Atheism and Self-Righteousness

Thanks for coming.  I am willing to bet the title of this post played a rather large role in you deciding to read this.  Because I respect your time, I am going to get right to the point and state my claim, make two clarifications, validate my claim, counter three objections, make two quick observations, and finally make a last clarification and have a final word.  So maybe this actually will not be so quick after all.  So, here is my claim:

Logically, all atheists that believe in moral standards are self-righteous.

That is quite the claim.  How can I validate this claim?  I will show you.  But first I have to clarify something.

Clarification #1

I am not saying that atheists are necessarily immoral.  I do not want to have to read a bunch of comments saying that I claimed all atheists are immoral.

I know many atheists who claim to be morally good people.  And as far as I know, they are.  I am not completely surprised to find atheists who are still morally strong.  Christianity teaches that God placed moral ideals in the hearts of His creations so it should not be surprising to find people who instinctively perform moral acts (Romans 2:14-15).

I am especially not surprised to find morally strong atheists in societies where Christian morals dominated the previous few hundred years.  Many Western atheists do not give Christianity enough credit for establishing a moral society where they can live mostly unthreatened by their neighbor, and even loved.

Clarification #2

I love atheists.  I honestly love all people, and to be brutally honest, the people I struggle with the most to love are so-called Christians.  So-called Christians are people who claim to be Christians but really are not.  They show that they are not Christians by their behavior, and so give Christ a bad name.  I cannot work alongside so-called Christians without telling them that they are fooling themselves if they think they are Christians.  While I try to love them in hopes that they will see their error, I simply cannot condone how they mar the name of Christ by their actions.

Getting back to atheists, why do I love atheists?  Well, first because God loves them, and since I love God, I love what He loves.  Secondly because people who actually take on the title of atheist usually are people I can have fun dialogue with for quite some time.  I love dialogue.

So if you are an atheist, please know that I am not trying to attack you.  I am simply starting a line of honest conversation.  I may be blunt at times, but I am not trying to be rude.  Please forgive any part of my personality that you do not like.  Please do not confuse my personality with my character.  My character is to be honest.  My personality is at times to be bluntly honest.  I am sure you know some bluntly honest atheist; I certainly do.

Validation of Claim

Now for the fun part.

How can I claim that all atheists who believe in moral standards are self-righteous?  I think the best way to demonstrate this is to share a conversation I had with a friend.

I have a friend with whom I greatly enjoy debates. I have come to the logical conclusion that all atheists who hold a moral standard are by very definition, self-righteous. I have been trying to show my friend that he has to admit that he is self-righteous because he is an atheist who still believes in a moral code that others should live by. I also have been showing him that the Christian worldview can consistently and coherently decry self-righteousness because in it righteousness does not derive from one’s self, but from God. An atheistic worldview cannot coherently condemn self-righteousness because in it righteousness – or goodness – derives from one’s self.  There is a lot to this, but I thought I would share one part of my discussion with him. Here it is:

“My worldview can consistently and coherently substantiate the claim that self-righteousness is wrong.  Your worldview cannot do that.  Indeed, to claim that self-righteousness is wrong, it has to claim something else as right.  But how does atheism determine right?  By the choice of the individual.  But if the individual is determining what is right, then self-righteousness is the only possible result.”

When I typed that I laughed so hard because it is impossible to get around. If one believes that one’s self determines right and wrong, then “righteousness” or goodness comes from the self, so by very definition, self-righteousness is logically inescapable.

Atheism must assert that morality is simply the preference of the individual.  But again, if morality is determined by the preference of the individual, then self-righteousness is the inescapable result.

Objection #1

I am have had many people tell me, “But Curtis, the definition of self-righteousness is the belief that one is morally superior than another, not that one’s standards of morality is derived from one’s self.”  I understand that retort.  However, I am looking at this a little more deeply.  Think deeply with me.  I said any atheist that holds to moral standards is self-righteous.  That means if an atheist young lady believes that her self-derived morality should be standardized for others, then she is self-righteous because she believes her idea of morality is better than someone else’s.  So the only way to be an atheist and not be self-righteous is to never expect someone to live according to your own standards – not even one of them, like “murder is morally wrong”.

When discussing this with atheists, I have observed two things:

Observation 1: I have had many conversations with atheists and many times a very interesting line of reasoning comes from the atheist.  Many atheists reason that they are more righteous than theists because they do not need a god to be moral.  Well, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that is the definition of self-righteousness: the belief that one is morally superior than another.

