The Decalogue According to Hitch

Christopher Hitchens demolishes the Ten Commandments (not a terribly challenging task, it has to be said) and proposes a more meaningful Decalogue of his own.

Another great cynic, Ambrose Bierce, likewise proposed a moral code along the same lines that read as follows:

(1) Have but one God: thy knees were sore if bent in prayer to three or four.

(2) Adore no images save those the coinage of thy country shows.

(3) Take not the Name in vain. Direct thy swearing unto some effect.

(4) Thy hand from Sunday work be held — work not at all unless compelled.

(5) Honor thy parents, and perchance their wills thy fortunes may advance.

(6) Kill not — death liberates thy foe from persecution’s constant woe.

(7) Kiss not thy neighbor’s wife. Of course there’s no objection to divorce.

(8) To steal were folly, for ‘tis plain in cheating there is greater pain.

(9) Bear not false witness. Shake your head and say that you have “heard it said.”

(10) Who stays to covet ne’er will catch an opportunity to snatch.

58 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Religion

58 responses to “The Decalogue According to Hitch

  1. Here’s a handy ten-commandment reference from a nut in the States via Ricky Gervais:

  2. I don’t know why I’m bothering this but here goes. The first step in doing history or historical literary critique is to read the text on its own terms, in its own context, not our own (or Hitchens’ rationalist liberal positivism). Hitchens proves here that he is not only ignorant to biblical and historical scholarship, but just a plain ol’ know-it-all jerk.

    This argument doesn’t come from “religion”, but from the social sciences. If we read it properly, we find a strong communal message that was counter to the values that the Israel would have met in slavery. This doesn’t mean one has to “believe” in them, but it also means one shouldn’t belittle anything that they haven’t done the research on. But our good friend Christopher “Operation Iraqi Freedom” Hitchens prefers to win his victories “on the cheap” that appeal to the anti-religious crowd.

    Though, maybe it’s too hard to do research while getting sauced at swanky Hollywood parties. Or he doesn’t care to do it.

  3. Heh, I missed the link to the original, colour coded, list Ricky was talking about:
    http://www.landoverbaptist.net/showthread.php?t=16785

  4. counter-coulter

    Shorter Ryan: Hitchens is a drunk that didn’t read the bible the “right way”.

  5. counter-coulter

    Besides, Carlin did a much better job of dissembling the 10 commandments:
    And I doubt he can be accused of not reading it the “right way”.

  6. counter-coulter

    Bah…disassembling not dissembling…too much blog posting.

  7. toujoursdan

    I agree with Ryan.

    It’s very hard for us to grasp how different their culture and worldview was from ours and unfortunately Hitchens makes no effort to do so. He seems unable (or unwilling) to consider that most Jews and Christians aren’t literal minded fundamentalists and don’t read Mosaic law (or the entire Old Testament) from such a perspective. His strawman criticism may resonate with like minded people who know little about religion, but that’s it.

    If you read the entire Mosaic code on their terms and in the Bronze age context it was very humane and quite enlightened. Like all Middle Eastern people, the Israelites could hold slaves (who were generally captured prisoners from battle, people in so much debt that they sold themselves into slavery to pay it off, or the very poor who could no longer take care of themselves) but they had to be treated humanely (though a certain level of beating was allowed) or set free; they were required to observe the Sabbath day of rest, were freed after 6 years and given a substantial gift when set free by their former master. All debts were forgiven after 7 years. The Sabbath was a day of rest and couldn’t be used for work. The purity laws, such as not mixing meat and milk, mixing fibres or eating pork, were meant to remind us that we don’t have absolute control over the physical world and should approach it with humility. And unlike other ancient peoples, non-Jews were able to become Jews and receive all the benefits of being part of the nation.

    The threshhold for conviction, particularly for the death penalty offences, was very high by both ancient and modern standards. The offender had to be told in advance that (s)he was about to commit a crime, so that it was clear that the act was a “Pesha” or intentional crime, as opposed to a “Chet” or unintentional crime. The crime then had to be observed by three male witnesses. It had to go before a court of either 23 or 71 Torah scholar/judges, depending on the size of the village, and each judge have to give approval for a conviction to be carried out. A split decision meant no conviction. Mercy was also a necessary element in Mosaic Law applied in a way that would make right-wingers go nuts today.

    I wouldn’t want to live in a Biblical law based society today, but for a Bronze Age society it was quite admirable.

  8. toujoursdan

    Shorter Ryan: Hitchens is a drunk that didn’t read the bible the “right way”.

    For most Christians and Jews, there is no right way to read the Bible. It has multiple layers of reading and interpretation. In Judaism and ancient Christianity (as well as in Hinduism, Buddhism and other traditions): every sacred passage has allegorical and literal meanings and these meanings change depending on both the ancient and modern context. Both are valid and both are incomplete at the same time. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Language is itself symbolic and people interpret symbols differently.

