I just don’t get this bit..

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And I’m sure it’s really obvious but google isn’t helping me at all (It keeps directing me to Answersingenesis and I’m not sure which part of my search history would make the robots think that is a good idea).

If we are not bound by the Old Testament anymore (because Jesus) why do people still use sections of it to decide how we should behave?

Are we, in fact, not bound by the Old Testament or am I wrong here?

101 thoughts on “I just don’t get this bit..

  1. It’s simple: think of Christianity as Jew 2.0 — the Old Testament is foundational, the New T is the update. You can still believe gays should be stoned (and so do the gays, as long as it’s a good grade of weed), but now you simply shake your head and turn the other cheek.

    I can do this as well for Genesis vs The Big Bang Theory and the Bible vs Evolution (https://jimhull.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/is-science-an-enemy-of-god/).

    I know, I know — it’s a gift. 🙂

    • You’re so funny 🙂
      So all the bad stuff in the OT is still bad ( wearing nylon and shellfish and The Gays) but we don’t worry anymore?

  2. So, I’m no theologian, I’ve been in church my whole life and the more I learn the more I see there is to learn. That being said, here’s how I’ve come to see it: God has always been God, holy, perfect and he has a set of standards that don’t have to make sense to us because God is God and we are not. The OT Laws were one way of God teaching the people the cost of not being holy. Every sin could be cleansed only through sacrifice. Hence the law and the sacrificial system.

    Then Jesus… The Big Sacrifice. He taught us not that the law was fulfilled in him and that in trying to live it out to the letter we were missing the point. If we want to be good enough for God it requires perfection. Jesus was clear the standard is higher than we can reach… we all, every one of us, need a sacrifice. And Jesus made it for us. Paid the full price for the law we can’t possibly keep and the standard we can’t reach.

    Then, after all was said and done, through the disciples we were invited into the adventure of life with Jesus. The more I spend time getting to know Jesus and his ways the more I see it’s less about living a sinless perfect life and more about giving all of my mess to him to be redeemed and used for his purpose. So, yes, we don’t have to worry. The price is paid. The new standard is to walk worthy of the gift we’ve been given. I’m still trying to work that out.

    And now I’ve effectively hijacked your post. Love your blog BTW.

  3. I don’t think we are ‘bound’ by much of anything. Here is the part of Genesis I believe:

    ‘And God was the Word. And the Word was God.’

    The word is not what was written by men. Not all of it. The Word is what we write, and speak, every day.

      • Think I told you once – I went through a very (very!!!) powerful… ‘spiritual awakening thingie’? Lol. About a year back. Really hit me over the head, and some of the stuff I continue to have trouble believing is ‘real’!

        [Though it most definitely is – for me.]

        I still consider myself agnostic in the sense that it means I don’t know. It’s a searching thing, a recognition that no one has all the answers; but we do have what we feel to be true, choose to believe, etc., and that is POWERFUL stuff! I think it creates our reality, in a number of ways.

        The flip side of ‘I don’t know’ – for me – is saying ALWAYS ALWAYS QUESTION! [Wish I could do italics here, ha. Prefer not to scream in all caps.]

        There are few things I’ll just come right out and say like ‘hey wassup guys this is the truth and all’, but that’s one. We don’t have the answers. I don’t believe the bible holds the answers. I don’t think it makes sense not to question every single angle, every word, connotation, subtext. Not only that, I’ve also come to believe firmly that the ‘God’ (dunno what else to call ‘it’!) I feel – wants us to do that. Demands it even. The bible was written and compiled by men!!! All of whom the bible itself tells us are ‘original sinners’ (pish I say on that one, but it is what it says).

        To wrap up 😉 something that’s occurred to me:

        If there is such a thing as ‘the devil’, or else just evil – the way it would operate, 100% imo – would be to take something beautiful, and twist it.

        As in – take the bible, what so many of us view as ‘GOSPEL TRUTH’ – and inject it with things that fundamentally contradict the core message.

        Which, for me, is love. [Also equality unity tolerance acceptance and many other wonderfuls.]

        Ahem… Amen?

        Lol. Xo Eva, you continue to rock!

    • OOh, that’s so good! I want to ‘like’ that whole comment. If something contradicts love and acceptance then you need to red flag it like hell!

  4. It is interesting to consider what people think of as ‘bound by the OT”. Mostly it seems that they can use it dismiss all science and pick out odd bits of law to prove they are right – while totally ignoring the Jewish system of sacrifice and annual festivals and many and repeated injunctions to look after the poor and provide hospitality to strangers.
    Having now read more of the OT that I would have liked – I have come to view the whole thing as a journey of discovery of God. It provides a set of stories that are the starting point for the Christian encounter with God, but it is not the last word – we have still to get to that part of the story.

    • I’m having problems understanding the picking out of bits, to be honest. Some bits seem still very cited and others are just completely ignored and I’m not sure if there is an actual rationale behind that if its just us making it say what we want it to say.

      • My own view is the ‘bits’ don’t matter (although if you like some of them there is nothing wrong with that). Its the overall story of people trying to figure out God that matters. And that is quite hard to follow as there are so many horrific parts to the story, and much of it is more national legend than history. But somewhere under it all is a very human story of how we came to know God. And I certainly believe it is just the start of the story – otherwise we are all stuck with Bronze/Iron-Age religion. But apparently some people prefer that?

        • I think the picking out bits do matter… very much so. The chosen bits are the root, the fundamentals, of the particular faith. Bits like that Jesus was a single historical person, that he performed specific miracles, that he was killed and resurrected, to name but three bits that I think are rather central but no better supported that the injunction against eating pork or cutting the corners of one’s beard or condemning homosexuality. Some bits are held by the believer to be more important than other bits and presented as if supported by a god for its vital importance. Yet there remains no means independent of the individual believer to determine which bits are divinely inspired and historical and which bits are purely human constructs and figurative. Hence my call for a healthy dose of doubt to be awarded to all.

          • thanks for your comment. I think we may be a risk of “violent agreement” here 🙂 I was trying to describe the things which are about the overall story of the Jewish and/or Christian faith – such as you mention at the start of your comments – and the details that may either add or detract from that.
            We can do worse that follow the example of Thomas, to treasure our doubts, and probe and ask questions – but then to allow ourselves to be astounded by the revelation of God.
            Blessings

  5. Hi Eva, I go along with most of what “intentionaljane” said. The outcome is seen in the New Testament, where several passages clearly teach that the OT law is passed its use-by date.

    Jesus hinted at it in Luke 16:16-17 and made it clear our relationship with God was on a completely new level (“new covenant”) in the Last Supper. Paul took up this theme in 2 Corinthians 3:6 and Romans 7:6-7 where he uses one of the Ten Commandments as an example of a law that no longer binds us. The books of Hebrews and Galatians give further strength to the argument.

    So the OT gives us a picture of God interacting with humans – some of it in legend form, some in history – and thus an insight into God’s character. But most of all, it gives us the background to what Jesus was doing and saying. Jesus updated the OT view of God, corrected a few wrong ideas, and gave us a new way of relating to God – through his Spirit rather than through Law.

    So I reckon we aren’t at all bound by the OT, but it is a very necessary lead-up to the NT.

  6. So do people who use the OT arguments to claim that homosexuality is an abomination for example wrong? If we don’t see eating shrimp as sinful anymore then why do we feel that it (homosexuality) is?

  7. Of course, there are other ways of looking at it. The starting point is probably with how we understand the bible: Is it the infallible, inerrant, literal Word of God (one extreme) or is it (the other extreme) a collection of human writings, some of which are more helpful than others? Or something in between.

    Because the book of books is full of contradictions, those who choose the first option then have to choose which bit to mention (Lev. 20:13, obviously!) and which bit to pretend isn’t there (Lev. 19:19). Those who pick door number 2, decide for themselves which bits they find helpful and which they reject. Is there any way to determine which position is the right one? Probably not, which is why it’s a faith thing.

    Personally, the older I get the more I lean towards (shock, horror) human reflections, some of which genuinely reflect what is divine, and many of which say more about their writers and their audiences than they do about God. There is far, far too much serious biblical scholarship which reveals the hand of the human writer to ignore; so much serious socio-historical criticism reveals the degree to which the OT is about how to be Jewish and the NT is how to be Christian, but neither being Jewish nor being Christian necessarily has anything to do with loving God and loving neighbour.

    Do I sound crotchety this evening?

    • Yes, a little!
      I suppose this is why there will never be consensus about the bible and why I should probably focus on Rohr’s non-dual consciousness rather than getting bogged down in detail and debate which is never, ever going to be resolved.
      But it’s so much easier to argue over semantics that to actually do what Jesus said, isn’t it?

  8. If you’re going with Rohr read “Everything Belongs”, my favourite . It left me feeling freer …if that’s a word!
    Great post so unsettling.

