Good and Evil- Ex-Christian Monologues
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Hello, I’m Dave, the webmaster of ExChristian.Net and you’re listening to the Ex-Christian Monologues for April 3, 2006.

The topic for this podcast is “Good and Evil.”

What is good and what is evil? Where do we get our definition of good and evil? What is the source of our understanding of morality, and how do we decide what is moral vs. what is immoral?

Christians claim that without the commandments of God, there is no standard to determine good from evil – morality from immorality. Without the Bible, Christians say, everyone would do what was right in their own eyes, meaning there would be moral anarchy. Supposedly, without God’s mind on the subjects of good and evil, Hitler can be considered every bit as moral as Gandhi. Morality apart from God, it is insisted, would be subject to being decided by majority opinion. And, as we all know, majority opinion frequently changes.

Disobeying God’s commands, according to the writer of 1 John, chapter 3, verse 4, is the definition of sin, the definition of evil.

Okay, if disobeying God’s commands defines evil, then suppose God commanded that lying, stealing and murder were now moral obligations? Would lying, stealing and murder then become good? Would the failure to lie, steal, and murder then become sin? Suppose God ordered slaughter, genocide, and bloodshed – would those actions become good and the disobedience of His order be considered evil?

It’s immaterial to this discussion as to whether God would ever, or has ever, ordered lying, stealing, murder, or genocide. The point is, if He ordered these things, would these actions become moral, and would the failure to obey the commands be immoral? If God commanded genocide, would genocide be good? Is genocide, under any circumstances, the right thing to do?

Christians insist that good is defined by what God commands, whereas my premise is that good is defined independently from any god. If there is no definition of good apart from God’s commands, then we have a real problem. How can we be sure that God, or what He commands, is good?

We have to have an idea of what defines “good” before we can point out that quality in God, or decide that God even fits the definition of good. If God is the definition of good, then we have no information on what good means. If God does not answer to any standard, and whatever he does or commands defines good, then the word good, when applied to God, is meaningless. Everything is potentially good, or potentially evil, depending on the whims of God.

To identify “God’s goodness” we need to have some standard outside of God in order to differentiate his goodness from his other attributes. Without some way to segregate his goodness from his other qualities, we might confuse his power, or possibly his omniscience, with his goodness. Example: If I am trying to purchase white paint, I need to know what white means. I need a point of reference, a way to compare between things. Without a prior understanding of the color white, there would be no way for me to identify the correct color – I might come home with blue paint. I think we’d all agree that the word paint does not in any way define the meaning of the word white.

How about this example: If every time you see me, I tell you I am fat, yet each time you see me my weight has fluctuated up or down by 100 or more pounds, then the word fat, when I use it to describe myself, has no meaning. If I weigh 150lbs, or 300lbs, and I always call myself fat, then if I’m on the phone and tell you I’m fat, the word gives you no information. If good has no definition outside of “God’s commands” then the word good has no meaning when used to describe God, because good is whatever God commands, regardless of what those commands might be.
Nearly everyone agrees that genocide, murder, theft, lying, etc. are wrong, but they are either immoral because God says so they are inherently immoral independent of God’s commands. If those things are immoral, independent of God’s commands, then moral standards do not originate from God, and God himself finds he must answer to a standard.

If someone insists that God wouldn’t command atrocities, or murder, etc., because of his nature, his justice, or his love, we still run into the same problem. We still have a god answering to a standard outside of Him, something defined as justice or love. If God defines love and justice, then again, we have more meaningless words.
Another argument is that our own moral judgment is fallen and therefore inadequate to determine right from wrong without God. But if our moral judgment is so unreliable, then how can we rely on it to determine that what God commands is good?
I am convinced that the foundational definition and understanding of good and evil – morality, if you will – is independent of the commands of any god. For the most part, people throughout history, regardless of culture or religion, have agreed that lying, stealing, murder, and so on, are generally wrong.

However, the finer details of what defines moral vs. immoral behavior does change with the times. Just a few years ago, many good Christians didn’t dance, play cards, wear shorts, or show bare skin at the beach. Now, few Christians see these things as sin. Not long ago in America, slavery was defined as moral by a huge block of Christians. It required a war to decide the issue, and now few would consider a return to slavery as morally desirable. Interestingly, the Bible has been used to support the positions of both sides of these, and many other discussions.

I don’t believe basic foundational morality is defined by majority opinion, but neither do I believe that morality is defined by the commands of a god. When I was a Christian I believed that turning the other cheek was a command of God. Yet, even then I knew that if someone threatened the physical wellbeing of my family, I’d have no compunction in defending their safety. If someone entered my home uninvited, brandishing a weapon, I’d feel no guilt in putting a bullet through the invader’s heart, and society would likely have judged me guiltless.

