Friday, April 30, 2010

Does Ethics Come From Religion?

It is often said by religious people that ethics comes from religion. My atheist friends get their fur all ruffled up that that statement, and so this was my response in one discussion:

I'll probably surprise you by saying that I do NOT think that our ethics come from religion. Not our base nature to do good. Rather, I think there is a lot of our morality that comes innately, from our adult minds, no matter who we are, or what culture we live in.

As we become mature adults, we realize not only that other people exist, but that they are the equal to ourselves. That our brothers, sisters, friends, boy/girlfriends, spouses, and co-workers are the equivalent of ourselves. And that is the essence of morality, the basic moral principle that exists in almost every ethical system-- that others need to be treated in the manner in which we wish to be treated, because (the basic ethical realization) they are the same as us.

Now, this logic, for most of us, only goes this far. We have people that we treat as equals and then people that we treat as non-equals. For some, we treat people as more than us-- celebrities, politicians, etc-- while others we treat as less than us-- children, the developmentally disabled, our parent with Alzheimer's. Anyway, the liberal will give lip service to the fact that everyone has basic rights and should be treated equally. Some don't feel that it is necessary. But the morally progressive person will look at the other for who they are and try to meet their social and possibly physical needs in as much as is socially acceptable.

In morality, the best of religions or ethicists will guide one in relationships to do that which is the best for all concerned. However, this usually requires reason, because morality requires context, while most religions only give rules. And rules are not the best way to determine morality.

And honestly, this is one of the reasons I hang my hat with Jesus, because he recognized the flexibility of situations and so gave principles instead of rules. And, in fact, one of his principles is that any law-- religious or otherwise-- is to be marginalized if it harms another person. It is why I do not accept most Christian dogma, because, in the end, it hurts people by its rigidness, and tends to look at people in boxes, rather than listening and appreciating them for who they are. I am absolutely firm that Jesus has never promoted that.

So where is God in this? Well, I believe God created us, and so established a certain kind of morality within us (as well as gave Jesus to direct it). An atheist can hold that the morality is the end process of a long line of compromises, but as long as they are humanitarian in focus-- as Hitchens is-- then I'm okay with that.

What bothers me is when he calls the New Testament "immoral", because he is ultimately calling me, who tries to live my life following the principles of that document, immoral for doing so. That is the equivalent of me calling an atheist "immoral" because they are an atheist, which I have never done. I would appreciate it if he would return the favor. Just because his, non-scholarly, interpretation of the text is immoral doesn't make the text so.

Okay, rant over. I spend a lot of time thinking about ethics, so it just comes out. Trust me, this one was short.

Is Religion Bad?

Certainly religions have done terrible things. Wars have been fought, people murdered, children abused, etc. All for the sake of, or in the name of, religion. Christopher Hitchens goes on about this in his book, and you can read that, if you like. Lots of description of wrong, there.

But if we looked at religion's virtues, instead of the punishment of vices, we see a different picture. For what reason would we have to forgive someone's sins, except for religion? To be nice to someone? That means nothing when, like the Amish, someone shoots into a school, killing all the girls. Why did the Amish forgive? Because of religion. No other reason than that. And this forgiveness isn't perverse, but beautiful. And that picture wouldn't be found without religion supporting it.

What about the humility of the saints? Certainly one could find a number of people who are bold, proud, and self-seeking in religion. But where do you find the truly humble, those who work at it as if a daily exercise? Only in religion. Yet without humility the world would be a much darker place. Without humility, we would all be self-seeking, self-aggrandizing. Humility is part of the beauty of the world, and it is glorified only in religion.

I have an atheist friend of mine who complains about Christian charity work. He's not unhappy it exists-- on the contrary. But he says that it is a shame that there is very little charity work for the homeless, the needy, the immigrants from a non-religious basis. It is there, but for some reason, it is hard to get people stirred up to love one's neighbor practically, to take that extra step, unless it is done on a religious basis. We need to remember that it is religion that instituted giving to the poor. It is religion that continues to offer the best reasons for sacrificing one's own goods to those in need.