    It’s like a painting. There is the canvas and paint, the arrangement and composition of the work, the context in which it was created, and the effect that the painting has on those who gaze on it. None of these elements by itself is complete. So it has never been simple.

    But there are a lot of wrong ways to read sacred texts like the Bible. Both fundamentalists and anti-theist critics don’t seem able to move beyond the literal and both end up with an incomplete and distorted picture of what it is.

  9. Okhropir

    Look if God is jealous, short of temper, capricious and inconsistent he has certainly made Christopher Hitchens in his own image.

    What he is saying is quite laughable and easily explained by Christian teaching and practice that has been consistent for 2 millenia. Perhaps not as teaching but in practice. Often
    dogmatics are hammered out to defend against those practices that have already been universally accepted.

    Certainly if anyone would like have these points refuted here I would do so point-by-point and show that they have a long practice among Christians and are INTERNALLY consistent. And this is his main barb that the Christian faith is internally inconsistent.

    What Hitchens has done is stumbled into theology. Would anyone like this explained so they might count themselves as intellectually honest or are they just here for a laugh?

  10. You’re all missing the point entirely. Hitchens makes it quite clear that he’s talking about rewriting the ten commandments for the modern world, he specifically acknowledges the origins of them. That’s the point, the ten commandments have a specific time and place associated with them. I don’t understand why you’d simply ignore the context of the argument, that fundamentalist Christians (and even middle-of-the-road Christians, despite what toujoursdan suggests above) hold up the ten commandments as rules to live by, and that some consider them the rightful basis for all modern law.

    I’m confused about why the above commentators would take the criticism as some sort of swipe at the law-making abilities of bronze age jews for their time and place.

  11. hitfan

    I was expecting worse, he actually had something nice to say about the ninth commandment.

  12. toujoursdan

    But Christ and Paul already rewrote the 10 Commandments for the modern world. Saint-Paul refers to them specifically when he said:

    The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    Romans 13:8-10

    I don’t see what Hitchens is saying that isn’t already covered by the ‘love thy neighbour’ command that Saint-Paul wrote about 2,000 years ago.

  13. Dan — I usually appreciate your efforts to contextualize the Scriptures, nuance their meaning in a compassionate framework, etc., and while I’d agree that most people aren’t strict literalists, we’re still confronted with the stubborn problem of those who purport to be “religious” but know little about history, theology, and sociology, etc. — essentially their take-away from the Bible (which most of them haven’t even bothered to read) are selectively chosen snippets taken out of context based on a literal reading intended to bolster their visceral prejudices, primitive ethics, or woolly thinking about existence.

    As such, it seems fair game to me for cynical atheists like Hitch and Bierce to fire back on the same level with rational admonishments of their own device.

  14. False Prophet

    @Okhropir:

    Now who’s ignorant of history. Maybe you heard about the scuffle between these guys and these fellows? Or this little tiff? And surely these ideas haven’t remained consistent in Christian theology. And if theology and practice has remained consistent for 2,000 years, why did we need any of these people since the Council of Nicea?

    @toujoursdan:

    Or basically, what Confucius wrote almost 500 years before Christ, only without reference to God, images or vainly-taken names.

  15. Dan — “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    This is a variation of “The Golden Rule” — an eminently sensible instruction that’s common to all religions and secular legal constructs.

  16. BTW, Thanks for the videos — very funny stuff.

  17. If we read it properly, we find a strong communal message that was counter to the values that the Israel would have met in slavery.

    What the heck does that mean, Ryan? Who determines which reading is correct? And since when is there anything in the bible which contradicts slavery? It gives tacit assent not condemnation of slavery. For instance, it even gives rules on how far an owner can beat the slave – up to the slave not dying within a day or two.

    I don’t see what Hitchens is saying that isn’t already covered by the ‘love thy neighbour’ command that Saint-Paul wrote about 2,000 years ago.

    Too easy, toujoursdan. Women were not neighbors – they are clearly defined as ‘chattel’ in the bible, not persons in their own right. The ‘do not covet thy neighbors wife’ underscores this as this only covers one gender. Further, if a woman was raped, there were next-to-no consequences for the rapist, and a woman not yelling loudly enough within the city walls when being raped was considered an adulteress and stoned to death. Lovely.

    The concept of ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’ is hardly Christian, or even Judaic, in origin. The Golden Rule has appeared in many forms prior to these religions. So, don’t slap your religion on the back in congratulations over it – religion has no monopoly on this concept.

    @redtory –
    Those that do not take the bible literally and tacitly reject scripture through cherry picking their scripture must do so using a set of values outside of their religion. The cherry picking allows them to maintain the illusion that their religion is where they get their morality from, but that is simply nonsense. Attempting to shoehorn a 2000+ year-old zeitgeist into modern society has been a disaster, even with the toning down of all the stonings and such. In looking at e.g. the Westboro Baptist nuts we get a glimpse of how far away from holding many of the values espoused in their holy book has taken the majority of Christians simply using this cherry picking method. But these same Christians say that they get their moral values from the bible have clearly deluded themselves, since that is precisely where they do not obtain their moral values.

