christians must steal from secular morality

todangst's picture

The bible does nothing and can do nothing towards inculcating moral behavior on its own. Christians must steal from secular moral systems, and then merely graft their 'god threats' on top of a purely secular moral system which already includes the concept of punishment. Any system that relies on external motivations for  behavior is not morality as much as it is consequentialism - an immature form of maturity that we must rely upon with infants, until they develop empathy.


The bible actually undermines the concept of morality. It holds that

1) All 'sins' are equivalent.

2) All positive moral behavior is immaterial, because works cannot save a person

3) There is an infinite reward for blind obedience (heaven) which undermines any intrinsic motivations for behavior - which is the basis for real morality.

4) There is an infinite punishment for disobedience, which is a mockery of justice, seeing as a) an omnipotent creator and sustainer must be perfectly, ultimately responsible for all actions (See my entry on the incoherence of god and the problem of evil) and b) no finite act by a finite being can logically incur 'infinite punishment', seeing as 'punishment' itself is necessarily finite in nature (i.e. punishment is defined as the addition of an aversive stimuli, or removal of a pleasant stimuli, that alters future behavior).

5) Finally, the bible claims that all people are damned from birth simply by being born, meaning that man is thoroughly invalidated as a moral agent. This is a mockery of justice and reason itself.

"Take a look at what you dare to call a moral code: Your code begins by damning man as evil, then demands that he practice a good, which is defined as what is impossible for him to practice. It demands that he accept his own depravity without proof. It demands that he start with a standard of evil, which is himself. The name of this monstrous absurdity is "original sin".

(However) if man is evil by birth then he has no will, no power to change it. If he has not will, then he can be neither good nor evil. to hold man’s nature as his sin, is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence can possibly exist is a mockery of reason.

To destroy nature, morality, justice and reason by means of a single concept is a feat of evil hardly to be matched.

- John Galt, addressing the world by radio, in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged"

Christians implicitly concede that the bible offers no moral blueprint through their behaviors, Christians actually live according to secular morality which holds that:

1) Man obviously has a value onto himself.

Otherwise, why treat people in the Kantian fashion as an 'end in of themselves' and not simply a means to an end?

2) Man IS a moral agent.

Otherwise, why even anticipate that others, particularly non-Christians, will act morally?

3) All 'sins' are obviously not equivalent

Otherwise, why respond to different 'sins' with different levels of punishment?

4) Infinite torture is morally wrong

Why else do Western nations hold that there are some punishments that are 'cruel and unusual'?

5) It is a mockery of justice to hold a man morally culpable when he has no intent to do wrong.

Otherwise, why even hold to the concept of responsibility? Why even hold to "innocence by reason of insanity"?


The Bible is about Obedience, Not Morality.

The bible is about obedience, not morality. In fact, the bible holds that is incapable of being moral. The bible holds that a person must 1) concede that humanity is worthless, 2) believe that an intelligent, loving god is the most cruel force imaginable, and 3) hold that the best thing a person can do is grovel in obedience before this cruel tyrant, or face hellfire. This is not the inculcation of morality, this is coercion.

One is forced to obey, or be destroyed.

This is not a moral system. It undermines morality itself. It is merely obedience.

If it isn't already indubitable why this is so, consider the following examination of the development  of morality:


Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Reasoning

If we look at Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning, we see that a system built upon punishments and rewards is pre conventional morality, the morality of infants. Consequentialism.

Stages 1 and 2 in the preconventional level involve an "egocentric point of view" and a "concrete individualistic perspective" in which the person makes choices based on the fear of punishment and the desire for rewards.

Stage 1 Punishment/Obedience - Consequentialism. This stage is characterized by avoidance of punishment and unquestioning deference to power as values in themselves. Simple Hedonism. Morality is seen as based on self interest; the goodness or badness of action is determined by their physical consequences, regardless of any human meaning attached to these consequences.

Stage 2 - Instrumental Relativist Orientation - defined by a focus on instrumental satisfaction of one's own needs, as the determiner of "right". Reciprocity may be present, but it is of the "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" kind.

