We've all heard the claim: "Human morality comes from god."  And we've all seen for ourselves what Yahweh's "morality" looks like, from condemnations of homosexuality and the treatment of women as chattel to inexplicable sanctions against the eating of shrimp or manufacture of cloth from two different sources.  The screaming illogic of this repeated assertion has doubtless grown tired in our atheist ears.

Apparently, our good friend, TheraminTrees, is as tired of it as we are, and he's done something about it.  In his usual, thorough-going manner, he has scrutinized biblical morality and not only found it wanting but frequently self-contradicting and without justification.  He then goes a step further, tackling the assertions of one Theo Hobson and his book: God Created Humanism: The Christian Basis of Secular Values, and tears it a new one.  His analysis is distilled into the following video, which I commend to your attention.

Please enjoy!

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On the Hebrew scriptures and the lie of unified "Judeo-Christian" values: it's awfully convenient that Jews traditionally recognize an oral teaching or "oral Torah", reputedly given to Moses on Mount Sinai together with the written Torah. That's what allowed "an eye for an eye" to quickly become "the value of an eye for an eye", proportionate fines rather than mirror punishments, as the understanding of "what God meant all along". And there are many such revisions, reductions, and enlargements of other rules: the death penalties were reinterpreted practically out of existence, while an entire code of rules for kosher food is justified by lists of clean and unclean animals, and the instruction to not cook a kid in its mother's milk. Of course, Christianity explicitly rejects (all? no? most? some?) Old Testament rules; the New Testament can be used to support any of those positions!

And every time some believer wants to dismiss or minimize the old testament, I remind 'em of two things:

  • Matthew 5:17-20
  • The Ten Commandments (which are IN that inconvenient old testament!

Tends to shut 'em up in a hurry.

"17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

19Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 

20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. 

~ New International Version, Bible."

Hitch's voice reverberates in my mind when the question of religion, eithics, and morality arises: 

“Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.”

― Christopher Hitchens, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Not only do religions have no claim to introducing secular morality, over and over again religions have opposed improvements in our moral understanding, until, dragged kicking and screaming into the current century, they suddenly discover that their gods really meant something very different from before.

Even for things that were advancements from previous ideas (like claims of rejecting human sacrifice, instituting a day of rest even for servants, etc.) -- the same authority of "GodSaysSo" can equally well be used to justify atrocities. If a behavior or a law is good in its own right, and secular reasoning can support it, there's no need for any divine authority. Similarly for secular proscriptions like "don't kill."

One paraphrase of Euthyphro's Dilemma suggests imagining an alternate universe where churches claim divine authority for teaching their followers that they should "Murder! Rape! Lie! Steal!" - a sort of anti-Ten-Commandments. If that society survives, it would do so because despite threats of divine punishment, people would refuse to stab their family members and friends in the back, and quickly (re)discover other moral principles for coexisting as well.

"Believers in religion teach us that God will reward men for good actions, but men who are intellectually free, know that the reward of a good action cannot be given by any power, but that it is the natural result of the good action. The free man, guided by intelligence, knows that his reward is in the nature of things, and not in the caprice even of the Infinite. He is not a good and faithful servant, he is an intelligent free man."

~ Robert Green Ingersoll, Evening Advertiser, New York, February 6, 1892.

Loren, Thanks for another of TheraminTrees videos. Powerful!!

My privilege and my joy, Joan.  I'm glad you liked it.

I can think of no more powerful statement than this: 

Christopher Hitchens Morality




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