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The question often comes up between Christians and atheists of subjective and objective morality, The standpoint of Christians is that morality is objective; that it is that morality is based upon absolute, “God-given” rules. Under this interpretation many Christians and other theists believe that atheists are inherently devoid of any moral compass.  The standpoint of the atheist that morality is subjective; based upon cultural traditional mores and constraints, and by that measure, morality changes with the times and differing cultures.  In this essay, I shall attempt to illustrate that Christian morality is not merely immoral, it is amoral; that is, devoid of any moral compass.

I once watched a video by YouTube user LordWhorfin in which he put forward the following hypothesis:

In a plane that is going to crash, there is an atheist, a Christian, a child and one parachute. LordWhorfin openly stated that the atheist must use the parachute himself because he is driven only by self-preservation and selfish motives. Earlier in his video however, he had stated that the Christian believes in the afterlife, reward or punishment, whereas the atheist believes there is nothing. He goes on in the video to state that for him giving the child the parachute is twofold; that firstly “you have done the ultimate good deed in the eyes of God – you have lain down your life for another”, and secondly “you can face eternal judgement knowing that by your own will, allowed the child to live.”

Immediately we see here that LordWhorfin’s interpretation of morality is based wholly upon an awards system. It is of course a very poor hypothesis to work upon. The outcome of anyone in that scenario would depend very much upon the individual and what they would do in that situation. I would like to think I would willingly give the child the parachute, for the simple fact it is the right thing to do, not to earn brownie points with some imaginary deity. When a morality system is based upon rewards, it immediately ceases to be moral. It is by its own definition amoral.

The very basis of theistic morality is based upon three premises;

1, that if God does not exist then objective moral values and duties do not exist.

2, that objective moral values and duties do exist.

3, therefore God must exist.

This of course is the same sort of nonsensical circular reasoning we find in “How do I know God wrote the Bible? Because the Bible tells me so.” and is equally full of holes.

If two people perform the same act, one believing it to be “evil” and the other having no conception of what is or isn’t “evil”, then we cannot condemn the person with no conception. We may condemn the act and try to prevent or restrain the person, but that does not mean we believe them to be inherently “evil”. Our very perception of “evil” is relevant only to the observers perception, and from that we can clearly see that morality can only ever be subjective.

Some Christians would counter that such thinking makes us no better than animals. Yet our own sapient ability tells us that we are different from, not better than, animals but we do not judge animals and humans by the same standards. Christians accuse atheists here of being specisist, yet by their very definition of good and evil, they are the ones using the same standards for animals and humans, and that would make the ultimate speciesist the very God they worship.

The claim that morality is objective falls down at another level. When white Europeans started travelling around the world, they began to encounter cultures who had never before encountered anyone of the Judeo/Christian tradition. Yet these peoples had their own moral codes the basis of which was not dissimilar to that of Judeo/Christian belief. Among these were the understanding that murder is wrong. Violence towards those less able to defend themselves, particularly towards women and children, is wrong. Cheating on a partner is wrong. Lying and or bearing false witness against someone is wrong. Right away we see in these basic rules of what we would refer to as a moral compass, echoes of the Biblical ten commandments. And strangely enough, these peoples also had at the head of their own rules to worship no other God than their own. Yet, with no input from Judeo/Christian culture, allegedly given to mankind by Yahweh, were morality objective, then there would have been no possible way they could have developed this moral code.

And yet they did, for the simple reason that their morality, like so many other things in life, came from experiences and trial and error. To explain, if you light a match and let it burn down, it will burn your fingers and that hurts. So we know not to do it a second time. Yet that is not learning through punishment, it is learning through experience. They are two different things. Human beings are empathic creatures, so by equal measure if we hurt someone, we know all too well that that affects not only the individual but all those whom their life touches and ultimately reflects upon the person doing the hurting and they are a poorer human being as a result. Similarly, those of us who have been hurt, be it physically or psychologically, know what it is like and are therefore less likely to impose that upon another human being. Suffering is very important to human development and maturity, and absolutely vital to the development of a moral code. It is a cornerstone, if not the cornerstone of morality that if we do not wish others to hurt us, then we have a moral obligation not to hurt others, and this obligation arises out of experience and biologically influenced preferences.

