The Moral Maze

Stoning

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 nonethless 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.

 

 

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How the bible gets almost everything wrong: volume 2

bible-questions

The bible’s moral inconsistencies:

As we saw here and here, the bible’s morality is confused and frequently contradictory. Jesus himself adds to the confusion with pronouncements like:

You have heard it said (in Exodus 21.24), ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

and

You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5.27-28).

God’s ‘standards’ change depending on who thinks they’re channelling him:

In Joel 3.8 he advocates slavery but in Exodus 21.16 he forbids it.

In Matthew 6.1 Jesus insists good deeds should be done secretly forgetting he’s already said, in Matthew 5.1, that they should be done openly to impress others.

In Matthew 7.1-3 Jesus says judging others is to be avoided while in 1 Corinthians 6.2-4, Paul gives it the go-ahead; judging others is fine.

In Matthew 19.10-12 Jesus disparages marriage but the writer of Hebrews approves of it (13.4)

God allows divorce in Deuteronomy 21.10-14 but in Matthew 5.32 Jesus doesn’t.

And on and on. Like everyone else’s, Christians’ morality is socially determined. Unlike everyone else’s, their morality reflects the bible’s own confusion and inconsistencies. To accommodate its contradictions, Christians cherry-pick from it to bolster their pre-existing prejudices and biases. The rest of us are then measured – judged – against the resulting pick’n’mix morality and, boy, are we found lacking. ‘Biblical morality’ is nothing if not projectile.

 

The bible’s weak understanding of psychology:

Many of those who wrote the bible had a particularly bleak view of human beings. To these men we are totally depraved and our every thought is ‘continually evil’ (Genesis 6.5) Our ‘hearts’ are supremely deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17.9) and we’re under the control of the devil (Ephesians 2.1-3). We are incapable of doing good (Romans 3.10-13) and as Jesus himself puts it:

That which proceeds from a person, defiles that person. For from within, out of the heart, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile a person. (Mark 7.20-23).

I don’t recognise this as a description of myself and I’m sure you don’t of yourself. Of course human beings are capable of terrible acts (I’m writing this not long after a fanatical Muslim murdered 22 young, innocent people in a terrorist bombing in Manchester, here in the UK) and, on a more mundane level, we can behave in thoughtless or vindictive ways, entirely out of self-interest.

But we’re also capable of great kindness, compassion and concern. We are a complex mixture of these traits, the good and the bad. The biblical view that we are only ever hateful, devoid of any good, is jaundiced and unnecessarily negative. If parents were to spend their time telling a child he or she is only ever bad, wicked and evil, they would rapidly deprive the child of their self-worth, self-confidence and ability to relate in positive, loving ways to others. The description would become self-fulfilling. This is what the God of the bible does to his children.

Neither are we awash with sin. Sin is a religious idea, used to describe how humans fall short of the glory of God. It need not concern us here. There is no God to fall short of; sin therefore is a concept without any traction in the real world.

 

The bible’s fantasy perspective of the world:

Did you know this world is controlled by the devil and his demons? That powers and principalities of the air are at war with God and the powers of holiness all around us? In fact, the devil is always looking for ways to discredit the bible and is constantly trying to weaken Christians’ faith. He smuggles false doctrine into the church in order to mislead believers, and uses the hoax that is evolution to prevent unbelievers from accepting Christ as their saviour. He gives women ideas above their station, which God says is to be submissive, and has unleashed a wave of homosexual behaviour and gender confusion to blind people to God’s goodness and to kindle his wrath.

Did you know, though, that this fallen world and the ‘heavens’ above it are soon to be destroyed and replaced by a new earth and new heavens, where Jesus will reign over the select few God decides to raise from the dead? Despite Satan thinking he’s in control, it’s actually God who is. God only allows the devil to think he’s top-dog while he, God, is secretly pulling the strings.

If you do know these things, and if you believe them, then you have a ‘biblical worldview’. Or, to put it another way, you’ve bought into third-rate hokum that bears no relation to the world – the universe, even – as it is.