November 2007

Sorry For the delay…been quite busy.

Before I proceed, I would like to relay the point that in no way do I intend to come across as condescending when I portray explanations regarding specific biblical passages. I get the feeling that some of my comments were being interpreted that way, and that was most likely due to wording. I know that you are not (nor am I) a biblical scholar, so my expectations are reasonable. I hope the attachments I’ve included at the end add some additional insight (I was sent them by my pastor, which were of great help. As I said…I am no “Scholar” either!)

You ask by what authority I would say that the Inquisition and burning people at the stake for religious reasons were morally wrong. I’d say that I can show that any moral system that included these things is illogical and therefore invalid.

My point in referencing the above was for the following; There is a difference between moral systems put together by men proclaiming it to represent Christianity and true biblical morality. Inquisition morality falls outside of scripture on the basis of four immediate points with little thinking applied.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10) – Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17)

Jesus’ purpose has not changed – just the nature of His physical presence on earth -it is now through the “body of Christ ( the church).

Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world, so Christian’s are not called to make it so. We are called to love even our enemies.

When we discuss metaphysics, I think you misunderstand how I am using the word. I do not use it as a synonym for supernatural. You say that I have no internal morality. That is a very harsh statement, and I can only assume that you mean something other than what it sounds like you are saying.

Just to clarify, My point was that “man” does not have an internal morality. I was not saying you are an amoral person- I don’t know you to say that. Many evolutionist’s would contend that moral beliefs and suppositions are merely a matter of personal preference and evolutional progress. My point is that I believe a major flaw in that assumption would be that we as humans would have had to evolve from amoral to moral.

When I say “my morality” I do indeed admit that this is my morality and not yours. It would be rather presumptuous for me to do otherwise. Also, morality does vary from person to person and from culture to culture on some issues (relatively minor issues, of course). If you see a penny on the sidewalk, is it moral to pick it up and keep it? Is it moral to eat meat? Or for a woman to appear shirtless in public? Or to get a divorce? Or to drive a car? I don’t think you can demonstrate that there is a single correct moral opinion on all of these issues.

There is a difference between objective morals: there are universal absolutes and cultural morals. Both exist and sometimes, cultural morals conflict with objective morals. If objective morals are something that have evolved, there are several main questions that immediately come to mind – there could be many more.

Why aren’t these evolved objective morals evident in everyone and every culture? Why do some cultural morals conflict with evolved objective morals? Why would only “good morals” evolve?

Is the evidence not better explained by saying that man kind was created with the same moral compass (the image of God for Christians), but that the compass has become corrupted and thereby the morals have become distorted, compromised and disagreed upon. Again I remind you of the Aldus Huxley quote from his book “end and means”, where he states:

“I wanted to believe the Darwinian Idea, I chose to believe it not because I think there was enormous evidence for it, not b/c I think it has the full authority to give interpretation to my origins, I chose to believe it b/c it delivered me from trying to find meaning, and freed me to my own neurotic passions”.

See….with no God, no moral compass….I do what I want.

You are right that war and murder are two totally different things, but that is part of my point. My point is that there are situations in which two people can effectively agree that they will fight to the death and the victor will be held blameless.

You talk about my neighbor killing me because he doesn’t like me and ask, “Is it that just because you don’t like it he cannot? Do you take a vote? See what the majority rule is?” No. My opinion on the matter isn’t relevant to whether it’s immoral for my neighbor to kill me. If my neighbor thinks it’s morally allowable to kill me because he doesn’t like me, then he must think it’s moral for someone to kill him because they don’t like him. I don’t think a rational person can honestly have that opinion.

Your “thinking” this is far from proof. The actual proof is that there are many rational people who believe that and live in a world where it is carried out. Go to any city that has gang wars. Some of those kids are incredibly intelligent and rational thinkers, but live in a world were the moral norm is for a person to have the right to kill someone else because they don’t like the person. I don’t think that a rational person should be able to look at the issue of abortion and not agree that an abortion kills a living human being in the initial stages of development, but people do.

1) Did those God ordered to carry out the killing have no problem with conscience? (I assume not.)

It was a completely different culture – while some could have struggled with the killing – particularly of the children, it was probably few. The value placed on life – particularly women and children in those cultures was incredibly low. It still is today in Middle Eastern cultures. Jesus elevated the value of women and children.

2) Do you agree that killing children under orders from God is not immoral? (I assume so.)

Answered later

3) Do you think it is morally consistent to believe that a baby deserves death for any reason? (I assume yes, if we include divine will as a reason.)