  18. @counter-coulter-
    Carlin was the first person I thought of when I saw Hitch’s vid. We lost a great force for reason when he died.

  19. Bryan

    @ Shamelessly Athiest

    “Who determines which reading is correct?”

    Along with being the best-selling and most widely published book in human history, each and every year; the Bible has also been studied and critiqued by vast numbers of academic scholars throughout history. It is this research that we use to guide us in “determining which reading is correct.” Being an ancient text, penned by authors which we can no longer interview, there is certainly room for uncertainty on the subtleties of the text, however there is little–if any room–for uncertainties on major issues such as condoning slavery in today’s culture.

    The Bible was written during parts of ancient history when slavery was an important part of nearly every known society. In fact, it wasn’t until the last 400 years or so, that slavery was finally denounced and that laws were made against such a practice. Curiously, the movement against slavery was driven from within the Christian Church and any careful study of the New Testament will reveal that slavery went against its (NT’s) teachings.

    The portions of the Old Testament that talk about slavery are an history of a civilization that lived over 4000 years ago. Any literary work from that period that did not deal with and accept slavery as a part of human life would simply be rejected as being fake, because this is clearly how societies functioned during this time period. If you have a problem with slavery existing 4 millennia in the past, your problem is with human culture and not Christianity or the Bible.

    The schtick about “women not being treated as equals” in the Bible is conjecture of the worst kind. Again, during the time period when the Old Testament and New Testament were writtern, surely women did not enjoy the same status as their male counterparts. However, this is a function of human society and not Christianity or the Bible. The Bible remains accurate in referencing the reduced status of women in these time periods, however it does much to acknowledge that this treatment of women was not in God’s original design:

    (a) both male and female are created in God’s image (neither more or less, but both an equal part of his image)

    (b) women are provided a place in historical record that was not common at the time

    (c) the New Testament is full of references to women, and acknoledgement of women, playing an important role in life, reciprical to that of men

    If you want an informed and educated opinion on the Bible’s valuation of women, watch the following video of Ravi Zacharias’ answer to a similar question during a presentation at Penn State University:

    If you just want to hear from people that agree with you, keep watching Hitchens.

  20. Okhropir

    False prophet… Certainly, I’ve heard of those things. The point is that, excepting the filioque, these disputes resolved the issues and in fact affirmed what had been practiced ALL ALONG.

    But we were talking about the 10 commandments and since you mention it, the resolutions that came from the iconoclastic controversy would help one understand the commandment to make no graven images. Which shows that in no way the Christian faith is internally inconsistent.

  21. Okhropir

    Shameless atheist, you have no idea what you are talking about.

  22. Bryan — I don’t know that’s right to dismiss Hitchens altogether simply on the grounds that his critique of the Decalogue may be pleasurable or amusing to atheists. This objection has been raised several times in the comments here, but it hardly seems fair or reasonable.

    Also, your argument about the codification of slavery in the Old Testament as an historical fact (which is indisputable, of course) actually undermines your argument in terms of making the case that Biblical commandments and other such archaic nonsense from the Bronze Age are still relevant.

  23. If you have a problem with slavery existing 4 millennia in the past, your problem is with human culture and not Christianity or the Bible.

    Oh, please! As soon as there is something which modern society is now deemed immoral but is condoned in another time, all of a sudden you blame culture. Sorry, but that is just nonsense. The bible contains a snapshot of the morality at the time it was written. To separate morality from human culture is artificial, arbitrary and meaningless. And it was not just 4 millennia ago, either. Paul, instead of doing what we would consider moral and give him sanctuary, sent a runaway slave back to its owner. I’m sure Paul thought that that was the moral thing to do, too.

    Any literary work from that period that did not deal with and accept slavery as a part of human life would simply be rejected as being fake, because this is clearly how societies functioned during this time period.

    So, instead of condemning what was at the time a pretty big thing, slavery, the authors of the books contained in the bible decided that to preserve how others would view the authenticity of the codices that they would falsely condone slavery? Did you read what you wrote?

    You have GOT to be kidding me! While that is a new one for me, it is not only weak, but I actually consider this to be the height of immorality!

    And women did have their place, didn’t they? Just look at 1 Timothy 2:12, 1 Corinthians 14:34 or Titus 2:5. The Abrahamic religions drip overflowing with mysogyny. And, no. I will not watch Zacharias spin Christianity as being progressive on women’s rights. I tried reading his The End of Reason and could only stand half of the load of sophistry and bad reasoning it contained. I’m finished with him.

    It is this research that we use to guide us in “determining which reading is correct.”

