Home > Religion > Consideration 2; Morality

Consideration 2; Morality

A common argument presented by Christians to show that their faith is superior or even relevant is the idea that its teachings require good (moral) works and actions. Some even go so far as to say that without Christianity, morality as we know it would collapse. There are numerous problems with this line of reasoning and, because it is so pervasive, it is necessary to address it.

We must first put to rest the notion that without Christianity, morality is not possible. There are two arenas here. First we can talk about morality as being good works: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and so forth. This is what is meant by “moral works.” Then there is the standard of morality that includes the baser things: sexual behavior, for example. These are the “moral actions.”

Interestingly, Christianity feels like it has a monopoly on both of these markets. Not only do they feel they are uniquely qualified to help the unfortunate, but they also believe that their standard for moral actions is the only one to which mankind should adhere. This results in quite a lot of confusion, unlike that of moral works. For example, few people specifically argue that we should let people starve. However, the opining on homosexuality or extramarital sex rages hot and heavy in Christian circles.

In this article, we will work our way back, starting with moral actions, to see if Christianity can truly say that their standard is the right one. Then we will look at moral works to see if Christianity has that market cornered, including a very brief discussion of whether one needs god in order to be good.

Moral Actions

Christianity certainly has a lot to say about moral actions. “Thou shalt nots” reign supreme, guiding the Christian’s life, particularly in the area of sexual behavior. This may be the place to start. For a religion that superficially appears to be repulsed by sex, it is perversely fascinated by the topic. There is no greater evidence for an entity’s fascination with a certain subject than that which is shown by that entity’s attempt to control that subject. In this area, Christianity excels. It dictates when during your life you can have sex, with whom you may have that sex, and in some cases which positions you may assume during sex. Presumably, Christianity holds these beliefs because they are the will of god, passed down to them through the teachings in the Holy Bible.

One interesting point to make is the division between the Old and New Testaments. There are many precepts taught in the Old Testament that Christians do not follow, such as not blending various kinds of cloth in their garments (King James Version, Leviticus 19.19). Yet there are other instructions to which Christians still tightly cling.

The common explanation for this is that when Jesus came he fulfilled the requirements for the law (Matthew 5.17). In that same verse, however, Jesus also makes it clear that he did not come to “destroy the law.” He says it twice in one sentence, in fact. So the law still remains. Yet we can afford the Christian perspective one small victory, because it is not necessary to win this one. Even if Jesus did abolish Old Testament law, we are still left with our original point: the control over morality, i.e. sex. For example, the Old Testament speaks against homosexuality. On the other hand, the New Testament has very little or, depending on your interpretation of the original Greek text, nothing at all to say about homosexuality. Jesus never mentions homosexuality. If Christians do not have to follow or defend Old Testament law and their teachings on homosexuality are markedly absent from the New Testament, then why the conflict?

This simply shows that attempts by Christianity to control moral actions are not so much motivated by a desire for others to have fulfilled lives, but more about the control itself. The desire and attempt to control others’ lives can be viewed as immoral itself. Therefore, even if Christianity was right about certain moral standards, the attempt to push people into rigid compliance may cancel it all out. Performing an immoral action in order to achieve a moral result is very shaky ground, indeed.

Moral Works

Now we can look at Christianity in the light of moral works. There is no doubt that Christian organizations do a lot of good things: feeding the hungry, etc. However, they do not have a monopoly on those works. Secular organizations do the same things, as do non-Christian religious groups.

The argument that is most often made is that Christianity, because of its focus on humanity and the idea that every human is “a child of God,” reinforces the drive the help suffering beings. I do not argue that this may be seen as a motivation, but this is not the point. In order to defend itself properly, Christianity needs to show that it is the only provider of such motivation or, at the very least, provides enough extra motivation to make all the religious baggage worthwhile.

Christianity is clearly not the only provider of motivation for moral work, so we can put that idea to rest altogether.

