Friday, November 22, 2019

"Sorry Guys, It's Still Immoral" - A Response To CMI (part 9)

This blog post is part 9 in a series responding to the Creation Ministries International article, "Is The Bible Immoral?", where I take a rational look at the claims made by one of the more prominent Christian apologetics organisations in its defence that the Bible is not an immoral book.

Previous posts here:

The next section of "Is The Bible An Immoral Book?" goes by the weighty heading "Jesus: Not Original And Not Moral?".


So begins the next part of my response. This one is slightly lengthy (but not as lengthy as the next section).


(Note: CMI have a plethora of articles available to peruse over at https://creation.com/qa, including some which may already answer points I have made in this series. Head on over, have a read, compare both sides of the argument!)

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Another video making the rounds argues that Jesus’ ‘moral contributions are not original, and his original contributions are not moral

And let me guess - CMI's web editor ain't gonna tell you what that video is called or where to find it. I don't want to sound like I'm flogging a dead horse, but it does make debate and dialogue hard.

To answer the point at hand, on the face of it, a lot of what we give Jesus credit for were either just re-worked Jewish principles, or were principles we would eventually reach by the principles of secular humanism anyway (or even be outdone by secular humanism - the abolition of slavery, anyone?).

But without seeing the video, I can't make a point by point case.

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The first, well-worn argument is that the ‘Principle of Reciprocity’ predates Christianity by millennia and is found in practically every religious tradition, so Christianity cannot claim the Golden Rule as uniquely a teaching of Jesus.

If numerous independent cultures came to the same principle without Jesus, in this case 'The Golden Rule', this indicates that that The Golden Rule didn't need a Jesus to make it.

If no cultures whatsoever prior to Jesus had instituted a version of The Golden Rule, and The Golden Rule only came in to existence because of Jesus, and then no other culture that has been isolated from Christianity ever came up with a version of The Golden Rule, then Christianity can claim credit.

But it hasn't happened that way.

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But the positive command ‘do unto others as you would have them to unto you’ is a real moral advance over negative commands to the effect of ‘don’t do to others what you would not want done to you.’ The former encompasses the latter but adds a new element that the other didn’t have.

This is swinging for the fences. Just because Jesus (is quoted as) rewording a principle that has existed in independent and isolated cultures to make it a positive tense does not make it far better, far superior or a real moral advance. It's literally just saying the same thing in another way.

Otherwise, the author then has to admit that the Ten Commandments aren't much chop because they are mostly "Thou shalt not..." commands as opposed to "Thou shalt...".

But even if I accept the author's assertion that because Jesus worded it in a positive sense it is soooooo much better, the basic fact of it is that all Jesus did was tweak a concept already in existence. The end consequence of the author's argument is that Jesus, the son of God, the word made flesh, doer of wonderful works and the agent of creation, came to earth just so that he could tweak a moral precept that was already in existence, already widely known and that he didn't even invent.

But this isn't the worst of it. After researching the topic, I'm pretty much convinced the author hasn't even read the Wikipedia article on The Golden Rule, let alone considered and evaluated other viewpoints.

If it is positive versions of The Golden Rule that Cosner considers valid and awesome, then look no further than Islam:
As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don't do to them.


This one expands even further on the one Jesus gave by giving both a positive and a negative inflection. Talk about a real moral advance that is far superior!

Want more? Let's look at the Baha'i faith:


Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.


I'll give you one more - Hinduism:


Those acts that you consider good when done to you, do those to others, none else.


I'll encourage you to look up more versions of The Golden Rule and decide if Christianity's is way better.

In my viewpoint, they're all saying the same thing, just in different words.

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We see this in current American law which has only the preferred doctrine of the skeptics—it’s called non-feasance... 
This is interesting for a number of reasons:

1. There is no 'preferred doctrine of the skeptics' (except maybe to enforce church-state separation, which even some Christians support) - this is just anti-atheist guff.

2. There is no 'preferred doctrine of the skeptics', because there is no authoritative doctrine behind skepticism. The only thing authoritative regarding atheism is that you're skeptical of the existence of gods.

To say something like this is to firstly misunderstand skepticism and atheism, and secondly, is a blatant straw-man.

While Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, et al are the most popular atheists in the modern era, they do not define atheism or skepticism - contrary to popular belief, atheism isn't a monolithic set of prescribed beliefs. The only entry requirement to the atheist club is that you're not convinced of the existence of gods - after that, you make your own way.
It is entirely possible be an atheist and still believe religion is a force for good in the world.

3. The remark "preferred doctrine of the skeptics" comes across as snide because it seems the author really wants to make it sound like skeptics don't care if you drown.
And attempting to portray the legal principle of non-feasance as making it sound like a commandment to not help drowning people, then tying it with atheism (because atheists are obviously evil) is, yet again, is guilt-by-association.

4. There is nothing in being skeptical of the existence of gods that makes you prefer to not have the responsibility to rescue your fellow man. All being skeptical of the existence of gods makes you is skeptical of the existence of gods.

5. In my opnion, the benefit of the principle of non-feasance is so that people don't go down the street being scared of being prosecuted for not acting when they either didn't know and was not in a position to act.

Non-feasance is not to say you can't or you shouldn't or you mustn't act if you are in a position to - it's just that if you don't and you don't have an established legal responsibility, you're not going to face a long and expensive legal battle to clear your name.

I know Christianity wants to control what you think, what you do and what you say, that you must obey God's choice for who you marry, God's choice for where you study, God's choice for where you work, and even God's choice for where you live (making Christianity a theological police state), but thankfully non-theism is a lot more relaxed.

