"A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."
"There is nothing divine about morality; it is a purely human affair."
— Albert Einstein
When it comes to ethical decisions and moral behavior,
What is right?
What is wrong?
What is good?
What is bad?
And, do we really need a god to tell us what these words mean?
Ethics and morals aren't exactly the same thing. However, in Christian circles the terms are usually used interchangeably. So, for the sake of this discussion, morality and ethical behavior will be considered synonymous.
When I was a Christian, innumerable sermons, messages, pamphlets, and books crossed my eyes and flooded my ears with the dogma of moral absolutism. God had decreed HIS Law. He had embedded it in the hearts and minds of men. HE had written it on tablets of stone. Those laws were foundational to family life. Those tablets were the cornerstones to ordered society. HIS absolute Law is the bedrock upon which all people must build their lives and homes.
Moral relativism, on the other hand, was fiercely denounced as a doctrine birthed in the pit of hell. This idea, if it ever gained wide-spread acceptance, would usher in an era of moral collapse and chaos. The very fabric of society would be rent in twain, and Satan himself would walk our streets.
OK, no one said Satan would walk our streets, but it was generally agreed that without the absolute moral authority of the Bible, the 10 Commandments, etc., the world might stop spinning in its orbit, or something. At the very least, violence and mayhem would be commonplace. A shadowy vision of a lawless, post-apocalyptic landscape would come to mind whenever relativism was mentioned.
I completely bought into that Christian viewpoint.
"Isn't it obvious?" I'd ask. "God Himself describes what is good. God is good. And sin is the transgression of the Law of God."
I was comfortable with this position because morality this simply defined was easy to understand. I knew right from wrong because God had given me some natural knowledge, His Word to confirm that inner knowledge, and bound it all together with the witness of His Spirit in my heart.
Who needs a philosophical education on ethics when you possess a mystical triumvirate of moral certitude?
Obviously I've abandoned that position now, but I didn't do it without a measure of fear and uncertainty. Because of my long programming, I wondered if it was possible to be moral without the restraining influences of a belief in God. What was to keep me from diving head-long into hedonism? What would keep me from devolving into a drunken glutton whose mantra would be "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die!"
Isn't being debauched what "True Infidelity™" is all about?
Now, several years later, without a belief in an afterlife or in a God who is waiting to punish me, I haven't appreciably changed my lifestyle. I still hold down a job, obey the speed limit, pay my taxes, love my family, deal honestly with others, am devotedly faithful to my wife, am not given to frequent outbursts of rage, regularly bathe, brush my teeth, and comb my hair.
In essence, there's been no significant change at all in my behavior. If anything, some of my behavior has improved: I'm less prone to harshly and narrowly judge my fellow human beings.
The thought of relativism scared me as a Christian. It scares many Christians because to admit that morals can change based on cultural, historical, familial, or other influences and norms, opens wide the door to possibilities such as that Hitler and Stalin couldn't be judged as any more immoral than my grandmother. In other words, if we have no Law Maker in the sky, how can anyone say that the things Hitler and Stalin did were bad?
Well, if we do have a Law Maker in the sky that says the things Hitler and Stalin did was bad, would that make they did bad?
What I mean is, is genocide and mass-murder bad because a so-called god says so, or is it bad for some other reason? If God said genocide and mass-murder were good, would it be OK to kill with impunity and without mercy?
Said another way, is what Hitler and Stalin did only bad because a god says so? Do we really need a god to tell us that these two guys were monsters?
Are things wrong because a god has decreed certain things bad, or are certain things inherently bad in and of themselves. If God commits genocide is it good? If God commands us to commit genocide, is it good? Whether or not God would ever ask such behavior of us is beside the point. To say that God's nature is good, and HE must obey His nature is also avoiding the question. If God commanded you to murder another human being, would God be commanding something good or something bad?
There are a couple of points here:
Since God supposedly cannot perform evil acts or order evil acts, or call evil good or good evil, it suggests that He answers to a law of morality outside and above Himself. Clearly God cannot arbitrarily declare murder bad one day and good the next. Either murder is bad or it is not, right?
Christianity is morally relativistic.
"Thou shalt not bear false witness..."
Lying is a sin. Lying is breaking the Law of God.
Yet, Corrie Ten Boom, the famous Christian author who wrote of her experiences during the Nazi occupation of Holland in WWII, hid Jewish people in her home. She repeatedly denied to the authorities that she was hiding anyone. Over and over, she lied.
