In the comments to the Warren Jeffs post of a few days back, an anonymous poster keeps asking us how we, as godless heathens, can possibly judge Jeffs' actions as immoral because, being atheists and all, we obviously must live lives of pure moral anarchy where anything goes, right? You guessed it — it's the old "no god, no morals" argument one more time. I thought it would be instructive to our commenter, as well as anyone else still uninformed enough to think this way, to devote to the topic a post of its own.
We have often heard from believers the whole "no Bible, no morals" pitch, and frankly I continue to be surprised that anyone in this day and age, even amongst the religious, could still be so naive as to adhere to it, as it demonstrates both an ignorance of the function of moral precepts in society as well as the actual content of the Bible. I also would have thought the recent scandals involving such evangelical leading lights as Ted Haggard and Kent Hovind should have put to rest the idiotic notion that religious belief is some kind of guarantee of moral superiority. (Indeed, the very fact that Warren Jeffs himself is a religious believer and not an atheist ought to say something.) But I guess some folks never got the message. I'll address specific points in Anonymous's replies in order to rectify his lack of understanding. (Note: because of Anonymous's anonymity, I will default to assuming Anonymous is male for the sake of ease.)
To Tracie he said:
A lot of I's and my's going on here. If you don't believe in objective truth then I guess it's subjective. It's just based on personal whims and preferences. In other words, someone can easily say to you who cares what you say is truth because my truth is different.
Someone could easily say that, but they'd be full of crap, because no one lives in complete isolation from other individuals. Humans are social beings, and thus our every action has consequences that affect not only ourselves but those around us. This is an observable fact and there for any thinking being to comprehend and evaluate. People who go around saying "my truth is different" and then act upon that precept are generally considered sociopathic.
To be honest, the only people I've ever heard claim that there is no such thing as objective truth have been Christians. I'm not suggesting this is an opinion held by all Christians, only that the only people who've ever expressed it to me have been Christian; no atheist in my experience has ever told me there's no objective truth. I once had a pastor tell me "truth is relative," with a straight face, and phrases like "everything is a belief" pop up with surprising regularity in debates with believers, usually when you've just demonstrated to them how some aspect of their belief system doesn't stand up to scientific or rational scrutiny.
Anyway, Anonymous's point seems to be that either a person gets a list of rules out of an ancient holy book, and is thus moral, or they don't, and they aren't, and can only make decisions based on "whims and preferences." This strikes me as a baffling way for someone to learn morality, as it offers no understanding of the precepts being taught, and in fact discourages intellectual involvement in moral development. A person might practice "moral" behavior at a superficial level if they go out of their way to follow a list of Biblical dos and don'ts. But they cannot be expected to genuinely understand the difference between right and wrong; why they must behave they way they've been told to behave.
What Tracie was explaining in her initial reply to Anonymous is that she can rationally observe the consequences of certain actions, and make decisions about the morality or immorality of those actions based on her observations. She was telling him she doesn't need a list of rules in a holy book to tell her a thing is wrong when she can readily see this fact for herself. It's a little process called "thinking," and it's quite a different thing than "whim."
The rest of Anonymous's response to Tracie shows he really hasn't the slightest clue what she was trying to tell him (Anonymous also seems not to understand human interaction), and I'll let her respond to Anonymous from here on out.
To me Anonymous asked:
I never said it was arbitrary [to condemn Jeffs for his actions], I wanted to know why it isn't arbritrary according to your world view?
Anonymous obviously doesn't understand my "worldview," and I have a pretty strong suspicion that what he thinks my "worldview" is, is comprised of stereotypical notions about atheists that have been fed to him as part of his religious upbringing.
Reason is not an abritrary process. Observing the consequences of actions, thinking about what you've observed, and arriving at conclusions rationally is anything but arbitrary.
The irony of Anonymous's position is that he's either unaware or unwilling to admit that he arrives at moral decisions by the same process I do: he thinks about them. If, as he says, he considers the Bible to be the "objective standard," (more on this in a minute) then how does Anonymous arrive at the decision that its moral precepts are the correct ones? When Anonymous reads "Thou shalt not kill," and thinks, "Hey, that sounds like a good idea," where does that decision originate from and how does Anonymous account for it (to paraphrase his own question to me)? How does he know it's a better idea to follow that precept rather than reject it? If he replies, "God instilled that understanding in me," then why is the Bible necessary? Why would God have instilled understanding in Anonymous and not everyone else?
The fact is that whether you prefer to get your morals out of the Bible (a bad choice, as I'll shortly demonstrate), or by observing actions, learning from those observations and just approaching life rationally, you will arrive at moral decisions by the same process: thinking.
Anonymous goes on to say:
Well, now your [sic] begging the question, but since you asked I'll tell you. I presuppose that the Bible is the objective standard. This behavior is clearly wrong according to Bible.
Bzzt! Wrong answer. This behavior is clearly not wrong according to the Bible. There are numerous instances where the God of the Bible condones and even advocates rape, incest and murder. Indeed almost the entire Old Testament is a nonstop orgy of God killing, killing, and killing some more. But here are some salient passages.
- Genesis 19:30-38: Lot's daughters get him drunk and have sex with him to "preserve the family line" through incest. God does not punish them for this, or express any kind of disapproval. So if God and his Biblical rules are the "objective moral standard," why is incest considered profoundly immoral by most everyone in our society today, including Bible-believing Christians?
- Numbers 31: This entire chapter is a nightmare of rape, carnage and murder. God tells his armies to massacre the Midianites, which they do with gusto. In verses 17-18, he orders boys and non-virginal women to be killed, but he allows the Israelites to keep the female virgins for rape purposes.
- Deuteronomy 22:23-24: Rapists get stoned to death here for violating betrothed virgins...but so do their victims if they don't scream for help. Yow! Tough beans if he was, like, covering your mouth, sweetheart!
- Deuteronomy 22:28-29: A little further down we see the very lenient punishment for rapists of unbetrothed virgins — they get to buy their victims at a blue-light special price of 50 shekels! What a deal!
Now I ask you — this is an "objective moral standard" to live by?
So to conclude — Anonymous asks:
I wonder how you can possitively assert something is wrong or right according to your world view?
Because my worldview is based on rational thought and observation of consequences. Contrast with a person whose moral decisions are explained by saying "Because the Bible tells me so." Where is the understanding of right and wrong?
Do you believe murder and rape is wrong? If you say yes then how can you assert this position from a morally relative position?
As I have demonstrated, my position is not "morally relative" in the way Anonymous thinks it is. Now I ask Anonymous: do you believe rape and murder is wrong? Then how can you assert this from a position of obeying a holy book in which rape and murder are either openly advocated or only very leniently punished by God?