Morality and God

Are morality and god interdependent?

In other words, can morals exist outside of the spectrum of theism?

Or, in other other words, is god the originator and defining substance behind morality?

Recently myself and the Rev. Russ Troester had another long chat, this time we touched on the subject of belief in god essentially being the basis for morality (forgive me if I am putting words in your mouth Russ, this is the understanding I have). Since we often talk during the end of my work day I had to cut the conversation off kind of abruptly (always when it starts getting good eh?) in order to drive home.

One of the contentions I tried to make that perhaps I did not convey very well with Russ was that Morality changes with society. I see this as inexorably true, simply look at American Politics for an insight into this; 125 years ago a non-segregationist candidate for nearly any office would have been shot in the back of the skull- 50 years later they were slightly more tolerated and could win seats in the Northern States-  25 years after that they were becoming the mainstream- now 50 years later we have a Black president and a segregationist candidate for any office would have to fear for his life! In circumstances like this morality has made a progression. Did you notice how god wasn’t even involved in this one? Perhaps understanding of the Bible has changed/advanced through this progression–but that is because you can read nearly anything into or out of the book so that seems a bit moot.

Things like this happen almost in generational ebbs and flows, as one traditionalist old geezer generation starts to die off their moral precepts slowly die off with them, their children, whom received the same precepts from their parents but rebelled (as always happens) against SOME of those precepts then pass on their slightly more liberated precepts to the next generation. Eventually this transforms from one extreme to another, In the days of Aristotle the sciences was one of the most important aspects of society-after religious fundamentalists were able to eliminate that mindset religious fervency became prevalent and scientific minds like Galileo were oppressed or killed, one extreme for another, with a medium somewhere in there while the extremist struggle against one another.

This is how morality has worked since history has been recorded, what one considers extreme today may be the norm tomorrow, or vice versa. You don’t see Orthodox Jews plucking out eyeballs too often in the US do you?

Despite the obvious regional and religious segments of our world that can retard or accelerate these changes, the results end the same,  extremism begets moderation begets extremism. As in so many things, god doesn’t even need to speak a word on this subject, it just happens as a part of human nature (I didn’t say Sin nature).

Now because we don’t have time to go on eternally about this subject we won’t get into the reasons why humanity desires to proliferate its ideas and ideals (morals) to other people,  but I would be willing to bet that it has a lot to do with  survival of the fittest turning into a survival of the purveyors of the status quo…but anthropological psychologist I am not.

So where does god even fit here? Does god decide the murder or slavery is wrong? Did god change his mind a lot throughout the aeons? I say no, he need not apply here-I suspect that god is merely an excuse for either Apathy (non political involvement, IE: Jehovah’s Witnesses),  directed Hate (Aryan Brotherhood/Nazi’s), or progressive fervency (Richard Dawkins? future scientific radicals? those whom hate the thought of god?). God is either the excuse for morality, the catalyst for changing morality, or the subject of immorality.

As a person whom often takes extreme views, even going so far as to call myself an infinite zealot, my experience being on both extreme sides of so many things and ideas has given me the insight that extremism is dangerous from any side of a polarizing situation. Maybe that is the moral of the story?

  • Currently there is no way to test or observe any god.

    It is possible to observe the acts basis of any given community and infer the morality of their acts from their conflicts.

    Morality differs even between two communities of devotees to the same gods/religion; each one often pointing and claiming the other one is wrong.

    Sans the ability to observe and test the god that these communities are devoted to we cannot really make any assertion as to the influence of that god on them; but it seems like if there is an influence it is inconsistent.

    If part of the definition of a given god, as in the case of the Christian YHVH aka “God,” requires it to be constant and unchanging it makes it a strange candidate for the influence of morality.

  • Thought provoking post, Matt.

  • "In circumstances like this morality has made a progression."

    Being slightly pedantic, you can't say that, Matt, since there is nothing against which to compare it. In your scenario the morality of different individuals or groups is not better or worse than others, it just is what it is. There is no progression or regression unless there is an objective standard.

  • Matt

    @ robert, thanks. Let me just say that i was defining progress in MY views…which i would eventually call regression once it gets to the point of extremism. this is just what I would consider progress, you may consider it a regression, this part is entirely relative.

