Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Morality Comes From Within, Not From Without

Let me just come right out and say it, I'm not sure if I believe in God.  Some days I do believe;  days when I go out in nature and see the beauty and how well things work together in symbiosis.  Also, when I read many of the words and teachings of Jesus I am often stirred, and part of me wants to hope that he really was God in the flesh.  Other days I do not believe at all.  These are the days when I have to hear another story of a child being sexually assaulted and the pains of my youth and my wife's youth return and haunt me.  On days when I look at all the violence in the world, like the Aurora shooting, and how calloused we have become to it all, on those days I don't believe either.  Then there are other days (most days honestly)  when I can firmly place myself in the undecided category.  Maybe there is a God, maybe there is not.  I really don't know.

One of the biggest concerns people often raise when I tell them that I don't know if there is a God is, "How will you know what is moral or not if you do not have a God?"  This question always throws me.  I understand the question, but the thing for me is that the question does not ultimately make any sense to me at all.  If our morality is only based upon a God, then which God should we get our morality from?  Also, just because a belief is supposedly from God does this make the belief truly moral and right?  Osama bin Laden felt that he was carrying out the will of God when he ordered his followers to fly jets into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the White House.  Does the fact that he believed this attack was the will of God make it a moral decision?  The Salem witch trials were carried out in the name of God and based on portions of the Christian Bible (one of my ancestors actually was killed in these trials, John Proctor).  Were these trials moral because they were based upon the teachings of God?  Obviously, neither of these examples should be considered moral, but really who are we to decide?  Maybe God really has ordered people to kill.  He did so many times in the Old Testament.  Why would He suddenly stop?  I personally,don't believe God, if there is a God, orders killings.  I am just making the point that just because God supposedly orders a killing this does not make the action moral or right.

There is a quote from Westboro Baptist which I use in my book.  The quote goes like this, "Why do we preach hate? Because the Bible preaches hate. For every one verse about God's mercy, love, compassion, etc., there are two verses about His vengeance, hatred, wrath, etc."  The sad truth is Westboro Baptist is right.  There is far more hatred and and violence taught in the scriptures than there is love, grace, and forgiveness.  If we are to simply turn off our hearts and minds and simply look to God (through the Bible) for our morality, it is easy to see how we get so much violence in the name of God.  Westboro Baptist chooses to focus on the violent verses, but others try to follow both the verses of hatred and the verses of love and forgiveness.  I believe this creates a spiritual schizophrenia for many Christians.  They are supposed to love their neighbors as themselves (even the homosexual ones), yet God seems to say he is going to burn homosexuals in a lake of fire forever and ever.  So which ethic towards homosexuals should they choose?  Do they love homosexuals and help them get their rights or do they view them as evil, as God supposedly does?  Which morality do they follow?  It seems to me, there is a constant struggle within Christianity between this love and hate which is so clearly evidenced in the Bible.  So, (many) Christians end up being pro-life when it comes to unborn children and have no problem with our nation bombing and killing innocent Iraqi's at the same time.  They live with these dichotomies of thinking because their morality is based upon a God who is a dichotomy.  He is both love and hate, forgiveness and vengeance, compassion and judgment.  So, many of His follower end up walking contradictions themselves.

Because the God found in Christian (and other) scriptures is such a dichotomy, ultimately we all end up making our own moral decisions anyway (whether we realize it or not).  There is no hard and fast Christian (or any other religion) morality.  Some Christians choose to defend life in the womb and not defend it outside of the womb by ensuring that all people can get quality medical care.  Which of these decisions is based upon their God?  Maybe both, remember, their God can be compassionate one day and then order the slaughter of an entire people group the next. The point of all this is simply this, God has not spoken clearly enough in the Bible to be a consistent source of anyone's moral beliefs; followers of the Bible end up picking and choosing what to believe (just like atheists and agnostics). 

This constant imbalance and inconsistency in the picture painted in the Bible of God is one of the major reasons I have left organized Christianity behind.  I know it is hard for many to believe, but I actually think I am a more moral person today because of my decision.  I no longer need to try to follow a confusing and schizophrenic God.  I look for truth wherever I can find it.  When I find something I think is interesting and might lead me to be a better and more moral person, then I think about it, meditate upon it, and try it out in my life.  If the results are good then it is a morality I adopt and make a part of my life.  If the results are dark, painful, and bad then I choose to leave that teaching or way of thinking behind no matter what (or who) the source of that teaching may be.  Ironically,  I have chosen to follow many of the teachings of Jesus.  I find the teachings of Jesus to be life-giving and beneficial.  Jesus is a large part of my personal morality.  "Love your neighbor as you love yourself."  "Love your enemies."  "Do to others as you would have them do to you." "Love as I have loved."  "Give to the poor."  These teachings are life-giving, so I follow them.  They produce a comfort and peace within me, and I like the good things they seem to bring to the lives of others as well.

There are other teachings contained in the Bible though, which I do not like the results of following.  Those teachings do not produce life or happiness, so I refuse to follow those teachings.  I will not treat my wife as less than myself.  I am not the head of my house.  We both lead together.  I will not treat homosexual people as less than myself or as sinful people.  This just seems wrong to me.  It is not loving, or kind, and it definitely is not how I would like to be treated if I was in their shoes.  I reject the parts of the scriptures which seem on the surface to teach those things (and many other teachings as well).

Does this make me an immoral person?  Maybe.  But, I am happier being free of the spiritual schizophrenia.  I think my morality is more consistent, beautiful, and right, now.

(My apologies to anyone who does suffer from true schizophrenia).

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