This is a running commentary/stream-of-consciousness response to a rather bizarre attack on the Christian worldview, and especially the Old Testament found in the Holy Scriptures. The original column can be found here, although the entirety is posted here with commentary in italics. It seems the real reason for the column is a rather volatile local political issue here in Southeast Idaho, but the majority of the column is mostly an attack on the Scriptures and Christianity. A more formal columned response is to follow…
Biblical Morality (Idaho State Journal, 3-30-14)
Found at: http://www.pocatelloshops.com/new_blogs/politics/?p=11925
By Jack Moore
(Running Commentary by Aaron Hayes in Italics)
“I keep seeing quotes in the letters to the editor about objective morality. I still wonder what the writers mean by it.”
Most in the classic Christian tradition mean something akin to “those actions, thoughts, and behaviors which reflect the character, will, and mind of the one God.” This God is Holy, Righteous, judge, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present, all-good, just, perfect, simple, love, merciful, etc…and has revealed himself especially in the Holy Scriptures, and also through his church and natural law. This is objective morality, based on God’s transcendent and imminent reality.
“I have come across few objective moral truths. One is: “Treat others with love and kindness.” Jesus said it this way: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:27-29). I fail at this one small morality often.”
These certainly qualify as objective moral truths, although they are certainly not the only ones. And yes, we all DO fail to meet these standards, which is why we need Jesus to save us in the first place. This being said, moral truths and laws only make sense in the Christian worldview. Any other worldview cannot account for the laws of logic and morality, because such laws are based on the character of the lawgiver and His sustaining of creation. If we are here by accident/chance, or if laws are based on culture or the individual, they are completely arbitrary and non-objective. Only the Christian faith can make a coherent and sensical worldview out of the very idea of law and morality.
“Besides that one, I have not found any objective moral truths in the Bible.”
You must not be looking very hard. Ever heard of the Ten Commandments? Ever encounter the phrase, “Thus says the LORD?” That’s pretty absolute and objective!
“If there are some they are well hidden.”
Only for those who refuse to seriously and objectively look. Any basic orthodox Christian systematic text will suffice, or even a good study bible. Talk to any Christian who has been catechized (instructed) and you will get some objective morals and truths right away.
“That is why I cannot understand why people hold the LGBTQ community in such disregard.”
If you cannot see why Christians teach what they teach, then yes, it is probably difficult to understand why the church teaches what it does regarding human sexuality. This is however out of love of God and neighbor, not so-called ‘disregard.’
“Out of all the laws in the Old Testament, the passage in Leviticus concerning homosexuality is the one law that must be upheld (Leviticus 18:22). It is always quoted to justify discrimination against the LBGTQ community.”
This is a woeful misunderstanding on a variety of different levels. First, Christians teach the entire counsel of God, not just a single law. All of God’s laws are upheld, God’s law is perfect, and Christ himself says that not one “jot or tittle” will pass away, and that He came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:16-20, and that word fulfill is VERY important for understanding this issue). It is the law which makes us realize how desperately we need a savior. So no, Christians don’t just uphold one law, but rather know how broken we are when confronted with the whole of God’s law. The question here is how God’s objective truths apply in civil society in a flawed and broken world, and how these are enforced. Besides, do you know any Christians going around saying it okay to lie, to cheat, to steal, and to commit adultery? Those are laws that Christians uphold….so obviously there isn’t just one. And the word “discrimination” assumes certain things that the Christian worldview is not willing to grant, such as sexual behavior being how one defines an individual as a class for example.
“I wish someone could explain to me why society has done away with 99 percent of Mosaic and Levitical law, but has decided to keep this one part of it.”
