Absolute Moral Relativism?

Noah’s ark is a weird story. No, it’s not because of the idea that one could fit 35,000 species of spiders onto one boat. No, it’s not because of the notion of a firmament separating sea and sky that breaks to flood the earth. No, it’s not even because of the concept that every type of animal on the planet could peacefully coexist and somehow have adequate nourishment to survive for forty days and nights.

It’s because an all-loving god – who later inscribed, “thou shalt not murder” on a stone – singlehandedly orchestrated and executed the genocide of the entire human race save Noah, his sons, and their wives. Somehow, this god loved all humans equally and clearly wasn’t choosing favorites by picking Noah to be the virtual lone survivor.

I mean Christians have justifications out the wazoo for this. From “Noah’s ark isn’t literal,” to “god can do what he wants because he’s god and we will never understand his ways,” to “well, they were evil,” and I guess to some degree, they work if we completely decontextualize the Christian god from all the values that biblical writers perceived him as having.

If god is truly incomprehensible to humans, then it makes sense that the writers of the bible wouldn’t have even been able to translate god’s description of his attributes in a way that would resonate with the human perception and definition of those attributes. So in “god land,” unchanging, omniscient, all loving, just, jealous, and omnipotent could mean completely different things than in the human realm.

But I’m inclined to see that as a bit of reach because, well, I’ve never heard any Christian give that justification – the only justification I could possibly buy – for god’s moral misgivings. Maybe that’s what they’re getting at when they say, “we can’t understand his ways,” but no one goes that far unless they’re interested in religious philosophy. Most people appeal to his absolute authority, and bar any questions beyond that. And hey, if I were a god operating under a dubious definition of “absolute morality,” I’d want unconditional and unquestioning loyalty.

Therein lies the problem. If god didn’t claim to offer “absolute truth and morality,” I wouldn’t care if he were genocidal, fond of exercising his power just because – see Job and Isaac’s near murder at the hands of his own father – and prone to damning humans for all eternity. But he does claim just that in the face of those contradictions, so what the actual fuck?

Let’s unpack the fucks.

Most Christians separate the bible – whether knowingly or not – into two categories: didactic and narrative. I think there are a few subcategories, but that’s the gist. For instance, the story of Lot turning over his two – virgin, because they’d be less appealing otherwise – daughters to be raped instead of two male strangels – my portmanteau of “angels” and “strangers” – at his door is narrative. Tamar’s rape is narrative. David’s rape of Bathsheba and sneaky murder of her husband is narrative. On the other hand, the Ten Commandments are didactic – yet somehow the commands in Leviticus aren’t (more on cherry-picking later). The beatitudes are didactic. Parables are didactic. The fruits of the spirit are didactic.

A very rough generalization would be the Old Testament is largely narrative while the New Testament is largely didactic because Jesus becoming the liaison between humans and god ushers in a whole new approach to his commands. Essentially, it’s a battle of god’s laws vs. Jesus’ infinite mercy. (Unless you don’t believe. Then, you’re fucked no matter what you do. #nihilism.)

I guess this categorization quells a lot of cognitive dissonance, but this only worked for me to a point. It starts to break down in the nitty-gritty. Is Jesus’ command to hate one’s human loved ones in order to follow him (Luke 14:26) didactic? Is god’s command to not hate his fellow man in his heart (Leviticus 19:17) didactic? Do these not contradict each other in their instruction?

Again, Christians jump through countless hoops to avoid these contradictions. “In the original translation, ‘hate,’ meant different things in different contexts.” “Jesus didn’t really mean ‘hate.’ He just meant people have to love him above all else.” “We don’t follow the laws of Leviticus any more (despite this being a particularly good one).” “God/Jesus can tell us to do whatever he wants because he’s god!” And my personal favorite, “stop trying to be so combative all the time!”

To address the problem of moral relativism implicit in god commanding hate and love in similar instances at different times, well, I don’t really know what Christians do. Nothing, I guess, considering these verses wouldn’t be looked at side-by-side in a sermon.