Are you an atheist and think that you are better than theists because you do not need a god to be moral?  Then whether you are willing to admit it or not, you are self-righteous.  I challenge you to admit this the next time you get high and mighty when looking at your life compared to someone else.  Just admit that you are self-righteous and move on.

The next time you hear an atheist say that he is morally superior to you because he does not need a god to be moral, call him out on his self-righteous claim.  Every time I have done this the atheist honestly has no idea how to react.  They usually just refuse the title.  But it is true.  If you think you are morally superior because you do not need a god, then you are self-righteous.

Observation 2: Most atheists do not just decide on a personal morality; they also conclude that other people ought to live by their moral standards.  This I find to be remarkably incoherent.  Even though their own worldview would state that morality is defined by the individual, they still insist that others are wrong if they come to different conclusions.

I am amazed at how many atheists I meet who claim that morality comes from the mind of the individual and yet still chide others for a weak morality.  This simply does not fit.

By the way, the belief that morality comes from the mind of the individual is called moral anti-realism.  It basically states that morality does not exist outside the mind, or it is mind-dependent.  This is what many atheist philosophers believe, granted not all, and it is what the majority of people in America believe.

Objection #2

Some atheists may claim that morality is not determined by the individual but morality is the objective goal of maximizing happiness/well-being while minimizing harm/suffering.  Some atheists may claim that since this is an objective goal, then the individual does not choose right and wrong, the individual must live to the above mentioned standard.

There are two problems with this claim.

First, the definition of morality is: the discussion of the principles of right and wrong.  Morality does not make any moral claim itself; while morality discusses right and wrong, it does not actually describe what is morally right and morally wrong.  By defining morality as the goal of maximizing happiness while minimizing harm, the atheist has redefined morality to include a moral claim.  The atheist who defines morality in the above way is not describing morality in general, but instead describing a form of morality called utilitarianism.  Morality cannot be placed into such a corner – there are many competing views of morality, even inside atheism.

Second, maximizing well-being and minimizing suffering is certainly not objective.  There are many areas in life where well-being is not easily measured.  If well-being were merely physical, then it would be easier to determine well-being – although still not perfectly objective.  But well-being also includes the mental, emotional, relational, social, and spiritual aspect of a person.  These areas of life are not easily measured and certainly not purely objectively measured.

Objection #3

Some atheists claim that logically Christians would also be self-righteous by definition since they choose to follow Christianity because it must be that they simply like the creeds of Christianity.

Here is the problem with that claim.

Claiming that Christians choose to follow Christianity because they like the creeds is judging the Christian worldview from an atheistic perspective.  It is an atheistic claim that people decide for themselves what morality is, it is not a Christian claim.

When I stated that logically atheists cannot escape self-righteousness, that was a claim using the atheistic worldview.  The atheistic worldview is what concludes that morality is a creation of the mind, so I was judging the atheistic worldview by itself.  The Christian worldview states that morality comes from God, so the Christian must live to God’s standards, not their own.  Morality comes from outside themselves, not from within.

So I was showing the logical weakness of the atheistic worldview by using its own claims.  When an atheist says that Christians do the same thing as the atheist in how he/she picks his/her morality, the atheist is using his atheistic worldview to make a claim against Christianity.  Comparatively, when I say that atheism fundamentally leads to self-righteousness because morality is derived from the self, I am using the atheistic worldview to make a claim against atheism.

A Last Clarification and a Word for the Christian

I am not saying that all Christians are not self-righteous.  Certainly not.  When I was younger I was a self-righteous individual and I still struggle with it at times now.  However, I am saying that Christianity can coherently claim that self-righteousness is wrong and as a worldview it does not logically lead to self-righteousness as atheism does.

Christians should never display self-righteousness.  Ever.  Christianity adamantly time and time again condemns self-righteousness.  Christian, please rid it from your life.  The Christian worldview teaches us that we are desperately wicked and in need of a Savior to cleanse us from our unrighteousness.  We are by nature unrighteous, righteousness does not originate from us, so there is no reason for us to act as if we are better than others.  We are sinners in need of a Savior just like everyone else.  Remember that Scripture teaches us to never malign someone but to always be gentle and remember that without Christ we are also lost (Titus 3:1-3).  One of the worst and most contradictory things in this world is a self-righteous Christian.  Christian, do not be contradictory.

