Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Myriad Moralities of God

I'm sure plenty of you fellow atheists out there get pretty annoyed whenever some fundie claims that we have no basis for our morality. I know my old blog partner feels that way, and I get pretty foamy myself. So, I feel like posting something to hopefully convince the fundies to get the plank out of their own eyes before claiming there's a speck in ours.

The fundie claim usually stems from divine command theory and ignorance of other ethical theories out there. One dilemma I have yet to see a reasonable answer for is the Euthyphro dilemma: Do the commands of the gods define morality, or do the gods command what is already defined as moral? Let's take a look at all the answers I've seen thus far (Please note that this will focus largely on Christian fundies, since I haven't had as much experience with others. I'm sure they've got their own equivalent nastiness):

Possibility #1: God defines and redefines morality whenever he wants.

This is probably one of the worst scenarios: First, many fundies out there interpret this as 'anything goes': They can claim whatever they do is "God's will" and thus, the alleged moral high ground.

One really nasty example I'm aware of: The Christian stance on human sacrifice: First, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, and steps in at the last second to tell him the whole thing was a test of his obedience. Then, in Judges 11:29-39, assuming God is omniscient, goes through a roundabout method of commanding Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. I don't think I need to get into all the nastiness about whole Jesus story. Yet today, most Christians would probably say, without equivocation, that human sacrifice is wrong, relying on apologetics to rationalize away the pro-sacrifice portions of the Bible.

Under this system, the phrase "God is good" is essentially meaningless: "Good" changes according to whatever capricious whims God has. It's also impossible for us mortals to determine good and evil: Without a direct, real time feed from God's mind, we can't know, since he might define not informing us of changes to be good.

Possibility #2: God defined morality only at the beginning of the universe and kept it the same.

If this is the case, there's a lot of explaining to be done:

Possibility #2a: God defined certain things as evil, and chose to do them anyway. God seems like a rather nasty character to me. He isn't afraid to let innocent bystanders get in the way of his personal "glory," dabble in genocide, or promote slavery. Most Christians (I would hope) will not hesitate to call these things evil. This leads me to wonder why they would respect, much less worship, such a being.

Possibility #2b: God defined morality in a consistent manner that allows him to perform all the items in 2a and still be "good."

If this is the case, someone should be able to specify what conditions and circumstances allowed those acts. If it's beyond human comprehension, then morality is a bureaucratic, circumstantial nightmare we can't navigate without a supreme being. The end effect is no different than possibility #1: Anyone can say that God gave them the go ahead, and we can't judge them.

Possibility #3: God defines morality differently for humans and for himself.

Why the double-standard? The general vibe I get from this scenario is that might makes right: God's all-powerful, so he can do whatever he wants. Not much different than 2a, is it?

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Of course, all of the above suffer from the same central problem: What enables God to define morality? What specific characteristics give him that ability, and where'd the relevant rule come from?

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Possibility #4: Morality defines God. For whatever reason, God is inherently constrained by preexisting moral law.

If this is how morality and God work, what's the basis for claiming that atheists have no basis for morality? We just don't believe in the middleman. Of course, the problem with this is that the Biblical God is still a rather nasty character as written, unless someone would like to argue that slavery, human sacrifice, and genocide are morally permissible.

There are probably plenty more possibilities, but I don't currently see any reason to elaborate. I will if someone brings them into relevance.

36 comments:

JanieBelle said...

Very well written, Dog.

Kudos and Kisses

Tom Foss said...

Very nice. The only niggling little issue I have is with "morality defines God;" I'd say "morality is defined independent of God," though it's not a huge distinction.

One of the questions about omnipotence is whether or not God can do something that is logically impossible (create two adjacent mountains without a valley in-between, create a round square, create a burrito so hot that even he can't eat it, etc.). I think most apologetics types will concede that God cannot do the logically impossible, and is therefore constrained by logic.

Since we define (at least basic) morality through logic, it's not much of a stretch to say that God is constrained by logic in terms of moral principles as well.

But yeah, great post.

MarkCC said...

As a weak theist - Reconstructionist Jew to be precise - I'd say the last: that morality is independent of God. And I have no problem with eliminating the middleman - you'll never catch my breed of theist telling you that atheists (or anyone else for that matter) is capable of developing an understanding of right and wrong without any religious framework or belief in the supernatural. In fact, I think we all develop our understanding of right and wrong on our own, whether we're religious or not - no different for a theist than for an atheist, except that an atheist or agnostic is more likely to actually think about how and why they've accepted a particular understanding of morality.

Bronze Dog said...

And that, Mark, is why you're one of the cool theists in my book.

Infophile said...

Most Christians (I would hope) will not hesitate to call these things evil.

Actually, I heard of a study a while back which suggests that this is indeed not the case - provided the Christians involved are told that one of the "good guys" in the Bible committed the act. Basically, the study took two groups of Christians, and told them roughly the same story: Some military leader commands the extermination of some village populated primarily by innocents (read: partial genocide). The difference was in who the military leader was.

When the leader was some person entirely made up, almost everyone in the test group said the act was immoral. When the leader was King David from the Bible, the results were reversed, and most people said it wasn't immoral. If I were in charge, I'd like to go in after the study and ask them the reverse afterwards, just to see how many would actually flip-flop (showing huge cognitive dissonance) and how many would stick to their original answer. Either way, it's pretty clear that most Christians have a selective blind spot for anything in the Bible being wrong or going against their preconceived notions.

Amanda said...

