Ethics and morality are peculiar without God

It is not hard to find two people with differing views on what is right and wrong. Perhaps it may only be in trivial matters, such as dinnertime etiquette or why it’s immoral to support Manchester United. But what if the issues at hand are more serious, such as defining what is illegal?

Of course the common view of the atheist here is that majority wins. Democracy will provide us with the leaders who can take these tough decisions. But does it? How many in the US voiced opposition to the democratic election of Hamas, despite their majority? Our ethics and morality are on an uncertain base if all we have is the majority. Now, surely, over the passage of time they would generally improve and develop, but how do we know this? C.S. Lewis countered this well by describing such an attitude as “chronological snobbery”.

The fact is that we were created in the image of a moral God, and that as a result we do have a sense of morality. However, humanity as a whole is in rebellion against its maker, and so this sense of morality has become corrupted. This condition is universal, regardless of belief.

But do Christians see themselves as somehow morally superior? No one is born a Christian. No one becomes a Christian because of their superior moral standing. A Christian is someone who has acknowledged that their moral performance cannot set them right before God.

The Bible teaches that all of us are responsible for our failure to acknowledge God for who He is. But the scandalous news of Christianity is that God himself has taken on human form as Jesus Christ, and died a death, taking the punishment we deserve, so we can know God. A Christian can claim to know God solely because of the work of Jesus. And yet, over time, we should see a change in the desires of an individual Christian to seek a life, which affirms the Bible, and the changes in their moral views as a result. This does not mean that Christians are morally superior, since people can become Christians regardless of the sophistication of their morals.

True religion must take its morality from God alone, or it’s on shaky ground, having no basis for arguing that anything anyone does is truly wrong. We can say it doesn’t sit with our taste, or it’s not what we would have done, but we can no longer call anything wrong.

I would want to affirm the tolerant roots of our society, and the Christian morals that drove their introduction. However, for some today, toleration seems so distorted that it almost has to mean: “I tolerate you, and therefore your view is equally as good, or as right, as mine.” Some suggest that a person’s faith cannot be questioned because it’s their religion; however, toleration does not necessarily imply the inability to critique another’s viewpoint. I want you to question my faith, tell me you disagree and we can have a discussion about it.

Hitchens has challenged people to, “name me one moral or ethical action committed or carried out by a believer that could not have been performed by a non believer.” I think the most significant (although not the only) action we can consider is worship of God. If a loving, benevolent God who has demonstrated this conclusively in our history created us, it would be immoral to ignore him.

So why do I believe there is an all-loving God? There are many reasons which I would say are rational but I will mention just one – the life, death, and (crucially), resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Most scholars believe Jesus lived and taught, and was executed by the Romans, who knew how to kill a man. Yet a significant group of people became convinced that this man was alive again, and went to their deaths seeking to tell others about him.

The Christian claim is that the Bible is the Word of God, and that God still speaks through it. Why not read one of the accounts of Jesus’ life, such as the gospel of Mark and see? I invite you to investigate Christianity, come with your questions, find a Christian and ask them!

Simon Lister

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12 Comments

  1. Brian Westley
    July 6, 2010 at 23:30 — Reply

    Religions don’t agree on even basic things, like whether polygamy is immoral or not.

  2. July 7, 2010 at 02:24 — Reply

    Brian Westley, that’s just another way of saying “PEOPLE don’t agree on even basic things…”
    That’s why Christians don’t say “HEY GET RELIGIOUS!” Christians say (rightly) “HEY repent and believe in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. By His wounds we are healed!”

  3. Lij
    July 7, 2010 at 07:44 — Reply

    “The fact is that we were created in the image of a moral God, and that as a result we do have a sense of morality.”

    Fact? Last time I checked no god was demonstrable so how is that a fact? But how about this…. there is no demonstrable god, yet man is moral, ergo, man creates his own moralities. And it is moralities, not all Christian sects agree on what constitutes morality even based on the Bible, thus all of them are relative, not absolute.

