Christian morality changes over time and is interpreted differently by different Christian sects. Individual Christians disagree among each other over what they think is God's moral law. Many Christians have a tendency to idealize victimhood. The once popular film, "The Passion of the Christ" shows this. Further the popularity of the story of Noah's flood suggests something potentially evil.  Christians believe they base their morality on what they think God wants, on trying to imitate God and Jesus. Some Christians are adept at finding Bible-based excuses for what they personally want to do; such as slavery and capital punishment - or emancipation and repentance, the bible can be made to support whatever you want especially if you misinterpret it just right (some effective methods include changing tone when you say the words out loud, using less-then-accurate printings such as the King James Version or even reading tiny parts completely out of context).
Christians frequently argue that they have a superior timeless morality based on God's will and this is clearly not true as shown below.
Does believing in Yahweh make you a more moral person?
Imagine that your society had a new leader, who published four laws that would intend to phase in as follows;
- Any citizen who talks on a Friday will be executed. The leader was born on a Friday and did not talk and thus wants this respected in law.
- Your leader can kill citizens or order their killing for any reason.
- Any citizen forced by your leader to commit crimes through mind-altering drugs will be punished.
- Parents who commit crime will have their children killed. And if it is not their first offense, they will be made to eat their children.
These laws would no doubt spark outrage. Law 1 kills people for a crime with no victim. Law 2 makes the lawmaker unaccountable by declaring their own killings lawful by definition. Laws 3 and 4 explicitly punish the blameless, directly contradicting the principle of personal responsibility with Law 4 adding an obscene element designed to dehumanize. They are definitive cases of injustice. So if asked about our objections to these laws, we are not confined too say that they are not to our taste. We have non-arbitrary reasons to object. These laws would clearly lead to identifiable abuses, we know too much what constitutes as harmful behavior, suffering, and responsibility to allow such laws to be incorporated into our justice systems.
But what if this leader has been in office all your life and you have been brought to think of him as morally perfect? Such a lawmaker would not make laws that were unjust. So this would create major cognitive dissonance. How would we respond? Perhaps we would fit some context into which it is of course right for someone who had done so much for this society to make some obsessionally arbitrary demands, or perhaps we would try to evade the problem that saying the leader's grasp of morality was so far ahead of ours that we could not understand them, that they worked in "mysterious ways." But we would be wrong, clearly the root of the problem is the root and false corrupting idea that the lawmaker is perfect. It is corrupt because it is causing us to accept unjust laws, it leaves us defending the undefendable. Remove this idea, ad we can see the unjust laws for what they are. When we accept ideas uncritically, or make them sacred so we don't question them, this can distort our moral reasoning because we are them prone to make mistaken ideas ruling our attitudes and behavior outside our awareness. Those who swallow whole, or injected the idea, the lawmaker is perfect, cannot properly evaluate the law until this distorting idea is identified and removed. Removing uncritical ideas we swallowed whole is often the key in resolving certain problems we have in many areas of life.
When we see the traits attributed to the biblical deity Yahweh, clearly if it existed, it could not be better placed to meet our fair consistent justice. We are told it knows our thoughts, knows whose guilty or innocent, and is perfectly moral. So unlike human justice administrators, it would have no excuse for punishing anyone but the guilty, or for punishing them disproportionately. And yet according to the Bible, it permits, commits, and commands the vilest atrocities corresponding directly to the laws we just rejected above as unjust. It orders the killing of those working on the Sabbath, gay people, and women who show insufficient evidence of virginity on their wedding night. It kills 70,000 people when David takes a census at Yahweh's request, and kills almost all land animals by flooding for human wickedness. It hardens the heart of the pharaoh, the Egyptians, and the King of Heshbon through mind control to enable their defeat and destruction. It sends a powerful delusion to make certain people believe a lie just so they can be condemned. And it deceives prophets into giving false messages, then punishes them for doing so. Having stated that no child shall be killed for the sins of the father, it orders the killing of children for their father's sins, the killing of the Amalekite infants, the killing of children without pity, and at least three books in the Bible have Yahweh committing perhaps the most vilest atrocities we can think of; making parents eat their own children.
Some Christians claim that if the monotheistic god doesn't exist, then everything is permitted. In fact, if we accept the Bible, far too much is permitted. The bible tells us that Yahweh not only permitted but endorsed rape, slavery, killing of babies and children, familial cannibalism, and mass murder. It is Yahweh that permits everything. When our judgment is not impaired by false teaching, we can plainly see the injustices here as we did with the four laws.
