I believe that humans can discover ultimate truth (not invent it). Since a profound sensibility and awareness of objective morality is found in nearly every known person and society throughout history, it is reasonable to conclude that this is part of nature/biology. Whether or not God exists or has implemented this ethical system upon and intrinsically within the cosmos is another issue entirely.
Spiritual and moral laws are analogous to physical laws. When I use the term “spiritual law”, I don’t specifically include miracles in the meaning. Miracles in a theological sense are out of the ordinary happenings that God directly causes, as opposed the normative physics of nature (which encompasses all that God made, like what we call the empirical world and other dimensions where angels/demons/heaven might exist). In the Bible, there is a strongly implied connection and continuity in the general operational functionality between all realms of reality, whether in the Garden of Eden, this life or the afterlife. Some or many specifics may change, but the essential elements remain intact (such as what it means to be human through having some type of physical body, free choices with resulting consequences from our thoughts/intentions/actions, opportunities to learn/grow, etc.). I think that all aspects, visible or invisible, of the cosmos (or creation) are interrelated by necessity. In religious traditions such as Christianity, the teachings repeatedly use natural phenomenon to illustrate spiritual principles. Jesus’ parables are based on “earthly” situations that correspond to ultimate transcendent truths. Further, many Christian evangelistic methods appeal to a supposedly analogous relationship between physical and spiritual laws.
The main argument I hear often from Christian apologists is that there can be no objective morality without a supreme and personal law giver, such as God. I’m open to changing my position, but I don’t see why a transcendent god must be required to create or maintain the apparatuses to encompass cycles of cause/effect (whether moral, spiritual or physical). If there is an afterlife, this too doesn’t require a deity in order to have resulting moral, spiritual or physical conditions that correspond with and follow the patterns begun in an earlier period of human existence. In our perception, life is short, messy and imperfect, so “justice” may not happen in this stage of being. An afterlife awaiting humans could provide opportunities for them to receive even more layers of consequences, both good and bad, entropical and generative, healthy and unhealthy, depending on what is inevitable, deserved and graceful (since existence in this universe often allows for multiple possibilities within a sphere of limited freedom, even when it appears that we have exhausted all options and reached a dead end). In this case, the Moral Law Giver and Ultimate Judge is the unconscious universe itself (whether these aspects of reality are inherently connected with and dependent upon God or not).
I think the point of exploration toward these realities is to let the evidence speak for itself, whether or not we can make full sense of it. If what we interpret and discover is incomplete, then so be it. There’s no immediate reason for someone to jump to a conclusion or chose to follow the Judeo-Christian or any other faith or philosophy as a default position (like a “God of the gaps” type of response).
[For more on this type of thinking, I commend to you my second favorite book of all time, "Apology For Wonder" by Sam Keen. He covers many important things here on how to strive toward having a honest, comprehensive and effective theology/philosophy of life within the Christian tradition generally (given modern/post-modern existential concerns), including how to possibly find a naturalistic foundation for what the Christian tradition calls "grace" or "unmerited favor". My favorite book is "Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality" by Matthew Fox.]
Regarding the project of trying to find a purely scientific basis for morality, I appreciate the initial efforts by Sam Harris’ book, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values” (or video), and Michael Shermer’s text,”The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule” (or video).
A conservative Christian friend wrote to me today, “I am willing to consider that some beliefs that mainstream Christians currently hold are not true. I am not willing to consider that Christianity is wrong.”
This was very shocking to me, since we’d been having many open and deep discussions into the potential objections to core doctrines of biblical faith. I responded as copied below:
If you’re not “willing” to even consider that your current beliefs or religion could be wrong, then how can you ever claim to have or desire any level of spiritual/intellectual honesty or humility?
Isn’t possible that Hinduism is true and that you are Christian primarily (or perhaps solely) because you were raised in Georgia by Christian parents and surrounded by other Christians? Or that America is dominated by Christianity and virtually any spiritual seeking and religious/philosophical questioning in this country is unwittingly directed toward this worldview?