The claim that Christianity provides an extra layer of motivation for moral works is also shaky. Certainly Jesus talked about helping the poor. But so do many secular figures. Warren Buffett, who came in third on the Forbes list of billionaires, has given billions of dollars to charity. Buffett is a confessed agnostic and has affirmed this stance on several occasions (Singer).

It is also worth mentioning that Christianity has been responsible for an enormous list of evil works. Not simply deeds done by Christians, no! Deeds done because they were Christian and in the name of Christianity. Holy wars, the Inquisition, witch hunts, Manifest Destiny, and continuing bigotry and prejudice. To say that Christianity provides motivation for moral works may be true, but it also provides motivation for at least as many immoral works.

We can also ponder the question of moral works performed as a result of something else. In other words, is it truly moral to do a good thing because you feel that someone else has told you to do it? Or because you feel like you have to? If you believe god will be unhappy with you if you don’t do good works, then you may perform these works, but is it then truly moral? You only did it because you had to, after all. I would argue that a secular person who does good is exhibiting a more pure form of morality than a Christian who does the same good. A secular person has no other motivation, other than to help their fellow beings. A Christian may have motivation to do good, but doesn’t that simply mean that they need more encouragement to do those moral works?

In short, Christianity comes with a heavy price. Certainly, performing moral works is a good and decent thing to do. Yet we can get there without paying Christianity’s heavy toll. Why wouldn’t we?

 

WORKS CITED

King James Version. [Colorado Springs]: Biblica, 2011. BibleGateway.com. Web. 6 April 2012.

Singer, Peter. “Atheism and Altruism.” Skeptic.ca. JR’s Freethought Pages. Web. 6 April 2012.

Categories: Religion
  1. Dave Phillips
    April 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm | #1

    Christianity doesn’t have a corner on perpetrated evil. Consider atheistic communism and Hitler, etc. And because people, with their twisted view of Christianity have done these things does not impute those negatives to Christianity. The people are responsible for those evils. Not Christianity. (the group you and I grew up in have a very distorted concept of Christianity). On the other hand much more good has been done in the name of Christianity than in the name of any other organisation – hospitals built…efforts to raise the quality of life in third world countries…feeding the hungry (as you mentioned), etc. There seems to be a motivating force that drives people who follow Christ more than any other group. Why?

    You mentioned the dynamic of “oughtness” – “I HAVE to do this.” And while I agree, that motivation is NOT the best motivation (and indeed the church we grew up in did very little of what we’re talking about anyway)… whatever the motivation, if suffering is being relieved – it’s better than suffering not being relieved.

    • April 6, 2012 at 7:16 pm | #2

      Hi Dave! I’m very pleased you’ve jumped in here. Thanks for reading.

      You are certainly correct in saying that Christianity doesn’t own the evil market. I would never suggest such a thing. Here’s the thing, though. Christianity does claim to own the market on morality (both actions and works) or, at the very least, the true motivation for it. Therefore Christians should be held to their own standards. They want to make the rules. They should have to live by them and the condemnation therefore should be that much stronger when they don’t.

      Saying that the evil deeds Christians do does not change Christianity simply will not do. Islamic apologists say the same thing about their faith, “Oh, but Islam is a religion of peace. You can’t blame all Muslims for the actions of a few radicals.”

      Are they right? Not really. You see, religion does have the ability to motivate for good. I’ll grant you that. But it also has just as great an ability to motivate for evil. For every person who decides to do good in religion’s name, at least one person decides to abuse the power religion affords. We see this throughout history. It’s still going on.

      You say that “much more good has been done in the name of Christianity than in the name of any other organisation.” I’m going to need to see some actual numbers for that claim, I’m afraid. Even if it is true, however, it doesn’t change the argument.

      This ties in with your final point: “whatever the motivation, if suffering is being relieved – it’s better than suffering not being relieved.” On the surface, that’s a no-brainer. Yet we must consider the cost. Is it really a good thing to help 1 million people if 1 million people are hurt by the same cause? I’m sure the 1 million who are helped would think so. I wonder what the other million would say?

