Saturday, 10 May 2008

god's Morality


Supposedly we get our morality from god. Setting aside Euthyphro's Dilemma - is it moral because god says it is or is there some absolute morality that god informs us of? - which theologians have never quite answered, there is a serious problem with the way that morality is applied in the Bible. Not only does god seem to set himself above morality, meaning that he need not follow his own rules, but he wishes to punish us harshly for not following the rules - any rule.

To expand, jaywalking is as much of a sin as murder according to god. Both will land us in eternal torment. Yet, there is certainly a world of moral difference between not crossing the street at a designated crosswalk and the intentional taking of someone else's life. We humans recognize the difference, yet god - who deals in absolutes; black and white - seemingly can't differentiate between the two. Why should we take our moral queues from a being that seemingly can't understand simple concepts of right and wrong? Why should we follow a being that doesn't think morality applies to him? Finally, why should we worship such a being?

15 comments:

Mrs Effingham said...

Hey, just happened upon your blog via a comment left on another blog. Just curious, don't you think it is a bit of an over-generalization that you put on Christians when you say things about them all being afraid of sex or being child abusers? (I take these ideas from some of the comments left on your blog) I can agree that this may be the overall general feeling that is put out by a number of angry, very mis-informed Christians that get media attention and BOOM, that is what every Christian looks like. But are you saying you honestly have NEVER known a Christian who was not afraid of sex or who didn't abuse their kids? Obviously you have. I guess what I am really getting at is this: have you ever known a Christian you liked or respected? Or is that impossible based on the very fact that you find their whole belief system to be ridiculous and repulsive?

MS Quixote said...

"which theologians have never quite answered,"

Which works by theologians are you referring to? I would be interested in the list of books or essays you have read in this regard.

"To expand, jaywalking is as much of a sin as murder according to god."

What religion are you referring to here? It's not Christianity...

Cheers.

GCT said...

Mrs. Effingham,
"Just curious, don't you think it is a bit of an over-generalization that you put on Christians when you say things about them all being afraid of sex or being child abusers? (I take these ideas from some of the comments left on your blog)"

Let me for the record state that I don't think all Xians are anything. I think that Xianity is general has an unhealthy obsession with people's sex lives, and that some Xians go over the line to child abuse, but in no way would I stereotype all Xians.

"I guess what I am really getting at is this: have you ever known a Christian you liked or respected?"

Yes.

"Or is that impossible based on the very fact that you find their whole belief system to be ridiculous and repulsive?"

I don't define people by their belief systems. I might attack their belief system as immoral, ridiculous, and repulsive, but I don't think the person is similarly immoral, ridiculous, or repulsive by association. I believe that most Xians are decent people as are most people in general. It is the Xian ideals that I find offensive and decidedly indecent. I also find that most Xians do not actually follow the Xian ideals as set down in the Bible, but instead follow the ideals that have evolved in our cultural.

Thank you for asking instead of just assuming the worst.

GCT said...

ms quixote,
It's pretty well known that Euthyphro's dilemma is a problem for theologians. Most try to sweep it under the rug.

Also, I am talking about Xianity. Both Jesus and god make no distinction between varying levels of sin. The wages of sin is death, and it matters not what sin it is. I have a post on the words of Jesus (from earlier this week) where I talk about his tendency to take everything to extremes. He states that becoming angry with someone is tantamount to murder; it carries the same weight in terms of endangering your soul.

MS Quixote said...

"Most try to sweep it under the rug."

Thanks for being honest. But to be more honest, I would not make a blanket statement like this that implies that theologians are caught on the horns of this dilemma when they are clearly not. Just a small pick on your post, no worries...

"Also, I am talking about Xianity. Both Jesus and god make no distinction between varying levels of sin."

Then you are simply incorrect regarding this area of Christian doctrine. The eternal torment you cite is based on degrees of punishment, just as are the rewards in heaven. The NT is very clear about this. You may also see the idea developed in works like Dante's inferno. If I remember clearly, the virtuous pagans do not even enter hell.

I readily admit that, as James said, to trangress one point of the law is to transgress the whole, but your post asserts that no distinction or difference to the severity or consequences of the sin is made by God, which is not the case.

GCT said...

ms,
If you know of an answer to the dilemma, please let the class know.

"Then you are simply incorrect regarding this area of Christian doctrine. The eternal torment you cite is based on degrees of punishment, just as are the rewards in heaven. The NT is very clear about this."

Cites? My cite is the Bible itself, where Jesus says exactly that in the sermon on the mount. There are also many places where god seems to not care one whit what sin you've committed, only that you have.

"You may also see the idea developed in works like Dante's inferno. If I remember clearly, the virtuous pagans do not even enter hell."

