"Mortal Values" or "A How-to Guide to Banana Worship"

"Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's sucking up." -Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion"

Most of the Christians I speak with talk of doom for the human race if we stray from biblical morality. "I can't imagine a world where people didn't believe in God," they say. "There would be no basis for moral values. I mean, everyone would just be making up whatever they think is right or wrong."


But do we need God to be moral? Certainly not. Of course, there are millions of good people in the world without a belief in a god. And somewhere in that haze between Christianity & Atheism, somewhere between Nihilism, Existentialism, & Humanism, I realized that being a Christian, an Atheist, or a Banana Worshipper made little to no difference in how "good" of a life I actually lived.

The point I want to make here is to respond to this notion that Christians have some "corner" on morality -- that they subscribe to "God's Law" and other people "make up their own moral values." But that's just simply not true.

The fact is that WE ALL DECIDE OUR OWN MORAL VALUES. We all decide what is good and what is bad on our own, apart from God, whether we believe in him or not. Christians make up their own morals using their own brains just like atheists. In this sense, there is no difference between Atheists, Christians, or those elusive Banana-Worshippers.

Christian's think their moral decisions are based on God's law. But they are wrong. When they first picked up a Bible and read, "thou shalt not kill" they said, "this is a moral principle I think is good, so I will live by it." But by what standard did they decide that was a good moral principle? (insert Final Jeopardy song here) That's right, they used their brains. They made a moral decision based on WHAT THEY THOUGHT WAS RIGHT, just like anyone else would in deciding what is good and bad.

Christian's cannot take the high ground here because "our morality comes from God." They can't say, "Well, I don't make up my morals, I just go by what the Bible says." They can't really say that because before they bought into God's Law, they had to decide that God's Law was worth buying into.

In other words, even assuming that a God was so kind as to send us a book with an Absolute & Perfect Moral Law each person would still have to make a judgment call - "Should we live by this?" We did this when we became Christians. We did this when we rejected it. You did it as well when you chose to adhere to your moral code. And if you think Bananas, not God, hold the key to morality, that's a decision you'll have to make on your own too.

All moral values are mere mortal values - they're all based on mortal, not divine, decisions about what is right and what is wrong.

Related Post: John W. Loftus "Can I Judge the Judge?"

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

A very simple way of dealing with the idea that moral ideas originated with a higher power is to consider what most people would do if you tried to assault someone. It would cause pain, resulting in objection by the person being assaulted. This would result in any witnesses coming to the conclusion: "Anyone who tries to harm another person for any reason is not acceptable. As a society/tribe/group, we cannot tolerate this." From there, various consequences would have to be agreed upon and understood.

Is it necesarry to believe in god for this to happen, or is it necesarry to use the more scientific method of observation and analysis?

The fact is that morals and ethics often are a result of observation and personal experience. The fact that humans have these behaviors within a group in no way explains why. For that matter, the best Christian theists can do to explain this is to quote Gen 1:1 and put a spin on it. In no way does the bible explicitly explain why morals and standards of different kinds exist. More often then not, various passages in the OT (esp in the pentateuch) often point to the fact that the Jews had punishments and standards that are both harsh and demeaning, denying basic human rights to women in particular. Today, they would be criminal in todays evolved western society. So we are to take the bible, with those contradictions and say that this is the source of morality and ethics? That cannot be.

Anonymous said...

Oops

The quote for Gen 1:1 should be Gen 1:26 :Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..."

Small word processor problem. Sorry

Steven Carr said...

Jeffrey Byrge is right.

If you think very carefully about what is meant by anti-social behaviour, something about the word 'anti-social' will sooner or later give you a clue about where morality really comes from.

Anonymous said...

We are good at discerning trespasses that violate a person's physical safety, but how do we equip ourselves to respond to the victim? and the victimizer? What are the emotional, mental, spiritual factors that contribute towards creating antisocial behavior? At what point do we deem another person "disposable"? Who decides the cutting off point for those who reject the notion of what constitutes socialization. And who decides what constitutes social behavior?? Who do you trust to do that?