The issue with the Noah and the Flood (the people had become corrupt and filled the earth with violence – Gen 6:11-13) , Israel taking the Promised Land, Sodom and Gomorrah was a matter of perpetuating generations of people destined for eternal death – separation of God and all that is good to all that is evil and tormenting. If one views life on earth as all that there is, then those instances were killing children. If one views life on earth as just the beginning and the free-will ground for making a choice to love, follow and be with God or not, and if one believes that there is a mental age of moral accountability for children, then it can be viewed as actually saving/rescuing those not old enough to reject God from the virtually certain inevitable rejection of God to which their society would have led them. The societies in each of the above instances had reached points of no return.

That does not mean that God did not experience the pain of the destruction nor that He did not give people the opportunity to turn to Him. Noah preached for 120 years during which time he also built the ark (I Peter 3:20, II Peter 2:5). God visited Sodom and Gomorrah with one last opportunity – one of the angels may have been what scholars call a theophany (THE Angel of God – Christ in bodily form in the Old Testament). People had the opportunity to turn to God during Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land – examples: Rahab and her family, and the Gibeonites . . . Another OT example of a society that had reached the point of Judgment was Nineveh. However, they responded to the message of Jonah and turned to God. (See attachments)

4) Would you condemn as immoral someone who killed a child because he thought God wanted him to? (I’m not sure what you’ll say here.)

The evidence would have to be incredible for me to believe a person. In the three examples above, God carried out the judgment alone. As for the promised land, these people had incredible evidence that God was leading them: the plagues of Egypt, parting of the Red Sea, God leading as a pillar of fire by night and cloud by day, an angel walking with them, water from rocks, manna, clothing that did not wear out for forty years, watching fire fall from the sky to consume the sacrifice at the dedication of the tabernacle, stopping of the Jordan River during flood stage, etc. Much different than a person out of nowhere deciding that God has told him to kill a child.

Regarding conscience versus the word of God via the Holy Spirit: I need more information on this. How can you tell that your conscience is informed in this way? And if two people say that they are hearing the word of God, how do you tell who is right and who is wrong?

Good questions – that is why we have the Bible for objective truth. When it does not speak directly to the issue, it is not always easy to tell. If it is from God, He will typically confirm it through other people. That is why a follower of Christ should always seek out counsel from others if he/she believes God is telling them to do something that is strange. One can’t always tell if it is from God or not.

In the discussion of executing someone for homosexuality, you say that I am taking a verse out of context. I don’t believe I am. I also think you may be misrepresenting the Bible a tiny bit, but you can correct me on this.

You seem to be saying that the execution of homosexuals was only a rule for the Israelites. I agree that Leviticus lists it as a rule for the people of Israel. I believe it also says that the rules apply to non-Israelites in the land of the Israelites (I looked that one up — Leviticus 18:26). So it remains that you are saying that there is (or was) a situation in which it is moral to kill someone because they are homosexual even if they don’t have a covenant with God prohibiting homosexuality. Is that correct?

The key phrase is “aliens living among you.” The purpose was for the protection of the society to be able live out its calling of being a light to the other nations of the world. It is a calling that God did not impose, but was accepted as part of the covenant that the people made with God – which by the way was a blood covenant, meaning that the consequences of not keeping your side of the covenant meant that you agreed the other covenant partner has the right to kill you. homosexuality was only one of a number of behaviors that God viewed as a threat to drawing the nation away from Him. It was a rampant part of other societies – particularly pederasty: older men with younger boys. The cultural world that surrounded Israel and that they came out of in Egypt was nothing like the world of today. Homosexuality was not a practice by a minor portion of society. It permeated societies.

As an aside, you say that “He did not require these laws of everyone…just his chosen.” But you would still consider some of these items immoral today, right? (Bestiality is an obvious example.)

There is a difference here. In on instance we are talking morality and law (Isarel), in the other it is just morality.

We discuss the argument of evil next. Just to be clear, I don’t ask the question of how a good God can allow evil, because I understand the answer. I also don’t believe in a metaphysical standard of “good.” I would insist, though, that any Christian who believes in an absolute standard of good define it such that God letting babies die is good.

