Posts tagged ‘morality’
When I was a Christian, I would oftentimes become frustrated while attempting to understand a moral sentiment put forth through biblical text. Why in the world would God make absolute morality so ambiguous? When Moses wrote, “thou shalt not kill,” did he mean “thou shalt not kill” or did he mean “thou shalt not kill without just cause?” What about abortion? War? Poverty? At times a golden nugget in Scipture would pop out that seemed to make things clear, but there was always a level of ambivalence that I felt was never fully appreciated by the mass of Christianity.
Upon looking to my struggles through developing a proper hermeneutic of Scripture to find a moral system fair to the text, and the supposed author of the text, I cannot help but laugh. Wading through the waters of religious dogma to discover an absolute morality seems so much easier than developing a moral system beyond a conception of a divine transcendent being which by necessity decrees certain actions “good” and certain actions “bad.” When I left Christianity–in fact, in my preparation to leave Christianity, even–I recognized that I would somehow need to construct (or not construct, perhaps) a new moral system.
So where to begin? Well first I had to assess if in fact there was morality. Without Christianity, is moral nihilism the path to go? Or perhaps there is morality, but it is subjective. Maybe there is still some sort of objective morality existing independent of humanity. What a mess!…
A common topic discussed on non-religious or post-religious sites is the subject of morality. Many religions, particularly those who consider Abraham the father of their faith – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – believe they have the corner on morality and that “God” though his “holy book” is the source of morality in the world.
We’ve 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 Stellar1’s You do not need religion to be moral. Of course this is not an exhaustive list as this issue is a part of several other excellent blog entries.
For many, the 10 Commandments set the foundation on which morality is based. The 10 Commandments are found in Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Depending on your religion or denomination, there are 12 commandments used to make up some version of the 10 Commandments. They are:
- I am the Lord your God
- You shall have no other gods before me
- You shall not make for yourself an idol
- You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy…
A Guest Commentary
The faithful often try to tell us that without god the world would collapse into chaos. They claim that god provided us with laws or commandments to live by and that societies have base their laws on these commandments. This strikes me as a rather arrogant assumption that overlooks some very basic historical facts.
In fact, the relationship probably works the other way around. Religion took its laws from those that already existed. For example, let’s look at the ten commandments. The claim is that they brought rules to a world without any. The implication is that people ran around killing, stealing, and raping with impunity before them. However, codes of law had been written long before the alleged burning into stone of the ten commandments. For example, the Code of Hammurabi was written a thousand year’s before, and there were others before that.
One aspect about Hammurabi’s code that may seem familiar from the first testament is the eye for an eye justice it espoused. Fire and brimstone Christians will recognize much of what they believe and stand for in it. So, rather than codes of law being based on the ten commandments, it seems that the ten commandments were based on these codes of law…
I have come to the conclusion that there is little difference, for better or for worst, between a theist and an atheist – specifically in the way we act, talk, and generally live our lives.
Morality: It doesn’t matter whether conservative theists cannot understand where a non-believer receives their morals, the fact is we share a common thread of ethical decency. Even in cases that their are tangible radical differences, such as sexual license, et al., an unbeliever is no more likely to engage in orgies, sexual crimes, divorce, and/or promiscuity than theists. Non-theists are simply more likely to admit it (it takes less than a semester at a conservative Bible college to figure this out).
Intellectualism: Atheists are not smarter than theists. Theists, likewise, are not smarter than atheists. While I do believe that fundamentalists suffer in the realm of academic integrity, the majority of sophisticated mainstream Christian scholars are exceptional scholars. The belief or non-belief in God is an issue of whether one can accept the value of faith or not.
Happiness/Joy/Peace: There was little joy when Jesus died on the cross, or even when he, according to the Bible, resurrected – unless you want to read into something that isn’t there…
(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…
The phenomena of the SuperChristian is, for sure, nothing new. Just read the mid-second century document, The Marytrdom of Polycarp. Not only did his entire martyrdom mirror that of his Saviour, he was accused of being an atheist (for not believing in the gods of the Romans), served Christ flawlessly for eighty-six years, and found the persecuting crowd unworthy of his time.
Today I seem to meet a lot of modern-day SuperChristians. Sure, in the gospels they might be condemned as “Pharisees,” but, of course, they really do love Jesus. So who is a SuperChristian? How about someone who doesn’t drink or go out partying? I have always found this interesting. Do these people know Jesus was a Jewish man in the 1st century? Have you ever been to a Jewish wedding? Well, back in 1st century Palestine, these weddings were “off-the-hook” as we young wannabe-gangsters say. Jesus himself famously gave the best stuff at the end of night, even after everyone was already tanked (John 2:1-10). It is amusing to watch the lengths these SuperChristians go to explain that passage. And if John’s gospel is too mystical for you, the relatively anti-semitic Gospel of Luke furthers the Lord’s party animal instincts: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” (Luke 7:33-34)…