Regarding Morality

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0

8.) When an atheist is kind and charitable out of the kindness of his heart, is his behavior more or less commendable than a religious man who does it because God instructed him to? 

This question shows Swan’s lack of understanding of historic Christian theology. Christianity has long held what Edwards called “civic morality,” or the outward morality that comes by common grace of being made in the image of God. The problem is that we all, apart from Christ do all things with the taint of sin. This means that the man who is charitable out of the “kindness of his own heart” is no better or worse than the one who does it out of slavish obligation to the command of God. Both are tainted by sin. It’s just that when the Christian acts, that sin is covered over by the righteousness of God and is then, and only then, presentable to God. In fact, the mature Christian will not be kind to their neighbor out of exacting duty nor for “goodness sake,” but rather to the glory of God and in thanks for the good gifts God has given and the image of God in those that they are helping – and yet even that act, as pure as it is, needs the blood of Christ to make it fully acceptable to God.  

 

One is not commended for doing that to which one is obligated. Christ makes the two great commandments to be Love God with all of your being, and Love your Fellow Man as you love yourself.  

This being so, if a person fails to act charitably at every opportunity, they have broken the commandment. 

Put this way, Christians and Atheists are on a level playing field. Christians fail the perfect law of God just as much as atheists do. The difference being that Christians are aware of their moral failings, hence their turning to God in repentance.  

Thereafter, any good deed performed by the Christian is performed to God's glory, not to make themselves feel or look good.  

Morality is not dependent on being a Christian. The existence of God is however needed for morality to exist. This question attempts to split worldviews and have the Christian assess them independently from one another. So to look at them from each worldview individually looks a bit different. From an atheist view neither person can be commended more because morality is really only a matter of personal preference with no objective basis. From a Christian view both acts are commendable neither more so than the other. However, keep in mind the Christian worldview is not dependent on moral behavior for salvation. No amount of moral “good” could allow you to be in the presence of a fully GOOD God. Thus neither act is impactful from a salvation standpoint either.  

Actually, it would be less.

The number 1 moral issue facing mankind is our rejection of God, and our prideful rebellion to show the world that the center of the universe runs straight through the top of our head.

So let’s ask it this way, “Who is more to be commended, the criminal who is otherwise fairly polite and thoughtful, or the law abiding citizen who is constantly restraining urges to NOT be so polite and thoughtful?”

 

This is of course a rhetorical question. Rejection of God is the more serious offense.

 

9.) If you are against the Crusades and the Inquisition, would you have been burned alive as a heretic during those events? 

This question also reveals a lack of understanding on Swan’s part – this time concerning history. As far as I know, no one was burned alive as a heretic for opposing the crusades (which were a mixed back and had immeasurably more to do with geo-political issues than religious ones). In addition, I would need to ask Swan what he thought the Inquisition was about, but it is very possible that me (a Reformed Protestant) would not have been very welcome in heavily Catholic nations. However, the punishment was almost always banishment, and death was reserved for those that were political and public threats to some regional power of the time. Often people have a picture of the Inquisition as people almost continually burned and beheaded, but in actual fact over about 350 years, only about 3,000 people were killed. Now, is that 3,000 too many? Well maybe. Some who were killed in the Inquisition were for charges such as spreading potentially plague infected blood on a whole town’s doorknobs. Others were because they basically committed treason and were seeking to overthrow papal and princely powers and the Inquisition was used as part of the effort to root them out. And so many of the deaths were not even “religiously” motivated in the way many think they were. However, for the sake of argument let’s imagine that all 3,000 deaths were for simple things like rejecting Transubstantiation at the Eucharist during Mass (none that I know were executed for that, but let’s pretend they were.) 3,000 people over about 350 years is about 8-9 people executed per year on the entire European and North African continent. Again, is that 8-9 too many? Sure, but it is hardly the period of unrelenting oppression and bloodshed that many make it out to be! (And I say this as a Protestant who is strongly opposed to Roman Catholicism for many reasons and have no cause to defend them.)  

 

One first wonders "Which crusade and which inquisition?" The answer to Swan's question would differ depending on the era of history to which he is referring.  