But what if we were brought up to think that Yahweh really exists and it morally perfect? How do we respond to these acts? Declare them just? We know killing those known not to be responsible for the sins being punished is quintessentially unjust. Do we concoct an elaborate justification for anything Yahweh did? No, when we indulge any impulse to excuse or defend these acts, we are already going dangerously astray. If we justify these acts, what won't we justify? Do we brush Yahweh's atrocities under the carpet of symbolism, claiming they are not meant to be taken literally? Nothing in the Bible makes clear that Yahweh is acting symbolically, but even if they were the idea of an omni-benevolent baby punisher makes no more senses as a symbol than as a literal being. Do we claim that these particular passages are just merely beyond our understanding? Not only is that unconvincing, when we condemn humans who act this way without hesitation, it represents one of the most deplorably irresponsible attitudes towards morality and justice we encounter.
We can't paper over these serious issues by declaring the existence of a supernatural being with such immoral behavior. Nor should we be duped into thinking response shows humility. Admitting that we do not understand everything about the universe is humble. saying that we do not understand how making people eat their children is a depraved punishment even if it is ordered by a god, is an inexcusable abdication of critical judgment. But if there is a person who argues that God works in mysterious ways, ways that utterly contradict our notions of moral behavior, then its nature is clearly not the source of our morality. If according to the Bible that Yahweh's nature is familial cannibalism a just punishment, yet when we call any human who provides such a law as depraved, then these positions are in direct conflict. And invoking divine mystery does nothing to resolve that conflict.
Responding to these atrocities with examples of mercy does not work either, it just shows that the Bible contains both atrocities and mercy.
What about Jesus?
Some emphasize the New Testament above the Old, shifting focus from Yahweh to the parable genteelness of Jesus. But in Matthew 15:1-6 Jesus endorses Yahweh's order to kill those who curse their parents, presumably including Tourette's who sufferers from neurological disorder. Two of the gospels have the bizarre story of Jesus punishing the fig tree, making it wither because it has no fruit when he is hungry, even though it is not the right season for it to bear fruit. This is like smashing a TV set on Friday because a Sunday film is not showing. It's unstable behavior tantrum. Some apologists say that Jesus is reinforcing the parable of the barren fig tree - a comment of fruitless people. But that does not hold water, the tree he curses is not barren, and the gospel shows the he is stopping it from bearing fruit again. Also later verses reveal (Mt. 21:21) that the main point of this miracle is to show that with enough faith, one could literally move mountains (Mt. 11:24). This is merely a display of destructive power against a healthy tree to show Jesus' dominance over nature and to convince his disciples that they shall receive anything they desire if they pray with enough conviction - a questionable message in of itself. Luke 9:61-61 Jesus tells a man wishing to follow him that he cannot go back to his family, the man must instantly disclose of his closest relationships. How about fetch his family so that they can all follow? These are Christian family values according to the Bible: abandonment. The "good news" of Jesus is not so good.
There is more not so "good" news; Jesus never spoke out against slavery, and he told current slaves (Luke 12:47,48 [Greek doulos = slave]) to obey their current masters. In Matthew 21, Jesus instructed his disciples to take a horse without first asking the owner, or paying for the horse. Jesus upheld the Old Testament view of women. In Luke 19, Jesus told a parable which includes these ruthless words: “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring them hither, and slay them before me.” He is clearly comparing the “Lord” in the parable to himself. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus said, “I came not to send peace, but a sword.” In Luke 22:36 he told his disciples that “he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.”
Jesus was callous. In Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus refused to heal a sick child until the mother pressured him. What if the mother had not been persistent? Would he have withheld his magical favors and let the child die? And why would God have to be asked in the first place? If your children are gravely ill and I don’t take them to a hospital and they later ask me why, and I say “Because you didn’t ask me” or “Because you didn’t ask me humbly enough,” can you be called a good parent?
In Matthew 19:12, showing his pro-life sensibilities, Jesus encourages castration: “There be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Modern believers are eager to interpret this verse figuratively. The New International Version loosely (and hopefully) translates “Made eunuch” as “renounced marriage.” But the literal meaning is “castrate” and many devout Christian men in history have done it themselves, including the early church father Origen and entire monastic orders. Jesus gives no indication that he is speaking in a parable, or that his words mean anything order than what he said. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it. This is no moral precept—this is sick. Castration keeps babies from being born just as effectively as abortion, so why aren’t pro-lifers picketing churches that follow Jesus? After all, Jesus never one mentioned abortion, pro or con. He never gave advice to women about how to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. So, modern Christians who do hive such advice are acting very un-Christlike.