Anonymous said...

You said:
Most of the Christians I speak with talk of doom for the human race if we stray from biblical morality.

I guess you talk to a lot of people claiming to be Christians. The Bible doesen't teach straying from Biblical morality is the cause of doom for the human race. The reason you do evil deeds such as lying, stealing, murder, covetousness, rape...is since you're already fallen and already condemned. Jesus Christ came born of a virgin, died on the cross, bodily ressurected and is king of heaven and earth right now as we speak. Jesus Christ has the power to forgive your evil, rebellious deeds against God. If you humble yourself, ask forgiveness of your evil deeds, turn from your evil deeds, and trust in Jesus Christ you are saved from the wrath of God to come. God's wrath is coming to do away with sin and death. A new heaven and a new earth will exsist where there is no death or sin and there is only righteousness. That is why it woud be wise of you to revere Jesus Christ who has the power to cast your body and soul into hell and the power to forgive your sin.

Anonymous said...

Dear anonymous,

Most if not all of us here know that the Christian creed includes the idea that Christ will forgive us of our sins if we put faith in him. Such platitudes, while no doubt comforting to you, require faith in things that you have not seen, and cannot verify, is that not correct?

I was wondering if you would please answer your view as a Christian as to the fate of the more then 5 billion people who are alive all over the planet and have absolutely no realistic chance of ever converting to Christianity? What it their fate according to your interpretation of the scriptures?

This is no light matter, because no one can deny that culture, enviorenment, etc will cause them to reject without a second thought their version of god and worship in general. I personally have seen this.

Please qualify your response by telling is if it 1) an opinion or 2) a scriptural statement.

I found your response about believing in Christ for me to be saved more cliched then helpful to me. If I need saving, merely telling me as an unbeliever that I can believe in Christ isn't good enough for me. There are plenty of religions and philosophies that are in competition to yours. On what basis should I choose? Isn't there one thing you can point to as evidence to help persuade me other then these familiar christian platitudes? Thanks.

Zac Taylor said...

Mr/s. Anonymous said:
"The Bible doesen't teach straying from Biblical morality is the cause of doom for the human race. The reason you do evil deeds such as lying, stealing, murder, covetousness, rape...is since you're already fallen and already condemned."

The reason I do evil deeds like murder and rape is because I'm fallen and already condemned? I'm not sure what that means or what it has to do with the post, but it sounds ridiculous.

The point was that you, as a Christian, are the source of your moral code just like I, as an atheist, am the source of my moral code.

You and I came to an opinion about the Bible's moral law the same way - using our own "moral intuition" as Sam Harris has put it.

Do you disagree with that? Because if you do, that's what you should be commenting on, not preaching about how I should humble myself. Good grief, you don't even know me.

Anonymous said...

You said, "Christian's cannot take the high ground here because "our morality is from God." They can't say, "Well, I don't make up my morals, I go by what the Bible says." They can't really say that because before they bought into God's Law, they had to decide that God's Law was worth buying into."

For one thing, the gospel message does not allow me, as a believer, to take a morally superior position over another person, even if that person's fallibility is more overt than my own. Now that did not always appeal to me before - it's not necessarily something I would have bought into.

Just because you are a non-believer, does not disqualify you from the love of God nor does it cause me to persecute you - if I embrace the gospel, I respect that you are well-loved by God, even if you should decide to reject Him.

I once had blind faith and lost it due to the examination of scripture. I had all the same questions as you - What how about Hindus? Buddhists? Atheists? Will they go to hell? I took offense at many verses - even the words of Jesus. I didn't seek to understand or consider that He was real, undergoing many situations similar to my own - mockery, cynicism, rejection, hatred.

There are those who do not want God's spirit because it is designed to upset the status quo of human heirarchy - that is usually not a welcomed message by those who seek to control circumstances/people.