We protect those weaker than us for the very reason they are weaker than us. Not through any God-given guidance, but because it is in our instinct to do so. This is where the speciesist argument does become important. Most creatures on the face of this planet, particularly the females, will do anything in their power, including putting their own lives at risk, to protect their young. If this part of “morality” is objective, where then does that leave the Judeo/Christian belief that mankind is set apart from animals due to our souls? Elephants are another good example here. In elephant society there is no such thing as an orphan. For even if a cub’s mother dies, the other cows in the herd will take care of that cub as one of their own. Where then do they get that instinct if mankind alone has a soul and a moral compass? Of merely take the many examples of dogs who have given their own lives to protect their human masters. Given those examples, the argument of the Christian giving up the parachute to save the child suddenly falls apart.

In the Judeo/Christian tradition even their own God does not always adhere to his own moral code. Where was the morality in the flood? Where was the morality in killing all the first born children of Egypt? Sodom and Gomorrah? Slavery? Ordering the killing of all “enemies of God”, right down to the first born? The Bible is replete with instances where “Almighty God” carries out atrocities that horror writers would be jealous of. This of course completely flies in the face of the Christian claim that for a moral code there has to be a moral lawgiver. Yet the Old Testament certainly does not show the Judeo/Christian God as being anything other than a great moralist but rather depicts him of having all the morals of anything from a petulant child scattering the board because he cannot win the game, to those of an extremely dangerous psychopath. This is of course because lawgivers are still subjective beings and their presence does not guarantee objectivity.

Christian apologists will glibly tell you that when Jesus came, he brought the “New Covenant” between God and Man. This is disingenious, especially when you consider that many of the selfsame Christians will happily cherry pick bits out of the Old Testament to suit their own particular prejudices. Indeed, were Christians serious about the New Covenant, then not only would they not quote from the Old Testament, it would not be included in the Bible at all. Further than that however, consider that Jesus was allegedly God incarnate, the same God of the Old Testament and he supposedly stated that far from bringing a new law for mankind, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” (Matthew 5:17, KJV). We therefore see that the New Covenant argument simply does not hold water. Indeed consider that Hell is not mentioned in the Old Testament (Jews do not believe in Hell) and that the entire Christian message of salvation is to escape eternal torment through worshipping Jesus Christ. If there is a morality in torturing and burning someone for all eternity, it certainly seems to be escaping me. But then to my mind anyone who tells someone “You had better love me or I’ll torture you mercilessly.” has all the morality of a psychopathic obsessive stalker.

Yet the Christians would maintain that morality comes only from God and that without God atheists are the ones who have no moral compass. Many will go further and state that when someone who at first appears devout later is exposed committing some terrible act, that they are “not a true Christian, because a true Christian would not do that.” This is the “no true Scotsman” fallacy; which takes it’s name from the claim, among other examples, that “No true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.” Aye, weel, I am a true Scotsman and I tak nothin’ but saut oan ma parritch, but that is where any correlation ends.

