I am wrong and I know it

I have no way of knowing whether a supernatural higher law exists or not. If there is a supernatural higher law then it certainly will be imposed on me. But so far as I can ascertain the laws that I have encountered were strictly human in origin. Of course there are the laws of physics, etc but that is another story.

So when I say “moral people” I mean people whose actions I approve. I am using my own standard of things that I like and things that I don’t like based on my own human desires and cultural experiences.

When we feel guilt, remorse or shame, I believe it is probably due to our desire to fit in and get along with others. This desire to get along and fit in helps us survive. We need the help of other people to thrive in this world. Greed, lust, hunger, fear and other desires sometimes overpower our desire to get along. We all use stereotypes to make quick judgments about others and we identify with people who are like us and fear those who are different from us. The Nazi’s were not unique except in their particular genocidal methods. I don’t think the Nazi’s were wrong because they failed to meet an absolute moral standard. I think they were wrong because I would not have wanted to suffer at their hands.

If I can find someone that agrees with me on how I feel about certain behavior then the two of us can try to influence others to behave the same way. After a while we may have a large group of people that follow our “Moral Code.” We can set up a system of reward and punishment to enforce these “morals.” Our Code may be quite useful and sensible and in total agreement with Biblical teaching, but there would be nothing supernatural about it.

See also Wikipedia on Right and Wrong or Ethics.

17 Replies to “I am wrong and I know it”

  1. We don’t really use the Bible’s moral code anymore. If we did, people would be stoned to death for missing the sabbath day or disrespecting their parents. We’d also continue to have slaves. Thankfully, the morality of the Bible has been replaced.

  2. The Christian Bible is made up of an Old Testament and a New Testament. Anyone who brings up stoning does not understand the New Testament. I still would not follow every teaching of the New Testament, but understand what you are talking about before you attack it.

    Here is an excerpt from the Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 5:

    5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:
    I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

    5:18 For truly I say to you, Until heaven and earth pass, one jot
    or one tittle shall in no way pass from the law, until all are
    fulfilled.

    5:19 Whoever therefore shall break one of these least
    commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the
    least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and
    teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of
    heaven.

    5:20 For I say to you, That except your righteousness shall
    exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you
    shall never enter into the kingdom of heaven.

    5:21 You have heard that it was said of them of old time, you shall
    not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the
    judgment:

    5:22 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother
    without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and
    whoever shall say to his brother, Curses, shall be in danger
    of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be
    in danger of hell fire.

    5:23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there
    remember that your brother has something against you;

    5:24 Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first
    be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your
    gift.

    5:25 Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way
    with him; unless at any time the adversary deliver you to the
    judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be
    cast into prison.

    5:26 Truly I say to you, you shall by no means come out
    then, until you have paid the last penny.

    5:27 You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall
    not commit adultery:

    5:28 But I say to you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust
    after her has committed adultery with her already in his
    heart.

    5:29 And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it
    from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your
    members should perish, and not that your whole body should be
    cast into hell.

    5:30 And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it
    from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your
    members should perish, and not that your whole body should be
    cast into hell.

    5:31 It has been said, whoever shall put away his wife, let him
    give her a writing of divorcement:

    5:32 But I say to you, That whoever shall put away his wife,
    except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit
    adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced
    commits adultery.

    5:33 Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old
    time, you shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto
    the Lord your oaths:

    5:34 But I say to you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for
    it is God’s throne:

    5:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by
    Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.

    5:36 Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not
    make one hair white or black.

    5:37 But let your communication be, Yea, Yea; Nay, nay: for
    whatever is more than these comes of evil.

    5:38 You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a
    tooth for a tooth:

    5:39 But I say to you, That you resist not evil: but whoever
    shall strike you on your right cheek, turn to him the other
    also.

    5:40 And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your
    coat, let him have your cloak also.

    5:41 And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him
    two.

    5:42 Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow
    of you turn not you away.

    5:43 You have heard that it has been said, you shall love your
    neighbor, and hate your enemy.

    5:44 But I say to 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;

    5:45 That you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:
    for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and
    sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

    5:46 For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? Do
    not even the publicans the same?

    5:47 And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than
    others? Do not even the publicans so?

    5:48 Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in
    heaven is perfect.

  3. It is a lovely and just passage. Of course the very same Jesus condemned a fig tree to death because it bore no fruit for him to eat! That crazy son-of-a-god!

