God is the Source of Morality. (Not.)
Atheists and agnostics do not require belief in a higher moral authority figure, because we realize that there are real world consequences for our actions. Contrary to the arguments posed by many believers, the Bible is not the original source of morality. The moral codes of conduct by which most of us adhere represent “universals” among mankind that, over the course of time, naturally came about for the sake of social order and harmony within developing civilizations. By the time Moses is said to have revealed the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai, the ancient Egyptians had already condemned theft, murder, adultery, lying, etc. A divine or otherworldly source simply wasn’t necessary. Even Thomas Aquinas readily admitted as much. Religion has no trademark on these values.
Thomas Jefferson understood this all too well, as reflected by his 1824 letter to John Cartwright:
The proof … is incontrovertible, to wit, that the common law existed while the Angle-Saxons were yet pagans, at a time when they had never heard the name Christ pronounced, or knew that such a character existed.
And don’t bother playing the “mankind had morality written on his heart” card. This is the same excuse that Paul had to conjure up in Romans 2:14-15 when he observed moral behavior among the Gentiles. The problem with this excuse is that it clashes violently with what the Old Testament has to say on the matter, particularly Jeremiah 31:33-34:
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and WRITE IT ON THEIR HEARTS. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.
The Book of Jeremiah was written, at the earliest, during the 6th century BC, and it is referring to heart-inscribed morality/law by God as a future event, something that has yet to take place. However, the Papyrus of Ani, from which ancient Egyptian morality can be gleaned, had already been composed by the 13th century BC. According to Jeremiah in the 6th century BC, God hadn’t written such things on the hearts of men, yet. Ergo, the “morality was written on their hearts” excuse doesn’t work. Not from any consistent, biblical standpoint, anyway.
Most of the atheists and agnostics that I know lack belief in a God precisely because of the fact that they are intelligent and thoughtful people. For that reason, many of them are some of the most pleasant, enjoyable, and considerate folks I’ve met. Our reaction to the gratuitous suffering that pervades this world has much to do with our lack of belief in God, and what does this indicate if not a certain compassion for those who suffer?
It is for this reason that we also reject the cruel and malevolent, genocidal god of the Old Testament, a character who resorts to extermination even of women and children in order to advance his passionately partisan agenda. Slaughtering the defenseless, those who could not possibly have posed any real threat, is tantamount to mass murder; therefore, it is also a flagrant contradiction of the Sixth Commandment.
This should also quiet any charges by theists who illegitimately equate us with the likes of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc. Atheists and agnostics don’t take their moral cues from any of these historical tyrants, regardless of whatever worldview they might’ve held. But, Christians do indeed proclaim as their moral compass the divine authority of the Bible, a book which, like Hitler, flagrantly endorses genocide and infanticide:
Joshua 6:21 & 27
And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and donkey, with the edge of the sword…So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country.
They [Joshua and his troops] took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron. So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon.
But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth: But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
1 Samuel 15:1-3
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Whoever is captured will be thrust through; all who are caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives ravished. See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants nor will they look with compassion on children.
Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!…Give them, O LORD: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts…Ephraim is smitten, their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit: yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb.
(Holy Abortion, Batman!)
Go ahead. Complain that those passages are taken out of context. I’d challenge the believer or apologist to place them in their biblical context, and then we’ll see if they come out smelling like roses. I don’t know any context the world over that justifies this kind of depravity.
And let us not overlook the most critical distinction between secular and biblical morality. It is far nobler to live a virtuous life and perform good deeds for goodness’ sake alone, rather than to do so under the threat of eternal damnation or the promise of a blissful hereafter.
All told, the debate over morality is a dead end for evangelical Christianity. They should abort it outright, just as Yahweh is said to have done to the unborn children of Ephraim.