Discovering Religion: Ep 20 – Secular vs. Biblical Morality
Morality refers to a particular “system of values” and “principles of conduct” that tell us whether an action is right or wrong. But how do we determine what the terms “right” and “wrong” even mean? The answer to this question is a major point of contention between the belief systems of atheists and theists.
Atheists maintain that morality is a subjective system of value, meaning, “it is based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.” Under this value system, morality is often derived through a consensus of what is defined as “right or wrong” at a particular point in time; therefore, it is perfectly acceptable for moral values to change in order to reflect a society’s changing perceptions. Often, scientific research can help guide public opinion on certain topics, altering views that were once widely held among the populace.
In contrast, a majority of theists, specifically those belonging to the three monotheistic traditions, contend that God is the ultimate law-giver and hence the source of our morality must be derived through his divine Word. This form of morality is the unwavering standard by which all people are to judge all actions. Such a comprehensive, perfect standard of morality, given by a perfect Creator, can NOT be based on personal feelings, tastes, or opinions; therefore, it is an objective morality. And it would be sin to remove or modify any portion of God’s perfect, moral law.
However, many conflicts and contradictions arise with the theistic perception of morality, and this video will discuss several problems within the value system of monotheistic faiths. Through our investigation of morality we will find the understanding of right and wrong is NOT based on a divine, objective truth, as many theists would like to believe. In fact, the God that theists desperately look to for guidance is so devoid of morality that, if such a being indeed exists, not only he is incapable of following his own moral laws, throughout the Bible he and his followers routinely commit atrocities on a scale of truly sickening proportions.
Believers and non-believers claim to derive their sense of right and wrong from two different sources. However, before we explore the conflicts and contradictions between subjective and objective versions of morality, lets take a few moments to provide our own, non-Biblical definition of right and wrong, which we will call “secular morality”, so that we may have a basis for comparison during our investigation of Scripture.
Keep in mind, due to time constraints and the sheer number of possible moral and ethical dilemmas, our definition will be far from comprehensive, and the viewer may find particular circumstances in which our definition is limited.
For an action to be considered “morally right” or “morally wrong” it must fulfill certain criteria on both a personal and societal level. A “morally right” action must, first and foremost, preserve one’s autonomy — allowing the individual to freely make decisions and engage in behavior according to their personal wants and desires, so long as it does NOT infringe on the autonomy of others. This definition also falls under the umbrella of “The Golden Rule.” A morally right action must also benefit society as a whole — promoting harmony, health, and the happiness of its members.
A “morally wrong” action must: Deny one’s autonomy — preventing the individual from freely make decisions and engaging in behavior according to their personal wants and desires. And/or cause detriment to society, producing chaos, destruction, and a lack of wellbeing amongst it members.
Although our secular understanding of right and wrong is subjective, meaning its based on our personal opinion, now that we have an agreed upon definition, anyone, both believers and non-believers, can use these guidelines to assess a particular subject and reach similar conclusions, this means, we can reach an objective conclusion. In this way, secular morality is both subjective as well as objective.
Armed with our the secular definition of morality, we can now objectively determine whether the following actions are right or wrong.
Taking something that does not belong to you is a detriment to society, for it breeds chaos, weakens society’s integrity and spreads a lack of wellbeing amongst its members. Furthermore, stealing infringes on one’s autonomy by denying access to personal belongings. Therefore, according to the secular definition of morality, thief is an immoral action.
Cold-blooded murder also negatively affects both society and the individual — it creates chaos, is destructive to society’s integrity, produces a lack of wellbeing, and denies the autonomy of the individual — i.e. one’s desire to live. Murder, by this definition, is an immoral action. Note that, killing someone in self-defense is an allowable exception under our definition, as the attempt to kill an innocent person against their will violates one’s autonomy, and in this situation, self-defense is the only viable option. However, an action such as euthanasia would not be considered immoral because a mercy killing is in accordance with the desire of the individual.
Rape is an immoral action for much the same reasons as thief and cold-blooded murder. Forcing someone to have sex against their will infringes on one’s personal autonomy, promotes pain, sadness, and a lack of wellbeing throughout society.
