What’s Naughty & Nice

Oddly enough, religion can provide no reliable guidance that will help anyone figure out what behavior is moral or immoral.

Most religionists believe just the opposite. Many of them, or so I’ve read, are convinced that religion is the only reliable source of moral guidance. They’re convinced that atheists, who lack the guidance provided by religion, must be amoral monsters.

To understand why they have it backwards, we need only cast our eyes back through history at the Inquisition. During the Inquisition, which went on for hundreds of years, the clergy of the Catholic Church tortured and murdered untold thousands of innocent people.

Today, we have no trouble seeing that their actions were profoundly immoral. But that was not how it appeared at the time. At the time, the torture and killing were fully approved and supported by the highest levels of the Church hierarchy. Everyone (except possibly the people who were being tortured and murdered, and maybe a few of their friends) was convinced that the torture and murder were entirely in accord with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which were, in turn, entirely in accord with what God and Christ expected of their worshippers. The torturers were sure that they were doing God’s own good work.

It is still, I understand, an item of Catholic doctrine that the Pope’s pronouncements on important matters of this sort are inspired directly by God and are therefore free of error. I wonder how the Pope would explain his predecessors’ enthusiastic endorsement of torture. Was the torture God’s will, or is the doctrine of infallibility simply wrong? There would seem to be no other options.

Be that as it may, the lesson should be clear: The fact that someone in authority in your church tells you that a given course of action is moral or immoral is not a valid reason to do or avoid doing anything whatever. The human authority in whom you put your trust may be mistaken, or worse.

Needless to say, written sources of guidance are no better. The Bible is full of internal contradictions and bizarre, outmoded teachings. Today the assumption is usually that those teachings are meant to be understood as metaphors or something of the sort. I’m not an expert on scriptural interpretation, but it seems obvious to me that in order to figure out which parts of the Bible are to be taken literally and which are to be understood in some other manner, you’ll need to consult a trusted human authority within your church. The Bible itself provides no guidance on such questions.

But as I noted a moment ago, the human authority whom you consult may be wrong — about scriptural interpretation or anything else. Ultimately, the only thing you can trust is your own conscience. When faced with a vexing moral dilemma, you should of course consult a variety of knowledgeable people and ask them for advice. If you’re religiously inclined, you would naturally want to consult people within your church. Because their view of the situation may be one-sided, however, you would also be well advised to consult a few people who are not members of your church, in order to get a broad variety of opinions.

You can choose to agree with what you’re told, or you can choose to disagree and act differently. But it’s still your choice. The fact that other people tell you to do, or avoid doing, a certain act does not and cannot absolve you of your own personal responsibility. That’s the point. Religion cannot be relied on to provide moral guidance.

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10 Responses to What’s Naughty & Nice

  1. Greenman Ron says:

    Epicurus, philosopher (c. 341-270 BCE)

    Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

    • hyperacitve says:

      InResponse to your post Jim and to Ron’s quote: How are we to know what evil is without divine authority? Without such knowledge , how can we presume God does not prevent evil? We shouldnt automatically accept an opposing view as well. I fear most dont” have the time” to fully acknowledge or the want to acknowledge the divine in nature. I say this as one of the “most” crowd. We simply scan the surface of life and say, “God doesnt love me because i dont understand him, I cant see him, therefore he doesnt exist. “We use social rules, our “highly evolved” intellects to imagine what God would preferably be to us and how he should fit into our lives. Aside however, i feel in my heart, Jim’s point is correct. Religion is not important and because it is designed by man for man, often absurd. I see the bigger the religion, the further it moves away from the truly divine. But I “dont throw the baby out with the bath water”. Religion is not divine, Religion is not God. Religion is about people and only refers to God. And as these religious and science trends move to and fro and you simply look for science and religion to define God, you’re missing the other 80% of life and its possibilities. As well , you may miss an opportunity to see God in action. I personally believe we have lost many of the skills to acknowledge what is holy and divine. Why does is have to be God’s fault that we do not see? Hope you dont mind me commenting… Just some observations from a humble hack musician.

      • midiguru says:

        Happy to have you comment. I can’t claim to understand a word of what you said, but perhaps that’s because I was using my highly evolved intellect.

        I will note that it’s a reasonable default presumption that “God” (whatever that is) doesn’t prevent evil, since we can easily observe enormous amounts of evil that are not being prevented.

