Finding the Flaws: Absolutes

In recent years, there has been a strong push for greater flexibility (some may apply the term ‘rights’ – who am I to argue!) in two particular areas that Christians of a certain persuasion find particularly difficult to stomach – marriage equality and abortion. Those are two very complex, impassioned subjects and I don’t really want to get into them directly at this stage, but the attitudes of those from a religious background can, I believe, be traced back to the doctrine of divine moral absolutism – the idea that God is the final, unwavering authority in any moral or ethical dilemma and he has provided us, through Scripture, the instructions for how these should be settled.

When faced with someone who has no religion, in my experience, a Christian will often turn to this argument very quickly. How can someone with no absolute reference point possibly have a definable set of morals or rules? Without a God and His commandments, how can people propose any rules or regulations which are anything but arbitrary?

Indeed, many will cite that the laws we, as citizens, live by are deeply rooted in a religious foundation. I don’t know anywhere near enough to pass an educated comment on that, but it’s one of those oft-repeated lines that Christians tend to trot out simply because of the implied credibility that comes with it.

Yes, atheists and the non-religious might say they can be moral people and that society can adequately decide what it thinks is acceptable and what isn’t, but when those rules are not framed and have no ultimate, final authority, how can they be considered anything other than whimsical? Add to that the doctrine of original sin where everyone is inherently evil (nay, depraved, according to Calvin) and you’ll begin to see why this view carries so much weight.

That’s the pro-religious perspective. I know this because it was mine. I had loads of discussions over the years where this particular topic came up, and I turned to it, because I believed it and it made perfect sense at the time.

On the other side of my own arguments

Nowadays, I find it interesting when I consider the things I used to say from the other side. I always considered myself empathetic and capable of walking in another’s shoes. But I guess I’ve never really considered how it feels to be on the end of the accusation that you’re inherently immoral and incapable of making non-arbitrary decisions about what is right and wrong. And it really is crude in the extreme.

What about this view of some higher-power framework being required for the development of meaningful morals and universally acceptable concepts of right and wrong? Well, I now see some flaws. I’m more questioning of the very idea of divine moral absolutism.

At its core, it implies that if God says something, it’s an unquestionable, fixed truth. And more to the point, it is not only acceptable but to be proactively encouraged. So, when God, through the writers of Scripture, gives us His word on any subject, it’s a definitive. By inference, those who claim to follow Him and obey Him will avow that anything He has said or done is thus acceptable.

History is littered with tales of weird and wonderful (read: perverse and twisted) interpretations of this doctrine. This is one of the core foundations of modern religious opposition on matters of equality and choice. Fundamentalists believe they are God’s representatives on this earth and, using His blueprint, they must ensure that society maintains its reliance on His laws and instructions, all – of course – for our own good.

The idea breaks down now, as I see it, for one simple reason – nothing is off limits. For the very reason that we, as a society, are meant to be protected from ourselves, we are actually exposed to the notions of the wrathful, vengeful deity.

The bible is full of examples of God ordering or enacting what we can only consider to be some truly reprehensible things:

I could probably go on – others have spent much more time cataloging these things than I am ever likely to. These catalogues do produce a very intriguing listing.

A message often preached from church pulpits and central to Christian literature is that God’s authority trumps any law of mankind. If the two are ever in conflict, the Christian must side with God’s law and accept whatever the consequences may be – to them or to others. If that law denies someone else a right or freedom, then that’s just bad luck. If a Christian ever feels truly called or “ordered” by God to act or behave in a certain way, then they must follow – there is simply no choice in the matter. Because there is no questioning of the absolutes.

But I don’t accept those religious, holy book absolutes any more. There must be a much more viable way to make the world a better place for everyone in it. Adapting to our circumstances and ensuring that everyone can live without fear and with the freedom to be who they are without the need to hide or pretend. Of course we still need limits – we can’t simply allow anything and everything. We obviously need to form and maintain our laws and we – people – need to continue to make decisions over what we will tolerate and what is simply not acceptable. We have done so in the past, and it’s fairly much a given that we will continue. I do expect the influence of religion to wane further and further until it is only a bit-part factor – perhaps not in my lifetime, but certainly within a small number of generations. I’m more or less describing basic humanism, aren’t I? Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

Until very recently, even talking about God like this – in this finger-wagging style – would have been unthinkable. It definitely feels weird, but it’s a certain type of liberating! What Christians (and what I used to) excuse and overlook in terms of God’s action has truly begun to astound me. The contrast between this violent, megalomaniac of the Old Testament vs the God of love and grace we are taught to worship in the New Testament is particularly stark and adds a whole level of confusion. But it does now seem to highlight how scripture has been concocted and crafted to fit a series of political or social needs at particular times.