  4. Luke Place
    July 7, 2010 at 15:47 — Reply

    My main issue with Christianity is that it’s so easy to ridicule. Faith might appear as a noble, virtuous feature of beliefs to some, but to many it just sounds like a wooly buffer to explain a lack of evidence.

    http://www.27bslash6.com/easter.html

  5. July 10, 2010 at 02:38 — Reply

    Lij, (1) Facts don’t have to be demonstrable to be facts. Demonstrate that the universe and all our memories weren’t just created 5 minutes ago. You can’t, but it’s still a good idea to take it as a properly basic fact. (2) God’s existence is pretty dang defensible. (3) “man creates his own moralities?” Nope. Lying, stealing, cheating, murdering, selfishness are considered morally bad in every culture. Love, life, peace, charity, mercy are good in every culture. People aren’t just pulling these out of their–um–butts. There’s something universal at work. “I will write my Law on their hearts” comes to mind.

  6. July 10, 2010 at 13:14 — Reply

    You’re oversimplifying the issue, Stephen. While I think many can agree that ‘generally’ it is considered to be morally bad to lie, or steal, it is also generally acknowledged that such moral values are negotiable depending on the circumstances. If a man must steal to prevent his family from starving, is he as immoral as a thief with no such life-threatening need? Clearly he is not – morals are not arbitrary and fixed, they fluctuate and this fluctuation is shaped by man’s judgements, not those of any kind of god.

    Why is it that in some cultures, death is considered more morally acceptable than in others? Surely we can agree that the Ancient Rome did not have quite the same attitude towards life that, say, we do? I’m assuming that god made a few spelling mistakes when he wrote his law on their hearts, then.

    Is there some similarity between the morals of various states and cultures over the ages? Of course there is. I’d venture that this is largely because the most similar states are the ones which have drawn inspiration from the same kinds of literature, art and music – western society draws a lot of inspiration from the Ancient Greco-Roman world, for example – the likes of Homer, Sophocles, Aristophanes and Virgil.

    Why does Christian scripture espouse a certain set of values? The same reason why they hold Christmas at the same time as the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia: generally people were already in the mood for a party, and Christianity is nothing if not a religion willing to piggyback on other traditions in the hope of picking up a few new followers. People may not have pulled morality out of their butts, but they didn’t pull the ten commandments out of there either.

  7. Luke Place
    July 10, 2010 at 23:07 — Reply

    @Dave

    Is it really the moral values that are “negotiable” in those circumstances? Looks to me like moral values are still present (perhaps even fixed), they’re just competing against one another in certain circumstances. Theft is still wrong, but allowing a family member to die of starvation is more morally reprehensible.

  8. July 11, 2010 at 08:33 — Reply

    Well, firstly we’d still have the problem that different cultures quite clearly ‘do’ place different values on such morals (if we follow Stephen’s logic, you wouldn’t expect this to happen).

    I take your point that it may well be the context, more than the morals themselves which are changing (I can’t for the life of me think of a decent example to counter it, despite being sure i’ve got one somewhere in here!) I think my main issue with Stephen’s point is that he assumes that such values are always the same and presents them in a very definitive way, when I think it is almost self-evident that morals are relative.

  9. Luke Place
    July 11, 2010 at 23:39 — Reply

    I’d rather not get into a lengthy debate about moral relativism, because I spent far more hours than I would have liked discussing this during my undegraduate degree. What I will say is that I decided not to write about it for my dissertation because it’s far to broad a topic to fit into 12,000 words. The claim that morals are relative is far from self-evident.

  10. Brian Westley
    August 1, 2010 at 21:59 — Reply

    “Religions don’t agree on even basic things, like whether polygamy is immoral or not.”

    Stephen says:
    Brian Westley, that’s just another way of saying “PEOPLE don’t agree on even basic things…”

    Exactly. Religion is just the opinions of people. This includes Christianity. So instead of holding one set of people’s opinions as absolute truth, it’s better to face reality and consider every bit of it as opinion.

    “HEY repent and believe in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. By His wounds we are healed!”

    Sorry, that’s still opinion, not absolute morals or ethics.

  11. August 3, 2010 at 10:40 — Reply

    Well, thats an interesting opinion you have Brian

  12. Tom Clements
    September 3, 2010 at 12:17 — Reply

    If Christians abided by the moral code of the bible all of the time they wouldn’t really function in a modern society. Christians are relativists as they will pick and choose their moral behaviour according to what fits into accepted social norms. There is an inborn tendency in humans to be good to each other, as is observed in many other species, but morality evolves through intelligent discussion and reasoning. That is why our human rights documents are all secular.

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