  • Matt, here’s the basic point I would make. Starting at the point of morality is perhaps not the best way to approach this (from my perspective). Rather, it’s about an explanation of where evil comes from. I believe, as Christians, we have a pretty good answer for this one: sin. God created everything perfect, including humans, which included to some measure “free will” (and that’s a bit of a complex term which I don’t wish to discuss fully here). Because of that, man chose to reject God and there entered the problem of sin. Now, I believe that all people – regardless of religion or non-religion – are still stamped with natural law, i.e. some moral compass guiding right and wrong. However, because of sin, this compass is not fully calibrated and even the best of people make mistakes. Christians, just because we see ourselves as saved, are by no means sinless in this lifetime. And I’ll certainly concede that there are plenty of Christians that have even twisted God’s Word to justify deplorable actions. However, separated from God’s Word as an absolute from right or wrong, we’re left to our subjective whims as a society and, as Mulled Vine said, there’s really nothing to compare it to other than where we’ve been in the past. Again, even with God’s Word, Christians still do evil/bad things/mistakes/etc. That’s why ultimately, for us, it’s not about trying to overcome evil/bad in this world, but a hope in the death and resurrection of Christ that evil has already been overcome (in the eternal sense) and there is a “time” we look forward to when all things bad will come to an end (for those with faith in Christ – cf. Rev 21). In the meantime, it doesn’t absolve us from trying to do our best for humanity this side of heaven, but our ultimate goal is proclamation of the Gospel – forgiveness and eternal life in Christ – because in this FALLEN world, we will have trouble – but in Christ’s death and resurrection, God has overcome this FALLEN world and will one day restore it (cf. John 16:33).

    So in the end, as I said, it’s not so much about morality, but the problem of evil and from my perspective, the Bible has a pretty good explanation and solution for it.

  • Matt

    What about the Biblical explanation for sin and salvation is pretty good?

  • @Matt – I’m not quite sure what you’re driving at, but my point is that when faced with the question “well, how do you explain evil?” My answer is from the Biblical account, the fall into sin – man’s fault, not God’s. That is to say, God did not create evil. I’m not suggesting sin is “good” or that evil is “good”, I’m saying evil as the result of the fall – or even the fall of Satan prior to that – is a “good” (i.e. satisfactory in my view) answer to the problem of evil.

    The plan of salvation – again in my view – is good on both counts. It’s the answer to the problem of sin and, as I’ve mentioned in our previous conversation, it’s a promise that came right after the fall in Gen 3:15 and ultimately found its fulfillment in Christ. And that again, even more so than morality or evil, for that matter, is the real issue for the Christian. There is forgiveness and eternal life for those who believe in Christ. I still can’t understand why that is such a horrible thing?

  • Dax

    God created an imperfect man and woman.Being the alpha and omega either he knew what he was doing and it’s part of his plan that only he understands. Or else he want’s 95% of all humans ever born on this planet to burn in hell,the exception being the fortunate few million born after the release of the kjv.
    Did god create everything? I was thinking of satan.Evil? Did god create him as well as jesus.
    I would like your comments because quite frankly I don’t see the reason to make a man and a woman and handicap them.

  • @Jenny

    But even then your notion of "harm" is relative so the mantra is of no use as a general principle right?

  • If you believe the Creationists that God made Adam and Eve, (which I don’t), you have also to accept that if he had NOT given them the CHOICE to be good or evil, they would have been merely automata.

    Now, add to that, ‘God made man in his own image’ – you could say that God also has the choice to be good or evil.

    The problem with mixing all this with a concept of ‘morality’ we run up against ‘whose morality’.

    What is considered moral for women – in the west in terms of dress and behaviour is totally immoral in parts of the Islamic world.

    That is to say, your personal concept of morality depends on your location, your upbringing and your culture.

    My personal morality is dependent on respect for other people and what they want to believe, say and do.

    I am respecting them to be able to make their own decisions about what is right and wrong and I HOPE they will choose right. I also have to respect the fact that what THEIR personal morality says is right may not exactly align with mine.

    That isn’t easy, but I think it is the only way of living that we should aspire to if we are ever to live on a peaceful planet.

    As a Wiccan, I have an outside view of how the other world faiths see and act in their collective concept of morality and their ideas about what God wants humanity to do. The anguish, war, pain and cruelty that comes out of that is what turned me away from them and towards a set of beliefs based on the natural world and what I would term natural justice.

    I can only offer my own mantra for morality.

    Do as you will if it harms no-one.

    I wish you all well in whatever you will be celebrating in the coming days.

  • @Matt and @ TheRevRuss

    Matt you say God created man and woman imperfect. Is the freedom and ability to do wrong an imperfection or part of perfection?

    Regarding God creating evil? I think God IS good (He defines it by his being God). Evil exists when we do that which is not of God. Its not created surely?

