Morally Responsible

(Adapted from a response to a comment from Jake)

My morality shifts. When I learn of new evidence, new arguments, new rationale, what I determine to be moral can change. I may have accepted slavery 400 years ago as moral. Maybe because I believed the claims of a prophet or a barbaric, ancient text. Fortunately, now I have better evidence, arguments, and reasons for my position. The “fair test” is against the best evidence and arguments we have. Not against the words of ignorant and ill-informed tribesmen who lived 6000 years ago.

Fortunately, those who claim to follow biblical morality change as well. It is rare to see someone stoned to death for believing differently, or for being gay, or being a disobedient child, or for not having been a virgin on her wedding night.

Ten Christians will interpret The Bible ten different ways. Some will think homosexuality a sin. Some won’t. Some will claim that ‘grace’ is all that is needed for salvation. Some will say “faith without works is dead.” Who is right? Who is wrong? What methodology was used to determine it?

  • Two Christians debating Biblical morality are engaged in a semantic and/or literary debate.
  • Two atheists debating secular morality are engaged in a philosophical and/or scientific debate.

I would argue that the second methodology is a better way to arrive at a useful and meaningful conclusion.

I have read The Bible. Besides the clear endorsement of slavery in the Old Testament, Paul clearly instructs slaves to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear.” (Eph. 6:5). Though I am sure many Christians have some biblical answer that they feel negates this or explains it, and I am happy to hear it, we would be involved in a semantic or literary debate; not a moral debate. Not a philosophical debate. If what The Bible says is moral, simply by virtue of being in The Bible, then I argue that it plainly endorses slavery and never plainly condemns it. If, however, we want to argue actual morality, I argue that slavery introduces cruelty and misery which is not preferable to health and happiness. It does not benefit the whole of our species. It does not make the survival of the individual nor our species more likely. Which debate is more useful?  A tit-for-tat of scriptural versus, or a debate on what is really right and wrong and why? What is best for individuals and our society? Which position better promotes happiness and well-being?

Christians argue that Biblical morality is superior to secular morality because it is more “concrete.”  It has a “solid” foundation in The Bible and in God.  Looking at history, however, Biblical morality also changes.  Ritual circumcision changed. Consumption of pork changed. Stoning laws changed. Seems that biblical morality lacks solid ground as well.

It was once acceptable to believe that The Earth was the center of the universe. It was always wrong. We now have the evidence to know that model is incorrect.

Slavery was socially acceptable. It was always morally wrong. We now know it. We have the evidence and the rationale of its inherent harm – to the individuals as well as to our society and species.

The US currently has a death penalty for certain crimes. Some people use The Bible to justify it. Others use The Bible to condemn it. Who is right and who is wrong about The Bible’s position is not a moral argument; it is a matter of literary opinion. I think it would be far better to use evidence, reason, and critical thinking to arrive at a superior and more structurally sound conclusion.

Biblical morality is based on an ancient text, changing based on who is doing the reading, who is doing the interpreting, and in which version. Christians claim those morals are based on a universal constant that cannot be reliably demonstrated. My morality, and indeed, the morality of our entire society, is always changing and shifting – usually for the better. From slavery to murder; each previously justified in the minds of believers by The Bible, who now use the same tome to condemn them. Very convenient for believers, but not the steadfast platform for morality they claim it to be.

“I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” – Robert Heinlein

One thought on “Morally Responsible”

  1. Hey Justin, long time no talk. I’ve been very very busy. I saw this a while ago, and I see that you’ve adapted it into it’s own thread so I will respond here.

    There’s this atheist I’ve been talking to lately, who is very confident that none of us matter more then insects. None of us have value, thus we are equal in our lack of value. In response to this, I asked what he thought of swatting a fly? Isn’t that equal to murder with that logic? He was quite upset at the proposition, but I think it made the contradiction of his worldview apparent to him. He treats people as if they are worthy of respect, and dignity. He treats them with compassion. He treats people as if they matter, which doesn’t make sense if he doesn’t believe they do.

    John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” A Christian is a follower of Christ, somebody who follows Christs teaching can be recognized for the love they have for everyone, and for their following of Christ’s teachings.

    If I told you that I am actually an Atheist, but I do believe in God. What would you say? Would this mean that Atheists actually believe in God? Of course not! A Christian who claims to be a follower of Christ’s teachings, but is not, isn’t a Christian by the same logic. Just like an Atheist who believes in God isn’t really an Atheist, a Christian who purposefully rebels against God’s teachings and laws is not a Christian at all. So when a “Christian” acts with hate, we know they are contradicting what a Christian is by definition.

    Ethics are different from morals. Ethics come from societal values. They belong to a group, or culture. People can choose to be ethical because it’s what society tells them to do. Ethics are guided by legal enforcement.

    Morals on the other hand, are the personal compass we all have of “right and wrong”. They come from within, they are internal. Ethics come externally. We live morally because we believe in something being right or wrong.

    One can live a moral life, while being completely unethical. When people get thrown in jail for trying to help others by sharing the Gospel in foreign countries is a good example. They are doing what they hold to be morally right, but it is against the ethics of the society they are in. Also, on the contrary. Several years ago in this country I could have owned a slave, and would have been an ethical person, no matter what my personal opinion of right or wrong about the situation was. If I saw no issue with slavery, I would have been moral as well. If I saw slavery as a bad thing, but did it anyways, I would have been immoral.

    You claim your morals come from society. It seems you have no distinction between ethics and morality. I do.

    My Morals come from God’s Law which is written in my heart. When people are abused, I’m fully of empathy for the suffering they go through because I know that they matter as image bearers of God. Even though there are those in our society today that preach that the value of humans is equal to the value of insects, and then they would have no issue killing insects, stealing honey from bees, or doing whatever they wish. I feel such a delusion to be a far greater threat then for somebody to follow their own moral compass even when it transcends ethical norms.

    I have MAJOR issues with religions. The power religious authorities hold can become so dangerous. I don’t preach religion, I preach Jesus. The historical Jesus, who’s famous for phrases such as “turn the other cheek” and “do unto others as you’d have done unto you”. I encourage all to cast aside their sin and rebellion against God, and turn to and trust in Jesus who lived, died, and rose from the dead.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *