks who really do have no conscience — cliinically, what is formally known as sociopaths — are those in whom something went wrong either in their brains or in their early caregiving, such that no sense of other-people-as-people was internalized.

    Of course, this does not necessarily addres the is-ought question, but it does clarify and address the common charge that without God there is no morality. No,no, no — most people, in fact, more or less behave themseleves most of the time, cross-culturally, regardless of belief, and there is a perfectly naturalistic explanation as to why.

    Richard

  • 10. Thinking Ape  |  January 25, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Hey locomotive, take a look at those “thou shalt nots” and tell me how many times you could probably think of a scriptural example that contradicts those (not to mention that this is talking more about immorality rather than morality). Let’s see…
    No other gods before me… hmm… try the whole New Testament…
    Idol worship and using the Lord’s name is pretty ambiguous…
    Remembering the sabbath… try the hero of the Old Testament (David) as well as Jesus and his disciples…
    Honouring father and mother… try Jesus’ diatribe against the institution of the family…
    Thou shalt not murder… let’s see… Yahweh, David, Holy Ghost, nation of Israel, etc. all guilty of that…
    Adultery… oh oh, you got me on that – the Bible rarely falters on sexual sin…
    Stealing… try stealing entire lands from previous peoples…
    Not bearing false witness.. all of us Bible students know where to look for an example on when it is okay to lie…
    Coveting neighbour’s wife and house… well, back to the Promise land.

    Maybe the problem isn’t that the Bible does not contain a “guideline of moral absolutes” but it contains too many or contains them and then decimates them leaving everyone completely confused – or condemned to hypocrisy.

  • 11. Richard  |  January 25, 2008 at 4:28 pm

    locomotive-

    The statement “The Bible does not contain absolutes” is not an “absolute” statement. Thats playing so fast and loose with the term “absolute” as to be meaningless. It is an empirical statement, nothing more. It is not (and not trying to be) a timeless, immutable, infallible truth. If you wish to dispute it, submit your evidence. Presuppositionalism will not help you here.

  • 12. Quester  |  January 25, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    I don’t believe that there is any rule or set of rules that can be blindly applied to any situation to determine the morally correct response. I agree that the Bible is contradictory and confusing in its moral teachings. Whether or not a god exists, I can not say any god has clearly laid things out in a way we will always know the moral way to respond in any situation.

    Nonetheless, I argue that there are certain principles that can be considered universal, in that they should be thoughtfully considered in making moral decisions:

    – actions have consequences (What will happen if I do this?)
    – people have common needs and desires (How would I feel if others treated me the way I’m about to treat an other?)

    I also see an idealistic and perhaps impossible goal where everyone treats each other with the respect and compassion they would like to be treated with. From where I stand, I can not see any other goal to be ‘moral’.

    If any of you can list another, please do so.

  • 13. orDover  |  January 25, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    One of the strongest proofs that I have found against any sort of absolute morality is the study of other cultures.

    The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice because they believed, according to their system of morality, that they were obliged to perform sacrifices to the gods to ensure the changing of the seasons. This is not unlike the Jewish belief that animals had to be sacrificed to ensure the forgiveness of sin.

    The Asmat of New Guinea, under a highly complex cosmological system, were morally obligated to participate in headhunting and cannibalism. The two acts were central elements of their ritual cycle and also defined their ideas of self and social understanding. For instance, the eating of an enemy incorporated the victim into the hunter’s family group; children were often named after defeated enemies, solidifying the absorption of the enemy’s life force into the family. It was believed that the only way that a man could attain a soul was through headhunting. It was also morally necessary to attain the head of an enemy in revenge for a death.

    To assume that one of these three moral systems is more moral than the next is to assume unmerited cultural superiority.

    If god has truly made himself knowable to every person on earth, and thus made his morality knowable, then how can you account for such starkly different ideas of morality?

  • 14. ned  |  January 25, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    I recently had a conversation on this topic with an American friend on this topic. He was surprised that children in many Chinese societies get their moral values from the sayings of Confucius. “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you” to me is a classic Confucius teaching, not a Christian one, and it comes without the threat of punishment or anything.

    Confucianism functioned as system of moral values in Chinese societies for thousands of years, but its form is very different from Christianity. First, it Confucianism is not a religion. Confucius is simply considered a very wise person and a great teacher. Second, it has no methaphysical components. There is no hell, and no heaven. You are only advised to behave in a certain way for the good of the society. Third, moral values are always expressed in positive form: you should do this, you should do that, as opposed to “you shall NOT do this, you shall NOT do that”. And finally, it claims no absolute. When different students asked Confucius the same question, the answers are always different because the advises from Confucius are tailored for the individual student and they are not supposed to be applied to everybody.

    This highly flexible system worked (or still works) for the Chinese for thousands of years. That’s why the moral absolute claim by the christians sound absolutely arrogant to me.

  • 15. Shira  |  January 25, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    It seems to me that we have a natural, inborn sense of morality that is based on our ability to imagine what another is feeling. This ability is variable, but often very powerful — think how even small children can react to seeing an animal in pain.

    This is overlaid, for good or ill, by a sense of morality derived (as Richard says) from our interaction with our caregivers, by what we are explicitly taught about morality as we mature and by what we observe as we experiment with moral / immoral behavior (for instance, when we discover as children that we can “get away with” things we believe are wrong.)

    All of this gives us what you might call a “folk” morality. For most of us, it is somwhat contradictory and we do our best with it. As with our notions of “folk” physics, it is useful to recognize that our “folk” morality is imperfect.

    One way to correct it is by using reason. Just as we use reason to discover that contrary to our “folk” physics, the world we’re standing on is round, we can use reason to understand that any religion that teaches us that it is the only source of morality has to be wrong — there are simply too many moral and even saintly people outside the boundaries of a particular religion… or any religion.

    I think the above is pretty self-evident and maybe not worth pointing out here. However, I will add my own feeling that it is good to have a moral lodestone for yourself, a short phrase that expresses your most central moral aspiration. “Do unto others” is one such. So is “love your neighbor as yourself.” For me, I like to ask whether I am living in a way that reduces suffering and increases joy for myself and other beings. (But then, I tend toward a Buddhist path.)

    Choosing such a phrase, and changing it when your insight changes, is also a good moral exercise, I think.

  • 16. LeoPardus  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:22 pm

    HIS:

    Another good post with great food for thought.

    I submit that there is *no* universal standard of morality.

    If you mean a single system of morals or morality that can get you to “correct” moral decisions consistently, I agree. I do think though that there are moral absolutes. I.e. things that are wrong always. [Raping and torturing a toddler would fit in that class.]

    What good is a holy book of moral standards if we cannot interpret or agree on what those standards are?

    BINGO! Heck we can’t get a consistent idea of what God is like, or what you must believe either. It’s what I’ve been calling for years “Sola Mio”. (As opposed to the idiotic concept of “Sola Scriptura”.)

    What does the Holy Bible say about the ethics of cloning? Stem cell research and other kinds of biogenetic engineering? Does Jesus ever say anything about a patient’s right to medical privacy, psychotherapy or chemical treatment for mental health?

    In the order you asked them, “zip”, “zilch”, “zero”. But that hasn’t stopped people (e.g. Dobson) from making absolute statements about all of them.

    The ancient writers of Scripture simply could not conceive of such things, and the Bible is just not equipped to handle these types of issues.

    Exactamundo! But with such an attitude how would all the scientifically illiterates in the pulpits be able to lambast and lord it over those of us who actually know what the hell we are talking about because we took the time to learn science?

    Does the Bible contain a guideline of moral absolutes?

    Maybe a few. Do unto others, do not steal, do not murder, and so on. But those are hardly unique to the Bible.

  • 17. Mike  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    “Exactamundo! But with such an attitude how would all the scientifically illiterates in the pulpits be able to lambast and lord it over those of us who actually know what the hell we are talking about because we took the time to learn science?”

    Leo, is this claim intended to be so broad-sweeping?