  9. Kingstonjack asks an important question: Is there any way to determine which position is the right one? His answer is Probably not, which is why it’s a faith thing.

    If we appreciate the question as it stands, we must come to the conclusion that the correct answer is not the one he gives but a clear and succinct ‘No.’ We do NOT have any means to determine which position is the right one. We do not have a way independent of our preferences and biases and willingness to establish by merit alone which position is the right one. And this realization shouldn’t be waved away with apologetic nod to faith but taken to heart.

    BECAUSE we have no independent means to verify which if any position of interpretation of scripture is ‘the right one’, we must hold ALL scriptural interpretations with a degree of honest uncertainty. And this means we must reduce our level of confidence in all biblical interpretations accordingly. To not do so is best described as dishonest, meaning that presenting some interpretation with a certainty (we know is due to an infusion of personal faith) is not justified by then pretending our faith’s truth value comes from scripture. It doesn’t; it is imposed on it. .

    This dishonest presentation of scripture – as if it justifies our faith rather than the other way around – is very typical of the deeply religious. When challenged directly, many will run quickly to hide behind the notion that faith is a suitable shield behind which maintaining such dishonesty is considered a high virtue. And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with acting on religious faith: one has no means independent of the faith infused into it to establish the truth value of the scriptural precept then used to justify it.

    This is why the use of faith extended beyond the personal and the private is always a circular argument devoid of any independent merit and should be treated as such.

    • Wow! Thanks for that. You’ve really taken my two cents’ worth and turned it into a crisp $100 bill.

      I don’t think I’m up to your standard of argumentation, but my take on this would be that our subjectivity precludes any possible objective experience of what is divine. “Faith” for me is therefore a way of describing the filters which colour my experience and shape my understanding. “Faith” is the outcome of my struggle to make sense of my life and the life of those around me, both near and far. With any luck, it’s far more than just something I have “received” without critique and without your excellent “degree of honest uncertainty”.

      The beauty of a space that’s headed “Let’s chat” is that I am exposed to a range of “faith” positions which I can then use to weigh my own thinking against. In the instance of your post, I get the opportunity to read a critique of the circular reasoning which mars so much “Christian” thought. Thank you for that.

      • KJ, I wasn’t trying to question your faith (or ask you to defend it to the likes of me because it’s solely your own concern) but to point out what should be obvious to everyone, namely, that faith of the religious kind is granted to one’s own interpretation of scripture and not derived from it. Those who think their faith is derived are being dishonest with themselves.

        Even that dishonesty is not my concern.

        What is my concern is the level of certainty awarded to faith-based beliefs. It is from this false sense of certainty (and then acting upon this sense as if it justifies the action) that I think a very great deal of harm is caused to others in the name of faith and the feeling of piety that usually is necessary to want to cause this harm in the first place and assume one is doing good work.

        I wanted to use your question – a question that I think is far more important than many people realize or have granted much if any consideration – to show that an honest examination of it seeking an honest answer reveals that faith deserves some measure of uncertainty. I think if more people understood why their faith deserved less confidence than certainty (because there is no independent means to differentiate the literal from the figurative, the historical from the myth, the morality from the rules) then I think far less harm would occur because people would restrain themselves from acting on their faith-based beliefs… because they may be wrong.

        Biblical claims have a rich history of being factually wrong… and i think this is a clue about our ability to interpret scripture ‘correctly’.

        Christians are hardly alone in this dishonesty that arises when confusing where faith-based beliefs come from (the correct answer: one’s self). I come across this dishonesty all the time in far ranging areas, from assuming vaccinations are somehow more dangerous than the diseases they prevent to a belief that water possesses memory, that wi-fi is almost as harmful to one’s health as low doses of fluoride in drinking water, from mysterious energies of the body that can manipulated to accumulating toxins in the feet, from believing in global conspiracies to abductions by aliens, from climate change denial to anti-scientific belief in creationism and ID. All are presented as if deduced from reality by their befuddled supporters when in fact they are imposed on it (and selected evidence then carefully cherry picked to support the maintenance of the belief without dealing with all the contrary and conflicting data). This method – misrepresenting the source for beliefs – is the identifier of faith in action and it’s a method guaranteed to convince ourselves that being fooled is in fact virtuous and more insightful than its evidence warrants.

  10. This is a great post and thread. I think the OT is there to help put the NT into context. There is nothing wrong with the OT because it is the historical record of God’s relationship with his people. The discipline they had to go through to stay faithful and in his grace is astounding by comparison to the simple gift we have been given by Christ.

    The older I have gotten the more I have softened my heart towards other sinners like me. We are all sinners and have all fallen short of the glory of God. So to answer the question, in my opinion no one is lost unless they reject Christ, including brothers and sisters who are gay. I have met and respect severs gay Christians. Their sins are no worse than my sins of breaking traffic laws, having lustful thoughts, or swearing from time to time. It is not my place to judge and condemn anyone. God has forgiven me and Christ has told me to go and sin no more, yet I still sin every day.

    The NT is about our current relationship with Christ and his model of living that he wants us to emulate. Easier said than done. I am trying to follow Christ but I can never say I am an”Christ follower” as to me, that would imply I am living a perfect life like he did. None of us are doing that. I embrace all of you as brothers and sisters whether straight, LGBT, or whatever so long as you proclaim Christ as your Lord and Savior. What choice do I have but to love others and not judge others? What choice do we all have?

  11. Much has been written, so I won’t contribute to any confusion. OT law is a moral teacher used to help us understand God’s holiness and our sinfulness. It was not intended to save us, but was always God’s intent to show us grace. One scripture: Rom. 7:7-8:11–done.

  12. Check out these websites….http://119ministries.com/
    http://www.wildbranch.org/

    Someone commented that the system of sacrifice and festivals in the bible are jewish. This couldn’t be more misunderstood or completely wrong. They are biblical. No where in the bible will you read that the sacrificial system and the Feasts are jewish. It’s assumed and taught that way. All throughout the bible it says that the Feasts are God’s Feasts or Feasts of the Lord. You will never find feasts of the jews or anything like that. God came up with the sacrificial system not the jews so again it’s all God’s.
    In the hebrew culture and understanding faith isn’t this concept of believing hard enough and maybe it will happen. Faith is walking out your belief. It is an action, something that can be seen and heard. It’s all about the relationship you have with God. It’s not about religion. For thousands of years people have killed in the name of their religion.

  13. I confess I didn’t read all the replies (sick kid, no time, etc.), but part of the OT consists of general rules of conduct (the parts about lying, murder, etc.) and other parts were specific, covenant rules for Israel alone (bits like cloth with two kinds of fabric and tassels on the garments.) We are not bound by the laws of the old covenant because we are under a new covenant now. However, the basis of morality is still the same. It’s still wrong to lie, cheat, steal, and suchlike. That’s a quick version of what I understand… 😉

  14. So… strictly technically speaking, Jesus said that the law of Moses was fulfilled in him. So, technically the only part of the Old Testament that we’re no longer “bound” to is the part that has the law of Moses.

  15. Since the Law of Moses is done away with we should go out and start murdering, committing adultery, bearing false witness, etc. Wouldn’t want to be bound by those pesky laws.

  16. Hi autismthoughts. The Law means more than just Moses’ commandments – “the Law and the Prophets” is often used to describe the whole Jewish scriptures. And it isn’t only Jesus who says the law is no longer binding on followers of Jesus – Paul says it too in several places (2 Corinthians 3:6 and Romans 7:4-6).

    G’day jjarjw, nice idea, but christians are bound by the “greatest commandments” that Jesus endorsed – love God and love fellow humans. He said all the other laws can be summed up in them, and I don’t think they would allow you to do what you suggest. The thing is, the very prescribed laws of the Old Testament could easily be followed in the letter (and got around in the letter) but not in the Spirit – but the less prescribed more general “greatest commandment” can’t be gotten around so easily for it prescribes a heart attitude.