Hmmm. As a Christian, I do actually agree that morality is independent of God. I know plenty of atheist/agnostic folks who have high moral standards. Just as I know plenty of religious/Christian folks who don't.

I do think it's hard to define a religion without morals, but you don't need religion to define morals.

Did that make sense at all?

Bronze Dog said...

Yeah, Amanda, it made sense. :)

Could do some definitional quibbles about what "religion" means, but I think that'd be best for another thread.

Randy Kirk said...

I hope there is room for a fundy to play on this post.

A. No logical person would propose that atheists are incapable of designing, developing, or adhering to a moral system. Most of my atheist friends and many of my friends who are followers of other religions are moral and ethical.

B. Of course there can be a basis for that morality. One problem is that there can be no universal touchstone for that basis. So you will have substantial differences from every other atheist. Objectivism versus Humanism, etc.
And ultimately if I have no universal touchstone, I can develop whatever system I want, and justify it by saying I'm just making sure I create the most genetic material.

C. CS Lewis speaks, I believe, for all Christian fundamentalists, when he stated that there seems to be inborn, inherant, or instinctual moralities in humans.

D. God is God. The questions regarding how he chooses to exercise his morality is kind of amusing. If He is the creator of the universe, and if He is not playing games, then He says He is love. How love plays out is likely to be far beyond our ability to understand.

If there is no God, then the question is mute.

I do believe that God's standards are different than ours, however. As stated extensively over at the God vs No God Debate, I believe that human life on earth is of little consequence to God. Truly not much more consequential than other living things. He is interested in our relationship with Him and in our eternal soul and spirit.

However, as part of His plan for earth, He insists that we have great respect for human life. So that huge difference will play out in many ways, but is not inconsistant at all with eternal purposes.

Rev. BigDumbChimp said...

As stated extensively over at the God vs No God Debate, I believe that human life on earth is of little consequence to God. Truly not much more consequential than other living things. He is interested in our relationship with Him and in our eternal soul and spirit.

However, as part of His plan for earth, He insists that we have great respect for human life. So that huge difference will play out in many ways, but is not inconsistant at all with eternal purposes.


Seems pretty strange to me. God isn't concerned with mass deaths by flood, earthquake or disease (his "creations") but he's worried about how we treat each other?

What a great guy.

xiangtao said...

It's debates like this that are, in my mind anyway, one of the best arguments against the existence of god. In order to justify the atrocities in the world around us while still including the idea of god, we must practice these extreme mental gymnastic maneuvers.

If we put Occam's Razor to use and assume that these horible things happen because there is no supreme being guiding things, we have eliminated all of the tough philosophical questions and the answer is blindingly simple.

Tom Foss said...

Of course there can be a basis for that morality. One problem is that there can be no universal touchstone for that basis. So you will have substantial differences from every other atheist. Objectivism versus Humanism, etc.
And ultimately if I have no universal touchstone, I can develop whatever system I want, and justify it by saying I'm just making sure I create the most genetic material.


Does such a "universal touchstone" for morality exist for Christians? I think most Christians would tell you that it does, but in practice that is simply not the case. On the basics, all people, regardless of religion or lack thereof, with few exceptions, have the same morals. We all believe that it is wrong to kill, to lie, and to steal, because we could not have society without these values. But once you get into greater details, more gray areas, there is greater variation, even within religious traditions. Some Christians believe it is wrong to masturbate, others do not. Some Christians believe it is wrong to have premarital sex, others do not. Some Christians believe that impure thoughts are as bad as the deeds they represent, others do not. Some Muslims believe that it is okay to kill infidels, others believe that killing is never warranted. Some Jews believe that they should not so much as cook on the Sabbath, others do not. All of these groups can find, in their texts, some basis for their beliefs, and most will insist that their justification is right and all others are wrong. Can you honestly say that the Bible offers a universal moral code to its believers? It seems just as subject to debate and variation as any beliefs of humanists and atheists.

C. CS Lewis speaks, I believe, for all Christian fundamentalists, when he stated that there seems to be inborn, inherant, or instinctual moralities in humans.

I believe you would be quite mistaken in asserting that all fundamentalists believe that. In my experience, most fundamentalists believe that humans are inherently flawed, fallen, base, impure, and ultimately evil, and that it is only by God's infinite mercy that some precious few are granted salvation.

How love plays out is likely to be far beyond our ability to understand.

Then how can we call it love? If God's actions are beyond our ken, then how can we assign any word to them and still expect it to have meaning? We know what "love" is here on Earth; if God's "love" is so different and so unknowable, then what justification do we have to call it "love" beyond his say-so?

I do believe that God's standards are different than ours, however. As stated extensively over at the God vs No God Debate, I believe that human life on earth is of little consequence to God. Truly not much more consequential than other living things. He is interested in our relationship with Him and in our eternal soul and spirit.

Human life is of little consequence to God, but he so loved us that he gave his only begotten son, etc. I can see where that may be justification for his preoccupation with our spiritual lives, but then why does he expend so much effort on the Earth? Why split the languages and kill the populace and burn down a city for being nasty and kill all the firstborn children because one group enslaved another. If we are so inconsequential, why does he spend so much time screwing with us?

Izzy said...

Thanks for writing this. Great stuff. I've made a similar argument, and I've concluded that, while personally an atheist, I have no problem with theists who believe in a morality outside of God. They don't have the inherent blinders that inure them to evil action. The problems begin when morality is defined as whatever God says it is, because then real thought goes out the window and we get clinic bombings, honor killings, crusades, etc.