  • 18. LeoPardus  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    locomotivebreath:

    Jeffrey Dahmer & Joseph Stalin luuuuv you. And all them suicide bombers too.

    And all the Crusaders, and the abortion clinic bombers, and the parents who won’t talk their son anymore cause he’s not a Christian since he joined the Presbyterians, and all those lovely Christians who send hate mail to Clinton,and the list goes on.

    But you’re wrong. The whole premise of the bible is that it does purport to present absolute morality.

    The WHOLE premise? I didn’t know there was a singular premise. But that aside, the absolute moral stances in the Bible are by and large found in every other religion.

    Check out the list of ‘thou shalt nots…Pretty absolute.

    You mean the ones about not shaving your beard?
    Or the ones about not having tattoos?
    or Do not mate different kinds of animals.
    or Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
    or Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
    or Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.

    Man! Those are some serious absolutes there.

    Not to mention the positive posits of RIGHTEOUS & EVIL. Gotta have a definite absolute yard stick for that stuff, too.

    Right on! How else would I have known it was evil for a priest to shave heads or shave off the edges of their beards? Dang! There’s a lot of evil in those churches full of clean-shaven pastors.

  • 19. LeoPardus  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    Mike:

    I don’t understand your query. Could you expand a bit?

  • 20. Mike  |  January 25, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    Leo,

    It sounds as though you are saying that there isn’t a single pastor that has a background in science enough to speak in an informed way about it in relation to Christianity.

  • 21. Quester  |  January 25, 2008 at 8:24 pm

    It sounds as though you are saying that there isn’t a single pastor that has a background in science enough to speak in an informed way about it in relation to Christianity.

    Personally, I read Leo’s statement as a broad generalization against scientific illiterate preachers, not all preachers. Still pretty broad, but Leo just said that the attitude HIS described would deny a scientifically illiterate preacher the ability to lord their lack of knowledge over those educated in the field. That leaves out the scientifically literate, as well as those who share the attitude that the Bible does not speak in clear terms about certain, specific issues we struggle with today.

    I don’t want to put words in Leo’s mouth, but I don’t see that as all that broad sweeping, at all.

  • 22. Jersey  |  January 26, 2008 at 2:23 am

    In some cultures, morality dictate dinner first, business afterwards; in others, business while at dinner.

    Some religions say it is moral to be vegetarian; others — like Christianity — say you can eat anything.

    Some religions say to bury the dead, others to burn the dead.

    Morality is not universal. We all have our religious guidelines, and then personal guidelines, as to what is right (religious, moral) and as to what is wrong (profane, taboo, amoral).

  • 23. The de-Convert  |  January 26, 2008 at 10:01 am

    A friend just sent me this quote:

    Morality is doing what is right no matter what you are told.
    Religion is doing what you are told no matter what is right.

  • 24. TheNorEaster  |  January 26, 2008 at 10:38 am

    Ever play peek-a-boo with a baby? It’s a simple game of cause and effect. Causality is a precursor to conscience. And from conscience we get a sense of right and wrong at a very basic level–like pulling our hand away the first time we touch a hot stove–that soon develops into our sense of morality. We don’t like touching a hot stove–not at all do we enjoy getting burned–so we soon tell others not to do it.

    A hungry baby cries in anger so that he, or she, can eat. When that need of hunger is fulfilled, the baby begins the process of developing trust through the gratification of food.

    But when a hungry baby is ignored repeatedly, the cries of anger BECOME the gratification–which is precisely why adults who have been neglected as children often say and do things to provoke the reaction of anger in others. For example, you may tell such an adult not to “touch a hot stove,” but he will touch the stove anyway because he knows that you will be upset because his actions will show–to the untrained eye–that he (or she) wasn’t listening to your “moral guidelines.”

    In the same way, inexperienced or arrogant Christians will dismiss other sects and religions that do not match their point of view simply because their untrained eyes cannot see backstory of causality. For example, I left a fundamentalist church and joined a laid back church with a whole more humanity and humor. My faith has grown as a result. But every time I run into people from my old church, they always invite me to come back to their church or to their Bible study. Their untrained eyes cannot see, their minds simply cannot accept that I’ve grown more and I’ve learned more now that I am free of the fundamentalist house of repression.

    I am far too incompetent to say whether or not morality is universal, but it ought to be pretty obvious that causality certainly is.

    Everyone gets burned when they touch a hot stove.

    And I am going to bed!

  • 25. locomotivebreath1901  |  January 26, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Dang. It appears I’ve fallen into relativistic h3ll. It must depend upon what the meaning of ‘IS’ is.

    Thinking Ape
    Richard
    LeoPardus

    Immorality implies a standard of absolutes in which to compare or even to define the term. Maybe language degenerates into absolute or relative gibberish? But pointing to bad behavior doesn’t excuse or disprove. I guess statements like “All Have Sinned and Fall Short of the Glory of God” are pretty meaningless in here.

    “Presuppositionalism” I had to look that one up. Need to lay the groundwork & define the terms. Discounting it hardly disproves. And the thesis statement sounds pretty absolute to me.

    The whole premise? Yes. There’s some concept about being released from the law (levitical and otherwise). It takes authority to do that – absolute authority.

    Thanks, guys. There’s often pretty sound arguments in here to deflate the bible thumper stuff out there R/T, and I’m not testifying to the absolute veracity or worthiness of The Book, but this discussion doesn’t scour. I stand by my original response.

  • 26. locomotivebreath1901  |  January 26, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I need to lay the groundwork & define the terms.

  • 27. LeoPardus  |  January 26, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Mike:

    Ah. Now I see. Thanks for clarifying.

    Quester pretty well got it. I was decrying only the scientifically illiterate pastors. Those few who are scientifically literate would be able to speak on the topic. My beef is that ALL pastors seem to think they are qualified to speak authoritatively about science and the bible. [My favorite "reason" that give...... "I study the queen of sciences: theology." Yep, I've actually heard that come out of several mouths.]

  • 28. LeoPardus  |  January 26, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    locomotivebreath:

    You said the bible was full of absolutes and pointed to the “thou shalt nots” as examples. I cited several “thou shalt nots”. Since I addressed your assertion directly, I expect you to do the same. If you prefer to continue to obfuscate, I will assign you to the great crowd of “Christians” who run away from anything that actually challenges their lovely, simplistic world. Your choice. Deal with things honestly, or admit you got something wrong, or hide your head in the sand.

  • 29. HeIsSailing  |  January 26, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Mike says:

    It sounds as though you are saying that there isn’t a single pastor that has a background in science enough to speak in an informed way about it in relation to Christianity.

    Mike, you could have Albert Einstein himself behind the pulpit, but this would not solve the problem that I address in this article. So this is really a moot point. The problem is that Christians claim the Bible contains moral absolutes, and without those absolutes, mankind would be lost in a morass of evil. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard Christians marvel where atheists ‘get their morality from’. Yet take something relatively simple, like euthenasia. This moral issue is never addressed in Scripture, so it is up to Christians to decide and interpret what they think God would do. Some Christians would do whatever they could to prolong the life of the sufferer, others would refuse all medication as being against the will of God. Each is a decided interpretation of God’s ‘moral standard’.

    locomotivebreath, you addressed the ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ as moral absolutes, but I beg to differ. You can do what I described to Mike even with moral issues that *are* addresses in Scripture. Go to the library, crack open the Jewish Talmud and look at the tons of ink that has been spilled trying to interpret the 10 commandments of Exodus 20! Absolute statements from God are anything but absolute after us humans have decided what they should really mean.