  17. Hey eva
    I appreciate the honesty with which you write(=search, live)
    This is a post I wrote on an analogy of the law

    the law was a revelation of the character of God. We took it as a guide to “how to be holy as I am holy.” Except we did not have ability or power to live this way (hence the inclusion of the sacrificial system embedded in the law). But the light of the law exposed the darkness in us, in me. To lead us to Jesus who the law and sacrificial system had been pointing to. The entire law had been talking about Jesus and our need for him.

    http://mikesunu.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-law-part-1/

    The law is important and isn’t to be dismissed for it is the light of Gods glory. but Gods greater light is his grace, in Christ

    Its like a high powered halogen that cuts through the thickest darkness (the law) exposing the darkness versus the light of the noonday sun that overcomes the darkness (Jesus)

    Hope that helps
    Following Christ with you

    John 1:4-5, 9, 11-12 ESV

    “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”

    2 Corinthians 3:7-11 ESV

    Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

  18. Jesus said he had come to fulfill the law, not to do away with it, or destroy it. he said not one jot or tittle would be removed …

    there is a difference between the written word, and the oral tradition…..man made up a bunch of rules, based on their interpretation of the law, and this placed a burden on the people….. the commandments of men were done away with, not God’s law.

    there is one exception….the ritual sacrifices for sin…..there was no more need of this since Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice for sin…no animal could be equal to jesus himself….

    god’s “law” or Torah actually means “teachings, instructions”…….these are in place for our spiritual and physical welfare….someone mentioned shrimp….they are bottom feeders, and eat the garbage off the ocean floor…so their meat is not the best…..also pork is full of trichinosis parasites, and God did not want someone sick……there are laws to prevent the spread of disease, like leprosy…..there are laws as to how to decontaminate the house …..etc.

    the moral laws will always be there…God does not cancel his commandments for holiness……just because some sins are popular now, does not mean God has changed his mind….

    people still look to the OT today because it is still the truth, and many prophecies that were predicted are being fulfilled today.. also the OT explains the NT…..for example, the Book of Daniel gives insights into the end times, and helps us to understand the Book of Revelation…..

    hope that helps….

    god bless you for being a seeker of truth

  19. Hi Eva. Hope it’s ok to drop a late comment here.

    If we are not bound by the Old Testament anymore (because Jesus) why do people still use sections of it to decide how we should behave?

    The Mosaic Law is not a list of arbitrary rules to “keep people in line”. Certainly, it provided structure to ancient Israelite culture and we can consult it today get a better picture of what types of behavior are in line with God’s nature, but much of it is prophetic as well. One of my most favorite set of verses ever is John 5:39-40. Jesus told the intensely religious people of His day:
    Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me. And ye will not come to Me, that ye may have life.

    After His resurrection, Jesus met two of His friends while they were walking to Emmaus. Their exchange included the following from Luke 24:25-27
    Then He said to them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
    Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?
    And beginning at Moses, and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.

    In order to verify the Apostles’ claims about Jesus, the Jews of Berea
    …were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the [Old Testament] scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Acts 17:11

    Did you notice in the passage from John’s gospel that Jesus actually reprimanded the religious people for feverishly trying to figure out how they could be “good” while they ignored or rejected the references to their Messiah? We cannot afford to make that same mistake.

    It was immensely eye-opening for me to realize that, according to Christ Himself, the main purpose of the OT (the “Scriptures” to which Jesus referred) is to point us first to who Jesus is. It serves other purposes, too, but only after we can genuinely see Him as the fulfillment of the Genesis 3 promise of God to fix the mess with which Adam is credited do any of the moral instructions about behavior begin to make sense.
    There is more to the picture, but this has already gotten long…

    • Heather tells us Jesus actually reprimanded the religious people for feverishly trying to figure out how they could be “good” while they ignored or rejected the references to their Messiah? And then she states as if true that We cannot afford to make that same mistake.

      Really? Is it a ‘mistake’ that somehow has an impact on moral behaviour?

      Well, from this recent study we find compelling contrary evidence, namely, that Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts.

      Now ponder what that means.

      The idea that morality is somehow revealed or delivered or extracted from religion – that the more pious and diligent a person is understanding and then implementing divinely inspired rules, the more moral that person is – is not true.

      It’s simply not true.

      Morality is a biological consideration, which is why the same behaviours we attribute to ‘morality’ and an awareness of fairness (and when it is breached) crosses species boundaries. The religious advertisement that some faith-based belief is a prerequisite for improving moral behaviour is not just false advertising but constantly poisons the relationship of mutual respect between believers and non believers in matters of morality!

      This fact continues to surface (twice again this year in peer reviewed literature) that atheists are still held in very pronounced moral distrust (equivalent to the mistrust shown to convicted rapists). Why is this? When one hear of another terrorist attack, does anyone even for moment consider it’s the work of atheists to promote atheism (especially by those ‘militant’ New Atheists)?

      Whenever I read yet another false statement like the one Heather asserts and consider the motivation behind it, I feel obligated to point out why it is an assumption that is not just factually wrong but a faith-based belief that empowers ongoing and pernicious discrimination. The religious are not more moral – regardless of piety – and morality is not a product of religious belief.

      • Whenever I read yet another false statement like the one Heather asserts and consider the motivation behind it, I feel obligated to point out why it is an assumption that is not just factually wrong but a faith-based belief that empowers ongoing and pernicious discrimination….The religious are not more moral – regardless of piety – and morality is not a product of religious belief.

        My comment was not intended to suggest that only religious people have a sense of what is right and wrong.
        The point of the excerpt which you quoted was that being “religious” doesn’t necessarily guarantee that one will grasp the truth about what the Bible is saying.

        The mistake to which I referred is for people to read the Old Testament thinking it is mainly about how to be moral.

        • Heather, thank you for the clarification.

          I did not intend to suggest that you thought only religious people have a sense of what is right or wrong.
          My point was that the mistake you speak of occurs whenever anyone presumes that the Pentateuch, OT, or the NT (or any religious text, for that matter) speaks from a justified moral base; rather, they speak to our moral base – a base that indisputably precedes any religious belief and any later interpretation of and changes to that base in the name of divine morality. The false belief linking morality to be derived from religious texts is a root source of the incorrect and widespread belief that morality in some way depends on believing in gods. Unquestionably, there is a moral bias against those who do not believe in any gods and maintained in spite of compelling contrary evidence.

    • Hi there Heather,
      Thanks so much for visiting and I welcome your perspective. I tend to often overlook the fact that the OT points to Jesus in this sense (mostly because it sometimes seems to me that much of the NT could have been made up purely prove that segments of the OT were true).
      (I will dedicate myself to reading this thread later today- I have a few sick children so I’m not having much computer time right now- don’t think I’m ignoring you 🙂 )

  20. My point was that the mistake you speak of occurs whenever anyone presumes that the Pentateuch, OT, or the NT (or any religious text, for that matter) speaks from a justified moral base; rather, they speak to our moral base – a base that indisputably precedes any religious belief and any later interpretation of and changes to that base in the name of divine morality.
    .

    I agree with you, to a point, although I’m relatively sure we subscribe to differing perspectives on where humans have gotten this moral base.
    The Bible teaches that man was created in God’s image–this would imply that we have an inherent ability to appreciate what is good, true and helpful to others. And, I suppose you are familiar with the Genesis 3 account of man’s “fall”, via an attempt to gain knowledge apart from dependence on his Creator. I have no problem accepting that all who are alive today have descended from the original couple, So I believe that, religious or no, most people do have some sense of what beneficial morality looks like.

    The false belief linking morality to be derived from religious texts is a root source of the incorrect and widespread belief that morality in some way depends on believing in gods. Unquestionably, there is a moral bias against those who do not believe in any gods and maintained in spite of compelling contrary evidence

    Morality does not depend on belief in God. Eternal destiny does, though. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day assumed that if they followed the rules well enough, apart from belief in the promised Savior, they would be able to prove they were worthy of eternal life.

    Of course, to those who do not believe in God at all, the point about needing salvation in the first place will likely sound like nonsense.

    • My concern is with ongoing bias and discrimination against non believers in matter of morality. That this exists to effect is well established. The evidence, however, is compelling that belief in god is irrelevant to one’s moral behaviour; believers come at their scripture fully armed with the same moral compass atheists have and they pick and choose which bits of scripture agrees with it and which bits do not. The mistake that empowers the discrimination is for believers to attribute that their moral compass must be somehow superior or more insightful because of their belief in their god. This is not accurate and is not borne out in studies.

      Now, you seem unwilling to face the root of this discrimination by obscuring morality inside what you presume is independent of belief in god but still tethered to it (directed towards eternal destiny and eternal life you say – neither of which has any basis of evidence from this world but which is obtainable as a matter of your faith only by following certain prescriptive rules and codes of conduct that eventually come to rest on a belief in your god).

      This sharing of a moral compass (susceptible to social changes over time) you attribute to a founding couple. This assumption stands contrary to compelling genetic evidence that you and I possess DNA that does not go back to a single couple. Your belief in this matter attempts to alter reality yet you base your moral understanding on this discredited idea… that we share a ‘fallen’ morality because we share a common ancestor called Adam, and so both of us are in need of redemption. You are willing; I am not. And for that unwillingness to believe in historical events that probably never happened and interventionist divine agencies for which there is no evidence in this world, I cannot see how you could hold me in anything BUT some measure of moral suspicion.