  4. Certainly, I don’t understand the Old and New Testament the same way you do. But in the passage you quote…

    “5:29 And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it
    from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your
    members should perish, and not that your whole body should be
    cast into hell”

    Doesn’t this mean that you should pull out your eyes if you look at a woman with lust in your heart?

    And here…

    “5:21 You have heard that it was said of them of old time, you shall
    not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the
    judgment:

    5:22 But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother
    without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and
    whoever shall say to his brother, Curses, shall be in danger
    of the council: but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be
    in danger of hell fire.”

    Cursing someone is now the equivalent of killing someone?

    Clearly, I don’t understand this book.

    Where is it said in the New Testament that you can reject the teachings of the Old Testament?

  5. I think the point of this passage is that it is not the act that is wrong, it is the thought. Only God knows our thoughts. It is impossible to follow the law or meet God’s standard of righteousness. There are other passages in the Bible that support this, but I don’t feel like finding them just now. So because it is impossible for us to obey the law we are condemned to eternal punishment. So for some reason God created us with a desire to do those things we aren’t supposed to do. God knew we couldn’t obey his law, but still condemns everyone to hell. But then supposedly he sends his only son, Jesus to earth. Since Jesus is perfect and sinless he can be a human sacrifice and in his death pay for our sins. So then if we repent, and believe on Jesus all our sins are washed away and God forgives us and it doesn’t matter any more that we broke the law. We are no longer damned for eternity if we believe in Jesus.

    I used to believe this story of redemption with all my heart. The older I got and the more I learned about human nature, the harder it was for me to continue to believe this. Even as a Christian I never saw anything that I would call evidence for God working in people’s lives. People’s lives are changed all the time and it’s not always due to them turning to Christianity.

  6. You’re reading too literally! Leave that to the crazy-ass fundamentalists! These are metaphors, meant to be carefully considered, pondered over, medatated on, etc.! It just essentially means, break with those things that are a part of you, but cause you harm, what you do and say might bite you in the ass, and so on… Don’t try to pile centuries of literalism onto this stuff. Fundamentalism is notorious for rendering religion ahistorical- making the assumption that how and what they believe is how and what Christians believed 2000 years ago. Don’t fall into that trap and believe this stuff is meant to be taken literally. Literal interpretations of Scripture have been punishable by death many times and places throughout history. I’m not condoning that, but at least pre-“enlightenment” people knew that not everything in life is literal. We take everything as a Fact these days, and therefore far too seriously.

  7. Dave, thanks for the explanation. How you’ve explained it makes more sense. But this is one of the things that has turned me away from religion. Catholics believe God is omnipotent. God creates & knows all. So, if God knows all than my fate was determined even before I was born. It all just seems silly and unnecessary.

    There is an innate human morality that doesn’t require God. You say (Henry too) that the Bible is not supposed to be taken literally. But what is the basis for saying that? Where is it written in the Bible that you are NOT supposed to take it literally? And if you’re not, where did your notion about what is supposed to be literal and what is metaphorical come from? It couldn’t have come from the book so it must’ve come from somewhere else. I contend that your metaphorical interpretations come from you, in your mind. From your innate morality.

    This is how the Bible can condone slavery but modern day people can find it morally reprehensible. Our morality has evolved beyond the Bible making it about as valuable as a physics textbook from 1905.

  8. Well, if you’re looking for a disclaimer that says “don’t really yank your eyeball out” you’re not going to find it… read the 4th post under the Human Manifesto for more details on literal reading versus interpretive reading.

    And my morality isn’t innate so much as it is a cultural and social construction. But that’s a whole other ball of wax… as is using the words “evolve” and “beyond” together in reference to morality. Evolution isn’t a journey upward that puts us on a plane higher than those misguided idiots of yesteryear, it’s a random response to an environment. Beware social darwinism, it’s responsible for just as much division and destruction as any of your hated, supposedly unecessary religions.

  9. I don’t hate religions. I actually find them quite interesting, unnecessary but interesting.

    Perhaps ‘evolved’ was too much of a loaded word. It was meant metaphorically of course.

    How about “Our morality has advanced beyond the notions in the Bible making that book about as valuable as a physics textbook from 1905.”

    But still, what is the basis for a non-literal translation of the Bible?

