Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Question to Measure Arbitrary Morality

Arbitrary morality is an ethical standard that is arbitrarily based on the voice of authority. The authority can be a holy book, a prophet, a scholar, etc. Arbitrary morality often becomes a discussion stopper when dialoguing with fundamentalists about ethical issues such as, "If God told you to kill someone, would you do it?" Naturally this question invokes memories of the binding of Isaac and becomes a defense of Abraham who did what was right not because killing his son was a good and righteous thing to do but because, so argues the fundamentalist, "God told him to do it."

The following question is a good test of arbitrary morality. The Christian right has been launching its battle against constitutional rights for LGBT minorities for some time. Those aligned with the Christian right, i.e., fundamentalist Christians, argue that homosexuality is wrong because the Bible condemns it (Lev 18:22, Romans 1, etc.). For those who consider homosexuality wrong, let me propose the following question:

If the Bible was silent on the matter of homosexuality, would you consider it intrinsically sinful?


Peter said...


Tandi said...

The word "sin" refers to missing the mark of what God deems right. There is no "sin" without the law (torah). Without God's Word to inform us of right and wrong, anything goes, and everyone does that which is right in his own eyes.

I do not expect people who have not embraced the Covenants of God to keep His commandments. This is a pluralistic society that has abandoned its Judeo/Christian heritage for the most part. It will reap the consequences of choosing to ignore Biblical wisdom and standards. Those who do not believe in gravity will still experience its consequences when they trip.

Tandi said...

Dan has a new commentary on Romans 1.

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fizlowski said...

I mean REALLY? You can't see what's wrong with rape, incest, and pedophilia without the bible, Seth??? What kind of monster are you? Anyway, if the only reason you don't rape children is because god has commanded it, you're in luck, sicko, because there is no direct injunction against pedophilia in the bible.

It frightens me to think about the number of full grown adults who have apparently not developed past the most infantile stages of moral development.

Fizlowski said...

Also, the fact that you lump homosexuality with rape, incest, pedophilia and bestiality is evidence to how poorly your reasoning skills have developed, thanks in part to your dependence on the bible for morality. Homosexuality is unlike these other things because it is a relationship between consenting adults. With the possible exception of incest, the other things you mentioned are non-consensual, and thus an infringement on the rights of another living being (and there's no concept of rights in the bible, by the way). As for incest, the problem is the danger of conceiving a child with congenital defects (which is unfair to the child).

What you've basically done is say "I don't like homosexuality", and so you've lumped it together with things that people regard as criminal in the hopes that we would likewise regard homosexuality as criminal. What if someone didn't like black people? Would you not see the gap in their reasoning if they likened black people to rapists and pedophiles?

Maybe you wouldn't. After all, for years the bible had been used to justify the enslavement of Africans:

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

Seth, you are not accepting valid criticism. Fizlowski is not so much concerned with your character as he is with the out workings of your argument. Oh, and please don't toss up your smoke screens of a false tolerance...I am not the least impressed.

Peter said...

You state,

"All Jewish and Christian interpretations of Scriptural law prohibit pedophilia."

Apparently you have not read all of the available historical Jewish and Christian discussions about this topic. The Talmud, for example, allows marriage to three-year olds (though in a very different social circumstance).

Be careful what you wish for because, frankly, "scriptural law" such as what can be found in the Pentateuch is often quite at variance with modern sentiments about gender and relationships. There is no concept of pedophilia in the Bible nor is there a concept of female consent in marriage. Consider the permissibility of selling one's daughter in Exodus 21:7,8ff into slavery and apparent concubinage (“….if she please not her master…”). Now tell me, Seth, does “scriptural law” directly or indirectly prohibit what we in our current level of ethical and social development would call pedophilia? No, Seth, it does not.

Peter said...


I find it quite revealing that you assumed the Bible backed up your understanding of the immorality of p. This is interesting because there are a number of moral-ethical standards that western Christian society upholds that the Bible does not mirror and often contradicts. Take, for example, adultery.

Beginning with the Pentateuch, the Bible assumes that adultery is defined as illegal relations between a man, irrespective of his marital status, and a married woman. If the woman is unmarried, a married man’s relations with her are not categorized as adultery. Of note, the definitive issue is not the woman’s purity but the honor of the man who has authority over her—be that her father or, after marriage, her husband. However, in today’s western, monogamous, Christian ethical construct, an act of extra-marital relations is deemed adulterous even if the only the man is married.

So, yet again, Christians arbitrarily define and redefine morality with respect to the book which they claim is inerrant and authoritative in all matters of faith and conduct. Would that that would recognize how, despite their claims to the contrary, they are making up their morality as they go along.

Fizlowski said...

Typical. He can't intelligently argue the point, so he takes (false) umbrage at how others deliver their comments, takes his ball and goes home. We've seen this tactic before. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions."

Note, he made one good point before he deleted his comments (though it probably wasn't the point he was trying to make). He claimed that all Jewish and Christian interpretations of scriptural law prohibit pedophilia. And the key word in that phrase was "interpretation".