6. The most damning point of all? While I could only find hard statistics for the Supreme Court, if we take the Supreme Court as a representative sample of the general US justice system - the same one that helped create the legal concept of non-feasance - almost every single justice of the Supreme Court of the US has been either Protestant, Catholic or Jewish.

And if we look at the 116th US Congress, 88% are Christian and 6% are Jewish.

If the author wants to make a snide comment that non-feasance is the preferred doctrine of the skeptics, the people who are on the same side of the theological fence as her must obviously think that non-feasance is the preferred option as well - otherwise they would have changed it!

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Jesus’ command is clearly far superior:

To whose? Certainly not Mohammad's.

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The narrator makes the ‘generous’ concession that as a general rule, it’s okay, but we wouldn’t want a sado-masochist following the rule. This, however, is taking something that’s meant as a general principle and giving it a highly unlikely interpretation in a very narrow specific context...
 ...Furthermore, even under its own terms, this can be refuted. A masochist desires pleasure, even though his warped means of achieving this is suffering pain. So his application of the Golden Rule principle is to cause pleasure to others, not pain, since pain causes displeasure in most. 

I'm actually going to criticise both the original video AND the author because they both got something wrong (as far as I can tell - again, no link to the original means missing data):

Sado-masochists only inflict pain when they're having sex - it's not like sado-masochists walk down the street in their gimp outfits whipping people willy-nilly.

[However, Christian street preachers and YouTube content creators deliberately attempt to inflict feelings of guilt and shame at passers-by and viewers. I bet CMI give these guys a free pass]

But despite what anyone says, The Golden Rule still applies - if two people willingly enter in to a sexual relationship where physical pain is inflicted, then that is doing unto others as you would have them do unto you - entering in to a consensual sexual relationship and agreeing to terms with another person, as you would have them enter into a sexual relationship and agree to terms unto you!

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The video claims that Jesus made three new ethical contributions, all of which are deeply flawed. First, it is claimed that Matthew 5:39‘But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’ is immoral, because non-resistance to evil allows evil to flourish. But it must be noted that this is only addressing personal interactions, involving offense to oneself.

Again, I find myself in some agreeance with the author, as well as finding some fault with the logic of the original video creator.

The best outcome would be to have a world where people didn't slap each other or saw violence as a way to solve problems. The problem here is that Jesus is quoted as saying, "Do not resist an evildoer" which is a pretty lame way of reducing the amount of evil in the world - if we extrapolated this concept, we would have no need for jails or police because no-one is resisting evil-doers enough to be interested in justice.

But as well, on a personal level, this may be subject to one sort of interpretation, yet what would Jesus say about military action? Would Jesus' command to turn the other cheek be the right response in the wake of the 9/11 attacks?

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Rather, it is saying that in personal actions, we are to be ready to endure a second blow, rather than retaliate in kind. This would be honorable behavior in the ancient world, and the violent person would be shamed.

Isn't this an implicit admission that what Jesus said was meant for the ancient context it was written in, rather than something that is universally applicable in modern times?

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The second ‘atrocity’ ascribed to Jesus is His claimed ability to forgive sins. The narrator claims this is a blank check for all sorts of evil behavior, since Jesus can simply forgive, meaning there are no consequences. But first, it’s never claimed that God’s forgiveness takes away earthly consequences.

Two problems:

1. The assertion that God's forgiveness never takes away earthly consequences is contradicted numerous times in the scripture.

Numerous times, God's forgiveness causes God to either delay punishing someone, or completely ameliorate the punishment.

For example, 2 Kings 22:20 quotes God as saying that he will delay punishment until the regent of the day has died.
Jonah 3:10 has God completely deciding not to punish Nineveh because of their repentance.

This makes the author's theology and assertions false.

2. If God's forgiveness doesn't take away earthly consequences, but only deals with spiritual consequences, how do you determine that a consequence a person experiences on earth has been bought about spiritually rather than for earthly reasons?

Or, if the punishment gets delayed to the afterlife, how then do you determine that God indeed has punished the person in the afterlife?

Because under Fundamentalist theology, it is entirely possible that a serial killer can be rewarded with an eternity in heaven after a final meal of fried chicken and Coca-Cola because God accepted the prayer of someone who is about to die, without realising the irony that that same God did absolutely nothing regarding the victims or the families of the victims that that same serial killer impacted when they were about to die.

So much for morality and justice...

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The third ‘ethically questionable’ teaching is that one should love one’s neighbors as oneself. The narrator claims that this is an injunction to love indiscriminately, and ‘brutalizes the notion of love.’ 

To me, to love one's neighour as oneself is merely a rewording of The Golden Rule. So, surprise of surprises, if I take the author's paraphrasing of the video she is criticising at face value, then I agree with the author's critical tone.

To reach the notion that Jesus' (quoted) command to love one's neighbour as themselves 'brutalises the notion of love' is true only if you completely remove all nuance.

But, once more, I don't know what the original video is trying to say and what case they are making - I'm relying on what the author is relaying.

But, to move forward, the world would indeed be a better place if people loved each other as much as they did themselves.

But this leads to a hard question: is The Golden Rule (and all variations of it found in the scriptures) in the Bible because they are good, or are they good because they are in the Bible?

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Rather, it is the skeptical understanding of love that brutalizes it—reducing it to a feeling rather than will and action.

Love is both - a feeling, displayed by actions.

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Guys, this was a long and tough one. And the longest and toughest one is coming up.

Stay strong...

-Damien (quiterationaldad@gmail.com)




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