    Is that why there are so many vastly disparate interpretations? There are 10,000+ denominations of Christianity each based on its own interpretation of scripture. And that’s just the books that were included in the canon, the selection of which was based on what best fit the doctrine of those in power. Other books, considered divinely inspired by groups but whose views did not become orthodox (that is, the losers) were rejected. Not a great set of criteria.

    (a) both male and female are created in God’s image (neither more or less, but both an equal part of his image)

    No, not equal. Eve was made for Adam. As such, there is no equality here. Yours is a very strange reading of Genesis.

    (b) women are provided a place in historical record that was not common at the time
    (c) the New Testament is full of references to women, and acknoledgement of women, playing an important role in life, reciprical to that of men

    I don’t know of any women of Christianity who rose to the position of, say, Hypatia of Alexandria (who, by the way, was murdered by a Christian mob…). As for playing an important role in life, look at the above scripture citations for the refutation of that. They certainly did, so long as they were subserviant and silent.

    Oh, and Okhropir? Great come-back. And that’s Shamelessly Atheist, thank you. You must have been at the top of your class. Find another sandbox. You’re out of your league.

  24. Bryan

    RT,

    I didn’t dismiss Hitchens altogether. The only thing I said in relation to Hitchens is: “If you just want to hear from people that agree with you, keep watching Hitchens.” By all means, listen to, and read, Hitchens to get an understanding of the Atheist position (I know I do). But also consider listening to some of his opponents.

    No, I’m sorry, my argument does not undermine case that the Old Testament is relevant. Your statement is a complete logical fallacy.

    The OT is relevant for the same reason that many ancient historical records are relevant. It provides us with insight into the past (our past) and reveals principles of culture (and in the case of the OT, God’s character).

    It’s for this very reason that we study the history of nearly every single subject area that we seek to excel in. No scientist would presume to make advancements in a particular field without first understanding the background and the history of that branch of research. Just as no Christian could presume to develop a relationship with God without understanding who God is and what God had previously accomplished and undertaken.

    The first 5 books of the OT are the Pentateuch. These are largely historical books, and you will not find a single respected scholar who would suggest that any portion of this constitutes a modern day “Do this, don’t do that” rule–based on these 5 books alone. And most certainly not the detailed instructions regarding sacrifices and punishments given specifically to ancient Israel.

    The next 12 books of the Bible provide the subsequent historical record of the Jews and again, the same applies.

    The next 5 books of the Bible are books of wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon). And these books provide (not) surprisingly contemporary and timeless advice and principles. You will be hard pressed to find general principles in these books that modern research and 4,000 years of history hasn’t subsequently confirmed.

    The final 16 books are the prophetic books in which God largely challenged Israel to live as they had been called and to a lesser extent provided predictions about what would happen in the future, including a detailed description of the crucifixion of the Messiah (Jesus) written at least 500 years before crucifixion was even invented and almost 1000 years before the actual crucifixion of Christ took place.

    There is incredible value in exploring the character and nature of God, the tendancies and nature of humans, as well as God’s clear plan for his creation.

    As such, the OT can be incredibly relevant to today’s culture even if the direct commands given to civilizations 4000 years ancient, are not.

  25. Bryan

    Shamelessly Atheist,

    “So, instead of condemning what was at the time a pretty big thing, slavery, the authors of the books contained in the bible decided that to preserve how others would view the authenticity of the codices that they would falsely condone slavery? Did you read what you wrote?”

    Poor sentence structure aside, I gather you have a problem with slavery during ancient times.

    First of all, you need to review the video of Ravi that I posted because your entire position is resting on the notion that slavery and the “mistreatment” of women is wrong. However, without a moral law-giver (e.g. God), how can you presume to call those things wrong? You’re using the Christian worldview to prove your point. If there is no God, then slavery is neither right nor wrong. It may be illegal in the country in which you live today, but that most certainly does not make it illegal or wrong in ancient times.

    Secondly, simply having a law to address an issue does not imply that the Bible is condoning that issue. The Bible had laws about how to deal with adulterers, but that doesn’t mean that it condoned adultery. It means that God knew people were going to commit adultery and so he had rules in place with how to deal with it. The same can be said of slavery.

    This is not a weak argument, it is in fact the exact reason we find these types of subjects covered in the historical books of the Bible.

    And please, tell us again Mr. Atheist about why something is morally right or wrong?

    Also, please don’t confuse denominations with different interpretations or understandings of the Bible. The notion that 10,000+ denominations exist therefore there are 10,000+ interpretations of the Bible is a complete and utter logical fallacy. Those denominations represent different worship styles, different cultures and different preferences. Certainly, there is disagreement at some levels on what the Bible means, but that doesn’t mean that every single position is wrong, it just means that some are wrong and some are right. Just as you and I appear to disagree on the topics we are discussing; that doesn’t imply that we’re both wrong.

    With regards to Genesis, don’t presume to know my reading of the book.