Conventional Stage (Late childhood, early adolescence)
In Stages 3 and 4 of the conventional level, persons make choices from a "member-of-society" perspective, considering the good of others, the maintenance of positive relations, and the rules of society. This level generally involves a move towards gaining approval or avoiding disapproval as the basis of morality; law and social rules are seen as valuable in their own right.

Stage 3 - Interpersonal Concordance (Good boy/girl orientation) - this stage is driven by a desire to please or help others with hope of winning their approval.

Stage 4 - Law and Order orientation - Focuses on the maintenance of social order and the importance of authority and strict rules. This is not the blind, unquestioning belief in power of stage one, however.

Postconventional level (This may develop in late adolescence, more likely in our mid 20s and beyond. It may never develop for most of us.)
Persons in the final stages of the postconventional level, Stages 5 and 6, reason from a "prior-to-society" perspective in which abstract ideals take precedence over particular societal laws.

Stage 5 - Social Contract/Legalistic Orientation - This stage involves a recognition of the relative nature of personal values, and the importance of having procedures for reaching a consensus and changing unfair rules. The individual at this stage can separate the legal world from individual differences of opinion.

Stage 6 - Universal Ethical Principle Orientation - This stage involves defining what is "right" in one's own conscience in a way that is consistent with one's own abstract ethical principles that are based on inclusiveness and responsibility to others; there is a clear emphasis on universality, consistency, logic and rationality. The highest stage of moral development in Kohlberg's original theory. Some state that stage 6 is only hypothetical. On the other hand, philosophers like Ken Wilber point to a 7th stage - the centaur - where universal concern for humanity is combined with a concern for all nature - identification is broadened to the universe itself, care is held for all nature in a manner such that one cares for the universe around him just as another cares for his own body.

Christian 'morality' (if we leave aside the other problems for a moment) is at best a preconventional morality.. it's external, it's based on obedience... on fear, on punishment and rewards. Such a "morality' is not a 'morality at all, it is mere prudence. It's driven by a hedonistic need to avoid torture and seek out pleasure.

Actual morality is both external and internal. It's part of your character, of who you are. It's a set of values - literally things that you value other than just yourself..... It's an inter-subjective standard - the morals of their community, which in turn are founded on human empathy.

In order for a man to be moral, to reach levels 3, 4, and beyond, he must disregard the claims of theism, and move towards intrinsic rewards for moral actions. As the philosopher Spinoza stated: "A moral act is never an act done solely for an external reward, it's done because the act, itself, is rewarding". So again, Christianity can only undermine morality through it's infantile use of external threats.


Dershowitz Quote

Here's a nice quote from Alan Dershowitz to support this view:

"There is a wonderful Hasidic story about a rabbi who was asked whether it is ever proper to act as if God did not exist. He responded, “Yes, when you are asked to give to charity, you should give as if there were no God to help the object of the charity.” I think the same is true of morality and character: in deciding what course of action is moral, you should act as if there were no God. You should also act as if there were no threat of earthly punishment or reward. You should be a person of good character because it is right to be such a person."

So even if we take the Christian at his word, his argument that these biblical actions are 'moral' because they are the rules of an unquestionable tyrant, still falls to pieces, because prudence is not a true morality.

And the Christian himself secretly agrees, because he himself rejects this paradigm as a moral system in his own daily life... Just look at his actions: he recognizes that some immoral actions are worse than others, he places moral actions on a hierarchy. He expects others around him to be reliable moral agents... he doesn't consider his fellow man incapable and loathsome, but someone to be relied upon. He lives his morals as something internal to him, something to be done because they act itself is a value... he helps others not because he will receive a reward, but because the helping behavior itself IS the reward.

The Christian expects, in other words, that both he himself, and others around him, will operate under a conventional morality, a secular morality, a true morality.

Christians must steal their moral rules from secular morality. They have no choice, as the bible does not offer a moral system, it only offers a series of contradictory commands and a supposed threat of punishment in the "afterlife" for not following them - a punishment that is given equally to all violators - whatever the sin.

In reality, Christians realize that some actions are more moral than others. They realize that moral actions exist in a hierarchy, and that rape is far worse than stealing a pencil. Yet the bible holds that all 'sins' are equal, as all deserve the same punishment.

