In a way, i’ve always been secular, and maybe you have too

Some years ago I was attending an adult Bible study class. The topic of discussion was the raising of one’s children with “biblical” values, which at the time I took to be synonymous with morals and ethics. The leader asked me how I would deal with a situation in which my child informed me about immoral (sexuality was implied, I think) activities of other teenagers. I started to talk about how I would engage him/her in ethical reasoning. He cut me off. “All you have to do,” he said, “is show him what the Bible says. You don’t have to reason about it, because you have the clear word of God.”

I nodded, but something seemed wrong with this. He had all the right buzzwords: Bible, God, etc., but still… I consulted other Christians, and many of them also thought this was a terrible approach, especially if one was raising children to make mature decisions.

The thing is: the teacher was–biblically and religiously–correct. If the Bible is the word of God with all the truth we need for any given situation, moral reasoning is superfluous.  On the other hand, if the Bible is just another thing to help us think better–ludicrous in itself, given all the errors, contradictions, and morally repulsive or meaningless commands found therein–then it is unnecessary or dispensable.

So here it is: Theists, and even fence-sitting, unchurched “spiritual but not religious” people, accept uncritically that religion or faith is necessary for morality, or at least that it has something to do with morality. At the same time, they will take for granted that reasoning– often on utilitarian or situational grounds–is fundamental to mature ethical decisions. I say that “biblical morality” is the death of any system of ethics beyond “because I (if the I happens to be God) said so.”

Biblical morality provides for divine command, and nothing else. Its philosophy is: If God does it, it is not immoral. Moral reasoning leads to things like Eve eating the fruit. Cain deciding to put the Almighty on a vegan diet. Saul deciding not to commit as much genocide that day. None of those things ended well. Conversely, Abraham provisionally agreed to child murder. Lean not your own understanding. That’s the Bible.

If you live and function in the modern world, you probably reach your moral decisions through reason, or possibly rationalization. You may think your conscience is guided by the “Word of God,” but the Bible is really just a lucky rabbit’s foot, a talisman. And (pardon the pun) thank God.

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