  10. Not non-literal translation, non-literal reading. like I said in post 4 of The Humanist Manifesto, people think, speak and read differently today… during the enlightenment there was a massive, sweeping paradigm shift where factual knowledge became THE knowledge, and more metaphorical imaginative types of knowledge got relegated to “soft” categories like the arts– Still interesting stuff maybe, but not REAL. To remain REAL, religion had to start pretending to be as literal, factual, word-for-word exact as the science that was emerging in the Western world.

    Random example… if, a thousand years ago you told someone the heart was a pump, they’d have looked at you like you’d just stepped off the crazytown express, but if you’d said “the heart is a lion”, they’d have nodded understandingly, yes, yes, of course the heart is a lion. Now, they didn’t actually think there was a lion in everyone’s chest… but they were more free than we are to think of things in these meaningful, expressive, qualitative (rather than quantitive) –if not precise– types of ways.

    There’s no disclaimer in the Bible saying “don’t read this like a 21st rationalist/literalist” because no one creating poetry, literature, prophecy, etc, 2000 years ago could have predicted that we would think like we do these days. It’s not so much that they were not taking the words seriously, or thinking no one would pay exacting attention to the words they used, but words really meant different things in different ways, many of them more expressive and imaginative than we see them today.

    The question isn’t really what is the basis for a non-literal reading of the Bible, but what is the basis for a literal reading of it.

    If you ever get the chance, read Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Battle for God’… she does a great job of tracing the way modernity has spawned new kinds of religious thinking (none of which are actually returning to a past basic “fundamental” type of worship, as they’d like to believe, but which are really quite innovative and modern, whether they know it or like it or not).

    And a physics textbook from 1905 is very valuable if you’re at all interested in how modern physicists got to where they are, and following that line, where they might be headed. And that’s a large part of the point of religion, to place us within some sort of context, in between our history and our hopes for the future.

    And if you think religion is unecessary… ponder on this… scientific rationalism IS your religion… inasmuch as it’s a way of understanding your place in the universe, and you very much consider it the right way (or the necessary way) to place yourself within that universe. It’s a new and innovative kind of religion, that treats information differently than its forebearers, but it is one.

  11. It’s an interesting hypothesis you’ve suggested however, you provide no proof that the ancients didn’t take things written as literally true.

    There is plenty of proof that the Bible was taken literally prior to the Enlightenment. Consider what happened with Galileo and his imprisonment for suggesting that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe.

    And even if it was meant to not to be taken literally, what is the basis for picking and choosing?

    How would someone know whether Jesus was an actual person or was a metaphor for God’s presence in the world? Perhaps he only metaphorically transformed his body into bread and blood into wine. Catholics believe that it actually happened. Perhaps only metaphorically hung on a cross.

    Maybe the whole notion of God is just a metaphor and there isn’t literally a God.

    Where does the basis for chosing what is literal and what is metaphorical come from?

    I agree that a 1905 physics book would be useful to a historian and maybe interesting to a modern day physicist. However, it is mostly useless for solving current problems in physics. Just like the Bible is mostly useless for solving problems of morality.

    You can call science a religion all you want but there is a fundamental difference. Science is open to change based on rational data. Anything in science could be modified if the data warrants it. Religion however, is dogmatic and defies new data. Even if it were proven one day that Jesus never rose from the dead, Christianity wouldn’t accept it. The whole system would collapse.

    However, if it were proven that evolution were wrong or gravity or the theory of atoms were wrong, science would adapt and thrive. This is a significant difference.

  12. I know I know… liberal rationalists always want to think science is in its very own category, separate from every other way of looking at the universe ever. And it is innovative in it’s way- but so were all the others when they emerged….

    First off… no where in the Bible does it spell out that the earth is the center of the universe, it’s maybe an assumption… but if you’re reading literally, as you suggest Galileo’s detractors were, you’re not going to find that passage. The fact that the church made that cosmological interpretation proves that they were open, especially when it suited their needs, to reading between the lines.

    And the fact that you keep referring to a need for “proof” only serves to illustrate the current rationalist state of mind that you’re apparently too entrenched in to entertain the idea that people could think differently. I’m not yanking this stuff out of my ass, I have a degree in religious studies.