    And again, you’re making a moral judgement about how the female sex is being treated; and we’re not sure where you’re getting the basis for this claim. Who’s to say that the women can’t be both (a) made as Adam’s helper and (b) made in God’s image just as much as the male is made in God’s image?

    The point is, as an Atheist, you have no basis to say anything about morality, where it comes from and how it is defined.

  26. Alex

    Nonsense

    There is no morality without God?

    This old trope is tiresome.

    God is a human construct. There is not a scintilla of evidence that this celestial monarch exists.

    Morality is also a human construct, as accessible to atheists as it is to believers in some sky wizard.

  27. Bryan — You’re being a little contradictory. I enjoy the rhetoric of Hitch and other atheists like Dawkins for obvious reasons, but am also more than open to arguments from the theological side of the equation. Perhaps I’m remiss in not giving them equal play here in the interest of being “fair and balanced” (which I have no obligation to do so), but I’m always willing to entertain comments from believers that disagree with my irreligious POV.

    As for the historical context of the OT, yes, I understand this, but you seem to be missing the point… which is that it doesn’t translate well into a modern context and all of the attempts to morph elements of its primitive Bronze Age philosophy into the 21st Century are simply doomed to failure.

  28. Alex — Indeed. I think we’ve conclusively dispatched the trope about morality and ethics originating from some mystical divinity like a parthenogenetic creation, but still the idea stubbornly persists for whatever reason… Perhaps as a result of intellectual laziness combined with a willful absence of logic, objectivity, and critical thinking, I suspect

  29. Bryan

    The argument that the argument is tiresome is also getting tiresome. (See I can do it too.)

    I have heard this numerous times on this blog, but never has anyone actually explained the other side that is apparently so obvious??

    If the argument is so tiresome, by all means, enlighten me. Where does an atheist find the basis for pronouncing something as right or wrong?

  30. Bryan

    I won’t hold my breath for an answer on that one.

    I mean why should I expect meaningful and rational answer to that question?

    That would just be “intellectual laziness combined with a willful absence of logic, objectivity, and critical thinking.”

    What was I thinking…

  31. Alex

    Bryan

    There is no basis on which an atheist and a Christian (or any other theist) can have an argument. You presuppose the existence of God.
    This is non-rational. Every argument that you can make is ultimately based on this belief. You’ve stepped off the Logic Express. You can argue theological points with another believer all day long, but you can’t argue with an atheist who has come to his conclusions by way of rational thought.
    So don’t bother trying.

    Morality exists…yes.
    God does not.
    Morality comes from thinking and feeling human beings. Yes, feelings are not necessarily rational, but this does not mean that we have to create a deity to explain why we believe that some things are bad and others are good.

    If there is no God, then morality must come from

  32. toujoursdan

    redtory
    March 5, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Dan — “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    This is a variation of “The Golden Rule” — an eminently sensible instruction that’s common to all religions and secular legal constructs.

    Of course you are right that other religions teach the ‘love thy neighbour rule’, and that this works as a standard of right and wrong for atheists, agnostics and pretty much every sane person. Unlike Bryan, I don’t believe one needs to have religion to know the difference between right and wrong.

    But Christ (as well as others, I am sure) move beyond the simple ‘love thy neighbour’ construct into something far more demanding and positivist in the Sermon on the Mount, the parables and other teachings. And it was when I reread and reflected on these teachings I went back into the church where I could be part of a community trying to live it out:

    38″You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

    40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

    43″You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even sinners do that? 48Be compassionate, therefore, as your heavenly Father is compassionate.

    1″Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2″So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

    and…

    34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ 41″Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44″They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    45″He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    This takes the ‘love thy neighbour’ message to the next level. Love your enemies, give without ceasing, pray for those who hate you, do to the least of these all the time, do not call attention to your good deeds, be merciful without bounds. Adultery and divorce are more than acts, they are interior thoughts that hurt our relationship with others. Anger (or rage/revenge) can be as bad as murder. Do not put your trust in the material but in the spiritual or community because material things can fall away.

    It’s all a platform for me to jump beyond myself, my needs and my ego. And in our age of worshipping celebrity, being transfixed by the media and technology and the “newest thing” and believing that money and power matter, it’s completely countercultural.

    These are demands I still struggle with. And being part of a community where these are brought before me through worship and support from others helps me become more compassionate and focused. Even if it turns out that there is no God and no afterlife, being Christian still has meaning for me.

  33. Bryan — Where does an atheist find the basis for pronouncing something as right or wrong?

    At the risk of being both “obvious” and “tiresome” the answer to your question is simply: human nature — which is another way to say a selfish biological imperative. The ethical substrate of “The Golden Rule” is the most clear illustration of this principle. The instruction to “do unto others” is matched by a corollary reminder, a sort of scary warning really —“as thou would have them do unto you.” This karmic injunction is essential to self-preservation and sustainability in much the same way we intuitively understand that fouling our own nest will eventually come to no good, that cheaters never ultimately prosper, or we continue driving on the right side of the road. These moral lessons aren’t derived from some magisterial God, but are divined from daily existence and their essential “truth” often harshly revealed from experience.

