Scrapping Morality

To be an atheist is to be good for nothing. -Mark Twain

moralityI’ve scrapped morality. Not the concept of a code of behavior. Just the word morality. Here’s why.

Theists argue that the only source of an objective moral code would be a god. They then argue that, unless a moral code is objective, it has no value and renders subscribers to a subjective moral code amoral agents. So, the word morality has been inextricably attached to the notion of god. Those of us who reject the notion of an Abrahamic god are left feeling a bit immoral.

What’s an agnostic to do? I could launch a campaign to redefine the word morality as the gay community did the word queer. This would undoubtedly fail considering the bulk of literature that baptizes morality in theism.

Instead, let me concede the theistic connotations clinging to morality, and disparage this god-dependent morality as a notion that is incoherent, ignoble and valueless.

Let’s begin with the incoherence of the concept.

If the neighborhood bully arbitrarily proclaims kissing to be immoral, does this constitute an objective morality, or the imposition of his own subjectivity? What if a king were to do the same? A global emperor? A god? Those who posit that there is a personal god who subjectively interacts with humans violate well-established conventional notions of subjectivity and objectivity when invoking an objective morality wholly dependent upon their subjective god.

This incoherent concept of this subjective objectivity as the foundation of morality reaches absurdity when we add to the mix the actual moral decrees made by the Abrahamic god. A consistent moral law-giver might deserve some respect, but a cursory look at the ever-changing whims of the biblical god makes this god appear as objective as a 3-year-old in a candy shop.

  • Rape: “So they sent twelve thousand warriors to Jabesh-gilead with orders to kill everyone there, including women and children. ‘This is what you are to do,’ they said. ‘Completely destroy all the males and every woman who is not a virgin.’ Among the residents of Jabesh-gilead they found four hundred young virgins who had never slept with a man, and they brought them to the camp at Shiloh in the land of Canaan.” (Judges 21:10-22) Most bible believers feel that this same god now disapproves of rape.
  • Slavery : “However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way.” (Leviticus 25:44-46). Most bible believers feel that this same god now disapproves of slavery.
  • Genocide: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you may nations…then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy.” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2) Most bible believers feel that this same god now disapproves of genocide.

Beyond this absurdity of an ever-changing “objective” moral code derived from a subjective personal god, there is the additional absurdity in the punishments attached to violations of this moral code. Presumably, the justice a god with an objective essence (whatever that might mean) would reflect some sort of objectivity. Instead, the biblical god is oozing with the subjective emotions of wrath and jealousy, and the punishments he administers for violations follow no consistent pattern from which we could attempt to extract an objective principle. Can you tease any objectivity out the the following examples?

  • In Genesis 19 Jehovah destroys everyone for their “iniquity” except for a man named Lot who had just offered his daughters for the sexual gratification of other men in the city. Jehovah turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back at the city that was being destroyed. Can you extrapolate any form of objective moral standard from these examples? Or is objective morality actually God’s subjective whims? Some argue that a theistic creator can do whatever he fancies. Fair enough. Just don’t call him objective. Or noble for that matter.
  • In Numbers 25 God asks Moses to “take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the Lord may be turned away from Israel.” Is this “fierce anger” what theists have in mind as a foundation for an objective morality? Are they not a bit confused about the concept of objectivity?
  • In 2 Kings 2 Jehovah sends bears to kill the children who are making fun of Elijah’s bald head. I can almost sympathize given the condition of my own head, but any sympathy is for the subjective anger of Jehovah, and not any objective standard of behavior that emerges from all the similar examples of divine recompense in the Bible. The only principle that seems to emerge is “don’t make God angry”, a concept that mirrors all the other whimsical gods of old.

In the New Testament, Jesus offers a patch to ameliorate this rather embarrassing subjective nature of Jehovah. He introduces the Golden Rule with the suggestion that this, in fact, was the objective basis for the commandments of Jehovah.goldenrule2
This comes a bit late. Variations of the Golden Rule were offered earlier by Confucius around 500 BCE, by Isocrates about 375 BCE, and Mahabharara near 150 BCE. You’ll not find this common-sensical principle in the Old Testament; only the whimsical wanton demands of an anthropomorphic Jehovah, and the tantrums subsequent to any violation. It had nothing to do with what you would have others do unto you. It had only to do with a very subjective and infantile Jehovah and the playthings around him.

(The co-opting of secular moral principles by Jesus to patch up the incoherence of a subjective deity as the author of an objective morality is reminiscent of the perennial way Christianity co-opts scientific theories it initially opposes until the evidence is overwhelming. It is then shamelessly suggested that the theory had been in-line with the scriptures all along, and that the theory only lends support to their other dubious claims…until these claims are also falsified by a new theory.)

