Where does morality come from? Ken Ham and others like to tell us it comes from the bible and the Christian ‘worldview’ they say they find there. Those non-believers who profess or practise morality in any meaningful way ‘steal’ it, they say, from this Christian worldview. They argue that without supernatural beings to dictate, with wild inconsistency, how we should behave, we simply wouldn’t know how to. That we do, by and large, means we can only have ‘stolen’ our morality from Christianity.
Unsurprisingly, the evidence suggests otherwise; versions of morality exist in all cultures – the secular, the pagan, the alternatively religious. Some of these are similar to those traditionally and often mistakenly associated with Christianity, some are not – which tells us they are socially determined. We decide ourselves, collectively, what is and isn’t morally acceptable. We don’t ‘steal’, or even need to, from the Christian ‘worldview’. Some of our morality might coincide with that espoused somewhere in the bible, but that doesn’t mean its taken from it. It means we value some of the same principles that ancient cultures valued – ‘do not steal’, is fairly ubiquitous, for example – because they too lived communally and needed rules like this one, as we do, to facilitate social cohesion. Of course, the collective understanding of a principle does not necessarily mean that everyone adheres to it, just as in those ancient cultures. Nonetheless we can all understand morality insofar as our culture defines and experiences it.
But let’s take a closer look at that ‘biblical worldview’ morality, that evangelicals think is the be-all-and-end-all, shall we?
T.C. Howitt, curator of the Oil for Light blog and commenter here, argues that ‘God’s moral law’, as demonstrated in the bible, is the only true (‘transcendent’ and absolute) morality. I’ve asked T.C. if he’s talking about the ‘morality’ that promotes the keeping and beating of slaves; the stoning of couples who have sex when the woman is menstruating; the execution of men who sleep with men, uppity teenagers and those who worship other gods, and which forbids work on the Sabbath (Friday evening to Saturday afternoon, that is).
It turns out it’s not (and yet it is) because, this, you see, is Old Testament morality and Jesus did away with all that. But nonetheless it’s still transcendent and absolute because it’s God’s Eternal Law. (I hope you’re following this so far.) However, in practical terms, what moralising believers seem to mean by biblical morality, is that which can be found in the New Testament. As I’ve pointed out to T.C., this is not the same thing as biblical morality.
So what does New Testament morality look like? Presumably it’s the morality promoted by Jesus, such as go the extra mile; sell all you have and give to the poor; turn the other cheek; give to everyone who asks; hand over your shirt when your jacket is demanded of you; don’t judge; love your neighbour as yourself; love your enemies; treat others as you like to be treated yourself, etc, etc.
If this isn’t what’s meant by New Testament morality then I don’t know what is. But forgive me – I don’t know many Christians who practise it, not even with an indwelling Holy Spirit and God’s personal support. That’s because it is an impossible morality. Consequently, Christians, like the rest of us, derive their moral standards from the culture around them, at the same time reserving the right to harangue the rest of us over our lack of ‘biblical morality’.
Doesn’t the bible have something to say about this? Oh my, yes it does. It goes something like this: attend to the log in your own eye, because it’s blinding you, and leave others to attend to the speck in theirs.
Now that’s what I call biblical morality.
There’s a great quote from Stephen Colbert along these lines:
“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor,
either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are,
or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor
and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”
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Good quote. Here’s another from the peace theologian, Michael Hardin.
“Jesus either renounced violent retaliation, coercion and manipulation and called his followers to do so or he didn’t. Jesus either justified violence and retribution or he didn’t.
Jesus was either a pacifist or he wasn’t.
But you must choose and bear witness to Jesus, and one day stand before him and give an account of your testimony.”
I am reminded of the biblical morality of those christians who are ardent supporters of Roy Moore and who agree with him and trash the women who have told what happened. I am stunned by the biblical morality of those who quoted the bible and people in the bible who were paired up such as Mary and Joseph to support Moores actions. To me they are not moral, but I agree they have the bible morality down pat. Hugs
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Moore’s supporters and those like them use the bible as a mirror, finding in it a reflection of their own biases and prejudices. It can be made to say just about anything they want it to say.
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The common grace of moral sense is given to everyone by God (Rom 2:14-15). This gift of grace allows you to know right from wrong, and not only does it keep society from completely collapsing into mayhem, but it means you have no excuse when you fail and sin. That’s where Jesus comes in.