What I like about theists who take the position of an external (to God) morality is that they're then going to have to deal with what that morality is, in the same way atheists have to. That means, at the very least, that they're thinking, and while thinking won't solve all our problems, it's a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

Randy Kirk said...

Let me see if I can clear up a few misconceptions.

1. The definition of a fundamentalist is that they believe the Bible is true from cover to cover and is the inspired, if not actual, word of God.

2. Therefore, it is the interpretation of the Bible that becomes the problem. No fundamentalist Christian believes sex outside of marriage is ok, as this is very clearly and specifically called out in the Bible. Masturbation, however, is not. Therefore there is disagreement based on trying to figure out what God might say if he had said. Also, for many years there was a misinterpretation of a verse regarding the spilling of seed. Not everybody is up to date on better current understanding of that verse, which in no way was a prohibition of masturbation. However, to lust for any purpose, including to masturbate, would clearly be wrong.

Having said that, there is room for interpreation, and that is why in the Story of David, and then in the NT, God makes it clear that we will find the instruction written on our heart. Those who seek to know and understand God by reading His word and praying consistantly, will generally become sustantially better citizens, now and in heaven.

3. I know that it sounds strange to think that God has put us here for a time, and that his intentions for us are quite unusual. He loves us and wants the best for us, but it isn't about the temporal. It is about the eternal. And I believe that any reasonable reading of the entire text will result in one getting a clear understanding of this.

It is also true that the first five books of the Bible strongly talk about the benefits of doing what we are told. In other words, it isn't just the discipline and the obeying that are involved. It is that following the instructions of the maker will result in best use.

4. Justification is not the issue. A logical, timeless, wholistic, game plan for life is the issue. Bad things happen. Some are not explainable. Some are.

5. Humans are flawed and all the things you said. That is what we believe. This is in no way contradictory to the idea that we have built into us an understanding of right and wrong.

6. We know what God intends for us with regard to love by His very clear statements. Love one another and you love yourself (this is NOT the golden rule. Much harder.) Then most of the NT details what it means to practice agape. Selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love is the goal. This is far beyond the concept of don't kill, lie, steal.

7. My greatest concern is with the comments of Izzy. There are plenty of folks who take Bible verses one at time out of context to support their own agenda. No one who reads the Bible from cover-to-cover will believe that Jesus would in any way condone any of the things you mention.

Tom Foss said...

No fundamentalist Christian believes sex outside of marriage is ok, as this is very clearly and specifically called out in the Bible.

Where?

However, to lust for any purpose, including to masturbate, would clearly be wrong.

Define lust.

God makes it clear that we will find the instruction written on our heart.

"Seek not after your own heart and your own eyes." Numbers 15:39.

Those who seek to know and understand God by reading His word and praying consistantly, will generally become sustantially better citizens, now and in heaven.

Sadly, the statistics don't quite bear that out, unless you're making a "No True Scotsman" argument.

It is that following the instructions of the maker will result in best use.

Which instructions? What about when the instructions contradict one another? Should you kill (Deut. 13:6-10), shun (2 Cor. 6:14-17), or love (Mat. 5:44, and others) nonbelieivers?

Justification is not the issue. A logical, timeless, wholistic, game plan for life is the issue. Bad things happen. Some are not explainable. Some are.

Then how can you call it love? If we cannot know any of God's intentions, how can we say that he is acting with love?

If God is held to a different moral standard, then why does he repent?
Exodus 32:14: And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.
1 Sam. 15:35: The Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.
2 Sam. 24:16: The Lord repented of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, it is enough: stay now thine hand.
Jer. 26:19: The Lord repented him of the evil which he had pronounced against them.
Jonah 3:10: God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them.

Humans are flawed and all the things you said. That is what we believe. This is in no way contradictory to the idea that we have built into us an understanding of right and wrong.

It seems to me that it is somewhat contradictory. Furthermore, it seems that it's just a little contradictory with Genesis, where the understanding of right and wrong was a late addition by way of magical fruit, and not an innate, built-in quantity of the human condition.

Then most of the NT details what it means to practice agape. Selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love is the goal. This is far beyond the concept of don't kill, lie, steal.

Unfortunately, that message is far from uniform through the NT, and is certainly filled with caveats. Love everyone, except nonbelievers, homosexuals, those who blaspheme against the Holy Ghost, people who disagree with Paul, etc.

There are plenty of folks who take Bible verses one at time out of context to support their own agenda. No one who reads the Bible from cover-to-cover will believe that Jesus would in any way condone any of the things you mention.

A borderline scotsman, there. First, there is no Christian alive who keeps all the laws of the Bible. Not only are there laws that contradict other laws, but it simply isn't possible to live in modern society and avoid menstruating women. It's excessively difficult to not wear two different types of fabric. Every Christian picks and chooses, whether personally or due to a church doctrine, what rules they think are important enough to follow and enforce. These differences in priority are the source for many of the various schisms and differences between denominations and synods and whatnot.

Personally, I think Jesus was a great guy. I think Paul was a douchebag, and I think Jesus probably didn't say all the things that are attributed to him, but I'm also not going to look to him for justification for anything. However, for every "love thy neighbor as thyself" there's a "He that is not with me is against me." It's not hard to find justification for any act, from any major Biblical figure, even if you have read the whole Bible. You may see a unifying message of love and tolerance, others see a unifying message of 'people of different beliefs should be shunned/killed.'

Tom Foss said...