    • April 14, 2012 at 12:54 pm | #3

      I also don’t know what corner of the world you’re in if Christianity is mistreating and hurting people at an exact proportion to the people they’re helping. I live in Detroit, Michigan. I know the suffering I see is not the same as the suffering somewhere like Haiti and in many other places around the world, but I’ve seen plenty of suffering. Not philosophical suffering, but real suffering. Starving kids. Kids having knives pulled on them by their parents. Kids who watched their dad get shot in the living room of their house. Teenagers afraid of getting raped on their way to school. I’m not exaggerating; in fact, I’m leaving plenty out.

      Guess who I’ve seen give up their middle class and upper class lives and move into the city determined to make a difference in the lives of these kids? People who name the name of Jesus.

      I could name person after person after person who has come to Detroit motivated by nothing other than their commitment to Jesus Christ, and I’m not talking about people who moved here because they had no other options. I’m talking about people who were successful — professors, teachers, executives, etc. — who moved here for that reason.

      There’s a Catholic church in our area that for probably 50 years has fed, clothed, and helped countless people in our area .You know how much money they get out of residents of my neighborhood? Almost none. You know how many members or attenders they get out of my neighborhood? Very few. (So few the archdiocese has considered closing the church, but the priest and people are committed to being the Church here.)

      A friend of mine is a pastor of a 1500 member church. Went there from a successful career as a stock broker. He has spent the last 15 years of his life giving and serving and pouring himself out in the poverty of our community, not living high off of his church (as he could).

      I’ve seen my share of hypocrisy and people using the name of Christ to build personal fortunes and worse — but it doesn’t begin to compare with the caring and the support I’ve seen at the hands of Christians.

      Yes, this is all anecdotal. But you seem to be basing your entire attack on Christianity on the “abuse” you’ve experienced at our hands. And for what part of that abuse I’ve committed, I’m sorry. If my actions as a member of my church have coerced you into any behavior you were uncomfortable engaging in, if I pressured you in anyway, I’m sorry.

      But you’re attacking a Christianity with which I am unfamiliar, a Christianity that appears to be a mere caricature of the Christianity I’ve observed.

      • April 14, 2012 at 1:46 pm | #4

        This is what happens when someone still in the world of Christianity attempts to argue for the faith (which I know is typically the case). Meaning that they cannot see or understand much that happens outside of the circle. Nor can they offer much evidence other than anecdotal.

        For my part, I can offer a wide variety of real evidence to show that Christianity is quite capable of committing acts just as evil as any secular person. Also, and this is key, they often do not act this way in spite of their Christianity, but rather because of it.

        What Christian apologists must understand is that their faith claims to abolish such behavior in its adherents. And also that it doesn’t work. Additionally, if someone claims to only behave decently because of their religious belief, then that person is a pretty sorry human being, indeed. “Wow, it’s a good thing I’m a Christian, otherwise I might run around raping and pillaging!”

        I realize that the common defense of poor behavior in Christians is that, “well, then they’re not true Christians” or “they just don’t understand the faith” but this simply doesn’t work. The faith is constructed in such a way as to breed certain behaviors. Christianity is exclusive, i.e. only Christians go to heaven. It condemns dissidents to everlasting torment. It directs (some would say commands) believers to spread the word and convert the lost. Through these and other principles, Christianity causes unrest, unnecessary and widespread guilt, misery, tension, relational destruction, etc. Christianity hounds people, causes its members to feel morally superior (which often then results in more widespread egotism), and generally gives people an excuse to behave badly.

        You can provide examples of people who have done good things in “the name of Jesus” and I can provide examples of people who have done good things out of a natural desire to help their fellow man.

        Both religious and secular ideologies have caused wars. Both have caused suffering of many different kinds. Again, here is the main point: Christianity claims to have the ability to solve these issues, yet there is no real evidence of this. In fact, there is clear evidence that Christianity (and religion in general) has caused these types of suffering. Granted, in more recent years Christianity’s physical crimes have moved more toward the psychological, but one could argue they are just as evil.

