Thursday, April 09, 2009

Post-Bible Morality

On my previous post of the Catholic Church's insistence that birth control undermines marriage and love, a commenter suggested that Jesus' supposed ban on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality was a "lie" created by the Roman church. But this really gets us into deeper territory: It really doesn't matter what Jesus said. All that matters is why he said what he said.

Because morality can't be based upon the whims of our Creator. To suggest that God, Jesus, or the bible dictate our morality to us is an absurdity. "Because I said so" isn't a rational basis for an ethical system, no matter how important you are. If anything, the bible points us in the direction of the "true" morality, but all the same, there must be an independent basis for this morality, which must be discoverable outside of the bible.

But of course, that's what everyone does anyway. For as much as people insist that they're obeying the tenets of their religion, the reality is that the bible is quite short in the explanation department. After all, the bible wasn't meant to be an ethical code; not in the sense we think of it, anyway. It contains historical books. It contains books of origins. And as we all know, it contains books of laws. But it's not really a book of morality. Using it to determine an ethical system would be like aliens reading the Internal Revenue Code to determine our ethical system. It just wasn't meant to serve that purpose. Leviticus was a legal document, not a philosophy.

What Jesus Did

And ever since it was put in written form and considered "final," it has only become less and less relevant to its readers. But again, it wasn't meant to be the all-knowing philosophical text many adherents use it as, and it certainly isn't the legal document it once was. And for as much as people can gain great meaning from it, it's nothing more than the meaning they put in it. After all, how could one recognize the truths in the bible as being "truths" unless you had a basis outside of the text?

And it's that outside basis which is the real guide here. If anything, the bible can be confirmation of your moral beliefs, but it cannot be the basis. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that Christianity is nothing more than a baseless circular argument. It's right because it's right; and that's simply not a rational argument. If there is a god and he/she/it is good, then there must be some better basis than Creator=good. I mean, what if it turned out we were really created by an alien race? Would we be compelled to obey their every whim merely out of gratitude? Certainly not.

Yet, even if you read the "good" parts of the bible; ie, the stuff Jesus actually said, it really isn't much better than this. He told parables about how we get into Heaven and why we should have faith in God. But that's not morality. I mean, telling your son that you'll give him five bucks to clean up his room isn't a lesson in morality. It's a business proposition, and could indicate that he's not very moral. Similarly, I find the whole issue of the Heavenly reward to be a bit distasteful as far as moral reasoning goes. I mean, how can pure selfishness possibly be the basis for moral behavior? (Don't answer, Ayn Rand.)

And sure, Jesus told us to treat others well, but no one can seriously argue he was the first person to have figured that one out. For as much as many Christians act as if Jesus discovered kindness, even Western philosophy extends many centuries before Jesus' birth. Plato would scoff at anyone who imagined that Jesus was imparting some unheard of knowledge with his Do Unto Others material. That was the starting point of his discussions; not the end. By comparison, Jesus' moral lessons were kid's stuff.

Moral Free-for-All

And once you remove the parts of the New Testament which establish Jesus' credentials, tell Jesus' story, and explain the Heavenly reward and how to get it; you're really not left with much. And that's not to mention all the other parts of the bible, many of which sure seem to contradict other parts in the bible.

And sure, we can use our judgment to determine how this all might fit together, but that judgment is external to the bible. It came from us and there really isn't too much agreement about the details of any of it. And hey, if that's what we're doing anyway, why bother with the bible? If you're interested in the Heavenly reward stuff and want to learn more on how to obtain it, use the bible. But if you're trying to uncover the underlying basis for why you think your god wants you to do something, you've got to go elsewhere to find it.

And once you acknowledge that, then you're in the same boat as the rest of us. We're all struggling to figure out the best way to live our lives. The only difference is that some people imagine they've already been given the answers and don't need to go beyond what they were taught. And rather than struggling to live a moral life, they're rationalizing how to make their preferred actions seem moral. They insert their hatreds, bigotries, and biases into the bible in order to justify their immorality. And dammit, it's four in the morning and I'm too tired to figure out some wizened wrap-up to all this; so this is the best you get.


Anonymous said...

But this really gets us into deeper territory: It really doesn't matter what Jesus said. All that matters is why he said what he said.

You're arguing that it doesn't matter if it's true that he said something, only why it is true that he said it?

That's plainly incoherent. And he didn't say it, or anything like it, or anything suggesting that he would ever agree with it.