In contrast, an action like donating money to the poor has many positive effects on society and this action can be classified as moral, so long as the individual is free to donate the sum of money he/she is able to afford.
However, there are certain actions that are not as easy to assess as others. For example, adultery does not infringe on the autonomy of the individuals involved, although it can hardly been seen to promote harmony within society as a whole. In an ambiguous situation like this, where a clear moral assessment is difficult to make, one can appeal to the classic moral standard of “The Golden Rule”. We know adultery is immoral because we would not like our partner to cheat on us. In contrast, if two partners agree that having sex out their marriage is acceptable, then such an act is not considered immoral — because there is no violation of trust. However, the weight that society places on adultery is much less than that of rape or murder, so much so, that in most countries adultery is not even punishable by law. In contrast, God finds this action so reprehensible that both the Bible and Hadith punish adulterers with the penalty of death.
Unlike secular morality, where subjective definitions of right and wrong are used to reach objective conclusions, Biblical morality is purely objective and only based on GOD’s definition of right and wrong.
The Bible does not give a clear definition of morality, which makes it difficult to assess various situations that are not specifically mentioned in Scripture. But the only way we can come to know God’s moral standard is by studying the Bible, especially God’s commandments and laws given throughout the Old Testament.
In the pervious miniseries, “Christianity and America”, we discussed the Mosaic laws of morality in great detail. What we found is that although Christ’s death can be seen to abolish God’s archaic, sacrificial laws, the purpose of Christ was not to abolish the Mosaic laws of morality, but rather, to reinforce them.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17, 19
Therefore, all those who believe in God are morally accountable to follow the Mosaic laws, from the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20, to adhering to the proper way one must keep and beat their slaves, given in Exodus 21 — the VERY next chapter, and lets not forget our duty to enforce the death penalty for such infractions as working on Sunday (Exodus 35:2).
Although it is extremely hypocritical when Christians profess the Ten Commandments to be the source of morality, while in the same breath denying all other moral laws found in Exodus, a major conflict arises when we compare God’s actions throughout the Bible to the moral standard that he has commanded human beings to live by. For example, the Ten Commandments instruct us not to commit adultery, theft, and murder. Yet, the Bible portrays God as engaging in the exact same actions deemed immoral for human beings.
In Matthew 1 verse 18, the virgin Mary is engaged to be married to Joseph when she is found to be pregnant. However, Joseph does not want to disgrace her in public, so he plans to divorce her quietly. Only THEN, after God has ALREADY impregnated Mary, is an angel finally sent to Joseph in a dream, explaining God’s plan and requesting that he not divorce Mary. But wouldn’t it have made better sense for God to have consulted with Joseph beforehand? Perhaps informing Joseph of his plan and, dare I say, ask permission before making personal use of his fiancé’s uterus. But no, God went behind Joseph’s back and impregnated Mary without consent, and Joseph was even prepared to divorce her over it. To put this in perspective, imagine if the role of God in this story were played by a mortal man, how would his actions be judged according to the Ten Commandants? As per God’s moral law he would be guilty of breaking the 10th commandment, coveting his neighbor’s wife (or in this case fiancé), as well as the 7th commandment, committing adultery.
The Bible also portrays God as the instigating force behind numerous military campaigns, where the Jews are instructed by God to rape, loot, and plunder — effectively indulging in the spoils of war and stealing the livestock and livelihoods from their non-believing neighbors. In Numbers chapter 31 there can be found a passage entitled “Dividing the Spoils”:
The LORD said to Moses, “You and Eleazar the priest, and the family heads of the community, are to count all the people and animals that were captured. Divide the spoils equally between the soldiers who took part in the battle and the rest of the community… The plunder remaining from the spoils that the soldiers took was 675,000 sheep, 72,000 cattle, 61,000 donkeys and 32,000 women who had never slept with a man.
The 32,000 virgins accounted for in the spoils of war were specifically captured due a command that had been previously given by God himself:
“Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
There are no stipulations in the Ten Commandments as to when killing someone and taking something that does not belong to you is morally acceptable, even during times of war. However, on numerous occasions God can be seen commanding his followers to kill their enemies, obtain loot and plunder, as well as allowing female captives to be taken as sex slaves, effectively, promoting rape.