      And so the problem of bias remains… given life and effect not by the behaviour of atheists but by theists… even a ‘liberal’ and ‘reasonable’ theist like yourself who frames a theistic worldview that places me where I do not belong: a person of some questionable moral character. And this bias you empower – not borne out by evidence from this world – really is wholly and fully based only in your mind justified only and wholly by my absence of belief in your god.

      This makes your beliefs about morality – and the role scripture plays in shaping it – immoral because it is biased and prejudicial.

      The question now becomes, what are you going to do so that you are not an agent of promoting bias and discrimination?

  21. This makes your beliefs about morality – and the role scripture plays in shaping it – immoral because it is biased and prejudicial.
    The question now becomes, what are you going to do so that you are not an agent of promoting bias and discrimination?

    As I’ve accused you of nothing except perhaps “non-belief” (which you readily accept), I do not understand how you have extracted from my comments a bias which assumes that I am morally superior to you.
    My view leaves us on equal ground as the Bible unequivocally states that neither of us fully measures up to the perfection that God is.

    The major difference between us is that I believe what it says and you apparently don’t. That’s not discrimination. It’s a statement of fact.

    I have no problem with accepting that I am not the ultimate law-maker, and I also have no problem with accepting that Jesus completely fulfilled the requirements of the Old Covenant and then instructed those who believe in Him to accept His example as the standard by which we need to measure our own motives and conduct. I accept that I need Jesus to mediate on my behalf for the times I fail to fully measure up to God’s perfection.

    In what way does belief in biblical testimony and the acknowledgment of my own need display an immoral, prejudicial attitude toward you?

    • The mistake to which I referred is for people to read the Old Testament thinking it is mainly about how to be moral.

      Understanding who Jesus is (snip) serves other purposes, too, but only after we can genuinely see Him as the fulfillment of the Genesis 3 promise of God to fix the mess with which Adam is credited do any of the moral instructions about behavior begin to make sense.

      Adam’s ‘mess’ was to perform the first sin, n’est pas (and then blame Eve, of course!)?

      This belief (and not merely the Pentateuch) is a mistake because it suggests that only by first accepting that we have inherited this ‘sin’ can we then make corrections and receive moral instructions. The EFFECT of this belief is to hold those who refuse to ‘receive’ such instructions to be morally suspect. And reality bears this out.

      The moral suspicion does not come from the behaviour of atheists; it comes from this suspicion empowered only by believers. This kind of thinking (by way of attributing behaviours to groups of people) is discriminatory. Hidden behind your words of some self-questioning need for moral learning is the assumption that people who do not share your self-questioning need satisfied by religious inquiry (seeking moral guidance by reading scripture, for example) are worthy of moral suspicion. Your beliefs in Adam make no sense otherwise… if you think people can be and are morally sound if your beliefs are factually wrong.

      • tildeb wrote: “Adam’s ‘mess’ was to perform the first sin, n’est pas (and then blame Eve, of course!)?” [Gee, I wish knew how to format text in this space. Anyone?]

        Old joke: Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the snake; the snake didn’t have a leg to stand on.

        The Original Sin argument based on Genesis 2 is entirely dependent upon one reading of the text, but that reading is *not* universally accepted – either by Christians or by Jews, both of whom include the story in their canon of scripture. There are other far more liberating interpretations of the story of the garden of Eden. For example, Lyn Bechtel – a Christian biblical scholar – and Harold Kushner (Jewish rabbi, and author of “When bad things happen to good people”) both read this as a tale of human development. For them, and for me, this is about growing up, about moving from a state of childish ignorance (knowing neither good nor evil) to adulthood, in which we understand what it means to be broken. The story in Genesis ends with humans being sent out into the world as independent people, to assume the responsibilities of adulthood: simplistically, childbirth and labour.

        Interestingly, it’s only Christians who work with the concept of “original sin”; Jews do not, and yet it is their story even more than ours. I’m also fascinated by the idea (I can’t swear to the veracity of this) that Jews don’t identify eating the fruit as the first sin; instead they point far more realistically to Cain murdering Abel.

        But my arguments here depend upon my approach to the bible. I can no longer read the text assuming that “Because it says so, it must be so”. Reading the text *always* is an exercise in interpretation. And most of our interpretations are carried out on the basis of our existing prejudices. (I think tildeb has a lot of useful things to say about this.)

        Quoting the well known and revered anonymous:
        The bible is *not* the public answers to our private questions.
        The bible is the public question to our private answers.

        • As a myth, the Genesis story contains much symbolism of human themes. That’s means its perfectly readable and understandable on its own. What always astounds me is that so many Christians seem to have no problem assigning to an ancient myth meanings for the symbols it contains that are much more recent in order to ‘interpret’ it. That makes no sense. To then compound the error, these Christians then use this massively distorted understanding to then explain the need for the myth to become ‘historical’ in order to justify a recent historical event and then impose an imaginary ‘heritable’ trait to link the two! Talk about the cart before he horse…

          I read the myth much as you do. It speaks to me about the cost to innocence of becoming aware of moral considerations and, if I am to be an autonomous moral agent, having to then accept life on its terms. As you say, growing up and leaving home. It’s deeply ironic to me that the myth is ‘interpreted’ to mean the opposite, to pine for rejoining the dysfunctional parental dependency and viewing autonomous and responsible life as nothing but a vale of tears, ongoing pain and suffering, and an acceptance that autonomy is a broken ‘nature’ in need of later redemption through death… everything leading away from living a full and meaningful life post childhood and towards childish submission to gaining the treat… eternal ‘life’ only by rejecting the knowledge of good and evil, rejecting the knowledge of life, and embracing death! One might think such an interpretation should be rejected by more people. Alas…

          Regarding your last two sentences, I use something similar to reveal the stark difference between using the methods of faith and science, namely:

          the method of faith is decision-based evidence-making whereas
          the method of science is evidence-based decision-making.

          We can see this in action with Heather who decides FIRST that Adam was real and the later meanings can be applied to the symbols of an earlier myth (the decision-making), leading her to then ‘justify’ the need for a redemptive historical blood sacrifice for all (the evidence-making bit).

          We know through population genetics that we do not descend from a single couple. We know that humans evolved and that moral behaviours are linked to that part of biology (in many species other than our own) that involves the recognition of fairness and unfairness (evidence-based). We decide that the story of Adam cannot be an historical event and so we understand that an interpretation that relies on this being such is clearly self-refuting (decision-making).

          And I think that recognizing that fundamental difference IN METHOD is a key insight into why religious belief (and other beliefs equivalently based) is deserving of sustained and justifiable criticism. And the major clue is that using the method of faith has not, does not, and will never produce knowledge. Faith-based methodology and the conclusions drawn from its use are not ‘another kind’ of knowledge at all but its absence… fundamentally incompatible with a method that does produce knowledge. When incompatible claims using these two methods are made about reality – such as claims for and against the historicity of the Genesis creation story – a reasonable person should recognize that only one answer can be correct… hence the evidence for incompatibility in methods.

          When a faith-based claim is contrary to and in conflict with and evidence-based understanding, it must be considered as an unjustified belief. Empowering unjustified belief with a moral respect I think is the height of folly and a guaranteed way to fool ourselves into believing stuff (especially about others) that simply isn’t true. When we don’t respect reality and what’s true about it more than the unjustified beliefs we impose on it, I think we invite harmful and ongoing dysfunction and grant it permission to cause ill-effect. As responsible moral agents, we can do so much better!

  22. Adam’s ‘mess’ was to perform the first sin, n’est pas (and then blame Eve, of course!)?

    Adam’s sin was to ignore a direct warning and then partake of the “fruit” which supposedly would allow him to experience independence from his Maker. God is our source of life. Death is the result of Adam’s choice to separate himself from this life. Resurrection from death is the ultimate reversal which only God can achieve.

    This belief (and not merely the Pentateuch) is a mistake because it suggests that only by first accepting that we have inherited this ‘sin’ can we then make corrections and receive moral instructions.

    We inherited the consequences, yes. Everyone dies physically, and we all, at times, do things which fall outside of the Biblical framework of moral excellence. It is evidence of the need for spiritual revival and continual guidance.

    Hidden behind your words of some self-questioning need for moral learning is the assumption that people who do not share your self-questioning need satisfied by religious inquiry (seeking moral guidance by reading scripture, for example) are worthy of moral suspicion.

    No hidden agenda. I openly admitted that we are all worthy of moral suspicion.

    Your beliefs in Adam make no sense otherwise… if you think people can be and are morally sound if your beliefs are factually wrong.

    My belief in Adam encompasses more than just whether anyone other than Christians can exercise a form of moral behavior. Also, please note that I did not say any of us is morally sound.
    I said that I can accept that most people do have some sense of what beneficial morality looks like–even if they ignore the existence of God. This is not a “liberal” interpretation, it is in alignment with the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the early Roman church.

    This kind of thinking (by way of attributing behaviours to groups of people) is discriminatory.