I know that some people interpret confidence in one’s religious beliefs as self-righteousness.  I also know that some people look at a Christian trying to live a holy life and just assume that they are self-righteous even without ever speaking to them.  But we cannot control that.  What we can do is purposefully and actively demonstrate humility, brokenness, and gratitude for a Savior.  The default for most people in America is to assume that Christians are self-righteous.  We need to work to show that this is not true in most cases.

Conclusion

Logically, atheists cannot avoid self-righteousness if they make conclusions on moral standards.  This is due to the fact that atheism logically concludes that morality originates from the individual’s mind.  Since the ideas of what is right and wrong are determined by the individual, then self-righteousness is the logical result.

Christians have a worldview that adamantly opposes self-righteousness and can coherently condemn self-righteousness.  Unfortunately not all Christians actually live out their worldview and rid themselves of self-righteousness.  However, every Christian ought to do this because the Christian worldview calls all Christians to it.

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14 comments

  1. Well, your conclusion is incorrect.

    When “the ideas of what is right and wrong are determined by the individual”, self-righteousness only follows if the individual actually lives up to his/her own moral code/moral standards, or at least believes that he/she is living up to them.

    In my experience, atheists have pretty high moral standards, and while they generally *try* to live up to them, they are very much aware that they don’t always succeed.

    The dictionary defines “self-righteousness” as:
    “confident of one’s own righteousness, especially when smugly moralistic and intolerant of the opinions and behavior of others.”
    and
    “Having or characterized by a certainty, especially an unfounded one, that one is totally correct or morally superior”

    Neither of which automatically follows, from an individual determining their own sense of right and wrong.

    That said, you had a few good points, and it was an entertaining read.

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    • Methos,

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I agree that the definition of self-righteousness is as you define it. However, I was trying to show that logically, one must admit self-righteousness if one is an atheist and holds to moral standards. If righteousness – or goodness – derives from the self, then self-righteousness is logically inescapable inside the atheistic worldview.

      As I am sure you are aware, the vast majority of people consider themselves to be good. Since the atheistic worldview has to conclude that morality is ultimately decided by the individual, an atheist who considers himself to be morally good, is by definition self-righteous since he/she decides what is good by his/her own moral deductions. Granted this is a slightly different understanding of “self-righteous”, but it still fits.

      How does it still fit? Because most atheists do not just think they are good, but they think people who disagree with their moral conclusions are morally weak. So they judge other people to be weaker than themselves morally, so they fit right in with the definition you give for self-righteousness.

      I probably should have been more clear on this, but I commented on atheists who hold to a moral standard. A standard is something that has to be reached. Most every atheist – amazingly even many atheists who believe in moral anti-realism – still hold to some standard in morality (e.g., compassion, empathy …). If these atheists expect other people to live to their standards, then once again they are self-righteously expecting someone to live to the standards that they have concluded in their mind to be greater than those of people who disagree with their standards.

      Hopefully that makes sense and explains a little more why I can say what I do and still be accurate. Unfortunately I am rushing through this response and not giving you the time you deserve. Forgive me.

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      • There are quite a few errors in your reply(even repeating a some from the original post), I’ll address them one at a time:

        “I agree that the definition of self-righteousness is as you define it. However, I was trying to show that logically, one must admit self-righteousness if one is an atheist and holds to moral standards.”

        I know that’s what you were trying to do, and as I already pointed out in my first post, you are incorrect in saying that(unless you add a few qualifiers).

        By the very definition of the word, self-righteousness only follows if, as I already pointed out, the individual actually lives up to his/her own moral code/moral standards, or at least believes that he/she is living up to them.

        Most atheists(that I know of) are not particularly confident in their own righteousness. As I already pointed out, the vast majority *try* to live up to their own moral standards, but are very much aware that they do not always succeed.

        Most atheists(that I know of) also do not have confidence that they are “totally correct” in regards to morality, or automatically morally superior to others. That’s why most atheists tend a more flexible(for the lack of a better term) moral code. Because the world is not black and white, and any kind of “absolute” moral code, would inevitably end up being broken by the person holding it.

        These things, along with the definition(s) of the word “self-righteous” shows that your conclusion was incorrect.

        “As I am sure you are aware, the vast majority of people consider themselves to be good.”

        Not entirely true. Most people *try* to be good. There is a fine, but distinct difference.

        “Since the atheistic worldview has to conclude that morality is ultimately decided by the individual, an atheist who considers himself to be morally good, is by definition self-righteous since he/she decides what is good by his/her own moral deductions.”

        There are a few errors here.

        1. There is no such thing as an “atheistic worldview”. The one, and only, thing that all atheists have in common, is a lack of belief in the existence of deities/god(s).