Even in the narrative parts of the bible, god exercises a moral relativism unlike any other. First we have the systematic executions carried out by the flood, the Passover (the Egyptian firstborns), and fire in Sodom and Gomorrah. Next we have the wars against the Canaanites and Amalekites – arguably the Canaanites are the only ones that count here. Then we have god’s attempted mass murder in Nineveh. Fast-forward, and god is allowing his SON to die to save humans equally as evil – since we’re all evil – as the ones he went all genocidal-megalomaniac on in the distant past. Why not save everyone from the get-go?

Then we have god’s rewarding of David with a kingship after his meager repentance for the rape of Bathsheba and murder of her husband, while he completely decimated the relatively innocent Job’s quality of life as a “test of his loyalty.” All the while, god tries to justify his equal love but unequal treatment and distribution of qualities of life by saying “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Why even create these people if they’re just going to be miserable but end up ruling in the “new earth” anyway – as a test? If moral relativism weren’t at play here, then he would have to prescribe the same “test” to all humans. Otherwise, this all-loving god is playing favorites. Absolute morality, my ass.

Perhaps Feuerbach was right, and we make god in our own image as opposed to the other way around. Our conception of god is a projection of how we think people of the world should be – behaviorally, interpersonally, hierarchically, etc. But insisting that the human projection of perfection is actually a perfect being’s projection of perfection leads to a warped sense of what is perfect. If absolute morality turns out to be relative, what can we believe? Do our meager human minds betray us by perceiving god’s absolute morality as relative? Or does our ancient conception of god betray us by forcing us to construe the morality of the past as something eternally absolute? Obviously, I’m inclined to think the latter.

More to the point – 1000 words in, I know – this gave me a warped perception of love, justice, and other positive attributes of which god is supposedly the embodiment.

Does god’s love mean mercy or judgment? Is god’s equal and unconditional love for all people yet inability to be in contact with the sin he gave people the capacity to commit inconsistent? Does a finite crime deserve eternal punishment? Is equality of all sins a morally relative concept? Does love mean one can kill his own child for the sake of humanity? Does the salvation of many cancel out the unjust murder of one even in the face of the absolute command, “thou shalt not murder”? Must love and loyalty require painful “tests” so god can know they are true – even if god can see the absolute depths of a person’s heart? Can a god who can’t tolerate evil really create beings capable of becoming inherently evil? Does a relatively good person that doesn’t believe in one very particular conception of god deserve hell?

Do I deserve hell?

Even taking god out of the equation, I find it difficult to see the absolute morality in believing a fellow human being – especially a loved one – is deserving of eternal damnation. I find it difficult to understand why I would continue to believe in or unconditionally worship and obey a being that wants to send my loved ones to hell.

Like I always say, “if god is real, I’m going to hell with my middle fingers up.” Maybe that sounds like an emo, rebellious kid just trying to be cool and edgy, but I’ve given this a lot of consideration. If an all-powerful creator sent my friends and family to hell, I’d go too because that god is certainly not worthy of my undying devotion. He certainly doesn’t love everyone equally. And he CERTAINLY doesn’t exhibit an absolute morality.

If nihilism allows us to create our own morality, I’m reconstructing mine to be compassionate to those of all beliefs, humanitarian because I want to be – not because I want a reward or I am scared of the price of disobedience – and empathetic to experiences that shape people differently from what I think people should be. I’ve had to redefine love – an act of creating an environment in which a person can become whoever he or she chooses to be as long as it doesn’t harm others or infringe upon other people’s ability to be whoever they choose to be, an act of endlessly striving to understand others, and an act of rethinking my conception of reality to accommodate others’ equally valid conceptions of reality.

If that displeases god so much that he wants to eternally damn me, so be it. If that gets construed as rebellion, I can live with that.

The ability to claim a new identity in the face of so much dissent is priceless, and it took me two years of turmoil to realize that. I might not be where I want to be in my recovery, but I think I’m finally where I want to be ideologically, which honestly, might be the first step.

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