Where does this percentage come from? 1 out of 100? I hope this is simply rhetorical, and if it is, it is overstated to the extreme. For the record, there are 613 different laws. And no, Christians do not just “keep this one part of it” as explained above. Secondly, the Holy Scriptures contain multiple instances in which God’s design for marriage, family, and sex is demonstrated. Leviticus 18:22 is not the only passage in Holy Scripture that references homosexual behavior. There is another passage in Leviticus 20:13, Paul’s use of “natural” and “unnatural” in Romans 1:18-27; I Corinthians 6 includes such behavior alongside a variety of other sins/vices; I Timothy 1:9-11; and Jude 1:7, which describes the sin of Sodom found in Genesis 19:1-5 as going after “strange flesh,” which demonstrates what the Genesis passage is about. The passages found in I Corinthians and I Timothy use a Greek compound word from the Greek translation the Leviticus passages (arsenoskoitan). In other words, the morality found there still applies “across the testaments” for all people and all time, not just ancient Judaism. Such behavior is also excluded by the created order found in Genesis 1-2, Jesus’ definition of marriage as one man-one woman found in Matthew 19:4-6 (referring back to the created order), and the general prohibition against sexual immorality found throughout Scripture (such as the word porneia, which would include ALL forms of sexual immorality outside of one woman-one man marriage). We also know that God does not lie (Numbers 23:19), does not change (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8), and is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14:33). All of this demonstrates that far from being “hidden” or “unclear,” the Holy Scriptures are remarkably consistent and clear on this issue. Natural law also bears this out, given the physiological, emotional, and reproductive complementarity between the sexes. Even if one were to remove the Leviticus passages, the position of the universal church would be the same, as it has been since the beginning.
““Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13) is not even an absolute for most Christians. If it was, the death penalty would not exist, we would not send soldiers into war, and there would be no such thing as an armed drone.”
This is simply a misreading of the KVJ translation. Most modern translations use the term “murder,” and the Hebrew here covers both intentional and negligent killing (what we could call manslaughter and deliberate homicide), not capital punishment or just wars.
“God could not even give us the correct laws about eating. I find this to be very telling. If eating pigs and shellfish is OK now, and God got this wrong then, how can we trust God’s moral judgment on who people should love? (Leviticus 11:7-10).”
God gave perfect laws then, and he gives perfect laws now. There is no contradiction. Why? The ritual and cultic laws of Israel which were to teach them about God’s holiness and how they were to be different to the nations, has been fulfilled/superseded (NOT abolished or contradicted) by Christ. All of God’s creation was originally very good (Genesis 1), and God tells the Apostle Peter that nothing the Lord has made is unclean (Acts 10). Instead of a nation/state theocracy as God’s people (ancient Israel), God has called his people from every nation, tribe, and tongue on the earth, due to the work of Christ. Because of this, the ritual and cultic aspects of ancient Israel are no longer necessary, although it is certainly within the realm of freedom to observe such things if one so chooses. These ritual/cultic laws such as the food laws (some of which may have had sanitation concerns as well), the weaving of fabrics, building fences on roofs etc…still tell us about the character of God, and contain absolute truths behind them. Other laws such as the dimensions of the tabernacle, the priestly garments etc…are fulfilled in the person of Christ. The greater is here (Jesus). This does NOT mean that the universal laws found throughout scripture, such as the teachings on human sexuality, lying, stealing, etc…are abolished. They are still in force and have been since the beginning. To claim that the universal laws and the food laws are the same sort of thing is to commit a category error, or a fallacy of composition.
“How moral is the Bible, anyway? I find the law that says a woman has to marry her rapist or be stoned to death a pretty abhorrent law and very revealing—the rapist has to pay for his plunder (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).”
This is actually an amazingly benevolent action. In the ancient near east, a woman who was violated was as good as dead, an outcast, and most likely would turn to prostitution to survive. Instead of these things, God’s people were quite “liberal” in the good sense of the word, by stating that the woman had rights, and must be taken care of (shelter, food etc…) by the perpetrator of the crime. Compared to other near eastern law codes, this is simply amazing, and demonstrates God’s concerns for both man and woman. Notice that the man cannot divorce her as long as he lives, and the rest of the law in how he treats her would still apply.
“This, by the way, is one form of “traditional marriage.” That kind of “morality” has no place in a civilized society. I don’t know anyone personally that would defend it. That is because it is not moral.”