        2. The naturalistic worldview(which is what I think you’re actually referring to, but correct me if I’m incorrect about that) says that our morals come from a number of things, such as our innate sense of empathy, our upbringing, and our society, and that the individual, with a foundation in those things, along with various stimuli, ultimately determines their own moral code. This is why if you ask ten different people about their opinion about the morality of some random scenario, you will get ten different answers. The answers might be very similar, but there will be minor variations, which come from the differences in upbringing, stimuli each person has been exposed to(various media, friends, etc.)

        While it’s not exactly an error, simply saying that “morality is ultimately decided by the individual” is extremely simplifying things at best(possibly stemming from a lack of understanding), and intentionally misleading at worst(though I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt),

        ” Granted this is a slightly different understanding of “self-righteous”, but it still fits.”

        No, it really doesn’t. Not unless you want to re-define the word “self-righteous”, which you don’t seem to be interested in doing, quite the opposite.

        “How does it still fit? Because most atheists do not just think they are good, but they think people who disagree with their moral conclusions are morally weak.”

        Again, incorrect(twice).

        First of all, atheists generally don’t necessarily “think they are good”, they simply know that they *try* to be good, to live up to their own moral code.

        Second of all, I’ve never experienced an atheist who thought someone was morally weak, simply because they disagreed with the person’s own moral conclusions. I’m sure there are some, but they are the minority, not the majority as you seem to be claiming.

        “I probably should have been more clear on this, but I commented on atheists who hold to a moral standard.”

        I think you were pretty clear on that in your original post, and as I already commented in my first post, with that in mind your conclusion only follows if the individual actually lives up to his/her own moral code/moral standards, or at least believes that he/she is living up to them.

        ” Most every atheist – amazingly even many atheists who believe in moral anti-realism – still hold to some standard in morality (e.g., compassion, empathy …).”

        It’s not really that amazing, primarily because “compassion, empathy, etc”, are not considered as moral standards, but rather as the core from which our moral codes spring. Without empathy, we would have no real morals(as demonstrated in clinical psychopaths, in whom a lack of empathy is one of the core distinguishing features).

        But I’ll grant that one as simply a point of confusion, rather than an actual error.

        “If these atheists expect other people to live to their standards, then once again they are self-righteously expecting someone to live to the standards that they have concluded in their mind to be greater than those of people who disagree with their standards.”

        And we’re back at the same point that I’ve made…2,3(?) times now, that self-righteousness only follows if the individual actually lives up to his/her own moral code/moral standards, or at least believes that he/she is living up to them.

        Generally, people hold themselves up to higher standards than they do others(I won’t go into the psychology behind that, this post is already getting long enough as it is).

        “Hopefully that makes sense and explains a little more why I can say what I do and still be accurate.”

        Well, it did explain and clarify a few things, but it doesn’t change the fact that your conclusion is incorrect, unless you add some qualifiers(as I’ve mentioned a few times by now).

        ” Unfortunately I am rushing through this response and not giving you the time you deserve. Forgive me.”

        Not a problem. Though you should take your time with any future replies. One of the great things about online text based communication(outside of instant messengers) is that unless otherwise specified, there is no expectations of an immediate reply, so one can take as much time as needed to properly formulate a coherent post, re-read and fact-check one’s own posts before they are actually posted, etc.

        That said, thanks for actually taking the time to read, and reply to, my post.

        I always enjoy a good exchange, whether a debate, or simply a friendly exchange of ideas. It keeps the mind active and agile 🙂

        Cheers.

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      • Thank you once again for taking your time to type out a response. I am now in a position where I can more fully answer your valid critiques.

        First, you mentioned atheism versus naturalism. Naturalism would be a narrower description. However, I was addressing what is popularly called the New Atheist Movement.

        Second, you many times mentioned that an atheist, or for the sake of argument, a naturalist, to be self-righteous, they must “actually live up to his/her own moral code/moral standards, or at least believe that he/she is living up to them.” This is not true for a couple reasons.

        1. Living up to one’s moral code is not what produces self-righteousness, even the definition which you studiously provided. Only the belief that one is better than others is what leads to self-righteousness. So it matters not if someone actually lives up to their moral code.

        2. Not living up to one’s moral code is moral failure and/or hypocrisy. These things are different from self-righteousness.

        Second, I agree with you that I need more qualifications to make this more clear. I needed to show how many atheists actually are self-righteous even if they do not consider themselves self-righteous. So … .