    We are likely to be in agreement that abusing or mocking someone with whom we disagree is wrong . But we all “discriminate” on some level. Acceptance of one idea as true automatically results in the rejection of opposing views. For instance, non-believers who agree with your opinion must discriminate against Christians as a group.

    My reason for commenting was not to enter into debate with non-Christians. The original question appeared to be legitimate and I was offering a thought on how one’s primary focus can alter one’s interpretation of Scripture.

  23. tildeb,
    I don’t have any idea where you’ve gotten your ideas about Christianity, and really do not understand how my simple remark about Jesus pointing listeners to Himself as the central focus of the OT managed to get you so upset.
    You misinterpreted my original comment and have made several generalized statements about how people of faith have a secret, hateful bias with regard to the morality of non-believers…most of these statements are not based on what I’ve said, but on underlying prejudicial assumptions you’ve forwarded. Yet, based on the motives which you assigned to my expression of faith, you appear to deem it reasonable to charge me with the need to somehow change my way of thinking?

    the method of faith is decision-based evidence-making whereas
    the method of science is evidence-based decision-making.

    The question of the origin of life is not a matter of scientific evidence at all. It takes a substantial measure of faith in human reason to be able to work backward from what we now see, interpret archeological evidence, and accept the Big Bang, everything-we-see-eventually-morphed-from-“nothing”-based theory of evolution. It makes perfect sense that someone whose informing worldview excludes the existence of a Creator would decide to opt for this alternative.

    It’s not a bit less rational to accept that a pre-existent, personal Deity created in an orderly fashion what we see in time and space–and did so for a purpose that extends beyond this life as we know it. It’s also not inconsistent to believe that the One who created time and space is Master over it and is not obligated to explain Himself to those who stand in defiance against Him. He certainly could have arranged for the DNA record to appear contradictory to those who insist that the intricacies of nature, the inspired Word of Scripture and visible manifestation of Himself as man isn’t enough evidence for His existence.

    We can see this in action with Heather who decides FIRST that Adam was real and the later meanings can be applied to the symbols of an earlier myth (the decision-making), leading her to then ‘justify’ the need for a redemptive historical blood sacrifice for all (the evidence-making bit).

    I didn’t decide that Adam was a real man. The Apostle Paul spoke of him as such in two different letters. I believe that he spoke the truth as informed by the Holy Spirit.

    When we don’t respect reality and what’s true about it more than the unjustified beliefs we impose on it, I think we invite harmful and ongoing dysfunction and grant it permission to cause ill-effect. As responsible moral agents, we can do so much better!

    Agreed.

    • Heather, I’m not angry at you; I recognize a problem of moral discrimination against atheists and point out that that problem can and should be addressed by those who empower it. I quoted you to show that your beliefs are part of this problem even though I’m sure you’re a very nice person with the best of intentions (as I’m sure most believers are). I then explained why you need to do your part to address the problem.

      Not for a moment have you shown any willingness to question your beliefs that continue to cause this ongoing problem of belief about divinely sanctioned morals and morality that empowers this very real, very harmful, discrimination because (primarily) you continue to think that there isn’t problem from your side of this moral divide, the side that continues to mistakenly suggest that your preferred scripture is a justified moral authority. It isn’t (and certainly not cohesive); it is believed to be so based on factually incorrect assumptions (like we descend from an original couple and therefore inherit our need for moral redemption through submission to faith).

      The individual solution to this widespread discriminatory problem does not lie with me (all I can do is point it out when it occurs); it must begin and be corrected by each believer or religious belief in moral authority will continue to remain a significant root problem that enables this harmful and ubiquitous discrimination.

  24. I appreciate that you do not believe you are angry at me personally.

    Not for a moment have you shown any willingness to question your beliefs that continue to cause this ongoing problem of belief about divinely sanctioned morals and morality that empowers this very real, very harmful, discrimination because (primarily) you continue to think that there isn’t problem from your side of this moral divide, the side that continues to mistakenly suggest that your preferred scripture is a justified moral authority.

    I am continually examining my beliefs.

    “My” side is not dependent upon my personal preference. I simply have agreed with what I see in the scripture that you choose to reject as authoritative. In effect, I’ve taken God’s side. It is not really with me (or other believers) that you take issue.

    The individual solution to this widespread discriminatory problem does not lie with me (all I can do is point it out when it occurs); it must begin and be corrected by each believer or religious belief in moral authority will continue to remain a significant root problem that enables this harmful and ubiquitous discrimination.

    Here’s our discussion, in a nutshell:
    ~ Discrimination is, in your view, harmful. Atheists feel discriminated against by Christians who agree with the biblical text that we all answer to a higher authority.
    ~Through your example, you have demonstrated that it’s actually okay for atheists to discriminate against Christians (no matter how “nice” we may be) for your own purposes.
    ~ In order to ease your suspicion that we are suspicious of you, and correct the “error” of trusting God, we are expected to make some sort of change in the way we think?, speak? or act.
    ~The course of action you have outlined is for Christians to re-examine our faith and come to the conclusion that it is ( in your estimation) unreasonable and harmful. On some level, this adjustment will need to align our beliefs with yours in order to end the alleged moral discrimination.

    The only acceptable option you’ve left for individual believers is to deny what we know to be true about God because uncomfortable atheists, who neither understand nor accept it, disagree with us.
    You are expecting Christians to lie to ourselves and others in order to avoid conflict with non-believers.

    Even if I left accountability to God out of the equation, it isn’t possible to follow the prescribed solution and maintain personal moral integrity before other people.

    • Heather, you can comprehend better than this. Your ‘nutshell’ is egregiously wrong in every premise you raise to justify your conclusion.

      Firstly, it is not simply a matter of my opinion that such discrimination is constantly exercised by those who osculate the rump of faith and allow it to be privileged; I included a link to demonstrate just how widespread it is (remember the moral suspicion equivalent to what is offered to convicted rapists?). Why does this moral placement exist in the minds of so many when it not based on the behaviour of atheists? On what is it based? Answer THAT question honestly (my answer is that we atheists really are vilified – and held in moral suspicion – for not respecting the moral authority you grant to your interpretation of your scripture, which was the original point raised in the OP) and I think we’ll be back on the same page.

      You do support the moral discrimination against atheists (who, you are convinced, neither understand nor accept what you presume to know to be true about God) solely on the basis of your faith-based beliefs.

      Consider:

      If I did that to you and vilified all women named Heather’ on the basis of some book I interpreted to be above moral reproach that vilified women named Heather, I think you would have a pretty strong case that my beliefs about the name (due to my beliefs about the moral authority of my book) did not justify and excuse thinking poorly of your moral character. You might even grow annoyed if many people agreed with my beliefs interpreted from my book and held you in moral suspicion on this basis. You might even dare suggest that I revisit my beliefs on which this moral suspicion is built… especially if you can demonstrate that the book contains factual errors that are used to justify vilifying anyone named Heather!

  25. I did look at the scientific link you shared. It is interesting to note that the observation with regard to moral behavior does not contradict Biblical testimony. From a strictly human perspective, we all are able to engage in either beneficial or harmful behaviors. We each have a conscience which either justifies or condemns our chosen behaviors.

    Additionally, we all “discriminate” in the purest sense of the word. It’s what we do when we choose a red shirt over a blue one or prefer vanilla ice cream to chocolate, or decide to share a personal possession with someone who obviously needs it more. This ability to differentiate one thing from another is not inherently evil. In fact, my older Webster’s dictionary doesn’t even have a listing for the modern application of “noting a difference with malicious intent”.

    What you appear to object to is a seemingly unfair presumption that one who stands outside of an established, professed faith in a Deity must, by necessity, be less morally developed than one who spends time studying writings that are regarded as being inspired from outside of human experience.

    You do support the moral discrimination against atheists (who, you are convinced, neither understand nor accept what you presume to know to be true about God) solely on the basis of your faith-based beliefs.

    I support the recognition that every last one of us is capable of impressive acts of humanitarianism and of unspeakable crimes against our fellow man. Apart from the restraining activity of God’s Spirit, there would likely be far more destructive activity than we would care to imagine.

    Your ‘nutshell’ is egregiously wrong in every premise you raise to justify your conclusion.

    I was offering to move the discussion away from a peripheral complaint and into the core issue of underlying worldview which informs an individual’s “inherent” sense of morality. Once the root issue is identified, it’s not too difficult to see that the only solution to the perceived moral discrimination is either for you to change your mind about the foolishness of faith or for believers to abandon our faith in spite of what we understand to be true.

    If you don’t wish to walk that path, that’s fine.

    • Apart from the restraining activity of God’s Spirit, there would likely be far more destructive activity than we would care to imagine.

