Six comments? Really?
Almost a month ago, I posted my responses to ten condescending questions some fundamentalist Christian felt all atheists should answer. They were badly crafted and annoyed the hell out of me.
I answered them in a way that I hoped was both honest and amusing. Yesterday, I received six comments from a Fundamentalist Christian (his blog is here).
I wasn’t sure whether to respond to his comments or leave it be. There isn’t much use debating him as his beliefs are so deeply engrained, I can’t hope to make him think about them. As for me, I find his perspective so horrifying, it only makes me dislike fundamentalism all the more.
I decided to respond mostly because I’m not a sideline atheist. This guy decided to engage me and I’ll engage back. I’m going to try to be polite and respectful because insulting him isn’t going to benefit me in any way.
So here we go. I’ll take his comments/questions in order. There will be edit on my part and I will try to note them. You can read all of his comments verbatim on the original blog post. I’ll try not to make this too messy.
I’m going to have to do this in six separate posts because there is just too much. Don’t worry – I won’t do it all in one day. I don’t think I could stand it.
On Question 1 ( If there is NO God, then there is no Measurement or Standard for morality? Then What will define morality?)
Here’s my original response:
What a great start, right? No god = no standard for morality.
So the question begins with a false premise. Why is god needed to provide a standard for morality? Is God the only thing that prevents you from treating those around you decently? Is a quick read of the bible the only thing that is holding you back from murdering your neighbors? If so – please keep reading.
God does not tell us what is right and wrong. If he does, he is doing a shitty job of it. Some very religious people believe that the bible tells us to look down on homosexuals. Other very religious people believe that is incorrect. If God were responsible for defining morality, I’d like to see him/her/it get on the ball and actually fucking define it. Jesus told us to throw out the ten commandments and, basically, just be fucking nice to each other. Did we need God to do that?
I’m pretty sure most of us have figured that out for ourselves. Society defines morality and it is defined because we are social creatures and we need rules in order to live together.
His responses quoted some of my text above. I’m not going to re-quote as hopefully it is fairly clear what I said that inspired his response.
God DID tell us what is right and what is wrong…WE do a cruddy job in following what he defined.
Oh man, I hate to trot out Leviticus right off the bat but I have to ask, how much of God’s definition of morality am I supposed to follow? I’m not going ask about the mixed fibers or eating of shellfish as that is well-worn ground. How about this one?
Leviticus 19:20 “And whosoever lieth carnally with a woman, that is a bondmaid, betrothed to an husband, and not at all redeemed, nor freedom given her; she shall be scourged; they shall not be put to death, because she was not free.”
Now what this says to me is that god believes I can have sex with a slave and that’s OK but she needs to be scourged. Because it is her fault. That is the kind of morality god is teaching me.
I said that god does a shitty job of defining morality and I stand by that. If god did a better job, you wouldn’t have people who call themselves Christians picketing the funerals of Aurora victims. You wouldn’t have people strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing them up in crowded markets. These people are doing what they are doing because they believe it is what god wants.
Based on the verse from Leviticus above, I’d be completely justified in whipping a slave after I raped her.
I realize the odds of my having a female slave are pretty slim but here the “revealed word of god” is telling me that if I commit rape, the victim is going to be punished for my act. That is one of the ways god is defining morality. There are a lot of others that are equally horrifying to me and that, to me, constitute an immoral perspective.
Also, I don’t refrain from murdering someone because I fear hell (or prison – which actually exits). I do it because I believe killing another human being is wrong. I didn’t need God to tell me that.
I’ll get into more of an idea of God’s “morality” in later posts but here’s the other problem with talking about gods definition of morality – it is all based on the understanding of one book that is filled with contradictions and that has been used to justify a great many things (both good and evil) by a great many people.
It is very easy to say that they have misinterpreted the Bible but how do you know that they were the ones who misinterpreted it and not you?
The Bible tells us that homosexuality is wrong. The Bible also tells us to love the sinner not to hate them or look down on them.
Yeah, a lot of folks aren’t doing too well on that second part, are they?
However, let’s look at the first part. The bible is actually pretty ambiguous about it according to some religious scholars who know a lot more about the bible than I do. I linked to one of many articles I’ve read in recent months/years looking into the biblical roots of homosexual hatred (no – I don’t think that is too harsh a word).
Fact is, the bible is a big book and it spends very little time on homosexuality. Yet those few passages seem to take on more importance to many Christians than any other part of the book.
My point is this – some people use the bible to say that homosexuality is immoral. Others look at the bible and conclude that it is – at best – murky on the subject.