Christians also realize that humans can be moral agents... they expect moral behavior from others, and they view their own children as something to value. Yet the bible holds that man is worthless, that he cannot be a moral agent, and that his sole salvation comes from grace.

The fact that a Christian can't go five minutes without contradicting his bible and stealing from secular morality says it all.


The Bible's immoral injunctions.

Find me a theist who finds any of these actions moral:

In Genesis 3:16 god punishes all women, innocent or not, with painful childbirth and subjugation to men.

In Genesis 7:4 god has a bad day at the office, thus decides to drown innocent babies, and animals both wild and domestic.

In Exodus 4:11 god boasts about making people handicapped.

In Exodus 4:23 god resorts to hostage taking and terrorism in order to get his own way. He does this via threatening a baby. Soon, he is slaughtering little babies all across Egypt.

In Exodus 9:19-20 god slaughters Egyptian cattle. Sometimes, cow tipping just isn't enough.

In Exodus 9:29-30 god kills off innocent babies, and whatever cows he missed earlier.

In Exodus 20:17 god tells us not to free another's slaves. Abolitionists beware!!

In Exodus 32:27-28 god tells the sons to slaughter their neighbors: 3,000 men are slain.

In Leviticus 19:20-22 god demands that raping a slave woman is punishable by scourging the victim. The rapist is to be forgiven.

In Leviticus 25:44-46 god tells his followers to make slaves of their neighbors.

In Leviticus 27:3-7 god helpfully provides a pricing guide. According to this guide, as a male between the ages of 18 and 60 years (the most expensive category), I am worth approximately US$25. How much are you worth to god?

In Numbers 14:18 god's idea of justice is explained: little children are to be punished for their great-great grandparents transgressions.

In Numbers 31:1-54 god tells his followers to commit genocide, "sparing" only the virgin girls, who are to be raped. Even god gets some "unspared" virgins.

In Numbers 33:4 god kills of another batch of Egyptian babies. Abortion is a sin because...?

In Deuteronomy 2:33-36 god demands genocide again. No mention of virgin girls this time, unless these children are raped to death...

In Deuteronomy 7:2 god demands more genocide from his followers.

In Deuteronomy 13:12-16 god demands new and improved genocide, now including cattle. Oh, wait, we've had that before. Damn cows.

In Deuteronomy 32:21-26 god glories in being a psychotic terrorist. Don't miss the atrocities of Deuteronomy 28, either!

In Joshua 6:18-19 the omnipotent creator is short of cash, again.

In Joshua 8:22-26 god demands more genocide, plus some more slavery as detailed in Joshua 9:21-27, but this time, in Joshua 10:10-11, we get slaughter and a chase scene!! Go, god!!
In Joshua 10:28-32 god demands still more genocide.

In Joshua 11:6-17 god still demands more genocide. There are more exceptions to "Thou shalt not kill" than there are to a rich man's tax code.

In Judges 1:2-7. god's takes a break from genocide, has his followers kill "only" 10,000 people, but at least they get to torture and mutilate somebody by cutting off both thumbs and big toes!

In Judges 1:12-13 Caleb offers his daughter as prize to anyone who conquers the City of Debir. The girl's cousin wins the contest, thus the prize.

In Judges 1:17-19 god gets back to good, ol' regular genocide. Killing innocent people is serious work!!

In Judges 2:14 god has a temper-tantrum and sells Israel into slavery.

In Judges 3:28-29 & 4:15-16 god reverts to, you guessed it, genocide.

In Judges 5:30 god hands out a damsel or two to each of his rapist soldiers. Booty Call!!

In Judges 10:17 god gets angry at Israel, again, and sells them into slavery, again.

In Judges 12:6 god slays 42,000 innocent people because someone with a speech impediment mispronounces the word "shibboleth". I'll bet you thought the word "lisp" was cruel jest.

In Judges 15:4-8 a "righteous" Samson captures 300 foxes, ties their tails together, and sets them on fire. Abusing animals is almost as righteous as killing babies, apparently.