Answering purely from a Protestant perspective, there is a strong possibility of being burned at the stake during the Medieval Inquisition of the 10th and 11th century. The Waldensians – forerunners to the Reformed movement of the 14th and 15th century – were denounced as heretics and often burned at the stake for eschewing the priesthood of the Catholic Church and promoting the idea of the priesthood of the individual believer.  

Presumably, Swan asks this question to either highlight the evils of the Church's past, or to show how doctrines have shifted over time, or both. However, from the small history lesson above, one can see that the problem isn't the truth of Christianity – here the problem was the leadership who used the system in order to gain power.  

As shown, there was a significant sect of the church which rejected this abuse of authority. Who is to say which was the ultimate representation of the Christian church?  

Well, a simple perusal of Christ's teaching in scripture should be enough to show that this kind of abuse of power is counterindicated by the scripture, itself. 

No way to know. Cowardice is a powerful thing. I like to think I would stand for my convictions but not being in that situation there is no way to know for sure. This however is a personal issue rather than one that impacts the actually truth of a matter being right or wrong. I will be the first to admit I am a hypocrite far too often. It is worth noting that anyone who is a moral relativist and yet acts in moral ways altruistically is also acting hypocritically.  

As I understand it, the idea that there were mass numbers of folks being burned to heresy is false. There were actually very few people put do death for heresy in these instances. Likewise, the practices of particular cultural institutions or governing authorities a millennium doesn’t really impact what was taught by Christ and the Apostles in the Bible, or how those teachings are followed today.

 

10.) If your interpretation of a holy book causes you to condemn your ancestors for having a different interpretation, will your descendants condemn you in the same way? 

I’m not actually sure what this is question is in reference to. Who is it that I’m condemning based on my interpretation of the Bible? This is an odd question to say the least and I would need Swan to hash it out more before I would feel comfortable attempting to answer it.  

 

This is an odd question. Possibly it is a followup to question 9, which sets the answerer up to level an accusation against the church of the 10th through 14th century. After the answerer condemns the behavior of the church that wrought the Crusades and Inquisition, Swan asks if future Christians will condemn the behavior of the current Christian. 

These particular events were exceptions in church history. When one averages out the actions of the Church in societies around the globe from its beginning in the first century, it is easy to see that it is far more often persecuted than persecutor.  

So far as theology goes, former Christians are rarely "condemned" by current Christians because of a theological disagreement. The current church owes a great debt to believers across the ages for exploring and hashing out beliefs in order to lend to the construction of the robust doctrines of the present day. One cannot expect something as massive as the nature of God to be an easy thing to discover and define. 

There is just as much disagreement in present day over the particulars of doctrine, but one rarely finds any one sect of Christians condemning another over such disagreements.  

In fact, disagreement is the hallmark of freedom of thought. The fact that Christians are free to disagree and discuss the God and Scriptures which they study proves that each individual believer has the freedom to study and explore in order to determine their beliefs. If Christians were forced to follow beliefs which are consolidated to a particular leader; it would be a cult. 

To this point: it is worth noting that the members of The Mentionables are from several distinct doctrinal backgrounds. Thusly, it is worth noting the agreements in the answers they provide, and the distinct lack of condemnation on any differences that may arise. 

So what? Popular opinion has no bearing on truth. Minor differences in “non-critical” issues does not discredit the potential truth of a book such as the Bible.

Oh geez, I hope so. I mean if I'm wrong about something, surely I would hope that my descendants are smarter and wiser than I am and would call out my errors. That’s far more preferable than them perpetuating or making excuses for my false teachings.

 

11.) Rape wasn't always a crime in the Middle East two thousand years ago. Is that why `do not rape’ is not part of the Ten Commandments? 

There are many commands that are not in the 10 commandments (“The Decalogue”). The 10 commandments are summary laws – like the Constitution or the Amendments. They are where the rest of the law is summarily comprehended. The other 600+ laws are expansions or applications of the laws found in the 10 commandments. So, when rape is banned in numerous places within the Mosaic Law, it is done so in application of the 10 commandments (arguments can be made that it is an application of at least the 1st, 8th, and 10th commandments). In many places, the Bible itself further condenses the summary of the law under two commandments – loving God with our whole being and loving others as ourselves. Rape would be a violation of both of those. And thus, rape is banned not only explicitly in several laws within the Mosaic legal code, but is clearly a violation of the Decalogue and even goes against the theme of redemption and caring for the weak and oppressed developed through the entire Bible.  