    My King James Version of Exodus 20:13 gives the commandment, ‘thou shall not kill’. Or is it, ‘thou shall not murder’? I don’t know, I looked up the Hebrew word used in that passage as ratsakh – I am no Hebrew scholar, but it looks like ratsakh can mean either ‘kill’ or ‘murder’ depending on the context. Well, what is the context here? I don’t see a context in Exodus 20:13, it is just given as a blanket statement. OK, let’s just assume it means ‘murder’. Does that mean that it is ok to defend oneself? Can you murder out of self defense? I sometimes hear that this verse only applies to pre-meditated murder, and does not apply to self defense. So ‘Thou shalt not kill’, has just become ‘Thou shalt not commit first degree murder’ via the interpretation of us mortals. OK, if that is what it means, then what about when Jesus told us to offer the other cheek if struck? How does that moral absolute apply if we are also allowed to defend ourselves? What about defense of ones’ family? Do we allow an exception for that? How about fighting in war – do we send soldiers to fight in a war to murder opponent soldiers in a just cause? What about murdering in an unjust cause on the orders of superior officers? Is any of that covered in the absolute moral command ‘Thou shalt not kill’?

    Don’t even get me started on the moral handwringing of ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’, ‘Thou shall not covet’ or ‘Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy’. Each of those moral absolutes have as many relative interpretations as there are Christian denominations.

    And why is it that the commandments of Exodus 34, the ones that are actually labeled as ‘The Ten Commandments’ are arbitrarily forgotten about? Simple – us humans have decided that are not applicable any more.

    After going through the wringer of human interpretation, a simple Divine ‘moral absolute’ like ‘Thou shalt not kill’ becomes human morality – devised by humans, interpreted by humans, changed and molded by humans – all for our own benefit. We don’t need a supernatural agent to lay out the moral ground rules, or tell us what evil is. We can all pretty much agree on what is evil, and judge for ourselves. We do it anyway, we just pass our moral decisions off to God for his stamp of approval.

    locomotivebreath:

    I need to lay the groundwork & define the terms.

    Yes, you do. And you do it anyway, whether you realize it or not.

  • 30. karen  |  January 26, 2008 at 2:55 pm

    What’s interesting is how many fundamentalist Christians have ideas about how “absolute” the bible is in teaching morality, but they don’t actually have a good grasp of exactly what the bible says about a topic or how ambiguous the language really is.

    Take, for instance, the hot-button issue of abortion, which a high percentage of fundamentalists believe is absolutely forbidden in the bible. Yet if you look closely, there is NO prohibition against abortion in scripture (it’s not addressed specifically) and indeed the OT seems to suggest that an unborn child may not be considered fully human!

    This article gives an excellent overview of how abortion is both defended and excoriated by people who claim to use the bible to back their side of the argument. It also gives an overview of what a few denominations say about abortion.

    Now, if we don’t have absolute clarity from the bible or the church on an issue that is so fundamental to the “culture wars” today – why do we still have Christians claiming that the bible is the be-all-and-end-all of morality? I can only conclude that they don’t know what they’re talking about, and they’re parroting what they hear their pastors say, which is sadly ill-informed.

  • 31. HeIsSailing  |  January 26, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    Karen, very interesting website! Thanks for the link. No, the Bible does not mention abortion, but if you listen to certain politically minded fundamentalists, you would think it was the most absolute moral absolute of all! That website, http://www.christianbiblereference.org/biblefaq.htm helps make my point. Look at how some different denominations interpret such moral issues as abortion, adultery, alcohol, birth control, capital punishment, marraige and divorce, etc. etc.. If God laid down absolute standards for any of these moral issues, our differing opinions renders their absolute nature to be moot.

    I repeat this question: What good is a holy book of moral standards and absolutes if we cannot interpret or agree on what those standards are?

  • 32. Mike  |  January 26, 2008 at 3:49 pm

    Leo and Quester, I appreciate the clarification.

    HIS, I wanted to respond to this comment:

    “Yet take something relatively simple, like euthenasia. This moral issue is never addressed in Scripture, so it is up to Christians to decide and interpret what they think God would do. Some Christians would do whatever they could to prolong the life of the sufferer, others would refuse all medication as being against the will of God. Each is a decided interpretation of God’s ‘moral standard’.”

    For me, this is the most clearly communicated representation of your point, and yes, ultimately I have to agree, the Bible makes no direct comment on the issues of cloning or Euthenasia (at the very least in those terms, if not in content). However, it seems as though you are making a leap from saying the Bible offers no moral absolute on these issues to no moral absolutes at all. That is simply not true.

    At this point in the conversation, certain biblical guidelines will be brought up, some of which Leo has pointed out (#18):

    “You mean the ones about not shaving your beard?
    Or the ones about not having tattoos?
    or Do not mate different kinds of animals.
    or Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
    or Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
    or Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.”

    These commands are not intended to be moral absolutes, but intended to be codes of conduct for life in the land that God had set aside for His people. They were to be different from the nations around them so as people passed through (Israel was a MAJOR trade route that major kingdoms would pass through for commerce with one another) they would look at the unique lifestyle of the Jews and wonder why they lived the way they did. The only answer a Jew could give was “Because the living God told us to.” So many of these really odd commands that we read in Deuteronomy were given to provide temporal benefit to the people of God whose eternal moral absolute was that God’s people should live differently than those who do not know Him. This is not because they are intrinsically better, but because the difference in lifestyle should signal to someone who doesnt know God that He is living and active in this world. This is laid out in the Keystone verses for the commissioning of the Jews at the foot of mount Sinai in Exodus 19:4-6.

    Anyways, sorry for the long schpeel. I just noticed that these issues seemed to be the key to some of the discussion.

  • 33. HeIsSailing  |  January 26, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Mike:

    However, it seems as though you are making a leap from saying the Bible offers no moral absolute on these issues to no moral absolutes at all. That is simply not true.

    For instance…?

    What moral standard can you find in Scripture that has not been shifted and shaped at the whims of the interpreter? If Christians say they get their moral guidance, indeed, the very defined standard of sin inself from the decree of God Almighy, can you show me one example of a moral absolute that has not been fit and molded by the interpreter for their own needs, circumstances and conditions? Is there a single moral absolute given in Scripture that is without ambiguiuty?

  • 34. Thinking Ape  |  January 26, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Mike,

    …Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.”

    These commands are not intended to be moral absolutes, but intended to be codes of conduct for life in the land that God had set aside for His people.

    I think HIS’s response definitely warrants an answer, but I am also wondering why you believe certain codes were only cultural whereas others are moral universals? This itself appears to defeat the “timelessness” of God’s everlasting, unchanging character. Granted, I would agree with you and I don’t take this to be much of a problem, unless you are a Biblical literalist (but I think this would be the least of your troubles if you were). There is just something about the Christian interpretation of the Jewish scriptures that seems to cheapen and dismiss the entire Jewish tradition.

  • 35. Loki  |  January 26, 2008 at 8:30 pm

    everything is an illusion. All is permissable

  • 36. Quester  |  January 26, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    You have anything besides those bald statements, Loki?

    Permissible implies someone who could extend or deny permission. If such a being exists, why would that being permit all things? If everything is an illusion, so is that being, and any permission is also illusionary. Thus nothing is permissible, as there is no permission granted.

    Also, if everything is an illusion, how can everything also be permissible? If nothing has any basis in reality, nothing can actually do anything, and thus nothing is permissible as nothing is possible.

    Perhaps you want to show some of the thoughts behind your statements?

  • 37. Mike  |  January 26, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    HIS,

    First allow me to provide a universal moral code that has never nor will ever change “Be holy, as I am holy” found in Lev. 11:45 and 1 Peter 1:16.

    Now, as to the rest of your question (#33) we are at the heart of the matter. You see, your claim is that there is no moral absolute in scripture. However, when you ask:

    “can you show me one example of a moral absolute that has not been fit and molded by the interpreter for their own needs, circumstances and conditions?”

    the question you have is not actually about the absolute moral truth, but the way people view it.

    This is akin to five people looking at the sky, and only one of them claiming that the sky is blue. Simply because one of them thinks the sky is purple, doesnt make the sky purple, nor any color the others see. The sky is blue.