Personally, I think she did the right thing. She did the morally right thing. But she still lied. She lied to protect the lives of others who would die if she told the truth. She made a morally relativistic decision.
What if you were a Christian, serving as a soldier in the United States army during WWII, and you were commanded to assassinate Hitler? Assassinating Hitler — would that be morally good or morally bad?
What if the command to kill Hitler came late in the war, after many millions of people had died?
What if the command to kill Hitler came early in the war, before hostilities broke out?
What if the command to kill Hitler came when Hitler was a child?
I betting that honest people attempting to answer those questions will admit that their answers changed depending on the way the question was phrased, depending on the circumstances described. While at one point, killing Hitler might seem like the morally right thing to do. Killing a child, even Hitler as a child, would give most people pause.
For me, when I began to realize that even in Christianity there are no moral absolutes, that moral decisions change and adjust with the circumstances, I started to break free of the fear that some sort of horrific moral chaos would overwhelm our world without bible-god.
If it were easy to determine right from wrong or good from bad, we wouldn't need so many laws, lawyers, and judges. If morality was something written in stone, slavery wouldn't have been tolerated throughout nearly 1,900 years of Christian history. We all know that slavery is wrong, don't we? Yet, not once in the entire Bible is the practice called wrong.
Here's something bold: Perhaps, in ancient times, slavery wasn't wrong! Perhaps it's only wrong now!
Christians want it both ways. They want to claim a hold on moral absolutes, but will defend things like slavery with moral relativistic rhetoric.
The reality is that there are no clear absolutes when it comes to morality. Does that mean that anything goes, so party on, dude? Does that mean Hitler and Stalin are, after all, no less moral than my grandmother?
It's apparent that human beings have evolved with a need for socialization, for community, for family, for building tribes and cities and nations. We generally all want to live and be happy, and the best way to do that is to live together in peace. Were not that far from our Paleolithic roots, however, so we still have a long way to go. Shedding our primitive superstitious nonsense like so many worn out rags will be a good step in the right direction.
I no longer envision all humans with Christian pessimism. I do not think people are morally depraved demon fodder more fit for the fire than for anything else. I don't necessarily think all people are basically good, either. I think it all depends on the relative circumstances we find ourselves in.
In any event, morality is strictly a human affair.
Regardless of all the rhetoric, examples and arguments, the majority of Christians do not believe in absolute morality. Or do they?
The argument from Christians is that without the Bible, or God, or the Ten Commandments, there is nothing to tell us that murder is wrong. There is no way to make a decision about rape, or theft. Without the absolute morality as defined in the Bible, all society would crash into a subjective chaos of relativistic anarchy where everyone does what is right in their own eyes and everyone is a victim of everyone else's violent, unrestrained lusts.
All ideas have consequences, and the idea that absolute morality exists between the covers of the Bible has terrifying consequences to our freedoms.
Oh yes. If there are absolute morals and they are explained by the Bible, we are in trouble.
Commandment 1: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans, Atheists… anyone who does not submit his life entirely to the worship of Yahweh and his Son are breaking the first commandment. This commandment is repeated in the New Testament: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy mind and thy soul. There is no compromise here. Anyone who is breaking this commandment is patently immoral. Everyone who breaks this commandment is depraved. Everyone who breaks this commandment is guilty, guilty, guilty.
We all agree that murder, rape, theft, or lying on the stand are punishable offenses. People found guilty of these immoral acts are imprisoned. The secularist says that humans generally have agreed in every culture throughout recorded history that such behaviors are wrong and have enacted laws forbidding such behaviors. However, they are imprisoned, says the Christian, because they broke the absolute moral laws of God. Without the Ten Commandments, we would have no laws forbidding these behaviors because no one would know right from wrong.
Yet, in those commandments we have one very BIG commandment — NO OTHER GODS. This absolute moral law we all ignore. No one is condemned, criticized, imprisoned, whipped, put in the stocks, or spit on for reverencing another god. Such tolerance of other gods is not Christian absolutism. Such tolerance of other gods is secular relativism. It is secular values that teach us to tolerate and allow freedoms to our fellow human beings to worship a variety of gods, or no god at all. It is relativistic thinking that passes over idolatry as if it were nothing.
What about the second commandment about no graven images?
Oriental and Hindu peoples have little god statues all over the place. Why is there no law against such blatant disregard for absolute morality?
Commandment III: Taking the name of the Lord in vain.