    What I don’t get is how our ability to do evil changes after death… i.e. do we no longer have freewill?

  • @Dax – I understand where you’re coming from, but God did create everything good – perfect, in fact. Adam just rejected God. In our tradition, the belief (according to Scripture) is that we don’t choose to be saved but we can choose to reject. The paradox of all paradoxes. The bottom line is that there is evil – the problem of sin. And God has the answer in Christ – there is forgiveness in all and He doesn’t want ANYONE to perish (2 Peter 3, 1 Tim 2:1-7). It’s not about exclusivity or oppression, it’s about freedom, forgiveness, and eternal life in Christ. Just because some do reject God and have the capacity to do so – that’s not God’s “fault.” And one other thing, Jesus is not created – he is 100% true man, 100% true God – not a created being like angels and man. Again, all of this assumes you acknowledge Scripture and Christ as truth – without that, this discussion will leave us both blue in the face. Bottom line, being at different starting points, there’s really nothing I can do or say to convince you that I’m right. I can merely continue to proclaim what I believe to be true from God’s Word – forgiveness and eternal life in Christ.

    @Mulled Vine – I agree totally and the question you posed is an excellent one, I’ve pondered that myself MANY times. “How are we going to be different in eternal life than we were pre-fall?” Basically, the way I understand this is that pre-fall – we had both the choice to assent to God or the choice to reject. Man chose to reject, thus the fall and sin, and then being in sin, lost the “free will” to assent to God (we still have free will in terms of things of this world – what I’m going to do for the day, what job I have, etc.) and therefore, salvation is all his. Our only choice is to reject (again, the paradox). For those who don’t reject God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ, we have the promise of eternity in heaven/new creation – never to fall away again. I assume this means that somehow, in some sense we do “lose” that “free will” to again reject. That’s the only way I can reconcile it. Otherwise, as you’re alluding to, we’re right back where we started and it’s like the Matrix or something – I don’t believe that to be true. I can’t wait to get all these answers from the Source Himself!

  • “Are morality and god interdependent?” The correct answer changes from person to person. If you believe in God, then yes, they are related. But for someone like me who doesn’t believe in the existence of a Christian God, of course they are seperate. In my book morals exist, God doesn’t.

    Religion can influence morals, but it certainly is not the only thing with that kind of positive power.

  • This is one of the greatest discussions I have ever seen, although I have only been blogging for a few months.

    My two cents are that I feel we can see human morality and God interdependent since as Jenny said, ‘God made man in his own image.’ but not as she said “God also has the choice to be good or evil.”

    God is way way way (infinitely) beyond any ors (choice). God IS everything but by giving humans free will God gave us a choice between “good” and “bad”. Furthermore, it’s even up to us if we want to make something “good” be “bad” and vice versa. And that is what Christianity, ignoring humans are made in God’s image, has done with Jesus suffering on the Cross.

    Suffering is a bad (fricken bunch of bleep) from most sane peoples’ point of view, but Christianity has made Jesus suffering good because He thereby “earned” or paid the price needed for forgiveness of His believers’ sins (wrongdoing).

    Of course, as alcoholic film maker Mel Gibson showed with Passion of Christ, a human being crucified is a little bit painful. But being a numb skull, Mel left out, like almost all Christians, any possibility of Jesus, who parted the Red Sea, walked on water, cured the blind, manifested bread and fish out of thin air, being made in God’s image and thereby had the free will to make something as bad as being crucified, be perfectly good by rising from the dead. He did not really have to choose between feeling pain or not during crucifixion. It was a given because pain sucks and because His body was totally filled with endorphins (painkilling biochemistry).

    So in conclusion, it’s my conviction that Jesus was demonstrating what it means for us to be made in God’s image; that we can make anything as good (moral) or as bad (immoral) as we want. It’s totally up to what we choose to experience.

    Now to turn the pain of having your heart smashed by a spear head into bliss and then heal that physical wound, you need to be consummately skilled at choosing to feel good. And to feel as good as the image of God you’re made in simply requires a completely healthy diet (no alcohol or other poison – yes it’s a total shame you can’t have any more poison, poison makes you suffer) and lifestyle, especially including a meditation practice that makes you feel blissful.

  • @Mulled Vine
    If my concept of ‘harm’ is relative, it must be relative to something.

    What in your view is it relative to?

    I’m not here to claim moral superiority, just to put an ‘outsiders’ point of view.

    What was your purpose in replying to my comment and the original post?

  • I wrote a post about this today at my blog…