“When (a worldview) doesn’t include God, there is no basis for morality.” Roy Moore, 2008

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I planned to dissect Ravi Zacharias’ morality argument even before recent revelations that he lied about his credentials. I’m sure that, despite his fraudulent claims, he’s still a good Christian™, perfectly entitled to tell the rest of us what terrible sinners we are. If you’ve ever seen his grandiose sermonising, you’ll know he likes to pretend that Faith is something deeply intellectual, despite Paul’s contention in 1 Corinthians 1. 26-27 that it isn’t. Zacharias’ pseudo-intellectual Christianity is, like many of his qualifications, fake.

In common with other Christians desperate to prove their God, he relies too on circular reasoning. He tells us that our morality derives from God (you listening TC Howitt?) and then uses this to argue that, because of we have morality, God must exist. His unproven conclusion is his premise, with nothing in between to justify either.

Here’s his ‘argument’ in full:

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Let’s take a closer look:

‘When you say “There’s too much evil in the world”, you assume there’s “good”. Who says this? How much evil is ‘too much’? Do people other than Christians see the world in terms of good and evil? Does acknowledging evil mean one also assumes there is good? How is this ‘good’ defined? So many unanswered questions in this first muddled statement.

‘When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a “moral law” on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.’ The only one making assumptions here is Ravi himself. The considerate treatment of others, which is how we might reasonably define morality, is easily recognisable when it occurs. This presumably, given he fails to define any of his terms, is what Ravi means by ‘good’ (and conversely, inconsiderate or malicious treatment of others is his ‘evil’). There’s no reason to suppose, however, that the demonstration of good is a component of an objective ‘moral law’ that exists somehow independent of human interaction. Morality and any resulting goodness (or ‘evil’), is human interaction.

‘But if you assume a moral law you must posit a “Moral-Law Giver.” Well, of course we’re not assuming a moral law, not in the magical way Ravi is assuming we’re assuming. And how about that imperative: ‘You must posit a “Moral-Law Giver”‘! Must we? Morality is socially determined by human beings themselves; we see this is in the different moralities that have emerged in cultures with shared heritage; we see it in the changing attitudes over the last fifty years to the treatment of women and gay people. Morality is fluid; it evolves. The ‘Moral-Law Giver’ then, if we must have such a term, is we ourselves.

‘But that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove.’ Erm no. Ravi’s being disingenuous here. ‘We’ were not trying to disprove a Moral-Law Giver at all; he was trying to prove it (him? – note the capital sneakily added to ‘Who’). Let’s though, for the sake of argument say Ravi is right; let’s say there is a Moral-Law Giver out there somewhere. Why has he, over the expanse of human existence, issued such varying and often conflicting moral codes? Compare, for example, today’s moral standards with the harsh, brutal morality of the ancient Israelites, which demanded the death penalty for almost any infringement of the law. Compare that with the morality Christians today claim they derive from New Testament. Then compare Jesus’ impossible demands with how Christians actually behave. By and large, they’re happy to ignore him and, with the exception of one or two areas they get hot under the collar about (abortion, same-sex relationships), they go along with the consensus of the culture in which they live.

‘Because if there’s no Moral-Law Giver, there is no moral law.’ There is a ‘moral-law giver’: it is us. That is why moral laws vary according to culture and through time. Zacharias wants us to conclude that this capitalised ‘Moral-Law Giver’ is his God, yet he has neither demonstrated that a deity (any deity) decrees moral codes from on high, nor has he ‘proved’ (his word) that this cosmic law giver is his god, the barbaric and inconsistent YHWH. Rather, he ‘assumes’ this to be the case and hopes that his audience, failing to notice his assumptions, presuppositions and sleight of hand, will too. Given that most of them are Christian sheep  (Jesus’ term, not mine) they will no doubt do just that.

‘If there’s no moral law, then there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil.’ This is where the argument, such as it is, turns back on itself. Zacharias thinks he’s being very clever (he always thinks he’s being clever) but all he’s doing is declaring his premise over again.

Of course there are moral standards; humans have devised them throughout their existence. The ‘Golden Rule’ promoted by Jesus, for example, is first recorded thousands of years before him. We determine for ourselves what is good and therefore what is ‘evil’; these defintions are not delivered to us ready made from a “Moral-Law Giver” in the sky.

(While Zacharias doesn’t use the argument, there are those who like to say, on the basis of Romans 2.15, that God has written his (ever-changing) rules in our hearts, a fallacy I’ll address in the next post.)

‘What is your question?’ clever Ravi finally asks. We didn’t have a question. Here’s one for him anyway: how has he got away with such fraudulent drivel for so long?

 

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Christians – Jesus commands you be perfect. So why are you not?

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‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ is how he puts it. He even tells you in the verses that precede this one how to go about it: you have to turn the other cheek; give untiringly to anyone who asks (including to those who would sue you); constantly go the extra mile and show only love to your enemies (Matthew 5.38-48).

It is often claimed, even by those who don’t believe in him as their saviour, that Jesus offered great moral teaching. C. S. Lewis though cautions against seeing Jesus as simply ‘a great human teacher’ when, in Lewis’s eyes, he was far more besides. I would, however, invite Christians to consider whether the moral guidance Jesus provides here in Matthew’s gospel – how to be perfect – is in any sense ‘great’. If you think it is, because Jesus is Lord, a perfect being and possibly God himself, then you need to explain why it is never followed by Christians, and never has been. You need to explain why you yourself do not apply it in your life, because as sure as poached eggs is poached eggs, you do not. You do not give to all who ask; you do not invite insult after insult and violence on top of violence; you do not give away valuable and essential possessions when threatened with legal action – you are actually more likely to do the suing. And lest you think I am advocating a far more exacting morality for Christians than I would from anyone else, you will bear in mind, won’t you, that is not I who insists on it, but your Saviour. It’s not unreasonable under the circumstances to expect to see you obeying him.

As it is fairly safe to assume you don’t, I would further invite you to consider whether instead of being ‘great’, Jesus’ teaching is in fact unreasonable, unrealistic and impractical. If you are honest, you will acknowledge that it is all of these things, not great or timeless at all, and that is why you, and all other Christians worldwide, disregard it. Jesus’ moral teaching is no more than a series of reckless suggestions, a formula that applied can lead only to poverty and abuse, not perfection. You are probably wise to ignore it and to spend your time instead opposing gay marriage and judging the rest of us.

Revised from ‘Be Perfect’ in my book, Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, available from Amazon.

Notes: C. S. Lewis on Jesus as ‘great human teacher’: Mere Christianity (1952) William Collins & Sons, Glasgow, p52.