God and morality

February 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm (absolute goodness, Christianity, God, is religion good or bad for you?, morality, philosophy, suffering)

I guess what I’m thinking is that God doesn’t dictate morality. God may have created us with morality, but certainly did not write the moral code on the back of our hands so we’d know what to do. He wrote it in our hearts perhaps. In other words… gave us the ability to work out how best to live, and it’s up to us whether we do that.

As for what God thinks of our behaviour, or what God wants of us, I’m going with “I don’t know”. 😀 I don’t feel good about thinking that God wants to reward or punish our behaviour like some sort of cosmic adjudicator. The effects of that belief can be so ugly. I’d rather be motivated to do good based on understanding why it’s good and wise and beneficial. And we all say God wants us to question and to understand and not just follow things blindly… so why should I assume God wants any particular behaviour?

If you think that God wants you to behave a certain way, then you will want to know what that way is, and so you will sooner or later construct a moral code out of a set of dubious historical documents supposedly having something to do with God… and follow it to the letter. Even though that makes no sense. Because the fear of hell does that to people.

The thing about grace and mercy is, it takes away the need to please God. I think this is why Christians have a much less elaborate set of rules than some other religions.

And yet, there is still the belief in Christianity that God hates sin and loves righteousness, so sin is still bad, and there is the expectation that a believer will bear good fruit, and there is still the need to struggle against sin – not to earn salvation but presumably to please God… even though this is not supposed to be necessary. Which can lead to some of those ugly effects again: guilt, shame, hiding, denial, dishonesty, keeping up appearances, shallow moral thinking…

What would it be like if we didn’t believe that God was displeased by our wrongdoing? Taking grace even further so that not only is sin forgiven (and/or atoned for), but it’s not even offensive to God any more?

People who are very into judgment-based religions would say, all hell would break loose. But there are plenty of atheists with good morals… do we really need to believe that doing bad displeases God? Or can we be good without that motivation? (Does that motivation even help at all? I think we’ve all met immoral religious people…)

Honestly, I don’t know. I think the way I am going to answer that is by studying the really great people of the world and working out what motivated them. I suspect spiritual beliefs have led us to make great insights, but whether it was all motivated by pleasing God I don’t know.

Sin is behaviour which hurts somebody. If God hates sin, why did God create and put us in a world that hurts us (disasters, disease, etc)? And why is it that sometimes things that hurt us seem to do us good? Why is it that the same natural processes give rise to life and take life away? This does not seem like a fallen world. It seems like a world full of paradox. I have a horrible feeling there is no meaning behind it. I want to believe that to God, it is all good, in some way that we can only glimpse at occasionally.

Sometimes I think the world is so amazingly good, and especially humanity. But sometimes it all looks a terrible mess that we’ll never be able to fix. The world is not heaven and it is not hell, but it is both all mixed up together.

Advertisements

19 Comments

  1. Achelois said,

    “What would it be like if we didn’t believe that God was displeased by our wrongdoing?”

    Depends on the sin 😀

    I would expect God to shrug and look away if a Muslim had a glass of wine, but really be displeased if that same Muslim raped a child after drinking. Am I making sense?

    So much to munch on in this post.

    • Wrestling said,

      I would expect God to be horrified by the things we are horrified by, as well. But so many things are making me think God’s value judgments are beyond our value judgments. Beyond our understanding.

      Religion and morality were not always linked… and yet I do feel most inspired to be a good person when I feel most connected to God. It’s interesting.

  2. LK said,

    that last line is great 🙂 And so true

  3. susanne430 said,

    Really interesting post. I don’t know where to start. 🙂 I enjoy hearing your thoughts on these issues so I’m glad you are sharing them with us!

  4. Hala said,

    I have to say that for centuries, religion have been a supporter of moral conduct, because people feared hell and God-punishments if they crossed the red-lines, and because people believed that they are being watched every single minute by God, the most strong motivator to watch one’s actions… Morality is of course not inherent in religion, but religious people claim that morality is motivated and supported first by religion before any other man-made codes… but then morality is a changing concept, what’s morally accepted in religion, like slavery, polygamy, killing infidels, etc.. is not morally accepted by man-made laws or common sense, so I think morality is like religion, a work in process…

  5. Black Sheep said,

    Very interesting post! I think the question isn’t “does it take religion to be a good or moral person” (which I don’t think it does, btw), but “what does being a good and moral person mean”? I think that religiously based morality is such an old concept (perhaps from the first conception of a god), that it is essentially impossible to disconnect the two. Even just in our western civilization, we are so conditioned or inculcated to Judeo-Christian values that we don’t even realize to what extent our society is affected by them. I think that’s where the atheist has a blind spot. He simply isn’t aware of how deeply we’ve internalized these moral teachings as a society, or how they actually came to be considered moral.