I don't care what you believe, or why you believe it, but if you told people that I said something I didn't say, knowing I never said it and having no reason to believe I did, I'd call you a liar.

Anonymous said...

If you still don't get it, please explain why you said it is okay to beat your wife.

Faded said...

Because that bitch talks too much. oh,wait, did I get sidetracked again...?

Wizened Wrap-up Recap:
"The only difference is that some people imagine they've already been given the answers and don't need to go beyond what they were taught. And rather than struggling to live a moral life, they're rationalizing how to make their preferred actions seem moral. They insert their hatreds, bigotries, and biases into the bible in order to justify their immorality."

Ladies and Gentlemen, HE is Risen!

Doctor Biobrain said...

Mahakal - The only reason you think this is incoherent is because you imagine I made an argument I didn't make. I wasn't referring to the truthfulness of Jesus' claims at all, and was only referring to the things that he DID say. And frankly, I didn't think you were going to disagree with anything I wrote here. This shouldn't even be controversial to someone like you. A strict fundamentalist might disagree with me, but you shouldn't have. Most of what I wrote is standard issue for intelligent religious people.

The point is: Is something true BECAUSE Jesus said it? Or did Jesus say it because it was true? Should we love one another BECAUSE Jesus told us to? Or did Jesus tell us to love one another because it's the right thing to do? And I'm quite sure you agree with me on this: Jesus didn't invent these things. He's merely guiding us in the right direction. And again, that's pretty standard belief for many intelligent Christians. It just sounds a little different when it comes from me.

I think your problem here is that you mistakenly thought this post was meant to refute something you said. It wasn't. I just used your comment as a stepping stone for a different point. But to tie this back to the previous argument, if Jesus said that homosexuality was wrong, then he was wrong. I'm not saying he said that, I'm just speaking hypothetically here. That'a a big part of my point here. The other part is that Jesus really didn't say very much that hadn't already been said by folks before him. Reading the New Testament might be interesting, but it doesn't contain many lessons in morality.

And just so you know, I got busy again, which is why I didn't respond earlier. I'm not trying to duck you or anything. I was a bit surprised to see your harsh tone in response. Of course, the point of my post was that we don't need religion to learn morality, and you might disagree with that. But most of this post is really quite uncontrovesial.

Anonymous said...

I think your premise that Jesus was just some guy who had opinions which you can agree with or disagree with is fundamentally unsound, however. That isn't to say that you are required to believe, but if you understand who and what he was then his words carry more weight than mere opinions.

To put it another way, one who knows and speaks from knowledge should be regarded as more than an ignorant commenter.

What he said isn't true because he said it, what he said is true because he perceived it directly.

Doctor Biobrain said...

I never said any of that. I fully admit that Jesus might be the Son of God or God himself or whatever else folks say he is. But that makes no difference. Nor does it matter if God himself came to me personally and said it to me. They're not "true" because he said it. If anything, he said it because they're true.

And no, his words DON'T carry more weight. That's a logical fallacy. Argumentum ad verecundiam is no good, even if it comes from God. Again, my point is that God didn't create morality. I could write more about that, or you could just re-read my post, as I'd just be repeating myself. This has nothing to do with belief in God. This is just rational thought. Seriously, if God came to you and told you to kill children, would it be moral? I say no, it isn't. God can't change the rules of morality any more than I can. I suspect that you think the same thing.

Again, you really need to get out of this idea that I'm anti-religious. I'm not. I'm not a strict atheist. I'm agnostic. I'm agnostic. I'm agnostic. How many times do I need to write that? I fully admit that there might be a God as you describe. I just don't have the evidence required to believe in any of that, that's all. What's so difficult to understand about that?

And hey, if you want a different argument, how about this one: What is it that Jesus said that was so great? As I keep saying, besides the Heaven stuff, he really didn't say much about morality that hadn't been said by people before him...and better. Jesus might be the Son of God, but he really wasn't that great of a philosopher.

Anonymous said...

You don't actually have any apparent clue what you're talking about. You think that Jesus talked about morality, but that isn't right. He said to treat your neighbor as yourself because he understood that your neighbor is yourself. When you see that we are all one, that God dwells within each of us as our Self, that we are individuated expressions of that singular consciousness, then you understand that he was only making observations.

Now anyone can make observations, but only those who are able and willing to observe first can do so sensibly. Because he observed and understood and expressed what he saw, he gave knowledge to those who had a more limited view.