Well, if you consider a fictitious work about another fictitious work to be a solid point of reference for your theology, then I guess you've got me there. However, I don't know any theologians or laity that refer to Dante's Inferno.

"I readily admit that, as James said, to trangress one point of the law is to transgress the whole, but your post asserts that no distinction or difference to the severity or consequences of the sin is made by God, which is not the case."

Again, point it out. If I sin, I go to hell to be tormented/tortured for eternity, regardless of what that sin is, according to the Bible, which is supposedly the word of god.

MS Quixote said...

"If you know of an answer to the dilemma, please let the class know."

What is at issue here is your unfounded contention that "theologians have never quite answered" the ED. I suspect that this is a belief in your circle which is commonly reinforced without actual study into the matter. It is no different than theists reinforcing misconceptions about atheists, without taking the time to uncover what the other side actually says about things.

With that said, here is a shorthand theistic answer to the ED: Neither. Theists deny that the ED presents a true dilemma and posit a tertium quid, usually that goodness arises out of the nature of God, being found within his perfections.

The ED proponent generally responds by reformulating the original dilemma at this point, attempting to yet again hook the theist on the horns of the dilemma. Such attempts fail in my estimation because the skeptic is forced, in my opinion, to declare that his or her conception of goodness is faulty, despite our individual and universal observation and experience to the contrary.

Regardless of my opinions on the matter, a simple google search or a trip to the library will yield several examples that contradict the notion that theologians have never quite answered the ED, which I grant is not the same as answering them to your satisfaction.


"Cites? My cite is the Bible itself, where Jesus says exactly that in the sermon on the mount."

It is ludicrous to suggest that the Bible states that a person can go through life committing only one sin, or even skate through with only minor sins, like jaywalking, and then be cast into hell. In the very text you cite, Jesus makes it clear that we are all murderers and adulterers based on the thoughts of our hearts. For the Bibilical view of man, try Romans 3:10-18. This is not an isolated text, but representative of the entire book, from which pages of identical quotes can be cited if required.

Thus, for you to claim this:

"If I sin, I go to hell to be tormented/tortured for eternity, regardless of what that sin is, according to the Bible,"

is a complete misrepresentation of the Bible and Christianity. I am agreeable to your skepticism, but let's at least agree to characterize each other's beliefs accurately if we wish to comment on them.

Moreover and once again, the idea that the Bible suggests that God does not distinguish in the judgment between particular sins such as jaywalking and murder is demonstrably false. Citations:

Rev 20:12-13
Luke 12:47-48
Matt 11:22
Luke 20:47

In 1 Cor 3, the same idea of differing degrees of rewards and punishments is applied to the believer, just as it is to the unbeliever in the passages above.

I apologize for citing the texts on an atheist blog--it seems that that is an irritant--but you asked for them.

"However, I don't know any theologians or laity that refer to Dante's Inferno."

I think you have adequately demonstrated that you don't read much theology :) I just offered it to you as a word picture, and a famous one, that illustrates the Christian idea that there will be differing degrees in the judgment.

GCT said...

ms,
"Theists deny that the ED presents a true dilemma and posit a tertium quid, usually that goodness arises out of the nature of God, being found within his perfections."

This is just choosing one arm of the ED. If god said that murder and rape were moral acts, then you would be forced to follow them, since goodness comes from god. This is NOT an answer, just choosing one side of the ED and ignoring the other, which has the consequences that I just pointed out.

And, yes some theologians have attempted to answer, but all of them fall into the same problem of either selecting one arm or the other, just as you did.

"It is ludicrous to suggest that the Bible states that a person can go through life committing only one sin, or even skate through with only minor sins, like jaywalking, and then be cast into hell."

Actually, the Bible's words on this are quite clear in that we are all evil and contemptible, not that we can skate through life only committing one sin. Problem is, that's not my argument. My argument is that sins are not differentiated. It is a ludicrous thought that an omni-max god that somehow is the arbiter of morality would have such a problem with this concept, but that's what the Bible presents us with.

"In the very text you cite, Jesus makes it clear that we are all murderers and adulterers based on the thoughts of our hearts."

You're proving my point for me.

"For the Bibilical view of man, try Romans 3:10-18. This is not an isolated text, but representative of the entire book, from which pages of identical quotes can be cited if required."

You're not arguing against my point but for it! As a side point, I have also spoken about how Xianity is anti-human, and the passages you cite speak very well to that.

"is a complete misrepresentation of the Bible and Christianity. I am agreeable to your skepticism, but let's at least agree to characterize each other's beliefs accurately if we wish to comment on them."

How? It's what the Bible says. If you don't personally believe that, then your quarrel is not with me but with your holy text. You said it yourself, being angry is tantamount to murder. How is that not supportive of my argument?