The Bible is full of instruction that encourages readers to pursue truth wherever it leads, “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), “come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18), “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15) and use natural reason to examine the actual powers of various deities along with morality in general (Romans 1). In these aspects, the Scriptures affirm honest inquiry, healthy self-doubt and the process of learning/evaluation in order to reveal more accurate viewpoints and deeper realities. This was the basis of argument used by Christ’s twelve apostles, the early church and theologians/apologists throughout the past two thousand years to offer Christianity to people who held other beliefs.
If you stand in error regarding your belief in Christianity, there could be dire consequences for you in this life and the next. Example 1: If Islam is true, then all infidels like yourself are living in opposition to God and thus suffer extra turmoil right now and in a future hell. Example 2: An enormous amount of political, scientific and social decisions are made in relation to religious ideologies, so if you’re off-base about your opinions/convictions, then you could mistakenly be supporting immoral and destructive projects.
One friend, upon reading many of my blog posts, mentioned that:
“it seems like besides being vehemently opposed to traditional Christianity, what you’re FOR is a type of morality that is based on what you just happen to believe. For example, the idea that the God you ascribe to has a balanced personality of masculine and feminine traits – because that is how you think it should be. To me, this is like me deciding that the brains of males and females are indistinguishable (which is absolutely not the case) because I think that males and females are equally intelligent and capable of doing the same tasks with equal quality, and then using this belief as support for an argument against sexual differentiation in the brain.”
I think all religion, spirituality and philosophy are necessarily incomplete because of our finitude. For example, any revelation from God to us must come in a finite form so we may attempt to comprehend and receive it. We ought to try to do the best we can in developing our understanding with the data and experience available to us. This viewpoint fits with what we know about reality as a whole (religion, science, human experience, history, economics, psychology, etc.). After many years of serious thinking and research on this subject, I’ve composed a chart to provide a framework that might fit as much as possible inside it, titled “Descriptive and Conceptual Dynamics Of Femininity and Masculinity”. To me, it’s hard to argue with the content there, as it’s compiled from common sense observation about how the world works generally. Whether one prefers the terms of “masculine/feminine” or others like “sustainability/efficiency” or “right-brain/left-brain”, I believe it’s vital to consider how these aspects of existence may be found everywhere in the universe (and must be embraced and equally valued in order to have a healthy society), both at the grand scale and the microscopic level. Why wouldn’t the God of creation reflect this totality? The alternative is, of course, that we could focus in on one particular religious/philosophical slant on life, from one specific era and one geographical location, and then try to cram the whole of reality into that.
The Old Testament, for example, was written in a Bronze-Age patriarchal time period, in the Ancient Near East and its legal/cultural/literary/moral contents and type of deity profoundly reflect this. God here is presented primarily as King, Warrior, Master, Owner, Judge, Redeemer and Savior, all of these being distinctly patriarchal concepts in that society. Yet, for tens of thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of years before the dominance of the patriarchy on a wide scale at the time of the Neolithic agricultural revolution (7,000 – 10,000 years ago), a much more integrated or alternating system of masculine and feminine philosophy, mythology, government and religion flourished. The evidence of this exists throughout the archeological record and oral histories continued into the times of inscribed communication. One biblical note on this point is that the many diverse neighboring “idolatrous” peoples/cities that God instructed the Israelites to murder were very often led by feminist or feminist/masculinist religious systems.
Aside from something like the macho cultural context found within the Ancient Near East, how else could you imagine a good, loving and honorable god still repeatedly endorsing and commanding any type of slavery, severe misogyny, seasonal/colonial warfare and genocide?
Historians have regularly explained that the reason for the rise of solely patriarchal power came with the uniquely new elements present within the Neolithic agricultural revolution. Through a stark break away from past lifestyles, this massive cultural shift required vastly greater amounts of male strength and emphatically left-brain operations: invention and use of the plow, irrigation, hierarchical ideologies, food storage technologies, written language, city planning/architecture/building, coded laws, regulated property rights, centralized administrative governments, sophisticated economic systems, civic/political art and complex labor diversification – a lot of depersonalized methods of knowledge and practice that men, at least at that time, were typically better suited for. In the earlier hunting and gathering communities, women were largely revered as the givers of life and as being more in touch with the earth – the sexes were collaborative in work, value and tribal decision-making by necessity – everyone had an important role. Interestingly, the work day only lasted about three hours for male hunters. I’m not at all saying that things were idyllic and utopian, but women were not thought of as intrinsically and practically inferior as they were after overtly patriarchal rule took over world society. With the newfound ability of males to seemingly “master” nature, women and the feminine side of life in people (male and female) and the cosmos could be systematically subjugated and suppressed. The work cycle drastically changed. Men were particularly employable in the new jobs and operational systems. The length of labor each day for most males stretched ten to twelve hours. Since women were either not allowed or able to participate in the tasks of this radically changed economy, they were limited to manage home life and raise children.
