Christian Morality Threatens Us All

In the Herald Sun on December 18th, 2009, Tony Abbot professed his view for mandatory Bible studies in Australian public schools, arguing that ‘I think it would be impossible to have a good general education without at least some serious familiarity with the Bible and with the teachings of Christianity’. Whatever political freedoms this sort of ‘education’ would impede upon, his words offer a much more serious threat than is perhaps initially evident to the casual reader. His argument rests upon two erroneous assumptions that, most unfortunately, may not be immediately clear to one raised in a country such as Australia.  Both assumptions are concerned with the foundation of an ethical standard, the first assuming that those without Christian beliefs are ill-disposed towards ‘goodness’, and the other that Christianity is inherently ‘good’.

The first of these assumptions is not only discriminatory to those without faith, but also those of different faiths, and with such a multicultural and diverse population that Australia is comprised of, for a government to not only endorse but to also oblige children to be subjected to religious indoctrination is almost an unfathomable concept, an abuse of power and an unwelcome intervention into spheres of personal life that governments should never have a say in. He has used his generalisation to create a false dichotomy on which he bases his argument, and by espousing views laced with assumptions that religiosity is the only path to morality, he not only advertises his ignorance and offends a great many rational-minded people, but also adds fuel to a dangerous undercurrent in society. We have so far been able to defend ourselves against the religious fanaticism that has afflicted the United States, not only threats from outside its borders such as the attacks of 9/11, incited by promises of martyrdom and Holy authority, but also domestic issues, such as violence perpetrated against doctors who administer abortions.

An incident that demonstrates not only how the first assumption is lodged firmly in the minds of many in the Western world but will also provide a segue into the second assumption is that of the murder of two employees of a medical clinic in Massachusetts in 1994. Dr. John Britton and James Barrett were murdered by Rev. Paul Jennings Hill due to their part in administering abortions and the opposition that he sustained to this action through his faith. This event is an indictment of the supposed lack of morals evident in the community of non-believers and non-Christians by those who consider the Bible to be the infallible word of God, while revealing the insidious flaw evident in the ‘Christianity is inherently good’ argument. While many religious people can agree that evil things have been done in the name of religion, they sidestep the most important part of the issue. In most cases, and indeed especially in the case of Rev. Paul Jennings Hill, his actions were done not in the name of religion but explicitly due to his religion. In his defense, he quotes the passage Genesis 9:6 ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man’. As the Bible also condemns abortion, it is merely a rational step that the murder of ‘murderers’ is, in fact, Holy mandate. Some may say that these parts of the Bible are not to be taken seriously and are merely analogous stories, and that acts of violence perpetrated by the religiously-inspired are abhorrent to moderate Christians. What this argument establishes is that by having the ability to take some parts of the Bible as a serious moral code and to disregard others as symbolic stories means that we already posses an ethical foundation that we can use to discern what seems acceptable and what deplorable. Our base value systems are formed independently of Holy scriptures, and allow us to live in a society where life, liberty and equality are highly valued.  It is only after indoctrination that millennia old stories spur humanity into wicked acts based upon supposed absolutes regarding murder, genocide and martyrdom, justified in ways that very few clear thinking, logical and rationally motivated people would accept.

I would like to end this piece with a quote from Professor Steven Weinberg, which I believe captures the overall tone. He said ‘Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion’.

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10 Responses to “Christian Morality Threatens Us All”

  1. Chucky Says:

    Tony Abbot’s justification was not moral, but for understanding. He said: “I think everyone should have some familiarity with the great texts that are at the core of our civilisation.” He explicitly made the point that he didn’t expect people to be believers.

    Are you aware that Christianity teaches that others, who do not necessarily share the same law, also know what is right from wrong? Romans 2 teaches this for example.

    Your second objection is that Christians can perform murders just like the rest of the population. Which seems misplaced, because Christianity teaches we all fall morally short (this is the literal translation of “sin”), even though we all know right from wrong.

    Considering the amount that atheists pontificate online about religion, I don’t think that actually being familiar with it would hurt one bit.

  2. rationalrepublic Says:

    With regards to your first point, I accept that the Bible has value as any other literary device does. The problem with the this particular book is that it asserts itself as infallible and claims an ultimate authority over not only the lives of everybody in existence, but also upon their eternal souls. The promise of eternal torture for children or their loved ones for committing trivial transgressions badly translated in an ancient text seems not only unnecessary but cruel.

    Young children are incapable of abstract or objective analysis, and as such are at a far greater risk of being manipulated. If an adult wishes to believe in a sky-god they are quite welcome to. My objection is to those at risk being pontificated to and through fear and coercion being turned into an army of God.

    Your reference to Romans 2 merely reinforces the contriteness of the Christian position towards their laws. I can envision the discussion – ‘You mean they can know right from wrong and NOT have read the Bible?!’.