"I apologize for citing the texts on an atheist blog--it seems that that is an irritant--but you asked for them."

No need to apologize, I did ask.

Anyway, the Luke quotes come closest to what you are trying to say. The end result is the same, beating. Whether the servant murders or jaywalks, that servant gets beaten (which let's be honest, it's really a metaphor for hell). Whether I murder or jaywalk, I end up in hell, for eternity. Is there really a difference between eternal suffering from one thing in hell verses another? That's one of the problems with eternity and infinite torture. No matter what sin I commit, god doesn't care, he will torture me infinitely for it. This is a clear indication that god does not understand degrees of moral transgressions.

MS Quixote said...

"This is just choosing one arm of the ED. If god said that murder and rape were moral acts, then you would be forced to follow them,"

No, it is not choosing the divine command horn of the ED. If anything, it would be closer to the other horn of the ED, that the good somehow exists of its own outside of God. But, in fact, it is neither.

I am postulating that goodness exists as one of the perfections of God. This is not divine command ethics, nor is it the standard of goodness existing outside of God on its own accord. Hence, it logically & successfully passes through the horns of the dilemma.

"You're not arguing against my point but for it! As a side point, I have also spoken about how Xianity is anti-human, and the passages you cite speak very well to that."

Fair enough, I tend to agree with you that Christian doctrine is anti-human in some of its aspects.


"You said it yourself, being angry is tantamount to murder. How is that not supportive of my argument?"

Because it teaches that we are all severely worse than jaywalkers.

"Whether I murder or jaywalk, I end up in hell, for eternity. Is there really a difference between eternal suffering from one thing in hell verses another? That's one of the problems with eternity and infinite torture. No matter what sin I commit, god doesn't care, he will torture me infinitely for it. This is a clear indication that god does not understand degrees of moral transgressions."

Here's where we disagree. You stated above that you agreed that, according to the Bible, there exist no "jaywalkers only." Thus, the idea that there are poor folks in hell that really did nothing that bad--that only jaywalked--is false from the Christian perspective. In other words you are creating a false dichotomy between jaywaking and murder, since according to the Bible no one can be one without the other. I realize of course that you would reject the Christian perspective out of hand, but it is the one we are attempting to characterize.

Now, the answer to your question "Is there really a difference between eternal suffering from one thing in hell verses another?" is a resounding yes. In the beating metaphor (and I am OK with you thinking of it as hell) you addressed, the important factor for our discussion is the "few blows" versus the "many blows." This is a real difference from one thing in hell to another.

The Matt 11 passage relays the same idea. How could it be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and Sodom in vs 24, if not for there being a real difference in the judgment.

Or the warning in Luke 20: "They devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severly" Most severely over what? Jaywalkers :)

The great judgments predicted by the Bible would be meaningless without the degrees of moral transgressions.

But, in re-reading your response, especially the last paragraph, I think this is what you are trying to say--please feel free to correct me if I am wrong: according to the Bible, God is going to send people to hell for eternity for crimes that do not merit an eternity of suffering.

If this is what is being argued, we can quit beating each either up, because it is a separate issue.

GCT said...

ms,
"I am postulating that goodness exists as one of the perfections of God. This is not divine command ethics, nor is it the standard of goodness existing outside of God on its own accord. Hence, it logically & successfully passes through the horns of the dilemma."

No, it doesn't. If it springs from the attributes of god, does god have a say in it? If so, then you are caught on one horn, and if not, then you are caught on the other. You haven't solved anything.

"Because it teaches that we are all severely worse than jaywalkers."

I don't see how this makes it any better. The point is that being angry at someone is NOT the same as murdering them, yet god can't tell the difference?

"Thus, the idea that there are poor folks in hell that really did nothing that bad--that only jaywalked--is false from the Christian perspective."

From a Xian perspective, I agree with you. The Xian perspective says that we are all pond scum, no worse than that.

"In other words you are creating a false dichotomy between jaywaking and murder, since according to the Bible no one can be one without the other."

You do realize that "jaywalking" was simply pulled out of a hat. Use "being angry at someone" if it helps you. I have been angry at others before, but I have never murdered anyone. If god can't tell the difference, then why would I consider him the arbiter of morality? And, BTW, it is possible for a murderer to have never jaywalked in his/her life.

"Now, the answer to your question "Is there really a difference between eternal suffering from one thing in hell verses another?" is a resounding yes."

Not when interpolated out to infinity.

I found that Matt 11 and Luke 20 could simply be a warning about the threat of hellfire.

"The great judgments predicted by the Bible would be meaningless without the degrees of moral transgressions."

Yet god still can't see the difference between anger and murder.

"But, in re-reading your response, especially the last paragraph, I think this is what you are trying to say--please feel free to correct me if I am wrong: according to the Bible, God is going to send people to hell for eternity for crimes that do not merit an eternity of suffering."