Jesus was asked which was the greatest of all the commandments. Jesus responded to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” This is from Matthew 22:36-40.
Matthew 7:12 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
So this seems to contradict, at least in part, the other quote and it is where I get my “just be nice to each other” perspective on what Jesus said. I don’t feel my interpretation of his statement here is at all out-of-bounds.
I don’t want to go too deeply into a tit for tat biblical argument because, while I have read the Bible, it was a long time ago and I simply don’t have the patience to pull out every passage that is relevant to the converstation.
The “do unto others” concept pre-dates Christianity and was hardly novel even in Jesus’ time. In other words – god was not needed for us to figure it out.
That basic code of “don’t be a dick” is not something that god was required to create. We came up with it ourselves and then needed to create a divine being because we somehow felt that without the threat of eternal punishment, we’d never be able to follow through.
In fact, god wasn’t required to create any of our major moral laws. Killing others is detrimental to a social animal and we are social animals. We don’t want to kill each other because to do so is detrimental to the survival of our species.
The basic premise of the question is where do you get your sense of morality? If there is no eternal punishment for wrong doing then what is the point of doing good? For what is the point of telling the truth, when there are no consequences? Besides if society defines morality then societal morality will shift all of the time. Take for example gay marriage. In 2003 only 40% of society support gay marriage. Now this number is between 47%-54% give or take. So…10 years ago society states that gay marriage is not moral…now…it is moral. That is the argument that you are making.
The idea that there must be the threat of eternal punishment to prevent us from doing evil frightens me because even with that threat, we do evil all the time.
But here’s the thing – I treat others kindly and try to do good because I feel that is the way I should treat others. We know I’m an atheist so I clearly don’t choose to act kindly because I’m afraid I’ll go to hell, right?
So why do I do it? There seems to be the assumption that an atheist cannot act morally because god isn’t providing me moral direction.
Is the opposite also true? Is a Christian incapable of an immoral act because God is providing them with morals.
What is the point of telling the truth if there are no consequences for telling a lie? Are you kidding? There are tons of consequences for telling lies.
My youngest has been having a problem with lying and we are trying to teach him that telling us the truth is important. We have been pointing out to him that if he continually lies to us, we have to question everything he says.
If he lies and tells us he brushed his teeth when he didn’t, we now have to watch him to ensure he does it. He loses freedom in that equation. If he lies and tells us he didn’t take food into his room and we find food in his room, there is an immediate consequence.
Frankly, I think that is far better than telling him that god will punish him for lying. The consequence we provide is immediate and tangible.
If I lie to my wife about sleeping around, I could lose her. I could lose access to my children. I could simply lose my own self respect. We all face consequences for these choices in this life. Those consequences make far more of a difference to most of us – including most Christians – than any threat of eternal damnation.
And yes, morals do change over time. Christian morals change over time. If we go back 200 years, we could find a whole ton of Christians who felt that slavery was completely moral, right? If we go back further than that, the church was selling indulgences so dead sinners could get into heaven.
We have to search ourselves for morality. I am for Gay Marriage because I refuse to accept that a book filled with contradictions should be what we use to determine if two people who love each other should be permitted to enter into a legal union regardless of their gender.
Let me throw the question back – if I don’t believe in god (and I don’t), why do I live a “moral” life? I don’t kill people. I don’t even strike people. I don’t steal. I try to treat others decently. When I treat others poorly, I apologize and try to make good. I don’t do these things because I fear hell. I don’t do them because I don’t want to go to prison.
So why do I do them? Because of god? Or because most of us do these things because it makes us feel good to treat others decently and it makes us feel bad when we treat others like shit?
The assumption that I cannot possibly be a good person without god is insulting. It insults all of us because it presumes that we aren’t capable of figuring most of this stuff out all on our own.
Most of us are good people. There are many people who do horrible things and who also believe that god provides them with moral direction. There are atheists who do horrible things as well. It does not seem like a belief in god (or disbelief) helps define morality for these people.
It must be something else. And that something else must be considerably more complex than the “guy in the sky” explanation.
I love your well-considered posts about this stuff. You’re totally right: there’s no point in debating fanatics. And that’s why fanatics in any belief system are so damn terrifying: they’re so determined to be right that there’s no room for discourse or ideas. As a history buff who read much about the times Jesus lived in, I find that hypocracy so utterly sad.
I did the six separate comments because I tend to be a compartmentalized thinker. It helps me to write about a specific topic without talking about a thousand other things. BTW, thanks for linking my blog.
Also I want to say I appreciate the level of cordialness you have afforded me thus far. I can appreciate sarcasm and dry humor (both of which I have an abundance of). I will respond in a single comment to try and make this easier.