    So you have it with God’s absolute moral truths. Just because people look at them and have many different interpretations doesnt mean the truth itself is devalued. And there certainly are an abundance of interpretations, but some are clearly worse than others. I am more than willing to give examples of bad interpretations in written form, but I have already addressed several on my blog via YouTube. Check them out here:

    http://www.seminarianblog.com

  • 38. Mike  |  January 26, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    Thinking Ape,

    You raise an interesting point regarding my interpretation of eternal truth in the midst of historical circumstances as it pertains to God’s timelessness. The truth is that scripture is all about a timeless God working on earth in a temporal way. His entire redemptive plan is set in history. Again, I would direct you to my most recent video, because I talk about these issues specifically.

    As far as Christian interpretation cheapening Jewish tradition, I admit that can certainly be the case (cough cough, Osteen, cough cough), but the desire of Reformed theology is to honor Jewish interpretation, tradition and lifestyle (up to Christ of course). After all, Paul declares to a mixed Jew/Gentile audience that we have the same ancestors in 1 Cor 10.

  • 39. Quester  |  January 27, 2008 at 12:31 am

    First allow me to provide a universal moral code that has never nor will ever change “Be holy, as I am holy” found in Lev. 11:45 and 1 Peter 1:16.

    Mike, in what way is this a useful moral code? Whether you mean ‘holy’ as in ‘set aside’ or as in ‘complete’, no human can be either in any comparable way to how God is? How, then, can this code be understood as anything but setting the followers of this code up for failure?

  • 40. LeoPardus  |  January 27, 2008 at 1:46 am

    Mike:

    These commands are not intended to be moral absolutes, but intended to be codes of conduct for life in the land that God had set aside for His people.

    Really. So how do you know when to draw this line between “moral absolutes” and “codes of conduct”. For example, I took most of the list I posted from Leviticus 19. In that same chapter you can find:

    -Do not turn to idols or make gods of cast metal for yourselves. I am the LORD your God.
    -Do not steal.
    -Do not lie.
    -Do not deceive one another.
    -Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
    -Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.
    -Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

    Now those would all seem to be agreed upon absolutes among most any Christian today. Some of them are even repeats of the Big 10. Does your bible come with special, colored highlighting so you know when you’re reading an absolute vs a code of conduct, or when to interpret literally vs figuratively?

    They were to be different from the nations around them so as people passed through (Israel was a MAJOR trade route that major kingdoms would pass through for commerce with one another) they would look at the unique lifestyle of the Jews and wonder why they lived the way they did. The only answer a Jew could give was “Because the living God told us to.”

    No doubt it made quite an impression on others to see Jews stoning kids for cursing or not obeying their parents. There are several others I could cite. Yep. They make a real impression. That’s one mean deity you got there y’all Hebrews.

    the people of God whose eternal moral absolute was that God’s people should live differently than those who do not know Him. This is not because they are intrinsically better, but because the difference in lifestyle should signal to someone who doesnt know God that He is living and active in this world.

    And now you step into one of the biggies. I agree with you here. But the FACT is that the “people of God” don’t live differently. So that should signal to all that God is NOT living and active in this world. Which is exactly what most of us hereabouts have done. (Not just for that reason, but it’s a weighty piece of evidence.)

  • 41. LeoPardus  |  January 27, 2008 at 2:00 am

    “Be holy, as I am holy” found in Lev. 11:45 and 1 Peter 1:16.

    Quester beat me to it.

    And there certainly are an abundance of interpretations, but some are clearly worse than others. I am more than willing to give examples of bad interpretations

    Well now just how do you get off claiming your interpretation is right and someone else’s is bad? They’re gonna claim the same “inspiration and indwelling of the Holy Spirit” that you claim? Many of them will bring a seminary education along for show.

    One of the points of the original post by HIS is that the final arbiter of interpretation is the individual. No matter how much any individual may wish to assert the Holy Spirit or a Th.D. [HEY! I may have just found an absolute. Not a moral one true, but......]

    The truth is that scripture is all about a timeless God working on earth in a temporal way. His entire redemptive plan is set in history.

    Or it’s all about a primitive tribal people’s experiences and their efforts of make sense of the world. And their creation of deistic myths and legends. Kind of like what the Greeks, Babylonians, Egyptians, and every other people did.

    but the desire of Reformed theology is to honor Jewish interpretation, tradition and lifestyle

    Nah.

    First off, Reformed theology is just a monstrosity. It posits the most evil possible construance of God based mainly on the teachings of a legalistic despot (Calvin).

    Secondly, the only currently going Christian theology that even comes close to honoring “Jewish interpretation, tradition and lifestyle” is Eastern Orthodoxy. And that is about as far from Reformed as one can get.

  • 42. HeIsSailing  |  January 27, 2008 at 2:09 am

    Mike says:

    This is akin to five people looking at the sky, and only one of them claiming that the sky is blue. Simply because one of them thinks the sky is purple, doesnt make the sky purple, nor any color the others see. The sky is blue.

    Mike, your analogy here exactly makes my point. The sky may be blue, but nobody can agree on the true color no matter how hard they look. One guy sees red, the other purple, etc… and each is just as convinced they know what the true color is. In the end, each observer makes their own decision what the true color is, and they will never know whether they are correct or not.

    Again, I repeat this question: What good is a holy book of moral standards and absolutes if we cannot interpret or agree on what those standards are?

  • 43. Richard  |  January 27, 2008 at 2:34 am

    loco-
    “Immorality implies a standard of absolutes in which to compare or even to define the term. ”

    Ah, the old you-have-to-know-what-a-straight-line-is-to-know-a-crooked-one,-don’t-you? I think I came across that in CS Lewis. Did he invent that ? Can’t remember. Doesn’t wash, regardless.

    It implies no such thing. This is just semiotics. The word “dog” refers to “a fuzzy four-legged critter that goes woof” and not “a fuzzy four-legged critter that goes meow” just because it is the word d-o-g and not c-a-t. I.e., language requires the difference of symbols in order to function as language. Else our sentences would be like “Dog dog dog, dog dog dog-dog (dog dog) dog.” Which my dachshund might like, but would ill serve the purpose of language. The point being the concept of “immorality” does imply the concept of “morality” but there is nothing “Absolute” (whatever that is) thereby necessitated.

    So yes, in Christian theology the concept of “sin” is necessarily understood against the concept of “law”. But all you’ve done is demonstrate the need for a contrasting term. It does not follow that either term has anything to do with reality, much less “Absolute Truth” (whatever that is).

    Suppose I came to you and said: “well, see, you use the word ‘straight.’ That means you implicitly affirm the existence of Absolute Crookedness — otherwise your term would be incomprehensible! Q.E.D.”

    What you argue is every bit as goofy as that. Intelligibility doesn’t require existence. If you’re still not clear on this, let me leave you with a term which I think you will understand perfectly, and from there you can work the rest out for yourself. Here it is:

    “non-unicorn”

  • 44. HeIsSailing  |  January 27, 2008 at 2:52 am

    “Be holy, as I am holy” found in Lev. 11:45 and 1 Peter 1:16.

    This is your moral absolute? Give this standard of morality to anybody and they will have no idea what to do with it. Before any sense must be made of it, it must be interpreted first. Each person who interprets will come up with a different idea what it will mean.

    And that is my whole point. That is called moral relativism.

    Let me try my hand at interpreting those passages that you cite. I always hear that in order to be proper exegetes of Scripture, we must remember context. So let’s take Leviticus 11:45 in context.

    Leviticus 11 begins with the LORD giving Moses and Aaron a list of commandments to give to the people. The chapter then goes on to give lists of types of animals the Children of Israel are not to eat. Example:

    Lev 11:7 And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you.

    Lev 11:8 Of their flesh shall ye not eat, and their carcase shall ye not touch; they are unclean to you.

    Are these dietary laws *moral* commands? Well if what you said in comment 32 has any meaning, they are not. You said:

    These commands are not intended to be moral absolutes, but intended to be codes of conduct for life in the land that God had set aside for His people.

    So what was once moral absolutes has become codes of conduct for a particular people. I guess that is ok, but I am just reading to gain proper context.

