When I was a Christian, I would oftentimes become frustrated while attempting to understand a moral sentiment put forth through biblical text. Why in the world would God make absolute morality so ambiguous? When Moses wrote, “thou shalt not kill,” did he mean “thou shalt not kill” or did he mean “thou shalt not kill without just cause?” What about abortion? War? Poverty? At times a golden nugget in Scipture would pop out that seemed to make things clear, but there was always a level of ambivalence that I felt was never fully appreciated by the mass of Christianity.
Upon looking to my struggles through developing a proper hermeneutic of Scripture to find a moral system fair to the text, and the supposed author of the text, I cannot help but laugh. Wading through the waters of religious dogma to discover an absolute morality seems so much easier than developing a moral system beyond a conception of a divine transcendent being which by necessity decrees certain actions “good” and certain actions “bad.” When I left Christianity–in fact, in my preparation to leave Christianity, even–I recognized that I would somehow need to construct (or not construct, perhaps) a new moral system.
So where to begin? Well first I had to assess if in fact there was morality. Without Christianity, is moral nihilism the path to go? Or perhaps there is morality, but it is subjective. Maybe there is still some sort of objective morality existing independent of humanity. What a mess! As I collected my thoughts and began to sift through the arguments and counter arguments, I found myself most convinced by the though of Spinoza (there is nothing that is inherently ‘good’ or ‘evil’), Hume (moral values simply correspond to our social engrained sentiments and passions) and more recently Bernard Williams (actions are described as “good” or “bad” not in a universal sense, but through individual passions and social construction).
In other words, no objective morality exists. Continue reading