Morals – where do we stand with them?

Douglas asked:

The phrase “the blind leading the blind” is a reference to moral choice. It appears over 100 times in the Bible. Is it possible to reintroduce moral choice effectively to a person? I’ve found no success. How to pose a moral dilemma to a person in denial?

Answer by Jürgen Lawrenz

I don’t agree that the phrase is about morals. It has a much wider use as a metaphor of certain aspects of the human condition. That it appears 100 times in the Scriptures (including the New Testament) is therefore hardly noteworthy. However, the scriptures lay great stress on an underlying notion of (dis)obedience, which could be taken as the focus of moral behaviour — but this is debatable and not everyone would see it that way. We might e.g. take into consideration that it is not uncommon for biblical protagonists to argue with God about the disparity between his and their own sense of justice. Hence it is also useful to compare the Sermon of the Mount, where we find 90 mentions of reward and punishment without a single instance of faith as a blessing in its own right.

So it occurs to me that you have inadvertently pre-loaded your question with an illicit association of the Christian religion with morality. Now this happens to be a highly topical issue for us today, in an age of weakening faith which induced many writers (religious and secular alike) to a call for reflection, along the lines of “are morals possible without religion?” Therein lies in fact the answer to the preloading I referred to.

For it fails to take account two facts that cannot be left out of sight: First, that Christianity is today embedded in a global network of religions and regarded even by many of its followers as no more than an equal to several others. Second, that the historical record of practical Christian morality exhibits several phases of horrifying derailment (e.g. witch burning) that one would prefer to forget as they can scarcely be used for an advertisement.

Add to this an apparently growing disaffection with both Christian morality and spirituality and we are homing in on the burning focus of your question — for which the real issue is not how to reintroduce moral choice or how to pose moral dilemmas to doubters, but rather how to re-ignite a remedial sense of moral hope into Christian societies.

I will not pretend that I have the solution to hand. Yet there is one aspect you need to be better aware of: namely, is that morality is not a code — unlike the rules of ethics or the legal systems of nations, moral rules are not written down, but mostly taught by word of mouth and example, and drawn from the customs and traditions of whatever social collective one belongs to. Inevitably, therefore, they frequently differ from one cultural realm to another, from one religion to another, even from one village or city to another; and in addition they change much more often than ethics or laws in reponse to external influences. This opens the door for anyone who wishes to make such a claim that all morals are relative, temporary and subjective, as well as relying on authoritarian figures and/or institutions imposing them in their own interests rather than that of the people. Taken together, they form a considerable impediment to the wishes implied in your question.

3 thoughts on “Morals – where do we stand with them?

  1. “First, that Christianity is today embedded in a global network of religions and regarded even by many of its followers as no more than an equal to several others…” Which many christians state this ? I have never a single Christian claim this before, such an idea or concept is very insulting to them. In most cases this would considered as blasphemy. I have heard them argue that other religions contain truths in them some more than others, but never that Christianity is equal to them in knowledge and truth. I advise you be precise in your claims, especially when you say they are facts. The only ones who claim this are either religious pluralists (a contradictory position) or new agers, both who are not christians in any sense of the term.

    “Second, that the historical record of practical Christian morality exhibits several phases of horrifying derailment (e.g. witch burning) that one would prefer to forget as they can scarcely be used for an advertisement.” Of course, the baseless position of moral subjectivist is much much better(not). Still haven’t seen how Stalin or Hitler did anything wrong besides upsetting people’s feelings, according to that foundation. As many in this site have noted, the moral nihilist position is far easier to defend.

    Any way, granted I agree with you that there are some parts in the Bible which are difficult to swallow, and that many have done stupid stuff in the name of numerous things. However, before we begin beating our drums, I am interested in your claim of Christianity’s supposed derailments. Having seen the state of your other claim, I question how this one is any better. First off, are these criminals really Christians or are they just saying so (strange that the morality of atheism and Islam doesn’t exhibit any horrifying derailment, yet it does with Christianity. Curious I think). Second, I’d advise you be very wary of any claims from new atheist’s sites (there’s better historic credibility from a potato than from a new atheist unfortunately) if you want more accurate and less propaganda like history go to History for Atheists. Though I personally disagree with some of the author’s positions on history, it is far better.

    “Add to this an apparently growing disaffection with both Christian morality and spirituality…” Some might argue that reason is because some don’t like to hear that they are doing wrong so prefer a less condemning world view. But as before there are some difficult things in the Bible that even I have a hard time trying to see the good out of it, so I can’t entirely blame people for trying to find something better.

    Apologies for the long post, and sorry if I sound antagonistic to you. I didn’t mean to, I only want to represent each side as accurate as possible for people to decide for themselves.

    I agree pretty much with Paul, with one addition. The phrase “the blind leading the blind” is about people who claim to know the answer (when they don’t) and lead others who are no wiser than them into trouble. This goes to any person be they secular or religious.

  2. JL replies: I took the questioner at his word; even so I spotted Isaiah 59:10 in a quick search.
    But It doesn’t change anything in my reply, since the thrust of it was morality.

  3. The phrase does not appear 100 times in the Bible, it appears twice (Matt 15:14 and Luke 6:39). Neither instance seems to be about posing a moral dilemma to a person in denial.

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