How to stay out of Hell

Post image for How to stay out of Hell

As the story goes, God told Charleton Heston two things to do and eight things not to do, and he listened. Then he passed the rules along to others, and human morality was born.

The commandments weren’t always easy to work with, they found. Specifically, many of them enjoyed violating the one about not killing. Chuck had passed on the divine orders in his own personal style, and couldn’t resist including the Second Amendment in the Ten Commandments somewhere.

There was a real awkward moment when God was telling Chuck specifically not to carve likenesses of anything in the Heavens, precisely at the moment he was carving His words into stone tablets. Chuck had smashed the originals during a tantrum, and without some notes he was always in danger or forgetting what right and wrong were.

This was about 33 centuries ago, and before then there was no right and wrong because the Heavens hadn’t mentioned anything about it yet. Murder and double-parking were rampant.

Even after Chuck and his friends knew the new rules by heart, sometimes they found they did accidentally covet their neighbor’s ox, or even his ass. As they knew, equally offensive to God as coveting one’s neighbor’s livestock was to covet one’s neighbor’s wife, or her ass, or any other material possessions of his neighbor’s. They had an especially tough time with this one, because as pious as they were, it’s really hard to obey rules against thinking.

They didn’t usually steal, except from indigenous populations, until many centuries later when Napster came out and a free-for-all descended that not even God could stop. 

They also kept arguing over whether it was Saturday or Sunday that they were supposed to take off. To this day, most of them think it’s Sunday, and so they stay home to watch NFL football, where they can vicariously enjoy their favorite runningbacks and wide receivers toiling away in total defiance of God.

He doesn’t strike them down, but interestingly it is NFL policy to play through any weather except lightning and hurricanes. These players, heretics though they are, will still sometimes name-drop God or His son as helpful conspirators if they happen to win. God is a Denver Broncos fan these days.

Honoring their father and mother was pretty easy compared to the others, and they took comfort in this. If God ever audited Chuck’s people (and despite His omnipresent threats, He often forgot) they could play up how well they honored their parents, and change the subject before it got to coveting and killing.

They did try their best, but Chuck and his followers found a lot of these commandments to be generally unworkable. The idea behind them was great though, by all accounts: a moral code that’s stamped, sealed and backed up by a well-known name.

But they kept running afoul of themselves. In fact, they slipped up so often that they began to suspect it was all an empty threat. They would never say so out loud, even though God was supposed to be reading all their minds all the time anyway. And so they continued to do the odd bad thing, or even just questionable things, but talked about doing good things all the time.

The problem they had, whether they realized it or not, was that the commandments denied them the opportunity to be moral beings themselves. It was God’s will, not theirs, and so their own individual wills could never be moral, only obedient. They were not invited to participate in either understanding or deciding what is right and wrong.

So the implicit expectation was to throw out any personal feelings that conflicted with what God told them, or what Chuck told them that God had said, or with what some sickly abbot in a church told them that Chuck said that God had said. Trust anyone bearing a cloth or collar before you trust yourself, was the inevitable message, and so they never did.

Now, that means under this system, which billions of people heartily subscribe to, human beings are devoid of any moral sensitivity of their own. Nobody would know, for instance, that pushing someone down the stairs is wrong, unless they’d been to church a few times at least.

It’s a Good thing for us then — I’ll go ahead and assert that without God’s permission — that many people don’t think that’s true at all. I wish I could say most, but statistically it doesn’t look like it.

How to make it all workable

I think that if Mr Heston and his descendants had looked at the Commandments in a different way, they may have gotten more consistent mileage out of them.

While Christianity has its famous dictatorial approach to morality, some other traditions also have moral doctrines, but they present them as precepts.

Precepts aren’t really that different from commandments, in terms of what they are: they’re ethical rules, prescribed by an institution, sometimes attributed to a deity or someone else more important than you. But you can absolutely discover your own.

Some people do treat them just like commandments — follow them, or to Hell with you. But that’s a shame, because they’re missing out on their incredible power. The difference is in how you apply them.

Imagine if instead of obeying a moral precept under threat of punishment, you took it on voluntarily, and the consequences of not doing it were yours to discover. You treat it as a personal commitment, in the service of your God (if you have one) or whatever else is important to you: human solidarity, world peace, evolution, or even just yourself.

Whereas in Christianity you have:

Thou shalt not steal.

in, say, secular Buddhism you might have:

I undertake the rule of training to refrain from taking that which is not freely given.

Same dif, on the surface, but the fact that it is ultimately voluntary is what changes everything. You have to understand why you’re doing it, first of all. You’re allowed to wait until you really are ready to do it, which is only once you’re actually ready to delete all those seasons of Mad Men you lifted from BitTorrent.

From tradition to tradition, the rules aren’t that different. Killing is widely agreed to be a no-no, same with stealing, harming people with your lewd sex acts, and lying.

The value doesn’t come in simply not breaking the rules — because sometimes you will — but in being aware of exactly what’s going on in your mind when you’re tempted to. Where do immoral actions come from? What’s happening in your mind when you’re doing the wrong thing? That knowledge is enormously valuable — if indeed you are interested in peace and happiness — and you can’t get it simply by following orders.

All moral transgressions come down to a decisive moment, between the instant you feel a desire to violate your rule, and the instant you respond to that desire. Most of the time those moments come obscured by the heat of emotions and conditioning, and reaction just happens, without any conscious choice being made. And if you’re Catholic you feel really guilty after.

Observing precepts trains you to become acutely aware in those decisive moments, and prompts you to consider exactly why you’re finding it so hard not to steal something right now. What are you attached to? What rationalizations is your mind coming up with right now?

That is exactly what the commandment approach misses: that moment of reflection on why you have such a hard time following the rule, and why you might want to. Just following the rule because you’re scared not to is a complete avoidance of morality.

The precept approach triggers you to zero in on that crucial moment, and all the feelings, rationales, and possibilities that accompany it. Commandments concern themselves only with the What, and precepts engage the Why, which is the whole reason for morality anyway. Why not kill? If the only reason you have is “To avoid going to Hell,” then Hell might just be the best place for you.

Whether you violate the rule or not is not as important as whether you watch what happens internally as that decisive moment comes and goes. This is where morality comes from — the direct, voluntary experience of doing the right thing (or not doing it), and the direct experience of the consequences that arise as a result.

In those moments, when you become aware of the pull toward doing the lazy thing, the easy thing, or the wrong thing, and you consciously don’t do it, there is an incredible feeling of freedom. That’s what morality is, freedom from the grinding mechanical hell of acting from fear, lust or reaction. Like I’ve said before, Hell is real, and it doesn’t wait for you to die.

Chuck and his epic cast never knew this kind of freedom. They were under perpetual peril and did what any self-preserving people would do. Commandments can’t supply morals because they deny you the autonomy to do the right thing.

The commandments leave you no freedom. The moral landscape they create is the opposite of freedom. It’s oppression, especially when you remember that you’re forced to play the game for eternity.

As Christopher Hitchens sometimes puts it, “It’s a celestial dictatorship, where eternal praise and submission is demanded. A divine North Korea, if you will. But at least you can fucking die and leave North Korea.”

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Photo by David Cain

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{ 127 Comments }

Elizabeth December 12, 2011 at 7:12 am

This reminds me of a quote:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
Viktor E. Frankl

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David December 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Yes, I remember that one. You could even argue that that space is the only place where morality is possible. Otherwise it’s just conditioning or reaction, isn’t it?

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Elizabeth December 15, 2011 at 6:15 am

I agree. I think our entire character lies in that space. It’s an incredible freedom to choose who we will be.

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George December 17, 2011 at 9:24 am

That space is explored in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Persig — highly recommended.

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Nailz December 12, 2011 at 7:55 am

This reminds me of a good friend who is very religious and was always a straight arrow. He would ask me sometimes, why did I smoke, drink or even dance as this was disallowed in his religion. He didn’t think I was a bad person, but he wondered why I did something when I “knew” it was wrong (or in the case of smoking or drinking, bad for my health). This post actually articulates what I should have been telling him the whole time. Freedom to choose is what develops morality, not living in fear of the consequences.

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David December 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm

Freedom to choose is what develops morality, not living in fear of the consequences.

There we go. That could have saved a lot of words, but I wanted to make people laugh too :)

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Jay Schryer December 12, 2011 at 8:10 am

Brilliant, David! Absolutely brilliant. My favorite line is:

If the only reason you have is “To avoid going to Hell,” then Hell might just be the best place for you.

That, to me, is the entire crux of religion, philosophy, and morality. If you do anything because of expectation of reward or desire to avoid punishment, then your intentions aren’t pure, and you’re not in alignment with yourself. Better to get in alignment with what you really want, and then act accordingly, than to submit to rules against your own free will.

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David December 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

If the only reason you have is “To avoid going to Hell,” then Hell might just be the best place for you.

Yes, and I’m being a bit snarky, but it is a pretty important point. Morality, if it’s to mean anything, requires an understanding of why something is bad. Following prescribed behaviors doesn’t require that, it doesn’t require good at all, and certainly doesn’t preclude evil.

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K December 12, 2011 at 8:26 am

David,
I usually quite enjoy your postings, but this one took me by surprise. I think many people are mistaken about the purpose of the Ten Commandments. So many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, say that they are restricting and make one’s life boring and full of guilt. However, I believe that God created these rules, not to restrict us, but to free us so we could have a better life.
All of the Ten Commandments are protecting us from things that will either a) harm us or make us unhappy
or
b) harm others or make them unhappy.
One that is particularly misunderstood is the one about coveting a neighbor’s belongings. This commandment wasn’t made so that we would feel guilty every time we messed up. It was created because God knew that we would feel unhappy if we were always comparing ourself or our belongings to other’s belongings.
Please don’t think I’m a crazy, conservative Christian (hey, alliteration!) out to change people’s minds. I’m just explaining how I feel about the Ten Commandments. I’m not theological scholar, so I’m sure something I’ve said is probably not completely accurate but hey…I’m a music major (:

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David December 12, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Hi K. I did intend to find out how Christian readers would react to this one. From different Christians I’ve noticed a wide range of interpretations, concessions and convictions regarding what the Bible says. People do tailor it do match their intuition about what’s right and wrong.

I don’t understand though: Why do you interpret non-negotiable commands from God as being something freeing?