I guess what I was trying to get at is that everyone follows their preferred doctrine selectively, and nearly everyone thinks that their interpretation is "closer" or "more valid" or "more comprehensive" than everyone else's. What any literature major worth his or her salt will tell you is that a person's interpretation of a literary text, Bible included, is influenced by their experiences, their beliefs, and other facets of their personality. Every reading is individual and pretty much equally valid.

Randy Kirk said...

With the five minutes I have avalable right now, I will only respond to a couple of things.

"Pretty much equally valid." That is the only thing in the last comment that I disagree with.

He that is not with me is against me is in no way contradictory with loving that person who is against you. It only tells of the other persons state of mind.

God changing his mind is one of the most interesting aspect of his character. Once again, it is hard to imagine how one who is omniscient would ever need to do so. However, it would appear that he either truly has this character or he wishes to teach humans through the example. This element is on the short list of things I want to ask of Him when I meet Him.

Christian are absolutely called upon to love non-believers and homosexuals. We are even called to love those who spitefully use us. Those who don't extend their unconditional love to drunks, prostitutes, drug addicts, murderers, etc., are not practicing Christianity. Jesus loved the woman at the well and tax collectors.

Tom Foss said...

"Pretty much equally valid." That is the only thing in the last comment that I disagree with.

As would most people who think that they have the "correct" reading of the Bible. I have no doubt that you've read the whole thing, and that in it you find various overarching messages of love and hope and tolerance. I would hope that that's the message that anyone would get from their preferred holy book. And when it comes right down to it, your interpretation is a lot more positive than some I've seen.

But you can't just whitewash the bad stuff, either. Jesus said "love thy enemy" but he also said "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." He said "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace," but he also said "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword."

There are plenty of overarching messages in the Bible, but to believe any one of them, you have to disregard or bend over backward to justify other parts. And if you talk to a "militant" Christian, someone who claims that God has commanded them to smite in his holy name, you're going to find that they often know the Bible just as well as you, and have specific justifications for every one of their beliefs. They'll be able to cite an overarching message and support it with chapter and verse, and anyone would find it hard-pressed to argue with them.

Ultimately, everyone finds in the Bible what they want to find, and to a degree the same is true for any text. You can argue that one reading is more valid than others, but it all comes down to personal opinion and personal interpretation.

Randy Kirk said...

Interpretation is certainly personal, but there are just some things that just don't make sense except out of context or if you have a brain tumor.

So, when Jesus says you need to love Him more than mother and father, this is a hard saying, but crystal clear in its interpretion. To the extent that you beieve that God exists, He would be the obvious #1 person to love, worship, listen to, etc. You would want to know that person more than your wife, kids, anyone.

The coming as a sword issue is also not difficult. Jesus came with a message so difficult that it can feel like a sword in the heart when we are "convicted" of our sin by the Holy Spirit.

But there is an actual sword, too. Justice is coming at the end of time. But justice is "mine" says the Lord. It is clearly not for Christians to inflict justice on others, except as part of a body politic. Our voice should be one of many deciding how civil government, including justice, should be administered. But this has nothing to do with an individual or group of Christians judging non-christians or executing any type of punishment. That is not ok, and would be impossible to interpret out of the Bible. Even in the OT, when Israel took justice into their own hands without God's leading, they were severely punished.

Randy Kirk said...

Lust: Looking upon another person, or any other act with a person not your spouse, for the purpose of entertaining or imagining some kind of sexual act with them.

Where we draw the line is the hard part. Is the appreciation of a beautiful body without any feelings of desire for more with that person lust. I don't think so. Others might. Could doing a lot of such viewing entice you into wanting more? Undoubtedly.

Randy Kirk said...

Numbers 15:39. OT. This was the major change that Christ brought.

Better Citizens. Please. Almost every atheist I talk to is glad this is a Christian based nation. Some argue it, but lamely.

Adultry and fornication. It seems, TOm, that you have a serious knowledge of the Bible. You want me to list verses regarding these two?

Akusai said...

Almost every atheist I talk to is glad this is a Christian based nation.

What? Huh?

Surely you're just making this up. This is wrong on so many levels.

Tom Foss said...

there are just some things that just don't make sense except out of context or if you have a brain tumor.
...
The coming as a sword issue is also not difficult. Jesus came with a message so difficult that it can feel like a sword in the heart when we are "convicted" of our sin by the Holy Spirit.


See, the thing is, I'm looking at the "bring a sword" quotation, in context, both in Matthew and Luke, and it sure looks like he's saying that he has come to bring division and conflict (the former is explicit in Luke), and that if you don't love Jesus enough to abandon your family (including your wife, who is essentially supposed to be part of you, who you are not allowed to divorce unless she commits adultery), then you aren't worthy of following him. There's nothing about sin or the Holy Spirit in there, but a fairly literal symbol of the sword as a source of division. I'm looking at another chapter of Luke, echoing a similar sentiment, saying "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children,and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

Are you saying that this makes more sense out of context?

That is not ok, and would be impossible to interpret out of the Bible. Even in the OT, when Israel took justice into their own hands without God's leading, they were severely punished.

Except that God lays down some pretty specific laws and the requisite punishments in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and Jesus says (sometimes) that all those laws still hold. Despite Jesus's famous statement about judging (which I thought was pretty rock-solid), Paul says "he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man."

Incidentally, Paul directly contradicts quite a lot of the things Jesus said, and I've noticed that ultra-conservative Christians tend to quote more from the Pauline books than from the gospels. I haven't yet gotten a straight answer to "who do you worship, Paul of Tarsus or Jesus of Nazareth?"

