Tuesday, 2 August 2011

You can't have it both ways

My cousin (and president of Birmingham Uni's Atheist society) Benjamin reposted a YouTube video which argues that Christians don't have the objective morality they can often claim to have, they have a subjective morality like everyone else.

OK, so here's a bit of a response, as per these debates I'd be very surprised if it got anywhere, but here goes!

The real problem with the argument is that it fails to distinguish between a command and a moral principle, so for example when the antagonist says: "Today's the sabbath, they're supposed to be put to death if they worked (Exodus 31:15)" the Bible verse is talking about a command, not a moral principle.

The underlying command: that of having a day of rest is still valid (Ex 20:10). Similarly, Lev 20:10 the underlying principle of not committing adultery is still valid. Similarly, Deut 21:18-21 and Prov 20:20, honouring your parents is still a moral principle. So it turns out that all the moral points the verses refer to are still valid, and so the argument here against objective morality doesn't stand.

In which case the Christian's argument is valid insofar that the New Testament maintains that the O.T morality is correct, though the way our failure to maintain it isn't: that's what the New Covenant in Jesus is about.

What's not quite right is the Christian's statement: "The old laws were made in the context of a very different culture and time period." What's happening here is that DarkMatter2525 is injecting the antagonist's definition of subjective morality here as an explanation for the difference between the Old and New Covenant.

In reality, the difference with the New Covenant has nothing to do with a change in the culture and time period. It's to do with the fact that (a) the Old Testament demonstrates that Israel couldn't keep the morality embodied by the law by their own efforts (and neither can we), Rom 3:2-21 (b) Jesus did keep it and because we can be 'in him', God's agreement with Israel is shared with us: Rom 8:3-4.

The key thing here in Rom 8, goes to the heart of what morality is about, since the natural question to ask is why the command in Ex 31:15 is not the same as the principle in Ex 20:10 when both appear as commands. That I'll leave for another time.

-cheers from julz

For reference, here's the transcript:

(Calm expression) "Morality is subjective, the perception of Morality depends greatly on the on context of the culture and the time period. As such it can be uniquely defined and subject to change."

(Angry) "NO, morality is objective, morality comes from God and God doesn't change. A sin is a sin no matter when or where. What's wrong today was wrong yesterday and what's wrong here is wrong everywhere."

(Calm)"Did any of your friends or family do any work today?"


"Today's the sabbath, they're supposed to be put to death if they worked (Exodus 31:15). And according to the Bible you should condone the killing of adulterers and witches, disobedient children.. (more Bible verses: Lev 20:10, Deut 21:18-21, Prov 20:20, Lev 20:9, Ex 21:15)"

(Shock)"Oh my God! What's That?" (points right, antagonist follows)

"What - What?" ( Christian steals the "Subjective" heading from his antagonist and replaces his old "Objective" heading with it)

"Uh, I guess it was nothing. Anyway, that was the Old Testament, there's a new covenant with Jesus Christ. The old laws were made in the context of a very different culture and time period."

"Hey, you just stole my word."

"I don't appreciate these accusations, why the Hell would I..."

"Hey, Look out!"

"Yeah, right, like I'm gonna faaeeuugghh." (gets eaten by Alien).