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K December 12, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Because if you follow His commandments, you experience an emotional freedom from the bondage of regret. The commandments were written to preserve the emotional health of people. I’ll use an example. My best friend and I are both singers. For the longest time, I would find myself comparing my voice to hers and saying “I wish I could have that voice.” (I won’t go into all of the reasons…it’s a lonnngggg story). However, I finally realized ultimately that comparing my voice to her voice would not allow me to have her voice and no good was being done by me coveting her voice. In fact, I was miserable the whole time. Once I decided that I would do the best I could with the voice I was given, and that I would stop coveting my friend’s voice, I felt a sense of relief. I could finally stop beating myself up for something I couldn’t change. Therefore, the commandment “Thou shall not covet” has turned my life around and freed me from feeling envious all of the time.
I know that the Bible makes it sound like breaking these rules is simply an offense against God but I think that you create your own personal Hell by not following these commandments.

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David December 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm

In that case I agree with you, and I do recognize the self-harm inherent in coveting. Eastern traditions would call it practicing non-attachment.

And that right there is the difference I’m trying to explain. Simply following the behaviors is not enough. Morality is difficult and subtle and takes practice. Non-coveting, for example, can be extraordinarily hard to achieve. Humans have a confoundingly difficult time living their values, and simply agreeing with the party line (in public anyway) does not make this happen.

If we’re just trying to check off the boxes of approved and mandatory behaviors, then we are still prone to attachment, suffering, resentment and anything else, and receive no practice or insight into how to overcome them.

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Maria Long December 12, 2011 at 8:39 am

On a similar vein (I hope you agree) please enjoy if you haven’t yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3f0rTcqnzno

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David December 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Heh… bizarre metaphor but I think I see what he’s getting at :)

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Meg December 12, 2011 at 8:50 am

This may be the best piece of writing on morality I have ever read, clear, simple, relate-able, and utterly true. It also invites people who have been raised in Late Bronze Age thinking to evolve into Modern Man. But could they do it? Just as scientists have proven there is a difference in the wiring of secular and fundamentalist brains, and a difference between spiritual and non-spiritual thinkers, could someone who is truly operating in fear of going to Hell even understand the notion of developing morality, the difference between a commandment and a precept? At the very least, it would make a fascinating study, but it might be morally dubious, right up there with trying to change a person’s sexual orientation. What do you think?

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Trish Scott December 12, 2011 at 11:13 am

What good points you make. I think there ARE fundamental differences in the way we are wired and no amount of comandment/precept yadayada is going to change it much. We do enjoy tossing this stuff around though :)

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David December 12, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Thank you Meg.

…could someone who is truly operating in fear of going to Hell even understand the notion of developing morality, the difference between a commandment and a precept?

This is what scares me so much about the prevalence of religion. I know that there are discerning and intelligent theists, but we still have billions and billions of people who let commands from scripture trump everything, including and especially their own personal doubts about whether it makes sense or not.

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Colleen December 12, 2011 at 9:30 am

David, Your satire was really funny, but I think you might lack the perspective of seeing this issue as true believers do. During my 22 years as a committed Christian, I learned that the God of the Old Testament spoke to His people according to their situations – sometimes it was loud and scary, like on Mt. Sinai, where He was speaking to the Israelites, who had been living in slavery for many years, and who wouldn’t have paid much attention to suggestions – they needed an authoritarian figure to tell them what to do at that point. Other times He spoke in a “still, small voice.” Jesus said that if “you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and that His commandments “are not grievous.” In other words, good works, moral behavior, and following God’s will are the fruits or results of the Christians’ faith and love for their Saviour. Fear of hellfire was never a factor for me or any of the other Christians I associated with. I’ve looked at this thing from many sides, having been a Catholic, an atheist, a Sabbath keeping Adventist, and an agnostic. I’m not a practicing Christian now, for various reasons, but I have to admit those were happy fulfilling years for me. You will find no occasion in the Bible where God ever violated anyone’s free will – humans always had the option to choose to turn away from God, and often did, but usually not without consequences. But then, all of our choices have consequences, don’t they?

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David December 12, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Hi Colleen. I do lack your perspective, and I’d like to understand what I can about it.

You will find no occasion in the Bible where God ever violated anyone’s free will – humans always had the option to choose to turn away from God, and often did, but usually not without consequences. But then, all of our choices have consequences, don’t they?

It is certainly never expressed as a viable choice. Both testaments are full of implicit and explicit threats. Free will is not the same as freedom, not at all. Prisoners and slaves have free will, but that does not mean they are free by any description.

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Liz December 12, 2011 at 10:00 am

Hey David, you might just want to re-do your 3rd paragraph (the awkward moment wasn’t due to a tantrum – it was the golden calf moment). Now, I’m pretty much as stubborn as anyone else but there comes a point where you just have to realize a moral compass is a moral compass no matter what the wording. That being said, there is grace. Whether you chose it or not, it’s there. As a wise and very religious friend has said “When you have a revelation of the grace of God and His love you are freed to obedience and surrender. One does not truly exist without the other but flows in this order, they don’t stand independent of each other.”

Salvation through good works is one side of the coin and if you read the rest of the Bible, you’ll see the other side; Jesus brings along the little nugget of “salvation by faith”. Contradictory, I know… but your scope may just be a little narrow here.

Buddhism is awesome for “not hurting anyone or yourself” but not so great in actual good works towards others. The idea is a happy balance.

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David December 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Yes, I don’t recommend you use this post as an accurate historical or theological resource. But the point is clear: morality without freedom to reflect and come to your own conclusion is not morality. If your conclusions are prescribed to you, with no possibility of rejecting or refining them, we can’t really call it morality.

Buddhism is awesome for “not hurting anyone or yourself” but not so great in actual good works towards others.

Can you explain what you mean by that? This post is not about Buddhism, but about a more reflective approach to precepts that you sometimes find in Buddhism. There are different schools of Buddhism, but across the board, they prescribe generosity and service to others.

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George December 17, 2011 at 9:27 am

Buddhists and Benedictines….

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Sarah December 18, 2011 at 9:21 pm

I really don’t think it’s appropriate to call someone’s approach ‘narrow’ just because they haven’t specifically referenced a Christian perspective. Your post didn’t reference a muslim perspective – how narrow is that?!?!

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Trish Scott December 12, 2011 at 11:07 am

I can get seasons of Mad Men from BitTorrent? Wheee!

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Adolfo Brandes December 12, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I wish I could vote this up as best comment (hint to David – post stuff to Reddit too, sometimes). ;)

I took this to mean “there is no right or wrong”, which is my current standing on the issue. Everything is relative, and there should be no preconceived notions of what to do at each junction in a person’s life.

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David December 12, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I don’t share my own writing on Reddit because I hate when people do that, but by all means I welcome you to :)

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Lynn December 12, 2011 at 11:37 am

I think there is much truth to the perspective that the 10 commandments, not to mention the rest of the levitical law, was a nearly impossible burden that had turned into oppressive legalism by the time of Jesus, and THAT WAS THE POINT. It doesn’t take long to find hundred of references to freedom from the law, and Jesus as the fulfillment of the law in the New Testament. (And references in both old and new about God being interested in your HEART not your actions.)

But I didn’t want to be one of those annoying posters trying to make a point and having an argument in the comments section, I just wanted to say good job, I always enjoy your blog, and even as a conservative Christian I can enjoy this and see the truth in it without being offended.

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David December 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm

That’s an encouraging perspective, and I wish could I believe most Christians shared it. So if I can ask, what role does Levitical law play in the life of a modern Christian? For example, what should a Christian make of Leviticus passages requiring stoning young women for premarital sex? I don’t mean to be flippant at all here, I have just never heard a good answer to that question.

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Lynn December 13, 2011 at 11:26 am

None. I’ve always wondered how orthodox Jews dealt with those issues (again, I’m not being flippant either) since they do not believe Jesus was the Messiah and are still waiting. Christians do not have to do anything to earn salvation, but are saved through faith by the fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law we could not. The law is hopeless because even if you follow it perfectly with your actions you can’t perfectly do it with your heart (insert more new testament references here, I’ll just give Matt 5:27-28).

I don’t mean to take a brief comment and turn it into an exposition, but I sensed a sincere question about what “Christians” believe. Check out “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis for the most basic concepts shared by all Christian denominations, described quiet well starting truly with the beginning. I didn’t know the back story of “Mere Christianity” until recently, it was a series of radio addresses on the BBC in the 40s, truly to give an overview of “mere Christianity” during a terrifying time of war.

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Avi December 26, 2011 at 7:38 pm

According to the Talmud, many Biblical laws (such as execution, which requires witnesses and the whole rigmarole) cannot be practiced without the presence of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin (supreme court).

David December 13, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Christians do not have to do anything to earn salvation, but are saved through faith by the fact that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law we could not.

By all accounts this is actually still quite a controversial interpretation. From reading different takes on it, it seems to me that the role of Jesus was to fulfill the laws by teaching people how to apply them — not to rescind them or relieve the people of their burden. In Matthew 5:19 “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great [by those] in the kingdom of heaven.”

The heart of this post is not about splitting scriptural hairs but to offer a way of putting moral maxims to use in a way that is far superior to simply following laws as dictated.

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Lynn December 18, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I didn’t mean to imply a scriptural critique of what you had written but only to answer your follow-up question; I enjoyed this article as I have all of your others, and hope you keep it up.

I whole-heartedly agree with you (no pun intended) about the lack of value in simply following laws; I hope you continue seeking after the truth and sharing your insights with the rest of us ;).

Lynn January 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm

I know this is old, but it has been bothering me that I didn’t say one more thing to you:

Jesus did say to obey the law. Did you also read that he even upped the ante by saying “Be perfect, as I am perfect”. So, just in case you think you can qualify on your own power, that should make it clear that the standard is impossibly high.

Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died. That is our only hope.

Sorry, that has just been gnawing at me since this original exchange, and I had to come back and post it, hopefully to get it off my mind. I don’t expect a response.

VaeVictis December 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm

The problems I’ve had with the ideas of morality comes down to intention. We care too much what law a person has broken and less on WHY that law was broken. A man is more motivated to correct his behavior when it is met with compassion and mercy instead of judgement and rejection.

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:29 am

You’re totally right and it baffles me how primitive we still are when it comes to addressing crime. There is no interest at all in why people do harmful things, only what we should do with them after they have.

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EcoCatLady December 13, 2011 at 3:07 am

Oh my… Just have to weigh in here as a life-long Denver Broncos Fan. Personally, I think when Tebow thought God was telling him that they’d win the game, what he was really hearing was John Fox in the other room sticking voodoo pins in a Marion Barber doll! That’s my theory anyhow!