      • hyperacitve says:

        Hi – Thank You for your comment. you’re right. I did jump around a bit and didnt intend to be so obscure with my thoughts. i hope you don think i was being adverse. i just wanted to engage your comments because i am personally tying to understand religion myself and saw an observation of yours which coincided with mine. Although we are on different sides of the fence (so to speak) in regards to belief in God, that fact should not hinder friendly conversation. At least i see it that way.

        My response was combination of philosophical redresses of your comments and my personal observations albeit not truncated clearly. You seem to refer to only the dark points of religion in your argument and im just trying to understand the basis for your argument. I see the negative in religion as you do but i find positive also. i simply see religion as created by people for people with agenda based references and interpretations of the divine. Because i choose to see good and bad in people in general i can equate the good and bad in religion. I dont see that ever changing asbasic human nature does not

        My point was that I choose an alternate view not to equate religion or ” religiousness” with God ( or my interpretation of the divine authority). I say this as you seem to lump religion, bible and God together as a single negative force acting against man.

        I admit i got a little snarky with my ” highly evolved intellect” statement…I hope you didnt feel it was directed at you as i appreciate your comments. I was pointing to the fact most people dont spend the time to really look for the good in the world or examine their belief system enough to consider a larger view when the opportunity exists. I feel we are very prideful as humans with our conclusions on the nature of existence. Ive observed of believers and disbelievers alike, If something does not fit into their particular view of the way things should be , they dismiss as inferior and sometimes “evil” and wrong. That usually results in the darker points of human history. So I agree with you on one level in that you are pointing to the evil that men do.

        Further then you commented on the Bible being outmoded, unreliable for individual guidance, contradicting. The Bible is very complex, Yes. Yet your comments leads me to question of where have your personal morals come from? If you disregard and dismiss the Bible and its teachings, what is your reference point? Do you feel your current morals have not been affected by biblical teachings? May i assume you dont follow any of the teachings of the Bible? Do you feel that there is nothing basic you understand in the Bible? Can you find no correlation at all with established morals and biblical teachings/understanding? I’m not a scholar either yet i can point to at least a few biblical stories regarding men and women resisting so called and established moral authority for the sake of higher authority. Christ in the temple is obvious but the story of Daniel or Lot popped into my head. All “took on” authority in the midst of immoral activity. I realize the Bible or any religious work can be a daunting task to read and in this day and age we want answers clear and quick. I believe many religious works are full of important life lessons if not divine inspiration written in a time when people had to understand each other in a more vibrant and intimate manner than today. There are basic lessons and yes there are deeper more complex issues in the Bible that many theologians are still trying to uncover today. Does that mean we should disregard the teachings completely because we dont yet understand all there is to know about them? What kind of world is imaginable without such basic teachings guiding . I always thought treat others as you would treat yourself was a good one. So again i can see some good and not just the evil. Just an alternate view for consideration.

        So yes I was being a little cynical and jokingly asked If one throws out a higher divine authority and the teachings on which we base our moral code and laws , where should we obtain our laws. who decides? How do we know God doesnt prevent evil if one doesn’t know clearly what evil is? Do we understand all there is to know regarding the nature of evil? I suppose we could go down the road of human suffering being a basis but im out of gas… LOL Thank You – i hope you understand, this is all in good fun of debate… : ) I also hope through sheer volume alone, I revealed my thoughts more clearly. I understand any belief system is and should be personal so i dont wish to be so provocative in regards to personal attacks. Thats not my intent. I just wish to gather other peoples ideas for the benefit of my understanding. As always when reading im left with more questions than answers.Peace!

  2. hyperacitve says:

    One last point Jim. I happen to believe in God and I dont believe you are an amoral monster because you do not believe. Just as I hope you dont think that of me simply because I do believe in God. Im not sure of why you say something so rash. Although im not quite sure what a “religionists” is, I would add with respect that such a premise is a bit narrow in in its scope. I would submit that if someone addresses you as such ( an amoral monster ) without knowing you or having some evidence or proof, then they would not be very interested in the true teachings of God and also an idiot… I feel ,as most other believers, that its more important to be kind compassionate and live according to God’s laws than to make unjustified accusations , creating enemies. Thats not me. I would hope that you would have some friends who believe. We should be able speak our hearts engage in conversation without being inciting anger. I hope i have at least brought to your attention there are some believers who are nice ….I like your work BTW thank you for letting me type a bit….

