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THE RATIONAL GOD
Does God Make Sense?
by John Clayton
CHAPTER 6: IS BIBLICAL MORALITY RELEVANT?
Perhaps we should start this discussion by asking, “What do we mean by biblical morality?” I am defining biblical morality as a code of behavior, action, and thought that is fixed by God for mankind. Even the most dedicated atheist knows that there is a biblical code called “The Ten Commandments,” much of which gives a code of moral conduct for mankind. In Exodus 20 the commandments were:
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything … .
- You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
- Honor your father and mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet you neighbor's house, etc., or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
In the New Testament all of these standards and admonitions were repeated, except the Sabbath requirement, which was a part of the Mosaic law Jesus nailed to his cross (Colossians 2:14). What Jesus does in the New Testament is to give mankind help in how to accomplish the moral code God gave to man. He gets to the heart of the matter. In Matthew 5:21 – 26 Jesus repeats the Old Testament command, “You shall not murder,” but goes on to say that the Christian's morality will be not to hate, be angry, malign, bully, or give verbal abuse to one another. If we do the latter we will not do the former. In Matthew 5:27 – 30 Jesus repeats the command, “You shall not commit adultery,” and then goes on to say that if we look on someone with an impure intention we have set ourselves up to violate the commandment.
The question we are asking here is whether any of this makes sense today? Mankind has changed technologically and culturally. We now have ways of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, so sexual sin has essentially been stricken from our twenty-first century moral code. Freedom of speech has been interpreted to allow saying anything you wish against God or against another person's belief system, and this has been in spite of and in contradiction to our world's view of pluralism. What is especially interesting about this subject in the United States is that being critical of another god or religion in the United States can land you in jail, but anyone can make any derogatory statement about Christianity or Christians in general and there are rarely any recriminations. The Bible's concept of there being one God and that there is only one path to God (John 14:6) is viewed as being intolerant and unreasonable since cultures vary so much in their needs and teachings.
There are two separate issues involved in this discussion. The first is whether either biblical morality or twenty-first century morality and the claims of those who support these two systems of behavior make sense and have the potential to produce a desired effect. The second is whether the two systems of morality actually work in practice.
DO THE TWO SYSTEMS MAKE SENSE?
Another way of stating that might be to ask which one makes the most sense. No one would deny that strict adherence to a rigid code of moral behavior has the potential to curb things like murder, adultery, false witness, stealing, and the like. The question is whether or not the biblical morality system is so rigid and so out of date that no one will, in reality, actually follow it. Is biblical morality so confining that it deprives men and women of freedoms and pleasure they should rightfully have access to?
Twenty-first century morality is defined by the moral statements of spokespersons who are not believers in the biblical system. These spokespersons have their own definitions from which they operate. PETA president Ingrid Newkirk bases her moral code on the assumption that all living animals are of equal value, referring to “us insects, us dogs, us cats, us baby humans” as all having the same rights and therefore all operating under a common moral code. Peter Singer, who is the Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, believes, with many other atheists, that the only moral code that works is one based upon “survival of the fittest.” Singer would solve our economic problems and the cost of caring for the mentally challenged and physically diseased by euthanizing those who are not fit. He points out correctly that literally billions of dollars could be saved by euthanizing those who are severely mentally ill or physically or mentally challenged.
In addition to these issues we have the question of how to eliminate biblical morality's restrictive control of sexual conduct and ethical decisions. There are several websites which maintain we should “Practice with joy the ‘seven deadly Christian sins.’ Engage in sex freely in accordance with your needs, be it heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or with one or more consenting adults.” What is interesting about this statement is that the “seven deadly Christian sins” are actually taken from the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament and are stated as follows in Proverbs 6:16 – 19:
There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.
In reality, most of us, whether an atheist, a deist, a Christian, or a defender of eastern religious systems would not want to endorse these things being “practiced with joy.” We cannot imagine living in a culture that promotes lying, murder, evil, and the like. Many years ago I heard a missionary speak about his experience with a tribe of people who believe that deception and lying is a skill to be honed and a virtue. When he told the story of Judas they cheered for Judas! I can remember being taken to an Audubon Society presentation when I was a child in which a fish was shown that dangled in front of him an appendage that was attached to his head. When small fish came up to check out the worm-like appendage, the angler fish ate them! My parents, who embraced naturalism and rejected Christianity, emphasized to me that this is the way nature is. Deception is part of “survival of the fittest,” and it was made clear to me that in human relationships this was also the key to survival.