  34. A more enjoyable decalogue from W.H. Auden:

    Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
    Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
    On education,
    Thou shalt not worship projects nor
    Shalt thou or thine bow down before
    Administration.

    Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
    Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
    Nor with compliance
    Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
    With statisticians nor commit
    A social science.

    Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
    With guys in advertising firms,
    Nor speak with such
    As read the Bible for its prose,
    Nor, above all, make love to those
    Who wash too much.

    Thou shalt not live within thy means
    Nor on plain water and raw greens.
    If thou must choose
    Between the chances, choose the odd;
    Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
    And take short views.

    [A friend of mine suggested an improvement: “Thou shalt not lie with statsticians”]

  35. A more enjoyable decalogue from W.H. Auden:

    Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
    Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
    On education,
    Thou shalt not worship projects nor
    Shalt thou or thine bow down before
    Administration.

    Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
    Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
    Nor with compliance
    Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
    With statisticians nor commit
    A social science.

    Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
    With guys in advertising firms,
    Nor speak with such
    As read the Bible for its prose,
    Nor, above all, make love to those
    Who wash too much.

    Thou shalt not live within thy means
    Nor on plain water and raw greens.
    If thou must choose
    Between the chances, choose the odd;
    Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
    And take short views.

    [A friend of mine suggested an improvement: “Thou shalt not lie with statisticians”]

  36. Bryan

    Alex,

    To quote you: “Morality comes from thinking and feeling human beings.” If this is your answer, so be it (I know there are better one’s out there).

    So to get back to what started this conversation: Those cultures from long ago who enslaved other human beings may have thought and felt that it was okay. And by your reasoning, Shameless Atheist is in no place to pass judgment on these cultures and tell them that they were wrong, and that slavery is wrong. Some people think it’s right, so therefore it must be right–at least for those people.

    Belief in God and the fact that right and wrong stem from him, are all part of an overall worldview. So to say that you don’t think God exists, therefore you can’t accept my basis for where morality comes from doesn’t make sense.

    You may not accept my worldview in it’s entirety–because it includes God, but you certainly can’t say that having morality originate with a moral law giver (God) doesn’t make sense. Because it does.

    I am approaching the atheistic worldview as a whole. And in that worldview, there is no moral law giver, hence no moral framework, and yet the Atheist wants to hang his hat on right and wrong. That doesn’t make sense. While I can’t prove to the Atheist that God does exist, I can prove that the existence of morality without a God doesn’t make sense.

  37. Dawg — Very enjoyable. And your friend’s suggestion is commendable. Lying with statisticians… Heh. Clever.

  38. Bryan

    “At the risk of being both “obvious” and “tiresome” the answer to your question is simply: human nature — which is another way to say a selfish biological imperative.”

    RT,

    You can’t be so dumb as to put this out there. By this very definition, the United States ambition to dominate the globe is a prime example of this “selfish biological imperative”. But yet you berate them time and again for the aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But according to your definition, this is right for them!

    Just as when Animal A decides to kill Animal B so that it can remain alive, you would say that is right, at least for Animal A, however, to Animal B, being killed by Animal A goes against it’s very own “selfish biological imperative”. So we now have a contradictory action: A killing B is right for A but it is wrong for B. How can the same action be both right and wrong?

    The answer is, it can’t. At least if we have any hope of assembling a moral code that is of any use to us.

  39. jkg

    Hey, Red,

    A paper was presented this week in the local research social group, discussing the phenomenon known as self-destructive cooperation or as colloquially known as ‘adaptive suicide,’ which, in a biological context, is really natural martyrdom. I know it is tangential to this discussion, but I thought it would be relevant considering the question of how ‘morality’ can arise from a biological perspective.

  40. jkg

    hey Red,

    For some reason, my previous post was swallowed by moderation, could you put it through?

  41. Dan — If I was more inclined towards faith-based thinking, your particular version of Christian philosophy would be one that most appealed to me as it’s very compassionate, emotionally gentle, and humanistic. Where I lose the plot however is coming to grips with why the supernatural narrative is required as it seems utterly extraneous to me. I guess it provides an intellectual framework of sorts, but I just don’t get it…

  42. jkg

    If doesn’t come up, I will repost the link from Nature , which talks about self-destructive cooperation , which is sometimes called ‘adaptive suicide’ or ‘adaptive martyrdom’.

  43. jkg

    oh crap, sorry, Red, I reposted twice

  44. toujoursdan

    Honestly, I’m not trying to convert you. Just explain why some of us, who are rational, liberal and also humanistic may embrace it. That, I do leave room in our universe for mystery and the possibility that there might be something beyond us.