        Here’s a question for you: If people can do good without Christianity, which they clearly can, and if Christianity is not needed for a functioning society, which it clearly isn’t, then why do we need Christianity?

        I certainly don’t expect you to accept all this, Tim. I didn’t, either, when I was still in the Church. You can’t see a circle when you’re inside it. You must get a distance away first. But I hope you will begin to see that the religion with which you identify has no chance of actually being the hope of world. Not when so much of the world dreads that religion, and for good reason.

  2. Dave Phillips
    April 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm | #5

    On the “much more good” arguement I’m not going to provide numbers (I don’t care enough about the arguement to do research), but anecdotaly, as I travel I see a lot of hospitals built in relation to Christianity. I’m not saying there aren’t ANY, but I’ve never seen a Karl Marx Memorial Hospital, or Chomsky Memorial Hospital, or Christopher Hitchens… To me it seems obvious.

    And I don’t blame all Muslims for the actions of the radical Islamists. That would be the same as blaming all Christians for the fighting in Ireland, or blaming all Christians for the idiot that bombs an abortion clinic. Should I blame all athiests for Joseph Stalin?

    • April 6, 2012 at 8:04 pm | #6

      Dave,

      If you’re not willing to back up your claims, you’re not allowed to use them. :) Them’s the rules, as they say. (Whoever “they” is.)

      My point on the Muslim bit was not that ALL Muslims are bad or that ALL Christians are bad, etc. Once again, “…religion does have the ability to motivate for good. I’ll grant you that. But it also has just as great an ability to motivate for evil. For every person who decides to do good in religion’s name, at least one person decides to abuse the power religion affords. We see this throughout history. It’s still going on.”

      I invite you to address the real points I made in my last comment, instead of making up points I did not make and addressing those.

      Thanks again!

      • April 6, 2012 at 8:23 pm | #7

        By the way, Chomsky is still living. Not many memorials around dedicated to living people. :) (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

      • April 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm | #8

        “For every person who decides to do good in religion’s name, at least one person decides to abuse the power religion affords. We see this throughout history. It’s still going on.”

        “If you’re not willing to back up your claims, you’re not allowed to use them. Them’s the rules, as they say. (Whoever “they” is.)”

  3. April 10, 2012 at 3:37 am | #9

    I do not know how Christianity works, but I or Muslim believe that people can misused a religion to achieve their aim. We acknowedge this kind of person exist and we always remind ourself that there are bad people living around us. That why, a good must help bad people to be a good person. That is religion. Muslim interpretation of religion is “Religion is nasihat (advise).

    Twisting the verse in scripture happen, bad rulers exist, scholar that please bad ruler, poor people exist. It being describe details in Quran and hadith. How to know, how it happen, why it happen, how to prevent, etc.

    “Religion can motivated evil” – Religion is about heart, how do you want to control heart.
    If heart is already bad, that it need to be clean.

    but if we just blaming others, we can not to solve the problems. The problem is there, some one must take the responsiblity to fix it. Everyone can be a critic but not all do know how to repair the problem.

    Let be rational, some human are hard to change and sometime never change to be good or better. That is life.

  4. April 14, 2012 at 12:43 pm | #10

    Tim: That’s a good point. Thank you for correcting me. I do appreciate it.

  5. April 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm | #11

    Your book and your blog primarily sum up the failures of Christianity and suggest that energetic universalism is a philosophy that could well serve as a replacement.

    Without delving into that argument too much, what are the ethical outworkings of energetic universalism? How does such a philosophy improve society, feed the hungry, care for the elderly, provide for the poor?

    It’s easy enough to criticize other religions, but it’s quite another thing to suggest an alternative. You have suggested without proof that Christianity’s bad works outweigh its good works, but I fail to see that if I (or anyone else) chuck Christianity and adopt energetic universalism that the world will become a better place.

    In addition to making the negative case against Christianity, you might do well to also make a positive case for why your philosophy is an improvement.