In sum, the world would be much poorer without religion, even on a secular basis. If religion did not exist, someone would have to invent it.

Special protection for Religion?

One of the main problems with religion in general is its special status in governments. This is less problematic than it used to be, such as when European nations would declare themselves "Catholic" or "Protestant" and then battle against other nations or their own people who accorded to themselves the other status. But even today, religions are granted special protections from taxes and immunity from some kinds of prosecution.

Why should this be a problem? Well, it gives the impression that an institution is special or deserving protection simply because it is a religion. It also assists a religion to assume certain airs, as if they are deserving of such privileges automatically.

But the fact is, one of the main indicators of true religion is the unjust persecution it suffers. If the adherents of a religion continue in their belief despite persecution, prosecution, financial hardship and rejection, then they truly believe, it isn't just a show. If someone holds to a religion, and they get special privileges for being a religion, then why is belief necessary? It is enough reason to be a religion only because of the special privileges.

For this reason many church leaders are hypocrites, and many church members give only to seek out tax relief. If all that were stripped away, we would see more clearly what people really believe. Take away the professional status of ministers. Take away the financial benefits of being a church. And begin to seriously prosecute churches for the wrongs they've done. When the benefits are stripped away, then we'll see who's left.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Sorry that I haven't been posting as much here. It's not that I haven't been doing my reading. I've been devouring the book God Is Not Great, actually. It's simply that I haven't had as much time for writing, because I've been getting ready for a fundraiser that Anawim is having tomorrow.

I will give a tidbit, which I will say in depth later:

The problem with religion is when it separates itself from humanism. If people get so focussed on their idea of God that people don't matter any more-- or certain people-- then religion is worthless. In fact, any form of any religion that forgets about the basic tenant to "love your neighbor" or to help the poor or to have compassion-- that religion is a part of what is corrupting and demonic about humanity.

It is just as John said: "If anyone says 'I love God' but hates his brothers, is a liar. For no one who hates his brother, whom he can see, can love God whom he cannot see." I John 4:20. If we love God, then loving humanity goes hand in hand with that. If we do not do good to humanity, we do not love God.

Well, that's all for today. Gotta run.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Cause and Effect

In the last post, I labeled some things as consequences of sin or disobedience to God. However, I want to make it clear that just because we see something that might be a consequence of sin, that doesn't mean it is. Mental illness can be the result of sin, but many people are afflicted with this due to no sin on their part. This is certainly the same with sickness or other disabilities. Often with sickness, we must seek the Lord to see if there is any guilt associated with us, but we must not assume there is.

I know of many people who have such guilt complexes that everything bad that happens to them, they put at the feet of their own sin. Usually this is not the case, especially if a sin has already been punished or if a sin has been repented of. If God says a sin is forgiven, punishment from God is past (even though some human beings love to punish past the point of forgiveness).

The earthquake in Haiti, 9/11 and other disasters have been claimed by national leaders to be the result of God's judgment on a nation. However, this is using a logical fallacy-- taking a complex situation and applying one simplistic cause for it, without actually checking the evidence.

It could simply be a natural event that God wants to heal. In fact, God could use a calamity, like the one in Haiti, to bring more healing to a nation because they have suffered enough.

A calamity could just be oppression, like most wars, where blame is rested on those who caused it, not God.

It says in Scripture, however, that God doesn't attack a nation without prophecy declaring that He will be doing it. (Amos 3:7) So Pat Robertson and others need to be quiet unless they have evidence backing up their claim.

On the other hand, many of us tend to overlook or disregard our sin as insignificant. It is true that if we truly repent, we will be truly forgiven. But God still holds us accountable for our actions, and repentance is necessary. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life." Galatians 6:7-8

Consequences of Disobedience

Evil is not reserved to people like Hitler or Stalin, criminals and child pornographers. Evil is simply disobedience to the basic things God has asked us to do. We desire what God has not given us yet and so we pursue to do that which God has commanded us not to do. This is rebellion against our rightful Lord, and the littlest disobedience, without repentance, will cause us to be trapped in a cycle of sin that will have at least some of the following consequences.