I don’t harangue anyone over their lack of “biblical morality” — I harangue unbelievers over their need to have faith in Christ, because only in Christ can you have life and without Christ you’re dead in your trespasses in sin. Such haranguing is called preaching, and there’s no hypocrisy in this message: I rely on the atoning work of Jesus Christ alone for my justification.
Jesus didn’t do away with the law. As I’ve explained to you (http://oilforlight.com/atheist-patheos-1), Jesus fulfills the law, which no man could live up to.
You’re either misunderstanding, forgetting or deliberately misrepresenting how the redemption of sinners by faith in Christ comes not by following the law perfectly — that would be called works-righteousness — but by believing in Jesus as your savior. Sinners are only washed clean and justified by the blood of Jesus, not by their own righteousness.
Yeah, right. Funny Jesus himself never mentioned any of this ‘being washed in the blood of the lamb/redemption by faith’ mumbo-jumbo when he was around. I wonder why not when, according to you, he was God’s Son, or even God Incarnate. Wonder why he left it up to a bloke who’d never met him and who was subject to fits to explain what his mission was really all about.
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Who told you that Paul made it all up, and why do you believe them?
Paul’s own words tell us he made it up. Consider this: the three synoptic gospels record the fact that ‘Jesus preached the gospel’ while he was alive (Mark 1.14 etc). This could not have been the gospel Paul later preached because, when he was going around spreading his good news, Jesus had yet to die. In fact, Luke tells us what Jesus’ gospel was: the Kingdom of God was coming to the Earth real soon (Luke 4.42). When it did, the sick would be healed, the lame would walk and the down-trodden would rise to the top (Matt 20.1-16). People, Jesus said, should do their utmost to be part of this coming Kingdom. How? By being ‘righteous’, which he defined as feeding the hungry, tending the sick, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned and so on (Matthew 25).
Paul’s gospel, on the other hand, was something else entirely:
“This righteousness of God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood.” (Romans 3.22-25)
So, did Paul really get a gospel that bears little relation to Jesus’ good news, from actual encounters with him (2 Corinthians 12.1-6)? He says he did, but then why would Jesus give him a different gospel from the one he himself had preached while on Earth (Galatians 1.11)? Why did Jesus never mention all of this justification-redemption-atonement stuff in his own good news? Why was Paul’s gospel so at odds with that of the disciples who had spent years listening to Jesus preach (Galatians 1 & 2)? Why did Paul not consult any of them while he was interpreting his ‘visions’ and ‘revelations’ (Galatians 1.12)? Why was he proud of the fact his gospel was different from theirs (Galatians 1.8)?
Paul did not know Jesus, he never met him and he was at odds with the disciples; he tells us this himself (I’ve written about his more fully: https://rejectingjesus.com/2015/02/05/jesus-or-paul/ ;
https://rejectingjesus.com/2015/04/23/jesus-v-paul-round-2-and-the-winner-is/). Paul’s gospel was the result of ‘visions’ in his own head (as he openly states in Galatians 1.12), which he interpreted as God or Christ speaking to him. There is absolutely no evidence this was the case and plenty that it couldn’t have been, not least the fact his gospel bears little relation to Jesus’ own.
So, TC, why do you choose Paul’s gospel over Jesus’ good news – because that is most certainly what you do. My guess is it’s because Paul’s spiritual hokum is so much easier than Jesus’ demands that you feed the poor, forgive repeatedly, sell all you have etc etc.
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You sound like a red-letter materialist. (Name-calling!)
I think I just coined that term. It would mean that you’re an atheist who likes and accepts what Jesus said, provided He wasn’t saying or doing anything supernatural.
Which words of the Bible do you accept and which ones do you throw away? Your rule is, keep it if it satisfies your presuppositions and discard the rest. What you’re left with is a different Jesus, a Jesus who did not claim to be the Messiah, a Jesus who didn’t claim to be the only begotten Son of God sent by the Father to save anyone who would believe in Him, a Jesus who did not resist Satan by invoking scripture and a Jesus who did not perform any miracles.
On what authority do you slice up the account of Jesus Christ? On yours alone, based purely on your own desires.
And when you prop up this imaginary Jesus, who is not Jesus but an imposter, you interpret his words to be only saying, “You must follow God’s law to be good, and be perfect to be saved!” These words are true, but they’re impossible for anyone but Jesus to fulfill. I guess you also need to discard all the words Jesus spent rebuking and cursing the Pharisees and Sadducees who preached hypocritical works-based salvation.
