I was recently in an online discussion with a Christian minister that
preached over the pulpit that atheists can't
be moral because
they have no absolute standard set by a higher power (i.e., The Holy
Bible). My response is that the source
for morals and ethics
is identical whether you are a theist or atheist. It is a combination
of social learning and individual interpretation.
Here are some excerpts that exchange, not too
lengthy. I think
it is relevant to your questions. (Names have been removed to protect
The Holy Bible is not
the source for Christian morality or
ethical code. It is merely a shared reference from which Christian
communities pick and choose what they follow, how to interpret
scripture, and in what way they follow those interpretations. [A
Christianity is not based on the Bible, it is based on "what I've been
taught ever since becoming a Christian." It is based on his Christian
Christians share with each other
their moral code. When a
person follows that social code and when they violate that code, the
reinforcement and consequences are social
extraterrestrial. Even Jesus was killed by his community for not
following the "code," though most reinforcement is much more subtle, in
the form of attitude, emotion, or ostracization. Indeed, may
Christians tell of bouncing from congregation to congregation until
they find a church in which they "fit." When you ask what was wrong
with those other churches, they typically describe some behavior,
attitude, or interpretation of the "moral code."
Besides, if the code in the Bible was complete, there would be no need
for a creed.
We depend upon God for every aspect of our existence. His moral law is
written in the
Bible. Anyone can interpret them the way they like to serve their own
purpose, but that is
really making God in our own image. (the sin of idolatry) He has
spelled out what is right
and wrong... but you still have not told us where the origin of your
moral code comes
from. If people just come up with whats right for them, you now have
billions of moral
codes that MUST conflict to the point of uselessness. A neo nazi's
moral code is to
defend the white race from others. He is doing what his moral code
deems as right... but
is he? Your moral code says that you can make up your own rules... but
who is to say that
your moral code is right if there is no absolute truth, given by an
absolutly moral God..
then your code will conflict with billions of others... making it by a
In addition to my moral code being in conflict with billions of others,
will it also not be in harmony with billions of others?
The source of the "moral code" is found in that harmony, not in that
conflict. Indeed, that it is the origin of the Bible, the record of
the harmony and trial-and-error of human communities as their "moral
code" evolves. The reason the New Testament seems to be less
problematic than the Old Testament is a testament to this principle,
that the Bible does show us how our "moral code" has evolved over
One of the biggest problems with using the Bible is that the moral code
is archaic and anachronistic, requiring massive
to apply the principles found therein to our current state. On the
other hand, one of the best benefits of using the Bible is that even
though Jesus laid out a moral code 2000 years ago, our society still
hasn't understood and assimilated it. But we have developed our moral
code in other areas. Locke, Hume, Hegel, Kant, Spinoza... These folk
have all added significantly to our post-Enlightenment moral code. So
have Marianne Williamson, Oprah, and Karl Rove. Even Christians follow
these people, often unwittingly.
Christians also make stuff up, like "Footprints in the Sand," "Touch of
the Master's Hand," or "I never said it would be easy, I said it would
be worth it." This particular statement (usually attributed to Jesus)
is in direct contradiction
of the Gospel of Jesus, found in Matthew 11: 28-29 (keep in mind this
is actually Jesus talking, not Paul or some chronicler).
unto me, all ye
and are heavy laden, and I will give you crest
For my yoke is aeasy
, and my burden
So which is it? Is it "difficult but worth it?" Or is it "easy, light,
and restful?" It seems to be whatever works at the time, or the
particular relationship a disciple chooses to have with God.
But the underlying point is that our moral code, even that which has
been codified in holy writ, originally comes from our communion with
each other. Much of it comes as people seek
the divine, but a
"divine" source is usually assumed and concocted, and unfortunately,
often in lieu of the obvious source. (Such as when people ascribe the
act of a good Samaritan to God, instead of the Samaritan.) That "God"
is the source of the Bible is such a contradiction. It was written,
assembled, and read by humans. Even the "miracles of God" are but a
very small portion of the teachings and "moral code" expounded therein.
Indeed, the worship of the book is a form of idolatry. Jesus taught
communion, not idolatry. Jesus taught the equality of communion and
harmony, not the slavery of obedience and submission.
That "God's moral code" is written in the Bible is an a priori
assumption, not a reasoned conclusion. In fact, that assumption defies
extensive evidence, turning Truth on its head.
Truth is found in a community that adopts the moral code Jesus shared
with us, not merely in the worship of a book that contains those words.
Well, if anyone read all of that exchange, thank you. I would
appreciate your comments. My view is that it matters not what your
religious or non-religious affiliation is, you derive your moral code
from interaction your community, and conversely, you select your
community based on your moral code. In that sense, a person's moral
code is in perpetual development through a social-organic process.
I guess that's the whole point of this thread?
The question of whether Jesus did or did not exist doesn't
interest me as I'm not religious and don't need to justify my beliefs
on his existence.
However, the question of whether Jesus, or John Kennedy or
anyone for that matter is ethical brings up an interesting point.
What do we as atheists base our ethics on?
What are your ethics? What do you consider "bad" behavior and
what do you consider "good" behavior?
Would what is considered an ethical flaw by a religious person
be considered the same way by an atheist?
Would behavior applauded by religious people as ethical be
considered ethical by you? Why or why not?
I'm asking a favor from everyone in the group in advance.
Although this has not happened so far, I'd like to ask people
not to make personal attacks. By all means disagree with each other,
but personal attacks lead to flame wars which make people leave the
group. Most of the people who joined this group did so because they
didn't like to listen to venomous arguments, whether they are about
atheism or the right way to bake brownies or what a word means.
This group is about building a strong atheist community.