Numbers 15:39. OT. This was the major change that Christ brought.

So how much of the OT is still valid after Christ's new covenant? Christ's "Ten" Commandments (six, one of which wasn't in the original list) omit the more religious values, but he also says "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven." The question of whether or not the OT laws still apply, or which ones apply, or to what degree they apply, is one of those gigantic dividing factors between denominations and interpretations. I'd love to say "throw the whole damn OT out, except maybe some of the better Psalms," but I'm not a Christian.

Better Citizens. Please. Almost every atheist I talk to is glad this is a Christian based nation. Some argue it, but lamely.

This is most decidedly not a Christian-based nation. Madison, Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin were Deists; the rebellion was spurred by Thomas Paine, an atheist, and the whole lot of them did everything in their power to keep the church out of governmental proceedings. Not only did all of the men involved with the writing of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the other founding documents of our nation also publicly and privately enumerate the belief that there needed to be a wall of separation between church and state, but the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797, approved by President John Adams and ratified by a Senate under the direction of VP Thomas Jefferson, which included future President Andrew Jackson, says quite plainly "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." Two hundred years of Constitutional law back up this basic fact of the American way of life, and the only "lame" thing here is the way the religious right tries to rewrite the history of the beliefs of the founders and their intentions in drafting the Bill of Rights.

Adultry and fornication. It seems, TOm, that you have a serious knowledge of the Bible. You want me to list verses regarding these two?

Adultery, despite Jesus's odd redefinition, means "sleeping with someone other than your spouse," and is by definition something that you can only do after you are married. Fornication is barely mentioned in the Gospels, and is never forbidden outright or before marriage by Jesus. There is no "Thou shalt not bump uglies with a woman who is not thy wife." In all the laws of Leviticus, where explicit instructions are given as to whose nakedness you can and cannot uncover, and what you should do with people who sleep with animals, and the proper protocol for dealing with semen-stained clothes, never does it say "thou shalt not go in unto a woman unless there be a band of marriage upon thy finger." If your brother dies, then you are required by God to have sex with your sister-in-law, or she can spit in your face (and God might kill you, like he did Onan).

In fact, in the entire Bible, it seems the only people who have a problem with fornication are Paul and Luke, mostly Paul. You'd think if it were so vitally important, maybe Jesus would have said something about it himself. You'd think if it were so vital, God would have set it down in the OT. But all we have to go on are the writings of Luke, and of Paul. Paul, who also tells us not to company with fornicators or the covetous or the drunkards (sounds very Christlike). Paul, who says that thieves and the effeminate will not go to Heaven (even though there is neither male nore female, for all are one in Christ Jesus). Paul, who says that it would be best if everyone were celibate (so much for "be fruitful and multiply), but since people can't control themselves, marriage is the next best option.

Out of all the Bible, only Paul forbids fornication. And even then, it's a sin which can be repented, and it's frequently mentioned with sins that few pay attention to (do you abstain from blood?), or with doctrines that directly contradict other Biblical passages (Jesus sure seems to think that marriage is pretty keen in Mat. 19:5-6, certainly not a regrettable decision made to prevent fornication). Who do we believe? Why is it that only one Biblical author has a substantial problem with sex?

Randy Kirk said...

As you can see, I love to debate, and I'm enjoying this one, but I'm not 100% sure I have the time or inclination to go off on so many rabbit trails. Much of what you have stated in your last reponse is covered in so much depth by guys like Josh McDowell and other apologists.

However, a few thoughts. I didn't see your earlier request that I declare whom I worship. I worship the tripart God and Him only. Paul was an incredible man, in my opinion, who provides inspiration to many. His writings are inspired, at least, by God. That's all.

There will be division as a result of some coming to Christ, and that is inevitable. My group of friends changed when I came back to the church. Fortunately, every member of my family is a believer. But if my father had not been, and he had said that to the extent that I was going to be a believer, he would no longer consider me his son, I would have been divided from him. Not by my choice.

Christian nation. I'm sorry, but I think we both know what I mean and what you mean. Franklin called for all meetings to start with prayer. Jefferson created his own Bible. The common law and property laws are all based on Biblical principles. The concept of intent, and on and on.

No we are not a theocracy. Thank God. Heh heh. But our cultural underpinnings, our legal system, and our concept of democracy all find at least part of their underpinnings in the Bible.

Do we have to debate this?

Adultry. Jesus and the woman at the well. Go and sin no more. Hmmmm.

Akusai said...

Franklin called for all meetings to start with prayer.

So? He also suggested that the national bird be the turkey.

Jefferson created his own Bible.

So this has been co-opted by fundamentalists now as an argument for Jefferson's Christianity? You do know why he wrote the Jefferson Bible and what it contained, right? He wrote it because he thought that the supernaturalism of the gospels was a bunch of hooey and that Jesus was simply a man with a great set of moral teachings. From his letter to Dr. benjamin Rush, the oft-quoted "I am a Christian" continues: "I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be: sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others, ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other."

The Jefferson Bible was a version of the New Testament with all of the miracles and references to Jesus as the son of god cut out, leaving only the man's moral teachings. No trinity, no virgin birth, and most importantly, no ressurection. Citing the Jefferson Bible does not help your case.

Moreover, the religions of the founding fathers, such as they were, are irrelevant. Their personal beliefs do not a Christian Nation make.

The common law and property laws are all based on Biblical principles.