    More dietary laws from the LORD follow, until we get to the relevant passage. Let me pick it up in verse 42:

    42Whatsoever goeth upon the belly, and whatsoever goeth upon all four, or whatsoever hath more feet among all creeping things that creep upon the earth, them ye shall not eat; for they are an abomination.

    43Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby.

    44For I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

    45For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.

    46This is the law of the beasts, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moveth in the waters, and of every creature that creepeth upon the earth:

    47To make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the beast that may be eaten and the beast that may not be eaten.

    The backdrop of verse 45, the context if you will, which you claim as a moral absolute, is nothing but dietary laws that no modern Christian outside of 7th Day Adventists choose to follow. How is a modern Christian to be *HOLY* when this is the context? In my reading this passage, “Holy’ has nothing to do with morality, and everything to do with seperation. The LORD is telling Israel to be seperate from the nations through dietary rituals, as the LORD is seperate from his creation, or as the passage says, “To make a difference between the unclean and the clean”

    Mike, this has nothing to do with morality. These are ritual distinctions.

    But, even if ‘Holy’ in this sense meant moral perfection, it still tells nothing to the Christian. When God tells the Christian to be morally perfect, that is meaningless unless you know what that morality is. Leviticus 11 with its dietary laws is no help to the modern Christian.

    It’s reference in 1Peter1:16 is not much of a help either. Here, the the context is encouragement for the believer to have faith for the soon return of Jesus, to ‘gird up the loins of your mind, be sober’ and to ‘be ye holy in all manner of conversation’. Why? Verse 16:

    ‘Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy’

    Dare I accuse the author of 1Peter of ripping and quoting Bible passages out of context? Well, that is besides the point. The real point is, this is no help for the Christian looking for a moral guidline that the hapless atheist does not have. Again, this taken by itself is meaningless unless you know what that morality is. Telling me to be morally perfect is not a guideline for morallity any more than telling me to be a perfect driver will teach me how to drive.

    If the Bible tells the Christian to be morally perfect, the Christian *must* interpret what that means. The Christian must decide, based on education, interpretation, intuition, and raw gut feeling what is acceptable as morality and what is not. Christians then, over time, decide that their interpretation is really God’s moral standard, even if every demonination and every Christian seems to disagree on what that morally absolute standard is.

  • 45. artisticmisfit  |  January 27, 2008 at 3:06 am

    What morals do you think should guide sexual behavior?

  • 46. Quester  |  January 27, 2008 at 3:25 am

    Personally, ArtisticMisfit, the main moral guideline I would apply to sexual behaviour is that it should be consensual. From there, we can argue about things like ‘At what age can an individual be considered to be able to give informed consent?’ and the related question of ‘What expressions of consent should be expected at what power differentials between participants?’ and even, ‘Does consent by all participants need to be given in regards to all outcomes of the sexual behaviour, or just the sexual behaviour itself?” But I would start with the guideline that sexual behaviour should be consensual amongst all participants, then branch out from there.

    As I said in the other thread about morals, I do believe in absolute and universal morals (in theory, if not in practice). I just don’t think that a god is necessary to provide those morals.

  • 47. HeIsSailing  |  January 27, 2008 at 3:26 am

    artisticmisfit asks:

    What morals do you think should guide sexual behavior?

    Well, it is getting a little late, so I won’t get into detail here. Here is the summary though – if we take our sexual morality from the ol’ Bible, we have to properly interpret the Greek word porneia, which is usually translated my King James Bible as ‘fornication’. For instance, 1 Corinthians 7:2, ‘to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.’

    What exactly does ‘porneia’ or ‘fornication’ mean? It seems a little vague to me. I mean, some other translations call fornication ‘inappropriate sexual behavior’, but again, it is ultimately up to the reader to decide what is appropriate and what is not. For instance, according to Mark 10:11,12, ‘porneia’ or fornication seems to mean having sex with a divorced man or woman. Tell me how many divorced Christians consider remarraige to be okay, and then tell me again that Christians follow absolute moral standards set in the Bible. Baloney. Christians follow moral standards which thier particular society deems appropriate Bible or no Bible – just like every other social group.

    I could go on, but hopefully you get the idea. It is getting late. Goodnight, artisticmisfit.

  • 48. cipher  |  January 27, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Mike said,

    the desire of Reformed theology is to honor Jewish interpretation, tradition and lifestyle (up to Christ of course).

    to which LeoPardus replied,

    Reformed theology is just a monstrosity. It posits the most evil possible construance of God based mainly on the teachings of a legalistic despot (Calvin).

    Firstly – YES! I wish this got said more often. It’s the most appalling belief system ever devised – the idea that God has created billions of human beings for the sole purpose of damning them eternally – it’s an abomination. I don’t think most people outside of the evangelical subculture understand how pervasive the influence of Calvinism is among evangelicals. And yes, Calvin was a legalistic despot – a psychopath who believed in torturing heretics and who was partly responsible for the execution of his rival, Michael Servetus, for heresy (his crime, essentially, was being a Unitarian). Yet adherence to his psychotic ramblings have become the litmus test for acceptance in all strata of evangelical society.

    Secondly, Mike also said,

    the desire of Reformed theology is to honor Jewish interpretation, tradition and lifestyle (up to Christ of course)

    Mike, the other day, on your site, I complained about the ways in which evangelicals misinterpret (from a Jewish perspective) the OT, and that we consider it inappropriate for Christians to have spent the past 2,000 years telling us that we’ve been misinterpreting text that we wrote. Brad replied,

    we have great respect for the teachings in the Talmud and other Rabbinical elaborations. We obviously do not hold it on the same level as the inspired word of God, but we do have much to learn from it in understanding the context of how scripture was understood during those time periods.

    Well, the Talmud was composed largely after the time of Christ – so, obviously, someone’s ducks are not in a row.

  • 49. Mike  |  January 27, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    Quester, Thinking Ape, and HIS, I have always enjoyed our interactions and the tone of mutual respect they have had in them. You all know the right questions to ask and your assertions are always coherent and to the point. Now there are a ton of them, so I will do my best to answer what I can in a short space on the topic at hand.

    (#39) “Whether you mean ‘holy’ as in ’set aside’ or as in ‘complete’, no human can be either in any comparable way to how God is?”

    You are absolutely right. 100%. And this is why it is important to note that the justification God gives for a Jew’s ability to be holy as He is holy is because God has saved them. He delivered them from Egypt. That is the preceding part of Lev. 11:45.

    “How, then, can this code be understood as anything but setting the followers of this code up for failure?”

    Again, the answer is in God’s work to save us, not our own efforts.

    Now, there is a lot of talk about certainty in interpretation, judgement on potentially bad interpretations, and distinguishing between “literal” and “figurative” portions of scripture. Let me illustrate with this story:

    It had been a really bad day. My girlfriend broke up with me, I lost my job, and on my way home I got into a car accident. To make matters worse, it was raining cats and dogs.

    Assume for a moment this journal entry was found by someone 2000 years from now. Because the author is writing this as an actual telling of literal events, we would trust that these events actually happened to him. But it would be a bad interpretation by whomever 2000 years from now to assume that because the passage is written as factual events that cats and dogs were actually falling from the sky. It would also be equally bad interpretation to reject the whole story on the basis that cats and dogs dont fall from the sky.

    (#42) “Again, I repeat this question: What good is a holy book of moral standards and absolutes if we cannot interpret or agree on what those standards are?”

    I agree, this is a good question and one worth considering, but it is not the only thing you write in your original post.

    “Rather, I submit that there is *no* universal standard of morality.”

    So I suppose I have to ask, are you saying there is no universal morality, or that there is and we all subjectively interpret it in such a way that makes in ineffective. They are both good questions to ask, but I just want to know what position you are taking. If we were all responding to the same line of thinking that might streamline our discussion.