There are those who live in a culture of heirarchy who are successful at gaining status and do not want to hear that they should be embracing those they reject and deem unworthy of relationship.

And then there are those who do not want to draw near to a deity that claims to be a loving father figure inviting us into closeness (I had my own reasons as to why this sounded unsavory even though my own father was moral).

All of the above is why I rejected God. I paid a price to exchange pride for faith - it was scary at first to give up the old boundaries, but my new life is rooted in a more secure position of love - others can't take that from me.

Does this make me more moral? I hope it makes me more gracious, more merciful, more loving.

Now there are those who acknowledge the truth of their surrounding "tribe" and recognize that there is a need for a deity with a rescuing heart - there are those who anticipate a god who will be merciful and kind. That is what is called a believer -not necessarily a Christian.

From my own experience, I attempted to be a loving and moral person without God, but I was often disrespected by others for doing what I felt was the right thing and felt frequently demoralized. Often what I felt was "right" was, in retrospect, insensitive and inappropriate. I didn't have the security to move beyond my last offense (and trust me, I was frequently offended not realizing how that position was stunting my growth spiritually, emotionally, and mentally).

My faith allows me to keep hope even in distressful times and circumstances do not rule my life or response towards others as often anymore.

Faith, for me, is the difference between expressing a heart of love and truth versus striving for effect.

Jesus's spirit can cross the divides of religion, nations, culture, ancestory, pride, greed, hatred, etc. etc. etc.to connect man with God. For me, that is good news.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So what did Jesus mean when he said to hate your relatives?

Anonymous said...

Jesus's words were intended to let us know that it is safe (with Him) to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

A lot of what we learn about relationship comes from our upbringing. I had to let some hard feelings surface and acknowledge them before I could be set free and be healed of them. I had been cooperating and involved in some very dysfunctional beliefs and relationship habits that had been passed down for generations. I just happened to want the truth more than the dysfunctional attachments.

For instance, it is not against the law or immoral necessarily to hold a bad reputation against someone or unforgiveness. It is not amoral or illegal to be rude, mock, or berate or be impatient with someone. It isn't immoral to place unreasonable expectations upon a child and then punish them or make them feel inadequate if they fail to meet them. It isn't illegal to scapegoat, villify or impugn anothers' motives - but all of these treatments are violations of God's perfect love and all these habits can demoralize a person and can reap a crop of criminal behaviors.

In order to be set free I had to be honest about my feelings - Jesus's words let me know that He already knows about this - I won't be condemned to Hell if I confess to Him my feelings (beleive me, that is not the way it is with most people!!! They do not want others to escape the tribe!!). But amazingly, He does something different than most people - He doesn't take offense with the truth- I now know it is possible to forgive from the heart those who mistreat. I know it is possible to love those who act out in ways that are unfriendly. I know that I am not bound to death and destruction so I am free to love a lot more now.

God confronted me about some hard feelings and beliefs I was harboring but it wasn't because He knew I was bad and wanted to punish me, it was because He had compassion for me and didn't want me to miss out on all that He prepared for me.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

"Do you really mean to tell me the only reson you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's sucking up." R. Dawkins

Jesus spoke of compulsion and fear-based living thusly:

"To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

"We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not cry."

The religious elite were marginalizing people for not living up to their expectations/standards, rather than relating out of heartfelt concern for the best interests for others. They weren't edifying each other, but trying to impress and win status and empowerment for themselves.

This is not what God intended. However, there is something Jesus didn't do that Mr. Dawkins does - He doesn't stigmatize the maturation process - in other words, as a starting point toward embracing God's love, we can practice and impersonate Him and desire a reward before we learn to love and embrace spirituality over other pursuits. I used to be stigmatized and stunted spiritually by the belie that asceticism is the ultimate endpoint to religious practices but I learned firsthand that isn't consistant with the gospel goal.

Anonymous said...

