Sin and Morality

I was born this way

In an online discussion about morality, one participant wrote this:

“maybe i misunderstand morality but as i define it, it’s to feel remorse when no strings are attached”

The following was my reply.

That’s not morality: it’s guilt. It’s not uncommon for Christians to confuse the two. If you are a Christian, then I think the biblical focus on sin might be confusing your concept of morality. No matter what our positions on faith, we all know Christians are just as imperfect as anybody else: just as virtuous; just as venal; just as caring; just as petty . . . just as human.

Dictionary.com defines morality as “conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct” and it defines sin as “transgression of divine law: the sin of Adam”. Morality is a human construct. Sin is a biblical construct. Morality is affirmative. Sin is negative. The point of morality is self-improvement. The point of sin is guilt.

The human condition is all about our potentials. Good and bad, right and wrong, greatness and mediocrity. Morality can’t deny reality and remain valid. It MUST recognize the human condition. I look around and see that people are imperfect. Most of us are basically good but make mistakes. As we mature and learn, we try to improve. But we’re humans — not saints or angels. We’ll never be perfect: we’ll never stop making mistakes. All we can do is be honest with ourselves and strive to improve.

But that’s not what the Bible (and the religions it has spawned) teaches, is it? No sirree! We’re all wretched sinners unworthy of salvation unless we do (depending on the doctrine of your faith) one or more of the following . . .

  1. Love and profess Jesus Christ
  2. Get baptized (receive the Holy Spirit)
  3. Obey God’s word (revealed in scripture)
  4. Seek pardon from sin (through prayer or confession) when you fail

Some doctrines preach Original Sin: others don’t. The ones that do are adhering faithfully to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. Regardless, we’re born imperfect humans unworthy of eternal life because of our God-given nature. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, Genesis says God created Adam and Eve perfectly sinless. Well, duh! How can you sin before you’re created? If our nature is God-given, then he created us imperfect: doomed to fail. If God were a more ergonomic designer, he would have created us with fig leaves permanently affixed over our genitalia.

Other than stupidity, what else, but indoctrination, can explain how oblivious so many people are to this heads-I-win-tails-you-lose sham? God made us imperfect humans, then immediately punishes all humanity with death – by revoking our immortality — the very first time one of us was imperfect.

Even if you view this myth as a symbolic moral tale, what exactly is the moral of the tale? The inescapable lesson is a negative one: we should be ashamed of ourselves. We are guilty for our very nature – as if we had some choice in the matter.

And speaking of choice . . . if God endowed us with free will, then you don’t need to be omniscient to know that there’s only one way for us to be perfect but an infinite number of ways to incur God’s devastating, knee-jerk, wrath. If we could only preserve our immortality by obedience to God, we clearly never had a real choice: we never had free will in the first place. Not that it matters. After all, our immortality went down the drain with Adam and Eve – as if we had some choice in the matter.

Biblical sin is the ultimate con: a damn sham and scam. What purpose could it possibly serve for God to place us in opposition to ourselves? Why, by default, are we wretched sinners instead of basically good people who sometimes make mistakes?

What else?

Control.

Now, contrast biblical morality with secular morality: the morality of reason. Is it better to make choices based on the promise of heaven and threat of hell – of is it better to make choices based on logic and reason? It’s true that objective morality can only come from a perfectly objective source, such as (allegedly) God. But which God? The intolerant, genocidal, war-monger of the Bible? What’s that you say? That’s the Old Testament? So what!! Old Testament . . . New Testament . . . he’s allegedly the same God. Besides, Jesus demonstrated an appalling lack of concern for the subjugation of women and slaves. How perfectly objective is that? Do we need that kind of New Covenant in our world?

Morality tainted and twisted by biblical sin is inherently self-loathing. All you have to do is take the primitive spirituality of ancient, superstitious, ignorant, people and apply just enough pretzel logic to hopelessly confuse them. Voilà . . . spiritual entrapment: mission accomplished. As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed: “Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose.”


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eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com

 

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Morality, Survival and Religion

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Morality is a human construct, by and for humans. If not, we’d have to get it from a natural source . . . or a supernatural one. I’m an atheist, so a supernatural source isn’t a serious alternative to me. That leaves one alternative: Nature. But I can’t detect the slightest whiff of morality in nature. Mother nature is red in tooth and claw. She is indifferent to violence, suffering and killing. Survival is her prime directive. So, if there is morality to be found in nature, what else could it be based on? Can the imperative of survival provide an objective moral standard for humanity?

If survival does provide an objective moral standard for humanity, “survival of the fittest” ain’t it. We’re not that cut-throat or indifferent to suffering. We have empathy and a sense of fairness: probably written in our genes. So how could survival serve as an objective moral standard?

I think that survival COULD serve as an objective moral standard if it’s considered at all levels. By this I mean survival at the: genetic, individual, family, group, species and global levels. The idea here is that an act can be judged on its survival value at all these levels: the more value and the more levels that benefit, the more moral it could be considered.

But the problem with the survival-at-all-levels concept of morality is that it suffers the same weakness that all moral systems suffer from: Subjectivity. An objective moral standard is an ideal impossible for humans because humans are not, and can’t be, perfectly objective. We could try to adopt this moral standard but it’s implementation is certain to fail when we interpret survival values.

So morality — no matter where it comes from — will always be a matter of personal beliefs, priorities and biases. Human morality is subjective because humans are subjective.

Assuming a healthy mind, where does morality come from? I think we make it out to be more complicated than it really is. We develop our personal moralities from a combination of just two fundamental human characteristics: empathy and experience. From experience, I know what hurts me. Through empathy, I know the same things are likely to hurt you too. It’s the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because empathy is informed by experience, morality matures as we do. If we’re lucky, life lessons correct or reinforce our morals as we get older. If we’re unfortunate or downtrodden, life lessons can twist and corrupt our moral sensibilities.

The best religion can do with morality is to endorse some morals and condemn others. Historically, this has proven to be more of a hindrance than a benefit. Morality is what we say it is. As humanity advances, so does our morality. By “writing our morals in stone” as religions are wont to do, they fall behind the times. They become antiquated. In the Bible, not even Jesus was aware how human subjugation (women and slaves) is unfair and unkind. His morality was derived from the social milieu of his era and area. Religions don’t define or mold morals: they usurp them.

It’s not a very satisfying answer but there is no objective moral standard that humanity could actually implement successfully. Morality is subjective. It’s an inherent property of the human condition.


© Copyright 2013 AtheistExile.com All rights reserved.
eMail: AtheistExile@AtheistExile.com