Unbelievers talked about in the Bible

I wanted to pursue this “aha” thought of mine in a different topic exploration. I have always had considerable doubt even antipathy to the connection many have made between the use of the word “unbelievers” in the Bible with “atheists.” The problem is that all talk of such “unbelievers” in the Bible is closely associated with considerable immorality and misbehavior – more of a “might makes right” mentality than a philosophical objection to the idea of God which is quite often motivated by concerns of morality. Thus it is my suggestion and conclusion that the issue of unbelief referred to by “unbelievers” in the Bible is the question of whether there is any validity to the distinction between good and evil, and thus these unbelievers more properly refer to moral nihilists rather than atheists. Now it is true that some of the places in the Bible speak of specifically of those who say there is no God. But then I still have two objections to the identification of this with atheists even so.

  1. Most modern atheists refute the idea that atheism is a claim that there is no God.
  2. This was before the distinction made by Camus between those who believe in right and wrong and those who don’t believe in supernatural stuff, and thus this is in a cultural background where the identification between the two was an easy assumption to make, but is no longer valid.

I don’t pretend to speak for all atheists, but thought I would share my opinions of what modern atheism is as a modern atheist.

We atheists are often told that our lack of belief is due to us wanting to sin and misbehave. Of course, the reality of day to day life for the vast majority of atheists probably doesn’t live up to the fantasies espoused by some theists.

If we are talking about the majority of modern atheists (again, in my experience and opinion), I think there is a broad consensus among atheists that good and evil are valid. Most atheists I know ascribe to a version of Humanism:

“Humanism is a philosophical stance that emphasizes the individual and social potential and agency of human beings. It considers human beings as the starting point for serious moral and philosophical inquiry.”–Humanism

Theists tend to lean more towards an objective morality, but most atheists lean more towards a subjective morality. But to get to the point of the opening post, at least we all agree that morality exists, and wherever we start from we can usually find a lot of agreement.

I also don’t see why one would need to believe in the supernatural in order to believe in the existence of morality. We humans have emotions, we have empathy, and we have the ability to use reason. This means that we know what it is like to feel pain, and we can understand how our actions can cause pain in others. I think that is the foundation of morality. Belief or lack of belief in the supernatural is something that may be added to this foundation.

I think that is accurate. There are still atheists that claim there are no deities, but many of us recognize the logical problems with claims based on an unprovable negative. We do our best to be consistent in our skepticism.

We don’t have to look far to find people committing immoral acts while claiming they are following the commands of God. Belief in the supernatural does not guarantee that you will adopt a code that is moral.

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T!!! It’s good to have you back! You always have astute things to say of course. But this response is just mainly just a - “it’s exciting to hear from you again” reaction. If I tell you I plan to toss in a weekly mischaracterization of atheists, will that keep you around? Just kidding. I won’t try to do any such thing (not on purpose anyway :wink:).

-Merv

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I guess most criticism in the biblical scriptures is targeted against those who serve other ‘gods’ instead of the one true God. Either they have chosen to serve an imagined ‘god’ or they serve something that dominates their thinking and actions more than the will of God.

Money or wealth is one of the alternative ‘gods’, was in the time of Jesus and is maybe even more widely served today. Also thinking that ‘I decide what I will do in the life’ (I did it my way) can be called serving a false god because the person sets herself/himself on the throne that belongs to God.

I think that an unbeliever doing good things is better than a believer doing bad things. Maybe God has similar kind of thinking, as He is the righteous judge. Yet, making morally good decisions is not the same as being accepted in front of God. Jesus came to save sinners, not those who think they are good persons.

What is right or wrong is a tricky question. As long as morality is subjective, what one thinks is right may be wrong in the eyes of another. Unfortunately, also interpretation of biblical scriptures is partly subjective and may lead to similar kind of conflicting opinions about what is right or wrong.

Yet, deciding what is right or wrong is easier for believers as they have ‘a golden standard’ that can be used when opinions differ. Without it, morality is on a soft bottom. I have no doubt that most atheists or agnostics have good intentions and often attempt to do the morally right decisions. But if right or wrong depends solely on subjective opinions, anything can be considered ok. With purposeful indoctrination, people may consider that even torture is an acceptable moral choice - also the government of USA seems to hire persons that show this kind of thinking. Many if not most countries have done the same.

