God Given Morality Revisited
There are many monotheists who believe that morality, the division of what is absolutely good and what is absolutely evil, is decided by God. The reason that we can know murder is wrong, it is suggested, is because God says so. In a previous hub I dealt with the absurd notion that morality is something God-given but here I want to dig even deeper into why God given morality simply makes NO sense whatsoever.
Consider this an addendum to the Giving Credit to God hub series.
The God Out of Time
One of the more perplexing characteristics often granted to the Christian God by believers is that of timelessness. This means that God exists outside of our temporal understanding. This characteristic is often given as an explanation for how God manages to have no beginning and no end and thus be entirely immortal. The problem with this is that other characteristics granted to God do not make sense from this timeless perspective as they could only be part of God given certain conditions that did not always exist for God.
Of course the most important of these characteristics for this hub is that of omnibenevolence. Many Christians claim that God is perfectly good, as in perfectly moral, and that God always was this way and always will be this way. The problem is that in order for morality itself to exist God must have something or someone to interact with. Morality, by necessity, deals with the interaction of living things with other living things. God has existed in perpetuity, forever in BOTH directions of time (past and future) but other living things, according to the Bible, have not always existed.
There are no other Gods for the monotheistic God to interact with and thus he spent eons on his own before ever creating the first living things. Because of this God simply has NO BASIS on which to create a moral system, let alone a PERFECT moral system, because he has no past experience.
Omniscience to the Rescue?
Theists will perhaps respond with, “But God KNOWS all things, so he automatically KNEW the best way for living things to interact”. But God cannot know something that has no precedent can he? Can God know that which never existed? Sure we can agree, hypothetically, that he is all powerful enough to create ex-nihilo but how can he summon knowledge which has never existed? Up until this point in time living things did not exist for Yahweh to interact with and thus he cannot be omnibenevolent in any way other than selfish way.
God can, in this case, love himself perfectly and treat himself with a perfect morality, though the point is moot. Of course God's omniscience might allow him to see into the future but then that idea in and of itself opens a can of worms for Christians that literally hinders more than it helps. After all if God can see the future than he can predict Lucifer's sin and thus can, if he chooses, prevent sin from ever coming into existence altogether. Thus if omniscience extends into the future God could prevent himself from ever needing to create Hell in the first place. But I'm getting ahead of myself, God doesn't even have a basis for morality yet, and thus the idea of sin doesn't even make sense yet.
Some Christians will limit God's ability to see into the future and claim that he cannot see past the free will of sentient creatures. This defense is used to keep our souls from being pre-determined to go to Heaven or Hell but it also prevents omniscience from being used to help God invent morality since morality directly deals with the free will of sentient creatures.
So God is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He can create creatures but he can't be sure what morals to give them. There's another issue here though and that's whether the morals a perfect God comes up with are applicable to lesser – imperfect – beings that God creates. Is it fair to hold creatures which you KNOW to be imperfect to a perfect moral standard? Christians would be quick to point out the answer is no, and that's why they believe Christ came in the first place, to replace the old covenant. The problem with that excuse is that Jesus 1) Never claims to abolish the Law and 2) That such an idea necessitates that God made a mistake with his first covenant.
Where does this leave us?
God's morality cannot have been inborn (as God was never born)
It cannot have always existed (because living things OTHER than God did not always exist)
If somehow it did exist it cannot be applicable to imperfect beings
Another character trait often associated with the Christian God is the trait of being “all loving” or loving everyone. This is another attribute that gives away the glaringly anthropocentric nature of the Christian God and is a not-so-subtle hint that Yahweh is entirely fictional. After all God cannot love everyone before everyone exists can he? Oh sure you can argue that he PLANNED to create humans and loved the idea in his head, loved the blueprints before he built the house, but that's not the same kind of love is it? Are we going to argue that God's love for human beings was once the same as my childhood love for poke'mon?
Trial and Error
God's only option, it would seem, is to create morality by trial and error alone. This option may seem like admitting defeat for the theists but in actuality it makes most sense in the context of the scriptures. The Bible, after all, is filled with God's failed attempts at “parenting” the human species and after a while God gets tired of one system and sends Jesus to introduce a new system. This also might even make sense of some of the Old testament's more silly rules, such as shellfish being an “abomination”.
As far as I'm concerned this is the only choice a theist can make that makes a lick of sense. That is unless a believer wants to become a polytheist and give God some other Gods to interact with or give God an evolutionary lineage of similar beings which passed on their morality to him.
In the end God's morality could not even begin to compete with human morality even if it existed. The very concept of God given morality misses the point of morality altogether. The point of morality is to tell what actions are right and what actions are wrong amongst EACH OTHER, amongst live on THIS PLANET. Those who support Divine Command Theory are putting the cart before the horse - they are asserting that things like murder and theft are wrong because God says so and the commandments say it than it must be true...
In fact it goes the other way around. Murder and stealing aren't wrong because of the commandments say so, the commandments say so BECAUSE they are WRONG. God given morality ignores the legitimate reasons WHY some things are wrong. Theft is wrong because it deprives someone else of something they might need or desire, we do not need arbitrary reasons, like “God said so” BEYOND those that already make it wrong.
Because it's about commands and not about reasons God given morality will be inferior to whatever morality we human beings arrive. It was the God of the Bible who condoned slavery and it was brave men and women of conscience who protested and fought in a bloody Civil War who progressed our morality beyond that of Christianity's barbaric bronze age deity.
No matter how you look at it the concept of God given morality just doesn't make any sense. In the end morals are just one more thing that God is given credit for that he obviously had nothing to do with. In the end it is far better to reason out morality with rational thought and natural empathy than it would be to accept blindly the commands of a non-human entity.
Other Hubs in the Giving Credit to God Series
- Giving Credit to God
Objections are offered against the superstitious trend of giving credit to God for things he obviously didn't do.
- God Given Morality?
A hub analyzing and debunking the bizarre claim that morality comes from God.
- God Given Gifts?
A hub regarding the idea that God is the source of what makes you special or talented.
- God Given Punishment?
This hub deals with how diseases and natural disasters are supposedly the just and righteous punishment of God.
- God Given Meaning?
Hub discussing the idea that the meaning of life comes from God and that without God there is no objective meaning.
- God Given Victory?
In this installment I deal with the absurd idea that God is helping people win at everything from war to the lottery
- God Given Rights?
This hub deals specifically with the idea of rights from God.
More by this Author
A hub about the differences modern Christians often overlook between the Old and New Testament regarding the afterlife, punishment, obedience, the Messiah and more.
An analysis of the Ten Commandments as laid out in the Bible and a discussion on the fundamentalist Christian belief that these commandments apply to them and are morally good.
A brief journey into the bizarre branch of New Age woo called Spirit Science. Can you tell real Spirit Science from stuff I just made up—take the quiz!