The Oxford dictionary defines morality as follow: “The principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour”.
The following short essay is by no means an in depth dissection of the nature and origin of what we perceive as good or bad moral conduct.
In my view, good moral principles should be timeless. If it was valid 4000 years ago it should be valid now, as well as 100 000 years into the future. I believe the Golden Rule is a prime example of such a moral standard. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”, is a well-known quote from the Bible. It actually predates the Bible or appears independently in other religions and ways of life. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_rule ).
Many Christians do not question deep enough the moral validity of many commands and instructions from the Christian God. I find claims that the Bible is the ultimate moral code to live by quite strange, given the many controversial and some blatantly despicable moral examples contained within it. These might only become legitimate claims if the Bible gets a comprehensive overhaul.
Many prescriptions of the Old Testament are allegedly confined to the Biblical times and should supposedly be read “in context”. It is my opinion that one should examine the moral value of commandments and divine instructions from those times. After all, they do come from the same God that is still worshipped today. I have no problem with otherwise harmless guidelines regarding diet, clothing etc., which were probably put in place for the health and well being of the people of those times (e.g. avoid eating pork etc.).
Consider the following thought experiment: Pretend for a moment that you are living back in the Biblical times. Your neighbour’s rebellious son is found guilty of disobedience. The elders of the village sentence him to be stoned to death and you are summoned to participate in the execution (Deut 21:18-21). As the boy is cowering and pleading, can you honestly say that you could have cast a stone? Forget the “He who has no sin should cast the first stone” which was promoted by Jesus much later on in the New Testament (good cop, bad cop?). Still back in the Old Testament times, again imagine yourself to be a soldier in God’s chosen army. Could you move yourself to slaughter innocent children and babies on divine command (keeping female virgins as spoils of victory should only further challenge your own moral sense). These two examples should be juxtaposed with the Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill”. This must have created a lot of inner moral conflict. “Thou shalt not kill” should mean just that, full stop.
There are many such morally questionable examples from the Bible and/or Quran for that matter. Rather than just merely evaluate them in a removed fashion in the year 2012, in your mind place yourself in these situations to test your moral barometer. On a similar theme, ask yourself why is it that the following hypothetical command does not appear as one of the (Ten) Commandments or anywhere else in the Bible?: “Thou shalt not own another fellow human being as a slave”. To own another person as your personal property and treat them like a tool or farming implement is one of the major moral travesties perpetrated by us humans to date. The Bible should have forbidden and condemned slavery in no uncertain terms. All of the above, and especially the notion of everlasting punishment (Hell) totally convinced me of the human authorship of the Bible.
Defendants of the Love message of the Bible claim that this should trump all the controversies. Of course there are some very commendable passages devoted to love (as one example, 1 Cor 13:4-7). As lovely as some of these passages are, they are nothing that could not be found in many very average romance novels (not the “50 Shades” type though). From a moral point of view, I would like to question certain aspects of love in the Bible: Husbands and wives; - should you keep on loving each other because God instructs you to, or because you still honestly do? Why should you be instructed to “Love thy neighbour”? True love should be spontaneous and from within. I accept that the latter example probably tries to promote tolerance and “live and let live”. And ultimately, the God of the Bible commands you to love Him. Firstly, would this be honest and true love if He demands it of you? Secondly, would an omnipotent and omniscient Creator of this vast cosmos be actually concerned whether His mere creations love Him or not? The “love” message I personally got from the Bible was to a large extent, “His way or the Highway” (read Hell).
The inner conflict created by the opposing messages regarding killing and love, reminds me of the “Stockholm Syndrome”. See recent article by Hanjo. (http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/What-if-God-was-actually-the-evil-one-20121025), (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome). The term “God fearing” is actually very appropriate (for believers that is).
To the inquisitive mind it should be clear that mere mortals with primitive and evolving morals, wrote not only the Bible, but also all holy books. The many contradictions, scientific inaccuracies and especially, in my opinion, the many questionable moral standards in the Bible should underscore this. We should respect these early attempts, but is way outdated. We can and should do better. As I mentioned earlier, if a perfect Creator was responsible for the moral principles contained in the Bible, they should have stood the test of time…
No doubt many believers will feel personally offended by this article. Please note that I have not criticized believers or their morals. My aim was to raise questions on the moral validity of many aspects of our main religions and hence question the reasons for believing in the Abrahamic God.
I want to end on a positive note; I sincerely believe that most of us possess an inner moral compass by which we could (and should) live by. Having to rely on a book of rules to guide your moral life removes responsibility from yourself and weakens that innate moral potential in you. The same can be said for believing that “someone up there” monitors your thoughts, behaviour and actions.
Consider the following as an example of that inner sense of good and bad most sane people possess: Why do the majority of us enjoy movies or books with good endings, good prevailing over bad, love triumphing in the end? Likewise, “tear jerkers” tend to evoke sadness in most of us.
We don’t need an instruction book to differentiate for us between what is basic good and wrong behaviour. I believe we should look into ourselves and get in touch with that inner moral sense within us and nurture it.
Whether we actually listen to our consciences, or follow our moral instincts, is the much bigger challenge though... We should follow it because it is the right thing to do, because it makes us feel good, and not because we expect (eternal) reward or want to avoid punishment.
Secular societies can and do function very well. Proper, scientifically based education, combined with adherence to widely accepted morally just laws, should in principle lead to an ever increasing civilized human species.