Only in the context of the alternative of living in a society that is completely devoid of the true God and without hope of witness. An additional issue with Israel and the Canaanites was again the protection of the Israelites (who were not a staunch monotheistic people at the time of leaving Egypt) from the polytheistic influence of the corrupt/violent practices of the Canaanite people groups. Another example of this would be rational adult women who ask their loved ones to kill them rather than allow a conquering people to rape and torture them. Death is the preferred alternative. Thus, the issue has to be viewed in light of the other options. Does you believe that abortion is alright? It is the killing of an innocent life for nothing more in most cases than convenience. Is it better to abort a child than have an unwanted child? I know many unwanted (during the pregnancy) children whose parents can’t ever imagine life without them. My pastors wife is one of those. Thus, God letting babies die in one instance can be good – because life is not ended there, yet would not be good in another instance.

returning to the question in my previous post — am I correct when I assume that your sense of right and wrong, informed by the Holy Spirit, does not twinge at the thought of innocent babies dying in a disaster? Just curious.

Shouldn’t all beings twinge at the loss of life in a disaster, war or anything else. The Christian should be pained by the death of anyone who does not have salvation in Christ.

Also, you say, “I would say that people who are offended by the death’s of innocent need to know that due to the fall of man, we live in a world of sin and suffering.” But if the sense of what is right comes from God, why is any explanation necessary? Shouldn’t people (at least Christians) know this already?

If the image of God was not corrupted in man, the answer would be yes. However, since God’s image is corrupted, even in followers of Christ, the truth is not inherently known and needs to be taught.

Moving to Jesus as an example of morality: I agree that you can’t judge a rule by those who disobey it, as we discussed before. My pointing out that few people seem to follow Jesus’ example was a mistake. What I intended to imply was something more along the lines that people don’t agree about what Jesus’ example was and that this ambiguity makes him a less-than-perfect standard of morality.

People don’t agree, because God’s image is broken and we are drawn to what we desire. That does not make Jesus a “less-than-perfect standard.” Boiling it down to loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor (defined as even those against whom you are prejudice and view as low life) as yourself is incredibly simple and not hard to understand. What do you propose as a perfect standard?

Your comment on my “lack of understanding” is just an illustration of my point. Are people supposed to act like Jesus or act as they think he wants them to act? How does someone who is not a Bible scholar tell when Jesus means something literally or figuratively? For example, Jesus may be speaking symbolically when he tells people to give up their possessions, but he sounds pretty literal when he tells his apostles to do this (in all four Gospels — http://www.gospelsinparallel.com/gospels/g-3-12.html).

He was literal there. Jesus was sending then out on a training mission. There is nothing in the passage that says everyone is supposed to go that way. Actually, Jesus gives them instructions later to take provisions when he sends them out to the world. (Luke 22:36, Matt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8) Reading literal is not hard to understand. The passage you are referring to, if taken as a universal literal would mean that believers are only to preach to Isralites.

You say that Jesus’ moral values can be extrapolated. But why is any extrapolation necessary if there is absolute morality? Shouldn’t you just know what is right and what is wrong? I’m really unclear on this.

Again, only if the image of God had not been corrupted because of sin.

. My question is, if you and I disagree on what is right, based solely on how we feel on a subject, how can you demonstrate that your feelings are informed by Jesus (perhaps through the Holy Spirit?) and therefore correct, while mine are wrong? Or, from my perspective, why should I prefer how you feel about a subject to how I feel about it?

Morality is not a matter of feelings. For Christians, our morality is taken from the scriptures. Not all of it is black and white. There are areas of morality that actually are areas of personal comfort. This is the whole point in Paul addressing the issue of the stronger and weaker brother. It is interesting that the weaker brother would view himself as being morally superior to the stronger brother who recognizes his freedom in Christ. If scripture does not speak on something directly and if the carrying over of principles (such as, the issue of life in which stem cells should be used or not or the aborting of the unborn) is unclear, then it is a gray area. Christians should not be putting a stake in the ground on moral stances based upon feelings.

War and destiny is next. I asked if you thought someone would be justified in going to war if they thought God had destined them to go to war. You then gave various examples of what might be good reasons to go to war. But I am not asking about whether war is ever justified — I’m asking whether the belief that God wants a war is morally sufficient for a leader to start a war. If it’s not — if you need more than God’s will to go to battle — then I’d argue that you are appealing to a moral authority outside of God.

The issue is not God’s will. The issue is discerning God’s will. God has established governments, distinct from religion, for the purpose of providing order and protection for society. Part of that is going to war when deemed necessary. I would think that there some clear questions that should be asked to determine if going to war is justified or not. It is not all a religious issue.

Abraham: I understand the story of Abraham, but I don’t think you answered my question. Can a person who trusts God implicitly morally kill (or attempt to kill) their own child at God’s command?