 

This is one of the few questions in this series where a "no" answer won't corner the Christian. So the simple answer is "no."  

A few things worth noting: the 10 commandments were not the end-all and be-all of moral law. The Levitical Law which followed the giving of the Commandments expressly did forbid rape, with consequences given to the individual who committed the act. The Levitical law was practically contemporaneous with the Commandments, so that takes the edge off the question right there.  

Further, the Commandments included a law against coveting that which did not belong to you. This would implicitly exclude the desire to have sex with a woman against her will.  

Since the Commandments were given much further ago than 2000 years, the question doesn't include the period of time during which the Commandments were originally written.  

Two Thousand years ago, Jesus pointed to two other Levitical commandments found in the book of Deuteronomy as the greatest of commandments. These included loving God and loving one's fellow human as well as one loved oneself. These two commandments were contemporary to the Ten Commandments, and would certainly forbid the act of rape.  

Jesus also expanded on Mosaic law to include the lust toward a woman as the same as adultery – which was forbidden in the Ten Commandments. This suggests that the Mosaic law forbid sex with any woman besides one's wife, which means that rape was implicitly forbidden under the Ten Commandments' law against adultery.  

The law against adultery and the law against coveting another's property were very exceptional for the time period in which they were written, giving the Ten Commandments a moral edge against other contemporary legal systems. 

First and foremost, there are a lot of things not listed in the ten commandments that are wrong. It is not a fully comprehensive list. However, as with other questions on the list what is being asked does not seem to be the real point of the question. The point here seems to be that the questioner is assuming that rape is condoned by the Bible. There are a number of significant issues with this.

  1. The ten commandments condemn both adultery and covetousness. Jesus clarifies this in Matthew 5:28 when he indicates that even “lust” constitutes adultery.

  2. Despite popular opinion among new atheists the Bible does not condone rape. In Deuteronomy 22. We find in verses 25-26 a condemnation of rapists(and protection for the victim) and then in verse 28-29 we wide a further protection for virgins who mutually copulate. This is a protection that requires marriage.

  3. The last big criticism is of the Israel conquests and that the men were allowed to keep virgins from the canaanite villages they seized. This would obviously be rape. Or would it? It doesn’t seem like much of an option between unwanted marriage and death. However, given the canaanite culture as best we know this may have been a welcome move for these girls into a culture where they possibly had far better treatment.

These are all somewhat assumptive. However, it is far less assumptive than assuming a Biblical acceptance of rape. While things may have not been ideal in Biblical times the Jewish and then Christian cultures offered significant protections and steps forward for women that were not offered by other cultures.

The Ten Commandments do not include rape because it wouldn't be necessary to say, "Thou shall not rape." The crime of rape would have been covered under the Commandments to not covet and to not commit adultery and even arguably the command to not steal.

 

12.) Do animals need `god-given' morality to understand how to care for their young, co-operate within a pack, or feel anguish at the loss of a companion? Why do we? 

Humans are not animals. This kind of “herd” morality has been responded to many times – and I have done so on several occasions within my podcast. So, without getting into that issue directly, let me answer from a different direction. The import of this question would land the questioner smack dab in the middle of the naturalistic fallacy. This fallacy, first enunciated by atheistic philosopher G.E. Moore, occurs when someone says that because something is natural that it is therefore good. The reason that this is a problem is that we have numerous counter examples. Rape, killing, theft, incest, assault, cannibalism, are all equally found in the natural world. If the atheist wants to say that because we have developed a kind of herd morality that therefore these actions are morally praiseworthy, they then run afoul of the naturalistic fallacy because by the same process we have also develop a herd capacity for rape and theft. Why is one morally praiseworthy and the other morally blameworthy? Here the naturalistic is rather stuck and their solutions to this are wanting ranging from denying moral realism from the get go, to affirming a kind of utilitarian benefit morality (easily undermined with simple thought experiments), or basing it on herd preferences, etc. These have all been shown to fail to such an epic degree that atheistic philosophers like Thomas Nagel have called for atheists to scrape naturalism and try to come up with something better lest they be stuck with theism as the only possible solution.  

