Christianity doesn’t even meet its own moral standards

Cross SunlightFollowing on from my recent post about how Christianity falls into moral relativism, I was confronted with another well-worn apologist gambit that I was intending to address anyway – the claim that atheists don’t have any objective basis for morality, and therefore have no right to criticise Christianity. This is a bit different, as it rests on a claim about the subjectivity of atheism, not the objectivity of Christianity, so I thought it would be worth dealing with it separately.

In fact, for the sake of argument, I’m going to accept that atheism has no objective basis for morality, but Christianity does. I think I’ve pretty effectively demonstrated that this isn’t true, but you either agree or not, and there’s no point in rehashing those points. Even accepting these points, an atheist has a powerful response, by appealing not to his own morality, but Christianity’s.

DirectionsThere’s plenty of material available to demonstrate a lack of consistency between different parts of the Bible, so to narrow it down, I’m going to refer to just one short passage and point out how it ends up accidentally condemning God Himself. And it’s hardly an obscure passage – you probably know it well, if you’ve ever been to a church wedding.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs

God’s meant to be a God of love, so let’s pick a few examples and see how He measures up to these standards. First stop, Exodus 23:13:

Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips

Is it just me who thinks that sounds like a jealous lover? More than a little tension between this verse and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Then, in Deuteronomy 23:2-3, we see just how much God forgives:

No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation. No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation.

He’s not even prepared to forgive you for what your great-great-great-great-great-great grandparents did. How’s that for keeping no record? Next, in Deuteronomy 20:16-17, God shows how kind and merciful He is:

However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them — the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites — as the LORD your God has commanded you.

In verse 19, He even seems to value trees more than people – obviously, you’re going to kill all the people, but if you cut down the trees you’ll be wasting fruit, and that would just be crazy! But best of all, Nahum 1:2 sums up in a single verse why God doesn’t meet Paul’s standards:

AngerThe LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The LORD takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.

No comment needed. And there’s more where that came from. I don’t need to establish my own source of morality to criticise Christianity, because God’s actions are condemned by His own book. In order to make the claim that Christianity offers a clear moral code, you must simultaneously uphold both God’s actions and St Paul’s criticism of the traits He shows. Either God doesn’t even meet His own moral standards, or parts of the Bible are subordinate, which comes back to the subjective question of which ones, and how you tell.

It’s bad enough being told that my morality is inferior just because I don’t claim the authority of an invisible being to back it up, but the self-defeating nature of this “objective” morality is just ridiculous.

Images courtesy of atirme, josterix and Ale_Paiva, used with permission


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

9 responses to “Christianity doesn’t even meet its own moral standards”

  1. Marcia says :

    It seems to me that making choices based on it being the right thing to do is the purist form of morality. In my opinion making those choices because a higher being told you to delutes the reasoning. And, of course, there is the sharing of responsibility when things don’t go right. Great post!

  2. uglicoyote says :

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  3. Howie says :

    I couldn’t agree more with the gist of your post here. I’ve heard this same thing from apologists (that atheists can’t criticize the bible or Christianity because atheists don’t have objective morality) so many times and have always thought it didn’t make any sense. Like you said it doesn’t matter one bit whether or not someone has objective morality, they can examine Christianity as a truth claim, and Christianity claims that there is objective morality so it can be judged by that premise for internal inconsistency.

    And interestingly enough I’ve heard several atheist philosopher’s argue for objective morality. Not that that proves it, but they have at least given some arguments for why they believe it. I’ve never understood the reasoning theists give for “if you don’t believe in gods you cannot believe in objective morality”. It seems it is just an assumed premise in their arguments.

  4. dpatrickcollins says :

    I am afraid I was the instigator of the apologist gambit to which RA refers 🙂

    And I must admit he states my point correctly: That atheism does not have an objective basis for morality.

    But I must point out that I do not believe that atheists do not have a right to criticize Christianity — or any religion — or anything for that matter. We can and should voice our opinion on whatever topic we choose.

    I think the obstacle in these type of discussions can sometimes be the partisan illusion; that is, that we are on one team throwing rocks at the other. I think we have to give ourselves a bit more credit than that. We all share the same humanity and the same fate. My personal opinion.

    As such, I see atheism as a state in which one believes there is no god, not a population of people that share a common trait. Atheism is not an ethnic group; it is a philosophical position, just as theism is.

    To say that atheism, therefore, has no basis for morality is an observation, not an accusation. If I became an atheist tomorrow, I would have to make the same observation about myself.


  5. Hausdorff says :

    Good post RA, I’ve had similar thoughts rolling around in my head for a little while now, this expresses the gist of it pretty damn well. The thing that I have been seeing a lot is Christians claiming they have objective while us atheists don’t, but if you object to something in the OT they will say it was a different time back then, which seems to be the definition of relative morality to me.

  6. Steve Diseb says :

    Addressing these sort of objections are always a challenge, and I’ll have to admit, as a Christian, I really wish these difficult passages weren’t in the Bible. To understand these difficult OT passages one needs an understanding of (1) the covenant relationship between God and Israel (2) what purpose Israel and the OT Law plays in redemptive history as recorded in the Bible and (3) how Jesus fulfilled these laws. That’s a lot to go into here, but I recommend “Is God a Moral Monster?” by Paul Copan. Also, understanding the difference between selfish jealously and justified jealously would help. For example, if someone is hitting on my wife, is it wrong for me to jealously intervene? Finally, Christians believe God has every right to wipe us all out, but instead he became man and was tortured and died to atone for our sins. Once a person understands that, it’s hard to condemn God for doing something we consider harsh or unfair.

    • dpatrickcollins says :

      I would agree. Additionally, I am not sure I agree with the premise of this post: That God should meet the standard he requires of mankind, especially when the core doctrine of Biblical Christianity is that the source of God’s actions cited above is just punishment for mankind’s sin. Applying that same reasoning to government, we could never send someone to prison for kidnapping and detaining someone against their will, lest we be accused of the same crime.

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