Since when? Common law is only based on Biblical principles as far as the British governmental system is based on Christian principles which, it bears pointing out, has always been claimed as the case thanks to that greatest of Biblical principles: the Divine Right of Kings. Every nation in the West at the time of the Revolution claimed to be working on Biblical principles. America was totally different because it was founded on Enlightenment principles. Property laws are based on the economic philosophy of John Locke, who, while a Christian himself, was informed by previous philosophical work on social contracts and private ownership as the proper means to a civilized society. If we were to follow Jesus' economic principles as laid out in the NT, we would most likely all be itinerant beggars, because we gave all of our property away to love and serve God. Jesus' "economic theory" is about as far removed as you can get from free market capitalism with private, voluntary ownership and trade.

We already know that you read your Bible rather selectively to reinforce your own preconceived notions, so of course you'll probably just say "The Divine Right of Kings isn't a TRUE Biblical principle." What I see you doing is the rather common Christian practice of co-opting everything that is seen by modern society as "good" and claiming it as a "Biblical principle."

The concept of intent, and on and on.

By this I assume that you mean that an intended murder is a more severe crime than an unintended murder, and so with other infractions. If I am incorrect here, let me know. If this is what you mean, I hardly see how this is a Biblical principle. Let's look at your claims about "lust." As a human male, I find it almost impossible to look at a pretty lady and feel some desire, however weak, to engage myself physically with her. I say "engage myself physically" because it's not always "I want to have sex with her," but it's all down to physical drives and what you would term as "lust." I can appreciate the beauty, as you say, of women in classical art, but attractive women in real life cause in me (and, dare I say, most all of maledom) lust. We're just wired that way. You can say that it's the sexualization of society, but find me a society that wasn't obsessed with sex. Victorian England, for all its pomp and circumstance, was about as sexualized as they come, arguably because of the constant "propriety" and restrictive social norms.

So, to the point, I see a pretty woman (let's say, for the sake of argument, my neighbor's wife) and a lusty thought comes to my head unbidden because that's how we're built. Remember, it just popped in there with no impetus from my conscious mind. Would God be more lenient because it wasn't intentional? "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s." Break the commandment, get punished. No requirement of intent. I'm not familiar with anything in the Bible that separates intentional sin from unintentional sin. If there is, and I am wrong, please quote the relevant passage.

As for your original claim that "Almost every atheist I talk to is glad this is a Christian based nation," I suspect that this is a disinginuous statement. I suspect that your claim is based on the fact that most of the atheists you talk to are very happy with the principles on which our nation was founded, which are, to wit, individual freedom and rights to life, liberty and property. You then say to yourself, "Well, those principles are Biblical, therefore most atheists are happy that we're a Christian Nation." Wrong. We are happy with the principles on which the nation was founded, not your ad hoc addition of Christian intent. As I said before, you were wrong on so many levels.

Randy Kirk said...

Intent. You are absolutely correct. To the extent that you look upon another woman and a lusty thought comes into your mind unintentionally, you have not sinned. To the extent that you now own that lusty thought, then the line is crossed. If you now take action . . .

The concept of intent is a Biblical concept from the first page to the last. I suppose the most clear example is the cities of refuge, where those who killed someone could run to await a decision as to whether they had murdered or merely accidentally killed.

The concept of property was established at the time of the Jews entering the Promised Land for the first time. The land was surveyed and given to the tribes and then the families. Methods of inheritance were established. Property rights were established.

Then there is the concept of jubilee, where bankruptcy was created.

Prior to KINGS, the people had judges. This was democracy at its finest. But the people (early humanists ((heh heh)) demanded to have kings since they thought it looked like a better approach. God tried to talk them out of it, but finally said "have it your way" so to speak.

The early church established a democratic approach to governance with the local church being dominant. The Catholics eventually perverted this, but he protestants, especially the current fundamentalists have returned to this form.

I know all about the Jefferson Bible. And I agree that the fact of the founders being Christian or not has little to do with whether this country is a Christian nation or founded on Christian principles.

But, there writings, and not just Jeffersons, show over and over again that this was the case. The writings and speeches of our leaders and judges consistently showed this to be the case.

And then there is that most famous idea of all in the Declaration of Independence. Something about self-evidency.

Tom Foss said...

However, a few thoughts. I didn't see your earlier request that I declare whom I worship. I worship the tripart God and Him only. Paul was an incredible man, in my opinion, who provides inspiration to many. His writings are inspired, at least, by God. That's all.

I realized later last night that my comment might be misconstrued. I hadn't actually asked it of you, as (with the exception of the matter of fornication) you've made it pretty clear with whom you'd side. However, I have asked the question directly of quite a few fundamentalists (particularly the ones whose supportive quotations come mostly from Romans and its successors), and I haven't ever received a straight answer. I may not have been much of a Christian, but I'd think that if I were given words "directly" from Christ, and words from a man who only claimed to meet him in a vision, I'd pick the lynchpin of the faith as opposed to one scribe of many.

Then again, I grew up in a church with a whole book or two (or more) written by men who only claimed to have met Christ in dreams (or angels, or something), so it's not entirely foreign.

Christian nation. I'm sorry, but I think we both know what I mean and what you mean. Franklin called for all meetings to start with prayer. Jefferson created his own Bible. The common law and property laws are all based on Biblical principles. The concept of intent, and on and on.