Of course, as stated before, the root of all these familiar responses is a false belief: that Yahweh (even Jesus) is morally perfect. Once we realize that the biblical god does not exist, once we have overcome our reluctance to overcome an idea given to us when we were least able evaluate it, an idea that we are trained to not to question under punishment, the dissonance disappears and we stop torturing logic to disguise Yahweh's injustice. A perfect just being would not order the killing of innocents, it would not create problems or violate the principle of personal responsibility by using mind control to induce punishable behavior. It would not regulate abusive practices such as slavery and condemn them, nor would it punish disproportionately. Declaring something perfect then using that deceleration to infer that everything it does is perfect is NOT how valid reason works. When one argues for the existence of a god that is perfectly just, love, and honest - these are highly specific and fragile claims. A being with these qualities cant do just anything, many behaviors would by definition would lie outside its possible repituare. If it punishes the innocent by the use of deception (2 Thess 2:11), any claim to perfect virtue shatters into incoherence. Perfection is an absolute, and Yahweh uses deception -regardless of the reasons apologists put forward for this behavior- the use of deception in of itself destroys the claim that Yahweh is perfectly honest.
Many who reject theism are told they owe their morality to religion, that they borrow moral capitol from Judeo-Christian tradition. Even if this were true, the Judeo-Christian tradition borrowed from what came before. It was not the monotheistic religion that invented prohibition against murder, theft, or perjury. The prohibitions promote peaceful coexistence and were doing so long before the Bible's writers were born. So the claim that we borrow moral capitol already rings hollow. But more importantly, if the Judeo-Christian tradition reflects the Bible, an epic set of texts that practices across the entire moral spectrum for endorsed and permitted from virtuous to vicious, it is no more valid to say that we borrow from this than to say that we borrow from a hypothetical human, who has an extensive catalog of good and bad deeds, ranging from charity to mass murder. Something that expands the entire moral spectrum and will by definition have some great virtue in it, but this does not mean that we use it as a moral guide. When the mass-murdering charity worker stands trial, the charity doesn't make up for the murders and the murders destroy any claims that he is a role model. Likewise, the many immoral teachings in the Bible provide the grounds why we must condemn these passages outright as morally disgraceful and reject any notion that the Bible is a source of moral revelation. We cannot trust the Bible as a moral guide, but it gets worse than that. The insanity of the Bible is what it permits in one passage, it prohibits in another. The making of images or anything of its likeliness on earth or heaven is forbidden (Ex. 20:4) and commanded (Ex. 25:18-20). People are ordered to stone others to death (Duet. 21:21) yet only those without sin are fit too cast the first stone (Jn 8:7). We are told no one is without sin (Rom. 3:23). We are told that good deeds can be shown (Mt. 5:16) and not shown (Mt. 6:1). These conflicting requirements defy rationality, and of course much of the Bible's appeals depends on its countless moral inconsistencies which enable almost anyone to find passages that endorse their particular view. Some find passages to support their bigotry, their thirst for blood, while others focus on passages endorsing peace and acceptance. But books that endorse all viewpoints ultimately endorse none.
Non-Christians who cite biblical cruelties are often accused of cherry-picking. In fact, non-Christians can freely acknowledge both kindness and cruelties in the Bible. Particularly the cruelties that should concern any decent person are those who ignore and overlook the immoral content of religious scripture, who are truly cherry-picking. Theists who discard the less palatable parts of Scripture should at least be honest about the standards by which they do this and concede that they are applying their own independent judgment to Scripture. Obviously when we use our own moral sense to separate god and bad in Scripture, when we revise our interpretation of it to reflect the more enlightened view of our time, it is not Scripture guiding our morality. It is our morality guiding our perception of Scripture.
The Bible is an extraordinary set of texts, however what it gives us is not the way of the perfect being, but a fascinating record of the inconsistencies of ancient beliefs and customs described by fallible authors writing centuries ago, borrowing extensively from others mythology and giving frequently conflicting versions of events never witnessed by the authors, and have been circulated through decades of word of mouth. Many of these authors felt the massive extermination of lives was honorable behavior for a god, confusing morality with power, and they poured this flawed understanding into their writings. But if their ancient minds fail to see the cruelties and contradictions in what they wrote, it should not be invisible to us now. We do ourselves grave injustice if w enshrine their ignorance in our morality. They did not know better, we do. Religious scripture is fixed in distant history, and it many endorsements of cruelties we do not tolerate today make this abundantly evident. It is not a virtue of religious dogma that it doesn't change, it is the most profound failing. Moral systems that can't develop in response to our advances in our understanding cannot edify, they ossify. Moral considerations, far from leading us to embrace the 'good books', are exactly what should lead us to reject them.
