When certainty becomes uncertain…
True Morality – Virtue Beyond Religion
How then shall we live?
- Francis Schaeffer
Questions about God and religion inevitably raise questions about morality. Many Christians believe that non-Christians are somehow less moral or even totally immoral and that, without God’s command or the Bible, there can be no proper morality. Before we allow morality to become a synonym for religious beliefs – and thus lose its meaning completely – we need to remember that morality is about right behaviour. I think that we can discover and approach a true morality without either God or the Bible and also that a both can actually stand in the way of decent behaviour.
It is claimed that, without God there can be no objective moral values, for only God can infallibly dictate morality. But this is mistaken for it assumes morality is something to be dictated and then acted unthinkingly and obediently upon. But true morality is no such thing: it is discovered by thinking about the causes and consequences of actions. Morality springs from the “Why?” and the “What will happen if?” and not necessarily from “Will this please God?” or “Does my holy book say I should?”
For Christians this is hard to believe because they are convinced their God is perfect. But I have discovered that there are basically 2 different Gods in which Christians belief: the God of the Bible and a Perfect God. Most of the time believers do not noticed the difference either because they do not read the texts carefully and critically or because they assume that their idea of perfection is to be shaped by the holy texts which, under ordinary examination, are far from perfect.
True morality is progressive because it learns from mistakes and adapts to the circumstances without compromising integrity. That does not mean it is arbitrary or haphazard, shaped to the whims of fashion. True morality does not come from any religion, nor from atheism, but from people discovering and diligently applying rules and methods which minimize harm and which show respect and dignity to all life. Human morality obviously rises and falls as civilisations rise and fall – it does not seem to be something which increases and improves linearly with time. Ancient cultures show respect for certain moral precepts which we have lost whilst we in turn have developed good precepts to counter some barbaric behaviour our ancestors thought nothing of or even praised as virtue. But the goal is True Morality: even if perfection is never reached the vision must be as good as possible. It is because of this that morality needs to be freed from dogma and authoritarianism. Might does not make Right.
In the following series of posts I want to show that morality needs to be rethought, especially by those inside the Christian tradition and contemporary evangelical culture:
In part I, I want to critique the prevailing modernist approach to morality which says we need to have indubitable axioms (or an infallible source) on which we build an objective morality. This modernist approach is discredited and needs to be put to bed.
In part II, I want to look at the question of scriptural or religious morality. Specifically, does the Judeo-Christian Bible in its entirety offer us a True Morality which all humans should follow?
In part III I will look at morality beyond religion. What sort of moral lessons have we learned from the history, the Bible, indeed any source available to us. What does True Morality look like?
As always I think we do well to not limit ourselves in exploring reality and should use all the resources available. If we go looking for planets using only a microscope we will not discover anything new. We should be willing to think and reason, listening to other cultures and other world-views in all our attempts at amassing knowledge and wisdom.
Finally, when it comes to ethics the question must always be, as Jesus taught, to judge by the results and not by any prior convictions or claims. Morals matter because it is immorality which is directly behind most of the world’s problems. The more we approach and discover a true morality, the better the world will become.
 Also, the idea that God provides us with objective moral values also assumes that God exists and is good. But this is obviously false: for a good powerful God would not allow evil to continue without intervening.
 And issues clear directives from on high through books and authorised persons.
 Not only are the texts far from perfect, the deity in the OT is far from perfect. When humans sin they should repent and the deity in the OT does indeed repent of various actions, though unfortunately of all atrocities.
 No, morality is not behind hurricane Katrina or the Tsunami. But the lives lost in those tragedies were often a result of great social ills behind which indeed lie important moral issues.