  45. JKG — Sorry about that. The vigorous, sometimes over-zealous WordPress autobots, you know.

    Speaking of “phenotypic noise”…

  46. jkg

    Heh. Well, I didn’t want to get into the extreme detailed science of it. I just want to balance the common strawmen and simplistic misconceptions about natural history much less biological evolution. That is the danger of popular science sometimes.

  47. Dan — I was never under the impression that you were trying to persuasively convert me or anyone else. You express your faith in a way that I find very compelling (even though I don’t agree with its predicates). Likewise, I’m not attempting to “convert” anyone to my way of thinking — just expressing my opinions.

    I suspect we’re not really that far apart when it comes to our approach to “the big picture” as there is plenty of room in my order of things that allows for mystery, fantastic chaos, and incomprehensible wonderment. I’m also not so presumptuous as to argue that there’s nothing beyond us — in fact, I’d be rather amazed if there wasn’t. As for it being the Christian sky-god, however… well, I’m not so much keen on that theory as the whole mythos is pretty boring as far as I’m concerned.

  48. Okhropir

    Sorry, “Shamelessly” Atheist. Maybe a bit of a freudian slip. 🙂

    What I find so funny about you is the way you present the issues in dispute.

    It reminds me of an adolescent who, upon discovering something new to himself believes that no-one, least of all someone of greater capacity than himself, has had even it cross their mind.

    Could you imagine within 2000 Christian history someone more clever and intellectually honest than you has addressed that of which you speak? Would you even consider reading theology?

    It’s an understandable behaviour in the young, but to go out and display your ignorance makes it hard to suppress laughter.

    As an aside, Red. Would you tell me where in secular law one might find anything rooted in “loving” thy neighbour? Specifically the “love” bit.

    And also.. of course morality comes from humanity too. Yes, because even atheists 🙂 are made in Gods image and are endowed with the ability to tell right from wrong. Don’t find it shocking. I would add that, however, objective meaning doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist.

  49. Okhropir

    “No, not equal. Eve was made for Adam. As such, there is no equality here. Yours is a very strange reading of Genesis”

    Shamelessly atheist.. According to Genesis woman was made as a helper for man and created in the image of God too.

    The term for “man” here in Genesis is the “anthropos” not “andros”. So when it is said that man is created in God’s image it includes women too because more accurately anthropos means “humanity”.

  50. However, without a moral law-giver (e.g. God), how can you presume to call those things wrong? You’re using the Christian worldview to prove your point. If there is no God, then slavery is neither right nor wrong. It may be illegal in the country in which you live today, but that most certainly does not make it illegal or wrong in ancient times.

    This is the very sophistry I was talking about and why I have no interest in viewing the video. I’ve heard it ALL before, and am not swayed one bit. First, provide a evidence that a law giver is necessary, please. This is a bald assertion lacking the necessary justification.

    Second, I can certainly justify what I consider right and wrong on basic principles, reciprocation and consequences. As for the origins of morality, there is ample evidence from anthropology and primatology that basic morals evolved in order to facilitate intragroup relations in a social survival strategy. No law giver is necessary. And slavery is illegal today precisely because we now consider it immoral.

    Third, I most certainly CAN judge slavery to be morally wrong whether it is happening now or in ancient times. Does it make any difference as to whether I believe slavery is wrong because it happens today or 2,000 years ago? I think not! It is wrong because a) I would not wish to be a slave (consequences) and b) I would not wish slavery on others (reciprocation). When slavery happens is of no consequence.

    So, since you are clearly attempting to deflect the conversation away from what is clearly a major shortcoming, I reiterate: Instead of condemning what was at the time a pretty big thing – slavery – the authors decided that the best way to preserve authenticity was to falsely condone slavery? You’re right; it’s not a weak argument. It is NONSENSE!

    I will readily admit that religions have shaped what society consider morals, but I certainly reject that these morals come from any god. Nor do I accept that religion is the only force (or even a major one) which shapes our morality. Our basic morals have nothing to do with religion at all (do read Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds or Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good & Evil). Experiments have shown how they transcend culture and religious belief.

    You further your own inconsistencies with this tidbit:

    The Bible had laws about how to deal with adulterers, but that doesn’t mean that it condoned adultery. It means that God knew people were going to commit adultery and so he had rules in place with how to deal with it. The same can be said of slavery.

    Prohibiting something (adultery) is hardly the same as telling you how to go about it (slavery). In no place does the Bible even say so much as “Well, you shouldn’t do it, but if you do…” So, simply having a law without stating clearly that such behavior is wrong most certainly DOES give assent to it.

    With regards to Genesis, don’t presume to know my reading of the book.

    I made no presumption at all. You stated your interpretation and I would have to say it is not an orthodox one.

    Who’s to say that the women can’t be both (a) made as Adam’s helper and (b) made in God’s image just as much as the male is made in God’s image?

    So, Eve was an afterthought created to serve Adam? Once again, they are not equal. Keep tryin’, tho.