This is just a case of not understanding the culture of the day. God has clearly since then given instructions not to sacrifice children to “gods.” That is not to say that it was OK with God to do so before hand. It just means that we do not see the command in the Bible before the account of Abraham and Isaac. In Abraham’s world, sacrificing a child to a God was not uncommon. There is much about God that Abraham did not know, even when he died, so to follow the command to sacrifice his son would have been heart and gut wrenching, but not seen as wrong. We view it from the other end of history and would answer no, as Abraham would if he were on this side. The key thing is that God never actually required the sacrifice. It was a test of Abraham’s trust and not something God would have permitted to actually occur. So the question is really irrelevant.

You say, “God tells us not to murder. Though shall not murder. Read the old testament in Context. He doesn’t tell you to kill innocent. Show me where he says to kill the innocent and we’ll discuss it. God only ever commanded the killing of sinful.” I feel like you’re avoiding the question a bit. I didn’t ask if God would ask you to kill someone innocent. I asked if it was moral to kill someone at God’s command.

Yes, it was, but one must distinguish between the Old and New Testaments (covenants). Under the new covenant, God does not command to kill.

You also ask me to show you where God says to kill someone innocent. Personally, I’d say that the babies of sinful people are innocent, but you seem to disagree.( I agree) So that takes us back to Abraham. Wasn’t Isaac innocent? Sure it was a test, and Abraham likely knew it was a test, but that leaves us with the fact that God ordered the killing of an innocent person.

Isaac was sinful and knew it. The issue with Abraham and Isaac had nothing to do with sin. It would have been a demonstration of love and servitude or appeasement in that culture. It is really irrelevant for our discussion, since God would never had allowed it to be done and clearly now forbids it.

You say, “Someone who says ‘God told me to Kill’, is wrong and misrepresenting God. I can only say that, because of the objective moral authority outside of myself.” But God used to tell people to kill other people, right? So how does this fit with your statement that a moral authority must be unchanging?

Great question. It has to do with God’s covenants and relating to the world through the Israelites and then through the church. In the New Covenant times – after Christ’s death and resurrection, God is reaching out in a different way to the world. He still has the right to order someone to kill someone else. The reason we would say it is wrong today is that God has given the church a different command. We are to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. We accept martyrdom. I realize that this gets sticky when we begin to talk about war. The difference is that the church and state should be separate. This does not mean that Christians should not be in leadership. It does mean that government does have the right to declare war for the protection of its people. As citizens of that nation, we have a responsibility to protect its people and our rights. It is true that Christians have misused this throughout history and especially when church and state have not been separate.

In your conclusion, you speculate that I may be jaded and cynical. Fortunately, this is far from the case. Even those “repent or go to Hell” Christians are, in my view, trying to do what is right, so I don’t look unkindly on them. I think the world is getting better every day,

That is completely at odds with the facts – statistics. It is wishful thinking. It is the kind of thinking that elevated Postmillennialism theology before world Wars I and II. Then you had essentially good Germans dropping essentially good bombs on essentially good grandma. If the world was getting better – which it was not – the 20th century set it back hundreds of years and the 21st century is keeping it on the regressing course.

I am actually a very hopeful individual. I think that encouraging people to examine their own beliefs — my 2Q system — is a great way to make the world a better place. It won’t turn a Christian into an atheist, or an atheist into a Christian, but it will help assure that everyone is making the best decisions they can and should make people more tolerant of differences in opinion.

How?

I think we’re really getting to the heart of the matter now. To stop us from getting caught up in details that stop us from seeing the larger picture, I’m going to kind of coalesce a number of topics we are discussing. (But if I neglect to answer some detail you think needed answering, please let me know.)

Over simplifying, I say that one can derive an acceptable morality logically, and you disagree.

If I understand you correctly, you say that there is an unchanging moral standard, and that we know this standard through the Holy Spirit and scripture. You make a number of important points regarding this. In particular:

– “There is a difference between moral systems put together by men proclaiming it to represent Christianity and true biblical morality”

– “there are universal absolutes and cultural morals”

– “since God’s image is corrupted, even in followers of Christ, the truth is not inherently known and needs to be taught”

– “the compass has become corrupted and thereby the morals have become distorted”

You point out — rightly — that cultures in the past were very different, and that this informs their sense of morality.

So here is where we reach what I think is the crux of our conversation. I ask if you would condemn as immoral someone who killed a child because he believed God wanted him to. You respond that, “The evidence would have to be incredible for me to believe a person.” Do you mean that you would need incredible evidence that God really ordered the killing, or do you mean that you would need incredible evidence that the killer believed God wanted him to?

In the latter case, you would be saying that a person can be acting immorally even if they are doing what they sincerely believe to be morally right. This opens a number of strange philosophical doors.