    My second point was concerned with the immorality of some of the teachings in the Bible. By contemporary standards, the amount of sexism and genocide that is displayed is almost beyond recourse. Judges 19: 22-29 extols an obviously outstanding ethical foundation for us to base our lives upon. Implying that children should be exposed to these sorts of stories before they have developed the faculties to contextualise these ‘allegories’ (because I know that’s going to be their defence) is negligent.

    Considering the amount of value Christians seem to place in their favourite novel, being able to justify the parts they appear to be willingly ignorant about might not hurt their cause.

  3. Chucky Says:

    I can envision the discussion – “You mean they can know right from wrong and NOT have read the Bible?!’.

    I humbly suggest to you that few, if any, Christians think this way. In fact, not only is what you are claiming is directly contradicted by the Bible, but it is the central premise of the moral argument for the existence of God. Projecting fantasy attitudes onto others (and getting them wrong) isn’t a good way to win people over.

    “Judges 19: 22-29 extols an obviously outstanding ethical foundation for us to base our lives upon.”

    I honestly cannot believe that an intelligent person cannot tell the difference between proscriptive and descriptive writing. I suspect you just copied this from someone else who also didn’t think about it. It’s like reading Anna Frank’s diary and saying that it is a call to kill Jews. If there was any doubt, the actions described in that passage were considered so vile that Israel went to war over them in the very next chapter.

    • rationalrepublic Says:

      It’s claiming that there can be no basis for morality in any form that differs from that set forth in the Bible that is my point. Many homosexual people are very ‘good’, conforming to all of our standards of morality, yet they are for some reason still deemed evil due to a book written well over a thousand years ago. If it were any other piece of literature, people would be able to dismiss these attitudes as the outdated mores that they are.

      “So the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning” (Judges 19:25). The man was a Levite, a class with many religious responsibilities, one whose inheritance is the Lord God of Israel (Deuteronomy 18:2). Being merely descriptive does not change the fact that this was the attitude of the Levites, those deemed so worthy of God’s attention. And before you charge me with stereotyping, this seems to be all the Old Testament does.

      • Chucky Says:

        To pretend that the Levites were perfect (or suggest that whatever they do is good) is to totally miss the point. None of us are perfect, not even one. Our sin (from Levites to you and I) puts us in a broken and estranged relationship with a good God. This is the problem that Jesus came to solve.

      • rationalrepublic Says:

        I’m going to have to be the sand on the pickle (choose your own analogy if it suits) and state that I don’t accept ‘sin’ as a valid classifier of actions, or as you are perhaps inferring, a hereditary disorder. People are able to make choices, and from these choices come consequences. Whether we agree with these choices or not, and whether we ascribe them as good or bad, is not the same as saying that someone has sinned. If this is the fundamental reason for Jesus needing to exist, I would argue that there needs to be a great deal more said about why sin could be said to exist.

  4. southwerk Says:

    The bible is a vital part of Western culture. Having said that, it is easy to go to the idea that it should be taught like Milton or Shakespeare. There is a serious problem once you get out to the individual schools. Does the instructor teach this neutrally with respect to those of other beliefs or is it an excuse, an opportunity, to push one’s religion?
    I like your ideas. Your writing is quite thoughtful. But I can recommend the idea that you might mention the horrors likely if this kind of teaching were done. I’ve talked to people who have been in classrooms where their religion was ridiculed. It’s not a pleasant topic.
    Best Wishes,
    James Pilant
    http://southwerk.wordpress.com/

    • rationalrepublic Says:

      Thank you for your kind remarks James. As a newbie to blogging it seems that at least I have something vaguely interesting to offer.

      With regards to your argument, I agree. If it were possible to be taught as merely allegorical or historical (when applicable) such a literary trove could have value. In our culture, however, anybody over the age of ten probably has at least some lingering doubts over whether they could spend eternity in torment due to their transgressions. Also, this is not the attitude towards the Bible that is fostered among those who push it.

      I would like to ask if you intentionally didn’t capitalise ‘bible’? This was something I was struggling with in writing my article, but chose to for the sake of convention. Perhaps this makes me as guilty as those who hypocritically proselytize. But don’t worry, I’m seeking help ;).

  5. JhanaJian Says:

    I think it might be very interesting indeed to have the bible “studied” in the public schools, so long as the teachers have free reign to seriously scrutinize the book. I imagine there are plenty of atheists and agnostics who would love to have such an opportunity. I don’t think the bible could stand up to such examination if it were treated as just another book rather than as a holy book or as “the word of god.”

    Tony Abbot and his ilk might be wise to reconsider their wish to have the bible “studied.” Do they really think the bible could stand up to an honest critique? I think it might well be the final blow in the beating of a dead horse. RIP

    • rationalrepublic Says:

      I accept that the Bible, as a literary device, has the right to be studied, albeit in a literature class where it can be critically analysed. I’m sure this would be seen as somehow ‘offensive’ to Christians however, by placing their book under the same scrutiny that we place EVERY OTHER BOOK IN THE WORLD.

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