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3 thoughts on “Finding the Flaws: Absolutes

  1. I appreciate your thoughts and your use of language is well conceived. I grew up in the church and at a Christian school from the time I was 5 till I graduated high school. I learned a lot about the Bible and I learned a lot about God. I was baptized and laid claim to the name “christian”. But I would say my heart was torn. I wanted to follow Jesus but I would rather enjoy music with raw, true, and harsh language – it spoke to me more deeply than any other music could (especially Christian music). I went to college for a year, dropped out, broke up with my girlfriend (whom I lost my virginity to), started smoking weed (got addicted), and started a band. It was great. It was freedom. I did whatever I wanted and did many things that were very much looked down upon from my “christian” roots. You probably see where I’m going with this?
    So here’s my question for you. Could it be that the power of social pressures were the only way that I sensed a voice (conscience?) speak clearly that I was paving a path of pain and destruction and that there was a better way?…when the social pressures around me were my band mates (atheists) and I wasn’t attending church…?

    The reason I like your post so much is that it begs for answers to questions that are so hard to answer. I saw your other post on Disqus and it led me here…I stalked you, ha. You asked a few questions and I will give a short response to each in hopes that it starts a dialogue. I will sit across the table with you as a person to a person. You would see it as human to human; so do I. But our disposition on humanity is different. Yours is that you and I simply exist; mine is that we were both created…but we are both human with the same desires, same needs, same hopes, and maybe even the same dreams – this I can be sure of.

    “What does it feel like or look like when “you are one with the Holy Spirit”?” – First off, I don’t believe the Bible says anything about us being “one” with the Holy Spirt – just that my spirit (soul) becomes the temple of God (by the blood of Christ) and that the Holy Spirit (God) comes to DWELL in me. Second, I do not and never will become of the same rank of God.

    “What mental or physical differences does that make to you, the partner in the arrangement?” – ‘Partner’ probably misconstrues it; (I believe that God created woman for man to complete the image bearing of God but that doesn’t make woman inferior to man). God doesn’t need man, as we could say man needs one another (we won’t get into marriage equality here, ha) – just relationship in general. But the mental/physical difference is that one who believes in God and accepts what He has done has been given insight into God’s Kingdom (we can debate this, of course) – so I now get to partake of and feel and experience what God is doing, what He has done, and what He will do.

    How does it affect what you think, what you do, how you’re motivated and how you function in a world with other people – some like you, some not? – This is tough because even though I’ve been saved from the dominion sin and death (purchased by Christ’s sacrifice – the ‘atonement’ is not just a Christianese word, it’s important to understand what that means) but that doesn’t mean I am able to just rid myself of my condition. I still have free will (gift of God) to do whatever I want but now that I know sin is against God’s will, it is less tasty. But I also realize it’s less tasty because when I choose God over sin, my inner longing is satisfied, as where if I choose sin (and we can talk further about “what is sin”) I am left wanting.

    “How can you be absolutely sure that you – and others who share your beliefs – have experienced the only available form of divine revelation?” – I think most of my answers above give credence to how I know I have experienced divine revelation. My eyes have been opened to something beyond myself, beyond humanity to where God’s Word just makes perfect sense. I can’t explain it very well other than that I took a leap of faith and I didn’t fall down a tunnel of confusion. A veil was removed from my eyes – not to be convinced I was better than you. But rather that I now have found my true identity – as a child of Creator God…and now my life has become a journey (a hard one, with faults, obstacles, even sin) toward letting Him remove my previous baggage and dress me up as a son.