If by fundamental Christian, you mean one who believes that the Bible is the inerrant word of God…Guilty as charged.
Regarding God defining morality:
Your initial point here on Leviticus is different from the point you are making. Here I think you are tryng to illustrate a point to the law itself being immoral by your standard. Which I would be happy to discuss separately.
I see what you are saying, but I am not sure how much clearer God can be. Look at the 10 commandments. These are about as black and white as one can get. You cannot fault God for mankind messing it up. As a father I am sure you get these from your kids as you put boundaries around what they can or can’t do. You make a declarative statement…your kids take your declarative statement, and distort it to meet their needs. It’s not your fault, you were clear in your rule. It’s their fault because they wanted to break the rules. We are no different than children when it comes to breaking God’s rules.
Regarding killing another human being:
You say you refrain from killing another human being is wrong…on what do you draw this conclusion? Society? How many societies have deemed that killing another human being is wrong? Several throughout history, but does that make it right? I would argue that you are so repulsed by murder because that law is written on your heart….by the law giver.
“Yeah, a lot of folks aren’t doing too well on that second part, are they?”
This cannot be denied. There are a lot of people who call themselves Christians, and yet do not act like it.
“The bible is actually pretty ambiguous about it according to some religious scholars who know a lot more about the bible than I do. I linked to one of many articles I’ve read in recent months/years looking into the biblical roots of homosexual hatred (no – I don’t think that is too harsh a word).”
I hope that you spent an equal amount of time looking at the articles that actually take an honest look at homosexuality in the bible. I recognize the argument from the link you made and I can tell you that it is short on using the evidence in all of the Bible. For example: it leaves out 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” There is nothing ambiguous about that.
I wrote a post that addresses this particular issue.
“we could find a whole ton of Christians who felt that slavery was completely moral, right? If we go back further than that, the church was selling indulgences so dead sinners could get into heaven.”
No doubt…But here you are looking at Christians who followed societal morals rather than the morality of the New Covenant.
“Let me throw the question back – if I don’t believe in god (and I don’t), why do I live a “moral” life?”
Because God wrote His laws on our heart. Humanity is appalled at what happened in Aurora. Why? How does all of humanity know murder is bad? Now you argue that murder goes against the protection of the race. Okay why is lying considered to be bad for all cultures? Why is cheating on your wife universally panned? Society sways it’s morality to fit that generations culture. I cannot believe for one second that you would agree that to be truth. There have been incredibly cruel cultures throughout the history of man. Your morality endorses that cultures morality.
You attempt to live a moral life and to be good. I can assure you with 100% confidence that you AND I failed at this. Have you lied? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever looked at another woman other than your wife and wanted her? Have you ever hated anyone? If you have (I am guilty of all of these things) then you (and I) are a liar, thief, adulterer and murderer according to God. Would you consider anyone like that a good person?
Let me just say one thing…you repeated several times that I assume you cannot be a good person because you do not have God. Let me be clear I make no assumption. None of us are good. That would include any Christian/atheist/or whatever. None of us are good. Are we all capable of doing good things? Sure. But they amount to nothing in the end. Nothing at all.
I have to say that I enjoy this civil discussion. I know that I won’t convince you to change your mind or you mine. However, that shouldn’t stop us from having a great conversation. Agreed?
I definintely agree to remain civil. I can be an acerbic sonofabitch but in conversations like this, I find such behavior benefits no-one.
Also, I don’t have time to answer this entire reply right now but here’s what I find troubling about your thinking: All good behavior comes from god but we are responsible for all bad behaviors. Essenstially, we are immoral beings who are only capable of making moral choices with the help of god. I choose to be responsible for my own choices (good and bad) rather than allow god to be responsible for either.
“Essenstially, we are immoral beings who are only capable of making moral choices with the help of god.”
This is incorrect. You are able to make a good moral decision (tell the truth) with or without God.
“All good behavior comes from god but we are responsible for all bad behaviors.”
Again, an atheist is capable of making a good moral decision. You and I share no disagreement on this point. Where we disagree is at what defines the decision as a “good” moral decision. For you, society confirms your moral decision, based on whatever society deems moral at that time. For me morals are timeless truths that are objective in nature and defined by God.
“I choose to be responsible for my own choices (good and bad) rather than allow god to be responsible for either.”
You (as well as I) will be ultimately responsible for your own choices, good and bad. God is not responsible for your bad choices, he defines the rules that state that they are bad. In the same way you define “bad” for your child, you are not responsible for your child’s bad choice…he is. Just as you (we) will be to God. At some point we will all be judged based on our bad behaviors.