I believe that a better explanation of the origins of our moral sense is rooted in the primal needs of our species. We are social creatures, who band together in family, tribes, and nations. We crave security and safety. We desire survival for ourselves and for our children. The societal rules and laws we’ve developed over the centuries, the ones that have stood the test of time, find their originations in fulfilling these basic human needs.

Good must be identifiable apart from the commands of a god, or good has no meaning. Therefore, a god is not necessary for defining good and evil.

You’ve been listening to the ExChristain Monologues, a podcast from ExChristian.Net.

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Blogger emptycan said...
hei, dave, it's good argument. especially, about genocide. i happened to read judges in the bible and found the stories are very disturbing like a woman killed a general of other tribe with hammer and tent peg through his head
(But Jael, Heber's wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.)
or an israel guy killed the other tribe's king with long knife(one and half foot) and on the sword the fat was stuck to
(Even the handle sank in after the blade, which came out his back. Ehud did not pull the sword out, and the fat closed in over it.), etc..
And there is a word of Jehova himself saying that he would use other tribes to punish israelites through the war of above described manner.
(Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, "Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listened to me,

I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died.
I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their forefathers did."
The LORD had allowed those nations to remain; he did not drive them out at once by giving them into the hands of Joshua.)

The jehova is very loving god, isn't he? I really don't know how people except isrelites, could believe that kind fucking evil god. In the bible, in most cases, jehova is much more evil than satan. But people still say that jehova is loving and rightious god, what a fucking lie!

dave you made a good point that god, especially who calls himself the standard of ethics and does unethical behaviors, can not become the origin of good and evil.

Good, dave, go on.

Anonymous tigg13 said...
Wonderful topic WM. It has always been my opinion that true, objective morality requires omniscience and since no human being could possibly be all-knowing it would impossible for anyone to be objectively moral. Even if we had a complete discription of what true morality is, as imperfect humans we would only be able to see our own subjective interpretation of it. So, whether true, objective morality exists or not becomes irrelevant. The question then becomes, would a benevolent, just god expect humanity to live up to a moral standard that we couldn't possibly comprehend?
For christians to say that morality comes from the bible is to completely ignore all of the civilized cultures that existed before the bible was written. People understood the harming others and being deceitful were wrong long before Abraham supposedly walked the Earth.
By seeing morality as a subjective point of view you don't give license to anyone's behavior. You simply recognize the fact that everyone is responcible for what they do and how they live.

Blogger emptycan said...
I have some curious one. I have heard that many xtians read the bible at the bedside of their children. If so, don't they really do harm to the minds of innocent young people who do not have the ability to judge between good and evil?
What a dreadful scene is it of reading bible story to youngsters?!

Blogger The Liberal Pagan said...
thanks, this is really helpful. i have an acquaintance who is a pastor and keeps giving me the argument that without god there would be no standard of good v evil. this post will come in handy in dealing with him!

Blogger muttmutt1978 said...
Id like to say something i have a theory. heres my theory: christianity brought about AIDS/HIV, diptheria, bubonic plague ect. Nowhere in recorded mankind did Hiv exist until christianity came along. christianity is far more deadly than a mental disease. It also brought about the birth of cancer and maybe even obesity. depression is on the rise in the US and im damn sure thats because of christianity.There may be more diseases like sars and even west nile which is from christianity.

Blogger muttmutt1978 said...

I have some curious one. I have heard that many xtians read the bible at the bedside of their children. If so, don't they really do harm to the minds of innocent young people who do not have the ability to judge between good and evil?
What a dreadful scene is it of reading bible story to youngsters?!

it is unfortunately true. many xxans whould rather brainwash their kiddies out of fear than let them think for themselves.

Anonymous Truth0r said...
I've been wondering if our morality isn't somehow based on mathematical equations. I'm almost sure I've read other people talking about this too.

Here's an example:

If someone does not show up at the time they said they would then the equation does not equal itself.

time + location = 12:00/Bedford,Tx

That example is crude but I think it makes my point.

Basically if you are not a person of your word consistently, then you can't be trusted. I have yet to apply this to other aspects of moral and ethical code.

I think this hits home with evolutionists. Point me to a link if you have one on this, please!

Anonymous Truth0r said...
Well, I haven't found anything mathematics of morality yet in my brief searching but I thought this was really good. The keynote speaker used to be a preacher for 19 years but then became an atheist.


"We are using an external standard to the religious system, which basically, I think, boils down to the simple humanistic principle of morality, which is: To be a moral person, you intend to minimize harm. You can go beyond that and you can be compassionate and giving and charitable, but at its core, I think we all agree that the basic moral principle (understood long before the Israelites told us that they had the copyright on the Ten Commandments) concerns killing and stealing and perjury."

