Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Some Observations on Morality

Perhaps, I just don’t understand why Christians clamor on about this “absolute” standard of morality. More succinctly, why do Christians claim that morality needs this “ultimate authority figure” or we would all surely act like wild animals? Other religions and cultures predate Christ’s teaching of the golden rule by hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Apart from a god, is it really so impossible to conclude that society would find murder, rape, cruel and unusual punishment and slavery wrong? Many of the aforementioned atrocities were commanded by god himself. Our modern moral sensibilities have long since vanquished these barbaric acts with the exception of certain religious factions often sourced in the Middle East. We can give little thanks to the Christian god for this as he was the cultural conformist in many of these OT acts. I can hear the Christian saying, “Yes, but Christ perfected our senses of morality by living a sinless life and dying on the cross”. Some Christians have this bizarre theological stance that attempts to get the OT god off the hot seat by asserting that he reveals more and more of his nature as time goes by. The assumption here is that man could not possibly handle all of god at any one time, so he revealed little bits and pieces until Christ came as the “ultimate” revelation. This seems more like a case of special pleading than an honest look at what the characteristics of the OT god were. It certainly would not go over well in a court of law.

Besides, I think he did a very impressionable job of displaying his true nature in the OT. More than once, he commanded the slaughter of pesky neighboring countries via direct auditory commands to his prophets and leaders. I would also argue that god was more revealing in the OT than today. He certainly hasn’t been performing any noteworthy miracles that transcend the laws of nature lately. He hasn’t been leading people in a pillar of cloud, or discussing new moral laws on top of a mountain with his favorite followers of today’s time. We would quickly send such a person to the nearest mental health facility if they claimed that god had given them new moral instructions or laws. Or, we would simply dismiss them as scam artists such as in the case of Word of Faith teachers. Many Christians will claim that god doesn’t interact with humanity that way anymore. We have the canon of scriptures and that is all the revelation we need. Other more charismatic Christian circles will claim that god still performs miracles and point to subjective experiences and questionable healings as evidence.

Just recently, a story came out of a Somali girl being stoned to death because she was raped by three men at the same time. A militant Islamic group found that this went against their own religious convictions and commandments of Allah. The god of the OT made it clear that women deserved death by stoning if they failed to cry for help while in the city limits (Deut . 22:23-24). I’m not sure if this thirteen year old cried for help during the raping, but many women are threatened with certain death if they make any loud noises. Christians will assert that one must understand the cultural context of the time. Virginity was a very sacred thing and it would disgrace the family tremendously if a woman was a non-virgin on her wedding night. Another common rebuttal is that God had to be harsh with these stubborn people or they would fall into all sorts of irreversible life styles and perversions as frequently occured in the OT. So gods only means of disciplining his children was to kill them? Most parents give their children a spanking but don’t kill them unless their monsters like Andrea Yates. I’ve covered stoning in one way or another on previous occasions, and fail to see how killing a rape victim is any kind of “moral absolute” anyone could admire or wish to emulate.

As Richard Dawkins suggests, society’s morality has become increasingly better as time progresses and we learn how to deal with each other in more civilized terms. The interpretation of the Bible itself has changed due to the ever evolving census of morality. Most Christians today do not accept stoning, genocide, slavery or infanticide anymore. Paradoxically, they still support god despite their disapproval of his obviously immoral actions. Most people of European decent no longer support medieval torture as an acceptable practice. The rack torture device is no longer a public spectacle, nor are witches and homosexuals impaled or burned alive as supported by the church in the Middle Ages and virtually every other segment of European society at the time.

It really comes down to doing things for your social group and community that help prolong and advance it. We have altruistic genes that were selected through the evolutionary process that provide empathy. This can be seen in more than just human beings. In one particular youtube video, you can watch a dog help an injured dog off of a highway so that it wouldn't be killed by oncoming traffic. Some may remember the empathetic gorilla from Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo. A toddler managed to tumble into the enclosure which housed the gorillas. The on looking crowd gasped with horror as this toddler was sitting on the concrete surrounded by massive three to four hundred pound gorillas. The mother gorilla, Binti Jua, noticed the child and carried him back to zoo staff despite having a baby gorilla physically attached to her. Barbara king, an anthropologist, observed a male Chimpanzee who sat with a dying Chimpanzee for five hours in the wild due to a lethal bite to the neck delivered by a Cheetah. No one was allowed to get close to the dying Chimpanzee with the exception of her younger brother. There are undoubtedly many examples of animals behaving in empathetic ways that do not require a god or the Bible to direct their actions. These are instinctual behaviors built through evolutionary processes. We are different because our brains are significantly bigger and we are better able to distinguish positive and negative consequences for our actions. Humans are able to make decisions based on the long term impact it will have on them and society.

People do things directly or indirectly for others all the time and need no guidance from an old book to help them. It can be seemingly insignificant things like putting your used gum in the trash instead of on the sidewalk where someone else could step on it. It can be heroic acts like saving a child from a burning building, or sacrificing yourself by pushing a person out of the way of an oncoming car. These genetic tendencies have helped the human race come to a place in history where altruistic behaviors outpace demoralizing and harmful behaviors significantly. We might as well model Saudi Arabia for our morality if we are looking to find a society which mimics god’s morality in this day in time. The NT changes the scope of things some. People are told to “turn the cheek” instead of retribution through stoning or such nonsense. Ultimately, Jesus still supports the OT laws and didn’t come to abolish them. The big change is people are introduced to suffering delayed but prolonged in hell for all eternity. The concept of hell is strangely absent in the OT which makes up about two thirds of the Bible.

And, its not like there is any significant statistical data supporting the claims that we need god's absolute morality to function properly. Christians will admit that their divorce rates are every bit as high as non-Christians at a staggering 50%. Studies like the Global Peace Index (GPI) continue to reveal that societies who are primarily atheist do not fall apart and turn into warzones. On the contrary, the GPI continues to show that the state of peace among these secular/atheistic countries is among the highest. There is a strong correlation between peace and atheistic countries. Conversely, Muslim and Christian countries have a stronger correlation with non-peace. For more information, please visit www.visionofhumanity.org.

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