Is society living in a day and age when morals and ethics are no longer applicable? Has the age of information transcended the age of accountability? I read an article recently on cnn.com that posed these questions. To give a short summary, the author suggests that the world is no longer bound to the morals and ethics presented in the Bible and that all one needs to succeed in life is faith in self and science. While I disagree with Mr. Brook’s general view of Biblical ethics, he does make a strong case against a moral code that is becoming outdated. I believe in one sense, he might just be on to something.
In Moscow it is illegal to drive a dirty vehicle. A person caught in violation could be fined up to $100. In Singapore, it is illegal to use a toilet and then forget to flush. Residents in Kentucky could be fined for transporting an ice cream cone in their pocket. Children are cautioned against burping during a church service in Nebraska and in Pennsylvania a man must get written consent from his wife if he plans on buying any liquor.
While we might chuckle at the outrageousness of some of these laws, there is a serious undertone. At the time of their inception, they actually made sense. Someone or something went awry, causing a need for these specific guidelines. While most of them might not be noticed today, at one time they were important and maybe even necessary for a functioning society.
As our nation edges toward progress, there is a different set of laws that are becoming obsolete and no longer required for proper functioning of a society. Their power is beginning to diminish and we are finding that these guidelines are becoming just as outrageous as carrying an ice cream cone in your pocket. Here are some laws that are no longer practiced or recognized by many in today’s free world:
All of these laws served a purpose when they were put into effect. They were there to govern the land, provide peace and security for its inhabitants, and maintain order and accountability. Much like a traffic light, they created a safe boundary line which guided the people toward freedom and away from destruction.
In Joshua 3:4, the Israelites were warned to keep a healthy distance between themselves and the arc of the covenant. That rule was put into effect for the safety of the Israelites. Joshua wanted to make sure they knew to keep God at exactly the right distance because they had no idea where they were going. If the arc were kept in close proximity, someone could have been injured or killed. Staying too far back would have resulted in a loss of direction. Joshua knew that in order for the people to get to their destination safely, God must have His proper place in their lives. There was just enough space for them to have their free will, yet remain accountable for their actions.
If our nation has any hope of healing at all, we would do well to listen to the words of Joshua and remember to keep God in his proper place. We do not know where we are going, but we have a trustworthy Guide who wants to lead us. If He disappears from view altogether, what happens then? Is it really safe to rely on self will or science to lead us in a positive direction? God forbid. I would rather be called an outdated puritan.
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It is an obnoxious conceit to imagine that those who do not believe in the Bible do not have morals and ethics. For a start, all human societies have morals and ethics, and few of these come from the Bible. Of course, they differ, which drives Bible-believers crazy and, in the past at least, to homicidal violence. Atheists absorb the morals and ethics from their society, and organize these into a code for themselves. This has the advantage of avoiding the sometimes ridiculous prescriptions and procriptions of the Old and New Testaments. At base, all of these systems espouse the Golden Rule, if only in self-defence, and advocate some combination of charity, humility, and kindness (at least to one’s own). These qualities are commonly absent among Bible-believers; they would do well to pick them up. Also, concentrating, to the greater extent that is necessary these days, on the morality your own behaviour often takes so much time that you have to resign as general manager of the universe, also a good thing.
@Chris – As a Christian, I believe that God speaks to everyone, so it makes sense that the “Golden Rule” is universal. People also have different codes. (to a Hindu, killing animals is wrong) That doesn’t drive me crazy, personally. They’re making sense within their belief system, and they’re not hurting me. I think what you’re referring to is some Christians’ tendency to try to impose their moral codes on others – and I agree with you. Ironically, if more Christians and non-Christians obeyed the “Golden Rule,” the other, (even the seemingly silly) rules would be unnecessary.
I won’t argue that it’s obnoxious to believe that those who don’t believe in the bible don’t have morals or ethics. But it’s silly to pretend that there aren’t a lot more non-bible-believers without morals and ethics than there are bible-believers (members of other similar religions included here) without morals and ethics. It’s everywhere you turn. It takes a great reservoir of denial to avoid admitting this.