Of course you’ll find this fake Jesus at odds with what Paul preached.
Paul turned from persecuting the Christian church to suffering greatly for it — torture and imprisonment — and you think he did this for selfish and devious reasons. You think that’s a logical conclusion, and it’s just foolish.
(As an aside, Jesus never conveyed the message of “don’t judge.” He said don’t judge hypocritically, which you would know if you read the next verses — and to judge righteous judgment, which you would know if you read the whole gospel. I’m fine being judged using the same measure I use to judge the words and actions of others, which is to judge using the word of God as illumined by the Holy Spirit. Cutting short the word of God to turn it into a lie like “don’t judge” doesn’t count, of course.)
(Also, the questions you asked challenging Paul’s teachings are laughably out of line with the scriptural references you provided. I can only assume you arrive at your twisted interpretation by stripping the apostles, including Paul, of their spiritual authority, and of Paul’s context of rebuking the Corinthian church and warning the Galatians about false teachers.)
Now, to allow Jesus to speak and act for Himself, you must consider all His words and deeds.
You asked, as if opening a door as a foil for my preaching ministry, “Why did Jesus never mention all of this justification-redemption-atonement stuff in his own good news?”
Jesus did way more than just mention all this justification-redemption-atonement stuff: He proved it in the very words and deeds you reject out of bias.
I know you don’t like to have the Bible quoted on your blog. You said, “There’s absolutely no point in quoting chunks of the bible at those who don’t recognise its authority.” That was a dumb thing to say. Of course there’s a point: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). So here we go…
“Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” (Jhn 2:18-22).
Here we have Jesus prophesying His own death and bodily resurrection after three days. We also see that the full meaning of Jesus’ words were not appreciated even by His disciples until the Holy Spirit descended and showed them the truth. The significance of this work by Jesus is to fulfill messianic prophecy, of course, for God to bring a suffering savior into this world to wash away our iniquities by His sacrifice as the spotless lamb (Isaiah 53).
I’ll bet you dismiss this passage as a lie perpetuated by the author of John, strictly because it doesn’t conform to your false image of Jesus. Never mind that this account is corroborated in the three synoptic gospels, including Mark, which is regarded by unbelievers as at least an historical primary source for Jesus’ life and ministry:
“And with him they crucify two thieves; the one on his right hand, and the other on his left. And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors. And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself, and come down from the cross” (Mark 15:27-30).
You know, you sound like one of them.
We could go in a lot of directions to prove that Jesus preached justification through faith in Him by grace, but I’ll settle with one verse that even most unbelievers know by heart. It’s a good one. Most people don’t know that Jesus said it Himself.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Of course, you don’t believe this. I know why you don’t believe it, and that reason is given in the verses that follow:
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved: (Jhn 3:17-20).
Hey, wait a minute. Jesus is calling atheists evil-doers — that’s name-calling! Jesus says atheists hate the light and can’t come to the light because their deeds will be reproved — that’s a personal attack!
Shame on Jesus, right? Oh, wait, you don’t believe Jesus actually said this, right?
1) I don’t care what sort of Jesus you think I’m left with. Though I write on this blog about him and the damaging effect of his legacy, he is as irrelevant to my life as I lead it as anyone else who’s been dead for two thousand years. Equally, I couldn’t care less about your name calling and ad hominem attacks; they say much more about you than they do me.
2) You’re entirely wrong in your assertion that Jesus sanctioned judging others provided they use ‘the word of God as illumined by the Holy Spirit.’ You might try reading some of that scripture you like to cut and paste everywhere. What he said was, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” That’s quid pro quo, yin and yang – as much of Jesus’ teaching seems to have been. If you’re not careful with your extravagant judging of others, TC, you’re going to find yourself in the firing line of a hell of a lot of returning judgement.
3) This, as I’ve told you, is the comments section. You should be able to make your points succinctly and with brevity. If you’re unable to do so and insist on writing essays then they will not be appearing here. You’ve your own blog on which to get long-winded. In future, I will delete any comments you make that are longer than the post you’re commenting on. No-one reads what you say in its entirety anyway – I know I don’t. Related, I didn’t say I don’t ‘like’ great wodges of scripture being quoted in comments. I said it is pointless you doing it. It would seem, however, that you know best. Humility’s not a strong point, is it TC?