Anonymous Anonymous said...
All of you here have a consience, that is given by God. All of you know when you have done wrong, yet your heart has become num. Open you eyes, think about your life. You could die tommorow...

Anonymous Warnepiece said...
Anonymous #3,578,666 who posted at 2:50 PM,

How do you know a "consience" (sic) (I think they meant conscience) was given by god? How do you know our hearts have become "num"? (braindead idiot means numb, I think).

Tell us more about your psychic powers.

You could die tomorrow too! And you'll have wasted your life chasing a lie!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
All this claptrap about morality being a subjective creation is very tiring. There is no "perceived" morality outside of the collective agreement as to what morality "is"... and people bring up their notions of right and wrong based on what they are taught, not on some fairy-tale concept of a non-conscious fact-type theory that removes the cultural and environmental stimuli from the equation when defining what makes people "who they are", and thus determining how they will think. Yes, Nietzsche was a genius, but unfortunately a narcissistic, bigoted, and ultimately mad one. I wish people would find someone with a more plausible argument to invest their hopes with.
The conscience inherently tells a person what is right or wrong - even if the same person possesses primitive selfishness that might make him also rebel against the conscience. People are then free to decide for themselves which "voice" they will obey. Where do these dual natures come from? We've been telling you all along... God has set eternity in the hearts of men, making them a higher form of life than any other on earth. (Without this "spark" from God, men would indeed be no better than the animals... thus man's ability to be self-seeking). Then God challenges men to decide for themselves whom they will serve after "teaching" them the noble path through His law. (This Free Will allows men to choose to act like animals or like the higher life-forms that they are). I could go on but I'm sure you've heard it all before.

Blogger .:webmaster:. said...
Anony, I think it's a bit more complex than that.

My vegetarian sister feels extreme guilt for eating the flesh of animals. Her conscience bothers her about eating other life which she views as conscious life forms.

My conscience isn't pricked at all about eating animals. Bring on the steak and chicken! Yum!

Now, is lying wrong? Is killing wrong? Is stealing wrong?

How about lying to protect escaping slaves hiding in your basement on their way to Canada? How about lying to protect the lives of Jews hiding in your attic from the Nazis?

How about killing in self defense? How about killing in war? How about killing in response to long years of mental and physical abuse?

How about stealing to feed your starving children?

My point is that ethics are situational, and the feeling of guilt is a poor tool for determining right from wrong in any senario, because not everyone’s consciences FEEL the same. You’d think, if this moral conscience was installed by a GOD, that it’d be a bit less flaky and ethical decisions would need a bit less discussion.

Now, you can claim that your Bronze Age Bible God installed a moral sense into people, but you'll have to present evidence that your favorite deity even exists, first. Until then, I'd say it makes a bit more sense to view ethics as a branch of scientific study within sociology.

Blogger NewJew said...
Hi all
I have several thoughts i'd like to share.

first i'd like to say that even if God is the source of morality then this does not make christian theology correct. God might be something quite other than this.

I'd like to address morality from an evolutionary point of view.(I have formal accademic training in evolution) Evolution supports the role of both selfishness and loving generosity. Evolution supports any behavior that makes it more likely that one pass on their genes. It does not support any higher societal goals that are seperate from the passing on of genes to the next generation. If cheating benefits one one day and then not the next then evolution says so be it. If killing someone benefits me in one context so be it. The rightness is totallly context dependent. For example, we often exemplify how some animals are monogomous - but the truth is that there is no species that is truely monogomous. Even swans will sneak in a "quickie" if they will not get caught.

The bottom line is that evolution offers no line between moral and immoral. So morality can not be a natural phenomenon per say as Dave suggests. So what is this general rightness we agree upon?

The problem I see with Daves general line of arguement is that his life experience has led him to see reality as atheism or fundamentalist christianity. I am in total agreement with Dave on the ludicracy of Christianity --- But I am now (15 years) a liberal Jew. We/I see God as quite seperate from the Bible per say. The bible is a text of the history of our struggle to try to know God not the "Thuth" from God. God is not encapsulated in the bible - we all agree that certain things are wrong because they are part of the fabric of the universe --- part of God. So it is not killing that is wrong --ie. killing to save ones family -- but murder which is wrong. ie the needless killing of another. By th way the hebrew says, do not "murder" not do not kill. Many christian bibles do not translate the text correctly.

Food for thought

Blogger .:webmaster:. said...
Hi NewJew,

The only question I'd ask you is this: If you entirely lost your religious faith, do you honestly believe you would suddenly find it easy/comfortable/good to murder another human being?

Why or why not?

Breaking the Spell

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