My response would be to say that I have observed a great deal of immoral and unethical behaviour among Bible-believing (so they say) “christians”, far more than among those who don’t. However, wilful ignorance, malice, and cheap self indulgence are evidently not counted as immoral and unethical by the former, although they are by the latter, and by any decent person. As for other values, consrvative christians are passionately fond of warfare, in which they regularly violate all of their pretended basic principles. Promise Keepers highlighted problems with bible-believing in domestic life, but I certainly agree with them that it is high time that conservative christian men started taking their domestic responsibilities seriously. In all of these cases, claiming adherence to a book, endless repitition of texts, and trying to destroy everyone who differs could well be replaced by a careful and genuine reflection on the consequences your actual behaviour, based on the simple premises that every other person is worth at least as much as you, and your forcing your views on their lives is only destructive. Democracy–heatedly and violently opposed by the Church for centuries–is a batter basis for determining the ethics of public behaviour than any of the alternatives, particularly when the rights of minorities are protected by a constitution. Things change for a reason.
It wasn’t easy to get through or comprehend, but I think I’ve got the gist of the response below: The author is an atheist.
Wow, what an engaging discussion! Thank you all for your thoughts. Chris, I want to apologize if I led you to believe that I feel that atheists do not have morals and ethics. I don’t believe I implied that anywhere in the article but if that’s the way you perceived it, I offer my sincere apologies. I know many people who choose not to believe the way I do and they are actually very good people. I don’t judge them, nor do I expect them to judge me. That said, I do support the idea that our world would be a safer, more loving place to live in if the general population looked to a source outside of themselves for guidance. Morals and ethics are born out our beliefs- what we’re taught from birth around the world around us. If one is brought up in an atheist home, they have no spiritual basis to base their ideals on. Again- not a bad thing but as evidenced in the newspapers, our country is not doing so well. Crime is skyrocketing, poverty is everywhere, and it is impossible to receive decent health care anymore. Think that has nothing to do with morals or ethics? Consider the politicians we put in office who seem more concerned with lining their pockets than caring for their citizens. Is it any coincidence that atheism is on the rise and church attendence is dwindling? Our country is more obsessed with celebrity and being wealthy than anything else and that affects everyone, from the homeless guy on the street to the preacher in the pulpit. Self is winning. That is a sign that morals and ethics are not as important as they once were. I can readily admit that Christians have their flaws like anyone else. We are not perfect and we make mistakes. I find it rather fascinating how we are commanded to have tolerance for everyone else and all their religions but it seems that the same service is not readily extended to us. Just a thought 😉
Chris, you said “…a careful and genuine reflection on the consequences your actual behaviour, based on the simple premises that every other person is worth at least as much as you…” To me, that sounds like Jesus. He said it, he preached it, he acted it. The religious leaders didn’t get it. Many don’t today, either. But in my community there are Christians who are quietly going about his service, feeding the poor, caring for those in need, acting in kindness toward those who are different from themselves. They’re not the loud ones, but they exist.
Hi Sherry, No need to apologize, as I didn’t mean you. Yours is a very selective reading of the situation today, though, considering the rising tide of christian fundamentalism in the US today–more than even in the revivals of the 18th and 19th Centuries. Whatever the problems, they evidence a decline in morals, no doubt, but you cannot find any evidence that the perpetrators are atheists who are not, in any case, numerous enough to be responsible. Americans in general seem to be determined to make themselves stupid, sick, and dead so that the rich can get richer. (The kicker in this is that these enormous accumulations are not available for such investments as funding industrial expansion or mortgages, as wealthy American patriots prefer to stash overseas, to avoid taxes.) The evidence of history, and today’s conservative christians, is that looking to a higher power doesn’t work; only looking within does. In short, dump the book and pay attention to what you are actually doing to others, and to reality. Jesus was only one of a long line of Hebrew prophets with the same essential message, included equally in moderate Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism and Bhuddism,not to mention the thousands of other faiths come and gone, and integrated in the legal systems of civilised nations. The rest is just vanity.