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1) I know you don’t care.
2) You failed again to quote all of scripture. I’m not surprised. You conveniently left out this verse:
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mat 7:5).
What do you think it means “to take the speck out of your brother’s eye?” That’s called judgment, and it’s not “quid pro quo, yin and yang.” That’s a foul interpretation. Like I said, I’m happy to be judged according to the same measure I use to judge the words and behavior of others.
Besides, this is an instruction on how fellow believers in Christ should judge each other’s words and behavior. When it comes to unbelievers, Christians are called by God to expose their wickedness to the light with all the salt they can muster. Salt and light are good disinfectants.
I also alluded to this verse spoken by Jesus:
“Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (Jhn 7:24)
That’s an explicit command to judge, and a positive instruction on how to judge.
There is only one way of righteous judgment, and that’s God’s judgment. And where do we find His judgment? In the words He breathed out as holy scripture.
3) You’re free to enforce whatever rules you want here in your comments section, no matter how foolish they sound.
Erm, I did quote the verse (attend to the log etc) that you say I didn’t quote. It’s also in the original post. Must be something in your eye preventing you from seeing it.
My interpretation that Jesus’ morality works on a measure for measure basis is ‘foul’, is it? Funny then that Jesus uses the same expression to explain what he means (in Matt 7.2, which I also quoted; it’s the verse following the one where he tells you not to judge.) I guess Jesus must also be ‘foul’ in that case – or maybe you just don’t know the bible half as well as you pretend.
As for foolishness in the comments, congratulations – you qualify!
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Here’s what you said: “It goes something like this: attend to the log in your own eye, because it’s blinding you, and leave others to attend to the speck in theirs.”
Leave others to attend to the speck in their eye? Totally wrong. You fail to address the last clause of Matthew 7:5: “and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” This was my point. Besides, you first said “Don’t judge.” Period.
You said, “My interpretation that Jesus’ morality works on a measure for measure basis is ‘foul’, is it?”
No, that would be okay. It’s a foul interpretation to say this is like “yin and yang,” which is dualistic garbage. Remember: I’m the guy who said he’s fine being measured by the same measure I use, which is the word of God. And again, you didn’t say that at first: you said, “Don’t judge.”
Todd, Todd – you’re straining at gnats. You don’t like that Jesus tells you not to judge so you’re doing your damndest to find a way round it by claiming I didn’t quote in full what I did quote in full (in my first response to you) and that Jesus didn’t mean what he plainly expressed. That’s okay – if you don’t want to follow his commands then don’t. It’s no skin off my nose.
I wonder if you’re able to stand back from what you write both in comments and on your own blog and ask yourself what kind of Faith it is you convey to people?
Maybe I can I help you with that. According to your mission statement, lifted from 2 Timothy, you feel you are called to ‘reprove, rebuke and exhort’. You do this in a way that you seem to think is bold and direct. Actually though, Todd, what comes across is abrasive, condescending and frequently insulting. That’s okay too, if you’re prepared for the fact that such an approach pushes people away from Faith. It doesn’t, in my experience and that of others who’ve been on the receiving end of your ‘preaching’, encourage anyone to say – “My God, Todd is right. I want some of what he’s got. I want to be part of Jesus’ kingdom. I want to experience the love, joy and peace that comes from accepting Christ as my savior.”
Of course, as far as I’m concerned that’s a good thing ; people are far better off without Christianity and its illusory Kingdom of God, Christ-as-savior incantations and pantheon of supernatural beings. But, if your aim is to draw people to Jesus – or whatever it is you’re trying to do – then maybe something a little gentler, more humble and more loving wouldn’t go amiss.
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I have a policy against taking preaching advice from atheists trying to convince others to reject Jesus.
It appears that I’ve offended you by my harsh criticism of your worldview, and now it’s shut down your ability to interact further on the topic. Maybe someone can benefit from reading this exchange without having their feelings hurt.
Thanks for inviting me to be here, though, and thank you for including me in three of your last four posts.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man” (1Co 2:14-15).
I am neither hurt nor offended by anything you’ve said, despite the evident pleasure you get from trying to upset people. You’ll be pleased to learn that you’ve actually reinforced my ‘worldview’, so thank you for that.