    Whoops – long answers…I lied

  2. “…I lied”

    There’s a commandment against that, you know!! 😛

    Seriously, thank you for taking the time to put together such a well constructed response. I’m not sure a blog comments thread is the best place for this, but we’ll run with it for now. By means of disclosure, the questions I asked were specifically addressed to another commenter on that Disqus thread… they’re not questions I would normally ask nor do they tally with what I believed as a Christian. I was just trying to get someone to justify their (in my view, bizarre) position. They completely avoided the questions! You haven’t. But anyway…

    “Could it be that the power of social pressures were the only way that I sensed a voice (conscience?) speak clearly…”

    If I read this right, you’re asking if we only see the light by the darkness – or something to that effect? Is there a flip side to it? It sounds like you were living through a rebellious phase (for want of a better description) – a bit like a “prodigal son” experience. I’ve heard numerous testimonies of people with a grounding in a church of some sort go through something similar but eventually ending up back at the start again. I have some ideas on why this might be, admittedly none of them with any factual or scientific backing – just my thoughts! 🙂 You touch on it in your comment about choosing ‘sin’ and finding it wanting.

    I’ve never had that sort of experience. Church has been part of my life since I was able to speak. As a teenager, I dropped my focus on it a bit, but I never wandered too far and from the age of 15, I was helping out or leading or doing something in my own congregation. I was passionate about youth work, about teaching and about Creationism. Now that has all gone, I really don’t have a strong desire to go wild and look for the sorts of things I maybe feel I missed out on! My status is as “blessed” as anyone could hope for it to be… and I don’t wish to chase the wind just for the sake of it. I don’t crave ‘sinful’ experiences just so I can know the sensations without the consequences. It’s deeper than that.

    I’ve got to where I am now through a series of events and circumstances all slowly chipping away at my faith until, one day, there was just nothing left.

    “First off, I don’t believe the Bible says anything about us being “one” with the Holy Spirt.”

    Me neither – it was put to me by the commenter that I had only been able to deconvert because “I wasn’t at one with the Holy Spirit” and I was hoping they might justify their basis for that accusation or even explain why they thought that was even a thing. But they didn’t.

    “I still have free will…”

    But do you? In my post about prayer (maybe you’ve read it?) I talk about how I see the free will argument now and where it breaks down for me. If you have free will, then God is not omniscient because He can’t know what you’ll choose and how that’ll affect His plans. If He is omniscient and has everything planned out based on your choices, then you’re just choosing what you’re programmed to choose. It’s an age old argument and people much more clever than I have wrestled with it much more depth, but that’s how I see it these days.

    “A veil was removed from my eyes – not to be convinced I was better than you. But rather that I now have found my true identity – as a child of Creator God…”

    You see, I feel exactly the same thing from the completely opposite perspective. My robust and unquestioning faith had made me blind to reality, and the constant inner battle and cognitive dissonance I put myself through actually made me mentally unwell. I am currently experiencing a contentment and peace that I genuinely didn’t feel as a Christian. And that, to me, is weird. But true.

    I know I haven’t addressed everything you put to me, but I hope that’s enough to go with for now. If you want to move this to email or something less restricted, just say so. Thanks again – appreciate it.

    • Yes, I would prefer to respond to you via email as I did not get a notification on this (but now I see the box to check off for that, ha).
      my email: [redacted]

      The one thing you said I’ll address quickly (promise this time)…is a perspective on “free will”. I believe that my God is holy, eternal, perfect, and good. When He created (as Genesis accounts), He created everything as “good”. But He created man in His image – how so? Physical? Meh, not the focus. Spiritually or Mentally? I think that’s more on par. He created us with a mind, the ability to think beyond ourselves, creativity, and then uniquely, a choice. He gave us the tree of knowledge to choose NOT to eat. Did He know Adam and Eve would eat of it? Yes but I think there are things that God chooses to not engage in the outcome of. Why? Because you’re exactly right…we wouldn’t have choice. We would be robots. Our choices wouldn’t ulimately not matter.
      I look at it this way…I don’t have children, but if and when i did/do…I would want them to love me but I would never want to force them to love me, because is that really love? I would want them to choose to do the right thing because they trusted me that it was the right thing. I like that example because God is, in a sense, a Parental being to his creation.

      email me back.

      cheers!

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