No, this is not a “traditional marriage,” it is an example of case law. Case law is what you are to do should a certain situation arise. Prescriptive law is a command. The rape example given here is an example of case law, not something that is ideal or normal. And while some certainly use the term “traditional marriage,” it really is just “marriage,” which exists independent of whatever a given society might try to make of it, and anything else is simply a counterfeit. Regardless, this is again another category error, in which case law is confused with prescriptive law. Notice also that how marriage is defined is assumed here, even if the circumstances leading up to it were sinful and requiring justice.
“Conservatives hold onto “Homosexuality is a Sin” for two reasons. Otherness. It is a foreign thing to them. It is a way of thinking that they do not understand, and so it should be punished, because heterosexuality, their way, is what they know. The other reason is control. Sex should be controlled, especially regarding women.”
Translation: Because I do not understand how people could possibly disagree with me, I have to explain this opposition away by saying there is a psychological deficiency in my opponent. There is an inherent arrogance and insulting tone about this, because it implies that the author is “enlightened,” but orthodox Christians fearful power-grabbers. However, Christians know all too well the power of sin, death, and the forces of evil, which is why we say what we say! It isn’t because of “otherness” or foreignness, but because without the grace of God, we are all lost. Teaching God’s design for humanity is an act of love, and a duty for every Christian, not a power-conspiracy or unfounded fear.
“Morality comes from society as a whole. Morality grows and develops as the knowledge of society grows. We know that homosexuality is not a choice and even if it was, it should not be punished by society. There is no morality in consensual sex. It is merely part of nature.”
Saying that there is no morality in consensual sex is a nonsensical statement. To use a term like “consensual” implies a certain morality about individuals and choice. The very statement includes a moral judgment, yet somehow there is no morality in it? This statement is self-refuting. Also, why stop at “consensual sex” if the justification is a “mere part of nature?” We see a variety of other actions in the animal world, and if humans are simply part of nature and nothing more, why arbitrarily stop at “consensual sex?”
If morality comes from society, then there is no such thing as objective morality, since as the author admits, it grows and develops. This implies change. If morals change, they are inherently non-objective, and subject to the whims of the majority or culture. If this is how one views morality, then having difficulty seeing objective morality isn’t exactly a surprise, and should be expected. Morals are based on truths about who we are, our place in the universe, how we relate to each other, and the like…If this is changeable or society-contingent, we might as well give up now, since morality will collapse into despotism (people are made to agree) or anarchy (each individual decides for himself) or some combination of the two. Either way, morality as a useful term has disappeared, and we should stop using it. Perhaps we should start talking about utility instead….
“I believe there are objective moralities.”
Which makes no sense in a naturalistic/materialistic worldview.
“A couple that most people agree on are slavery and genocide are evil, both of which the Old Testament encourages (Leviticus 25:44-46 and Deuteronomy 13:13-19).”
This is quite telling, the statement “most people agree on.” A democratic or majority consensus does not decide truth, truth is truth regardless of the number of people who believe in it. To say “I believe there are objective moralities” and then appeal to “what most people agree on” undermines the case (if there is one) being made. To use a term like “genocide” and apply it to Scripture is another case of a category error. Taking a modern concept (the systematic eradication of an ethnic group) and comparing it to Israel’s conquest of Canaan because of pagan immorality and evil is not even close to the same thing. God does not command Israel at any point, “kill them all because they are Canaanites,” but rather because these people were so morally corrupt their culture was being judged. In fact, God’s people pass by at times because some cities’ “iniquity was not yet full,” meaning they hadn’t corrupted themselves yet (Genesis 15:16). It is also quite telling that God would use the other nations to punish his own people, hardly the act of someone engaged in “ethnic cleansing” or genocide. In regards to slavery, a better modern equivalent would be “indentured servant,” not the slavery of the antebellum south, which most moderns have in mind. The idea of case law and prescriptive law also comes into view again here.