Christian and humanist morality compared
If you are an atheist, agnostic or other person who doesn't accept any particular religion you almost certainly also want to be moral. Your self respect is better if you are a moral humanist and other people will respect you as well. Humanist morality improves conditions in this world which is the only world we know exists.
If morality means anything, it means that we are accountable to others. Christians believe that we are accountable not to people, but to God. Since God is nonexistent, then Christians are accountable to no one. Even if a god does exist, they are in practice not directly accountable to anyone in the real world, which amounts to the same thing. Since Bible believers are accountable to God and not to humanity, they can ask for forgiveness from God for any crimes they commit against humanity. In other words, whey can act with impunity. And they often do.
It is perfectly possible to be good without any god or gods. Secular philosophies around the world can provide guidelines on how to live a moral life. At root, morality can be obtained through empathy and experience (how our actions affect others) are human sources independent of religion that can help us determine how to be a good person.
Christians and theist apologists may argue and declare that they are "good" because they follow the moral compass as their deity. Neurological advances are pulling back the curtain in religious moral thought. In a revealing study by Nicholas Eply (Eply, N. et al 2009, "Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106), Christian volunteers were asked to report their own views, the views of their deity, and the views of others on a range of controversial issues (such as legal euthanasia) while having their brain activity scanned. Results show that thinking about divine views activated the same brain regions as thinking about their own views, indicating that when believing themselves to be consulting the divine moral compass, theists may instead be doing is doing what the rest of us do: searching their own conscience. However, simply following the demands of a divine being does not reveal a person as good, rather simply obedient. This brings up the problem of the divine command theory, that if a theist's deity declared that genocide was morally right, then the theist must accept it regardless. If they do not, this reveals that the theist already follows their own moral compass despite the demands of an authoritative figure.
Far too many Christians assume that atheists can’t be moral or are morally defective. After a former Christian deconverts long standing Christian friends or family members occasionally decide without reason the former Christian isn’t moral any more. Here’s an example. It’s not a particularly bad example. It’s an example from a thread which happened to be active in August 2008 when this was written.
The main part of the discussion was focused on faith. Not just his faith, but what have I put my faith in. How do I know what is wrong or right... mainly in the context of my personal morality. What do I do when I am alone. Why not lie? Why not steal? I mentioned that it makes sense to me that morality could evolve in a communal setting, but he honed in on personal morality again. He said now that I don't believe in any religion, what is my construct in the way I behave? I have to admit that I don't have the best answers to this question. I treat people with respect and kindness. I don't lie (except those little lies like, "Yes, honey. You look fine." But, heck, I almost never even do that.) Basically, I really do live the Golden Rule, but this had no persuasion on my friend since that doesn't deal with what I'd do when I'm by myself.
In the above case the Christian’s long standing knowledge of how his friend behaves was discounted. Since the atheist had deconverted it was assumed that he can’t be moral any more. There is a very serious dark side to undermining Non-Christians and trying to convince them that they can’t be moral. Atheists need the assurance to resist pressure from Evangelical Christians especially when those Christians set out to prevent them being strong or resisting temptation to behave badly. There are serious problems for atheists for example in the more intolerant parts of the United States Bible Belt especially in rural areas. Fundamentalist Christians worldwide are cult-like and sometimes out of touch with reality. “What the Bible Says” counts for more than direct observation. The pastor chooses which parts of the Bible he wants his flock to read and interprets it for them. When Christian morality is examined thoroughly it becomes clear that Christians have no good reason to feel superior.
It is well known that hundreds of Christian branches, fellowships, and churches promote intolerance towards homosexuals, witches, heretics, nonbelievers, women, Jews, and even people of different skin color.
Cult like Christians being uncharitable
How a Baptist Minister behaved:
My wife is an apostate. When she came clean about her doubts in religion to her baptist congregation, very few of them remained friends with her. Her former pastor told her she could no longer claim to be, or even use words like, 'good' and 'moral' because she had no foundation to give them without g-d. People she went to high school with and thought of as close friends ignore her attempts to contact them. And, of those who still talk to her, most of them think she's just going through some sort of phase and try to talk her into going to church with them when she visits (we've moved several hours away), which she doesn't seem to mind, but I take as very disrepectful of my wife's views.