        1. Since the naturalistic perspective must conclude that morality is simply a product of one’s mind (even given external stimuli, the mind has to choose), it must conclude that righteousness (or goodness) is decided by the self.

        2. People do not just generally decide what is right and wrong for themselves and then say no one else should live to those ideas of right and wrong. So, these people expect others to live to their standards of right and wrong. If they do this, then they obviously think that their standards are better than another’s. But if they believe their standards are better than another’s, then they must be self-righteous.

        3. So atheists, or naturalists, who hold to moral standards are self-righteous on two accounts: a) their own worldview tells them that they determine what is or is not righteous, and b) they then judge others on their own standards.

        Third, I disagree with you that, “Generally, people hold themselves up to higher standards than they do others”. All you have to do is go to a marriage counseling session to see that this is not true. Usually one spouse is complaining about how bad the other spouse is. At the very least one spouse may admit some wrong, but they will claim that they are mostly right and the other is mostly wrong. Or all you have to do is be a passenger in a car long enough to see a person curse someone out for cutting them off and then shortly thereafter giggle at cutting off someone themselves. Or all you have to do is read many facebook posts where the person will decry the actions of some individual, and then in another post curse someone out for some petty reason. I see this kind of hypocrisy all the time. The truth of the matter is that most people do not self-evaluate. They are blind to their own failures. I can verify my claim by the scientifically observed fact of illusory superiority. Most people think they are better than most others.

        Fourthly, you stated that, ““compassion, empathy, etc”, are not considered as moral standards, but rather as the core from which our moral codes spring.” This is not true. Compassion, empathy, and the like are not cores for all moral codes. They are standards in certain moral codes, but not all. There is no scientific or naturalistic reason to side with compassion when cruelty will advance an individual. Sometimes survival of the fittest requires cruelty over compassion. That is a fact of life. For some people, survival is more important than compassion, so compassion is not the core at all moral codes; it may be at the core of your moral code, but not others.

        If you expect people to have compassion, then you are stating that your idea of morality is greater than another. But if you do that, then you are showing yourself to be self-righteous, even if you do not know it.

        Lastly for now, you stated, “I’ve never experienced an atheist who thought someone was morally weak, simply because they disagreed with the person’s own moral conclusions.” Have you never listened to Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, or the many like them? They quite frequently are stating that certain groups of people have weak moral codes. Indeed, I am willing to bet that you disagree with many others’ moral codes and would even call their morality weak in a moment of honesty. If you do not think their morality is weak, then why bother pointing out where they could be better? Why stand up for anything at all? But of course you stand up for certain moral principles because you think they are strong, and even in comparison to others.

        Again, thank you very much for your time. I wish we could grab a drink together.

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  2. I think that your premise that atheists (I assume you are speaking generally) believe that morality comes from the self needs some work. We all enjoy a good film about the vigilante with his own moral code, but I don’t think the process fits most atheists. Determining morality is a social process, different societies have determined what moralities are appropriate for their societies, and our understanding of morality has evolved over time, for instance Andrew Jackson once killed a man in a gun duel, he wasn’t prosecuted and it didn’t affect his successful presidential campaign, because at the time a gun duel was a moral and socially acceptable way to hash out one’s affairs. Now it is not.

    It has been a relatively recent phenomenon that we are even able to talk about any universal morality, the world had to become much smaller first. Will we ever achieve a global morality? I don’t know. But I certainly hope it is not influenced by the Bible. Every social/moral advancement America has made in the last two hundred years or so (at least things I consider to be social/moral advancements) we’ve made in spite of the Bible not because of it. Note the emphasis on the Bible, not Christianity, but if Christians are not adhering to the bible in terms morality are they really Christians? Think of the abolition of slavery, definitely not found in scripture. Gender equality, definitely not found in scripture. Marriage equality, definitely not found in scripture. If you agree that any of those three are moral advancements you are saying your personal morality is better than your God’s… Wasn’t that part of Lucifer’s downfall?

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    • Thank you for your reply. You are correct that I am speaking in general when it comes to atheists or atheism.

      I do not believe it “has been a relatively recent phenomenon that we are even able to talk about any universal morality”. Many people throughout all time have concluded a universality to morality. Really, moral subjectivity, at least its popularity, is what is relatively recent. Practically all the religions that have started are because of a belief of universal principles.