“I find it rather fascinating how we are commanded to have tolerance for everyone else and all their religions but it seems that the same service is not readily extended to us.” Very interesting point, Sherry. Perhaps indicative of hidden truths and explanations as to why we’re in this rapid moral decline today. If I had a dime for the number of times I’ve been insulted because I said the words ‘I’m a Christian’ I could send you guys a hefty donation.
You know, Chris excluding the part about dumping the book and looking within, I agree with you. I just read an article yesterday about men who have denounced their religion. They have decided they don’t believe in God and have given up on faith. My problem with this is that they are still ministers in the church, still preaching, and still taking money from a congregation they want no part of. Meanwhile, we have self-professed Christians who lie about very serious issues on camera in front of millions who look to them for stability. Moral decline is not limited to one side or another. Atheists and Christians alike- heck, let’s just call it humanity has somehow wandered off the beaten path. We are a bunch of sheep and we are slowly but relentlessly guiding ourselves off a very steep cliff into an abyss we know nothing about. However, can I offer an alternative thought? Perhaps looking within could be just as dangerous as half-heartedly following a higher power. Perhaps the issue isn’t which god one serves but how invested they are in that god? ‘Christian’ is a broad term and I have seen with my own eyes the very real damage we cause each other and the world around us when we fail to abide by the very doctrines we preach. There are times when I sympathize with the nonbeliever. Hypocrisy is a deadly poison that has infested its way into churches and giving Christians a very bad name. You are right. The rest is just vanity.
There may be a ‘commandment for tolerance’–if there is, which I doubt, it is normally observed only in the breach. Christians have a long and bloody history of the opposite and now, how very strange, demand a respect to which they are seldom entitled; poor old jeff, not getting any. The bottom line is that morality and ethics and respect for others and a lives of service occur as easily and are as commonly manifest among all religions and those with none at all. Mind you, as in the feminist adage (“we have to be twice as good but, luckily, that’s not difficult”) being comparatively moral and ethical is easy for non-believers. It does take time and effort and rigor to do it right; a painful novelty for the religious, but I recommend it. Just a thought.
all have sinned and fall short at sometime all have said a lie or took something or lusted after somthing or one That is why JESUS came to forgive those whom turn to Him But you must take up your cross and follow JESUS because it is very easy to slip right back into sin again Only by and thru JESUS can anybody live a moral live…..
Jeff, I could pay off my home mortgage with every insult I’ve acrued since I began writing. I think what we’re not saying matters more and that is where we are going to be the most effective. (positively or negatively) Chris, you are probably right. There is no such commandment but based on recent discussions it is evident that tolerance can be just as elusive as decent morals and values. We are painfully aware of the novelty of doing unto others. It is nice to have people that are willing to help us identify our flaws and shortcomings.
Paying for insults given could be huge. Billions of dollars would be payable for gratuitous insults and ugly stories invented and spread around interdenominationally (such as by Protestants to Catholics and vice versa), by conservatives to liberals, by white christians to blacks, aboriginals and asians, by conservative christians to Jews, Muslims and homosexuals. Is there enough money in the world?
Commandment for tolerence… Jesus talked in parables. He talked about tolerence constantly! Read the parable of the good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the woman who was to be stoned, the taxpayers he ate with, the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the sinner on the cross next to his… I can’t fit it into a post! Lack of tolerance is a human thing. I think the problem is that people (Christians included) keep our own desires in the forefront and shape our theology to fit. We keep straying off the path, making our own paths, and justifying this by being loud and… intolerant.