Oh, so, when the bible condemns homosexuality, the bible must be taken literally. But when literalism doesn't work in the Christian's favor, then we must rely on interpretations.

Yes, how foolish of me; how did I not see that?

Tandi said...

Resorting to ridicule and slander with those you disagree with is reprehensible. Romans 1 is right about the depraved, reprobate mind that results from rejection of Creationism and acceptance of homosexuality.

Mock on, Eric and Peter. Enjoy your hatred of God, the Bible, and Fundamentalists......but noone is going to want to play in your sandbox when all you do is throw sand in our eyes.

Peter said...


A good way to avoid getting sand in your eyes is to stick your head in the sand. It's up to you, seems to work well for many.

God of the Bible is not a creationist like you, but, alas, like all fundies, you don't really care what the Bible says unless it agrees with what you already want to believe.

Fizlowski said...

As if on queue, as if trying to demonstrate the point I was making with my last comment, Tandi takes offense without adding anything intelligent to the conversation. And, even more predictably, says something utterly insulting as she does is it.

Tandi, do you think I care if you want to play in the "sandbox" or not? Why do you think I de-friended you on facebook? It's you who mock and insult; you proffer untenable, unintelligent, and often unconscionable opinions and then ask us to take them seriously. Honestly, I wish you would leave the sandbox already, because I'm tired of your idiocy.

Andrew T. said...

Fizlowski, I hope you manage to calm down. Tandi, as far as I have seen, is generally a kind person and doesn't intend to hurt people's feelings.

Tandi, the Torah deems homosexual sex (not merely orientation) to be toeivah (abomination). But remember that it likewise condemns consumption of lobster or heterosexual intercourse during menstruation. The Torah has always had an Oral component, and fundamentalist Christianity has generally disregarded this, to its own detriment. In the days before Moses, Torah was entirely oral.

I hope that you will find it in your heart and mind to reconcile belief in the God of Abraham with natural evolution of species, as I and many other theists have. Worshiping God is a journey of faith, whereas the evidence for old-earth evolution is overwhelming.

Peter said...

Hey Andrew,

You stated,
"Tandi, the Torah deems homosexual sex (not merely orientation) to be toeivah (abomination). But remember that it likewise condemns consumption of lobster or heterosexual intercourse during menstruation."

Would you mind elaborating on this? Are you attempting to state that the toeivah of lobster is the appropriate context for the toeivah of homosexual relations? If so, would you assert that homosexuality is a ritual not an ethical violation in the Torah?

Peter said...

Hey Andrew,

I find your reference to "fundamentalist Christianty" a bit ironic. Though Jewish religiosity has strong non-fundamentalist trajectories (e.g., pluralism, acceptance of science in regard to natural history, etc.), it is also capable of exhibiting arbitrary ritual morality. Though, the rabbis have worked various inroads of ethical morality into ritual priorities in ways that Christian "torah-observers" are incapable of appreciating.

Yet, ultimately, I feel like you are attempting to trump one fundamentalism with another: Christian fundamentalism versus Jewish fundamentalism, and such trumping is a form of tribalism. Please address

Andrew T. said...


The attempt to divide the Torah into "ritual" and "ethical" components and only proscribe the ethical as binding is a product of Christianity's historical antagonism toward all things Jewish. Today, the problem has shifted from antisemitism to ignorance and apathy.

I am not endorsing fundamentalism just because I believe that the Jewish position on Torah is far more correct than the Christian. Messianics disregard Halakha because the rabbis rejected Jesus, a rejection that served as a survival tactic as the gentile Church has never respected Jewish identity enough to preserve it. The world will change as more Christians come to terms with the "Hebraic roots" of their faith, a process that has been slowly but surely occurring since the 1970s.

Arbitrary ritual morality is problematic, even more so in a shrinking world that has been transformed by information technology, but it is one thing that Yeshua opposed. For example, his disciples did not practice ritual hand-washing.

For actual Jewish fundamentalism, see:

Peter said...

Hello Andrew,

Yes, I agree--the Christian compartmentalization of Torah into "ceremonial law" and "moral law" is not organic to Torah nor to Jewish understandings of covenental morality. However, these concepts have real world application when taking place in inter-religious dialogue. And, often when dealing with inter-religious dialogue, it is the ritual that needs to be either accommodated or given less priority in the face of social and ethical.

dar.fieberg said...

Peter and Fizlowski,

I miss shooting the breeze with you guys on the roof.

Everyone else,

As a person of faith, not a spectacular faith, just an awareness of the supernatural and a gratefulness for it all, know that not once in any of my 1,000s of conversations with these two have been made to feel foolish or slandered or disrespected--but just the opposite. Their knowledge, passion for justice and desire to break down the (in my opinion, un-biblical) "god box" the fundamentalist/evangelical church has created is honorable and important. I hope and might even think about praying that you take them seriously and get on your knees and thank god for learning and knowledge and space to ask questions about morality, because the church doesn't ask questions, but just points fingers and draws lines, and I don't have time for that.

Fizlowski said...


I feel we're overdue for that cemita outing!