Fortunately only a minority of Western Christians are as extreme as the above example, indeed many of the more Liberal Christians would argue that the pastor described in the above text was being judgemental and unchristian. In some areas, for example parts of the United States Bible Belt far too many Christians assume that without their religion nobody can be moral. Some disregard the good life lived by, for example Mahatma Ghandi because he was a Hindu while others assume some type of religious faith is required for a person to be moral. Naturally believers provide no sound scientific or empirical evidence for this extreme claim and refer to their unproved religious teachings. Psalms 14, 1 is often quoted as is Psalms 53, 1. The Psalms were written by the same Bronze Age herders who thought children who made fun of a prophet deserved death as shown in the next section.
The Bible had many times been called the "good book" but the reality is the Bible (both the Old and New) is not good at all. As already pointed out, the biblical deity named Yahweh is a moral monster.
The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments do not provide an impressive or thorough moral basis. The first four do not have anything to do with morality, but the Commandments commonly spoken the most are the ones that are necessary for a stable long-surviving society.
Love thy Neighbor
Closely related to the Golden rule is “love thy neighbor.” In Leviticus 19:18 we find the commandment: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” Although this is not found in any version of the Ten Commandments, Jesus and Paul treat it as if it were on the main list.
In Matthew 19:16 a man asked Jesus how to achieve eternal life and Jesus replied, “Keep the commandments.” The man asked, “Which?” Jesus said, “Thou shalt not murder, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt bear false witness, honour thy father and mother: and Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If God had known that “love thy neighbor” was to be one of the biggies, why did he decide not to include it in his Big Ten? Couldn’t the rule about boiling a goat in its mother’s milk be moved somewhere else to make space for it? (Of course, this was before word processors, and once something in engraved in stone…) On the other hand, perhaps this rearranging of rules in midstream is evidence of moral development. Maybe God, once he became a human being, actually became a better person. Maybe gods have to grow up, too. At face value, loving you neighbor does seem superior to worrying about mixing blood and leaven.
This passage does present a problem for most Protestants, who are taught that salvation comes by faith alone, not by keeping the commandments. When the man asked Jesus how to achieve eternal life, why didn’t Jesus say “Believe on me” as Martin Luther preached instead of “Keep the commandments” as the Popes preached? The Bible is contradictory.
In Romans 13:8-9 Paul lists some important commandments and also includes “love thy neighbor”: “For he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” In Galatians 5 Paul wrote: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” James 2:8 said this also. So, according to Jesus, we should remove those Ten Commandments from government property. All we need is love. Love is all we need.
While we all agree that love is good, this rule is not specific. It does not give any advice about how to treat others. What about people who do not love themselves—how can they love others “as themselves?” What if you were raised in a dysfunctional and abusive family and have a very low self-image? What if you are suicidal?
It is important to understand that “love thy neighbor” in the Old Testament meant something less than in the New Testament. In the Leviticus wording it deals with “the children of thy people,” not with the entire earth. The word “neighbor” simply meant fellow Israelite. This is obvious when we observe how God’s people treated other nations. In the context of the Old Testament, “love thy neighbor” is actually discriminatory. It would be like Ku Klux Klan leaders advising their followers to “love your fellow white neighbors.” It was perfectly allowable for God’s people to hate the heathen. King David said that he hated them “with perfect hatred.” (Psalm 139:22)
Jesus enhanced the concept by making it universal: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” This is an important over Israelite imperialism, but the fact that it is less discriminatory does not necessarily make it an exceptional moral guide. We certainly can’t base any laws on this—no one will go to prison for not loving. Some Christians feel that “love your enemy” is so unnatural, so nonintuitive, so shockingly different, that it elevates Jesus to a whole new level of compassion. But I think it is actually less moral than our natural human instincts. There are some enemies who ought not to be loved. Some enemies should be hated. If love is just a blanket imperative that ignores the qualities of its subject, then it becomes meaningless. Sure, humanists can “love” the human race, treating all people fairly—innocent until proven guilty, if you will—but as moral agents we have an obligation not to love at times.
