Thursday, January 30, 2014

Moral relativism is driving me batty

Perhaps this is a topic better suited for my other blog, but I think as it doesn't pertain to a specific scripture but rather a number of different Biblical topics, it would be better to discuss here. It's very common when people are arguing against the Bible that they bring up one or more topic of contrast between common understandings in Biblical times and modern understandings. Often, it's a matter of morality, such as "Why does the Bible allow slavery?" or "Why does marriage in Biblical times seem to treat women as just slightly above livestock?" While those are good questions well worth asking, sometimes there are questions of a scientific nature that seem nearly as pressing, such as "Why does the Bible seem to indicate that the earth is only a few thousand years old?" or "Why does the Bible consider bats to be birds?"

A friend of mine posted a link recently on Facebook to an article about church-sanctioned prostitution in medieval England. The article made me think about the way morality changes from age to age, and how "traditional values" are a questionable concept, especially faced with stories like this. The article says that while prostitution wasn't quite considered a good thing, it was figured that it was better that men solicit prostitutes than practice masturbation or sodomy. While I think most conservative Christians today would consider masturbation less serious than prostitution (sodomy would depend on exactly what you meant by the term, which tends to be fluid in meaning), it only goes to show that even among Christians, ideas of what is moral and immoral are fluid from age to age and culture to culture.

Really this fact shouldn't come as a surprise to most people. Of course morality is fluid. I think we conveniently forget this, not only as Christians, but as Biblical skeptics. In respect to the former, I think that it is right for non-Christians to suggest that it is questionable for Christians to (as it is often phrased) "impose iron-age morality on modern society." Really, I think most Christians see the wisdom in this to some point; we don't stone people to death for committing adultery anymore, do we? And I think we're all glad that such a barbaric practice is out of style. I know I want nothing to do with it.

But when it comes to the Biblical skeptics, I think there is a similar problem going on. How can we think it makes sense to impose 21st-century morals on iron-age nomads? Doesn't it go both ways? Don't criticize an ancient culture for not classifying bats according to your modern taxonomy rules when all they really needed was a guideline for which winged animals they could and could not eat. Furthermore, why would you impose your 21st-century morality on anyone when most likely people in the 22nd century will look back on your morals as abhorrent? We're far from an enlightened utopia that has done away with racism, sexism, homophobia, and violence, and science has tended to show that the things we think to be true and good today will be proven to be twisted and harmful to us tomorrow.

In the end, what I think I'm really saying is that everyone should be willing to question their assumptions of morality and reality. Not just their own, but the morals and world-views of people they assume to be wrong. You don't have to change your mind, just keep it open, you know?