When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.
Is it safe to assume the 32,000 virgins that were among the spoils of war, who had their families slaughtered before their very eyes, would not want to engage in sexual relations with their captures, especially after a mere month of morning? Then, is it also safe to assume these 32,000 virgins were forced into marriages they did not desire and were repeatedly raped by the very men responsible for killing their families, stealing their lands, and hording their people’s belongings? To put it in perspective, Robertson Stadium in Huston, Texas has a capacity of 32,00 people. It is nearly impossible to wrap one’s head around the sheer horror of thousands of defenseless girls being repeatedly raped by the murders of their family.
Imagine what would happen if God’s war-time commands were given by a mortal human being. Today, if the leader of any nation were to command his people to rape, commit genocide against their neighbors, and commit other crimes against humanity, this head of state would be hunted down, brought to justice in a war crimes tribunal, and, at the very least, given life in prison or worse.
And finally, the Bible actually implicates God in the egregious act of genocide on multiple occasions. In Genesis 7 the Bible describes God’s eradication of the entire world population during the Flood of Noah.
Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.
In Genesis 19 God decimates the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, effectively killing every single man, woman, AND child, except for the righteous man, Lot and his two daughters. In either story, whether involving the inhabitants of a city or the entire world, the populations affected by God’s wrath were guaranteed to contain a percentage of infants and young children that were not capable of engaging in the supposed sins of their parents. Therefore, why were these innocent victims punished for sins they did not commit? But not only does God fail to spare the lives of infants and children during his indiscriminant homicidal rampages, God also appears to specifically target innocent children for the sole purpose of teaching a lesson to their sinful parents.
In Exodus chapter 12 God kills the firstborn of Egypt:
At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner… and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.
In Isaiah 14 God slaughters children for the sins of their ancestors:
Prepare a place to slaughter his children for the sins of their ancestors; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities.
In Hosea 9 God promises to slay the cherished offspring of his enemies:
“Because of all their wickedness in Gilgal, I hated them there. Because of their sinful deeds, I will drive them out of my house. I will no longer love them; all their leaders are rebellious. Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit.
Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring.”
In Isaiah 13 God makes similar threats against a different enemy:
Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated. See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children
The Bible portrays God as intentionally targeting the innocent children of his enemies to inflict as much physical and emotional pain as possible, and in most cases, to eradicate their population entirely.
According to the Biblical accounts, can a God who commits adultery, directs his followers to loot, plunder and rape his enemies, and murders innocent children, really be considered “moral” with respect to the Bible’s objective standard of right and wrong?
Based to our previously agreed upon definition of secular morality, God’s actions would be considered immoral. However, Christians cannot accept that a perfect God, who is without sin, is capable of acting immorally, and this is why theists completely reject the idea of a subjective morality, for God would expose himself to scrutiny and his crimes could be judged according to human standards of right and wrong.
In order to circumvent the conflict between what God says and what he does, apologists have completely removed God’s accountability by claiming, although God has provided us with an objective moral code, he himself is not subject to the same standard. In effect, God is beyond morality, and any interaction between the Creator and his creations is not subject to the same principles of conduct as the interactions between the creations themselves. Although apologists have managed to provide a somewhat effective excuse, it really only serves to make God a hypocrite on top of his adulterous, thieving, and murderous ways.
This appears to be a classic case of “Do as I say, not as I do.” But the belief that humans beings conduct themselves under a perfect, unchanging, objective standard of morality creates a minefield of logical contradictions. For instance, take the practice of slavery. According to our secular definition of morality, slavery is an immoral action for much the same reason as theft, rape, and cold-blooded murder, in that, it infringes on one’s autonomy, and in this case, it is the desire to be free. Although there might be a mixed effect on society as whole and the benefit free labor has on the economy, as in all things, no situation is ever black or white, and each action must be assessed on a case by case basis. The benefit slavery might have on the economy does not superseded one’s personal autonomy and the desire to be free; therefore, according to secular morality, slavery is definitely immoral.