Love can’t be demanded. No one has the right to tell me to love someone else. I can treat people with fairness. I can give respect where respect is due. But I can’t just turn on love. Love, if it has any special meaning at all, is reserved for those who are dear to me, for those who have earned my admiration, for those whom I find attractive or lovable. It is contrary to human nature to expect that I can have equal feelings for all people, and it cheapens love to bring everyone to the same level. When you say “I love you” to your spouse or lover, try adding “but it could have been anyone else because I love all my neighbors and enemies, too.”
What if my neighbor is a jerk, a racist, or a Nazi? What if after all my sincere attempts to be friendly and fair, my neighbor continues to act destructively? Is it healthy for me to pretend to love this person? I might be concerned for this person’s lifestyle (or I might not) and wish to see an improvement for his or her sake as well as mine, but I certainly am not going to feign love. The biblical Jesus should have known better than to command believers to fake an emotion that is often inappropriate, unnatural and insincere.
As with most other biblical rules, Jesus makes “love thy neighbor” a condition for reward: “For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans so the same? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48. The biblical god didn’t love everyone, so he isn’t perfect either.) Try saying to someone you love: “The reason I love you is because I am trying to attain perfection and hope to be rewarded someday.” These sayings are based on self-interest and a “spiritual” goal that is out of touch with the real world where morality matters. A better guide for human behavior would take into account the physical conditions, the individual cases, the nature of human feelings and the results of certain actions before making a blanket commandment. “Love thy neighbor” might make a lofty sentiment, but it is an impractical moral guideline.
The word “Beatitude” does not appear in the bible. The Beatitudes describe the first eight sayings of the “Sermon on the Mount” (also a phrase absent from the bible) spoken by Jesus in the fifth chapter of Matthew, all beginning with “Blessed are…”
Five of the eight Beatitudes have nothing to do with morality. At face value the entire group is more of a religious pep talk than a code of ethical behavior. They are all in the passive voice. None of them are truly ethical in themselves since they are all conditions for a future reward. A true ethical code might mention the benefits (“Blessed are”) of certain actions, but should stress the inherent value of the behavior on its own merits before detailing the gain or loss for the individual. The eight Beatitudes are:
1) “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This praises a condition that is not admirable. Are we all supposed to become “poor-spirited?” What does “poor in spirit” mean? This verse does not advocate any specific, positive ethical action. It only says that if you happen to be “poor spirit” then be happy because you are going to heaven. Verses such as these have been cited to keep slaves and women in their place with promises of “pie in the sky.”
2) “Blesses are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” As with the first one, this does not advocate any behavior, unless it is interpreted as a command to go into mourning. Instead, why not encourage people to comfort those who are in mourning.
3) “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.” This is not advocating meekness, it is merely stating that if you happen to be a meek person then don’t feel bad about it because you won’t be left out. This might have some worth if meekness is equated with gentleness and pacifism, but even then it is valued only as a condition for a major payoff in the future. This is like saying, :be nice to Grandma because she might put you in her will.” Incidentally, meekness is one attribute that is rarely seen in Christian history, current or past. How meek is the popular hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers”? How much meekness is found in televangelists? How meek is the pope? Are the faces of the anti-abortionists filled with gentleness as they scream threats and physically block access to clinics, all in the name of God? How meek was Jesus when he cursed the fig tree, drove out the money chargers, murdered a herd of swine or looked at his disciples with anger? How meek are Christians who shout insulting and threatening messages on the answering machines on atheists and agnostics? Meekness might be a useful survival tactic of those who are supposed to be in submission to a powerful master, such as slaves or Christian wives, but since much of life calls for firm, decisive and sometimes forceful action in order to correct inequalities and abuses, “meekness” seems like a rather weak and useless order.
4) “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” This merely encourages religious rituals, such as prayer. It offers no advice about how to treat other human beings. If “righteousness” is interpreted politically, then this is a dangerous verse. Righteousness breeds censorship, segregation, persecution, civil inequality and intolerance. Millions of people have been killed and persecuted by the righteousness of others. If “righteousness” can be interpreted to mean “morality,” then why hunger and thirst after it? Why not just be moral? If you have to hunger and thirst for goodness, then you are admitting you are not such a good person in the first place. Forget about original sin and just start acting ethically.
5) “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” This might be admirable, but how many of us (besides parents) are ever in a position to bestow mercy? The ability to grant mercy implies an authoritative control of others: slave masters, king, military leader, judge. Christian parents ought to observe this mandate when they are about to follow the biblical command to spank their children. The motivation for this Beatitude is wrong: “for they shall obtain mercy.” This beatitude is actually a threat, implying that God will not be merciful to those who are not merciful. Why would God not want to be merciful? Wouldn’t the “crime” of a lack of mercy be one of the situations producing a need for God’s mercy? A better moral principle might say, “Blessed are the cautious, because no human being has the right to go overboard in defending against the harm of another.”