Franklin also thought that Jesus was just a great philosopher, right up there with Plato. Deists can still pray, they still believe in a god, just nothing that Christians would recognize as their own. For the deist, God and the Universe are one and the same.
Jefferson did indeed write his own Bible, one which omitted all the miracles and supernatural elements. One in which Jesus was a man and God, again, was impersonal.
The common law and property laws come out of pre-Christian Germanic tribes and Rome, the same sources which influenced the earliest 'British' legal system, which later justified the laws Biblically and influenced our own. The concept of intent is Platonic, and was codified in Roman law long before the era of Constantine.

Moreover, if we go by Christ (sometimes), then the thought is as good as the deed, and we should jail a man equally for murder or for anger. That certainly isn't how intent works in this country, in Rome, or in any other country to my knowledge. It's not even Mosaic "eye for an eye" law, which by comparison is not only fairer, but more lenient.
The legal doctrine of intent draws the distinction between accidental and intentional crimes, suggesting that there should be a difference in severity of punishment. I can't see that anywhere in the Bible. Nowhere is it mentioned that there is a reduced Hell sentence for accidental murder.

But our cultural underpinnings, our legal system, and our concept of democracy all find at least part of their underpinnings in the Bible.

Democracy? In the Bible? Surely you jest. The concept of Democracy, even the very word, comes out of clasical Greece, of the Athenian democracy, and long before the era of Christ or the translation of the Torah into Greek.

Certainly our cultural underpinnings are Christian, a fact that no one will rightly dispute. But our government is secular, our prominent founders were largely Deist, and our government owes far more to classical Greece and pre-Constantine Rome than to Levitican law. This is a "Christian nation" only inasmuch as it is a "white nation" and a "male nation," in that it is the category of the majority. It has little at all to do with the foundations of the country.

But Akusai deals with this better than I.

Do we have to debate this?

Only so long as you demonstrate such a profound lack of knowledge of history.

Adultry. Jesus and the woman at the well. Go and sin no more. Hmmmm.

And Adultery is prohibited in one of the Ten Commandments (and one of the five which Jesus is able to recite). But adultery is the act of cheating on your spouse, not premarital sex. Show me where Jesus forbids premarital sex.

Incidentally Jesus says the same thing to a cripple, after healing him, as though disability is punishment for sin.

I too enjoy debate, and I'm enjoying this one, so I don't want it to seem like there's any hostility.

Tom Foss said...

The concept of property was established at the time of the Jews entering the Promised Land for the first time.

The concept of property is as old as society. Ownership was not invented by the Jews.

Prior to KINGS, the people had judges. This was democracy at its finest. But the people (early humanists ((heh heh)) demanded to have kings since they thought it looked like a better approach. God tried to talk them out of it, but finally said "have it your way" so to speak.

And in the meantime, democracy--the very democracy that would influence every one thereafter, flourished in Athens, apparently out of Jehovah's field of vision. Democracy, I might add, which emerged after 900 years of rule by kings and dictators.
Were the Egyptians "early humanists"? They had god-kings, placed in their position by divine right. There is history outside of the Bible.

The early church established a democratic approach to governance with the local church being dominant.

Even so, even if we say that the early Christian church was established at the moment of Christ's resurrection, it was still over five hundred years after the establishment of Athenian democracy, the source cited by most of the Founders when designing our government.

I know all about the Jefferson Bible.

Strange, then, that you would use it to support your case for a Christian government.

But, there writings, and not just Jeffersons, show over and over again that this was the case. The writings and speeches of our leaders and judges consistently showed this to be the case.

Which writings? The one which says "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion" (Treaty of Tripoli) or the one which says "all persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution" (Jefferson, the Virginia Constitution)? Or how about "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state" (Jefferson, letter to Baptists), or "Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them, and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does this not involve the principle of a national establishment ... ?" (Madison, on the appointment of Congressional chaplains 16 years before the adoption of the 1st Amendment) or "And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together" (Madison, letter to Livingston) or "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses" (Adams, 1787)? What about the speeches and writings of Washington, which not only never mention Christ, but rarely mention God, and instead talk about "Providence"?

No, the only way to claim that the United States was founded on Christian principles is to co-opt the secular principles as Christian (as you keep doing with the concept of democracy) and to ignore completely everything that the authors of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence, as well as the early presidents and important figures of the time, had to say about the founding of this government and their beliefs regarding religion and its place in the state.

And then there is that most famous idea of all in the Declaration of Independence. Something about self-evidency.

And there's the fact that, as a departure from most similar texts of the time, Jefferson never mentions God or Christ in the text. For a Deist who made his position on matters of church and state very explicitly clear, who wrote all the supernatural elements out of the Bible, to talk about "Nature's God" as the "Creator" of man, is about as far as one can get from Christianity while still using the word "god." Once again, Jefferson was a Deist, who believed that "god" and "the universe" were the same thing. He's not talking about the triune godhead any more than Einstein was when he said he believed in Spinoza's god.

See, that's the problem with trying to use Jefferson's writings to support the idea of a Christian nation; his personal beliefs and other writings simply do not support such a claim. Of course, the same can be said for nearly all of the founders, but especially with Jefferson.

xiangtao said...

Then again, I grew up in a church with a whole book or two (or more) written by men who only claimed to have met Christ in dreams (or angels, or something), so it's not entirely foreign.

Tom, you grew up mormon?

Randy Kirk said...

I am going to bow out of this line of argument. There are entire books written on the subject that just don't support your POV. You cannot support that most of the founders were not Christians or were Deists. You cannot support that their was property ownership before the Jews, or any type of governance that included intention. Then you would have to look at the writings and speeches of Lincoln and every other POTUS, 1000's of judges, legislators since the founding, and somehow not see what the undercurrent of our system was. You'd have to be looking for what you wanted to see.