My “agenda” against Christianity is led by human rights issues that I’ve experienced and read about elsewhere. Christianity puts people far down and then claims to be a wonderful rescuing force in their healing. The problem and scam with this religion is that God made us significantly weak and frail in our capacities toward spirituality and ethics, and then expects perfection (or else eternal damnation if total submission is not offered to Him/Her – this is not love either from God or by us in return – instead, this is totalitarianism). The testimony of natural history and all other fields in science is very clear that death always existed, yet the Bible says death came through sin. In truth, our species is evolving and has shed much of its brutal ignorance, at least in our collective social/spiritual/moral conscience.
The biblical God is sending humans to hell for eternity, judged on a short earthly life (and because of Adam’s/Eve’s sin, all their descendants are destined for endless “fire” aside from any good/bad action). This is primitive mythology and belongs squarely in the ancient, savage worldview of a humanity still trapped in a very scary universe full of things unknown and unexplainable (before substantial developments of humanistic philosophy/art/morality/society and modern science that would offer significantly more humane and accurate views of life – some of this was both begun and thwarted by various contradictory teachings in the Bible).
God in Jesus Christ (“on his own” during his human incarnation, at least apparently, or by means of his interdependent harmony with of the Father or Holy Spirit), throughout the Old and New Testaments to varying degrees, commanded or supported these terrible things directly or indirectly (mostly directly): eternal hell based on a short earthly life, genocide, misogyny, slavery, polygamy, seasonal and colonial warfare, theocracy, capital punishments for moderate sins (such as a female lying about her virginity — which modern science has shown to be impossible to prove medically, or cursing one’s parents, or working on the sabbath, or not keeping a known dangerous bull locked up if the bull later kills a person — but if a slave is killed the owner only has to pay a fine, or being the victim of rape if one is an engaged and the rape occurs in a city), animal sacrifice, excessive judgment on the vast majority humans who did not have biblical revelation until the last few hundred years, and many other things.
I mention this incredibly negative historical information about Martin Luther, the primary thinker and leader of the 16th century’s Protestant Reformation, because I believe it’s very important for Christians and non-Christians to be aware of some of the reasons why critics question the morality both of the ideas/practices from church history’s “great theologians” and the Scriptures. The Bible is said by conservatives to be completely trustworthy and virtuous in what it teaches, yet when Christians put specific sections of it into rigorously consistent application, they create massive problems because the texts themselves set a very destructive precedent.
Luther wrote astoundingly hateful things about the Jews. Through his power of ecclesiastical authority, despicable behaviors and vengeful ideas were boldly promoted against God’s original “chosen people” who were distinctly outside of Christian community. Within the long tradition of heartily confident ”messengers of God” and since he was undergirded by many easily appropriated biblical mandates God gave in the Old Testament, Luther was able to convince generations of Germans (up through the present day) that the Jews, as an entire race and without individual exception, deserved to be regularly humiliated, robbed of their money and property, removed from the country and even killed. The biblical God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide upon the their polytheistic, “heathen” neighbors, and therefore laid the foundation that would allow Christians (the new “chosen people”, replacing the Jews) around the world to look at non-Christians with severe disdain, kill other Christian groups because only one of them could be correctly interpreting the Scriptures, stand on God’s side against the demonic powers of non-biblical society, invade the Middle East to conquer Jerusalem during the Crusades (even if this meant annihilating an enormous number of “infidels”, a term coined by the Pope at that time as he described Muslims and other nonbelievers), enslave/abuse/exterminate millions of Native Americans and African Americans, imprison/torture/execute any suspected doubters or unbelievers during the Spanish Inquisition, and many more deplorable historical results that came from the extreme intolerance and harshness of many parts in the Bible.