Seriously though… don’t you think that if God spent a little more time dealing with issues like genocide and climate change, rather than frittering his hours away drawing pictures of the Blessed Virgin Mary in pools of motor oil, imprinting his son’s face on grilled cheese sandwiches and watching football, we’d all be a whole lot better off? Just sayin’…

Sorry for the sarcastic comment, guess I’m just not up for deep philosophical analysis at the moment.

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:31 am

The problem is that no matter how many advantages God gives Tebow, he can’t go all the way to the promised land without at some point facing the devil Aaron Rodgers. And the devil will win.

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EcoCatLady December 13, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Does this mean that the devil has traded horns for cheese?

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:52 pm

He has many disguises and no allegiances

gem December 13, 2011 at 11:31 am

OMG You are seriously my hero of the day!

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DerzaFanistori December 13, 2011 at 8:00 am

As always, wonderful and envigorating piece of reading – food for thought in its best form. Yet, I’m not optimistic that your thoughts, albeit well thought out and soundly argumented, can reach anyone who’s not already a skeptic, thinker, YAVIS in a sense. Your sermon is beautiful but you preach to the choir, for the choir. I sense you do your best and that it is not your fault, but it saddens me nevertheless.

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David December 13, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Well, you’re probably right, but the point was not to convert people away from religion. In fact, it was to present a way to put sensible ethical maxims to use, by treating them as voluntary precepts. I’ve mentioned that I don’t think the ten commandments are particularly bad advice. But I did intend to mock the idea that real, workable morality can be realized by simply following rules. It takes an intention to understand the mental details of your own behavior, it takes practice, and most importantly, it takes freedom from the threat of punishment, otherwise it is only self-preservation or bet-hedging, and not morality at all.

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DerzaFanistori December 14, 2011 at 1:21 am

I know. I got it first time around. And it is a valiant deed (you pointing that out), but quixotic. It’s not you that I worry about, as you are obviously quite intelligent and well spoken person. What saddens me is that there are so many many many persons that really are not any of those things. And there is nothing to do but to accept that.

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nrhatch December 13, 2011 at 8:19 am

Terrific thoughts, David. And more than a few laughs. Thanks!

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Thanks Nancy

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drgsmrgc December 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Great article David! I always like your choice of words and the subtle humour. Talking about religion and the way it influences people’s behaviour is not an easy subject. Personally I think religion it the most effective tool in controlling the masses and it could be a great one if it would be “updated”. I surely don’t know much about other religions but I do know that in Christianity everything sounds exactly like you say: do it so or go to Hell. Others religions might not be too far from doing the same, as they all grew from a single seed, and it’s obvious that forcing someone into doing something good will only have a bad result, in the end.

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:02 pm

There may be more sophisticated understandings of Christian morality (as some have mentioned here) but I think it’s still fair to say that the typical conception of Biblical morality by its adherents is to do certain things or you will be punished.

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Nitya December 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I heard a quote recently that said religion was the social custom that evolves the most, in order to try to fit in with the knowledge we have. I think that it is a very pertinent comment in relationship to your post today.
Can you imagine expressing such thoughts 500 years ago (more recently if you were Spanish or Iranian)? You would have been put to death for sure, in an appropriately gruesome manner .
I can’t see why doing the right thing because it is the right thing, is somehow an inferior concept to those of religious conviction? Obviously their thinking needs to evolve.

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:26 pm

You are certainly right. It’s ironic that many institutions that deny biological evolution will themselves adapt in order to survive. The Catholic church, famously, in 1996 conceded that evolution is compatible with church doctrine, suddenly. They have been making concessions and apologies forever.

One especially atrocious case: they changed their position about the supposed fate of infants who died before they could be baptised. For centuries, the church told parents that their deceased children were in Limbo. Then in 2007 they go and announce that there never was such a place and instead offered a wishy-washy assurance that God probably takes care of them somehow, so don’t worry about it. But to the parents of these children, of whom they always demanded absolute faith, Limbo was absolutely real, as real as God. Yet they just tell them to forget it, it’s not true anymore, and they’re ready to be infallible and unquestionable all over again.

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Dean December 13, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I just had a fun thought. Society today is set up the same way. Instead of “Do this or go to hell” it’s “Do or this or go to jail” The only difference is now the threat is real, unless you believe in hell that is. Basically what i’m saying is people simply obey the government and jump through metaphorical hoops, way back when was people simply obeyed the government or church and jumped through more hoops. I don’t want to sound like some crazy conspiracy theorist but just a thought I had while reading.

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:35 pm

There’s something interesting about the way we approach morality with our laws. Society seems to genuinely believe that punishment teaches morality. It doesn’t, it teaches an amoral type of pragmatism, where “right” is whatever the laws and their enforcers let us get away with.

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Brenda December 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I like it when you write like a smart-ass, David. This was fun to read.

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David December 13, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Ah thanks Brenda, my number one aim here was to entertain.

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Andy December 13, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Wow, so many things to think about.

This reminds me of one of the strongest reasons why I don’t consider myself a Christian anymore, let me share it:

I’m 24 and have done lots of things that are considered a sin, but I don’t feel bad for doing them. I question myself: “Is this right? Am I right?” My very personal conclusion is that if I don’t share the same view on what is “wrong and right” with the Church, it’s inconsistent of me to say that I’m part of it.

(as a sidenote, that’s also why I don’t like atheists who choose to be so so “because of what the Church / The Pope / some religious group” has done. I think everyone’s “belief” should be based on what they actually believe in and not what other people do)

This doesn’t mean that I’m a bad guy or that I claim to be a perfect person. I have done mistakes, I’ve harmed others (not only physically) and I have my regrets; but every day those actions are less based on what _a superior power_ tells me and more in what I regard as harmful (or potentially harmful)

It’s not easy, of course. Choosing your actions like that means that you have to start from (almost) scratch, wondering why you do what you do and if it actually helps you or someone (or if it doesn’t harm you or someone). This of course leads to deeper questions, more about “myself” and “my place among others”. I don’t know how to phrase it better.

But yes, I’ve been having a rough time thinking about what harms me or others and why I do it (or why I don’t). But certainly has led me through an unique path, gradually freeing me from what I actually don’t need.

Cheers

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David December 14, 2011 at 7:16 am

I’m 24 and have done lots of things that are considered a sin, but I don’t feel bad for doing them. I question myself: “Is this right? Am I right?” My very personal conclusion is that if I don’t share the same view on what is “wrong and right” with the Church, it’s inconsistent of me to say that I’m part of it.

That’s really the essence of the problem. Religion, by its definition, mandates a party line with respect to morality. So how can you work it out on your own and still be a faithful member of the church.

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Andy December 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm

(did you miss a question mark there?)

I’m still working it out and I’ve found that even culture has a great weight in my moral judgements (I think it’s the same for pretty much everyone). I won’t go into detail, I just wanted to thank you for putting this general feeling to words better than me.

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Waldo December 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm

“This was about 33 centuries ago, and before then there was no right and wrong because the Heavens hadn’t mentioned anything about it yet. Murder and double-parking were rampant.”

Cain killed Able over 1000 years before the 10 commandments were issued and God made it abundantly clear murder was wrong then.
The Hebrews were under 400 years of Egyptian enslavement and all of their Jewish customs were lost. They worshipped Golden Calf’s and Egyptian idols and God took pity and reconnected with his people.
They needed tough love and education.
The 10 commandments have served mankind well (not only the Jews) but your atheistic sensibilities got the better of you (as it also does the great atheist Christopher Hitchens who you quote).
You can’t help but poke fun at because you dispise the God of your own making.
The God in your mind is not the real God.
Your stuck in your head with some weird imagined God you made up that you can’t believe in.
I wouldn’t either.

Your humanist “ideal” is a lost cause.
Man has proven to be bankrupt throughout history and our lot will never improve no matter how high minded man pretends to be.
Your comments about the most important 10 lines of writing in history is proof that the arrogance of man has no limit.
Let me explain this with your own words.

“The problem they had, whether they realized it or not, was that the commandments denied them the opportunity to be moral beings themselves. It was God’s will, not theirs, and so their own individual wills could never be moral, only obedient.”

Since when does “will”, individual or otherwise, create a moral?
It doesn’t and there is no connection.

“They were not invited to participate in either understanding or deciding what is right and wrong.”

LOL lets see how far the Hebrews would have gotten as a people with the 10 questions!
How about the 10 suggestion’s?
Imagine placing the 10 daily affirmation’s in the Ark of the Covenant.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
The Jews would still be wandering out in the wilderness today.

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David December 14, 2011 at 6:48 am

How do you know the God in your mind is the real God?

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Heather December 14, 2011 at 1:36 am

The tone of this post and general nastiness was surprising to me after reading your other articles. First it pissed me off and then it made me sad. Wherever you learned your Christianity, they missed the entire point. The ten commandments are NOT the crux of Christianity. Exactly the opposite is true. But sadly there are so many churches and Christians living and preaching a dogma of rule and law instead of grace and then people get turned off. Christ is grace and that grace extends to us even if we screw up royally and break the ten commandments. Obeying those commandments has nothing to do with whether or not someone is going to Hell, so just take that out of the equation. You may think Hell isn’t real and that is fine, but if you’re going to bash a religion, at least understand it fully.
Jesus came here to extend pure grace and forgiveness to our brokenness and that is the point. You may not agree with the whole idea. Maybe you think you don’t need to be forgiven by God, but at least get the point of the religion right. When you go to Jesus and admit you messed up and you truly mean it in your heart he showers you with love. LOVE is the point of Christianity not condemning you to hell and asking you to live in fear of that. A Christian should never have fear of Hell because Jesus took that all away.
Christianity is all about free will. Yes there are rules you want to live by, but we do have free will. Once you become a Christian you still have choices to make. God doesn’t micromanage your life and he’s not going to make those choices for you. The ten commandments doesn’t give you a pass to be an automaton and following them does not prove you have a relationship with God. The Bible says “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” It also says “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” We must take control of our minds, hearts and will and make good choices not because we are in fear of Hell, but because we want to live a good and happy life. But even if we mess up royally and make stupid choices, there stands Jesus with his hand outstretched waiting to love us. That is the crux of Christianity.
I am not a Buddhist and I would never be one. I am a Christian. However, I can respect the wisdom in another religion and learn something from one of its followers. I would never consider writing an article with the sarcastic nasty tone you used in this article if I was writing about Buddhism. Respect…. it’s a good thing. Disagree with intellectual integrity and have a discussion based on real knowledge of the religion you are disagreeing with. That would be nice.