6) “Blessed are the pure of heart: for they shall see God.” What does “pure” mean, in real terms? If it means “the lack of desire to hurt others” then it is not bad. If it means “being spiritual, separate from worldly concerns” then it is bigoted and potentially dangerous. No ethical benefits arise from anti-social or self-denying attitudes. The Apostle Paul talked about having a “pure conscience” and this might be considered an admirable attitude in certain groups, but if there is no elaboration about how this affects conduct, then it is useless as a moral guide. Besides all that, how in the world can a person be “pure in heart” if we are all born sinners?”
7) “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” This is the best of the bunch. We all want peace, but how do we get it? Was the bomb at Hiroshima peaceful because it ended the war? Are nuclear warheads “blessed?” The United States is currently “at peace” with the Native Americans; however, was the United States policy therefore peaceful and blessed toward the Indians? Besides, Jesus contradicted his own advice by warning, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Biblical scholar Hector Avalos, in his book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, points out that the word “peace” in scripture doesn’t have the same meaning as the modern-day, warm and fuzzy, “let’s all get along” version. Peace was a military concept, not an ideal of tolerance. “Shalom” should more accurately be translated as “pacification.” In Deuteronomy 20:10-11 God told his own people: “When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor.” In other words, there will be “peace on earth” when the non-Jews are either killed or turned into slaves. According to Jesus, these holy marauding peacemakers are “blessed.” This verse is similar to the extreme Muslim view to spread Islam, and there will be peace when all infidels covert or killed.
8) “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” This Beatitude is dangerous. Besides being in the passive voice and not advocating any specific moral behavior, “Blessed are they which are persecuted” appears to invite, encourage and praise confrontation and dispute among human beings. Some have even interpreted this verse as a command to go out and “get persecuted” or to become martyrs. This persecution complex, admittedly not shared by all Christians, contradicts the seventh Beatitude! If you stir up trouble for Jesus, you are blessed and will receive a great “reward in heaven.” You are supposed to “rejoice, and be exceeding glad” when your actions incite others to treat you badly. Persecution is something that could happen to anyone, whether that person has integrity or not, in the course of supporting a cause. Freethinkers have garnered their share of hostility while working for the separation of church and state (are we therefore “blessed?”). But to seek persecution and to “rejoice” in it is perverse. Are we supposed to say, “Yay! Someone called me an idiot” or “Hooray! I got another death threat!”
The Beatitudes are immature: “If you kids will stop fighting and pay attention to me, I’ll take you to the movies.” Since they give little behavioral advice, stressing inner attitudes of being, they sometimes are called the “be-attitudes” by preachers. (Not the “do-attitudes.”) They are fluff. Offering skimpy moral guidance, they turn out to be mere platitudes to keep the poor and disenfranchised content to stay in their place. They are not good guides for behavior.
Turn the other cheek
Some may have heard Christians say that “turn the other cheek” is what makes Christianity unique, comparing it to Martin Luther King’s nonviolent resistance. Here is how Jesus phrased it in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy check, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)
At face value (no pun intended) this appears to be a plea for the pacifism, and if it is interpreted as such then it is acceptable. Most of us agree that it is usually more moral to avoid violence. We tell children not to hit other kids in the schoolyard even if they hit first, and to try to resolve differences on other ways. But the way Jesus puts it, this is not nonviolent resistance—it is violent nonresistance! To invite an abusive person to engage in further abuse is not pacifism. It is reckless. If someone breaks into my house and threatens our family, should I stand idle and let it happen? If a woman is raped, should she love her enemy and invite him back into her home? Do Christian members of the National Rifle Association think they should let go of their guns?
Some might argue that the phrase “turn the other cheek” is just a figure of speech and that Jesus did not actually mean we should encourage maltreatment. But reading the context in Matthew 5:40-42 reveals that this is indeed what he meant, ordering believers to reward doubly those who steal or kidnap.
A more sensible rule would say, “If someone smites thee on thy right cheek, then get away from that person! Defend yourself to avoid further harm. Ask for help, file charges, or try to stop the abuse from happening to someone else. Let the person know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable. Never invite abuse.”