      Again, the presumption you make here stands contrary to what’s true:

      “Data correlations show that in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly.” (source)

      Again, the presumption you makes is firmly rooted in your faith-based belief, which is then imposed on reality as if true. This is the method you are using to presume that your scriptural authority is warranted. Your belief is not sufficient to do this task… especially when I demonstrate time and again that it is factually wrong. Why do you continue to go back to the well, so to speak, when you know it is unreliable and misleading? The Bible is not a moral authority on merit. That’s not my opinion; that is demonstrable.

      If you wish to maintain a moral position about specific issues and conditions and events and actions, then why not use good reasons that do have merit independent of your faith-based beliefs? Why is the spirit of this suggestion so threatening to your faith… unless your faith is built on the presumptions themselves?

  26. Your source also states:
    This is not an attempt to present a definitive study that establishes cause versus effect between religiosity, secularism and societal health
    …meaning, that the paper is to be considered to be a speculative, preliminary overview rather than conclusive evidence about anything.

    Ignorance or denial of the activity of God in a society doesn’t mean He isn’t involved. His ability to act doesn’t depend upon our belief in Him.

    the presumption you makes is firmly rooted in your faith-based belief, which is then imposed on reality as if true.

    As you also are doing via your faith that God doesn’t exist.

    when you know it is unreliable and misleading? The Bible is not a moral authority on merit.

    I don’t know that the Bible is unreliable and misleading. I have found it to be quite reliable with regard to its primary purpose. The fact that it happens to address human morality is helpful as well.

    If you wish to maintain a moral position about specific issues and conditions and events and actions, then why not use good reasons that do have merit independent of your faith-based beliefs?

    Good reasons are useless if they have no solid foundation upon which to rest. Apart from externally-sourced information, who is allowed to determine what is good? You? Me? The biggest bully on the block?
    Human intellect alone is unreliable. People are fickle and change their minds…Differences in experience or emotions or levels of knowledge will alter opinions about what is “true”. Personal selfishness will cloud people’s perspective about what is “fair”.

    Why is the spirit of this suggestion so threatening to your faith… unless your faith is built on the presumptions themselves?

    I believe your suggestion is ill-advised, but it doesn’t threaten my faith.

    We don’t seem to be going anywhere with this, so I’m going to step off the bus.

    • The correlation is all that is needed to demonstrate your presumption wrong: a lack of belief does not correlate as you suggest to support the need for your god on ‘restraint’ on destructive activity. To suggest that there is a correlation between people acting immorally without this restraint is factually wrong. And that’s my point: your beliefs – in this case about morality – are not sufficiently ‘grounded’ by your confidence in biblical authority but misled by the trust you are willing to grant to your faith-based beliefs without consulting reality. And those who pay the price for your misplaced confidence are people who deserve no such burden, namely, atheists. They are as moral if not more so (for being autonomous, rather than dependent, moral agents and accepting responsibility for it) than any believer in god. Your presumptions contrary to this fact (as I’ve demonstrated they are) are your own as are your presumptions that people need a god to ground their morality. As I’ve also pointed out, moral behaviour is observable in many species, indicating it is a biological and not ‘spiritual’ phenomena. And that means gaining a better understanding of its root source will not come from scripture or divine revelation but from the field of biology. Religious belief in the matter of morality is nothing but a diversion into trusting one’s own presumptions that are then held in protection from realty’s arbitration of them. This is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self and conflate ignorance with piousness.

  27. Hi Heather, Tildeb,

    I have read your discussion with interest, and don’t wish to interrupt. But I thought a review of the evidence for one claim might be helpful.

    Tildeb, you quoted Hofmann et al to conclude: “Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts.” and Gregory Paul’s 2005 paper as evidence of “in almost all regards the highly secular democracies consistently enjoy low rates of societal dysfunction, while pro-religious and anti-evolution America performs poorly”

    If you look more widely than these two papers, you find that the picture is not nearly as simple as these comments might suggest.

    1. On a personal level: Hofmann et al’s paper does indeed indicate that religious and irreligious people committed a similar amount of moral and immoral acts – according to the way these are defined and measured in the study. But many other studies, perhaps using different methodologies, found differently. I could give many examples if you wish, but a good summary is Lilienfeld and Ammirati’s review of a raft of studies showing: “negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behaviour”.

    2. On a national level: As Heather has pointed out, the G Paul paper makes clear it is very preliminary, and its methodology shows it doesn’t calculate statistics and is therefore not very precise. It is no surprise then that it has been much criticised for poor methodology, including by several respondents in the same journal and by the Gallup organisation (you just need to google the paper to find all this). As well as being poor statistically, it was selective in its choice of countries and measures of societal health – different choices can give opposite results! These reviews say the study’s conclusions are biased and worthless. And again, other studies I can reference if you like give opposite conclusions to Paul.

    So it seems that if we take the full range of papers into account, the evidence is very varied, depending on what is measured and how and where. Different measures give different results as you’d expect in such a complex question (see e.g. Bloom’s work). But overall, it seems there is mild research support for Heather’s statement and mild research opposition to Tildeb’s statements. Many things we can say about this must be less than definite.

    I don’t wish to comment on any of the other matters you two are discussing – I don’t suppose I totally agree with either of you – but I hope this comment is helpful. Thanks.

  28. Hi Heather

    No, I don’t intend entering the discussion myself, my only purpose was to bring a more complete perspective to the references on religiosity and morality. But thanks for your response.

    Hi Tildeb

    The Jerry Coyne link shows that religiosity correlates negatively with some measures of wellbeing. That is a well established trend, but the causal effect appears to be the opposite of what you are suggesting – i.e. wealthier countries are less religious and have higher levels or happiness (but also higher levels of suicide!). So it appears to have little to do with religion being a cause – it is more of a response. Read more here.

    But this is a very different thing than what you were saying about morality, and therefore not highly relevant to the G Paul paper. The fact remains that the vast majority of papers are either opposite to the one paper you referenced or are neutral on the subject. I hoped you would want to know that. Again, I can give you more references than just the Lilienfeld and Ammirati summary paper if you want.

    Thanks to both of you.

    • The fact remains that the vast majority of papers are either opposite to the one paper you referenced or are neutral on the subject

      No. You’re absolutely and unequivocally wrong. The correlational data is indisputable: one only needs to look at all kinds of societal dysfunction between nations, between states, even between municipalities to see the correlation hold, namely, the higher the rate of religiosity, the higher the aggregate rate of dysfunction. Yes, some specific measurements are a positive correlate and I’m not trying to suggest that religiosity CAUSES societal dysfunction. I think income inequity is a more profound correlate, which just so happens to correlate beautifully with rates of religiosity!

      Again, my point here is that this aggregate rate is not dismissible as you are trying to do here by suggesting causation is wrong. It is beyond doubt that the correlate should not exist AT ALL if the original claim about morality linked to religious belief in god were true. It’s not. And the aggregate data demonstrates a correlation that falsifies the claim.

      Also, to understand morality better is not a religious pursuit. Religious pursuit does not produce knowledge. It produces only supportive bias for an a priori belief. That’s why you can dismiss, say, scriptural support for slavery but hold fast to, say, love your enemies. You produce the morality first.

      On this note, here’s a fascinating study that alters moral sensibility but magnetic pulses… demonstrarting that morality is physical process. The experiment begins somewhere around the 35-36 minute mark and ends around the 39 minute mark.

  29. tildeb,
    Although I cannot move forward with you in this discussion, I need to step back before I go.

    My original comment pointed to Jesus’ words about the main purpose of the Old Testament. He is the visible, tangible manifestation of the eternally existent, invisible and transcendent Creator. His appearance was promised in Genesis 3 and is repeatedly referenced throughout the OT.
    The NT Gospels are eyewitness accounts which testify to the veracity of the OT prophecies.
    We have been given evidence for the existence of God in not only the intricacies of nature and human capabilities, but also in the testimony of the written Scriptures and in the physical presence of God as Man within the limits of time and space.

    We have been given the option to believe or reject the evidence.

    I cannot speak for other Christians, but when I read my Bible, it is with the foremost intention of having a better understanding of who Jesus is and how I can relate to Him and to the people around me.
    I’m not interested in cherry picking my way through a behavioral checklist in order to inflate my ego with an imagined sense of moral superiority.

    a lack of belief does not correlate as you suggest to support the need for your god on ‘restraint’ on destructive activity.

    The matter is not contingent upon belief. God doesn’t need our acknowledgment to enable Him to allow or restrain human activity.

    As I trace your moral concern to it’s source, I must accept the incompatibility of Christian and atheistic worldviews. The two beliefs cannot coexist as equals, so one of us is wrong. And neither of us has come to this conclusion.

    It is due to this discrepancy that we are unable to progress further on the subject of how to “fix” the problem of moral suspicion.