Uncleanness—The first consequence of sin is that we become defiled before God. God no longer desires to associate with us, even as we would not want to associate with someone who has not bathed in months. We are unable to approach God in prayer, except in repentance, and until we repent we are unable to be in God’s presence. (Mark 7:21-23; Zechariah 7:12-13; Isaiah 1:11-17; I John 1:5-7)

Evil desire—Sin begins with an evil desire and it perpetuates evil desire as well. One desires what one can have or obtain, not what one can do for God or others. Eventually, one’s mind is obsessed with thoughts of doing evil. (James 1:14; Romans 1:28; I John 2:16)

Bad reputation—People will see you as untrustworthy. They will feel they have a right to judge you and no longer want to be around you. They will also think badly of God and Jesus and their names will be blasphemed because of your actions. (Ezekiel 36:17-21)

Increased disobedience—You will desire to have more of what you gained in your disobedience. Since the gains of disobedience are fleeting and temporary, you will head deeper and deeper into the disobedience and rebellion against the Lord. One also develops a community of disobedience, developing friends that encourage each other to sin, away from the Lord. (James 4:2-3; Romans 1:32)

Mental illness—You will no longer be able to think correctly about yourself, your life, others around you, the world or God. What God says is true, you will call a lie; what God says is real, you will call a fantasy. Soon you will live in accordance with that false reality, instead of God’s truth. Not all mental illness is a result of sin or Satan, but living in sin absolutely leads to mental illness. (Romans 1:21-22)

Inability to love others—The Lord will take away the love he gave you to serve others. You will want to do good to others, but you will not be able to. Even the good that you do is a double-edged sword, causing harm even when you do good. (I John 4:8, 20)

Broken relationships—You will hurt those whom you love and who love you. Eventually they will turn away from you to seek safer relationships. Those who live with you will no longer listen to you or want to be around you. (Matthew 18:17; I Corinthians 5:9-11)

God will take away what little authority you have—The Lord will take away any amount of rulership you have, because you have proved yourself unworthy. You will lose money; no one will listen to you; you will be hated by those who live with you or are under you—employees, children, spouse, roommates, church members, etc. (I Samuel 15:23; Psalm 37:9)

Earthly punishment—The Lord will punish you for your sin. This will often happen in direct connection to you sin. For instance, someone involved in sexual immorality will get a sexually transmitted disease. Someone involved in stealing will be arrested. Other consequences may happen as well, though, including sickness, blindness, loss of food or shelter, and separation from one’s community. (However, not everyone who experiences sickness, homelessness or poverty is judged for sin—see Job) (Deuteronomy 28:58-61)

Bondage to Enemies—Yahweh will hand you over to the gods whom you are serving and you will only gain what they have, which is misery, death and horror. He will also possibly hand you over to the police or other governmental authorities to punish you. (Judges 2:11-14; Romans 1:24-28)

Not receiving the promises of God—The disobedient will not inherit the kingdom of God. They will not gain the resurrection. They will not receive God’s blessings. They will seek the Lord and not find him. They will listen to God’s word and not understand it. They will think they will receive all of what God has in store for the righteous and they will gain none of it. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

Causing others not to receive God’s kingdom—Because you are living in hypocrisy, others will think that they can follow God as you do. Then they will receive the same consequences as you—punishment, dishonor and death. (Matthew 23:15)

Rejection of God—Eventually the one in sin will realize their hypocrisy and decide that they never really wanted to follow God in the first place. They reject any word of the Lord and become an open enemy of God. At this point, there is no turning back and the final consequence of sin is inevitable. (Romans 1:20-23; Hebrews 6:4-6)

Judgment according to deeds—Whatever one does to another, that is what that one will receive on the final day before God. So if one grants judgment to others, they will receive judgement. If they never show mercy, they will not receive mercy. (Luke 6: 36-38)

Death— The final consequence of disobedience is death. The Lord will hand you over to the power of death, under the control of Satan and he will destroy you. You will be in fire and torture and punishment for eternity. (Matthew 13:41-42; Matthew 25:46; Revelation 20:12-15)

However, the consequences of sin do not have to be our end. All of these consequences can be reversed through the cross of Jesus!