In Judges 19:22-30, after taking in a traveling Levite, the host offers his virgin daughter and his guest's concubine to a mob of perverts (who want to have sex with his guest). The mob refuses the daughter, but accepts the concubine and they "abuse her all night." The next morning she crawls back to the doorstep and dies. The Levite mounts her dead body on an ass and takes her home. Then he chops her body up into twelve pieces and sends them to each of the twelve tribes of Israel.

In Judges 21:7-23 in order to find wives for the Benjamites, who were unwilling to use their own daughters, the other tribes attacked and killed all occupants of a city except for the young virgins. These virgins were then given to the Benjamites as "wives".

In 1 Samuel 2:10 if god doesn't like you he will send a thunderstorm to break your body into little pieces. In 1 Samuel 2:31-34, if god really doesn't like you, he will cut off your arm, consume your eyes, grieve your heart, and slay your sons & grandfathers. In 1 Samuel 5:6, 9, and 12 we learn that if god really, really doesn't like you, he will give you hemorrhoids in your "secret parts".

In 1 Samuel 5:11 god wipes out another city.

In 1 Samuel 15:2-3 god demands more genocide, this time as punishment for some no doubt petty transgression committed hundreds of years previously by the forefathers of these innocent people.

In 1 Samuel 15:7-34 god goads Saul into torturing & slaying his prisoner, a King.

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus strongly approves of the law & the prophets. He hasn't the slightest objection to the cruelties of the Old Testament.

In Matthew 8:21 Jesus shows no compassion for the bereaved, saying to a man who had just lost his father: "Let the dead bury the dead."

In Matthew 8:32 Jesus abuses animals by sending some devils into a herd of pigs, causing the pigs to run off a cliff & drown in the sea below. The acorn does not fall far from the tree. Was there a local shortage of Egyptian cows? Moo!

In Matthew 10:15 Jesus becomes a terrorist, and threatens genocide against cities.

In Matthew 10:28 Jesus tries to scare people by telling them that his dad can beat up their dad.

In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus threatens more cities.

In Matthew 12:47-49 "Mister Family Values" himself (Jesus) is disrespectful to his mother and rude to his brothers.

In Matthew 13:41-42 Jesus threatens to send his angels against any who offend him, and send them straight to hell. Love, peace, tolerance, and forgiveness are beneath him, apparently.

In Matthew 15:4-7 Jesus commits hypocrisy by demanding all others to honor their parents. "Sorry about being rude back in Matthew 12, Mom."

In Matthew 18:8-9 Jesus advocates self-mutilation, but for others, not him. He's perfect, thank you.

In Matthew 18:25 Jesus advocates slavery.

In Matthew 25:29 Jesus proposes a system of economy where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

In Mark 5:12-13 Jesus spooks 2,000 pigs, causing them to jump of a cliff and drown in the sea. Is this evidence of more animal abuse, or is the story from Matthew 8:32 getting better with each telling?

In Mark 6:11 Jesus resorts to threatening cities again. Die, innocent babies, Die!!

In Mark 7:9-13 Jesus criticizes people for not killing their children, as they should have, according to Old Testament law. The same law Jesus broke when he was disrespectful to his Mother in Matthew 12:47-49.

In Mark 10:29-30 Jesus will reward men who abandon their wives and children.

In Mark 11:13-14 Jesus kills a fig tree for not bearing fruit, even though it was out of season. Apparently, "Mister Perfect" wasn't much of an agronomist, or ethicist.

In Luke 8:20-21 Jesus is disrespectful to his mother and rude to his brothers, again. Or still?

In Luke 8:27-37 Jesus heals a naked man who was possessed by many devils by sending the devils into a herd of pigs, causing them to run off a cliff and drown in the sea. This messy, cruel, and expensive (for the owners of the pigs) treatment did not favorably impress the local residents, and Jesus was asked to leave. This story does get better with each telling!!

In Luke 10:10-15 Jesus terrorizes entire cities, claiming they will be violently destroyed and the inhabitants "thrust down to hell" for not "receiving" his disciples. No doubt these people preferred their pigs.

In Luke 12:46-47 Jesus likens god to a sadistic, diabolical slave-owner, who will beat you "with many stripes".

In Luke 14:26 Jesus decides that it is not enough for men to abandon their families; they must actively hate them, too. Where is the love??