History is pock-marked with “Good Christians” who have carried out acts, some of which were highly questionable, others which were downright detestable, or could even have been considered “evil”. The vast majority of presbyterian Christians read and study from the King James Version of the Bible. This edition was translated by a group of men hand picked by King James I of Great Britain, and these men, the Christians would have you believe, were divinely inspired, hence their Bible must be the unquestionable word of God. One wonders how many actually know a little of the history of King James. James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots. He was born in Edinburgh Castle, right here in my home town, in 1566. Not long after he turned one year old his Roman Catholic mother was forced to abdicate and give up her son to be brought up by the Protestant Lords of Convention, who ruled in his stead until he reached maturity. As James grew, surrounded by the bigotry and superstition of the time, he became increasingly paranoid about witches. To this end hundreds, possibly over a thousand people, mostly women and girls, were tortured throughout Scotland. James’ youngest victim of being accused of being a witch was a four year old toddler in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. More than 500 women and girls were burnt at the stake on the Castlehill in Edinburgh alone (contrary to what Hammer/Hollywood would have you believe, burning at the stake was peculiar to Scotland as the usual punishment for witchcraft). Yet this was a good, moral, Christian man who apparently gave us the definitive version of the Holy Bible.

There are some Christians who make the point that Christopher Columbus was not only a tradesman, he was an extremely devout man, whom when he discovered the Americas, attempted to bring Christianity to the Native Americans. Indeed he, and the other Christians who followed him, did – at the point of the sword, whilst cheating, stealing and plundering from the Native Americans, as well as killing many. That is not an opinion, it is a solid historical fact.

And in the modern era, we have had the last Pope, Benedict XVI, who as pontiff was supposedly the authority on Christian morality for 1.2 billion people, and his 2009 statement upon the distribution of condoms in Africa, “(a tragedy which) cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problem”. In other words Pope Benedict XVI openly stated that condoms, which we know, which he knows prevent HIV infection, that they actually exacerbate infection. That was an outright lie. What a fine paragon of moral virtue he was. But then, given the fact that Pope Benedict XVI carried on the protection of paedophile priests, as the Papacy has always done, and no doubt Pope Francis will continue, and that the Papacy has always amassed wealth in a world worse than half hungry, that they vilify women and the LGBT community, they have no right to preach morality to anyone. And yet we are talking about good Christian gentlemen.

Of course there are those Christians who will continue to blindly state the “no true Scotsman” fallacy, that these are not “true Christians”, which makes me wonder just who is a true Christian? And there is another danger here, and that is those who think that if they are a true Christian, they are “elect of God”. Yet every Christian who has committed a terrible act has always thought themselves “elect of God”.

In 1824 the Scots author and poet James Hogg anonymously published The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, the plot of which surrounded a person so very devout he believed himself so “elect of God” that he could do no wrong. This ultimately led to the destruction of those around him and himself by his own hands. The scary thing is that there are people who have acted exactly like that, and continue to do so to this day. Doubt that? How many “Good Christians” stand up against abortion, yet openly support wars in which children are killed daily? How many support children being killed by Israeli forces, because that is part of their God’s “divine plan”? Indeed, how many oppose abortion on the grounds that life is sacred, yet also hypocritically support the death penalty? How many greedily guard their money, are against paying taxes and strongly oppose social healthcare, despite the man they claim to worship telling them to help the poor, pay their taxes and tend to the sick?

Some Christians may argue that they are against abortion because of the innocence of the unborn child. Yet if they do, then they contradict their own faith. For due to the Fall of Man, from Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden, all of us are damned for all time. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10, KJV). Not even foetuses. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5, KJV). It is because of this verse that to this day we have people in many sects of the Christian faith having babies Christened or Baptised, so they will not go to Hell if they die. Which begs the questions, what sort of morality is there in casting babies into eternal torment, and what then becomes of miscarried children?

What of the “Good Christians” who hide behind their faith to promote bigotry? On 24 March 2013 protestors against gay marriage and gay adoption marched through Paris and tried to breach police barriers. When police responded with one round of tear gas, the protestors regrouped and, responding to calls of “Put to the children to the front.” some used their own children as human shields. Where is the morality in that? Where indeed is the morality of those who promote violence against other the LGBT community and other minorities? Where is the morality of those “Good Christians” who celebrate the death of those whom they are opposed to and gloat over them “burning in Hell”. If you doubt that happens, go and see the sickening statements of some good Christians said about the death of the atheist Christopher Hitchens.