In the former case, it seems like you are saying that you would need strong proof that God really provided the instruction before you accepted the killer’s system of morality. But that’s pretty much my argument, isn’t it? I need strong proof that morality comes from God before I say that it is God-given. Without that proof, all I can do is use the rules of logic to try and puzzle out a consistent, workable morality.

That may sound wrong to you, but it seems to me that you are — at least in part — doing the same thing. Why do you require additional evidence that the child killer is acting under God’s orders? Is it because you assume that your sense of what God wants is stronger than the killer’s sense of what God wants? Or is it because killing a child is inconsistent with what you believe is true morality? If so, then you’re using the first rule of my Q2 system — rejecting a morality that contradicts itself.

You say that the Bible is needed for objective truth because one can’t always tell if what one senses in one’s conscience is really informed by the Holy Spirit. You talk about referring to other people for confirmation. You and I would disagree about whether the Bible is objective truth (and others might disagree with you about what that truth is — such as when you say that homosexual sex was wrong by covenant but that bestiality is just morally wrong). But even so, you are using research, logic, and personal thoughts to figure out what is moral. Just look at our discussion of baby killing — you generally don’t reference moral absolutes, but instead put forth a logical argument for the killing of babies being moral under certain circumstances in the distant past.

So the difference between us now seems very small. You have a moral sense informed by the Holy Spirit which you use reasoning and research to check because that moral sense may have become corrupted. I have feelings about what is right and wrong which I use logic to check because I know that my emotions are not universal truths.

How do our moralities compare? For example, my morality says:

1) Countries should not go to war without significant justification.

2) It’s wrong to murder, steal, lie, abuse animals, or harm children.

3) We are morally compelled to assist those in need.

4) When struck, it’s better to turn the other cheek, but it’s okay to defend yourself if you really need to.

5) Nazis are bad.

I think we largely agree on all of these. In fact, I think that there are probably very few significant moral issues where Christianity and I have a large difference of opinion.

So if I can arrive at a morality very similar to yours without believing in God and without just going by what I feel is right, where is the compelling evidence that God is necessary for morality?

Now, to address a few specific items:

I said that I don’t think a rational person can honestly think it’s okay for someone to kill him because they don’t like him. You responded, “Your ‘thinking’ this is far from proof.” I will point out yet again that I say “I think” or “I believe” as a polite indicator that our opinions differ. I don’t think that my thoughts are proof any more than I think your thoughts are proof. If you would like me to stop speaking politely to you, you are asking for this conversation to degrade into nastiness. If you do not want me to stop being polite, please stop trying to imply that my granting possible validity to your point is a flaw in my argument.

Anyway, you go on to say that there are many rational people who believe that it would be okay for someone to kill them because they didn’t like them. You mention cities where there are gang wars. Let’s say that I visit one of these places, see a gang member, and shoot him because I don’t like the way he looks. You’re telling me that some intelligent, rational people living there wouldn’t see my action as wrong? You’re telling me that the gang member who I shot wouldn’t think I was wrong to shoot him? I am very skeptical of this.

You follow with a statement about abortion, but the issue of when a person is a person is an entirely different subject, and I don’t know that we want to get that far off track at this point. We can go there later if you like.

You say that my belief that the world is getting better every day is “completely at odds with the facts” and “wishful thinking.” This may just be a case of using different yardsticks or of optimism versus pessimism. I see life expectancies, quality of life, individual freedom, tolerance, and knowledge increasing on a global scale. In times of disaster, people tend to pull together much more than they did in the past — with countries sending aid to their enemies in some cases. We’ve still got a huge way to go, but to me this is progress.

You ask how 2Q can help assure that everyone is making the best decisions they can and how it can make people more tolerant of differences in opinion. Well, I contend that if people take the time to check that their morality conforms to 2Q, their morality can only improve. What percentage of Christians do you think are capable of discussing their own morality as well as you do? Wouldn’t they be better off if they really thought about what is right and what is wrong? Wouldn’t that help them remove some of the corruption of their moral sense?

As for increasing tolerance — the second part of 2Q requires you to think about whether you would call someone immoral if they reasoned as you do, and I contend that this naturally leads to an increase in tolerance. I can respect you better if I can respect your way of thinking, even if we disagree.

I’d like to close this letter with a question. You say that in certain Old Testament times the world was so corrupt that killing children in a land conquered by the Israelites was actually ultimately better for them than leaving them to the virtual certainty of rejecting God. Do you see the world returning to that state?

Posted on November 16, 2007 at 4:39 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q, Discussion, Morality

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