    Cipher, I dont want to put words into Brad’s mouth, but I am almost certain he was referring to the stream of interpretation that the Talmud came out of, which potentially reaches back to the Great Assembly well before Christ and whose teachings would have been very influential in Jewish thought. Jesus spoke to all the Jews in language they were all familiar with, this means Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes. My claim and Brad’s is that each group had their own oral interpretations of the written scriptures that Reformed theology respects and seeks to honor as we interpret Christian texts so we know when it is “raining cats and dogs” in their terms.

  • 50. Quester  |  January 27, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    #37 First allow me to provide a universal moral code that has never nor will ever change “Be holy, as I am holy” found in Lev. 11:45 and 1 Peter 1:16.

    #49 You are absolutely right. 100%. And this is why it is important to note that the justification God gives for a Jew’s ability to be holy as He is holy is because God has saved them. He delivered them from Egypt.

    …..Again, the answer is in God’s work to save us, not our own efforts.

    Mike, please tell me I’m misunderstanding you. It looks like you’re saying that the universal, unchanging moral code God provided through the Bible is, “You can’t do anything. Let Me.” Please tell me exactly how I am misinterpreting you, because I don’t see how this could be considered a guide to moral actions in any way, shape or form.

  • 51. Brad  |  January 27, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    Cipher,

    I had typed out a response to clarify, but Mike is dead on in what I was trying to say, so I won’t beat a dead horse. Suffice it to say that he said what I was trying to say even better than I could have explained it.

    And just for the sake of coherency, let’s try to draw discussion back to the main point (moral absolutes). It is really easy to respond to side tangents (the criticisms of Calvin, for example), particularly for a group of people with such diverse beliefs.

  • 52. bipolar2  |  January 27, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    ** What’s “God” got to do with morality? **

    Jesus’ “interim ethic” contains no morality at all. And, Paul’s “ethic” is poison, intellectual and puritanical nihilism. (Try searching on “interim ethic.”)

    You have only to step outside monotheistic thought patterns to understand how much atheists and theists alike operate on narrowest bandwidth of “knowledge”. (As this thread clearly demonstrates.) There is no inherent relationship between religion and morals.

    >> The near eastern gods who failed ethics 101

    If your model of religion is based on the big-3 near eastern monster-theisms, you won’t even understand truly Western (Roman or Greek) religious beliefs and practices so vigorously suppressed by byzantine jack boots of a near eastern church militant.

    Pristine xian “morality” is irrational, otherworldly, and impractical. It promises much, but delivers nothing. The kingdom of god will be childlike. The world to come will need no Law or Ethics, religious or secular. Jesus’ ‘interim ethic’– “take no thought for tomorrow” — doesn’t outlast the first generation of cult followers.

    Jesus thought the world would end soon. So did his immediate followers . . . that’s why Paul has to calm the freaked out first generation of dupes when some of them fall “asleep in the Lord” before their revenge filled wishes could be fulfilled “according to Scripture.”

    The world did not come to an end. The dead did not rise to put on their incorruptible bodies. The vengeful judge and his 10,000 angels failed to put their official stamp on the great xian unwashed living in urban slums throughout the eastern Roman Empire.

    Ever since, Pauline intellectual nihilism, coarse sexual puritanism, and misogyny have been the official party lines. (Try reading your Bible, 1Cor1 for starters.)

    >> 500 years BCE, no gods needed or wanted

    Chinese culture was far luckier. From that very rational, this worldly, and practical book, The Analects, attributed to Confucius (written 500 years before an alleged Jesus!):

    6:20 Fan Ch’ih asked what constituted wisdom. The Master said, “To give one’s self earnestly to the duties due to men, and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom.”

    15:23 Tsze-kung asked, saying, “Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not ‘reciprocity’ such a word? What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” [trans. S.R. McIntyre 2003]

    No god is needed to police human behavior. All “morality” is irreducibly cultural artifice. Harming others cannot be generalized; otherwise, no social structure could exist. Haven’t you heard of “moral” development? Do you think that all “moralities” are equivalent? How could you tell?

    >> “Indeed there are no moral facts, only a moral interpretation of facts.” Nietzsche

    In the U.S., one Civil War (1861-65), the vote for women (1920), one Civil Rights Movement (1956-65) — that’s the turbulent blood-soaked price paid so far for extending equality (reciprocity) beyond the slave owning, white, male, property holders who would not displace themselves from power even as they created a new mode of “representative” democracy. This hard-won moral development was fought every step of the way by “good” xians.

    There’s no need to invoke Darwinian evolution which operates too slowly to bring about moral development. — The obvious model is “Lamarkian evolution” — each generation of persons teaches the next. Not natural inheritance, but cultural inheritance. Culture is open to “moral” development. After all, there is no “moral world order” in nature, or “behind”, “beyond” or “beneath” nature.

    A religious gene is as absurd as a Kantian category — it simply posits a question-begging “faculty” to gratify wishful (scientistic) thinking. Why does the opium poppy induce sleep — why because it contains a soporific faculty! (Moliere. Le Malade imaginaire.)

    As for the disgusting morality of the NT? “God’s only excuse is that he doesn’t exist.” — Stendahl

    bipolar2
    © 2008

  • 53. Mike  |  January 27, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    Quester,

    “t looks like you’re saying that the universal, unchanging moral code God provided through the Bible is, “You can’t do anything. Let Me.”

    In an effort to be concise, I realize I may have skipped over a lot of the fill in details. However, that is a very solid recap of what Christianity believes, and that is honestly the most offensive thing about it to people. The biblical story is about how God created everything good (creation), how man and woman broke it and their relationship with God (fall), how God fixed the relationship (redemption), and then finally how God fixes creation (consummation). What man broke he doesnt have the ability to fix.

    Think of the movie Inside Man. Arthur Case is a wealthy banker who got rich by exploiting Jews in Germany during the Holocaust. He spent the rest of his life serving the Jewish community in an attempt to atone for his crimes, but no matter what he did, he was still guilty. Lives were changed, and he couldnt buy them back for all he gave or did.

    That is the same situation we all find ourselves in, in a spiritual sense. We were given everything we needed to remain in relationship with God, and we have all chosen our own path. The only one with the power to acquit the accused is the judge. That is the story of scripture.

  • 54. artisticmisfit  |  January 27, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    HelsSailing, I guess I really don’t care, I just want to de-convert, I feel so judged, but I won’t, I will stick with Christianity despite the pain it causes me.

  • 55. OneSmallStep  |  January 27, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    Mike,

    However, that is a very solid recap of what Christianity believes, and that is honestly the most offensive thing about it to people.

    But this isn’t a moral code, this is what you believe about creation. A moral code is saying “It’s wrong to kill/hurt people.” Not that, “We can’t do anything, let God.” Morality deals with right/wrong. And the idea behind this post seems to be that there has not been a consistent right/wrong throughout Christianity, or even in the Bible itself. It all becomes relative to the situation, or how the person wants to interpret something. I mean, I don’t even know what you mean by “Be holy, as I am holy.” How are you defining holy? Seperate? Perfection? Even that itself is a moral code that seems to change based on who uses it. It depends on how one defines “holy,” so yes, that code does change, based on the meaning of the words.

    And to be technical, this is not the “biblical” story. This is the Christian interpretation of the Bible. As it is, it sounds like one particular interpretation of Christianity, based more on one particular atonement theory.

    That is the same situation we all find ourselves in, in a spiritual sense. We were given everything we needed to remain in relationship with God, and we have all chosen our own path.

    This is off-topic, but how does one “choose” a path? At what age does this choice kick-in? At what age does a person truly need a Savior? Where’s the cut-off point? My understanding of Christianity is that there is basically no way not to be a sinner. Therefore, how could anyone choose to not sin? To not be a sinner? There’s no way to be perfect. Man is born flawed, per original sin.

    Say the choice is when the child is eight, as I’m familiar with people who became Christians at this age. Was the choice presented them as, “You are flawless at this point, and make sure you choose to remain so in order that you aren’t deprived of heaven” or is the choice presented as, “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You’re already on the sin-path. Do you remain there?” The choice is never do you rebel against God or not, but do you continue to rebel against God or not?