    However, I sincerely hope that one day, you also will be able to see Christ as the primary message of Scripture and we might then be able to discuss many related topics.

  30. Hi Tildeb, I think you are still addressing the question I am not arguing and missing the question I am asking. But let’s cut to the chase.

    You have said, based on 3 papers, that “Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts.” I have said that, whatever the truth may actually be, your quote, your papers and your conclusions don’t follow the current scientific consensus on this matter.

    We cannot demonstrate the current consensus by quoting the odd individual study, because there have been scores (maybe more) studies, and they show a whole range of results (I have bookmarks for maybe a dozen studies that oppose your conclusion and maybe 4 that support it, and I’m sure I could double those numbers with a little googling). So we need to hear what the experts believe is the consensus. Here’s a few quotes:

    1. Lilienfeld and Ammirati (who I quoted previously) are both researchers at Emory University and both self-confessed atheists. They did a wide ranging literature review, reported in the Sceptical Inquirer to find the current consensus, and they said: “more recent studies, as well as meta-analyses (quantitative syntheses) of the literature, have converged on a consistent conclusion: belief in God bears a statistically significant, albeit relatively weak, association with lower levels of criminal and antisocial behavior, including physical aggression toward others”.

    Their final conclusion: “the data consistently point to a negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behavior. Both relations are modest in magnitude and ambiguous with respect to causation. At the same time, they cannot be ignored by partisans on either side of the discussion.”

    2. The Science on Religion blog (and its companion website, both from Boston Uni) regularly report on religion and prosociality. Here are some of the things they say”

    “a large body of research linking religiosity to prosocial behavior”
    “This “religious prosociality hypothesis” claims that religions inspire adaptive, cooperative behavior in their adherents as a matter of course”
    “Religion ….. does actually seem to make people more altruistic and generous.”
    “religiosity ….. correlates with generosity”
    “This study takes a few steps forward in clarifying the popular assumption that religion has a positive influence on social behavior.”
    “plenty of research has shown that religious people do tend to give more to charity and to volunteer more”

    Alongside these comments are also comments that other researchers disagree with all or some aspects of the prosociality hypothesis – thus supporting what I said at the start that the matter is complex.

    3. Many other researchers support the view that the prosociality hypothesis is the current consensus, even while they may personally disagree:

    “Many of the links of religiousness with health, well-being, and social behavior may be due to religion’s influences on self-control or self-regulation.” (Psychological Bulletin)
    “Numerous authors have suggested that religious belief has a positive association, possibly causal, with prosocial behavior. This article critiques evidence regarding this “religious prosociality” hypothesis” (a href=”http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/138/5/876/”>Psychological Bulletin)
    “Recent studies have found that activating religious cognition by priming techniques can enhance prosocial behavior, arguably because religious concepts carry prosocial associations.” (Preston & Ritter)

    4. Ara Norenzayan of the University of British Columbia is one of the most eminent academics in the field. A 2008 paper The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality said “Although sociological surveys reveal an association between self-reports of religiosity and prosociality, experiments measuring religiosity and actual prosocial behavior suggest that ….. [explaining why they think this occurs] “

    A report of his study summarised: “Believing in God makes people nicer, a major study has concluded. …. Published research into the links between religion and ‘pro-social’ behaviour showed that religious and spiritual thoughts reduced rates of cheating in games and increased trust between strangers. …. Repeated studies have shown that those who frequently pray and attend religious services report more charitable donations and volunteer work, they said.”

    But Norenzayan also said in a 2014 paper Does religion make people moral? that “mechanisms found in religions encourage prosociality towards strangers, and in that regard, religions have come to influence moral behavior …. [but] religion is not necessary for morality” So again we can see the complex nature of the evidence.

    So I’m wondering if you accept these references as showing, as I said originally, that there is evidence either way on the question of whether religious leads individuals to behave better, but there is mild support for the proposition.

    Perhaps now you could share the evidence that you say supports your view?

    • unkleE, Heather made two very common yet indisputably incorrect claims:

      1) that god is somehow responsible for morality and reveals it through scripture, and
      2) without that understanding and acceptance, immoral behaviour increases (I’m paraphrasing).

      If these claims were true, then reality should provided ample, compelling, and convincing evidence no matter where we look.

      Does it?

      No. It doesn’t.

      In fact, reality provides us ample, compelling, and convincing evidence that increased religiosity is often correlated to increased societal dysfunction. We find this evidence from the macro to the micro, from significantly higher levels of societal function where religiosity is lowest (and it shouldn’t be if the claims were true) to, at the very least, equivalent moral behaviour by believers and non believers alike (and it shouldn’t be if the claims were true).

      What you are doing is a diversion. You are coming up with specific studies on specific behaviours and using only those that show a (slightly) positive correlation without considering that both claims are factually wrong because the evidence that is ample, compelling, and convincing is missing where it should be plentiful. You’re not considering the absence of such evidence to be important. By doing this, you cannot recognize that the only (reasonable) conclusion that both claims are demonstrably wrong… not by opinion, but by a gaping chasm between the claims and what reality demonstrates.

      You’re spending time and effort to introduce studies that question and find wanting claims of negative causation between religion and negative effects. This leads us away from considering the fact of established correlation.

      You then pretend that the correlation is simply my opinion. It’s not. It’s Finland. It’s Japan. It’s Sweden. It’s recognizing the differences in rates of, say, HIV between populations that teach comprehensive sex education (by all means check out PEW rates or NIH rates) and populations that don’t (state by state comparisons, board by board comparisons, country to country comparisons) but note that those populations that don’t offer this education also happen to have higher rates of religiosity. This means that religiosity does not (and contrary to Heather’s claims) suppress negative effects.

      This holds true for teen pregnancies, incarceration rates, aggravated assault and murder, drug use, and many other areas indicative of dysfunction. That the sleight positive correlation in charitable giving or longevity of marriage does not explain the absence of what we find should be overwhelming evidence of higher moral behaviour and lower social dysfunction rates where populations are the most religious if the claims were true!

      This is the essential point.

      But we simply do not find ample, compelling, and convincing evidence in support of the claims that should be easily producible of they were, in fact, true. And that’s the point that irrefutably counters Heather’s claims and shows them to be factually incorrect.

      Morality is grounded in biology and co-opted by religion to bolster it’s advertized need. Because morality is biologically grounded, immorality is neither correlated to a lack of belief in god nor a lack of respect for scripture. In fact, reality provides us ample, compelling, and convincing evidence of quite the opposite and this should impel you to try to figure out why this is the case in many areas of social and personal moral behaviour rather than try to dismiss the incompatibility of realty’s arbitration of the claims with irrelevant diversions.

  31. Hi Tildeb

    1. I said I wasn’t interested in getting involved in the disagreement between you and Heather – I was only pointing out what expert scientific studies have found. Most of what you say here relates to your opinions and you don’t reference any studies.

    2. I referenced a bunch of studies and experts that concluded differently from your conclusions from the 3 studies that you referenced. You haven’t commented on those studies or offered any reason to disregard those studies and those experts.

    3. As I pointed out last time, your original comment, and my original response, was about whether christian people are more moral or prosocial, on average, than non-believers. Most of what you are saying now relates to how different countries behave. These are very different things. The question isn’t whether the entire country of Sweden is, on average, more prosocial than the entire country of the USA, but whether christians in Sweden are more prosocial than non-believers in Sweden, and whether christians in the USA are more prosocial than non-believers in the USA – and that is what the studies I referenced address.

    I think I have presented the evidence as I said I would. I think I’ll leave it at that thanks.

    • You have not presented ‘the’ evidence related to Heather’s two basic claims. In fact you have failed spectacularly to honestly report what the authors of the meta-studies paper say in specific regards to these claims, namely, “Does one need religion to be moral?” The correlational data permit as close to a definitive answer as one can probably achieve in social science: No.

      That is ‘the’ evidence related to this comment thread, evidence that you simply fail to register as pertinent. Why might that be, I wonder?

  32. Hi Tildeb, you are perfectly right – I have NOT presented evidence related to anything Heather said.

    I have consistently and multiple times said I wasn’t interested in commenting on either of your arguments.

    What I have said multiple times is that the statement you made interpreting the evidence (““Religious and nonreligious participants did not differ in the likelihood or quality of committed moral and immoral acts.””) misrepresents the totality of the evidence.

    Are you willing to discuss that in the light of the references I gave, or do you prefer not to?

    • unkleE, you have made repeated references to me misrepresenting the ‘totality’ of the evidence I introduced to show negative correlation where pronounced positive correlation should be present if the foundational claims that drive blatant discrimination against atheists (on moral grounds) were true. That was point of the evidence I introduced, evidence that clearly and succinctly demonstrates that the claims are NOT grounded in reality.