So, is this Jehovah all grown up now and prepared to concede that this secular Golden Rule trumps the unsystematic list of rules of the Old Testament? No. It seems that Jehovah has merely reached an adolescence in which he plagiarizes the concept through the mouth of Jesus, invoking it as the foundation for all his Old Testament moral laws. If the absurdity of this is not yet salient enough, go back over the 3 examples given above, and plug in the Golden Rule. Be warned. You’ll have to first convert the Golden Rule into more of a…let’s say “Rubber Rule”.

The redefined Jehovah of the New Testament also brings with him an evolved concept of Hell. Once indistinguishable from death or nothingness, Hell is now redefined as a place of infinite torment for a single sin of any finite size. Sound a bit suspiciously absurd? Christians may need an extra peppering of faith in their eyes to get beyond the volumes of theological gibberish required to quarantine this illogicality. However, once a single absurd concept is accepted into the arms of faith, the second and third meet much less cognitive resistance. A subjective objectivity doesn’t sound so bad.

There is another odd thing about the claims that there is an objective morality to be found within the scriptures. Presumably, if a god were to go to all the trouble establishing objective morality, this god would also create a mechanism through which that objective morality could be faithfully communicated to humans. However, 2 churches on the same block claiming the same Bible as their authority come up with very different moral conclusions. An objective morality that is not well-communicated to the moral agents for which it is intended is impotent, and calls into question the potency/existence of its source.

The morality in question is also ignoble as we have already seen in the scriptures cited. And why should the divine author of the moral code subordinate it to human notions of justice and propriety? Justice is what God says it is. Propriety is a commandment to be obeyed, not a behavior to be determined based on its optimal impact on the human condition or some other secular principle. There are no “whys”. You have been handed the vague dogma that god is infinitely just. Where is your faith? Fight off those impulses to suggest that a blessing on the bashing of the brains of children (Psalms 137:9) seems an incoherent oddity for an omnibenevolent god. Does not the Bible itself affirm that we can never know the mind of god? Stop assessing. Surrender your skeptical mind for the truth of a self-affirming book. Ignore the circularity. What is noble is what god is, and whatever god is is noble.

This brings us to my final point; theistic morality has no value. Secular codes of social behavior attempt to define and accomplish the goals of society. Theistic morality admits that the good of society is not the goal. The Bible actually states that the commandments of God are given “in order that sin might be recognized as sin” (Romans 7:13). That’s it. It’s just to show us that we are bad. Is this perhaps why societies in which Christian morality (now seeming evermore like an oxymoron) is dominant suffer a higher number of social ills including murder rates, incarceration rates, and divorce rates?

My 10 years in Tokyo have taught me that there is nothing remotely religious compelling Japanese to return my wallet intact which I far too frequently lose. Japanese possess the secular notion of the Golden Rule and it’s corollaries. They do not possess a Bible telling them that their “hearts are deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9) and that it is their nature to steal. I’d much rather lose my wallet in a train station milling with thousands of Japanese than in an American church parking lot. And most egregiously do the theists claim from within the bolted doors of their western homes that an atheistic society cannot survive, much less thrive as Japan has. The clear statistical studies to the contrary position this claim well within the category of intentional falsehood.

Some theists have argued that, unless the Golden Rule is grounded by an objective morality, it has no potency. This is non-sensical. Its efficacy is enough. As an analogy, what would it mean to demand an objective source to validate the exchange of green paper for goods and services? Currency works simply because there has been an agreement among subjective agents that the green paper has value. Any attempt to track this back to some objective source will fail. It is based on members of a society all playing the same economic game. So also with the Golden Rule. Where there is consensus among subjective agents, the game is successful. However, there exists no objective source for this game, nor is one needed.

I concede. The code of behavior I subscribe to contains no biblical morality or subjective objectivity. The code of behavior I subscribe to is logical and coherent. The code of behavior I subscribe to is not a list of arbitrary commands, but rather a principle of mutual respect and benevolence, traits I feel are inherent to human nature. The code of behavior I subscribe to is dependent on human goals, not the dark whims of a deity. The code of behavior I subscribe to works. It is not obligatory, and therefore does not qualify to be called a “morality”. It is just simply what I and my community here in Japan have agreed to follow for our mutual benefit. It works.

All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
These words, taken at face value, reflect my position.

For more recent posts on morality, click here.


3 thoughts on “Scrapping Morality

  1. […] This is a response to ‘from synapse to byte’s’ [STB] article ‘Scrapping Morality’ found here. […]

    • “STB finishes by suggesting that he is not a moral realist himself and rather that his ‘morality’ simply ‘works’ for him.”

      Nothing like a blatant lie to destroy your credibility. Straw manning for Jesus seems all the rage.

  2. This article was written in 2009. Read my more recent posts on morality for a more nuanced understanding of my position on morality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s