You have got your eyes closed. Here I speak not only of your outward eyes, but your inner discernment. Sit and meditate for a bit. It will do you some good.

Anonymous said...

What Jesus said that was so great was this: Love your enemies.

Even they are you.

Doctor Biobrain said...

First off, you STILL aren't understanding what I wrote. And I know this because you still haven't addressed anything I wrote. Everything you just wrote fits perfectly with everything in my post. You're making points against things I didn't say. Again, this post wasn't meant to refute anything you wrote, and I still think you agree with what I wrote...if you gave it a chance.

Secondly, can you please provide some citation for Jesus saying that we're all individuated expressions of a singular consciousness? I've read the gospels a few times, but somehow missed that part. You'd think if he was trying to say the message you're giving, he'd have been a bit more explicit about it.

And do you really believe that Jesus was the first person to ever suggest that we should love everyone? That seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

Gospel of Thomas:

49. Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again."

50. Jesus said, "If they say to you, 'Where have you come from?' say to them, 'We have come from the light, from the place where the light came into being by itself, established [itself], and appeared in their image.'

If they say to you, 'Is it you?' say, 'We are its children, and we are the chosen of the living Father.'

If they ask you, 'What is the evidence of your Father in you?' say to them, 'It is motion and rest.'"

Anonymous said...

Please cite someone before Jesus who said to love your enemies.

Doctor Biobrain said...

Ok, I just wrote a reply that was waaaaay the hell too long, and realized it could be summed up as the question: Shouldn’t an omnipotent being have been a little more clear as to what reality is all about than to have to muck around with vague bible passages that look manmade and aren't accepted by a large majority of the being's believers?

Trust me, you wouldn't want the long version. It was long, even for me.

And just so you know, I looked up the Gospel of Thomas in Wikipedia and thought it was interesting-ish, but nothing there indicated that other people accept your intrepreation of it. And in fact, I actually think the theology of Thomas in Wikipedia gives a more sensical intrepretation of the citation you gave than the one you give. Seriously, if Jesus was trying to say what you say he was saying, shouldn't he have been a lot more straight-forward about it? It's not a difficult concept to understand. So why isn't it written in every book of the bible? Why just an extremely vague reference in Thomas that doesn't appear to say what you say it says?

Of course, one clear thing from the Wikipedia entry matches lots of other stuff I've noticed from the bible: It's authors are pushing a POV, often including stories and intrepretations which apply specifically to the people who existed at the time it was written. You claim that the accepted bible includes lies pushed by the church, and yet the entire bible reads that way.

While it's possible that God wrote it, it always sounds far more manmade; and written by people with a far poorer understanding of the world than what they teach to 1st graders. I fail to see anything in it that seems authoratative, and would certainly expect an omnipotent being to do a better job in writing the most important book ever written. There is nothing in it that couldn't have been invented by uneducated desert-dwellers.

But again, I wrote much more about that in the long version.

Doctor Biobrain said...

As for the "love your enemies" thing, you actually got me there. I tried to find something like that in Plato and Aristole, but didn't get far. But that's just because I'm too lazy to do any real research on the subject.

But come on, can you seriously believe that nobody ever said it before Jesus? That seems a bit far-fetched. Proper civilization existed for thousands of years before Jesus' birth, and the guys who wrote the Old Testatment were nothing more than a nothing blip on nobody's radar when other civilizations were going strong. It's quite unlikely that no wise man said similar things in all those thousands of years. Just because it wasn't saved for posterity doesn't mean it wasn't said.

And it should be noted that Socrates did accept his fate and happily died for his beliefs, and didn't seem to hate his enemies. But in the few minutes I checked, I couldn't find anything from him saying he loved them.

Anonymous said...

Thomas was marginalized by the Roman church, precisely because he taught the inner meanings of things. I'm not going to spend a lot of time explaining here, but anyone who claims that God wrote the New Testament is an idiot at best, unless you mean by that that the writers wrote under divine inspiration perhaps. Same with the Old Testament.

And you're spending a lot of effort to try to argue about whether Jesus really said the same thing I said, and it doesn't matter, because I didn't say he said what I said. I said what I said. He was able to perceive the non-duality of himself with God but only spoke of it occasionally, as when he said that "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). Thomas went further to explain that this is true of everyone, and this is knowledge the Romans did not want people to have.