    • hyperacitve says:

      oh well , so much for tolerance and debate. i see my point was correct after all – not many want to establish truth. they seem to just whine. very disappointing. Fair Well.

      • midiguru says:

        Gee, I didn’t think you were asking for a reply. I felt your response stood on its own, and didn’t need further comment. I can see that my opening salvo could be misinterpreted. By “have it backwards,” I didn’t mean to imply that religionists are amoral monsters. I meant only that they have it backwards in thinking that morality springs from religion.

        I know lots of believers who are nice people. I also know quite a few atheists who are nice people. I would therefore conclude that niceness (that is, the tendency to live in a moral manner) has nothing whatever to do with religious belief. Conversely, I would note that religious believers are, historically, quite fond of torturing, stabbing, and burning up people whose religious beliefs differ from their own — and it seems very clear that their savage behavior is directly inspired by their religion. There are, to be sure, nasty atheists too, but in most cases (Ayn Rand being a possible exception) their nastiness does NOT arise out of their atheism. I would therefore conclude that religion leads otherwise nice people to commit evil acts, on a distressingly frequent basis.

  3. hyperacitve says:

    Thank you for taking the time for reply. I have to say i felt I and all my questions and points were simply dismissed after no reply. Im glad you took the time to respond at least my last comment. As I stated im in a learning process and its such a rarity to be able to converse in a friendly manner with people who actually want to advance understanding and coexisting of our belief systems. Im afraid i was a little disappointed and exacerbated…Obviously i dont want to nor have the ability to change your mind. Im just hoping to reason with you a bit.

    Again I see religion as problematic also if you read my comments above. Some people do sick things by disregarding moral tenets set up by themselves to live in a “moral manner”. on a side note, Im interested to read your ideas and views on where “morals” are derived from if not from recognized and established religious principals.

    To the point, If I could elaborate a tad on your final statement. My initial reaction is to establish the boundaries of our conversation. When you say “religionists” , are you referring to Christians only?
    I dont see you commenting much in the area of other world religions. Hindu, Muslim, even Buddhist etc.. have also been known to kill people with other beliefs or non belief. (just for clarity)

    Also atheist have been known kill believers en masse. Stalin for example was a pro atheist, anti-theist who for the stated sake of denying a means of faith to his people and promoting atheism in his country, murdered millions of christian communists. Another, Pol Pot, was an atheist who killed many Christians to promote atheism and intimidate/eliminate believers in his country. On the surface, I may choose to follow your lead and conclude as you established that atheism was a major cause for the atrocities of the past.

    But I have to ask myself then, Do all atheists kill or believe that killing believers as an essential aspect to atheism? I dont believe so.

    Is violence and murder essential and called for in Christianity, Buddhism, Muslim, Hinduism belief? I dont believe so.

    Some Christians attack non Christians. Most do not. You even know some! : )
    Some Muslims attack non Muslims. Most do not.
    Some Atheist attack believers. Most do not.

    There are more self proclaimed believers across the globe than non believers. I believe this a significant factor.

    So what is the missing component? I would submit that intolerance is the root cause, not religion or atheism. Intolerance of another’s belief has been proven cause enough alone in human nature to hurt others. Religion and Atheism as collections of belief elements in and of themselves make valuable scapegoats for opposing viewpoints and historians alike. Disregard of religious principals via base human nature such as greed, ignorance, fear, etc. are other aspects at the heart of atrocities. Those common traits you will find more directly inspiring in such dangerous individuals and groups alike. what do you think?

    Do you find any of this ideas worth consideration?

    I fail to find anything directly in the Christian religious tenets that says “kill thy neighbor.” in fact, the absolute opposite exists. So my argument is again based on frailty of human nature and not the divine inspired.

    The remedy of intolerance lies in respect of the right of individuals to choose their own belief. Would you agree?

    I would appreciate truly your response. Thank you for reading and reasoning with me.

    • midiguru says:

      I was curious, so I googled “stalin purge”. The Wikipedia article on the Great Purge of 1936-38 does not mention Christians even once. Granted, Wikipedia is not the font of all knowledge … there may be aspects of the Purge that are not discussed there. But I will need to see a link from you to a page that discusses this in an authoritative, scholarly manner. In the absence of such a link, I can only conclude that Stalin’s atheism had no effect on the Purge.