I’d be more convincing if I spelled “tolerance” the same way throughout a post. I just hate posts from peeple who cant spel. 😉
There, there, TD, we know what you meant. Think of yourself as post-Websterian. Too bad about the tolerance, though. Maybe the scriptural references weren’t clear enough, too easily misunderstood–that happens often. On the other hand, it may be in the very nature of religious conviction not to be tolerant; when you have found the one true church, the historial tradition is to consider all others not merely mistaken, but diabolically evil. Part of the problem, of course, is that the tenets of faith are so fragile, being imaginary.
Chris, I want to thank you for your infinite wisdom and insight in this discussion. Your contributions have been most appreciated, especially knowing that they are putting money in my pocket every time you log in. It’s a win/win for all of us isn’t it? You get the last word and I get paid for it! Isn’t freedom of speech wonderful?
I’ve always thought so. Celebration is certainly in order since, in the history of our species, this is new, largely confined to modern secular states and, even there, bitterly resented by the faithful. And, to be on topic–more or less–this freedom allows creation of more religions, flourishing of rational thought and, thereby, adopton of authentic morality.
Christianity will always be around, long after those of us in this thread have passed on. The Bible has remained and continues to fascinate, enduring for thousands of years despite societal changes. People will continue to revisit the Holy Bible because the advice it gives and the lessons it teaches are time-spanning and profound beyond words. Convoluted responses from Internet trolls trying to prove otherwise, even if they did make sense, wouldn’t change that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to a bible study meeting at the university to sit in with eighty-five believers and three guest speakers… 🙂 Great write-up, Sherry. I’m looking forward to your next piece!
Thank you, Jeff. I appreciate the support very much. I hope your Bible study was engaging 😉
But which Bible, jeff, which? There are scores of different versions. (For a start, the Roman Catholic (Douai) version has half-a-dozen books not in most protestant editions.) Christians, like Mohammadans and all other sizeable religions, were disunited from the beginning. And, new ones coming along all the time, archeological finds (such as the Gnostic scriptures)and new inventions (Book of Mormon). And on top, hundreds of languages, and thousands of interpretations of each passage. Aramaic is not just dead, but disappeared, so reference, for all the difference it would make, to originals is impossible. Testimony to the endless creativity of the human spirit.
Now you’re just blustering. You brought up some valid points before, and I was thinking about what you said. But as you get more argumentative, you lose your foothold. Personally, I lose interest in someone who’s merely trying to tear people down.
Thank GOD for once I was lost once I was blind But thanks be to JESUS I am saved only once one has been truly born again can he understand so Sherry don,t worry be happy For you are Saved and do understand while unbelivers never will [unless they become born again] I pray for you that don’tGet it that the holy ghost would draw you into the thrown of grace in JESUS name
Yup, argument is the opposite of faith; it’s heresy in fact. As for tearing people down, the millenia of horrors perpetrated in the name of religion call for more humour and less faith.
Your article brings to mind the laws about leprosy. (Leviticus 13:4) Nowadays it’s called Hansen’s disease, it’s treatable, and – to my knowledge – no one follows the biblical statutes of keeping people with leprosy separated from the general population. To me, some laws were clearly meant for the time they were written. Jesus purposely broke the laws of his day; the Sabbath, for instance. Why? I think he meant to show us that we have a bad habit of making the LAWS more important than the PEOPLE they’re meant for. Are the laws still important? Some are, I think. Maybe it’s left to us to decide because we have the Holy Spirit to guide us now. As Christians, we have to learn to listen to God more!
TD, it’s not God who needs to be listened to more, but those around us. In primitive eras, religion provided a comforting reality (however imaginary) against the anxieties of ignorance (however realistic). Nowadays, religion too often provides a comforting ignorance against the anxieties of reality. Worse, because fantasy is limitless, limits were imposed, and this doctrine enforced, sometimes with considerable violence, and often in complete denial of reality. Today, religous individuals and institutions, no longer permitted to do their own enforcement, call upon the powers of the state to impose their dogma on dissenters. Time to render unto Ceasar, try to keep your hands off those who believe differently and, if you have any genuine concern about their welfare, take seriously what they have learned from their experience.