  6. April 14, 2012 at 2:21 pm | #12

    Aaaaargh! My frustration is building!

    “This is what happens when someone still in the world of Christianity attempts to argue for the faith (which I know is typically the case). Meaning that they cannot see or understand much that happens outside of the circle. Nor can they offer much evidence other than anecdotal.”

    You are making assumptions that just are not true. I make a serious effort to see things outside my circle, which is why I’m attempting to have a dialogue here. Whether I understand those things, I do not know, but I do try.

    I’m assuming you have already studied the “evidence” on my side of things. You’ve read the Timothy Kellers, the Dinesh D’Souzas, the mere C. S. Lewises, the Ravi Zachariases, etc., of the Christian world. You’ve seen more evidence than I can marshal. For either personal or philosophical reasons, you’ve rejected that evidence.

    So, I’m not trying to list bullet points to persuade you — instead, I’m trying to pick off your generalizations that libel a Christianity you seem to know little about.

    When you say “Christianity creates relational destruction,” for example, that’s not an empirically proven statement. You offer no basis for it, yet we “cannot offer much evidence other than anecdotal.” (By the way, I’m not asserting that there’s not an evidence-based reason for your statement, just pointing out that no evidence is offered.)

    And now I feel like I’m spamming. Perhaps I’ll let the thread rest awhile before resuming.

    • April 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm | #13

      Tim, I confess to experiencing much the same emotion. :) Let’s see if we can get this back on track.

      I did not say that Christians do not attempt to see outside their circle. I say that they are unable to do so. I base this on all the available evidence that I used to reach my own conclusions. I’m not trying to be cagey when I say that I cannot recount all of it here, although you will no doubt be thrilled to know I am working on a new book that will contain some of this. I will simply mention that Christianity is constructed in such a way that it prevents such a search or perspective.

      I have read many books and watched many hours of video by the people you cite. I have also read and watched just as much material from the other side. After all this, I began coming to conclusions. It’s called gathering as much evidence as possible. I did not simply wake up one morning and decide to reason my way out of Christianity. My journey (which is still going on) did not result from a whim, but rather a willingness to examine all this evidence. I only hope you have given equal time to both sides of the debate, delving into the work of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, etc., not to mention the scientific texts, just as much you devote to the writings of Keller, D’Souza, Lewis, and also the Bible. If not, then you cannot say that you are attempting to see outside the circle. You must approach these issues with a willingness to be completely wrong about them, not study what you wish in an effort to bolster what you want to be true. (I’m not saying you do this, by the way, but a lot of people do. I used to, when I still called myself a Christian.) When I first started the study, I did not want Christianity to be in error. It was a scary thing, not a happy one. But honesty, both moral and intellectual, required me to take an ever- increasingly critical view of such a faith.

      “…I’m trying to pick off your generalizations that libel a Christianity you seem to know little about.” Oh, I know about Christianity, beyond that crippled, absurd organization known as the BMC. I’ve attended many churches outside of that. I feel that you are continuing to miss my point. I am not saying, and have never said, that every individual Christian is as I describe. Yet, Christianity at large is guilty as such. Here is the point restated: Christianity claims to be the solution to the problem of evil and yet is often the cause of evil. I don’t need Christianity to be at fault for every problem in the world in order for my point to work and that isn’t what I’m saying.

      “When you say “Christianity creates relational destruction,” for example, that’s not an empirically proven statement.” Uhhh…okay…we should probably address this issue now before I have to drive down and kick you in the nuts. :) There is a difference between using non-empirical evidence to support things that are in dispute and using it to illustrate a point that is not in dispute. Also, it depends on how central the point attempting to be made actually is. Let me set up an example: When proving that the earth rotates around the sun, it would not have been good enough to say that several people think so. It had to be proven. Yet now we all know this to be true, so there is no reason to recount all the evidence for it every time we say, “you know, the earth revolves around the sun.” (I realize this isn’t the best example in the world, but it illustrates the point.)

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