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David December 14, 2011 at 7:07 am

Hi Heather. The tone is meant to elicit a reaction from Christians. I was genuinely curious to hear what people would say, whether they would defend, correct, or say nothing. I have certainly been satirical and sarcastic before, but maybe you were never in the target group.

I no longer believe in makes sense to respect every idea. For example, I don’t respect the idea that women are lesser beings than men. You probably don’t either, but millions do. It’s just not an intelligent or healthy idea, and I don’t see any reason to pretend that all differences of opinion are respectable.

If I am mistaken about the *true* Abrahamaic approach to morality, that’s fine, the satire is still applicable because there is no question many Christians are mistaken in the same way.

I stated that I do think Hell is real and I’m not joking. I just believe it occurs while we are alive.

Once you become a Christian, then Hell is a non issue. You will not go there. Period. You can choose not to believe in Hell and that is fine with me, but fear of Hell is gone for a Christian.

And this here is what I find so arrogant about the basic claims of religion. Join our club, wave our flag or suffer forever. Is that not what this is saying? Our people are okay, yours are not. How could this possibly be *less* offensive than a satirical blog post?

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Jack December 14, 2011 at 5:21 pm

David, Heather didn’t say that non-Christians would go to hell automatically, she said that Christians would automatically not go to hell.

I’m a lot more Buddhist than I am Christian. I’m also a senior at a Jesuit high school, and the general consensus of priests and laypeople at my school is that heaven is open to every single person on the planet, regardless of faith (or lack thereof).

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Heather December 14, 2011 at 2:00 am

“This is what scares me so much about the prevalence of religion. I know that there are discerning and intelligent theists, but we still have billions and billions of people who let commands from scripture trump everything, including and especially their own personal doubts about whether it makes sense or not.”

My word, the arrogance of this statement is astounding. “There are discerning and intelligent theists” …as if there is a select few people with half a brain who are religious and the others are a bunch of idiots. But it’s typical for the tiny group of “intellectual” secular elite who believe erroneously that most people really think the way they do and if they don’t think they way they do, they ought to because afterall… you are the only ones who are right. Yawn. Bore me.

Anybody who is dumb as a rock can read the Bible and know that fear of Hell is NOT what you get if you are a Christian. Once you become a Christian, then Hell is a non issue. You will not go there. Period. You can choose not to believe in Hell and that is fine with me, but fear of Hell is gone for a Christian.

As far as your comment about billions of people letting scripture trump everything even if it doesn’t make sense to them… again the arrogance of a statement like that astounds me. How in the heck do you know what billions of people believe about their faith? It is called faith for a reason. You either believe it or you don’t. Every religion on earth, even your beloved Buddhism has mysteries. There are things that don’t make sense in secular explanations of things too. No matter how smart we get man will never unlock all the answers in the world. Every time they prove something with science, there are anomalies, often many of them that go against the proven theory. Drug studies are notorious for this… the placebo affect, etc. Evolution and big bang theory is full of holes and things that make no sense whatsoever and eventually, even with science you have to put your faith somewhere and decide which things makes the most sense to you.

You say the Bible makes no sense but I would hazard to guess you haven’t read very much of it, and if you have then I must suggest some rereading because you didn’t comprehend what you read.

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David December 14, 2011 at 7:11 am

You’re getting more condescending as you go on. This is grace and respect?

I won’t let this turn into an endless religion vs secularism debate. Communication is lost by that point. The purpose of this post was to give a tool to people who can’t make sense of moral dictates like the ten commandments, both theists and secularists among them. The satirical portion was to illustrate the absurdity of trying to do the right thing on your own volition while you’re being commanded to do the right thing.

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Eric Pinola December 14, 2011 at 8:49 am

Weird – maybe it’s just me being a Catholic and not just “saved” but fear of Hell is always there.

– here is a cool little prayer – “Oh my Jesus forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, lead all souls to Heaven especially those in most need of thy mercy.”

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Jack December 14, 2011 at 5:37 pm

David, I have a lot of respect for you for writing this blog, it takes some balls to put this stuff out for everyone to criticize.

But you need to understand that intelligent responses like this deserve more of a reply than the one you gave Heather’s. Her post may seem condescending, but if you’re willing to write something as offensive to Christians as the initial post, don’t get so defensive when a Christian responds in a similar tone.

Communication is not lost by an “endless religion vs secularism debate,” communication is lost when you choose to end it rather than provide a rational response. You said you wanted to hear what Christians thought of it, and now that you have, you should at least clear up their concerns.

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David December 15, 2011 at 7:03 am

I admire your effort at diplomacy here Jack. You’re right. It is hard to discuss this topic without getting heated and my tone isn’t helping. But I do believe that once an emotional defensive reaction is made, communication is indeed lost, because ideas can’t really be considered when either party (or both) is defending himself or herself. I’ve seen so many discussions on this topic, on this blog and elsewhere, turn into endless sniping in which nobody is learning anything. I saw that happening, and I didn’t want it to. There really is no sense arguing about the plausibility of religious claims because the attachments are so strong on both sides, and it is so hard to discuss without crossing into arguing.

Heather’s second comment is full of personal ad hominems and sarcasm. I can take it, this is only the internet, but in my experience there’s just no way to resolve that line of conversation (if you can call it that) respectfully and openly.

I don’t know what to say to hurt feelings. I hurt feelings with what I write sometimes, that’s certainly nothing new and I accept that.

n December 14, 2011 at 7:55 am

Your post reminds me of what David Foster Wallace said in an interview :

“All the things that my parents said to me, like “It’s really important not to lie.” OK, check, got it. I nod at that but I really don’t feel it. Until I get to be about 30 and I realize that if I lie to you, I also can’t trust you. I feel that I’m in pain, I’m nervous, I’m lonely and I can’t figure out why. Then I realize, “Oh, perhaps the way to deal with this is really not to lie.”"

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David December 15, 2011 at 7:07 am

David Foster Wallace was a genius with simple words. That’s exactly what I am trying to say here. Morality must be discovered by each person through experiencing it. You just can’t take anyone’s word (even God’s) for what is right or wrong, or else it’s not morality.

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Mike December 14, 2011 at 8:02 am

Another great essay David. It takes guts to write something thoughtful about religion these days. While the traditional religions still contain important insights into the human condition, they are all obsolete in their present forms and desperately need updating. It often takes satire (like yours) to help people see that. Thanks again.

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David December 15, 2011 at 7:20 am

Thanks Mike. And in case it’s not clear to some, I have always defended the intrinsic wisdom of religious traditions. Just look in the archives. What I object to is authoritarianism and dogma, and despite the rosy picture some readers give of their experiences with religion, moral dictates do discourage critical thinking, they do encourage (often demand) conformity, and they do tend to keep conservative, intolerant men in positions of power.

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Eric Pinola December 14, 2011 at 8:39 am

This is a big topic so I will just toss some quote that sum up a few pieces of my position.

“The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden.” – G. K. Chesterton

“Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.” – G. K. Chesterton

“Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can’t really get rid of it.”

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”

“Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.”

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.”

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

“‘We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge–the last thing we know before things become too swift for us.’”

“A creature revolting against a creator is revolting against the source of his own powers–including even his power to revolt…It is like the scent of a flower trying to destroy the flower.”

“Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” – G. K. Chesterton

I believe the commandments are 100% correct, yet we are human. I am Catholic and I believe that we must wake up and put 100% into seeking that which we cannot ever truly understand in this world. Though your post seems to make sense and sound clever, I feel saddened like you have been sold a bag of goods that is devoid of any substance. The areas where you start to gain traction are really only a lite repackaging of what the ten commandments is in place for. Read the rest of the story; you may be surprised that it is a reflection of how you may already be living your life.

Eric

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Mike December 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Eric,
For a moment, I was concerned that I might have to dig up some support for my comment about how traditional religion is obsolete. I appreciate you doing that for me. All you have done in your reply is prove just how irrelevant traditional religion is. As a fully recovered Catholic, I can see right through your comments. Thanks for that.

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David December 15, 2011 at 7:31 am

The areas where you start to gain traction are really only a lite repackaging of what the ten commandments is in place for. Read the rest of the story; you may be surprised that it is a reflection of how you may already be living your life.

Throughout the article and the comments I have maintained that I think the ten commandments do make sense ethically, for the most part. My argument is with the application of them. Obeying laws is not morality, that’s the whole point, and so many people are saying, “Well you just need to read more of the Bible, and you’ll understand.” I’ve read Genesis and Exodus, and as much of the remainder of the Torah as I could stand, then read the canonical gospels, which are much more interesting. Jesus does strike me as an ethical genius for his time, but there is no reason at all to take anyone’s word on ethics without trying it yourself.

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Waldo December 14, 2011 at 9:09 am

“How do you know the God in your mind is the real God?”

That’s easy.
He’s in my heart as well.
That’s how you know.

Can you see that you mocked a version of God that you hold in your mind?
He’s obviously not with you, (not in your heart) so you can’t know him.

Can you also see that your version of God (that has no root in reality) was polluted by Christopher Hitchens and other atheist and so called intellectuals you admire?
Hitchens equates God to a “celestial dictatorship, where eternal praise and submission is demanded”.
How many teens feel the same way about their parents?
Your a ‘know it all spoiled teen’ David trying to avoid the domination of your parents (God) as they lovingly pay for your room, board and education (Life).
Your humanist ideals have never worked because man is not inherently good but he is fallen.
I have the proof of history to back my statement up and you have nothing to back you up.

To think so highly of your mind that you can wrap it around God and declare him faulty is something you might want to look at about yourself.
You don’t even believe in God yet you proclaim him flawed because you think yourself to be so clever and snarky.
This mental masturbation finds you in a circle jerk with other atheists and humanists but will never produce anything of value.

Go to bed without your dinner young man.

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Nitya December 14, 2011 at 4:43 pm

This is no sort of argument at all. You have made a decision to believe something based on your emotions (ie your heart ) without engaging your intellect (ie your ability to reason). Why not put it to the test? Simply pray that all we doubters go away! I can tell you the results of your prayers right now…it won’t happen.
The analogy of the relationship with parents and their children is similarly flawed. As a parent, one hopes that at a particular stage the child breaks away and starts to think for himself/herself. This all involves using your brain! If you choose to keep believing in these really silly notions (trust me, read your bible), that is up to you, but there is nothing to be gained by calling people with other ways of seeking the truth, by insulting names.
Almost all the big improvements made to our standard of living have been made by our secular world and they have frequently been met by fierce opposition by those of the cloth. To say that all things good were created by the church , is just wrong.