    What’s offensive about this is truly the idea that imperfect beings are held accountable for being unable to live up to perfect standards, when they weren’t created perfect in the first place. We can’t even say they were perfectly created in Eden — otherwise, how could they sin? This isn’t a matter of free will, this is a matter of the idea behind perfection itself.

  • 56. Simen  |  January 27, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    It’s almost funny seeing you argue about what is and isn’t a moral absolute in the Bible by referring to its internal consistency (are there any verses contradicting this?) or whether they leave room to interpretation (what does this word mean in this context? Is there one true answer or are several answers equally likely?).

    You (perhaps with the exception of HIS; it depends on how I, ironically, interpret his post) fail to account for the basic question, “How does a moral teaching gain normative power?”

    See, it doesn’t matter whether or not this or that moral code of conduct is consistent with the rest of scripture. The important question, when someone asks where atheists get their morality from, is to ask how biblical scripture gains its normative power. Yes, we understand that “Thou shalt not kill” means that one shouldn’t kill, but what is it that bridges the gap between “Thou shalt not kill”, the sentence, and the moral obligation that one shouldn’t kill? What is it that obligates me to not kill; frankly, how does the Bible’s code of conduct cross the dreaded Humean problem, how do we get from is to ought?

    Basically, it doesn’t. I can write that “Thou shalt not kill” and it will remain my personal opinion, just like “Thou shalt torture thy neighbours”, if I were to write it, would continue to be my personal opinion. Just because someone wrote a code of conduct, does not mean there magically arises a moral obligation to follow it.

    Whether a code of conduct is my personal opinion or God’s personal opinion, it will remain a personal opinion. No one has, to my knowledge, successfully given an account of the logical steps necessary for a set of guidelines to become more than a personal opinion and instantiate normative obligations. In shorter and perhaps more accessible words, no one has thus far explained how any moral obligation (e.g., one shouldn’t murder) arises.

    Furthermore, as has been noted, a naturalistic account of morality has no need for moral obligations. We can easily explain how morality arises by referring to evolution and to culture.

    So, basically, all “this is wrong” or “this is right” will ever be is someone’s opinion. This horrifies many people so much that they think there just MUST be a logical error in there. They think that by simply spelling out the implications, they will refute the proposition. Not so, because that’s a fallicious appeal to undesirable consequences. Yes, that means the opinion that the Holocaust is evil is a personal opinion. No, that does not mean it must automatically be wrong.

    We, as humans, know that other humans are much like us in that they have desires, they experience happiness and they suffer, they can be in pain or in bliss. This does not create any moral obligations, it only leads to the feeling that we ought to behave decently, lest we treat those that are like ourselves in ways we do not feel are just, should they be applied to ourselves.

    So even though there are no moral obligations, there is very much the feeling that we ought and ought not to do this or that. And really, be a realist. Suppose there really were an objective, mind-independent, absolute moral standard. Suppose this standard said murder was wrong. Would that really make you feel any better about the Holocaust? Would it really make anything any better than it would have been in a world without moral obligations? Not so. The only thing a mind independent (“absolute”, as some of you want to call it) morality does, is make us feel good about our moral convictions. It doesn’t make the world a better place.

    So really, once you learn to stop smugly feeling that you are in the right in a moral matter because you think that your opinion is supported by an absolute standard, once you learn to let that feeling go, there is no difference. When you let this feeling go, you let go the only difference between this world and a hypotethical world with moral obligations that matters.

    This discussion is about metaethics, and it pertains to us all, not just Christians and certainly not just atheists. There is really no reason at all to discuss issues like many that are being discussed here before discussing the larger issue about how moral obligations (oughts) rise from the world such as it is (is-es).

    Good luck to anyone who embarks upon the journey to find the answer. I’ve pretty much accepted that there probably is no solution.

  • 57. HeIsSailing  |  January 27, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Thus asketh Mike:

    So I suppose I have to ask, are you saying there is no universal morality, or that there is and we all subjectively interpret it in such a way that makes in ineffective.

    As usual, I get things a bit jumbled. Simon, in his terrific reply (#56) caught that confusion too, and replied with some valuable food for thought.

    As someone who as left Christianity after some 40 odd years of belief, I am asserting in this article that there is no universal standard of morality that is imposed on mankind from an transcendant agent. Any morality which humanity generally agrees on as being ‘good’ (ie, lying, killing, etc) is universal only in the sense that we have imposed it on ourselves.

    But this opinion also snuck in – there are places where the Bible claims to set down moral standards from God. Stuff like ‘Thou shalt not kill’ comes like a thunderbolt from heaven. Bam! there it is. But the Christian, in the end, must concede that the Bible’s treatment of morality is ham-handed and open to numerous interpretations. When interpreting something like ‘Thou shalt not kill’, the interpreter’s own human will and understanding gets woven into the mix. I showed this on a comment above –

    But that is really moot to me, since I consider the Ten Commandments, indeed all of Scripture, to be ‘human-breathed’ anyway.

    I hope that clears up a little confusion. Basically, my position on this is “Man said it, God agrees, that settles it.’

    No offense, but this will be my last comment on this article. I quit placing articles on this site since I don’t have much time to be doing this anymore. The de-Convert just snagged this comment I wrote somewhere and made it an article, so now I feel compelled to defend my position somewhat. So if you want to get a last word in, now is your chance.

  • 58. Quester  |  January 28, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Mike,

    As One Small Step mentioned, “We can’t do anything. Let God.” might be ‘a very solid recap of what Christianity believes’, but it isn’t a moral guideline. In fact, it’s almost an immoral guideline, telling us not to bother doing any good thing, as only God is good.

  • 59. Richard  |  January 28, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Simen’s post here was wonderful. Let me echo it with my own version of his appeal to pragmatism as a way of addressing the question of “objective” morality. The question I keep coming back to is: what difference would it make?

    Suppose some intrepid young theologian found a way to demonstrate, with mathematical precision, and to everyone’s satisfaction (theists included!) that there are no moral absolutes. Sorry, there’s just not. Ask yourself: would that change anything you do? Would you live any differently? Would you suddenly consider yourself freed to pillage and loot and murder? WOuld you not still wish to live uprightly, do the “right thing” (even if it is just your opinion), and improve the world for the sake of your children and those you love?

    And suppose, conversely, that someone could produce the opposite proof — again, to everyone’s satisfaction. Issue settled: there are indeed moral absolutes, and here they are: x, y, z. Again, ask — what would you do with this proof? Show it to the Nazis? Expect Charlie Manson to slap his head and say “holy crap, youre right!”

    Human morality in nowise depends on absolute anything. Its just irrelevant.

  • 60. societyvs  |  January 28, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I think Simen also nailed the debate quite nicely – in post #56 – however I have a definite affinity to bipolar2’s comments in #52. All in all though a very deep discussion.

    As a Christian (by term) also , I am not sure morals are absolute – I want to hope they are (ie: do not murder) but the fact is even that idea is not kept with any premium in countries professing faiths of all sorts with the commandment inherently in the law and scriptures (ie: the West). Bipolar mentoned something about culture playing into this – I think she was ‘on the money’ namely in regards to HIS’ idea of justified slavery and scripture – thus my affinity to Bipolar2’s studies.

    I think having a paradigm of some sort for ethical decisions is important and I use teachings within the gospels – we can dance all night over this and varying interpretations – but it is obvious there are some good ideas there. I don’t adhere to Calvinism or church culture so I have less problems with reading Jesus as someone more inclusive than previously thought via thses churches and their history. But I choose a moral to live by and that’s where my flag is – and this is personal to each person and their scope of life to seek out…and faith(s) should teach us that if anything?

  • 61. karen  |  January 28, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    , I guess I really don’t care, I just want to de-convert, I feel so judged, but I won’t, I will stick with Christianity despite the pain it causes me.

    artistic, I’m not here to proselytize for for non-belief, but if Christianity is making you so miserable why in the world would you stick with it?