      Certainly, adults have the right to choose their own belief. I would insist, however, that adults have no right to inculcate children (not even their own children!) with their beliefs, unless those beliefs are grounded in demonstrable fact. We believe that electrons exist, for example, although nobody has ever seen an electron. We believe this because scientists have demonstrated, in many experiments, that electrons do in fact exist. Nobody has EVER demonstrated that God exists.

      I use the word “religionists” inclusively, to include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and those of other faiths. My impression is that classical Buddhism is more a practical psychology than a religion, but it is certainly practiced as a religion by millions of people.

      Morals seem to arise out of instinct. For millions of years our ancestors lived in a particular type of social arrangement — call it a tribe or clan if you like. Behaviors that allowed the individual to flourish and produce offspring within that environment, such as mutual kindness, were positively selected for through the process of evolution. Behaviors that had no positive value within that environment, such as protecting the natural world from human damage, were NOT selected for. As a result, we have no instinct for environmental protection. Thus we are kind to one another at a personal level, while meanwhile destroying the planet.

      I don’t have endless time to discuss this, but I don’t want you to feel that I’m ignoring you.

  4. hyperacitve says:

    I appreciate your view and thank you for responding – i realize your time is important as indeed mine is as we share this discussion. Thank you for reading – this will be my final post on this thread…i dont want to wear out my welcome.I will certainly allow you final word in the next post. I just wanted to know my intentions and fact finding are honest and earnest.

    A great deal of scholarly work has been done on the persecution of Christians and other religions in Soviet Russia (not just in the 2 year period you cite.) Soviet proclamations dealing with anti-religion and their effects in the 20th century have been well documented. humbly speaking, i find very little scholarly debate exists on the reason and extent of persecution and mass killings of Christians and other religious groups in Russia. I gave you just two examples. Since you acknowledged Wiki, here is just one link that outlines:


    I too dont use wiki as a final source unless wiki refers to credible sources. I dont expect you to believe as you dont know me. I understand your skepticism – its a difficult subject to acknowledge. Americans today dont really want to dwell on such horrible events – feeling that they have everything figured out. Again – i respect your core beliefs. i just contend with your premise that religion in itself is the culprit of man’s woes. Just as i dont feel absence of religion or disbelief in God is in and of itself a bad circumstance. Many insightful and influential Christians were atheists for a time. Maybe the converse is true also. Many wonderful acts of compassion come from “religionists” and atheists alike.

    My main point of course is the absence of moral values lead to such atrocities not the proclamation of moral values. You are indeed pointing to the perversion of religious ideals. I point to the perversion of atheistic ideals. I would argue if you take away religion from man, he would still perform such intolerant acts. History has shown this time and time again. I dont want to belabor the point but it is indeed an important distinction. We share the basic human condition and our traits regardless of our belief systems. Man can certainly mold his belief systems to meet a darker end. We are all capable of that. I hope you would see that your ” nice ” believer-friends and your ” nice ” atheist friends share certain fundamental traits that you believe to be moral.
    Do you believe at least some of these good morals traits are represented in your ” nice ” friend’s religious practices?
    Similarly, do you believe if Stalin shared your personal atheistic beliefs, Russia would have been a nicer place to live for all peoples?

    I hope so – my hope also is that these kind of discussions are seen not to refute beliefs and tear down each other ( not my intent) i hope it provides food for thought….im trying to remove preconceived notions of what it means to be believer in God. I admit i rely heavily on your compassion for a fellow being trying to understand others’ beliefs in his pursuit for deeper understanding of his own. In kind, I would like to know how non believers see the world. There are some really cool studies that relate how our brains are “wired” for religion. you might find it fascinating from a purely scientific viewpoint. Forgive me if ive become tiresome on this subject – i imagine you might not have as much “fire” for my line of thinking…. I guess its a trait i have to put an issue “to bed” before i move on ( wishful thinking) ….I again appreciate any comments.

    I appreciate your candidness on origins of morality. very interesting and intriguing. I will have to widdle down my thoughts and maybe we can discuss another time. I need to absorb your comment.

    I will add, I have a hard time relying only on the scientific community as the all-knowing guide in my life…I believe children have a hard time with it too. : ) I believe life is rife with enriching points that science cant and probably wont prove. but we’ll leave that for another time.

    I have three of my own children. Do you you have any children?

    i hope we can be become corresponding friends “if the stars allow” ! : )
    Peace to you Jim

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