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Mike December 14, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Waldo,
Your criticism of Mr. Hitchens’ position is appropriate, but so is Nitya’s criticism of your comments. No argument for or against any concept of a god can be proven or disproved, so a little more humility on both sides is in order. Also, humanism is a much bigger tent than your comments suggest. Humanism is simply a worldview that gives a priority to the concerns of people. There are secular humanists and religious humanists. Secular humanists don’t deny people their right to practice their religion, they simply defend the separation of church and state, and wish to protect people from any unwanted imposition of religion into their lives. Thoughtful religious people share their concerns.

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Ryan Lacanilao December 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm

I’m reading a book right now called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (by psychologist Robert Cialdini), and this blog post made me think of a psychology experiment that is described in the book:

“After showing a boy an array of five toys and warning him, ‘It is wrong to play with the robot. If you play with the robot, I’ll be very angry and will have to do something about it,’ Freedman left the room for a few minutes. During that time, the boy was observed secretly through a one-way mirror. Freedman tried this threat procedure on twenty-two different boys, and twenty-one of them never touched the robot while he was gone.

” . . . He was really interested in the effectiveness of the threat in guiding the boy’s behavior later on, when he was no longer around. To find out what would happen then, he sent a young woman back to the boys’ school about six weeks after he had been there. She took the boys out of the class one at a time to participate in an experiment. Without ever mentioning any connection with Freedman, she escorted each boy back to the room with the five toys and gave him a drawing test. While she was scoring the test, she told the boy that he was free to play with any toy in the room. . . . of the boys playing with a toy, 77 percent chose to play with the robot that had been forbidden to them earlier. Freedman’s severe threat, which had been so successful six weeks before, was almost totally unsuccessful when he was no longer able to back it up with punishment.

“But Freedman wasn’t finished yet. He changed his procedure slightly with a second sample of boys. These boys, too, were initially shown the array of five toys by Freedman and warned not to play with the robot while he was briefly out of the room because ‘It is wrong to play with the robot.’ But this time, Freedman provided no strong threat to frighten a boy into obedience. . . . Just as with the other sample, only one of the twenty-two boys touched the robot.

“The real difference between the two samples of boys came six weeks later, when they had a chance to play with the toys while Freedman was no longer around. An astonishing thing happened with the boys who had earlier been given no strong threat against playing with the robot: When given the freedom to play with any toy they wished, most avoided the robot, even though it was by far the most attractive of the five toys available. . . . When these boys played with one of the five toys, only 33 percent chose the robot.

“For the first group . . . It seems clear that the threat had not taught the boys that operating the robot was wrong, only that it was unwise to do so when the possibility of punishment existed.

“For the other boys, the dramatic event had come from the inside, not the outside. . . . the boys took personal responsibility for their choice. . . . After all, there were no strong punishments associated with the toy to explain their behavior otherwise.”

This experiment suggests that strong punishments (such as hell, or missing out on eternal life/heaven) tend to prevent people from internalizing morals—they prevent people from taking personal responsibility for their actions. Why didn’t you play with the robot? Big punishment. Why do you keep the commandments? ‘Big punishment’ is a potential answer, only if you believe that the the big punishment (hell, or missing out on eternal life/heaven) is a reality. Without big punishments, people must take personal responsibility for their actions. Why didn’t you play with the robot? Because…it’s wrong. Why didn’t you cheat, steal, lie, etc.? Because…it’s wrong.

The mere belief in the existence of hell has the potential to prevent people from internalizing morals—it prevents them from taking personal responsibility. Who would you say probably has a nobler character: Someone who treats others nicely and believes in divine punishment for those who don’t, or someone who treats others nicely without believing in any divine punishments?

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David December 15, 2011 at 7:36 am

Ah, brilliant, thanks for posting this Ryan. The principle demonstrated in that experiment is all I’m trying to assert. We need to feel free to do the right thing, and the idea of an omnipresent being really stifles that feeling unless you can believe that you are not indeed being watched, not being judged.

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Waldo December 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Hi Mike.
I was a secular humanist for almost 40 years.
Atheists were too religious for me.
I studied ontology (the nature of being for human beings) for many years and taught humanist studies for several years.
David needed to be spanked for lying to us.
His article was a lie because he believed in none of it and wasn’t being respectful or thoughtful to his fellow Jews or Christians (human beings).
Being a humanist gives David no right to break the very morals he claims to have and to do that while mocking the 10 commandments was an arrogant mistake.
Man will never be able to moderate or check himself.
He is fallen.
To David:
Don’t be disrespectful and boastful David.
The Bible is the most influential book ever written done in a most powerful language.
Your writings don’t compare.

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David December 14, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Would you say you were a more respectful person or less respectful person before you found religion?

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Waldo December 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

I’m the same person in a different context.
The world changed around me David.
I didn’t change but because the world changed around me, how I operate in it has.
Has anything I said to you or about your post registered at all with you?
Are you trying to intellectually “float” above my comments rather than address them?
I’m not suggesting you have to address them.
I’m pointing out that you haven’t.

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Zack December 14, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I got tough questions for you David. My friends and I were discussing something pretty close to this in class today, and I said something like “morality consists of nothing more than working for my own happiness.” Please explain:
1. Why you agree/disagree with that statement.
2. How do we find objective morals?

Great post!

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David December 15, 2011 at 7:56 am

Hi Zack. I’ll give them a shot:

1) Ultimately you could say so, but it takes a lot of explanation. I argued that point here (http://bit.ly/ba8nRa) but today I’d add a few caveats. I think it’s more useful to think of morality as “a study of how suffering is created.” The more moral thing is always to cause less suffering, and the pinnacle of morality seems to be to weigh the suffering of others the same as your own. I believe the story of Jesus is meant to illustrate that it is possible for a human to do so, and when you do you take on the suffering of the world. In other words, you give up yourself, your sovereign life as you know it, for the sins of everyone.

2) Morals can only be relative to the values of the mind experiencing the morals. You simply can’t act in pursuit of values you don’t have. BUT, there is a value we all share, and that is that we want to be free of suffering. So morality can be viewed as objective, because suffering is something we all know, and it serves as a common benchmark for all of us. The right thing is that which is apt to cause the least suffering.

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Zack December 16, 2011 at 6:37 am

Ah, I very much like your answers. The only problem I have with them is the following: I don’t want to live like Jesus Christ. I don’t want to spend my life helping and explaning what’s right and wrong to everyone, or to be a savior. I want to lead a happy and fulfilling life, which of course means eventually helping out the odd stranger, but helping outhers won’t be my priority in life. Moral? Or immoral?

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David December 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

I think morality exists on a spectrum, and it’s not always helpful to impose a one-bucket-or-the-other system on it.

Helping others might not feel like your priority in life, but if your goal is to be happy and fulfilled, the value of helping others to that end is something you’re definitely going to discover, and you might be more inclined to do it. In other words, the more weight you give to the well-being of others (the more moral your actions are) the more likely you are to become happy and fulfilled.

And from that you could suppose that the ultimate in happiness and fulfillment is to give up yourself completely for others. I don’t plan on doing that either, but I think it’s probably an incentive that grows and eventually envelops certain rare people’s lives, and they couldn’t see themselves going about life any other way. That’s one way of saying “You don’t choose it, it chooses you.” You can probably see how following these philosophical lines can lead to claims about being one with the universe, dying for the sins of mankind, and being chosen by a greater power outside yourself to do so — and how easy it is to totally misinterpret them as some kind of supernatural phenomenon.

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sayama December 15, 2011 at 8:41 am

Provoking intense comments this post David, but then, I think you expected this?
For me, I’ve always been struck by the extreme difference in message and tone between the new testament and the old one. In the old testament, the commandments come from a stern God who wants to protect his people from themselves, and who sets tests of loyalty of his people by asking them to sacrifice their children (for example). In the new testament Jesus gives another commandment; to love one another. Throughout the new testament, Jesus demonstrates a tolerance of people ordinarily shunned by society, and a capacity for forgiveness that is mirrored by many Christians and non-Christians today, and ignored by many others, regardless of religious affiliations. It seems to me that the commandment coming from Jesus moves away from asking people to blindly follow the rules, to highlighting the root of why one would observe such rules in the first place. This is maybe what Heather means by ‘the crux of Christianity’.

That said, I don’t consider myself a Christian, but I do consider myself to have a sound moral code, and I don’t think that it’s necessary to be a member of a church to uphold a moral code either. I’m disappointed when I hear people equating religion with morality, and stating that the world needs religion and churches to keep its people in check. One of the previous comments mentioned that ‘your humanist ideal is a lost cause’, but goes on to say that ‘man has been proven to be bankrupt throughout history’. If this is the case, we can just as well say that all ideals, of all religions and philosophies are a lost cause – because they have all failed at some point or another.

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Waldo December 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hi sayama.
I’m not sure why you would ask David this question.
David doesn’t study God and his view is skewed by an unfortunate misguided believe in man.
His area of study is man.
He would only be able to give you a humanist/atheist view of the Bible.
You might as well ask Richard Dawkins the question.
Excuse me for commenting on your question even though you didn’t ask it of me.
When I was a humanist I also thought there was a disconnect between the old T and the new T God.
Now as a God fearing man I see no difference at all.
The language style and personality of God are identical throughout the Bible.
The story is almost 6000 years old yet every time God speaks or acts he uses the same wording and style.
While the message is new and the delivery method is different in the new Testament, the language style and personality are identical.
That was a surprise for me because I had a preconceived notion that the old and new Testament God were different based solely on the necessary acts God had to do in the Old T to bring us to the point where we could even hear the message of the New Testament.
Man has created many gods and none of those invented gods say we are corrupt (the truth) except one.
They all are based on the same basic lies, (You will not die and you will be as gods).
Why would man create a god like God?
We wouldn’t.
We only create self serving gods that feed our whims and desires.