Tom Foss said...

Tom, you grew up mormon?

Oh no, but close enough to spit. I grew up in the church formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (now "Community of Christ," much less of a mouthful and no less nutty), who (if my mom is any indication) hate the Mormons with a passion. The CoC claims that the Mormons broke off of them, and that all the crazy nutty polygamy stuff was invented by Brigham Young, who also spread nasty, dirty lies about Joseph Smith.

Needless to say, official church history contradicts official history history quite a bit, and that was one of the things that led to my deconversion.

The book I got at confirmation includes the Smith version of the Bible, the BoM, and the Doctrine & Covenant, but I can't say much more than that because I honestly don't think I've ever opened it, except to read the inscription.

I'm not sure where the differences in beliefs are between the two, or even really between the CoC and mainstream Christianity. I got a pretty standard (if light) protestant education, with few exceptions and additions. I had the concept of the Trinity explained to me at by a Baptist a party as a Senior in High School (we had all three, just not the "in one" part), and I got the whole golden plates/breastplate/magical translator stones spiel at some point as a kid. But other than that, no funky underwear, no weird doctrines on caffeine and alcohol, no door-to-door preaching...my mom's pretty anti-divorce, but I don't think it's for church reasons.

I think if you consider LDS to be Catholicism, I grew up Episcopal.

Tom Foss said...

There are entire books written on the subject that just don't support your POV.

And yet, all the direct evidence does support this "POV."

You cannot support that most of the founders were not Christians or were Deists.

Oh, certainly most of the founders were Christians. Especially if we define founders as "people who signed the Declaration of Independence" or "people who attended the Second Continental Cognress." But the men who wrote the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and most of the Federalist papers, at least three of the first four Presidents, were Deists, and John Adams (who I believe was a Christian, albeit with some unorthodox views) signed off on the document which said that the United States was not in any way based on the Christian religion.

You cannot support that their was property ownership before the Jews

Yes, we can, and the very premise that we can't is patently absurd. Perhaps I misunderstand what you mean by property ownership.

or any type of governance that included intention.

No, intention is pretty clearly expressed in Plato's writings. Furthermore, Encyclopedia Britannica notes how Roman law (in place since 753 BCE) drew the distinction between dolus (intentional damage), and culpa (unintentional damage). Other sources say there was a third distinction, casus, for accidents. Apparently there is some dispute as to whether the Romans invented this, or if they stole it from the Greeks.

So, no, it is not the least bit impossible to show that intention did not originate with the Bible. Even if the Jews were doing it at the same time, there's simply no way to explain how or why the Romans would base their law on a religion they didn't follow, being practiced and transmitted by word of mouth in a land that they wouldn't conquer for centuries.

Then you would have to look at the writings and speeches of Lincoln and every other POTUS, 1000's of judges, legislators since the founding, and somehow not see what the undercurrent of our system was. You'd have to be looking for what you wanted to see.

No, in fact, the only way to find an undercurrent of Christianity in the foundations of the government is to equivocate the beliefs of individuals with the beliefs of the government, and to completely ignore everything the Founders said about the role of religion. Yes, pretty much every President has been a Christian of one sort or another. But it makes as much sense to say "we are a Christian nation because our Presidents have been Christians (except those first few)" as it does to say "IT is a Hindu profession because all the tech support guys I talk to are Hindu."

No, when you look at the writings of the Founders, the Treaty of Tripoli, and every piece of Constitutional law from "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" to Reynolds v. United States to Murray v. Curlett to Edwards v. Aguillard supports the "wall of separation" between church and state. And ne'er the twain shall meet.

Now, there's a doctrine that you can trace back to the Bible, Matthew 22:21, to be exact: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

But when you take off the Christ-colored lenses and read the writings of the Founders, and read the popular literature at the time, you'll find that John Locke and John Stuart Mill were far more influential to the laws of the fledgling United States than Jesus Christ.

Akusai said...

You cannot support that their was property ownership before the Jews...

All I'm going to say here is that even if this were correct, Jews owning property is not the same as modern property law.

Joseph Smith used a pair of shiny discs to get the information on which he founded the Mormon Church. Does this mean that the idea of CDs started with the first Mormons?

poppies said...

I've never understood why people think the Euthyphro Dilemma is so hard for theists to answer, I feel like it's pretty easy.

Maybe I'm missing something; I invite people to the link below to comment on where I'm going wrong:

http://digitalreason.wordpress.com/2007/02/17/the-problem-of-evil-a-conversation/

Bronze Dog said...

It's not about theists being unable to answer it: It's about Divine Command Theorists being unable to answer it.

Skimmed your link very briefly, and it looks like you're of the 'morality defines God' type, so you're not a DCT.

Anonymous said...

I have a very big story to tell. No one believes me yet. God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost talked to me in a series of dreams. This is the message told in the dream as written in Revelation about the meaning of First is Last and Last is First. God told me this: In the morning I go to Heaven. In the afternoon I live my life. In the evening I die, death. The meaning of this is that Birth is Last and Last is Birth in Heaven. Or First is Last. If you would like to do something for God, pass this message along. Your reward for doing this will be in Heaven. (Cut and Paste this entire message, including my name.) Thank you for letting me write on your site. Melanie Stephan, possible Angel of God?

Bronze Dog said...

The above is obviously off-topic, but I think I may leave it in, just because I don't quite get that particular flavor of crazy very often.