      Your interest is to misrepresent this obvious lack of correlating evidence to support the discrimination in a sneaky way, by suggesting that the negative correlates are questionable by methodology and may, in fact, be positive correlates with better methodology. It’s no wonder you dismiss the aggregate evidence (countries with lower rates of religiosity still seem to produce moral populations) as well as the state by state evidence (the higher the religiosity in US states, the higher the rate of societal dysfunction in many – not all – key areas) in your quest to misrepresent and divert the point I was making, that the claims used to discriminate against atheists on moral grounds are not based on ample, compelling, and convincing evidence whatsoever. The claims that are widely believed to be true are, in fact, false.

      Your minor quibbles about sleight differences in specific correlations based on pointing out questionable methodology in some study cases don’t address this fundamental issue of unwarranted and unjustified discrimination, which is the theme I addressed in my comments and which are not by any stretch of the truth a ‘misrepresentation of the evidence’.

      • Hi Tildeb,

        I asked you if you were willing to discuss the references I provided from a whole raft of experts, which didn’t support a statement you made. You are obviously not willing to discuss that, so I won’t press the issue any further.

        I have made it clear over and over again that I was only seeking to correct that one statement and others along the same lines, not make a comment on anything else you and Heather were discussing. Yet somehow, instead of interacting with the conclusions of the experts (surely a necessary step before forming an opinion), you are now accusing me of wanting to “support the discrimination in a sneaky way”.

        That accusation is quite objectionable, unjustified and wrong.

        I think I have made my point and I will leave the matter there. Best wishes.

  33. @ unkleE
    But Norenzayan also said in a 2014 paper Does religion make people moral? that “mechanisms found in religions encourage prosociality towards strangers, and in that regard, religions have come to influence moral behavior …. [but] religion is not necessary for morality” So again we can see the complex nature of the evidence.

    I know you don’t wish to directly address the discussion we were having and I respect that. I found this to be interesting, though, as it reflects tildeb’s assertion (and my acknowledgment) that one does not need religion in order to have a sense of morality.

    Yet it also supports my attempt to point out that one’s informing belief about where we get this apparently inherent biological ability directly influences the way we develop it. Whether one subscribes to a specific religious understanding or rejects the concept of God entirely, we all read available evidence through the lens of our particular worldview.

    Perhaps it’s not the evidence itself which is complex, but rather the many potential interpretations of the evidence which complicates our ability to agree on what it means? I’ll have to think on that.

    Thanks for sharing those excerpts.

  34. Hi Heather, thanks for this further comment.

    1. Yes I agree that one doesn’t need religion to have a sense of morality. I quoted Norenzayan on that to show both sides of his views.

    2. I also agree we all read evidence through the lens of our worldview. But if we want to arrive at the truth, we must try to be as objective as possible. So I agree that different interpretations can make things more complex, but the antidote to that is to be very clear on what the evidence actually shows and the consensus of experts – which is what I have tried to do here.

    3. But in this case the evidence is indeed complex. There are many studies with many different conclusions. And the studies are at different levels. Religious people are sometimes more prosocial than non-religious people, sometimes not. Different hypotheses are proposed and tested as to why this is. Different countries exhibit more prosocial behaviour (or less anti-social behaviour) than others, and religion is one factor (and not the main one) among many here (e.g. wealth, type of government, extent of inequality, etc).

    In the end, I think the real question is whether christian belief helps an individual to be a better person, and that question isn’t resolved by any of this data, which averages things out too much – for example, it considers people’s behaviour now, but doesn’t consider what they were like before. To properly test that question, we’d need longitudinal studies of individual people who convert from one belief to another.

    Thanks for your comment.

    • In the end, I think the real question is whether christian belief helps an individual to be a better person, and that question isn’t resolved by any of this data, which averages things out too much

      Indeed. I was rethinking my own approach to this topic and realized I had not taken time to distinguish genuine Christian faith from religion in general. There really is a difference between conversion of a soul and merely agreeing with the tenets of Christianity (or another faith-based tradition) on an intellectual level.

      – for example, it considers people’s behaviour now, but doesn’t consider what they were like before. To properly test that question, we’d need longitudinal studies of individual people who convert from one belief to another.

      Good point. There is certainly experiential evidence for improvement in moral behavior among many who have converted to Christianity from another belief. However, the evidence does tend to play out more convincingly when one is able to personally observe the individual’s overall trajectory of life.

      Again, I appreciate the food for thought.

      • Oh, no! Please don’t go here!!! “Genuine faith”? Who on earth is going to determine what is genuine faith? Genuine faith in what? This is an absolute minefield of judgment and condemnation…

        Hi kingstonjack.

        I meant to respond earlier to your request for help in formatting. If you wish to italicize a quote, place with a small i inside at the beginning of your text. And place with /i inside at the end of the quoted piece. I believe you can also bold a quotation by substituting a b for the i. But don’t quote me on that as I’ve never tried it.

        I respect your concern and did not mean that I think the topic of “genuine faith” is the slam-dunk response to tildeb’s protest with regard to whether religion is necessary in order to be moral. There is always a potential for judgment of others when differences in pretty much anything are noted.

        What I meant is that I should have noted the need to distinguish for myself so I did not get pulled into the debate as it centered on generalized, statistical evidence.
        It’s really not possible to generically assess the value of religious faith as an informant to morals without recognizing the differences amongst the various religions. We could compare the effects of Christianity or Islam vs atheism. Or Catholicism vs protestantism. Or of Buddhism vs Christianity, etc.

        But, due to the unique claims of the Bible (and of Jesus Himself), as to the identity of the man Jesus of Nazareth, we cannot just indiscriminately lump all religion together and dismiss it out of hand as harmful or foolish or whatever.

        It would not offend me for you to say: “I believe it is naive and judgmental for you to believe that the message of the Bible is that Jesus Christ is tangible evidence for the existence of a God we cannot see, touch or hear and that He is the indisputable Savior of a fallen humanity”.
        I’m not interested in debating all of the various understandings of “how” this is possible, but this core observation connects all the branches of the Christian tree and is what makes Christianity, as a whole, different from other religions as well as from atheism. At that point, we would have a substantial focal point which we could discuss in detail.

  35. Hi Heather, just a couple more comments ….

    1. You are right that we need to define terms a little – e.g. “to distinguish genuine Christian faith from religion in general”. Some of the studies do this (although it is impossible to test “genuine faith”). For example, one study concluded Religion makes you prejudiced. God doesn’t.. Other studies distinguish between belief and practice – sometimes it appears to be what we do that shapes us more than what we believe – and sometimes vice versa.

    2. It is worth saying that the scientific study of religion (which is how all these studies are classified) is not the whole story. As a christian, I can accept all this as a description of how human beings ‘work’, but the question of whether God actually exists is not determined one way or the other by these studies. I think christians can learn a lot from these studies about how we are doing and how we can improve.

    Thanks for the interaction.

    • (although it is impossible to test “genuine faith”)….As a christian, I can accept all this as a description of how human beings ‘work’, but the question of whether God actually exists is not determined one way or the other by these studies.

      True.
      The difficulty in the ability to qualify genuine faith is part of the reason I regret having not made an early distinction with regard to the generalized lumping together of religion and of the use of studies as evidence against Christian faith in particular.

      I think christians can learn a lot from these studies about how we are doing and how we can improve.

      A worthwhile consideration.

      • Oh, no! Please don’t go here!!! “Genuine faith”? Who on earth is going to determine what is genuine faith? Genuine faith in what? This is an absolute minefield of judgment and condemnation, with all quarters lining up to pronounce who is “genuine” and who isn’t, without any necessary consensus about what constitutes faith in the first place.

        A committed muslim would argue that genuine faith is inseparable from the quran; a committed atheist will insist that genuine faith is unqualified acceptance of the musings of Hitchins et al; a committed Catholic may require belief in transubstantiation, while a protestant will deny it with their dying breath. Who gets to decide? And don’t tell me god, because the last time I checked my letterbox for the divine set of criteria I came up blank. Should anyone be keen to insist upon the bible as god’s checklist for genuinosity, then may I encourage a return to the original topic of this particular post?

  36. Kingstonjack,

    I apparently hit the wrong “reply” option and my response (October 1, 2014 at 1:13 am )ended up under my initial mention of genuine faith.

  37. Hi all,

    I’ve been following the conversation back and forth here and decided to offer some thoughts. My only problem was that I finished up writing way too much – to post it here in the comments section would be plain rude.

    However, if you’re vaguely interested in my ramblings, you can find them over on my blogspot “Lining up the ducks” at lininguptheducks.wordpress.com . (It was about time I started blogging again anyhow.)

    If you click on my name here it will take you to my other blog, which is not about faith at all, but about superheroes playing table tennis! It’s silly; avoid that one. You have been warned!

Comments are closed.