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 Judeo-Christian Morality superior?

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Gnomon
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PostSubject: Judeo-Christian Morality superior?   Sat Dec 27, 2008 8:17 pm

On the Freethinkers Fellowship Forum, a teenage atheist from Brazil observed that Christians claim that without Christianity, the world's morality would be inferior. FYI, here's a couple or three of my replies that may also be relevant to a deist perspective:


Quote :
When Christian radicals say that atheists don't have morality, we always say that we do, because you don't need God to have values. But are these values taken from Christian (and Western) culture? Would they be different if we came from other cultures?

Actually, it's not the specific moral rules and values themselves that Christians are so proud of. Even the most radical fundamentalist can't deny that all human cultures have some pragmatic system of values and rules for social behavior. What the Christians (and Jews, and Muslims) have that Atheists don't is a Supreme Authority to validate their particular perfect moral laws. Atheists can only argue amongst themselves about which arbitrary values they want to accept as general laws; and that tenuous consensus can change over time. By contrast, Theists have their moral laws handed to them from on high, and carved in stone for all of time.

I have to admit that, in an ideal world, it would be nice if moral values were not constantly brought up for acrimonious debate. The problem with human societies is that one man's moral value (sanctity of fetal life) may be an abomination in another man's context (value of mother's life). Clearly we can't agree amongst ourselves as to which values should govern all cases. So Theists turn to a non-human governor, who has undisputed authority over all humans, to adjudicate the debate.

I recently leased a new car (after the old one was totaled), and among the documents I had to sign was an Arbitration Agreement. By signing that document, I gave up my right to fight-out any dispute in a court of law, with a jury of my peers. Instead, I agreed to abide by the final decision of a single judge who represents both sides of the argument. Theists like the idea of an ultimate Arbiter-of-Justice. Atheists, may not mind the concept, but they don't believe that a totally honest and objective judge can be found on Earth or in Heaven. So the value systems and moral laws of Humanists will always be subject to democratic majority rule. But the majority is not always right---from my personal perspective. So I have no recourse, but to accept a certain amount of injustice in any system ruled-over by fractious humans.

Most of us believe that, in theory, moral rules should be clear and universal. But, in practice, it has never been that simple. So, you can understand why social leaders in the past, such as the Pharaohs, might have wished that they could turn to an even higher authority to back-up their unpopular edicts. It doesn't really matter whether God exists or not, as long as the majority of people believe in a Big Boss in the sky who can say, "the buck stops here". In that case, the little bosses on earth can can use the power of the Almighty to make their arbitrary rules stick, and no mortal can dispute their rulings.

In theory, the one-source Theist Morality should be much better than the patch-work Humanist alternative. But history shows that, in practice, all moral systems have been crudely constructed, and deconstructed, by fallible humans. So the imperfect, pragmatic, moral quagmire of socially-constructed truths, seems to be our highest and best option---until the Supreme Judge sees fit to return, and update our old crumbing commandments from the Bronze Age, with a morality for the Silicon Age.

Quote :
Some supporters of Christianity argue that it's unique, and that the world would be a far worse place if Christianity had been defeated and extinguished. They say that other religions (especially Islam, which is always the target) don't have the same sense of morality, and that only Christianity could have given rise to Western democratic values.

How true is that?

Here's one version of the truth:

Christian moral doctrine is semi-unique in that it has about 5000 years of continuous history behind it. But Hindu morality is also almost unique for the same reason. Both systems have survived over the ages, where others, such as the Zoroastrian worldview, have failed to thrive in the face of competing belief systems.

The Judeo-Christian cultural expansion following the fall of Rome did succeed in fostering "progressive" values in pagan Europe. But many of the key concepts, such as Democracy, originated in polytheistic Greece, not monotheistic Israel. The dominant worldview of Europe would more properly be called Judeo-Greco-Christian in character. Except for the Greek ideals of democracy, individualism, and capitalism that gradually took hold in Europe, the Western World probably would not have prevailed in the non-Western world.

The aggressive evangelism of the Christian religion after the Renaissance was probably a motivating factor behind the cultural dominance of the West. But without the natural and economic advantages of Europe, it might well have been have been a different story. During the so-called Dark Ages, Islam was more aggressive and progressive than Christianity as it encroached into both ends of Europe.

However, historical contingencies can be interpreted both ways by advocates and deniers of Divine intervention into the affairs of men. And history is typically written from the perspective of the dominant powers of the times. So it's best not to read too much into his-stories. The question now is, where do we go from here?

Moral certainties may evolve over time. But the driving energies will flow from one culture to another regardless of their ethical details. The English and Spanish empires were both fervently Christian, but neither was especially democratic or just regarding their own people, or their conquered slaves.


Quote :
Heres another version of the truth ! Smile

Take a look at ancient Persia, defenitly not a western society. Generally they are known to have done the opposite to what was usual to conquerd lands. Instead of enslaving them they tried to establish some kind of partnership. Their huge wateingsystems and other buildings were build by paid workers, not slaves like in other empires. It seems like they were the first to act like this


The "cylinder" here is the "Cyrus Cylinder". Look that up if you like.

Whatever their reasons were they must have had some kind of understanding and feeling for human needs. Smile

FWIW, my reading of history reveals that the Judeo-Christian traditions owe a larger debt to Persian influence than usually acknowledged. When Cyrus the Great allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland, the result was the creation of what we now know as Judaism. The remnant returnees were no longer Hebrew tribes or citizens of the nation of Israel, they were a new and unique religious organization. What we now call the Old Testament did not exist before Nehemiah's priests and scribes "discovered" some miscellaneous "ancient" scrolls while rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem*. Backed by the authority of that written word of God, he began to revive the almost forgotten traditions of Israel from a millennium before. Unlike the Hebrews with their oral traditions, and the Israelites with their royal decrees, the Jews became the "People of the Book".

However, it seems that the long sojourn in Babylon, and especially the more enlightened rule of the Persians, had changed their narrow, ethnocentric religion into a more cosmopolitan worldview. Monotheism, the core concept of modern Judaism, may actually have derived in part from the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. That belief system hinged on the conflict between a supreme, universal Good God, and a satanic Bad God, with prophecies of a final resolution in an apocalyptic world war at the end of days. Of course, the Good God was destined to eventually overthrow the Evil Adversary. Some of these new ideas were incorporated into the later Jewish messianic and eschatalogical prophecies, and subsequently passed-on into the Christian scriptures.

The cover story of the August 2008 National Geographic Magazine was Ancient Iran, and included this comment : "The concepts of freedom and human rights may not have originated with the classical Greeks but in Iran . . . under . . . Cyrus the Great". He established "what has been called the world's first religiously and culturally tolerant empire". A later letter to the Editor called Persia, "A superpower that forbade slavery, permitted religious freedom, and united far-ranging empires in spite of cultural differences . . ." So it seems that the Christians may have learned a lot of their morality from people outside the divinely-inspired Judeo-Christian lineage.



* WIKI: Contemporary secular biblical scholars date the completion of the Torah, as well as the prophets and the historical books, no earlier than the Persian period (539 to 334 BCE).

This period saw the last high-point of Biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life.
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PostSubject: Re: Judeo-Christian Morality superior?   Sat Dec 27, 2008 11:36 pm

Every religious mythology believes itself to have the morality - yet they do not.

Morality is a human artifact, not a religious one. If anything, religion was birthed from morality (or rather the urge to enforce a certain cultural value set - moral law) and not the other way around.
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