And yet the same people will tell you that because they have accepted salvation through Jesus Christ, that makes them true Christians and due to that they are the only ones who are moral. Because as long as they drop a few coins in the collection plate every Sunday to salve their consciences, they are doing their bit and will be rewarded for that in Heaven, and for that, they must be better than the evil atheists.

So we come full circle to a morality which is based upon rewards and punishment, upon checks and balances by people who are very quick to judge others (which their own faith tells them not to do incidentally) but very slow to examine their own lives. That is not a morality at all. It is hypocrisy, it is cowardice and it is not just immoral, it is amoral – it actually has no basis in any moral compass.

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2 Comments

  1. I like what you say though I am a Christian. You point out the fallacy of the idea that Christians are morally superior to anyone else.
    Nothing could be further from the Truth. Read Romans 14:23. Anything that does not proceed from faith is sin. It is not the act that is moral but the faith behind the act. Ergo, it is true that only a Christian may commit a truly moral act, but no one is withbout sin and so all are equally worthy of condemnation. What a Christian does have is grace.
    The Holy Spirit may lead a believer to do more good. That does not mean that that believer is “better” than anyone else however. It just means that he or she is arguably “better” than he or she once was. Though compared to God (the only comparison that matters), all fall terribly short. So why try? Simply out of gratitude for our salvation and out of servitude to our Lord.

    God Bless,

    Christopher

  2. Hello Christopher, firstly sorry for the delay in responding.

    I am sorry but I could not disagree with you more. In fact, it seems to me that your claim that only a Christian may commit a truly moral act merely backs up my point about some Christians believing that they are so “elect of God” that they can do no wrong. I also find that insulting to non-Christians who perform moral acts, be they atheists or members of other faiths. Your claim in fact says that the Jews before the life and death of Jesus could not have committed a “truly moral act”.

    Romans 14:23, “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” actually causes me a great deal of problems, because it is open to interpretation as to what is and what is not “sinful”. After all, as you and I know, there are a great many views and interpretations within Christianity. I will give you an example at the lesser end of this. I have an interest in naturism and used to be a member of a naturist website (do not try naturism in Scotland – it’s way too cold here). There I met Christian naturists who believed that God intended us to be naked. Now you may well disagree, perhaps very strongly, with that. Yet they too could quote Romans 14:23 to back up their beliefs.

    At the other end of the scale Romans 14:23 could be abused to back up terrible acts of violence. Just look at how often political leaders have sent young men and women to war, telling the people that God is on their side. Similarly I am sure that Jim Jones and David Koresh believed that what they were doing was “of faith”, as has every psychopath who has killed, claiming “God told me to do it”.

    I am not for one moment saying that some Christians are “gracious”, but do they have grace? No. What I would say is that there are good Christians, there are bad Christians, just as there are good and bad atheists, and people of other faiths. Sadly, I have to say that the vast majority of Christians I encounter online are not nearly as nice as you are, but rather can be very nasty and downright abusive. I have had everything from lies told about me to threats of violence, and I would like to know where the morality lies in that. I am reminded of Gandhi; “I like your Christ but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

    Actually, this could bring me back to Romans 14:23, and what is sinful. Unlike you, the vast majority of “Christians” (I use the term loosely) I encounter are not just abusive (including using profanities – which I’m sure you know is a no-no) but will argue points arrogantly with me. Now, I’m all for a debate but not when it becomes nasty, and apart from which, as you and I both know, Christians are not meant to do but just to walk away. Which actually makes me wonder with such people if they are trying to convince me, or themselves.

    You say all fall short of God, I say no-one is perfect. Tomato-tomayto. If you haven’t read Hogg’s “Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner”, I would highly recommend it, as he showed as far back as the 19th century how fundamentalism (of any kind – there are even dangerous fundamentalist atheists) is a dangerous mindset.

    Anyway, thank you for your very nice response.


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