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Discussion 14 to Talk Back 88
The Bible most certainly is not a source of morality.

by: JT

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Michael:

I'll use this response primarily to address the issue you raised of the Bible as a source of morality. And I'll do so within the confines of the passages you specifically mentioned. I will address the issues you raise about evolution in a later comment - and only if no-one else chooses to take it on over the next couple of weeks. As usual, your argument there is based on a misunderstanding of evolution and natural selection.

One point I do need to make on the issue of evolution... You wrote:

"JT stated that the blow hole is evolutions worse design..."

That of course is incorrect, as I did not make that statement although I do find that the whale's blow hole is far from good design. What I did write in Discussion 12 is:

In the August 2009 edition of Wired, David Wolman lists the 10 Worst Evolutionary Designs[1], and number one on his list is:

  1. Sea mammal blowhole. Any animal that spends appreciable time in the ocean should be able to extract oxygen from water. Enlarging the lungs and moving a nostril to the back of the head is a poor work-around.

Referencing someone else's work is fundamentally different than making the claim myself.

Now, on to the issue of morality and the Bible. Michael, you asked:

I would like to address the issue of the teachings of the bible not being a basis of morality. Do you really mean to tell me that Jesus Sermon on the Mount would not be a serious basis for morality, or the Ten Commandments?

Whether you realize it or not, you are combining two different ideas here. First, there is the concept of the Bible as a whole being a source of morality, and secondly, the concept of specific and selected passages in the Bible being a source of morality.

I will admit the Bible does contain passages which do have moral value. It also contains passages which promote fundamentally evil values. And it contains mostly passages which are essentially morally neutral.

How do we know which are which? How do we know if a Bible passage is promoting moral values, evil values, or neutral values? That has to come from outside the Bible. It is what we bring to assessing Bible passages. To find morality in the Bible is to bring an outside assessment to the Bible. Believers apply their own moral values on the Bible, and then use carefully selected passages in the Bible to justify those values.

You went on to say:

I have always struggled with people who tell me that after reading Biblical words such as “Honor thy Father and Mother” or “Love thy neighbor as thy self”. Then turn around and say the Bible has no moral basis to stand on.

I won't argue with “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” It's a common feature of many religions and of many non-religious value systems. Jesus was not the first to say it, nor the last. We don't need the Bible to tell us it is a reasonable approach to morality.

Now as to “Honor thy Father and Mother” - well, I consider that to be one of the most profoundly immoral passages in the Bible. There is no morality in it any more than there is in the four commandments which precede it. It simply promotes blind obedience. I invite you to read what I wrote several years ago on this issue in my examination of this commandment. We also see similarly bad advice given by Billy Graham based on this commandment

In addition, I invite you to consider the example of the Fred Phelps Family of Fanatics aka Westboro Baptist Church - an evil organization with an evil message held together by a rigid enforcement of this particular commandment. Honor and obey Fred Phelps, family patriarch.

Yes - with “Honor thy Father and Mother” as, not simply advice, but as an absolute commandment from your god, then the Bible really has no moral basis to stand on.

Honor is not demanded, it is earned. That is a moral lesson the Bible ignores.

As to the Sermon on the Mount which you choose to regard as a basis of morality, you either accept it as a package - or you apply some moral judgement to what is written in Matthew to determine which passages are moral and which are not. From my reading, this sermon is the same as the Bible as a whole - some moral passages, some immoral passages, and some of no moral value at all, neither positive nor negative.

For example, the sermon starts with the Beatitudes.[2] What a set of silly platitudes! These are not morality. They are nothing but empty words.

Reading further "...whoever says 'You fool' shall be liable to the hell of fire."[3] That's really not a punishment fitting the crime, is it?. Saying "You fool" to someone gets you the same punishment as, say, Adolph Hitler. This is a "justice" system that is pure evil in implementation.

How about "...every one who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of unchastity, makes her an adulteress"?[4] Say, what? She's chaste, and Jesus declares she's an adulteress just because her husband divorced her? Without getting sex outside her marriage, the divorced wife has officially broken the seventh commandment. Jesus says so, so it must be so! That statement by Jesus is simply morally wrong. It is objectionable and unjust by any reasonable moral standard.

Perhaps you'll say I'm just picking parts of verses here to criticize. So let's consider an extended passage - Matthew 6:19-34. What is really being said here? Don't worry. There is no need to plan for the rest of your life. God will look after you.

What a recipe for abdication of personal responsibility! I find that quite an immoral attitude. And so many Christian churches - particularly those that preach the prosperity gospel - teach the exact opposite. Not even many Christians consider this to be a moral message.

No, Michael I cannot see the Sermon on the Mount as a basis for morality. You have to pick and choose verses to find the moral ones, and that requires the reader to bring a sense of morality gained elsewhere to select the moral passages from amongst the immoral and the amoral.

The Bible most certainly is not a source of morality, neither in full, nor in part. It is, at best, a secondary reference.

 

Footnotes:

  1. This article is currently available online for those interested.
  2. Matthew 5:3-12
  3. Matthew 5:22
  4. Matthew 5:32