    The basis for picking and choosing depends on the needs or predsiposition of the reader… and you even see this in science… ignoring or altering margins for error, picking the research that’s most marketable, letting a pre-existing bias decide what type of research you’ll do (or allow to be done) in the first place.

    And, yes, maybe there isn’t literally a God… maybe it is a metaphor…. that’s part of my whole point.

    If you read it literally, the Bible’s ability to help with moral quandries is very limited in any historical period, not just ours… all the more reason to read it openly, accepting the metaphor and the parables as general ways to think creatively or imaginatively about issues you’re facing. And the purpose of religion isn’t just to solve moral issues, but to place ourselves within a larger context… the history and allegory within the Bible can help us do that— if we so choose (and lets face it, we have built a great deal of our behavior and culture on the Bible… we’ve really run with the notion of having “dominion” over the earth, as prescribed early in Genesis, for example…. so understanding the origin of that book helps us understand the origins of our own thought and our own behavior, so that maybe we can change them for the better… this seems a HIGHLY useful approach to moral problems).

    And a 1905 physics text will help you with many current problems… like the rate at which juggled objects fall, calculating the velocity required to travel a certain distance… all kinds of practical things that still apply to us today– and always will.

    And religion is HIGHLY OPEN to new ideas. Good lord, have you ever tried to count how many protestant denominations there are? Islam, Judaism, Christitanity have all mutated and changed their look, feel, regulations, creeds and ways of thinking about the Divine constantly- now more than ever. The people that claim relgion to be inflexible are usually not practicing any type of religion, and are stuck in there own inflexible ways of thinking about science and religion. Religion has adapted and is thriving. Most folks who practice religion are just as inclined to ask the types of questions that you ask (regarding picking as choosing, is God just a metaphor, and so on)… give or take a minority who claim to adhere to inflexibility (but even they still sway when it suits their needs). Christianity won’t collapse, it’ll adapt. A great many theologians aren’t sure about the literal truth of the resurrection, but still find value in the stories and the teachings of a man who had radical ideas, stood up to a intolerant politcal system, and died for it. Religion is a springboard for thinking about the universe, same as science, And those who criticize it’s literal interpretations are usually commenting from outside the dynamic structure, as a way of shoring up their own belief system (i.e. the Church of Reason).
    And sure, you can criticize the need for each denomination to feel like it’s The Right One, but everybody wants to feel like they’re standing on solid ground… even yourself. Even as you admit to the flexibility of your own system, you stand solidly by the idea that it is somehow Righter than the rest, never to collapse as all else falls away, dispelled by Fact. It really kinda sounds like a religious prophecy to me.

    And understand that I’m not a practicing Christian, for many of the reasons you’ve expoused, the whole package has too much baggage for me. I’m sort of playing devil’s advocate here, but I really do feel that folks need a bigger, mythical, spiritual picture to look at. And we need to look at the ones already in place as a way of figuring out what the hell we’re doing and where we’re going. We’ve been innacting a very desctructuve story over the past 10,000 years, one that is informed by-and has informed-religious thought. But the same overarching story still informs our science, politics, economics, everything. That’s why I’m so adamant about getting people to think mythologically… we need to recognize the myth we’re acting out, so that we can realize the damage it’s doing and try to stop our self-destructive way of life.

  13. Henry, you make some interesting points but your insistence on name calling (e.g. liberal rationalists) undercuts your arguments. As does your use of the logical fallacy of “argument from authority”. It is laudable that you have a degree in religious studies but mostly irrelevant to the discussion. It doesn’t help prove anything you’re saying. I’m skeptical of all “experts” no matter what subject they specialize in.

    Your assertion that the reader gets to pick and choose what they want to believe out of the Bible (or other holy books) is in direct opposition to the major religions of the world. Catholicism and Islam practitioners would certainly disagree. Perhaps a liberal interpretation of religion allows it but the Vatican doesn’t. The idea that major religions are Highly Open to new ideas is amusing. Clearly, you aren’t a practicing member.

    We’ll just have to agree to disagree. I see no need to defend rational thinking. You don’t need to convince me that people can think differently. But we can both agree that some manners of thinking are more useful than others.

    For me mythological thinking is as useful as a belief in Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. I see no reason for people to delude themselves. I would much rather have people thinking rationally. Then they might think twice about listening to the voices in their heads to commit the next awful act that God told them to do.

