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Re: [atheists-518] Atheist ethics -was Kathy Griffin's emmy words

From: Bennett
Sent on: Thursday, September 13, 2007 2:32 PM

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 ignorant.)
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 Christian]'s 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 community.

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, not 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 huministic definition
immoral... ?
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 millennia.

One of the biggest problems with using the Bible is that the moral code is archaic and anachronistic, requiring massive interpretation 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).

  28 aCome unto me, all ye that blabour and are heavy laden, and I will give you crest.
  29 Take my ayoke upon you, and blearn of me; for I am cmeek and dlowly in eheart: and ye shall find frest unto your souls.
  30 For my yoke is aeasy, and my burden is light.

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?


Katherine wrote:
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. 

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