You are right about two things:
a) You don’t need advice from anyone about chasing people away from Jesus; you can manage that just fine on your own, and
b) If others read our exchange they will indeed get a very clear picture of the sort of person you are.
Oh. I see we need a bible verse at this point; Philippians 2:3 seems appropriate:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
Guys, I do want to add that I do have a huge concern with the idea that morality is simply culturally determined and that we can not agree upon an absolute standard or measure. I can see some real dangers and pitfalls in this moral relativism.
Just to give one example, years ago when I studied at university, my undergraduate major was cultural anthropology..The professor discussed a culture where the people had the practice of exposing newborn infants to the elements to die because of any imperfection, such as a port wine stain, a kind of birthmark. He argued that we should not past judgment on this or even attempt to prevent the practice as this simply reflected our own values, our ethnocentric bias.. I felt horrified..
To give another example, the US Declaration of Independence states:
” We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness..”
Well, why did the framers feel these truths were” self evident?” I think because they were steeped in the Judaeo-Christian ethic, and felt that this truth came from the reality of humans created in the image of God.
This certainly isn’t perceived as the” truth” for all cultures, and it’s not a widely held truth among members of the alt right, for example, some who are atheists and new pagans. They actually have made an idolotry of “whiteness.” Others have fallen into nihilism.
I can certainly understand anyone speaking out against toxic religion or abuses in the institutional church, but are we in grave danger of “throwing the baby out with the bath water?”
I will be back after Thanksgiving, so can’t talk right away, and could share alot more.
But, can you understand my concern?
You might be ‘concerned’, Rebecca, about the idea that morality is culturally determined and you may not like it, but it’s a fact that morality is determined in such a way. It certainly doesn’t come from the bible, for reasons I outline in the post (and in earlier ones too).
Christians can’t even agree between themselves what is morally acceptable. For example, you yourself are quite happy with gay relationships ‘as we understand them today’ (that’s relativism!) whereas many evangelical Christians are not. Who is right? You or them? You both claim to derive your views from the same holy book.
I’m in the UK, you in the States. Here, we don’t find it morally acceptable that people should be armed in order to defend themselves. You, as it is enshrined in your constitution, do. Some of your states think it is morally acceptable to execute criminals; here in the UK we do not. We think free universal health coverage is essential; many in your country don’t. Why the differences? Because these are culturally determined, societally ratified moral standards, your culture being different from mine. Who’s ‘right’? Who knows. The bible’s no help in deciding, otherwise those nations with a Christian heritage would share the same morality. The reason we don’t is because each culture works out its own moral standards.
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I share your concerns about the dangers of moral relativism. Its deadly consequences litter the historical record. Not only did an atheistic worldview fuel the genocidal dictatorships of the early 20th century, but superstitious religion has been used to manipulate societies to their detriment as well.
Cultural conditioning can end up normalizing practices that everyone knows are wrong. That doesn’t mean the definition of morality varies in any way; it only means that wickedness spreads. The culture you mentioned that practiced infanticide is no more right than the ancient cultures that sacrificed their children to idols, or Nazi eugenics, or the Inquisition, or slavery in the UK and US, or abortion today.
My practical concerns don’t determine my worldview, however. I believe that wickedness will continue in the world — in fact, that it will increase. I know that God has given us all this sense of morality, but without Jesus Christ we’re doomed to rebel against it.
Apropos to this larger discussion, the historic abuse of Bible interpretation does not impugn its objective moral authority. An honest reading of the Bible does not yield the conclusion that God wants us to institute genocide, slavery, rape or the subjugation women; one can only sustain that opinion if he or she ignores Jesus Christ, whose blood saturates scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Further, the Bible affirms that Jesus didn’t come to bring peace on earth, but a spiritual sword, which is the message of the cross — foolishness to those who perish, but to us who are saved it’s the power of God. This is an important Christian distinctive. Christianity isn’t supposed to enable men to solve the world’s problems or make your life easier; it’s supposed to make your life harder by lifting you up and holding you to a higher moral standard. This means true Christianity gives great benefits to society at large as a consequence of the integrity of its adherents, but that’s not its raison d’etre. Salvation is only through Christ, and that for believers alone.
“…superstitious religion has been used to manipulate societies to their detriment…” So true – that’s Christianity for you.
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Selective hearing as well as blindness? You should get that checked out.
Hearing? Hearing? What has hearing to do with anything?