No matter how you define this "moral absolute," there is no law on the secular books against any form of screwing around with the name of God. There is not one law on the books in the US against profaning God’s name, blaspheming God’s name, or any other 'ing of God’s name. This is an ABSOLUTE moral law that Christians are ignoring without giving it a second thought.
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.
Does anyone do this? All the stores, parks, movies — everything is open for business Saturdays and Sundays the same as on any other day of the week. It wasn’t always this way in the U.S. There used to be laws (called Blue Laws) that forced all commerce to shut down on the Sabbath! Christians have joined the secularists in abandoning the uncompromising moral absolute of honoring the Sabbath. Oh sure, you can pick a few kernels of corn on the Sabbath (new Jesus rules) but I wonder what He’d think of all the cussing and beer guzzling at all those football games.
Nope, the Ten Commandments are absolutes and there is no compromise or change with God. Right and wrong is not relative to the times and circumstances. It is not within the domain or the ability of human beings to decide right from wrong apart from the Bible. We cannot be trusted to determine morals and set just laws on our own. Without the Bible our societies are depraved, perverse and demonic. We all must be restrained by the absolute morality of the Bible.
Obviously, I'm being sarcastic. I doubt there is one in ten Christians who would agree with outlawing all religions but Christianity, destroying idols wherever they are found, throwing people behind bars for cussing, or arresting people for opening shop on Sunday. No, we've grown past such arcane rules.
Or have we?
The reason this topic is important, is that at its root, Christianity is a theocratic system that demands absolute obeisance to the absolute authority of a god.
In this theocratic system, slavery is approved. Slaves are to obey their masters and masters are not to mistreat their slaves, and there is not one word of criticism against owning other human beings as property. In fact, there are considerable laws and instructions in the Bible regarding treatment of slaves, punishments for owners if the slave dies while being beaten, and even a nice once-every-50-years rule about freeing slaves, but only if they happen to be Hebrew slaves. Regardless, the practice of slavery is not condemned even once.
In a truly absolute theocratic Christian country, slavery will be re-instituted. Those who criticize slavery will be arguing against the absolute morality as clearly revealed by God Almighty.
Genocide will be approved in theocratic Christian America, so long as those being wiped out are idol worshippers, or have promiscuous sex practices that violate the absolute morality of God Almighty. War and genocide are never condemned in the Bible. In fact, war and genocide are commanded again, and again, and again. The victors in the battle take the property and goods of the dead. The virgin women who survive, they become property too. Captured virgins can be married (read raped), and of course all men can have more than one wife. Ture, it's not the best arrangement, the multiple wives thing, but it is permitted in God's absolute version of morality. Oh, and divorce is absolutely forbidden, except in the case of immorality.
Sabbath breaking will be stopped immediately. No more breaking of God's absolute morality regarding the Sabbath. Don't ask why &mash; asking is not our position. It is for Christians in a Christian nation to obey.
Now, I don't honestly think the Bible has anything authoritative to say on morality, and I've stated my views in the previous article linked here: Morality and ethics without absolutes. However, if Christians want to box themselves into an archaic and strange morality as defined in a Bronze Age holy book, well, I wouldn't forbid them their rights. If they want to make rules about haircuts, or dress lengths, or masturbation, or anything else, that's entirely up to them. I don't believe in forcing my version of how life should be lived down the throat of anyone. Personally, I don't like hard liquor, but I wouldn't try to make it illegal for someone else. I'm not a homosexual, but I don't really care what a couple of guys do in their own home. It's really none of my business.
But Christians are not so generous. Christians believe their absolute morality should be enforced throughout society. Christians believe laws should be created that as closely as possible conform and adhere to the absolute laws of God.
That's why this topic is important. That's why Christian morality is a threat to freedom.
The West had a Christian theocratic rule for over 1,000 years and it plunged the world into darkness. Christians want to say things are getting worse and worse? Christians who say that are ignorant of history. Things have been amazingly worse than they are today, and that worse was during Christianity's golden years of absolute moral authority.
Thankfully, the Christian view of absolute morality is false, and our moral sense is continuing to evolve right along with every other aspect of human knowledge. However, if fundamentalists do finally gain the governmental power they seek, the light may go out again.
So, to reiterate, real morality is not absolute, is relative to the times, circumstances, history, culture, environment, and other pressures, and above all, is strictly a human affair. Gods have nothing to do with it.
What do you think?