      It is certainly not true that every “social/moral advancement America has made in the last two hundred years or so (at least things I consider to be social/moral advancements) we’ve made in spite of the Bible not because of it.” I am sure you are well aware of Martin Luther King Jr. Well, he based his arguments for civil rights off of Scripture. If you read almost any of his speeches, he is constantly quoting Scripture as an authority. He started his movement in churches using Scripture as the reason for equal rights. Abraham Lincoln used Scripture to support the abolishment of slavery. I have given lectures about how people incorrectly used Scripture to support slavery. In fact, many abolitionists gave their own refutation of the poor Scripture interpretation used by those who tried to support slavery through Scripture. I could go on with many more examples of everything that you mention, but that is a much longer comment that would deserve its own blog post.

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      • I think you misunderstand me, I may have used poor language, I wasn’t trying to engage in a moral subjectivity debate. Of course every religion thinks their morality is absolute/universal morality. They wouldn’t really be religions otherwise. The point is all of them are different, there are obviously some consistent overlaps, but they are different because they are socially constructed within the communities from which the originated. Atheists, and even modern Christians are continuing to do the same thing, socially construct moral codes based on an evolving standard of morality. The difference is Atheists recognize what they are doing, Christians still insist on attributing it to a higher power or a holy book. Maybe one could argue they attribute it to an “evolved understanding of scripture.”

        Look at you “I have given lectures about how people incorrectly used Scripture to support slavery” your understanding of scripture is more evolved then slave owner, why? Because you abolitionists won that fight. The problem is you can use scripture to say whatever you want it to say. Sure you can say that people shouldn’t own slaves. But really the best you can do is say that people shouldn’t own slaves in modern times, or perhaps post Jesus. To argue that slavery is morally wrong is to ignore at least a dozen passages of the Bible where God explicitly is condoning, regulating, or actively encouraging slavery of either a forced labor or sexual variety. If you ascribe to the belief that the God of the Bible is morally perfect and unchanging it is kind of necessary to believe that at very least the general concept of taking/buying a human being from another country, owning that person and forcing them to engage in either manual labor or sex against their will, and passing that person down as an inheritance from father to son is morally permissible, even if you choose to abstain from the practice yourself. That’s what having an absolute/universal morality is all about, if it was moral 6,000 years ago, it is moral today, and it will continue to be moral 6,000 years into the future. How could God ever be morally wrong? So the Christians who fight against sex trafficking, who fight for gender or marriage equality are doing so despite what the Bible says, not because of it. Sure they may find a couple verses to lend credence to why they believe what they believe, but particularly on slavery, the inferiority of women, and homosexuality the Bible is pretty explicit. (Every moral/social advancement may have been a bit of a hyperbole, I don’t think the Bible has much to say on unions one way or the other, for example, but these three in particular are pretty major)

        I’m curious, I haven’t read enough of your blog to know how progressive you are, but since people incorrectly used the Bible to support slavery, do you think people were/are incorrectly using the Bible to ban same-sex marriage? And (either way) how is it you found the correct interpretation, did you just study it more, or was it divine inspiration? Personally I think if you were Jewish man living in the OT you would think that slavery was morally acceptable and that homosexuality wasn’t (I think I would think that too). I think your opposition to slavery now is a socially constructed moral code that really can’t be supported Biblically.

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      • Thank you again for replying. Here are my thoughts.

        “Atheists, and even modern Christians are continuing to do the same thing, socially construct moral codes based on an evolving standard of morality.”
        If Christians are changing the meaning of Scripture, then they are wrong. The early Christians had the same morality as that presented by most Christians today. You are right that atheists are changing their morality. It has to change because there is no standard in an atheistic worldview. Indeed, in an atheistic worldview, there is no morally good or bad because morality is simply a determination of the individual’s mind.

        “your understanding of scripture is more evolved then slave owner, why? Because you abolitionists won that fight. The problem is you can use scripture to say whatever you want it to say.”
        This is inaccurate because there is a correct way to interpret texts. The science of interpretation is called hermeneutics and it does not allow for someone to simply speak any meaning into a text. There is study and research to be done before an interpretation is made. It really is not that difficult of a process. The reason the slave owners came to their conclusions was bias and a willful ignoring of other passages.

