Friday, February 27, 2015

The Universality of Morality

It's not 'Christians' who are supposed to give to the poor - it's 'everyone'.

It's not 'Christians' who are supposed to tell the truth - it's 'everyone'.

Lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, abortion, sodomy... take your pick. As far as Christian teaching goes, these are not moral oughts 'for Christians'. They are moral oughts for everyone. Being a non-Christian doesn't mean you operate by a different set of moral rules.

The idea that Christian morality only applies to Christians isn't a biblical teaching. That's just a case of people confusing a secular "separation of Church and State" with Christianity itself.

There's a lot to say here, but I want to zero in on one thing in particular: when I catch people, particularly other self-described Christians, insisting on harsh standards of morality for Christians - but who are absolutely, positively loathe to suggest these standards for anyone BUT Christians, much less hold others to them - I don't just see someone making a minor error. In fact, I see something much more than an 'error'.

I see abuse. Straight up psychological abuse. And I see it being used against a group of people who have been abused quite enough during this and the last century, thank you. And I'm not going to tolerate it, because I consider tolerating it to be immoral.

It doesn't matter if you're all smiles with me. It doesn't matter if you plead to high heavens that you love your Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, yadda yadda, with all your heart. When you start talking about how Christians should gleefully surrender themselves to torment and execution (and indeed, that suggesting otherwise is unChristian and sinful and you're a bad person for suggesting that people, you know, have a right or even a duty to defend themselves and others), I'm probably going to just call you a moral monster and tell you to fuck off.

Because, hot on the heels of a century where Christians were put to death en masse, in a world where the culture at large is hostile to Christianity and heaps emotional abuse on them at the earliest moments, you're going that extra mile and justifying it all. I regard you with the same emotional response as I would some decrepit old fuck of a priest telling a teenage boy to just accept his molestation or Jesus will frown at him.

And if you tell me 'Don't find malice where stupidity or ignorance may be the cause!', don't worry - I assure you, I'm considering all three of those options when I evaluate you.


Anonymous said...

Tell us how you really feel, Crude.

Crude said...

Feeling is secondary to thinking, in this case.

Anonymous said...

As it should be in every case. But yeah, I'm kidding. I agree. I do think there are legitimate questions to answer about some Biblical passages. Per example: How are we supposed to apply "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword"? And when is it more appropriate to fight back then be martyred?

Anonymous said...

What is your view then of 1 Corinthians 5? Paul does seem to be saying that we are to judge Christians more severely than those outside the Church

"But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Crude said...


I do think there are legitimate questions to answer about some Biblical passages.

I agree. I'm not really having a problem here with the completely pacifistic. The problem I'm having is with people, Christians in particular, who treat violent self-defense as at once unacceptable for the Christian (and condemnation-worthy, etc), but for the non-Christian it's okay because they somehow get a different set of morals to live by. It simply doesn't work.


Two issues with that.

First, Paul isn't saying that there's a distinct set of morals for the non-Christian versus the Christian. He's saying that our primary concern, first and foremost, is with our own communities - the impact is greater on our community if we have idolaters, etc, in our community than outside of it. But it's not as if 'being a drunkard' is morally permissible.

Second, Paul is laying out pastoral rules. But the era we live in has the lifestyles of outsiders directly impacting us, which adds complications to the approach.

Third, remember that Paul isn't treating 'outsiders' as off-limits. They are to be preached to, even converted. I think it's clear that he's saying our priority is with purity in our own communities, and that we have to police what impacts our communities, to whatever degree we can. Also, the mere act of saying 'idolater', 'drunkard', 'swindler' - that's 'judgment' for our purposes.

Syllabus said...

There are two issues here. The first is whether the cardinal virtues, and natural law more generally, apply equally to everyone, and whether we may constrain others to live according to their strictures. The second is whether the theological virtues, and the things which fall out of them, apply equally to everyone, and whether we may constrain others to live according to their strictures.

To the first issue, the answer is obviously yes. Reason and revelation (I am here thinking of Romans 1 particularly) tell us this. The only way that constitutions and declarations of rights make sense is in presupposing the natural law.

To the second issue, the answer is somewhat more dicey. In a sense, yes, all people ought to live under the strictures of the theological virtues, but we have no means by which we might have good grounds on which to compel other to live by them, for they are, in a sense, contingent virtues - their recognizance is contingent upon God's revelation. So subsidiary virtues which fall out of the theological virtues, while certainly non-Christians who exhibit them will be more virtuous, as all truth is one, cannot be said to be bound by them in the same way that we can. So, in that sense, we may not criticize in the same manner an unbeliever who does not assiduously obey them in the same way we might do a Christian.

Crude said...


Where this really becomes tricky is in the following way: the habits of non-Christians impact the Christian community. Paul's Christians could live a relatively secluded life given the time and the place they lived in. Modern Christians really can't anymore. In fact, the 'secular' logic is that people can live however they damn well please, and even force others to act according to whatever secular morality is fashionable - but no religious morality (at least no religious morality favored currently) can be imposed, or even guarded.

To put this crudely - I can't force a pagan to be moral. If they value orgies, I can't legislate their valuing of orgies out of them. But if I can legislate them out of the public sight? That's another story. I'd be fine with forgoing legislation altogether and allowing communities to self-isolate, but that's yet another thing that's been denied us.

It's a good, important issue, but not the one in my sights here. Not that I mind sidetracking, but I just want to emphasize that.

I'm not just suspicious of Christians who lecture, criticize, and harangue other Christians near-exclusively. I'm tired of them. We live in a world where a gay man is killed, and with hardly any evidence - or a tremendous amount of speculation - we get told he was 'killed for being gay' and 'homophobia is to blame' and this and that.

20+ Christians get their heads chopped off on camera, and it's a random act of violence that has nothing to do with religious persecution of Christians.

When we live in this world and the most important thing to do is deliver tsk-tsk sermons at Christians who suggest self-defense, and criticizing non-Christians is a shameful thing, I am going to get surly, quickly.

Anonymous said...

Vox read your mind.

Crude said...

Yeah, interesting timing. I wonder what set him off about this.

Actually, I know. It was his last Gamergate post, and the pushback was 'We shouldn't be critical of and mock SJWs, we should show we're better than that and be nice to them'.

Anonymous said...

This is complex to discuss, because there are four different scenarios that come into play:
- vengeance
- rebellion
- institutional justice
- war

Vengeance is proscribed for Christians. This is not because vengeance is inherently bad, but because we are to leave it up to God, who has withheld the vengeance that we deserved. Similarly, Christians are called to be humble towards authority, even unjust authority.

That said, there is a distinct difference between offering mercy to those who cannot pay and excusing those who can. John the Baptist did not lead a rebellion, but spoke harsh words for those who would not listen to God. Jesus pulled no punches in debate, and cleared the temple with a whip. Paul stresses the importance of excluding the unrepentantly immoral from the church, and declares that the government holds the sword of justice to punish those who do evil. We are not to mistake an attitude of forgiveness and humility for weakness or cowardice towards evil.

Further, a Christian may act on behalf of the state in a manner that they would not act on behalf of themselves. The appropriate response to personal persecution may be different to the state's response to an invasion; such situations are not necessarily analogous.