Humanists/atheists quote mine the Bible.
When God banished Adam and Eve from the garden he also made them clothing for the trip.
That’s the stuff that gets overlooked by critics of God.
Just think of how angry God was at Adam and Eve for bringing on their own destruction yet he still made them clothing.
Adam and Eve were naked before they ate from the tree and their nakedness didn’t bother God so it wasn’t for God that he clothed them.
It was because Adam and Eve felt naked (shame) in front of God that he clothed them.
This gentle act gets obscured by the harsh reality of the exile from the garden and the curse (responsibility) that man brought on themselves.
Humanists/atheists often site the order from God to the Hebrews of Exodus to kill every man, woman and child of the Canaanites as an example of God’s murderous nature.
What they don’t tell you is that for 400 years these Canaanites burned their children in superheated caldron’s as alter sacrifices to their idols.
God gave them 400 years to repent and then destroyed them.

Humanists shirk their responsibility of the knowledge of good and evil and have invented a backward theology that says “shame is the problem”.
You will find that same shamelessness in hedonism and satanism.
Asking a humanist questions about morality will only expose their moral “relativeness”.
Asking the same person about the Bible and you will find that the moral relativeness they enjoy is not extended to God.
“Shame on God” they say.
Excuse me for answering a question you didn’t ask of me.
The language, personality and essence of God are unchanged throughout the Bible.

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Nitya December 16, 2011 at 3:36 pm

It appears to me, from your previous posts, that you have tried on a lot of “isms” for size. One could conclude, considering the great range of opinions and mindsets, that perhaps what you seek is a sense of belonging rather than a pat set of answers to life’s dilemmas. Just a thought.
Others choose to work these things out for themselves without resorting to the dogma of a particular group.
You are putting a lot of mental energy into trying to rationalise your good versus evil stance. This energy could be better spent figuring out your own take on the issues.

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sayama December 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm

Hi Waldo
I’m not sure what question you were answering, because I didn’t think I’d asked one.
In any case, to say that David’s view is “skewed by an unfortunate misguided believe in man”, one could equally argue (if one wanted to provoke) that your view is skewed by a misguided belief in God.

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Waldo December 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Hi again sayama.
Having lived in both worlds (humanist/Christian) I can say with full authority which side is completely deluded or not.
People like me a rare.
I became an atheist at the age of 12.
In my 30′s I became a humanist.
20 years later I can report with absolute authority that humanism is a satanic religion.
It’s the worship of man.
Man then becomes the creator of God.
But it’s a theology of lies.
The great first lie of humanism is that truth is subjective.
Once that bit of “levain” is implanted in a mind that person will believe anything except truth.
They are deaf and blind to truth.
The blind know when their sight is returned.
The deaf also know when they can hear.
But the deaf and blind do not know what it’s like to see and hear.
I have lived both ways and that is why my view is NOT skewed by a misguided belief in God.
Thanks for the question.

David December 17, 2011 at 11:20 am

Hi Sayama. Yes I expected this.

The Bible is famously loaded with contradictions, and was clearly compiled from different texts written at different times by different people.

Take a look at this:

http://www.project-reason.org/bibleContra_big.pdf

Nobody can look up these contradictory passages and still make any reasonable assertion that it makes sense to derive an ethical code from a document that doesn’t even agree with itself. The tone does change, as you say, but the testaments both confirm each other and refute each other, and do the same to themselves.

Who can deny that we have to be willing to throw out any or all of what does not make sense to us personally? We all do this to some extent anyway, religious or not. So even devout theists do hold themselves as the final arbiter of what’s right and wrong, because it is up to them to accept “God’s word” as true or not.

Slavery is encouraged and sanctioned in both testaments, but who today will defend it? The Bible was written in a time when clearly they did not envision societies in which it would be abolished and universally reviled. Despite incredible pressure from religious institutions, we have outgrown much of what ancient texts tell us about morality and I hope we continue to. This can only happen if we examine all maxims presented to us and apply our own innate moral sense to them.

This is a clear example of how man cannot be bankrupt morally, because it was only in spite of religious moral “certainty” that we abolished human slavery. We could not have done it if both theists and non-thesists denied the truth of what the Bible said about it.

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ViVet December 17, 2011 at 9:55 am

Just upbringing, I think. If you could relax and trust your parents, it must seem quite reasonable to check your brain at the door and just follow the rules. If you grew up as the worst mistake made by codependant alcoholics who needed careful watching, you’re probably more inclined to think for yourself than trust to a Sky Daddy who wasn’t noticeably interested in your plight as a kid.

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David December 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Good point. Sometimes it takes crisis to find the doubt necessary to be able to develop beliefs based on experience, rather than those prescribed to you.

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Misma December 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm

At times I feel like looking for the secular equivalent of morals is tough because it seems to me that people are as different psychologically as all animals are different. We understand why a Lion doesn’t share the same moral code as a cute puppy. Cause it’s a freakin lion. We accept that its in it’s nature to be violent, and we don’t call the Lion to trial and shame him for murder. On the contrary, many say the Lion is majestic. Why should we think of people any differently?

If we think that there is a correct cookie cutter character that all humans either fit in or should fit in, then an absolute moral system would make sense. But if some of us are nice because that’s just the way we naturally are (like puppies are just cute, not because they try to be, but we find what they naturally are/do to be cute). And some of us are just mean, then this dogmatic view of how people should be will always produce hypocrites, do-gooders, bad guys and a bunch of very very confused children. And it will also produce people who will be kind even when they don’t want to be, and people who are willing to behave in a “good” way even when it would seem irrational, and there is something to be said for that.

But I prefer a different psychological stance for addressing how I should behave. Instead of thinkg “Which way should I always behave no matter what!” I’m more concerned with “Am I using the right tool for the job.”

First of all, acknowledging that there is a “Job” that “I” am trying to accomplish brings me back down to earth. To say something like “Murder is wrong!” suggests that “murder” and “wrong” exist in and of themselves, but it is us that decide this. You can’t take what we want out of the equation.

Second, it allows for the action I choose to change depending on what job I’m trying to accomplish. So take some absolute moral like lying is always wrong. I look at it like “Do I think lying is going to get me what I want?” If I want to have a trustworthy relationship with my wife, then I don’t think lying is the right tool for the job, so I won’t do it. But if I want her to feel surprised on her birthday then I’ll lie to her when she asks if I have anything planned for her.

The implications of this view point takes maturity to deal with. It means that we may not ever reach utopia. A place where everybody is nice (or mean, depending on what you like). But for me it better reflects nature in that circumstances are always changing, and this stance puts me in a better position to change with it, which is the job that I’m trying to accomplish.

BAMSYS!

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David December 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm

We understand why a Lion doesn’t share the same moral code as a cute puppy. Cause it’s a freakin lion. We accept that its in it’s nature to be violent, and we don’t call the Lion to trial and shame him for murder. On the contrary, many say the Lion is majestic. Why should we think of people any differently?

Humans are different because they demonstrate the capacity for morality. They are capable of empathy and reflection and can understand that they create suffering with their actions. Lions kill out of instinct and could not survive if they didn’t. There’s no reason to complicate human morality by asking about lion morality or squid morality.

I agree with what you say about blanket rules versus case-by-case reflection. Commandments and precepts are always generalizations, and that’s why I recommended examining your moral dilemmas against your maxims in every case so that you know why you’re acting a particular way. Laws cannot be sufficient moral tools because they cannot predict the nuances of every future situation to which they apply.

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Misma December 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Your last paragraph sums it up the concept beautifully.

What do you mean by the capacity for morality that makes human’s different?

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Misma December 17, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Sorry, I see that you’ve stated that. Couple of questions:

“They are capable of empathy and reflection and can understand that they create suffering with their actions.”

Is this to say that by understanding that they create suffering human’s would stop creating suffering? Or are you saying we have the capacity for this and lions don’t?

Hmm… I guess I brought up lion morality not to complicate human morality but to simplify it. I don’t think human’s are so different. Certainly some of us are driven to help others. But in my experience, some are not. And still others perniciously deceive people in order to take advantage of them.

I think we complicate human morality (which I tend to see as human behavior) when we say that human’s are different. Most dogs are nice to each other. Some aren’t, I think it’s the same with humans. We have a different psychology, but I see it as basically the same.

Can you elaborate on what makes us so different?

David December 19, 2011 at 8:09 pm

I am saying we have the capacity (and the incentive) to engage in moral reflection and lions don’t, yes. This is a vital difference when we’re talking about morality.

Humans are also different in that we have far more power to create suffering than dogs do. We have societies, political institutions and ideologies. We can enslave, burn and pillage, wage war, exploit and manipulate. Dogs can bite, that’s it. Dogs instinctively engage in whatever self-preservation strategies they need, which usually amounts to not starting fights with other dogs. Humans have tremendous control over the environment and can have total control over other humans, and so we need to know how to manage those deadly capabilities and impulses, even if we only wanted to avoid suffering ourselves.

Misma December 22, 2011 at 4:32 am

Thanks for the response. I’ll make this my last since I see this is a little off-topic for this post.

I agree, that those of us who want to avoid suffering need to know how to manage those deadly capabilities that you mentioned above, but I think it may be a mistake to think that everybody wants to do this, or that everybody can.

The lion analogy is not to explain every human, but some humans. It seems to me that some of us, like lions, want violence. Whether it is instinctively or highly calculated through conscious attention and thought. I agree that some human’s are capable of empathy and reflection, but I don’t think that all of us are. My quest to avoid suffering has lead me to define humans in that way.

Your website is a wonderful example of a space for like-minded individuals to talk about such things. But I have been exploring the idea lately that, much like in the “animal kingdom” some of human’s represent the destructive side of nature. Where empathy, morality and reflection are the tools of preference for leading sheep to the slaughter…

… This probably sounds darker than I intend for it to sound. I say it for informational purposes.

Anyway, I really love your website, and I hope you keep it up.

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Zack December 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm

David,
I talked to my dad about morality and God’s law, and how they believe one gets into heaven by bilndly, unquestionally following God’s law. I asked why we’re really not permitted to question His laws. His reply:
“Let me give you some perspective. A parent loves his child very much. The parent, in love of his child, tells him that he should not stick a fork in an electric socket, because it will kill him. He knows he can’t explain how electricity works and why it damages the body, all he can tell the child to do is not do it. God, being all knowing and wise, cannot explain the reasons behind his moral code because we would not understand them, which is why we should just follow them without questioning them.”

Thoughts?

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David December 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Yikes. Zack, do you really think that makes sense?

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Zack December 18, 2011 at 9:05 am

Haha, I asked for *your* thoughts! I need to hear both sides before I can say I have a reasonable belief. Do I think it makes sense? Yeah, it would be OK, if I even believed in God. Haha.

