The Bible as moral tour guide

This has happened a couple of times in the past month. I read that without the Bible, the Christian Bible, there is, believers claim, a complete lack of instruction on how to behave, how to treat others kindly and respectfully, how to be a proud American. Being a person who does not follow a defined faith, nor believe in an invisible guiding being, these opinions are revealing about those who express them. The logic and arguments are always the same. Without this guidance, by what means do we have for our moral compass? Usually, I read these opinions and ignore them. When I respond, I often feel like I am standing there poking someone in the eye while they keep smiling and repeating the same platitudes. One of the latest expressions in this vain was in a blog from a local Pastor of very large Indianapolis church. What struck me were the blanket assumptions this article took–the convenient reinterpretation of history to make a point. There is no proof to support his claims. The only purpose I can discern is to spread false information about atheists, and non-Christians in general, and their lack of moral guidance. I could speculate about further motives for such a response, but I will only assume this was guided by misinformation and a need for protection rather than antagonism.
History has a way of being skewed by those who are stretching to prove a point. Stalin and Hitler are always the leading characters in this atheistic morality warning tale. The genocide and indiscriminate killing of tens of millions of people these two orchestrated are certainly low points in human history. However, believers then move to emphasize these two monsters were atheists, with the logical conclusion that this is what happens when the godless are allowed to rule. Guilt by association? Guilt by imagination is more likely. I would be equally as accurate in saying men with funny mustaches are evil.
This is a terribly narrow view of the world and only serves to show how truth and facts are ignored in the quest to drive belief. The truth is Hitler was raised a Roman Catholic. He makes frequent mentions of his devotion to God in Mien Kampf.

“Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator:  by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.”

But, don’t take my word for it, go look it up yourself. Hitler was either Christian or at least used similar language to whip up racism and genocide against Jews and others. Stalin was raised to be a priest, and though he did not follow that career path, he did not hesitate to use establishment of state religion for his own purposes. The truth is much more convoluted than Christian apologists portend. Bits and pieces cannot be plucked without a view of the overall context.
From this point of view, it would be easy for me to continue on a long diatribe about religiously inspired atrocities. I could infer that all Christians are bent on a racist destruction driven by their maniacal frenzy, and then back this up with historical evidence–priests molesting children, the burning of witches and slavery all tie to Christianity. This is a history we must be cognitive of but not project onto others who had nothing to do with these events. Like the vast majority of the atheists and non-Christians, most Christians are simply living their lives the best they know how. What the Pastor and other apologists fail to mention is the ground breaking contributions atheists have made in all kinds of areas such as science, medicine, philosophy and so on. Likewise, religious organizations have done tremendous good in the world. This would be an interesting topic for a Pastor to write and draw conclusions from. What must be understood is that the contents of a person’s morality is based on their actions rather than what deity they do or do not believe in.
This constant laying of blame has a negative effect, which is really what drove me to write this. These claims come across as spiteful, prejudiced and an attempt of self-convincing. I often use the word hubris, since this describes an assumed privileged position. Probably not what the Pastor intended, but what else can I use to describe spreading lies about a group of people. For a quick test of this tendency, I went to Google and typed in “Why are atheists so” and stopped there. The top response was “angry”: “Why are atheists so angry?” I typed in “Why are Christians so” and received words like “rude”, “judgmental”, “mean”. There are no lack of pejoratives for any group of people, which points to a larger issue outside of the realm of religion. Praying to a Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, etc. God has not solved these kinds of misunderstandings.
Morality comes from human interpretation (which changes over time) of what is right and wrong. Humans wrote the Bible and included a wide range of lessons, of which many are ignored or awkwardly explained away. Why did God put Job through his struggles? Is God’s ego so weak that he felt he needed to prove something to Satan? Does God lack the intelligence and wisdom to come up with a better way to prove Job’s loyalty? The moral lessons we see and hear out of the Bible are the ones humans wish to act upon. The Bible is full of good instruction, and I have no qualms with those who heed this advice. I only ask that we understand the nature of interpretation, in that people can put on blinders and make assumptions that do not line up with reality. Read the Bible, Koran or Torah if you wish, but be aware that the standards of behavior are defined and enforced by humans of all backgrounds.