        “How could God ever be morally wrong? So the Christians who fight against sex trafficking, who fight for gender or marriage equality are doing so despite what the Bible says, not because of it. Sure they may find a couple verses to lend credence to why they believe what they believe, but particularly on slavery, the inferiority of women … the bible is pretty explicit.”
        You are very much wrong on this. Again, this is because you are not aware of how Scripture is to be used. The Old Testament Law was never meant to be a permanent agreement between God and man. The Old Testament even says that it will one day be replaced. So why the Old Testament Law? Many reasons, but two for our purposes: a) it was necessary for the time in which people lived, and b) it taught many spiritual truths through physical representations of law.
        I think you are confusing American slavery of the 18th and 19th centuries and slavery during biblical times. Slavery during biblical times was nothing like slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. Most of the verses in the bible that talk about slavery are actually laws protecting slaves. Slaves were not looked at in the same manner as slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries.
        Concerning women inferiority, there is no such thing in Scripture. It is true that Scripture points out the biological fact that women struggle with more things than men do, but they are not inferior in value. Generally speaking, women are inferior in many ways biologically, and if you do not agree with that, then you deny basic biological facts, not Scripture.

        “I’m curious, I haven’t read enough of your blog to know how progressive you are, but since people incorrectly used the Bible to support slavery, do you think people were/are incorrectly using the Bible to ban same-sex marriage?”
        If you would like to know more about my stance on this, I would suggest reading my blog titled, “I am not a heterosexual”.

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  3. Curtis, I appreciate the dialogue, thank you for taking the time to go back and forth with me for a little bit. That being said, I have some serious concerns about the approach you’ve taken with some of your responses.
    I agree completely that if you change the meaning of scripture they are wrong. The question is who gets to decide who is changing the meaning of scripture. People in the Old testament thought the snake in the Garden of Eden was just a snake, as late as 500 years ago people thought the snake was a half snake-half women creature called Lilith. The Pope’s ceiling actually depicts Lilith as the tempter in the Garden. And now Christians think it was Satan. Those are three very different interpretations, who changed it, who is right and who is wrong, and who gets to decide?

    Be careful telling an atheist how they structure their worldview, most don’t take it well. There is an entire academic field of study known as philosophy that concerns itself almost exclusively with ethics, morals, and world views. If all atheists are determining their own moral structures it is remarkable how similar they all are to one another. Of course many atheists ascribe too or are influenced by Secular humanism which does have a moral code that was socially constructed based on the moral understanding of the time.
    If Christianity is the one true religion, with the one true moral code, where did all of the other moral codes from all of the other religions and philosophies throughout the world? People got together and just thought about what they thought was right or wrong and they wrote it down, and then people decided to or were forced to follow those moral codes until they became engrained. Christians are the lucky ones with a divine mandate (but don’t tell the other religions, they all think they have divine mandates too. Our secret, thanks).

    There is a correct way to interpret the texts and you have found it through this magical process called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics may not allow for people to simply speak meaning into the text, but people do all the time. I have a lot of qualms about a perfect book needing a lot of intense study in order to find the “true meaning” of the text, but this may not be the most appropriate time to dive into that argument.
    Christians owned slaves in America from 1501 until 1865, and that does not account for the time that Christians own slaves in other parts of the world. That is a lot of bias and will-full denial if slavery has no support as a morally permissible institution. I’m so glad we’ve found the correct understanding of the Bible’s views of slavery now. Do you think we’ve reached peak understand of the bible yet, or in another 500 years will we learn new truths about what the Bible really means?

    Again, be careful telling an atheist they don’t know how to use scripture, many atheists, particularly those who feel compelled to engage with Christians were Christians themselves. Now for myself I’m no biblical scholar, and I was only a 3 time a week church going Christian for the first 18 years of my life. But I am an academic, and I do know how to critically analyze a text, draw connections between separate passages and draw articulate conclusions supported by textual evidence. I know my way around the good book, enough so that I can’t believe that any serious Christian who was moments before talking about bias and willfully ignoring scripture would say half of the things you just said about biblical views on slavery and women. This is going to be a terrible long comment, I apologize, but we are going to camp here for a second.

    The permanence of Old Testament law does not matter one way or another. If you derive your morals from an unchanging God and that unchanging God at any point in time deems slavery as a morally permissible institution, then slavery is always a morally permissible institution. If your unchanging God somehow changes the moral institutions, then your morality is no longer absolute, but just as subjective as anybody else’s, and subject to change at any moment. Welcome to the club.

    “It was necessary for the time in which people lived,” this is the biggest affront to God’s power I have ever heard, and I hear it all the time from Christians. This is the God who would send huge chunks of his armed forces home before a battle just so his people couldn’t brag that they won the battle on their own. If God wanted his chosen people to be able to subsist without the institution of slavery he could have easily made it so they could have not only subsisted but thrived without the institution of slavery, for nothing is impossible for God, at least that is what Christian say, but every time a Christian says it was necessary for the time or the culture, what they are really saying is some things actually are impossible for God.

