Critical DisBelief

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[1].  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[2]. 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[3].

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[4]. The more we approach and discover a true morality, the better the world will become.

Footnotes:

[1] 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.

[2] And issues clear directives from on high through books and authorised persons.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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2 responses to “True Morality – Virtue Beyond Religion

  1. Scott Heiser August 25, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    My heart is saddened because you have failed to extract from the Bible who God really is and what His intentions are for you and our world. I cannot and do not blame you for this failure but instead, can only lay the burden of fault on all organized religion, no matter how loose or how binding its doctrine and theology. You see, at one point in my life I was close to making the same error that I believe you are making now. I was ready to abandon my faith because I did not see how a merciful and loving God could allow the atrocities being carried out in the physical realm of planet Earth.

    Then, and I believe it was by God’s hand, someone told me that the only way I would truly learn about God was to study His Word (the Bible), permit the Holy Spirit to teach me its meaning and then, by communing with God through my Intercessor Jesus Christ, let Him confirm or contest what I believed to be the Truth. If my understanding was flawed in any way, God would reveal it to me and I would repeat the process until God confirmed it in my spirit. I have come to the conclusion that this process is what many people label as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a spiritual relationship that can only be carried out in the spiritual realm here on planet Earth.

    I shared this with you so that when I present what I believe to be the truth about morality you know it is not coming from a religious point of view because I believe their is little in common between religion and God.

    If two men stand next to each other and each man lives by a very different set of morals, how long will they be able to stand next to each other without, in some way, harming each other? It is only by living by a common (similar or like) morality that two men could ever hope to see true peace between each other. And, how would these two men come to an agreement on a common morality when each has lived their life by a completely different set of morals where their is no common ground on which to build a foundation of morality that each could live by? I propose that there must be in existence a set of morals that each man could agree to live by in the hope they could stand side-by-side and live a life of peace.

    This set of morals would have to reach beyond each man’s present understanding of their unique and different worlds by establishing a new foundation on which to build consensus. This new foundation on which to construct their new morality, I believe, is the Bible. I also believe the Bible, as it pertains to today’s cultures and societies, was never meant to be a rigid set of dos and don’ts but as a teaching manual with the sole intent of leading each of us into that personal relationship with Jesus Christ that I mentioned above.

    So, I have come full circle. Organized religion dare not teach us these things for we would then have no use for it as it exists today. God is merciful and loving but you will never have revelation of this without a personal relationship with Him (as He intended). And only through that relationship, can we understand how to construct a set of morals that each man can agree to live by in the hope we can stand side-by-side and live a life of peace.

    I hope I have not bored you with this. I have said what I felt necessary to say. It is now up to you to take what I have said and do with it what you will.

    • Marc August 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      @Scott, thanks for your insightful and touching response. I completely agree with you on the issue of shared values as necessary for peace. Rest assured, I am not going to describe a radically different morality to the commandment of Jesus to love your neighbour as yourself. But don’t be sad. I haven’t rejected all and any God who could possible exist. I have rejected various ideas of God. One of which is the God of war in the OT. Another is the God of Jesus who failed to act and bring the Kingdom to Earth. Another is the interventionist God who can but doesn’t intervene to prevent abuse of children. You may think God is merciful to you, but the God(s) of the Bible are merciful to their own people and malicious to the rest. However we may disagree on the Bible, I think we both agree there is morality beyond religion and that Jesus’ way is the way.

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