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6 thoughts on “The Bible as moral tour guide

  1. Hello Mike and your readers,

    I am a devout follower of Christ, and thought I could offer some comments from that end of the spectrum. Surprisingly, I really understand where this blog is coming from. I lived all of my childhood and early 20’s as a very outspoken atheist, and I remember that this is one of the topics that made me really cringe and get angry when speaking to Christians. I come from a home w/o God, and still, my family had the best set of morals I have ever come across. They love deeply, have concern for others, etc, so when someone would say something along these lines, I had irrefutable proof that they were wrong, take a look at my family, we are far more moral than most religious people. It was true.

    I can’t speak for anyone but myself, so that’s what I will try to do. Although I was exceptionally moral, the difference that I now see as a Christian is undeniable. The difference is love, and when and who I can bestow it on. I used to feel the need to defend myself if there were ever an issue where someone threatened what I interpreted as what I had built for myself, whether it was my standing in society, my money, my family, my honor, really anything. Also, in retrospect, I was very judgmental and angry, if someone threatened these things, or had a different morality than myself, I saw that as a threat to me, and certainly could not respond with love, it was either disdain or indifference. Now I try to freely give everyone an abundance of love honor and respect, whether they “deserve” it or not.

    It was when I realized how much I didn’t deserve the grace and forgiveness that God gave me, and that He had given me everything that I have, that I didn’t need to defend it anymore. I needed to give it as freely as it had been given to me. Even the tax collectors could love the ones that returned the favor. I never realized that scaling my morality based on the situational was wrong, now I do. It is different now.

    It is similar to this nation. We are moral right? I used to think so. I used to think it was okay to go to war with a nation who is terrible, or threatens us. Now I can clearly see that combatting violence with violence is futile and ridiculous, even though it could be argued that it is moral. It is my opinion that 911 was a warning to this nation that we had gotten out of hand with our lust, greed, and violence. We had a choice to turn back and repent. Rather, we responded with a more potent version of what we had been doing, and look at where we are 12 years later! It’s falling apart! Everything the Lord gifted to us is falling away at an astonishingly fast rate. We all need to be humbled, and realize that responding in this way has been tried for several 10’s of thousands of years, over and over and over. We keep getting the same results. It is time to quit putting a ribbon on moral contingency, and start embracing unwavering love. That would be a difference. Not that all Christians feel this way, obviously. But they need to be humbled as well.

    • I agree with you on most counts, except I believe that the morals applied from the religious holy books are a human interpretation of what people want to see. Pick a book, the Bible, Torah, Quran, Book of Mormon, whatever, and it is a confusing mess. If you get love and useful knowledge from the Bible, more power to you. However, for too many thousands of years various translations of religious texts have led to barbaric atrocities. Too much of the texts are used to drive actions without thought or question. That’s my biggest problem with religion. The next time you are in church, listen to the communion. Listen to the words (I’ll paraphrase) “Drink my blood, eat my flesh”. I’m certainly not alone in finding that one of the most disturbing rituals practiced on a regular basis. Yet week after week, millions perform this ritualized cannibalism without hesitation. I’m not sure of your denomination, but the next time you place that crumb or wafer in your mouth, listen to the words that accompany that action. Evan, to me, I think you need to give yourself more credit. If you improved your life, it was by your doing not by an invisible being. Please remain an honest decent person no matter what your path.

      • Thanks mike, the only thing I did was allow myself to break down barriers I had created in my mind, everything else was given to me by God.

        I agree that organized religion is scary, people are scary. They are scary because they don’t understand that this earth and life are a precious gift that was prepared by a holy righteous God for us, and it is not necessary to fight to defend their portion of it. That is what makes things difficult. There are major problems in religion, but not in Christ.

        Don’t you think it is kind of interesting though that a several thousand year old book accurately predicted what is happening today? I do.

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