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David December 18, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Your father makes some enormous assumptions in his reasoning that he should let others do the thinking for him:

1) that the God described in the Bible exists

2) that He is all knowing and wise, despite that His own supposed testimony indicates He is self-contradictory, violent, fickle, and long-winded

3) that your father cannot trust himself to understand morality on his own, yet trusts himself to choose which religion will best understand it for him

There is evidence to be investigated, and truths to be known about how electricity works, just as there is evidence to be investigated and truths to be known about what actions promote human well-being and which don’t. Figuring it what works is relatively easy, at least most of the time. Applying it is not so easy, but it certainly falls within the realm of human capability. Hanging your moral responsibility on an ancient text and its presupposed supernatural forces is insane.

Mike December 17, 2011 at 6:32 pm

All ethics/morals are an evolutionary adaptation. They were developed because they appeared to be the values that facilitated the most good for the most people. They are prior to religion; they did not proceed from religion. Religion is an evolutionary adaptation that validates the prevailing values and helps deal with the mystery of death. Ethics/morals were not handed down from heaven. Religion went astray when it codified culturally and historically conditioned ethics/morals into dogmas to be upheld for all times–that alone makes religions become obsolete. The Bible and all other scriptures are human inventions, not absolute truths.

One of the great things about this blog is that it always provokes. I like it even when I disagree because it makes me revisit and rethink how I view the world. Keep it up David. Please!

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Waldo December 18, 2011 at 7:16 pm

“Ethics/morals were not handed down from heaven.”

Your right.
Laws were.
If Ethics or morals were passed down from God, we wouldn’t own them.
I had a friend who once told me that Jesus was a teacher and nothing more.
So I asked him to tell me one thing Jesus taught.
He said “to love one another”.
I said “that was a commandment”.
They were all commandments.
Obeying laws like the 10 commandments cause us to act in accord and that is what changes us.
Do that long enough and the morals become us.
They are us and we own them.
Obey your own law and it always turns into continually having to alter your law or code to except greater amounts of perversion, violence and a host of other nasty’s.
The humanist view that morals work on some sort of sliding scale invites setting the scale to coincide with brute desires.
Society breaks down which is exactly what we are seeing today.
All thanks to the humanist/atheist view that man can govern himself and there are no absolutes.
We have the history of hundreds of civilisations through thousands of years (without the 10 commandments) that proves man is a brute opportunist and violence gets higher every time the moral scale is self adjusting.

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Sarah December 18, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Some of the nastier, defensive responses from Christians here tell me you’ve hit a nerve, that’s probably because of the truth of your piece and it’s made them nervous.

Your article was certainly not narrow-minded, I really, really liked it.

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David December 19, 2011 at 7:17 am

Thanks Sarah.

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Waldo December 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Where was the truth in his piece Sarah?
What was true?

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Vilx- December 19, 2011 at 10:12 am

Not much to the point of the article (other commenters have already pretty well articulated what I think and feel about it), but I’d argue that choosing piracy as an example of stealing is not a very good choice. Piracy is piracy and stealing is stealing, and they are two different things. Whether or not downloading copyrighted data is immoral is a whole debate of its own, but I think that it’s obvious that the classical model of copyright protection just doesn’t work in this day and age anymore. Unfortunately I still cannot figure out how it should be reworked, but I guess that only time will tell that anyway.

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Waldo December 19, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Piracy is stealing.
As goes the 10 commandments, so goes the distinction.

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David December 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm

I think it’s the same. It’s taking that which is not freely given, which I think is the best maxim to use. The laws imposed on different forms of stealing don’t make it different morally. I’ve heard a lot of rationalizations for taking people’s work but I don’t think I’ve heard a good one yet.

You can say that the classical model of copyright protection no longer works, but that just means they can’t stop people from pirating stuff anymore. How easy it is to take something without its owner’s permission doesn’t change the moral implications of taking it, IMHO.

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Nitya December 20, 2011 at 3:39 pm

David, The concept of stealing only applies when there is private ownership of property. This notion is not universal, hence the difficulty some tribal groups face when trying to interact with western values (notably the Australian aboriginals).

A comment for Waldo.. is the any circumstance where a child of yours (or future child) would do something so terrible that you would torture him/her for eternity? I’m thinking the answer would be no, and yet your notion of a loving god, would happily condemn one of his children to eternal damnation simply because he/she didn’t believe. Does that sound fair to you?

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Waldo December 21, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Hi Nitya.
No one is going to be “tortured forever”.
To understand what the Bible actually said we not only need to go back to the original Hebrew and Greek but we need to compare the use of language with other writers of the day to understand the context to determine their meaning.
There is no concept of “forever” as we know it to be in ancient Hebrew.
The Hebrew word is best translated as “beyond the horizon” and has an unknown end.
There are many references in the Old Testament that say “forever, even forever and ever”.
Why say it twice?
Wouldn’t one “forever” have been enough?
It’s to emphasize that it’s a really, really long time.
In early Greek the word forever can only be translated in the context of what you are talking about.
Forever can be a life time or the time that a civilization lasts but it’s also not the “forever” that we think.
Jonah spent “forever” in the belly of the fish.
He obviously didn’t which shows that I at least have a grasp on this subject.
To understand this better, I’ve spent an eternity in line at the department of motor vehicles.
So did the translators get it wrong or are we just ignorant to the meaning of “forever” that would have been obvious to the writers at the time?
“Forever” could be 3 seconds or 2000 years depending.
Now it gets interesting.
What is the original/alternate meaning of “torment”.
The answer is “touchstone”.
A touchstone was used to test the purity of gold and other metals.
What does “fire” represent in prophetic language?
Purification.
We will be purified and tested (touchstone) for how ever long it takes till we test pure.
Is it painful?
It will be agonising for people to be shown their wrong doings and painful to see the hurt they imposed on others.
Will it physically hurt?
No.
How long will it last?
It depends.
The misconceptions regarding the Bible are everywhere.
I’m still find my own misconceptions everyday.
Not only has the meaning of words change but people like to read into the Bible their own beliefs and many translators are guilty of that as well.
And the final aspect to all this is that the truth was intentionally concealed by God!
Matthew Chapter 13-10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?”
11 He answered and said unto them, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”
Same with the Old Testament.
Proverbs Chapter 25-2 [It is] the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings [is] to search out a matter.

Mike December 22, 2011 at 8:46 am

Waldo,
No one has a clue what happens after we die. You won’t find an answer in philosophy books, theology books or any of the world’s scriptures, including your Bible. Nobody knows. Any concept of life after death or nothing after death–no matter how carefully thought out–is merely speculation.

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Waldo December 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm

“No one has a clue what happens after we die.”

Are you sure about that?

“You won’t find an answer in philosophy books, theology books or any of the world’s scriptures, including your Bible.”

The Bible is very clear about what happens to us when we die.

“Nobody knows.”

Mike, everyone knows what happens to us when we die.

“Any concept of life after death or nothing after death–no matter how carefully thought out–is merely speculation.”

So true Mike.
Concepts exist in human thought.
The dead don’t think, only the living do so only the living have “concepts”.
The dead know nothing at all so they can’t tell us what’s happening to them while they are dead because they are dead and incapable of any thoughts or actions.
We are alive so we can only comment on what it’s like to be in a living state.
Also the dead are not “living” in a dead state and we are not “dead” in a living state (there are no zombies or seibmoz’s).
We are living in a life state and they are dead in a lifeless state.
Death is the absence of life and life is the presence of life (not the absence of death).
So how do we know what happens when we die?
It’s obvious, nothing.
Everybody knows that.
The Bible tell us around 200 times that when we die we go to the grave (translated into hell) and know nothing, do nothing and see nothing.
There is no “afterlife”.
“Afterlife” is death which is the absence of life or “after… life”.
The Bible doesn’t lie.
The Bible has proven itself to be the only spiritual book in the world that tells the obvious truth about death over and over again.

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Chris December 28, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Hi Waldo

True. The Bible does not lie.

I do not consider myself an expert on the Bible. But what about the last chapter of the Bible? Jesus said, “It is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel to enter the eye of a needle” (which is from memory, and therefore not exact). If you argue that the Kingdom of Heaven is simply a state of mind, than how do you explain Revelation?

John went into much detail regarding Heaven, the Tribulation, and etc. How can that be a state of mind? John saw other people there (Revelation 5:4 And I wept much, because NO ONE was found worthy…”). How can you see other people inside your head? When Jesus spoke of the final Judgement, he spoke of people gathering on His right side, and his left. Heaven is a real place, and if you believe Jesus saved you, than you are going there.

The Bible doesn’t say as much about Hell than it does Heaven, apart from the fact that it is a bad place (and there will be much gnashing of teeth). It DOES say a lot about Heaven, because if you’re reading the Bible, than hopefully you are going to Heaven. The Bible was meant to give believers hope, a guide to live by (because quite obviously mankind can’t do that alone), and a tool to help convert non-believers. It was NOT intended for atheists to criticize.

Hopefully this post isn’t too off topic. Sorry to butt in.

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Waldo December 30, 2011 at 1:26 am

Hi Chris.
Your question is not off topic.

I never said that Heaven is a state of mind.
It’s real and we’re not going there.
No one is.

I only talked about death and didn’t say anything about what happens to the dead when Christ returns.
When we die, we die.
All of us will be resurrected at the return of Christ unless your still alive on that day.
There are no people in Heaven at this time except those that were created in Heaven (minus about 1/3 of the fallen angels and satan).
John was shown a highly symbolic vision and we need to be responsible and take those symbols as symbols.
Not literally.
None of it is literal.
We also need to understand that God doesn’t just tell us stuff.
He conceals and hides the truth from man.
The truth is in there but you have to work for it.

We are not going to Heaven #3.
Heaven #1 is our atmosphere.
Heaven #2 is outer space.
Heaven #3 is the Home of God and his Angels.
Christ is returning here to rule and we will all be here on earth with him (not Heaven #3).
No human is going to Heaven #3 or ever has gone.
I’m not saying God can’t give a man a vision of Heaven but that’s not the same thing as going there.
The Bible intentionally conceals information on the Kingdom of Heaven (which will be on earth).
The faithful in Christ are the Kingdom of Heaven.
We are obviously it and Christ rules us.
So the Kingdom is not in Heaven #3 because we don’t go there.
God is coming here to live with us.
That’s exactly what the Bible says.
When Christ returns we will be changed, meet him in the air (heaven #1) and he will set up his Kingdom here.

