I can’t tell you how many times people have called into the show and told me: “Christian morals are founded on the Bible! How can you say you’re a moral person and not believe in the Bible?”
First of all human morals predate the bible by thousands of years, they weren’t invented with the Ten Commandments. It has always been against human values to be dishonest, to kill or harm your fellow man, or steal his possessions. All societies, ancient and modern, have had to have these principles else the society would not have long endured. Even animal societies have had to develop morals of some kind and for the same reasons and yet they don’t have Bibles.
Even the “Golden Rule”, claimed by many Christians as having originated with Jesus Christ, was invented in other forms millennia before he lived. Confucius (551–479 BC) said: “One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated”. This sentiment is also present in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism as well as most of the other world’s religions. Simon Blackburn (2001) states that the Golden Rule can be “found in some form in almost every ethical tradition.”
If Christian morals are only found in the Bible, shouldn’t they be shared by all Christians? However, even strong Catholics, Protestants and Mormons, all self-proclaimed Christians, cannot agree amongst themselves on specific issues of morality like abortion, birth control, homosexuality, women’s rights, etc. Even individuals of particular sects can’t agree.
Abortion is not specifically mentioned in the Bible, and is not condoned or condemned there, but there is hardly a religion that has not taken a very strong stand on that issue. The Bible doesn’t say anything for/against abortion, but the Christian-Right activists are still using it to justify killing doctors who work in women’s health clinics. The sperm/cell combination is not a child, it is a blastocyst. It has no brain, no heart and not even a nervous system with which to carry pain signals. It is just a collection of cells. Yet, Christians claim that the biblical dictate against killing justifies them using violence to stop this form of family planning, i.e. to actually kill (and thus break an actual commandment) in order to defend these “children”.
What about the morality of treating psychosis with clinical psychology? The biblically moral cure is exorcism. Those unfortunates are theoretically possessed by demons, and religious exorcisms are the only cure. Why are Christians split over that issue? Shouldn’t they be united in demanding that mentally-ill people be subjected to exorcism?
What about human cloning? There is no precedence at all for those in the Bible, yet Christians are split on that subject too; many claiming the moral high-ground, and say that the Bible is the source of their morality on this. Really? Where? If the Bible is the source of all morality, it should have been mentioned there. Did God not know that cloning was in the future?
Now let’s talk about the morals that actually are in the Bible, that no modern Christians actually follow.
Slavery: Before the Civil War, southern preachers used the Bible to justify owning another human as property. They claimed that God repeatedly commanded that slaves be taken, and kept. How could it not be meant for us to do the same? Is God’s word not eternal? What part of the Bible has changed since then to allow current Christians to ignore that example?
Witch hunts: Another biblical dictate is “don’t suffer a witch to live.” It’s also in that source of all morality. Why have we stopped finding and killing witches? What excuses do Christians have for allowing them to roam freely amongst us? Aren’t they afraid? Don’t they care about this biblical moral dictate?
Restricting Women’s rights: Just about every chapter of the Bible, Old and New Testament, demonstrates that women are second-class citizens. They should be silent in church and should not be allowed power, of any kind, over man. According to the Bible they are unclean when they menstruate or give birth, and they are unclean longer if they give birth to a girl. According to Biblical morality, should we not remove women’s right to vote and dictate that they cover up and stay at home? Never mind the constitution, its biblical morality.
Even the much lauded commandment against killing is readily waived in the Bible in cases of Homosexuality, unruly children and non-virgin brides; indeed they are actually commanded to be killed. Why aren’t modern Christians following those morals? They’re in the Bible, isn’t the word of God ever-lasting. What gives?
In the New Testament, Jesus not only taught that we should follow the old laws, but he laid down some pretty serious new ones. But does any Christian use them as moral guides today? No, hardly ever. He wanted his followers to sell all their belongings, and give the money to the poor. When was the last time you actually saw a Christian do that? And if they did, they would become one of the poor themselves. Not much of an improvement. It might work if EVERYONE did that, but I certainly don’t see any major trends in that direction, especially among the religious right.
Jesus also said to love your enemies. Not only is that almost impossible to do, is it really a good moral teaching, or even good advice? If you actually accept and follow that morality, you’ll end up playing the victim most of your life.
The Bible is NOT a good book and most of the morals found there are, at best, barbaric. Anyone who has actually read it knows that God can be a right bastard and his biblical “chosen people” not much better.
An American founding father, Thomas Paine, in his “The Age of Reason”, wrote one of the most scathing attacks on the Bible to date. To quote one passage:
“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize humankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”
Isaac Asimov, says in the Canadian Atheists Newsletter, 1994:
“Imagine the people who believe such things and who are not ashamed to ignore, totally, all the patient findings of thinking minds through all the centuries since the Bible was written. And it is these ignorant people, the most uneducated, the most unimaginative, the most unthinking among us, who would make themselves the guides and leaders of us all; who would force their feeble and childish beliefs on us; who would invade our schools and libraries and homes. I personally resent it bitterly.”
The Bible does give us a very keen insight in the times of the ancient middle-east. It’s a picture of epic adventure, love, grandeur, barbarism, cruelty, and magic. However, the morals depicted there are morals from that particular place and time of human history. It certainly does not represent the type of Bible an omniscient god could be capable of. For an example of a Bible like that, read my article “What the Bible could have said.”
What I’d like to ask Christians is how YOU determine what is valuable and right in the Bible, and ignore those dictates that are abhorrent to you? Can it be that you use a morality that is separate from what you get from the bible? If you’re actually using the Bible as a moral guide, as you say, then everything in the bible would be “Good” and you would condone it all.
Simple human empathy and compassion are better guides to societal fulfillment and individual happiness than all the commandments in the world because they are situational, and allow us to fit our actions to the demands of the moment. Different human situations require different moral solutions. Empathy, compassion and reason will take us into a brighter and much more healthful future than could have ever been imagined by those living 2000 years ago.
One thought on “How atheists can be moral without accepting biblical morals”
Reply to your remarks: First, what are “human values?” You seem to imply that they are rooted in “empathy and compassion.” How do you know this? Also, do you not use circular reasoning, by stating that human values (i.e., empathy and compassion) determine human values?
Second, from where do “human values” come? Did they evolve in society through history? If so, then “human values” are subjective and may change. Perhaps a society “valued” killing Jews. Perhaps a subset of a society “values” killing police officers. Perhaps a society “valued,” or will value again, killing Christians. (You gloss over a multitude of societies that did not value your so-called “human values!” Read ancient, medieval, and modern history!) Thus, if values, or morality, come from society, and since society, now and through the ages, demonstrates varying and even conflicting morality, then your “human values” are subjective, not absolute.
Finally, if morality is based on society, then by what means do you critique the morality of any society? Society One thinks it is moral and right to murder Jews (or Christians or Muslims or police officers, or unborn babies, etc.). Society Two thinks murder is always wrong. By what moral standard may Society Two critique Society One, if morality is based on societal norms?
As an aside, you condemn biblical morality as barbaric. By what standard do you make this condemnation?
Comments: I am prepared to engage in formal debate the following argument.
(1) If the moral code of a person or society may be criticized objectively as morally wrong, then an Absolute Moral Law Giver, which is before and above the provincial, exists.
(2) The moral code of a person or society may be criticized objectively as morally wrong.
(3) Therefore, an Absolute Moral Law Giver must exist.
Now, this argument does not establish that the God of the Bible exists, but it does establish that an Absolute Moral Law Giver, who existed before and who exists above society, does exist. Do you wish to debate this formally?