In Luke 16:17 Jesus declares that all the vicious, irrational laws of the Old Testament are binding forever.

In Luke 17:27 Jesus talks about Noah, neatly demonstrating his own ignorance of science, history, and justice.

In John 2:4 Jesus is, again, rude to his mother. She seems so nice, too.

In John 5:14 Jesus announces that god handicaps people as just punishment for their sins.

In John 7:8-10 Jesus lies to his family about attending a feast.

In Acts 5:1-10 Peter, with god's help, kills a man who sold his possessions, but did not fork over all of the earnings. Why is the omnipotent creator always short of cash?

In Acts 13:48 we learn that only pre-ordained people would be allowed in heaven. So much for freewill...

In each case, the average 'Christian' would hold that each of these claims is immoral. And they can do this because their sense of morality is extra-biblical - it comes from secular sources.

A Theist Response

"God interjects a moral sense into us that we call our 'conscience'. Our conscience often is at odds with our desires, which is proof of its origin outside of us. - C. S. Lewis.

Problems with this response.

1) As St. Augustine stated, anything that we can conceive cannot be 'god'. "god" is therefore taken on faith alone, and is an incoherent term without any explanatory power. Once we realize this, we recognize that appeals to 'god' as 'the answer' are completely equitable with saying "I don't know. The statement then reads "we don't know why we have a moral sense".

2) Supernatural claims are the least parsimonious 'explanations' possible, they multiplies complexity into infinity.

3) While it is true that much of our moral sense does not necessarily originate inside us, it's not true that we have no idea where a moral sense comes from. ('god' claims are only expressions of ignorance.) There is an answer from psychology as to how we could have moral ideas inside us that are not of our own creation: parental introjection.

We know from analytical work that we have a more parsimonious explanation for conscience: our conscience is introjected into us, as young children, through the rules and desires of our parents. What becomes our conscience was once the words of our parents, our families, etc.

So those who argue after C. S. Lewis that we have an internal moral compass that couldn't have come from us are right.... but they are intellectually irresponsible when they leap from their personal ignorance to a supernatural 'deux ex machina'.

Most of us do have a 'super ego', or a 'conscience', and it can be sensed as stern and external, but this is born of the fact that no one personality is truly a 'personality' but in fact an inter-personality, who we are is formed through interactions with others. This interactional, interrelational aspect of who we are provides us with a basic ability to sympathize and empathize with the plights of others. We can take on the other's point of view because a part of what we are comes from other people.

This part of 'us' is interpersonally created. Hence, there are aspects of us that do not originate within us solely. Should this surprise you considering that what you are is the combination of two people's genetic code? Should this surprise you considering that the first 9 months of your life take place within another person? Should this surprise you considering how important your first interactions are with your parents. Should this surprise you considering the immense amount of interactions you have with your parents? (Can you hear your mother's voice in your head? Can you hear your father's words when you do something he may disapprove of?)

But this alone is merely the more parsimonious explanation, and not the refutation. The refutation comes from Horney, in her concept of the "Tyranny of the Shoulds"

In her work with patients, she found that many statements stemming from the conscience of her patients were NOT moral in character, only in tone. What I mean by this is that people's conscience often speaks in a moral sounding way on things without any moral bearing.... "I should be able to get through traffic without delay" "I should be able to finish my work faster than my co workers:

These "shoulds" have the same moral tone of any other conscience statement, yet they are without any actual moral import.

So from this, it is clear that there is no "supernatural moral law from a god' introjected into us... our conscience is not merely a set of 'moral rights and wrong' but all sorts of statements that have the tone of 'right and wrong' but not always an actual moral character.

For this reason, it is not only more parsimonious to hold that conscience is a set of family values introjected into us as children, it is logical to reject the idea that our conscience is a moral thermometer set up by any god, seeing as our conscience is not wholly moral at all.

So, once we remove the erroneous presumption that our conscience is solely a 'moral guide' the theist argument loses its power.

Note: along with psychology, philosopy, evolutionary theory and sociology, neuroscience has a good deal to say about the origin of morality:

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank, for that we call him evil.
"God" burns Anne Frank eternally. For that, theists call him 'good.'