Hell is not a place.
There are three words in Greek and Hebrew that mean 3 different things that have all been poorly translated into the one word hell.
The Bible translation for Hell for the most part should be “Grave”.
We go to the grave.
Mistranslating Grave into Hell belongs in the book of the dead and not the Book of the Living.
It’s easy to know where this mistranslation came from.

Genesis 3:4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

Well we most defiantly do completely die and the serpent lied.

So every person that teaches about a heaven or hell that we go to instantly after we die are teaching serpent lies.
That’s basically saying “Ye shall not surely die”.
They are saying that when we die, just the body dies and we stay alive in a thinking feeling spirit form.
Lies.

The Bible has a lot to say about death and the grave (hell).
Did you know that Jesus went to Hell for 3 days?
Jesus was without sin so if it was the burning Hell, why did he go?
Can you see the translation problem now?
It was the grave and Christ died and was buried in it for 3 days.
If he didn’t die then his Resurrection is meaningless.

When we die we know nothing, see nothing, hear nothing and are completely dead as was Christ for 3 days.
God said we will die, we do die and most Christians would rather believe satan’s pretty lies over the harder reality from God that said we all die.
If we don’t die then what do we need Christ for?
If we go directly to Heaven or Hell then what do we need Christ’s Judgment for?
Why would we need to “put on immortality” if we are already immortal?
I could go on for hours on how ridicules Hell is and how completely UN-Biblical it is.
If we’re immortal then we are as gods.
All serpent lies.
Genesis 3:5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods,

The concept of Hell is the greatest heresy to ever hit the Church.
There is no consciousness after life.
Your great great great grandmother is not in Heaven or the fabled burning hell.
She’s in the grave and will stay there and dead until Christ returns.
Hell is a pagan construct and is nonexistent in the original Hebrew or Greek text.
Jesus actually mocks the pagan belief in hell in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
He mocks the Hellenised Greek belief in Hell with a laughable Hell with just one flame.
The rich man only wants a drop of water to cool his tongue.
That is high sarcasm!
This parable has nothing to do with hell and is a prophecy of the rejection of himself and his Resurrection by the Jews and the Gentiles being brought into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The fabled eternal burning Hell turns God into a sick sadistic bastard which makes this lie especially evil.
This lie has been taught to cause fear in people and is a great money making scam.
Did you know that you can buy your way out of Hell in some Churches?
This lie has brought people to fear and hate God.
It’s a disgusting pagan belief that was forced by translation into the Bible.

So my brother, I hope to see you in the Kingdom of Heaven someday.
Just remember that God is coming to us to rule all the Nations, we aren’t going to him in Heaven #3.

Tobi December 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm

“…sometimes they found they did accidentally covet their neighbor’s ox, or even his ass.” LMAO That’s a good one XD love it.

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nickyO December 24, 2011 at 5:59 am

Hi Dave,

I think your post does a good job in pointing out one of the major dangers in religion (any religion)–namely to follow rules blindly and to hate yourself when you fail. This is a state of mind that creates a very personal and real Hell.

I think you go wrong by implying and assuming that that is what religion is all about, instead of a perversion of religion. I think the New Testament does a great job of pointing out to people that context matters. Jesus is the living Word. His life, his actions speak. He broke the letter of the law by curing on the Sabbath. He stopped an angry mob by saying ‘you who have no sin cast the first stone’, his whole life is about forgiving, loving, healing. When he does say something harsh and condemning generally it is to wake someone up and change his or her perspective.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind. It takes a lot of living and a lot of ‘context’ and practice to truly know what it means to follow those two simple rules.

I’m Catholic. I agree with the danger you’ve pointed out. I still go to Church even if I don’t agree with everything my religion teaches. And I don’t feel like a hypocrite because I’m not worshiping my religion, I’m worshiping my God.

Keep up the good work Dave. Even when I disagree with you, I think you have many thoughtful things to say.

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Philip N. Cole December 26, 2011 at 9:08 am

Obviously a lot of thought and time devoted…. along with the inevitable rebuttals, criticisms, posturing,etc.. Mine follows:

“As Christopher Hitchens sometimes puts it, “It’s a celestial dictatorship, where eternal praise and submission is demanded. A divine North Korea, if you will. But at least you can fucking die and leave North Korea.”

It’s apparrent, he preferred North Korea…fundamentaly distorted thinking.. so he “fucking” died…left North Korea and is basking in his “wordly” view of a “celestial dictatorship”…. is he enjoying it?
For Christopher and doubters galore…. “FAITH” is the word of the day!

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. “(John 3:16-17)
May all have a Glorious 2012 and life ahead.

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Tobi December 26, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Major Catholic here

I know I already commented, but then I read your response to another comment saying you wanted to find out what Christian readers would think of this, so I’ll give you something a little more useful.

I found it funny even though I don’t know who Charleton Heston is. I love this church with all my heart but that is one major flaw I don’t like. The fact that we focus more on ideas, symbols, and ceremonies more than ourselves. For most it’s all about the statues and the procedures instead of becoming a better person.

The reason God didn’t negotiate the commandments is because there is no negotiating necessary. No one ever feels good when they do any of those things, that’s the whole point. God is our Father and he is laying down the rules of His house just like any good father, because He knows what’s good for us and what’s bad, and as His children we don’t always know that. A lot of people don’t understand that they shouldn’t necessarily feel bad if they mess up as long as they understand what they did wrong and apologize, and make and effort to do better next time. I’m a bit of a glutton, which is one of the 7 deadly sins, but I don’t feel like a horrible person every time I pig out. I do it without thinking sometimes and next time I have a little less chocolate, or pass the Starbucks by.

I don’t mind when people make fun of my religion, so long as it is not in a mean way. Simply because I laugh at jokes about other religions all the time lolz.

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Nada January 6, 2012 at 1:56 am

You’ve made several great points.
I’m a Muslim; our religion paradoxically dictates personal moral perception and decision like almost every other religion. You are expected to obediently adhere and under no circumstances may you question the given doctrine.
In my humble opinion, morality is measured and determined by one universal standard and that is the complex mechanics of the human conscience.
To expand on your idea of hell not strictly being a concept pertaining to the afterlife, this very hell is the primary by-product of a guilty conscience.
Religious scripts threaten sinners with eternal PHYSICAL damnation and suffering which is completely irrelevant to the sin itself. It only makes sense that this hell is what we experience when we deliberately defy our better judgment. And this is anything but physical. Human guilt is the most powerful and destructive of all emotions; and what are we if not emotional creatures.
Moral codes are individualistically created and internally enforced.

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Vijay P January 13, 2012 at 7:51 am

Hi David,

I agree with your view that morality comes from our inner thinking of freedom and choice. I think the commandments or percepts or whatever we may call, are only broad guidelines which only support or reinforce what people inherently believe in. I think it is ingrained in all living beings (human and animals) to follow a pattern of living in a way that it helps in developing social harmony, interdependence and love, which we may call as a moral behaviour. Can we say that if there were no prescribed commandments or religious prescriptions or fear, then humanity would have been all immoral, hell and chaos? I don’t think so, as that would have made the survival itself extinct. Ofcourse there will be exceptions of digressed behaviour that do not fit the rule, but that will always be a minority. Deep within our hearts, whether we believe in religious sanctions or not, I guess we all know what is right or wrong; but at times deviate from its practice due to our temptations or fears.

I love your posts. I have joined it recently, and am reading them one by one. It gives me joy; keep it up.

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Kurt January 29, 2012 at 8:55 pm

I appreciate much of what you said. When you were writing about the 10 commandments and especially about the motivation behind doing them. Where you actually don’t tell the story correctly though, is you make it sound like it was God’s desire to institute these laws on man. When in fact, the opposite is true. God had led Israel around in the wilderness showing them that if they would simply acknowledge him and ask, he would and could provide anything for them. Which is why he has the name, Jehovah, meaning I am… (fill in the blank). It was only because they failed to learn this lesson that he offered them the law — which is actually 10 commandments, plus thousands more in the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Exodus 19:8 — “And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. ” And so they agreed to follow these laws for thousands of years, until Christ’s death on the cross established a new covenant with them. Which is why Paul explains in Romans 3:19-20 — “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight. for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” The whole point was to show that they could try to live up to this moral standard, but wouldn’t ever accomplish it. They needed God, which was the point all along back in the wilderness. You can’t live to that standard, but Christ did because he was God in the flesh, and its only by him that you can deal with those moral failures (sin). And now that God has shown us his grace and given us his free gift, the motivation like you say has completely changed. Its no longer one of fear and guilt but of thankfulness and of a renewed mind. Which is why Paul uses the phrase, I beseech you.. so often. It is no longer a command but a request. Romans 3:17 — “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” Not that you will never make a mistake again or do something wrong, but now you are no longer a servant to those mistakes.

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terry February 9, 2012 at 9:23 pm

David, a small note. I just came across your site via stumbleupon. Very nice and thought provoking. Simple thanks here.

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Dan Snavely February 19, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Hi David. I too am new to your site and I really enjoy your writing style. I firmly believe that God’s commandments are not to instill the fear of burning in hell, (yet there are ways that one can consciously choos that), but are instead given to us to cultivate the ability to give and receive love for God, ourselves and others.

While all the reasons for my beliefs would take up too much space on your blog, (and I have to say that you articulate your views with great clarity and wit), I have developed my thoughts at length on a November 30 and a December 6 post entitled ‘God’s Commandments of Love’ parts one and two respectively, on my blog http://www.yourgodmoments.com, and humbly invite you to peruse them.

Thank you again for your literary gifts.

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John Nasaye April 25, 2012 at 11:26 am

David,

The consequences of not living according to these instructions or commandments are certain, and that would apply to any faith or religion or whatever.
Second, whether these commandments invoke fear or peril or whatever cannot be generalized. For instance, the commandment about not coveting or desiring your neighbour’s stuff will inevitably give birth to other possibilities (evil) like jealousy and other temptations and will cause a chain reaction of undesirable conditions, the worst of which could be the death of personal initiative and industry.

Third, human beings generally operate through instructions. Everyone follows some kind of instructions. They could either be instructions from your instincts, your environment/upbringing, or even self-instructions. Its just the way that we function, whether we question them or reason them out!

Fourth, while I have always tried to put into perspective all the commandments and dig a little deeper as to their application and potential benefits, I have chosen to submit to God and that means all His instructions as well.
Lastly, I am a christian and these laws have been found to be grievous and cannot bring salvation and happiness. Their strict observation does not automatically bring the desired moral uprightness. In a nutshell, each of us must capture both the law and the spirit of the law

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