    If it is fear of punishment or lightning striking or eternal damnation, please know that that irrational fear CAN be overcome and in most cases does not last long after de-conversion.

    The toughest part for most people is no longer fitting in to the community of friends and relatives who are steeped in religion.
    However, even that can be remedied. I have formed new friendships with people I’m more compatible with, and none of my relatives have disowned me.

    Truly, there’s no need to make yourself unhappy over religion.

  • 62. Mark  |  January 31, 2008 at 5:37 pm

    “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
    Udana-Varga 5,1

    Buddha, 600 years before the mythical Jesus. The Bible is nothing if not pure plagiarism.

  • 63. artisticmisfit  |  January 31, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    karen, Its not Christianity that is making me miserable, it is the brand of Christianity I chose. It is not irrational fear that is making me keep my commitment. It is moral integrity. I don’t fit into my community, that’s my whole problem, karen. Religion makes me unhappy, karen.

  • 64. Joe  |  February 3, 2008 at 12:20 am

    I can’t help but think you will be responsible before God for the way you are leading your wife and children. You will probably choose to mock or ignore this statement, but the fact is you are supposed to be leading them in righteousness, not rebellion. Your poor wife! I’ll pray for her and your children. May God point you in a better direction than you are headed.

  • 65. LeoPardus  |  February 3, 2008 at 12:41 am

    Joe:

    How is one going to be responsible to a non-existent being, a phantasm, a figment of imagination?

    Now if you really think that you can pray and get results, please pray for God to show up. HIS, and I, and others here would be quite happy to acknowledge God and follow Him if he would do for us, something like what He did for the apostle Thomas.

    Recall that Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail prints in his hands and place my fingers in his side, I wil not believe.”

    That’s the exact stance I’ve taken, as have others here. If Jesus can miraculously appear to Thomas – if God can speak from a donkey’s mouth; if God can send angels to speak to mortals; if the omnipotent, omniscient; omnipresent, omnibenovolent Creator can spare an infinitessimal smidge of his time and power just to let us know He is really there and really cares – then I will gladly return to the faith.

    Until that happens though, I can’t believe in the inaudible, intangible, unsensible being that you and others keep going on about. It’s not rebellion; it’s simply not believing in what we are sure can’t be any more real than fairies, elves, and unicorns.

    But do pray. Pray that if He’s there, He’ll show up. I for one, would be very glad to be able to return to belief.

  • 66. karen  |  February 3, 2008 at 1:11 am

    karen, Its not Christianity that is making me miserable, it is the brand of Christianity I chose. It is not irrational fear that is making me keep my commitment. It is moral integrity. I don’t fit into my community, that’s my whole problem, karen. Religion makes me unhappy, karen.

    Art, is there a way for you to seek out a new Christian community that would be a better fit for you? There are so many, many varieties and denominations – surely if you want to stay involved in Christianity there must be one that would suit you better.

    I think you’re very balanced if religion makes you unhappy. It sure has made a lot of people unhappy over the centuries!

  • 67. artisticmisfit  |  February 3, 2008 at 2:06 am

    Karen, to be honest, its not my religion that is making me unhappy, its my personal relationships within my religion that are making me unhappy. I am trying to stay clear of those that disappoint me.

  • 68. HeIsSailing  |  February 3, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Joe, I am assuming this statement is addressed to me.

    I can’t help but think you will be responsible before God for the way you are leading your wife and children….the fact is you are supposed to be leading them in righteousness, not rebellion.

    “righteousness” is not a word that has a lot of meaning to me anymore. I am a flawed human being, and although I will do the very best that I can, I will continue to be flawed. So I don’t lead my wife in “righteousness”.

    In fact, I don’t tell my wife what to believe at all! If there is one thing I have taught my wife, it is that in this country, you are liable to nobody for what you believe or don’t believe about God. You don’t have to answer to your culture, your background, your society, your family, your pastor, your friiends, not even your spouse – you believe whatever it is that allows you to be intellectually honest with yourself. If you have to pretend or force yourself to “believe” things that you just don’t intellectually, you are just a fraud. You are no better than those cheap salesmen who put on masks and don’t show the world who they really are.

    My wife is Catholic, and she loves her faith, but not some of the more conservative angles of it. When my mother-in-law found out that I was not catholic, she was aghast. (she knows nothing about my atheism, just that I am not catholic). She did not want me to marry her daughter. But I cannot pretend to believe things I do not – I will be a miserable SOB if I did that. So I asked her, “what do you think is more important – that I love your daughter, cherish her, respect her for the rest of our lives – OR that I believe in the Trinity?” Intellectual honesty is of greater moral value to me than any church creed, doctrine, belief system, religion or faith – and before you but in and correct me – it is above any ‘relationship’ with a diety too.

    If I ever have to face God and account for my life, all I have to say is that I was honest – honest with myself, and with everyone around me. That is what I have taught my wife too. She believes in a God that makes sense to her, not one imposed on her by her parents, her friends or least of all, by Rome. God will know that I cannot accept him on blind belief, because he did not make me with that capacity, and I am not going to pretend otherwise. That is the best I can do, and if God cannot accept me like that, I can’t help that. Personal integrity is too great a moral virtue to me to sacrifice for living in ‘righteousness’

  • 69. Yurka  |  February 13, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    I thought “fundies” were the psychologically imbalanced ones. Looks like atheists have their share as well… I think it’s safe to concede your tinfoil hat wackos got us beat hands down. Congratulations.

  • 70. ChristKiller  |  February 13, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Yurka,
    Isnt it just like your kind to jump to conclusions. Some whacko posts some shit and doesnt even mention god or anything and you conclude hes an atheist. Are you sure you dint put the post up? I wouldnt be surprised if you did.

  • 71. Brad  |  February 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Hey HIS,

    Just wanted to let you know we posted your article entitled “My Homoerotic Relationship with Jesus” on COAS.

    http://seminarianblog.com/2008/02/25/my-homoerotic-relationship-with-jesus/

    We’d love to have you over there if you want to check it out or be there for the discussion. Thanks again!

  • [...] had our share of discussion on this site including HeIsSailing’s The Bible does not contain a guideline of moral absolutes, AThinkingMan’s Challenging Religious Myths 1: No Morality without Religion, and [...]

  • 73. Happy 1st Anniversary to d-C « de-conversion  |  October 11, 2008 at 5:47 pm

    [...] The Bible does not contain a guideline of moral absolutes [...]

  • 74. Vincent  |  November 17, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    The world is lost because of one thing: The moral and spiritual corruption cannot be solved by man. The bible records God’s solution to this problem.

    Sadly, sinful men have corrupted the meaning and purpose of the bible. Just the way it was corrupted in the garden of eden. Alert!! The bible message is for the few and not the many.

    The few are the remnant (meek) who will inherit the earth. They are the future government who will bring God’s purpose to completion (1000 year reign). If you know one in your lifetime, don’t oppose them.

    In between that time you are on your own morally and spiritually. You can do what this author suggests or whatever you want.

    For the few, they are the children of God.

  • 75. Brian  |  August 30, 2010 at 4:56 am

    If anything, I’d say the bible is a perfect example of the poor moral standing of the nomadic desert dwelling goat herders that wrote it.

    Here’s a really good atheist store I found. Well, primarily atheist and science stuff…

    Aristotle’s Muse

  • 76. Granny Porn Tube  |  February 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    Awesome things here. I am very satisfied to look your article. Thanks a lot and I am looking ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a e-mail?

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Attention Christian Readers

Just in case you were wondering who we are and why we de-converted.

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Whether or not you believe in God, you should live your life with love, kindness, compassion, mercy and tolerance while trying to make the world a better place. If there is no God, you have lost nothing and will have made a positive impact on those around you. If there is a benevolent God reviewing your life, you will be judged on your actions and not just on your ability to blindly believe in creeds- when there is a significant lack of evidence on how to define God or if he/she even exists.

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