On the Jews and Their Lies, written by Martin Luther in 1543, is the most anti-Semitic writing that I have ever heard about, other than Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. After reading it, I am not surprised that many historians credit him as one of the forefathers of modern anti-Semitism. Hatred and bitterness towards the Jews certainly existed in Germany and elsewhere long before Luther wrote this, but he is considered to be the main force within Protestant European history toward developing these excessively malevolent and dehumanizing views of the Jewish people.
It is very sad and yet strange that the kinds of abuses the Jews experienced throughout Western history by believers in the Judeo-Christian God were much the same as the types that Jews (because of commands from this God) used against the multiple nations they stole land from in the Old Testament. The first genocides against and conquests over the Jews’ neighbors were justified, according to God, due to the grand wickedness of the surrounding people groups near them. Later, when particular Christian leaders, such as Martin Luther, appealed to the Bible to support actions that appear quite evil to most everyone now, they needed merely turn to one of many passages in their Bible to reference the blueprint for that order of deed in that sort of situation. The obvious correlation between multiple atrocities committed in the name of the biblical God throughout world history after Christ and what numerous readings in the Scriptures actually teach is denied by traditional Christians who say that individuals, whether revered and experienced Christian disciples or not, have the choice to carry out horrendous injustice or to trust in God and demonstrate loving action to other people. The logical difficulty with this assertion is that history provides countless examples of people who followed gruesome, often arbitrary, biblical commands with precise religious adherence and therefore embraced the habits of deep cruelty, indifference and severe destruction of human life (and sometimes non-human aspects of nature as well). As I explained in another post, although many positive results in the progress of human culture have occurred through Christianity’s influence, the despicable aspects of this belief system and religion are just as strong. To its monumental shame, the Bible directly or indirectly endorses or reinforces inhumane conventions such as misogyny, seasonal and colonial warfare, genocide and slavery.
One possible reason as to why orthodox Christian leaders today, as official representatives standing by “God’s one holy book”, do not take considerable responsibility for the toxic effects of these portions of the Bible is that they are viewing it as participants from within the unique position of a modern, democratic, post-Enlightenment and individualistic society that expects each person to critically examine how to apply instructions from religion/philosophy/spirituality in appropriately different ways for each circumstance. However, because separation of church and state is a fairly recent concept historically, whenever Christians came into political, economic or military power during most of the past two thousand years, they often chose the apparently best model to follow in governance: the Old Testament patterns of theocratic authoritarianism and violent defense of national religious purity. Unfortunately, the Bible didn’t provide clear enough tools with which to sort out the morally antiquated or irrelevant teachings within itself when Christians encountered complex problems and didn’t have the “voice of God” present to tell them exactly how to proceed (assuming that God, if directly engaged in conversation, would have objected to these forms of political power in post-biblical times). Many Christian scholars of the past who are recognized by traditional believers to have had brilliant intelligence and mostly saintly character (especially in regard to the spiritual and theological quality of their writings), used the Bible to advocate and/or justify abhorrent conduct: Thomas Aquinas (misogyny), Martin Luther (murder of non-believers), John Calvin (murder of non-believers), Jonathan Edwards (slavery) and numerous others. Were they ill-informed? Were they radically immature in their spirituality? It seems quite far-fetched to think these men were incapable of figuring out in their hearts or minds the very basic ethical components of “loving one’s neighbor”. Instead, the evidence reveals substantial (but not total) culpability first with the Scriptures themselves because of the virulent content found in many of its texts.
In the treatise, Luther writes that the Jews are a “base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth.” They are full of the “devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine,” and the synagogue is an “incorrigible whore and an evil slut …” He argues that their synagogues and schools be set on fire, their prayer books destroyed, rabbis forbidden to preach, homes razed, and property and money confiscated. They should be shown no mercy or kindness, afforded no legal protection, and these “poisonous envenomed worms” should be drafted into forced labor or expelled for all time. He also seems to advocate their murder, writing “[w]e are at fault in not slaying them.”
Here is Wikipedia’s full description of it.
These are highlights and excerpts.
This is the full text.