    The notion that 10,000+ denominations exist therefore there are 10,000+ interpretations of the Bible is a complete and utter logical fallacy. Those denominations represent different worship styles, different cultures and different preferences.

    Oh, whatever! New denominations arise for the very reason of differences in biblical interpretation and doctrine! Certainly, the variance between denominations is much lower than it was within the first few centuries of Christianity, but, transubstantiation versus consubstantiation? Let’s see you chalk THAT ONE up to differences in ‘worship styles’…

  51. Okhropir — Would you tell me where in secular law one might find anything rooted in “loving” thy neighbour? Specifically the “love” bit.

    I can’t do so literally, of course, because such emotional commandments aren’t explicitly stated in Common Law or secular jurisprudence — in fact, they’re expressly forbidden. There is, however, the notion of dealing with disputes in an manner that’s equitably reasonable that may by some stretch of the imagination be construed as “loving” one’s neighbour as thyself. 😉

  52. Okhropir

    May I gently suggest then that it would be selling the golden rule short to suggest it’s only equitable when it’s in fact merciful and charitable?

    Night and day. 🙂 And of course love isn’t merely an emotion but acts of selfless service.

  53. Bryan

    Shamelessly Atheist,

    Simply saying someone’s argument is sophist or specious, doesn’t make it so. Just as the statement “there is ample evidence from anthropology and primatology that basic morals evolved in order to facilitate intragroup relations in a social survival strategy.” Is hardly an argument.

    If there is ample evidence, provide it.

    As for evidence that a moral law giver is necessary? My assertion from the beginning is that we cannot have a moral framework without a moral law giver. The evidence is in the logic that makes up the larger worldview. I cannot show you a “secret file” that is evidence of the requirement for a moral law giver, just like you cannot show me evidence that God doesn’t exist. What I can show you is a worldview that is consistent with reality. And what we know of reality is that there is a sense inside us (you’ve just proved this in your previous posts) that there is a right and wrong. And logically, there has to be a source for that right and wrong because if there is no source, how are we supposed to know what right and wrong is?

    I’ll show you using your own words. What if we use your exact same logic, but just change the subject to test out your criteria for right and wrong:

    “I believe Atheism is wrong because it happens today or 2,000 years ago? I think not! It is wrong because a) I would not wish to be an Atheist (consequences) and b) I would not wish Atheism on others (reciprocation). When Atheism happens is of no consequence.”

    Obviously I didn’t just prove Atheism is wrong, because that logic is incredibly error prone. Based on your definition, all I need to do is establish that (a) I don’t like it and (b) I don’t want others to like it or endure it.

    Hardly a universal framework for right and wrong.

    As for the Bible saying you shouldn’t do “slavery”? Check out 1 Timothy:

    “8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

    Besides the point, we’re not even coming close to understanding properly the notion of slaves in these different times and cultures. Not all slaves were treated like the cotton picking slaves that the civil war was fought over. Many slaves throughout history were paid wages and actually treated more like employees. I mention that only to indicate that the issue is far more complex than you make it out to be and to simply stand 4000 years removed from a culture and pass complete and utter judgment on something you know only a fraction of, comes across as very elementary, say nothing of the fact that your and Atheist with no grounds whatsoever to tell someone else that what they’ve done is wrong.

    As for the value of men and women. If we’re to believe the Atheist, then no one has any value. If we accept a worldview that includes God, men and women have incredible and exactly equal value.

    You need to think long and hard about where you get your right and wrong from.

    With my worldview I don’t have to think long and hard because I attribute it to God, the moral law giver. You may not accept that God exists but you certainly can’t argue that the logic behind the worldview doesn’t make sense.

    Conversely, I can’t prove to you that God exists, but I can demonstrate that it makes no sense to believe that we can have some sort of magical moral framework that comes from the trees or from your own head.

  54. Okhropir — May I gently suggest then that it would be selling the golden rule short to suggest it’s only equitable when it’s in fact merciful and charitable?

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from on this score, but to me this implies a patronizing sense of condescension. The qualities of mercy and charity — worthwhile though they may be — are, after all, acts of generous compassion gratuitously bestowed from above.

    To my mind, there’s no need whatsoever to embellish “The Golden Rule” beyond its most plain and ordinarily self-evident meaning.

  55. Okhropir

    I’m sure I can’t help it if you feel patronized. However the most plain meaning, I’m sure, is the literal meaning.

  56. Bryan

    Shamelessly Atheist,

    Transubstantiation versus consubstantiation! These are such trivial matters that have no bearing on someone’s salvation. No one really knows and God has made it quite clear that he himself doesn’t care too much about it–in that the scriptures don’t really clarify. This is not a point that Christianity is hung up on. Although, apparently, you as an atheist, are.

  57. “Shorter Ryan: Hitchens is a drunk that didn’t read the bible the ‘right way'”

    shorter hitch: “people are jackasses who don’t read the bible the right way.”

    KEvron

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