    I think you are confused, most of the verses that are about protecting slaves, are actually about protecting Hebrew slaves, not slaves in general. And what about some of those verses that are not about protecting slaves. Most damning, in my opinion, would be Exodus 21:20-21 “When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod and the slave dies under his hand, he shall be avenged. 21 But if the slave survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, for the slave is his money.” That sounds a lot like American slavery to me. The argument could be made that the American slave owner, could actually kill the slave and not face any consequences, so I guess God does deserve some credit for drawing the line at death, he was very progressive for his time. And all of this is of course assuming that there is any circumstance where kidnapping someone from their home (usually after slaughtering their entire family) and forcing them into a life of sexual slavery or forced labor where you own them and their offspring, and can bequeath them, and their offspring, to your own offspring forever (Leviticus 25:46). If God was always planning on doing away with the old covenant, do you think he was lying about the forever part?

    “[Women] are not inferior in value.” I’m just going to leave this here.

    Leviticus 27:1-7
    The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels[a] of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 6 If the person is from a month old up to five years old, the valuation shall be for a male five shekels of silver, and for a female the valuation shall be three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the valuation for a male shall be fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels.

    Even if we accept that men are generally better than women at everything, why would an omniscient God make laws based on “generally?” In America we feel pretty strongly about meritocracy, finding the best man or woman for the job, But 1 timothy 2:12 prevents that. It took until the 1920s for America to get past that, and an argument could really be made for the 1950s.

    I haven’t had a chance yet, but I will check out that post when I have a free moment. But to be honest, for the purposes of this discussion I don’t particularly care what your stance is, I’m more concerned with how you know your stand is the right stand and how do you know you are right, and why should I believe you are right. We are not just talking about the Bible being true, we are talking about which interpretation of the Bible is true. There are something like 40 major Christians denominations, and then thousands of subdivisions within there, plus thousands more miscellaneous fringe groups, all with their own interpretations of the Bible, some speak in tongues, others handle rattlesnakes. Why should I pick your interpretation of the Bible?

    Thanks again for the dialogue, I’m sorry it’s so long, there was a lot to unpack. I apologize if I come acrossed as snarky at any point I honestly can’t help it when I write, and I’m not about to go back through and try to edit it all out, it just isn’t going to happen. I hope you didn’t take anything personally. Take Care.

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  4. You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means. When you defined “self-righteous” as “getting morals from yourself” I looked it up. You’re way off.

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    • De Ha,

      Thank you for your response. However, I do not think you were following my line of logic. I was trying to accomplish two things: 1) make a play on words, and 2) show that if you are an atheist and hold moral standards (meaning that you expect others to live by them), then logically you must be self-righteous. Granted I did not complete the second part. You have inspired me to go back and edit my post. I hope to do that tomorrow. However, allow me to demonstrate this to you in this reply.

      Self-righteousness is the belief that one is morally superior to another. Most atheists believe in moral anti-realism. That is, they believe morality does not exist in actuality. Most atheists believe that morality is mind-dependent. That is, they believe that morality is only a construction of the mind and each mind can construct their own version of morality. Now, if this is true, then the genesis of one’s standards for morality comes from one’s self. If an atheist looks at someone else and tells them that they are not living correct morals (in other words they have moral standards that they require others to follow), then they believe their morality is superior to another’s, therefore they are self-righteous.

      The only way for an atheist to wiggle out of not being self-righteous is to either hold no moral standards whatsoever, or believe in moral realism (a very unpopular belief among atheists). Alas, the vast majority of atheists do neither. Therefore, that is why I can logically conclude that if you are an atheist who holds to moral standards, then you are self-righteous. Because inevitably if one is an atheist, they are going to conclude that their moral standards are superior to another’s. But if they do that, then they are self-righteous. Doubly so.

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  5. […] Personally it upsets me very much to see all this easy shaming going around.  Judging others is not that hard to do, but the internet has made it all that much easier.  And the thing is that a lot of these judgmental reports are not from religious people or sources; they are from atheistic or secular people or sources.  I really have been shocked that people have not been noticing this.  Secular people are quick to judge the church as judgmental but somehow are completely blind to their own habit of jugmentalism.  Being judgmental is a sign of self-righteousness, and I have certainly seen secular self-righteousness on the rise lately.  (I have written on the rise of secular self-righteousness here and here.) […]

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