    Very interesting to see your thoughts on that one!

  6. aynur said,

    “He wrote it in our hearts perhaps. In other words… gave us the ability to work out how best to live, and it’s up to us whether we do that.”

    Yes, perhaps. And maybe like Black Sheep stated above, the moral teachings have been internalized as part of the socialization process.

    I dunno. For me, I am not going to do something that is considered “good” because I am wanting a reward for it. I’m going to do it because it feels right, and because I want to make someone else happy.

    “If God hates sin, why did God create and put us in a world that hurts us (disasters, disease, etc)? And why is it that sometimes things that hurt us seem to do us good? Why is it that the same natural processes give rise to life and take life away? This does not seem like a fallen world. It seems like a world full of paradox. I have a horrible feeling there is no meaning behind it.”

    Here’s my take on what I’ve thought of so far – that we’re here for our souls to develop. It’s just a stage of us developing, being tested – to see what we can learn here.

  7. Wrestling said,

    Hala – I agree, a work in progress is a good way to describe it! You said “religious people claim that morality is motivated and supported first by religion before any other man-made codes” – it’s true, they certainly do claim that, and I still wonder if some of the best moral thinking has been inspired by spiritual thinking. I’m not sure.

    Black Sheep – true, but maybe the reason these religious moral values were so readily accepted by societies is because they reflect a lot of what we innately know to be right. We will not easily accept a religion that tells us to harm our near and dear ones in some way. The humanist motto is “reason is our map, compassion is our compass” – everything can be worked out from the Golden Rule basically – but would we have arrived at the Golden Rule and other great moral insights without religion and spiritual thinking? I don’t know.

    Aynur – I like to think most of us do good for the same reasons as you. I think that shows as well that it’s possible for us to recognise right and wrong independently of religion, but whether we would bother to even think about it without religion, I don’t know!
    Re suffering caused by natural disasters – I like your take on it, and agree with it. But human sin also causes suffering, which can have the same benefits of allowing us to develop and learn. Does this mean sin is good? If God can cause harm and it can be a good thing, then why would God hate people causing harm? I’ve been chewing on this question for a while…! 😕

    • susanne430 said,

      “We will not easily accept a religion that tells us to harm our near and dear ones in some way.”

      I’d like to think that, but then I read about ancient civilizations that thought it needful to sacrifice their young children to appease the gods. So?

      • Wrestling said,

        That’s why I put in that word “easily”. Belief systems like that never went viral, I guess!

    • Black Sheep said,

      “We will not easily accept a religion that tells us to harm our near and dear ones in some way”

      To piggy-back onto Suzanne’s comment, it’s fairly easy to see how “social evolution” would work in the statement above, but Jesus’ command to “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” isn’t altogether instictive, is it? There are very few, even in these times, who will accept that we should treat those who hate us with love. There is no self-presevation in that. And we see that human nature is to use the rule of reciprocity, kill or be killed, tribalism, etc. THAT has been historically more prevalent.

      • Wrestling said,

        I have to say, the wisdom in that teaching is staggering and not at all intuitive. And like you say, it’s not something our societies have managed to hold onto unfortunately. Great point!

  8. Wrestling said,

    “Harm comes from three possible sources: (1) People inflict it upon themselves, as when a person jay walks across the street and is hit by a car. (2) Other people harm a person, as when a robber attacks a man, takes his money and shoots him. (3) People are harmed by the forces of nature, as when a hurricane, which is good for the earth because it cleanses it, strikes a town, demolishes a house and kills its inhabitants.

    But why did God create a world with forces that are good for the earth as a whole and bad for some humans? This question is based on the assumption that people are God’s prime concern. Once it is realized that God has a higher purpose than people, which we do not know, this last question disappears.”

    From here – I thought this was very interesting.

  9. Anisah said,

    If someone is going to do something “bad” (whether morally or legally bad), they are going to, no matter what religion they follow or claim to follow. Isn’t doing something or not doing something just because god wants you to kind of fake? One of the reasons why I left Islam is because the rituals started feeling empty to me. (Besides realizing that islam wasn’t what I thought it was, but that’s going off on another topic).

    My sister is an atheist and she’s the or one of the most honest people I know. I would trust her with my money, my kids, or anything.

    I know people of every religion, Muslim included that are honest and good people, not just because of going to hell or anything.

    My 2 cents.

    Anisah

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: