Saturday, April 06, 2013

Moral Relativism and The Bible

"If the Bible is no longer your authority then what is?"

I got this question on Facebook while discussing Atheism on a friend's page. The questioner assumes that the bible is clear cut and is THE moral authority.

However, the bible is anything but clear cut. It is not only inconsistent, but much of it would serve as a very poor moral plumbline. In fact, when we look at the bible, we find it was wrong on many moral judgments and it served as an anchor on the moral development of the varied religions it fostered.

Take the notion of slavery - every modern person rejects the practice without exception.  Not the bible - the bible is quite accepting of slavery.
When a man strikes his male or female slave with a rod so hard that the slave dies under his hand, he shall be punished. If, however, the slave survives for a day or two, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his own property. (Exodus 21:20-21)
So, I should be taking my moral cues from a deity who tells me it is ok to beat my slave, as severely as I like ... so long as I do not beat them to death at that moment? If the slave can survive at least a day or two after my beating, I am in the clear?

Oh, oh... but, but that's the Old Testament... that doesn't apply now.

Ok... so, how did the New Testament handle slavery?
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way [well]. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:9)
Here we can see a moral maturation occurring. It is no longer acceptable to beat a slave within an inch of their life. You are to treat them well, but it is still perfectly acceptable for one human being to own another.

It is clear that the bible is a text which reflected the moral values of its time. It was not setting a timeless and objective moral standard, but a relativistic one. I agree with Brian Dalton, a former man of faith (and creator of Mr. Deity), who said:
“I no longer believe that an institution which changes its doctrines as our culture evolves is in any way directed by a transcendent being.”
Exactly! A truly transcendent God, one who had an absolute view of morality, would not be developing over time like this. A God who was, in his essence, absolute truth would have, from the beginning, given commandments like:
Thou shalt not... EVER... own another human being!
If Israel had been given commands like that, they really would have been a city set on a hill as an example. As it was, they were as bad, or worse than their neighbors. If the bible had contained such clear cut moral edicts, the American South could not have used it as a weapon to subjugate millions.

The bible is many things, written by many authors, with many ideas - some horrid, some profound.

However, the reflection of ancient morals contained within its pages are simply not up to the task of guiding a modern people on the path to a better future.

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