“Another couple of evils that God perpetrates are child ritual sacrifice and infanticide (Exodus 12:12 and Judges 11:29-40). Most people agree that these things are evil, but they completely gloss over it when the evildoer is their God.”
Other than the faulty “most people agree” basis for determining morality rearing its head again, both of these passages have rather straightforward explanations. The case of Jephtha’s daughter (Judges 11) is not perpetuated by God (it is because of a rash vow by a man in a troubled culture in a troubled time), and both Christian and Jewish scholars have demonstrated that the text is far from clear in terms of the daughter’s fate, and the church fathers such as Chrysostom and Ambrose say that God is permitting an evil (notice permitting an evil is not the same as endorsing it!) for teaching purposes. Either way, God doesn’t do this, does not endorse it, and to claim he does means one has completely misread (or not even read) the text. The killing of the firstborn in Exodus 12:12 is the 10th plague, in which Pharaoh (a ‘god’ in Egyptian culture and law) was given every opportunity to stop his evil actions, and brings death and destruction down upon himself and his people. Remember here that there is no such thing as “separation of church and state” or even “individual rights” in many senses, so cooperate guilt was a very real thing. Secondly, it is also likely that Egyptian law contained within it the idea of “reciprocity,” and since Pharaoh was actively killing Hebrew children without discrimination (true infanticide) over the course of decades, God acting in a limited sense (only males of a certain age) in a limited amount of time, was perfectly just based on the practices of Egypt. If anything, it demonstrates God’s restraint (“I take no pleasure in the death of a sinner” Ezekiel 18:23).
And again, to somehow argue that this means God endorses this as normal or ideal is to completely misread the entire counsel of God, and assumes that one can judge God. This is key, as the entire piece seems to assume that a created being with finite understanding who has to rely on what the majority has agreed on for any sense of morality, and presumes to judge the perfect creator for His acts of justice. This would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious.
“The most dangerous idea in the Bible is the idea that there are “the chosen.” Apparently these chosen can do all kinds of evil, but because they are “chosen,” their evil is good or acceptable. It is the antithesis of “No one is above the law.” The idea of the chosen never made any logical sense to me. Yet people espousing their faith speak of an objective morality found in the Bible.”
I’m not sure how this can even be taken seriously. Surely the author is aware of the multiple times God judges His own people for their evil? The Babylonian captivity and exile anyone? The Persians? Philistines? Etc….So no, in God’s eyes, being part of God’s people does not exclude you from judgment. God also “chastises those he loves,” (Hebrews 12:6) which isn’t exactly an endorsement of evil for being on the right team. To claim that being part of God’s redeemed people is permission to violate God’s laws is to completely misunderstand the nature of the gospel. Christ saves us in spite of our violations, in spite of our selfishness, in spite of our rebellion, in spite of our evil. He saves us from ourselves. If you would like to know the consequences of our evil, look at a crucifix. Again, we have terms like “evil” being tossed around as if we should know what that term means. Since the author is rejecting the source of all creation, the very definition of good and love, how does a term like evil have any meaning except that which society decides it does? Why should I take the author’s word for it, since he is admitting that his “objective morality” is based on society’s whims. The term “evil” only makes sense in reference to what “good” is, meaning it is a parasite, a negation of the eternally blessed source of goodness. Also, orthodox Christians long and want ALL of humanity to come to faith, even though we know many will not. We want you to be part of the “chosen,” including the author of this hit piece. We are trying to reach the lost, as much as we fail to do so. “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”(II Peter 3:9). How exactly does this excuse evil? We are told to repent, not just do what we want…
“Dr. Archie B. Carroll says “As religion and faith are being driven out of the public square, the Judeo-Christian ethical foundations that have sustained our country since its beginning are being replaced with a humanistic amorality, a self-centered, pragmatic indifference that will ensure that our moral compass will fail to point us in the right direction in the future.” Is Dr Carroll saying that this country is going to be morally corrupt because it is losing its ties to biblical morality? I say just the opposite. I say that women’s and civil rights have done a great deal to undo the moral corruption that the Bible brought to this great country.”