Jeffery you can believe in Jesus and that doesen't mean you're saved according to the Bible. So you misunderstand the Bible completely. You are like most who think or thought they'er Christians. You went out from us to prove you were never of us to begin with. If you were truly following Christ you would know that you must bring forth fruits of repentance. Your entire attitude had to change. The point is that you never changed. That's why you acted as an unbeliever when you thought you were saved and now that you know you're not saved there is hope for you. You are as Jesus showed in the parable of the sower. The word of God fell on you and the word is the seed. The problem is you are the stony ground convert. The seed fell on you and you had no root so when persecution came you fell away. Or the things of the world strangled out the word that you heard. Either way you only do as the Bible says you will do.

Anonymous said...

Jeffery said : I was wondering if you would please answer your view as a Christian as to the fate of the more then 5 billion people who are alive all over the planet and have absolutely no realistic chance of ever converting to Christianity?

The Bible shows that no one comes to the father accept through Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that not one person ever was given a choice of Justification. What is meant by that is no person in the Bible was ever told to do anything to become righteous by their own actions. God did give a choice of obedience and sanctification to people who were already Justified. All people on earth are already in rebellion against God and they prove it by their evil deeds. Deeds such as lying, stealing, murder, hatred towards eachother, covetousness, adultery, fornication, dishonoring their parents, dishonoring God, idoloatry, greedyness. Because of evil desires the world is corrupt. Just examine your own life a little in the light of those evil deeds I posted. You know in your heart you concieve evil all day long and you act out on many of those evil desires. It's God's grace that keeps humanity from fully acting out all the evil desires men immagine in their hearts and minds. It's only when you fully turn away from the light given to your conscience that God starts to give you over to your own evil desires. It's that time when God's wrath is coming down on you by allowing you to live as you desire to live out of the evil desires you have within you. To become born again is a gift of God. To have faith to be born again is a gift of God. God owes nothing to you or any man. As for the 5 billion people on earth now it would be just for God to allow them all to perish. It would be just for God to allow almost every human in history to go straight to hell for their evil deeds committed against God and humanity. God will save those who God chooses to give grace and faith so that they might come to know Christ. Christ is king of heaven and earth right now as we speak. Christ is in full control and allows all things to go as they go for his own purposes.

Zac Taylor said...

I'm not even sure where to begin. Thanks for the comments.

Tommy said...

Why does a supreme being require our worship and adoration? I would tend to think that any being intelligent enough to create this infinite and complex universe would be above such petty human characteristics as jealousy, narcissism and anger. It's funny how the very qualities we consider to be negative when displayed by humans become laudable to true believers when displayed by god.

Anonymous said...

I recently made a blog posting about this very topic

http://closetathesit.blogspot.com/2006/12/copper-rule.html

I think people make the path to morality a lot harder than than it actually is.

Anonymous said...

Why does a supreme being require our worship and adoration? I would tend to think that any being intelligent enough to create this infinite and complex universe would be above such petty human characteristics as jealousy, narcissism and anger. It's funny how the very qualities we consider to be negative when displayed by humans become laudable to true believers when displayed by god.

Everything was created by Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. All things are created to glorify God. When you do evil deeds that doesen't glorify God. That's why God is going to either choose to grant you repentance or let you perish because of your sins. Either way God is just. It is Jesus Christ who accepts us, we don't accept Jesus Christ. If you humble yourself and repent then you will be accepted. Jesus won't turn you away.

Tommy said...

Thanks for proving my point Neo. The God you worship displays qualities that would be detestable in a human being. Your god comes off like some Stalinist dictator to whom everyone must live in fear of and pay homage to. People like you are really authoritarians. Your model for leadership is an absolute dictator who controls every aspect of your life, your thoughts as well as your actions. If you want to worship that, be my guest, but I wouldn't worship your God even if it did exist. I would tell him to piss off out of principle.

Zac Taylor said...

That's a great point, Tommy. The god that neo_101 is describing doesn't sound like a very moral chap to me either.

Closet Atheist,
I liked your post on morality. Sam Harris has some great thoughts on it in his new book "Letter to a Christian Nation." You should check it out.