The central point in this discussion is whether humans can be treated in the same way as an angler fish? If you are an atheist, then the answer to the question of morality has to be found in animal behavior. Naturalism has to be used to explain morality. Naturalistic explanations of morality will generally suggest three principles to explain why morality exists in human populations:
- Societies with rules are more likely to succeed than societies with no rules.
- Organization within a culture promotes that culture's survival.
- Organization and structure based on rules is what leads to morality.
There are multiple problems with this type of explanation. Animal populations have rules, organization, and structure. Watch the Discovery, National Geographic, or Animal Planet channels on television and you will see wolves, elephants, lions, bees, ants, dolphins, and geese all showing rules, organization, and structure. Who among us would maintain that ants have a sense of morality?
Morality goes far beyond survival rules. Sociobiology tells us that whatever promotes an individual's genes is what the individual does. A male lion will eat its mate's cubs. That is explained by evolutionists as a means by which the male insures his genes are the ones carried to maturity in surviving cubs. Much of what goes on in humans does not promote survival or the passing on of one's genes. Not lying can be fatal. Caring for orphans means someone else's genes are being enhanced in the population. Most of the teachings of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5 – 7 would not do what sociobiology suggests.
When you look at what various cultures of humans teach as acceptable morality, you can see just how complex this issue is and how many moral teachings are destructive and even threaten mankind. Polygamy, polyandry, cannibalism, jihad, slavery, human sacrifice, women's rights, pedophile behavior, racism, and all forms of war are based on rules and structure in various societies. Even in western societies there are those advocating pedophile behavior and incest, usually using animal behavior as the basis of saying what should be encouraged among humans (see Time magazine, September 7, 1981).
If we reject the notion that atheism and religious pluralism all provide equally useful moral standards for humans to live by, that does not automatically validate the Bible. Do biblical moral standards do any better? Do they make sense? If followed, will they enhance and build up society? Since 1959 your author has conducted apologetics correspondence courses which are available to anyone who wishes to take them free of charge. A prison ministry has grown out of this program which has involved over 15,000 incarcerated men and women. In our advanced course there is a lesson on morality and it is a lesson that inmates struggle with. One of the things we ask them to do is to take social issues and apply their moral code to the issues, what they think an atheist would say about that issue, and what Jesus Christ taught about that issue. We then ask them to make a judgment about which standard works — the atheist standard, the one they have used, or the one Jesus Christ taught. One of the most common responses to this exercise has been that if they had done that exercise before they got into trouble with the law, they would never have ended up in prison.
Let me repeat this exercise here with the idea of thinking about whether the moral code of the Bible as taught by Jesus Christ makes sense in the twenty-first century or not. It should be obvious that every atheist and every prisoner would not give the same answer in each of these areas, but the responses indicated have been given in writing over the years and are consistent with the belief systems involved. No one speaks for all atheists or all prisoners.
AID TO THE DISADVANTAGED
SEXUAL NEEDS: Above we quoted one atheist's view of sexual conduct: “Engage in sex freely in accordance with your
.....needs, be it heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or with one or more consenting adults.”
DAMAGED BABIES: Abortion.
DEATH: The end of one's existence. A natural part of existence.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: Necessary for order and the survival of every individual.
TERMINALLY ILL: Euthanasia
USE OF DRUGS: Use your drug of choice responsibly.
AID TO THOSE DISADVANTAGED: Peter Singer, who is the Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University,
.....points out that eliminating those who consume vast resources of society as a whole would create massive savings in cost
.....and is really just a matter of survival of the fittest.
COMMON PRISONER ANSWERS
SEXUAL NEEDS: “Get what you need.”
DAMAGED BABIES: Abortion
DEATH: “The ultimate end to everything.”
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: “Don't get caught.”
TERMINALLY ILL: “Let them go. It's over.”
USE OF DRUGS: “Anything goes, just don't get down” (caught or incapacitated).
AID TO THOSE DISADVANTAGED: “Look out for number 1.”
THE BIBLE'S INSTRUCTIONS
SEXUAL NEEDS: Over and over Jesus and the Apostles emphasized that each man should have his own wife and each wife
.....her own husband to fulfill sexual needs in marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7).
DAMAGED BABIES: Every human is equal and is special because they are created in the image of God. We help them any
.....way we can to have a fulfilling life. A baby who has not yet been born has rights too (Exodus 21:22).
DEATH: The end of our physical existence, but just the beginning of our eternal existence with God.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE: Obey the laws of the land (Romans 13).
TERMINALLY ILL: Love them, care for them.
USE OF DRUGS: The body is the temple of God and is not to be abused (1 Corinthians 3:16). Legal drugs can be used to
.....help the body (1 Timothy 5:23).