According to the Old Testament (2 Kings 2:23 & 2:24) God sent two she-bears to tear some children to pieces because they made fun of Elisha’s bald head., see Skeptic's Annotated Bible. Children can be really thoughtless and cruel when they make fun of people. Bad-tempered people can easily be tempted to curse them. Nonetheless that behaviour in a child cannot merit the death penalty in any civilized country. Indeed any mass murderer who caused forty children to be killed in that horrific way would certainly face life imprisonment without parole in any civilized country. Bronze Age herders wrote that part of the Bible and unsurprisingly those teachings are totally unfit for the 21st Century. Throughout most of church history Christians believed this story about the she-bears was literally true, indeed Fundamentalist Christians still believe it today. Liberal Christians see the bad parts of the Old Testament as symbolic of something or other in some way or other.
The above is just one example among many of God as an arbitrary, capricious character corrupted by power. Fortunately most Christians ignore the worst aspects of their God’s alleged actions when deciding how to behave. Better Christians also ignore the worse behaviour of God's so-called representatives or prophets. The better Christians decide which parts of their alleged God’s behaviour are worth imitating by following their intuitive sense of right and wrong while the bad parts of their God’s behaviour are explained away or ignored. Atheists also have an intuitive moral sense. Part of this intuitive sense is hard wired into human brains. That part is the same across cultures and religions and among those without religion. Another part of the intuitive sense of right and wrong is culturally determined. That part varies between cultures, between religions and at different times in history, it varies among Christians as well as among atheists.
So-called timeless morality
Christians enjoy the fiction that they have a “timeless” morality set in the Bible. In reality Christian morality changes over time as does other morality. A glance a history shows this. Slavery is an example
Christianity and Slavery
Before the American Civil war slave owners in the South of the United States used passages in the Old Testament and the New Testament to justify their position. The Bible even permits beating a slave to death with a reservation.
21:20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.See Skeptics Annotated Bible.
21:21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.
If a master beats a slave to death the master will be punished provided the slave dies at once. If the slave survives and suffers for a day or two before dying the master is not punished. He only loses his property.
St.Paul in the New Testament also sanctions slavery. This comes in Ephesians 6.
6:5 Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ;
6:6 Not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart;
See Skeptics Annotaded Bible. Masters are told to treat slaves well. Apparently it’s still OK to give slaves reason to be really frightened and tremble.
Today most Christians prefer to avoid those sections of the Bible. If forced to explain biblical justification for slavery they may come up with something but fortunately Christians as a group think it would be wrong to reintroduce slavery. Christian attempts to justify what is in the Bible can lead to them sanctioning things that most moral Humanists would say are evil.
Below is a Christian attempt to justify slavery written as recently as 2008.
They "shall be of the heathen" is the key phrase here. God approved of slavery in this instance only because it was His hope that those who became slaves of the Israelites from foreign nations might "be saved." Even though they would lose their earthly freedom, God hoped that they would gain eternal freedom by coming to know Him, which is far more important.
Church based morality
All Christians believe that the Bible is authoritative to varying extents and all Christian sects have their own unique way of interpreting the Bible which their leaders teach to the faithful.
Additionally the Roman Catholic Church believes that the Pope’s statements and the churches teachings are sometimes binding on the faithful. For centuries the Roman Catholic Church overlooked scandalous child sex abuse among the clergy. A Roman Catholic priest sometimes acts as a normal man, falls in love with an adult woman and marries her then he has to leave the priesthood. He is further told that his marriage is invalid, he is in mortal sin and in danger of Hell while he remains with his wife. He and his wife are both considered in mortal sin and they should escape damnation by separating. By contrast a priest who abused little boys and/or girls could and can confess, receive absolution and continue as a priest. If child abuse by a particular priest became scandalous he would be moved to a different parish where parents did not know that they needed to protect their children from him. It’s unclear how far Roman Catholics have reformed if at all. With this record the Roman Catholic Church believes that it has the authority to teach what is right and what is wrong. They try to teach their own membership and the whole world.
This article was written in response to Christians, especially Christian Fundamentalists criticising atheists. The article focuses on what are seen as weaknesses in Christian morality but mentions in passing that most Christians behave better than the article suggests most of the time. There are any number of web sites, other media and ordinary people pointing out what is seen/imagined as good in Christianity and this is a small wiki trying to put the other viewpoint.
- Criticism of Christian Morality
- Atheist Theft of Christian Morality
- Absolute moral standards - are they possible?
- The Poverty of Theistic Morality
- More Research concerning Atheist Morality