However, if you want to see a Christian squirm all you have to do is present them Leviticus chapter 25 verses 44-46 and ask the question: “Why do YOU believe slavery is immoral, when the Bible clearly promotes the practice of enslaving other human beings?”
“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members from their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
One will find Christians offering up numerous and varying excuses as to why slavery was morally acceptable in Biblical times, but is no longer part of God’s moral standard today. For example, slaves in the Bible w e more like indentured servants paying off a debt, but this is obviously not true, for the Bible explicitly states “our slaves must come from the nations around us” and they are to be inherited property, remaining as slaves for life. Some apologists also like to claim slavery was much less brutal in Biblical times than in the modern era, but this is also a misleading statement, for as we can see in the same passage, there is a stipulation to not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly, which must have been put in place in order to counteract the ruthless nature in which other, non-Israelite slaves were being treated.
In fact, Exodus 21 confirms this point by providing stipulations for how one is to properly beat their slaves.
If a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod and he dies at his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, he survives a day or two, no vengeance shall be taken; for he is his property.
But whatever excuse a theist might give, the form of slavery that is specifically defined and described in the pages of the Holy Bible is considered ILLEGAL by the United States’ constitutional law, as outlined in the 13th Amendment.
If morality is indeed objective, and not based on a social consensus or personal opinion, then how do Christians explain such drastic shifts in perception, from the Biblical to modern era. For example, the Bible prescribes the penalty of death for many crimes that are not even considered misdemeanors by modern standards. Why would most Christians object to the death penalty being handed down for these Biblical crimes, when their Holy Book explicitly states these offenders MUST be put to DEATH? If not from the Bible, then how do Christians know it is “wrong” for the death penalty to be applied in these situations?
If Christians believe, for whatever arbitrary reason, the promotion of slavery found in Leviticus 25 is no longer acceptable within society today, then why should we adhere to the Biblical law found just 5 CHAPTERS beforehand, in Leviticus 20, which prohibits homosexuality? Exactly how do Christians know it is acceptable to reject certain moral laws or practices and not others? The belief in an objective truth does not permit Christians to interject their own opinions or tamper with God’s perfect law; therefore, where in the Bible does it say we are not allowed to have slaves or that raping the women of your enemies is immoral? If Christians cannot follow or defend every single action contained in scripture, then it appears the Bible is not an unchanging, perfect truth.
To further demonstrate this fact, one can ask a simple question to test whether a believers’ sense of morality is truly objective and exclusively derived from the Bible: “If God were to command in the Bible that killing the defenseless children of your enemy is morally justifiable, would you consider toddler-murder to be moral?” Most Christians would answer with a resounding “NO”. Even after they are presented with Psalm 137 verse 9, no one in their right mind could ever conceive of a situation where smashing little children against rocks would make someone, quote “Blessed”, even if God says so.
Blessed is the one who grabs your little children and smashes them against a rock.
Therefore, how do Christians explain their sense of right and wrong that appears to be derived from somewhere outside of the Bible.
As we have seen, the God of love, from which monotheists claim to derive their sense of right and wrong, is not the same God as represented in Holy Scripture, who is a vile, cruel and morally bankrupt character that was imaged by an equally bloodthirsty group of people that used this deity as an excuse to do what they wanted and take what they wanted whenever they wanted. Western societies no longer behave like cutthroat desert savages, and thus, our sense of right and wrong has changed accordingly.
The reason Christians and other monotheists feel compelled to cherry pick from God’s moral law, is because their conscience cannot allow them to deny their sense of morality that has been ingrained in them by their parents, teachers, government, culture, and even science. The principles of conduct that inform our behavior have evolved beyond the rudimentary version of morality as found in the Bible, and although certain aspects of Biblical morality are still applicable to modern-day life, Christians have no choice but to assess God’s objective moral laws against their personal, subjective values.
Morality is constantly being shaped and molded as we incorporate new evidence into our collective knowledge, modifying our current system of value. The definition of what it means for an action to be right or wrong continues to evolve, as it always has, throughout the processes of both our societal and biological evolutions.