As for your failure to find anyone else who ever was recorded to say to love your enemies, what's wrong with acknowledging the important insight and crediting the person who made it?

Look, you don't have to become a Christian or worship Jesus on the cross to recognize that he made an important contribution to our understanding. You might want to give him just a little bit of respect, is what I'm saying.

You think it's far fetched nobody had the same insights before him, and maybe so, but they aren't recorded.

Anonymous said...

In no case, by the way, did I ever say that the accepted bible includes lies. I said that the Roman church lies about what the bible says. Two separate things. The Romans were the chief persecutors of the Christians, and only ever adopted Christianity in name when they were able to suppress it and erect an imperial fraud in its place.

Anonymous said...

I think our knowledge is very limited so our morals as well. Since I was very little I knew God was real bc no one could explain to me what happaned before the big bang or how life is created...i respect science and i think sincevwe were created in His image we are gifted with intelligence but like I said a limited one. But everybody just base their theories on suppositions and that is already an act of faith. Believing in evolution is the same act of faith than believing in God...otherwise i am open fos someone to explain me how from a place of no matter like before the big bang it was possible the creation of the DNA something so complex that any biologist would agree that the mere existence of a brain cell is already a miracle. Let me poiting out that Eisntein didnt believe in God until the moment he discovered the universe has a beginning but he believed in an impersonal God. A God that basicly doesn't care about His creation which is hArd to believe...the world is full of stories of people wanting to be spiritual and God trying ti communicate w us. So it is funny howba brain that cant explain its own origin wAnts to explain God. I believe in Christ bc of his life, bc I not only follow words but actions. and there was no human being like Him...if u do a profound investigation about his persona, all the 300 prophesies he fulfilled From not only Judaism books but also from Islam and other civilizations...his healings his promises everybody saw this there are many witness Jews (they say his healings were AMazing and real but they sAy it comes from the devil) Romans and persians etc. But anything that have human hands on it, especially when power is in game is corrupted. That is why I believe in the early church before rome...And think church shoud be close to that concept of community and less judgemental. I invite u to do not judge christianity by it's abuse. Even if religion dies will see where this world will end up based only On human morals. Like Hitler. Like Tao on china? we humans can make the world better and Jesus said that also... be in the world but not be like the world... which means be here making a diference w love and getting out of ur own self- centeredness. The problem of th world is us... recognize that and u will need God and will pray for his wisdom.

Anonymous said...

About catholic church, Jesus was clear, there should be no division of power within the church and there should be no involvement with political power. When Pilate asked Him if He was a king ( which in ghat tome that would have meant a threat to Roman power) Jesus responded that he was indeed a king but His kingdom wasn't from this world otherwise his people on earth would have fought for him to do go to crucifying. And actually one of the apostles cut off the ear of a Roman soldier when he was taking Jesus as a prisoner and Jesus said to do not use the sword in his name. So there is no division within the church bc Jesus said the last will be the first and the first last, and he responded that when the Apostles were fighting to see who would have been first in heaven. So the only way is humility and never look down to people or judge...with this being said the command of loving ur enemies make sense. However one should be w all people but not letting people to change our character and for that we need to be meek full. 
And take justice w no violence... We need to accuse injustice by peaceful terms. So if few or many who represent the catholic church have commuted horrible acts going against their own gospel I believe God will judge each one of them or us during life or after death. I mean at the end he will judge our hearts bc the only thing ghat we know and that will happen for sure is death and it is funny how death make everyone equal ( poor and rich , weak and strong, intelligent or not so much)  so I concluded death is not that bad after all if in that we will see justice.  I admire the person of Jesus I know by human hands we can have just a glimpse of justice... Doing good doing the best you can  ... I am in free in Him... It is a freedom that I cannot find In anything the world can give me. 

Doctor Biobrain said...

Wow, Anonymous, I don't even know where to start. Perhaps it would be to mention that you don't know what existed before God. Sure, you might claim that He always existed, but then, why not accept a similar claim for the Big Bang?

Oh, and if we shouldn't judge religion based upon its abuses (which I don't), then why judge atheism on its abuses? Beyond that, it's obvious you didn't read anything I wrote. So why bother repeating the same tired tropes that I already answered?

Anonymous said...

Socrates in btw thought that slaves were people of different race like a low type if human being bc they weren't smart like him or have the same culture. I don't know you but I see a tint of classism and racism in this asumption? again anything human will fail...I invite you to research if u find something like this in Jesus teachings.