Actually, that's one of my arguments, but not the sole one. Jesus explicitly says that he sees no difference between being angry at someone and killing them. Jesus also talks about all the people that will be in hell for eternity for various sins. If god can not tell the difference between anger (a normal human emotion) and murder (the physical act of taking another's life) then god is no arbiter of morality.

MS Quixote said...

"and if not, then you are caught on the other."

Except that the second horn says goodness exists independent of God. The first dilemma was successfully passed. Your subsequent objection was anticipated in my original response.

"And, BTW, it is possible for a murderer to have never jaywalked in his/her life."

Yes, I get this part. Nicely put, though.


"Jesus explicitly says that he sees no difference between being angry at someone and killing them."

What he says is that both are subject to judgement. There's a distinction with a huge difference. No where does he claim the judgement is identical, nor does orthodox Christianity.

To be fair to you, let me note that I am OK with you objecting in this manner as it is your well-thought out interpretation of this passage. My complaint was only that you were passing it along as Christian doctrine, which it is not.

"Jesus also talks about all the people that will be in hell for eternity for various sins."

Again, I think this is a separate issue, namely that it is immoral for god to punish people for eternity for some (or all) sins.

I believe you are calculating that an eternity in hell renders all judgement for the damned as identical simply by virtue of it being eternal. For the record, if this were the case I would agree wholeheartedly. However, based on the Biblical text, this does not appear to be the case as previously argued. The Christian view is that the punishment will befit the individual case based on what the individual has done, with varying degrees of executed punishment.

GCT said...

ms,
"Except that the second horn says goodness exists independent of God. The first dilemma was successfully passed. Your subsequent objection was anticipated in my original response."

I suppose there is no way that you'll understand that you haven't solved the dilemma. If goodness is a property of god, then either it is under his control or it is not. If it is under his control, then god dictates morality. If it is not under his control, then god is subject to it.

"My complaint was only that you were passing it along as Christian doctrine, which it is not."

Actually, let's put this to rest. I've not said that Xians believe this. I've said that Xians should believe it because it comes from the Bible. It's not a misrepresentation to say that god is a genocidal maniac. Xians believe otherwise, but the Bible says otherwise. So, when I point out this fact, I'm not misrepresenting anything, just pointing out what their holy texts actually say/show. I think Catholics are basically cannibals if they are truly eating the flesh and blood of Jesus, even though they certainly don't think of themselves that way.

"Again, I think this is a separate issue, namely that it is immoral for god to punish people for eternity for some (or all) sins."

OK, that's a separate issue.

"I believe you are calculating that an eternity in hell renders all judgement for the damned as identical simply by virtue of it being eternal."

Yes. Add one to one and continue to do that for eternity. Add two to two and continue to do that for eternity. Do you get a larger number from either of those?

MS Quixote said...

"I suppose there is no way that you'll understand that you haven't solved the dilemma."

Funny, I was thinking similar thoughts about you :)

"Do you get a larger number from either of those?"

My math is pathetically weak, but I think the answer to this question is no. Reference to time (if eternity can be reckoned as time) is different than reference to degree, however.

You can have the last word. Thanks for the time...it was a worthwhile discussion. I have a newfound respect for you, my friend....

GCT said...

My point was that degree doesn't matter when interpolated out to infinity.

Thank you for the civil discussion.

igod said...

o MS Quixote, you want it both ways. You want your faith and you want it to be logical. You can't have both. You just can't see that, because you're brainwashed.

Either your god is in control of morality, or your god is not in control of morality.

If your god IS in control of morality, then you would be forced to commit murder, rape, adultery, etc., if your god suddenly changes its mind about what is good or bad.

That's not to say your (imaginary) god would do that, but you would try to follow its commands if they were so decreed. For you, murder would be good, rape would be good, if your god so decreed.

This means that for you, though you can't admit it, morals are relative, based on the things your god tells you are moral.

However, if your god is NOT in control of morality, if it's a standard outside of it's control, then it's not much of a god, is it? In fact, there would be no need for a god when it comes to morality, if a moral system exists independently of a god.


No amount of logical argument will convince you that your thought processes are illogical. Yet you attempt to use logic, e.g. suggesting passages in the bible, that you think support your beliefs, to convince non-theists that you're making sense.

That's how you, as a theist, differ from those who are not theists. Those with a more a logical bent to their thoughts don't need to mix in the supernatural to back up what they think about the nature of reality.

You, on the other hand, are not content with your own beliefs, because you recognize the inherent fallacies in them. So you try to use what you think are logical arguments - e.g. a variety of passages in your bible - to overcome those fallacies. Your arguments don't hold water, except in your own mind.