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” (Isaiah 5:20). And any historian worth his salt will gladly stack up Christianity against competing worldviews in history regarding the status of women, slavery, etc…see the work of Dr. Alvin Schmidt or Dr. Rodney Stark for more on this. Of course, without the Christian tradition, there wouldn’t be “this country” in the first place.
“Where exactly does this moral compass that Dr Carroll speaks of point? If it points in the direction of the Sermon on the Mount, then I can go along with it. I don’t think that is what he had in mind though. The direction he is pointing is not where I want to go.”
In other words, I want to pick and choose what is convenient for me, or whatever society thinks is useful or popular, not what God actually says. I am the god of my own universe, so I pick what I want, and throw out the stuff that I don’t like. You can’t speak of morality in a coherent way while denying the source. You can still live morally, but the worldview is incoherent.
“My moral compass points to this. Our laws should reflect our awareness that everyone has worth. If our society is rich enough, no one should go hungry, go without a roof over their head, lack proper medical care, or live without proper sanitation.”
Why should your compass matter? Why does everyone have worth? Why should hunger, shelter, medical care, sanitation etc…matter when society decides what morality is? What if society decides that the elderly are too much of a burden and lack a high quality of life and should be eliminated? Since the source of morality here is completely arbitrary, it can arbitrarily rejected.
“There are a lot of people that believe these basic rights are things that should be earned. I hope they, themselves, never have to suffer the indignity of what they propose.”
Where do these rights come from, and why should they matter? What exactly is a ‘right’?” and why should I care if we are just materialistic products of nature, about someone else’s rights? After all, what they are and what they are there for will simply develop as society develops.
“With all this in mind, then, how can someone argue from a moral standpoint that homosexuality is evil? They cannot.”
Sure they can, because they actually read the text seriously from “cover to cover” and not by copying and pasting from Richard Dawkins style diatribes. They actually look at textual context, the church in history, natural law etc…something that this author has not even bothered to do in the slightest.
“The Bible is not a book that you can argue a moral code from—at least not one that does not contradict itself. The LGBTQ community is about as evil as a woman eating a piece of fruit. Yes, quite benign.”
Of course, this world is a paradise, or soon will be…that’s news to…everyone? But denying original sin isn’t exactly a surprise here.
“LGBTQ individuals should be treated with the same respect and dignity that you treat your church-going neighbors.”
No one is arguing that those with these predilections should be treated as less than human. What is being questioned is whether or not such behavior should be endorsed, and whether people of conscience and who own private property should be forced to endorse or become a material party to behavior they deem morally wrong. Of course this assumes that we should start defining people by inclinations and behavior (people are just animals) rather than their worth as people created in the image of God.
“That is why you should vote NO on May 20 to keep Pocatello’s ordinance in place. It is the moral thing to do.”
The main problems with this column/hit piece on Christians can be summarized as follows:
1. The author simply has not done his homework in dealing with the biblical text, but seems content to take cheap potshots without consulting any source that might have answers to some of these “difficulties.” The relationship between the law and gospel has been discussed and written about since the time of the New Testament, so I’m not exactly sure why the author seems ignorant as to the variety of different solutions that have been offered throughout time, space, and culture, many of which are the same (reflecting, *gasp, objective biblical morality).
2. The author presumes to make moral arguments as an authority, but gives no reason why we should trust him as an authority, other than the vague and completely arbitrary, “most of society says…”
3. Only the Christian worldview can account for universal laws of morality, laws of logic etc…To make an argument for some sort of objective reality whilst denying the source of what makes such thinking even possible is inherently irrational.
4. The opposition to the sort of behaviors the author references is not limited to Christians, but also includes orthodox Jews, Muslims, and proponents of natural law (including some atheists). Taking uninformed cheap shots at the Bible in order to demonstrate one’s superiority isn’t a new tactic, but it is completely unhelpful and has no place in the “civilization” he seems so concerned about.