  14. Perry, many apologies if I took a nasty tone. I didn’t intend to name call, I was using the term “liberal rationalist”generally for the most part and I fall into that category for the most part myself, so it’s certainly not an insult… and the degree-dropping wasn’t intended to place me on a pedastal of authority– I was trying to make the point that all of this has been a subject of much study, debate, soul-searching, etc for me for many years, that these are not whimsical ideas I’m coming up with off the top of my head …and trying to explain what took me years to come to in just a few paragraphs is very frustrating. Apologies if I came off as a jerk… I promise I’m not an asshole really.

    But… I don’t feel any perceived name calling or attempt to assert authority or education really undercut my arguments– apart from making me seem like a dick that you’d rather not listen to.

    And, seriously, if picking and choosing beliefs weren’t the norm, how do you account for the huuuge number of denominations, sects, subsets, and branches of religion (look at the number of different Islamic groups at each others throats over semantics and politics, each with a different interptretation of what the Prophet wills), the hundreds of protestant denominations, the big splits within the Southern Baptists and others over issues like gay mariage, female ministers and so on. And even Catholicism’s rules have morphed over the centuries– a bit slower than others, perhaps, due to the size and intricate power structures. But even they just pulled their infamous “seven deadly sins” out of their papal ass- no Scriptural basis, they just wanted more things to condemn/cash-in on. Sure, sometimes its the power structure that gets to do most of the picking and choosing, not the individual, but it’s still being done.

    Funny example… I work with a hardcore Rapture’s-on-its-way baptist fundamentalist crazy lady (but she’s actually very nice). She’s utterly convinced that everything she believes is (1) in the Bible-literally- and (2) has been the way to worship since the time of Jesus. yet the notion of the Rapture as we know it didn’t come around until the mid 1800s and she also believes her dogs will go to heaven… which has no literal Scriptual basis… but because these things comfort her and help her get through the day, they fit into her personal belief structure. I’m sure not everyone at her church agrees with the dog thing, but the ones with dogs probably do. Because it’s comforting. You can’t tell me she’s the only one who picks and chooses, and her church isn’t going to kick her out for it, because they all do the same things. Of course, there are some issues more flexible than others, but those vary from church to church. None of this is static.

    And myth isn’t just about make-believe figures, it’s about the story underlying a culture that may or may not relate directly to anything overtly religious. I’m not condoning delusion or hallucination, just an understanding that there is a bigger picture than the context and the apparent (but mutable) facts of the moment. Myth is neither necessarily irrational or destructive. I think we may be operating under 2 completely different concepts of “myth”.

    And sure, I compleeetely agree with you that some manners of thinking are more useful than others. Inflexible, incorrigible thinking is highly destructive (which is why I encourage open thinking WITHIN and ABOUT religion and myth)… and I think that’s the type of thought that you’re condemning when you blame religion for the “awful acts” that God demands. But that’s a fringe, not the mainstream. Let’s face facts, we’re emotional, irrational creatures capable of “rationalizing” anything… whether through faith or reason or whatever. And, really, “God-inspired” violence usually springs more from a sense of political/social/economic disenfranchisement or sometimes just straight-up mental illness. It’s not something that you can condemn all of religion for. Without religion, people’d still find reasons to do plenty of horrible things. We may indeed grow a sense of morality apart from religion, but we’re just as capable or growing a sense of immorality apart from it as well.

  15. Henry, I didn’t really take offense at your tone either. For me being called rational isn’t a bad thing.

    And I agree. People just pick and choose what they want to believe in. This is exactly why an organized religion is of little value.

    I just don’t agree that it is the “fringe” who engage in religious inflexible, incorrigible thinking. My mom is definitely not fringe but she whole-heartedly believes in Noah’s Ark, Adam & Eve and all the other stories of the Bible. So to do all the millions of watchers of the 700 Club.

    And it’s not just the uneducated followers. Look at what this nut-job Bishop has said about the recent flooding in the UK. http://richarddawkins.net/article,1370,n,n

    God is doing it to punish people for their immoral ways. These are the people in charge of a very large church!

    It’s true that without religion evil people will still find reasons for doing horrible things.

    However, it’s only religion that can convince a good person to do horrible acts.

  16. “It’s true that without religion evil people will still find reasons for doing horrible things.
    However, it’s only religion that can convince a good person to do horrible acts.”

    Not only religion. Not by a long shot.

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