AID TO THOSE DISADVANTAGED: It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).
SEXUAL NEEDS: Every sex expert from Masters and Johnson to present day promoters on match makings agree that the
.....best of sex is found in a single, committed, chaste partner. In addition to that, it is only in such relationships that one
.... is free from competition, from STDs, and from abuse.
DAMAGED BABIES: People who advocate killing children with birth defects, people who are emotionally ill, or those who have
.....extreme disabilities need to spend some time working with these folks. As the parent of a child who is totally blind, has
.....muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and schizophrenia, I can personally testify that these children are an incredible blessing
.....to one's life. It is not always easy and it can be life changing, but the love and enthusiasm these kids have is incredible.
.....There is also the issue of where you draw the line between those you abort and those you do not.
..........I had a biology teacher in my department at Riley High School who had his students rank birth defects from the most
.....severe to the least. He gave them a list of ailments that included hydrocephalic, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, Down
.....syndrome, albinism, missing fingers, blindness, etc. They were to put the worst at the bottom and the least troubling at
.....the top and have all the birth defects ranked on the list. He then had them draw a line on the chart in the middle of the list.
.....Those who were below the line would be aborted and those who were above the line would not.
......... That year we had a young man who had spina bifida and who was the senior class president. He had wrestled
.....competitively and was ready to take on whatever was headed his way. My associate teacher had this young man come in
.....and tell the class what it was like to live with spina bifida. Before the talk all of the students had drawn their line above
.....spina bifida, meaning they would abort a baby born with spina bifida. After the talk none of them did.
DEATH: If you view this life as all you will ever have, then you will fight to preserve this life. Death becomes the ultimate
.....tragedy and you do everything you can and spend whatever money is necessary in order for you to stay alive. However, if
.....you view this life as the stepping stone to a better existence after death, then nothing that happens here physically is of
.....great importance. Paul repeatedly talks about this life being of no consequence, and that he looks forward to a better
.....existence (see Philippians 1:21 – 25 and 2 Timothy 4:6 – 8).
TERMINALLY ILL: The discussion of death fits terminal illness as well. Our last days on earth can be our best, as we repair
.....broken relationships, rejoice in the memories of good things that have happened in life, and prepare for eternal life after
USE OF DRUGS: All recreational drugs do damage. It is not a matter of whether damage is done, but rather what the duration
.....of use is and how well we function without that cumulative damage. If the body is the temple of God, we will care for it and
.....use it wisely. No one questions the beneficial effect of taking care of ourselves and our bodies and looking after the well
.....being of others.
AID TO THOSE DISADVANTAGED: I can remember hearing my parents argue about how much (or how little) they had to
.....give to United Way. The university where my father worked required faculty members to make a contribution, and a “fair
.....share” was even recommended. An honor roll of big givers was always posted in the weekly bulletin, and my mother always
.....was concerned that her name appear in that listing. My father's approach was more evolutionary in nature. “Survival of the
.....Fittest” certainly should apply to children, according to him. Peter Singer's beliefs that society cannot continue to support
.....the infirm and unfit are very popular in our materialistic, godless culture.
The Bible maintains that giving is a joy and a virtue. God calls man to give cheerfully. Second Corinthians 9:6 – 7 maintains that the benefit we get from our giving is determined by the attitude with which we give. Developing a giving attitude brings great benefits to all aspects of life. The man who can give of everything cheerfully is going to enjoy the best of friends, the greatest home environment, the best sex, and the greatest satisfaction in all he does of all people on earth.
To my prison students this discussion is an eye opener. Most of them can identify the fact that it was a lack of faith, a rejection of what they were taught as a child, and a departure from or absence of God's Word and how to live it that put them in prison. An atheist may claim that he is moral and that he does all of the things we have discussed, and that may be true. There is no evidence it is true of the majority of the atheist population however. It is not the atheist who funds and runs the soup kitchens, the homeless shelters, or who gets involved in disaster relief time after time. It is not the atheist who campaigns for altruistic behavior among our population.
The Bible is not only relevant to the twenty-first century, it is essential for our survival. How long can our culture survive in the drug saturated, selfish, materialistic, violent, sexually-loaded atmosphere that we are creating? God's way works, and we need to realize the moral laws the Bible gives are not to deprive us of pleasure, but rather to provide us with real meaning, love, and joy in life, and a freedom to be the best that we can be.
Continue to the Chapter 7: MAN'S EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY IN THE WAR
Return to the Chapter 5: DO MIRACLES DISCREDIT THE BIBLE?