Moral Sense: Differing Paths

In his book Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, Phil Zuckerman breaks down the various reasons people leave religion. In the second chapter, Zuckerman offers the case study of a man in his mid sixties named Max. Max’s turning point, the moment that signaled the end of his Lutheran faith, was in his early teens, when a lay teacher told the class they were all born into sin. Zuckerman explains:

Apostasy often occurs when certain key religious beliefs, tenets, teachings, stories, creeds, or articles of faith simply stop making sense…For other apostates, it isn’t so much that their religion stops making sense in the light of scientific discovery, but rather, that it stops making sense in the light of their own moral reasoning. The problem becomes the perceived immorality of God. (Zuckerman, 35)

sinners in the hands of an angry g0d (10599)

Sinners in the hands of an angry god (10599) (Photo credit: ehoyer)

In other words, many atheists haven’t turned their back on their moral compass, but instead became atheists in deference to their moral compass. This has been my personal struggle with the god of the Bible. The finds of science haven’t had a particularly negative effect on my faith because I haven’t regarded the Bible (or any sacred scripture) as a reliable authority about science, or the history of the world, for some time. But the god-endorsed ethnic cleansing, discrimination, homophobia, and misogyny have battered down my faith in scripture as a moral authority. Most of my friends are the same boat.

Like Jodi, who once confided these words to me:

“I was reading the story of the Israelites and their escape from Egypt to the Promised land et cetera. And instead of the usual ‘yay god saved these people and brought them through the desert’ it suddenly occurred to me, the god of the Old Testament is a real dick. I mean you read the stories of the Israelites being commanded to kill everyone, men, women, and babies, and it’s pretty horrible.”

I know what my ministry friends would say to all this, their response can be found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your path.” To this I respond, why? Why would I trust someone whose words seem so hateful to guide my actions? And what have I beyond my own understanding to determine whom I should trust? In short, why God? Why this god?

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2 thoughts on “Moral Sense: Differing Paths

  1. Hi, you linked to one of my posts. If you want to discuss the ideas, I have a few thoughts: Israel was never commanded to make wars for religious conversion. They were sent to wipe out tribes who were practicing child sacrifice, among other evils. They were also themselves put under judgement for practicing immorality and 20,000 Israelites were killed in a single day for their evil. So the standard of judgement against enemies was the same as for the tribe. They were not allowed to rape or torture in war either. The point is that their command to war was a war against immorality, not over religion. So the question I would ask, were the Allies justified in bombing German cities and areas of production, even though children and women died in the attacks? I submit that the Allies were justified for several reasons: one, the populace had voted to support Hitler and corporately were responsible for their support of the existing war machine; two, the people were supporting Hitler with their economic production and taxes.
    As to why tribal warfare is so brutal, it is helpful to read a book called Balkan Ghosts, which talks about the difference between eastern and western concepts of war. Eastern war is always tribal and has primarily been what we call genocidal, because their concept of individualism is not as important as their concept of corporate solidarity and corporate identity.
    Why even to the children? This is more a question that requires a more in depth conversation about spiritual descendants. Why do ancestral histories show that the pattern of criminal behavior runs from one generation to the next? http://infomotions.com/etexts/gutenberg/dirs/1/5/6/2/15623/15623.htm To our western minds, this seems totally unjust, but if there is a genetic inheritance of a tendency towards depravity and uncontrolled violence, how does one put a stop to it?

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my blog jefferis, and for your thoughtful comment. You bring up some interesting points, but the heart of your argument seems to be that we must consider the culture of ancient eastern warfare. If this is indeed your point, I would agree. And yet, I question a god that is unable to transcend cultural context. Why not lead people to be better than their tribal instincts? (Of course, I am making the western-centric assumption that individualism is superior, an assertion which has its own problems.)

      As for the use of bombs in WWII, I am willing to accept it because a) It is in the past and b) It eventually ended the war, but I would not support similar actions in the future. Just because a population physically (though labor/production) or symbolically (by submitting to it) supports a government, does not make them complicit enough in my eyes to warrant their death, regardless of how evil the government is. The man who rivets together plane parts may be, from his perspective, feeding his family. The woman who submits to an (evil?) government is no different than the millions of US citizens who submit to the Presidential office despite not having voted for the person who holds it. As we make wartime calculations to promote the ‘greater good’ I think we need to keep the humanity behind the numbers in the forefront of our minds.

      Finally, I don’t think genetics are the most significant contributor to a person’s behavioral makeup. They may contribute, but I think life circumstances are more significant. If I know that a particular criminal also happens to be the son of the criminal, I’m more likely to conclude that the destabilizing circumstances that result from having a parent involved in criminal activity was the most significant factor instead of some ‘violence gene.’ There is also much to be said for parental example. I suppose in this debate I’m on the ‘nurture’ side of things. What say you?

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