 

By definition, Morality is God-Given. Assuming – as Christians do – that all things were designed by God – a moral being – it should not be surprising in the least that living things operate according to mechanics of moral law. "Law" being the key word. Morality is as foundational to life as the laws of physics are to material items within the universe. 

Why do we need God-Given morality? Because Morality is grounded in the nature of God. If it is given at all, it is given by God. 

According to google morality is “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” caring for young, cooperation, and feelings of grief are actions taken for survival but to attribute any of these actions with a label of “good, bad, right, or wrong” is to assume that some action is right and another is wrong. Evolution CANNOT be used for these distinctions. A behavior could be beneficial but there are plenty of “beneficial” things that humans can consider evil such as genocide. Genocide of specicide could be beneficial to a “higher” lifeform however we still consider this “wrong”. We can’t have wrong without right and we can’t have right without an authority to dictate or demonstrate what is right. This is a small and insignificant answer to the “problem of evil” but the question does a poor job of even trying to address the real issue at hand.

For starters, the comparison to the animal kingdom is really kind of weird. Animals are not moral agents. When a lion chases down and kills and eats a zebra, that's not a case of murder. It's just lunch.

But we don't even have to get all theological and philosophical to answer this one. You know what happens to human beings who were not taught morality? They basically remain perpetual four year olds, tossed to and fro driven by every whim of their selfish prideful hearts.

 

Animals on the other hand don’t make moral choices. They just act as they are designed to do. Their process is essentially a two step process: Stimulus -> Response. Humans on the other hand have a second step: Stimulus -> Reasoning -> Response. Our responses are based on our choices of the available options. And it is in that step where morality resides.

13.) If an organized religion requires a civilization in which to spread, how could this civilization exist without first having a moral code to make it civil? 

This question assumes that one grounds morality on their religious beliefs or religious system. This again shows where Swan simply is not aware of the historic Christian view that God is “the Good” that grounds morality and that the Scriptures simply are his self-revelation and specific will for us. This talk by J. Budziszewski is a helpful primer on Natural Law theory and how humans, having been made in the image of God, were gifted with a conscience that would be used to discern the natural moral law imbued into creation by God.  

 

In the answer to question seven, it was established that both the Atheist and the Christian could agree that murder was wrong. In the answer to question 12 it was established that morality was so fundamental to the nature of reality, that even animals had a sense of moral law.  

This internal sense of moral law exists at the most fundamental level, such that one does not need a religion to inform them of basic moral code. In fact, the basis of the Christian religion is that, while we all recognize moral law, we inevitably fail to perfectly live up to or achieve it.  

This fact that the knowledge of moral law by no means causes a world in which humans achieve moral law becomes the foundation of civilization. The world would not need governments or police forces if every human were perfectly capable of self-control and moral perfection.   

This question seems a bit of a non-sequitur. While on the surface it makes sense, it is really dependent on definitions. For example, ant’s have what many would consider a form of civilization that involves complex systems with various divisions, jobs, and structures. Yet despite these similarities we don’t ask, why don’t ants have religion? Not to mention the question puts a major damper on any atheistic view. If civilization cannot exist without moral codes that come from religion(according to the question) then to downplay or eliminate religion would be detrimental to society.

As anyone who has studied history is very much aware, civilization is not necessarily civil. However, rather than speaking about hypothetical situations, take a look at what the Bible actually describes was the case. God appears to Abraham and calls him out of a civilization that would by no means be considered civilized by any modern moral standard. Likewise when God brought Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land they were in the midst of civilizations that practiced wicked, barbaric rituals and sacrifices … including their own children. So there's no reason to think that society must first have been civil in order for a divinely revealed morality to take root. Indeed it is against the darkness of the backdrop of the uncivilized society that the morality found in scripture shown all the more brightly.