If an assumed terrorist is believed to be an immediate danger to the country, many think that it is acceptable to use hard interrogation methods, even torture, to get the critical information that might prevent a terrorist attack. Is it morally right or wrong? I don’t accept torture but I know that many would think that it is the lesser evil or even morally right.

“Nothing gets to the truth faster than a little motivation” as Tomás de Torquemada used to say.
Screenshot 2021-12-18 at 10-42-10 inquisition of torquemada - Google Search

For me it is not the existence of morality. That is a brute fact. It is the legitimacy of morality as anything more than the subjective delusion of bipedal primates. Something more than brain gas by selfish stardust interested in reciprocal altruism.

To use an analogy. I don’t doubt the existence of religious beliefs as being a real part of the world. But do these religious beliefs correspond to something externally real or are they just the incorrect beliefs and delusions of people? If God doesn’t exist I think the latter is true even if theses beliefs reach deep psychological needs.

I think morality is in the same boat without God. Arbitrary and subjective. Don’t get me wrong, there is a subjectiveness to everyones morality but I think the theist is chasing objective morality. I mean, is slavery really objectively and morally wrong? If it’s only wrong to you or me subjectively, I feel the evils of slavery are diminished. Of course, many Christians thought slavery was acceptable and to be honest if I wouldn’t be plagued with such guilt, my family would live a lot more comfortably with a half dozen slaves doing our very bidding. Why are we caring about others when we don’t have to? Because we hope they would return the favor?

I really wouldn’t use morality in a discussion with non-theists as I assume they have it but I don’t see legitimate right and wrong coming out of pure assemblages of atoms.

Vinnie

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The inadequacy of belief and morality are independent of God. Existence is, being is. In nearly nearly all theists. Whose morality and beliefs are nothing like Jesus’. Whether God is the ground of it or not. If God grounds being then the moral genius of Jesus is - possibly - divine. It doesn’t follow. If Jesus is God incarnate, as the earliest, pre-gospel, Church could indicate, then Jesus’ moral genius is definitely divine. What is it?

“Because Daddy says so” does not make morality objective! That just gives you a morality relative to the daddy.

The only people who can claim to be seeking objective morality are those who look for REASONS why some things are moral and others are not. For the theist it may be to understand the mind of God rejecting the infantile authoritarian mentality which says it is good or bad because God says so and instead seek the reasons God knows why things to be good or bad. But there is absolutely NO REASON why the atheist cannot look for these reasons also.

Theists tend to rhetoric for claiming an objective status to their arbitrarily dictated by God subjective morality. It basically just means they want to force their subjective morality along with their religion upon everyone. But I would think that atheists would lean more toward looking for reasons for moral standards and i would call that more objective than what these theists are doing. Of course, more rational theists can reject the bogus rhetoric, and instead asserting that God commands things because they are good (rather than good because God commands them) and likewise look for the reasons which make them so.

The point here is, it is only the reasons for some things being better which means it isn’t just a matter of arbitrary convention.

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Unless those reasons are tied into God’s very being and your bifurcation is utterly pointless. Are those reasons God knows external to his being? Is he knowing moral principles that exist independent of himself? Your critique of “Daddy says” might be good rhetoric, but it is nothing more than a caricature of people who love and trust God. Some are more naive in their outlook on things than others. We all know people who confuse their own thoughts and beliefs with “trusting God” and refusing to see reason, but there is nothing wrong with actually trusting God. Jesus’ response in the Garden to what “Daddy said” needed to happen was “Thy will be done.”

Vinnie

We may indeed choose to trust God at His word before we understand the reasons for why God has commanded things. The point was that it is those reasons God knows them to be good which make them objectively moral (if they are indeed so) and not the command of God itself which does so.

For after all, trust can be misplaced, and the belief that this comes from a good being can be mistaken. People have worshipped demons, says the Bible, commanding them to do terrible things and they think them good. And even if a command really is from God, His reasons still may be relative to the culture and not objective at all.

I’ll never understand how anyone assumes that if it doesn’t come from outside ourselves it can only be a delusion. Does the love you feel for your wife have the same status? For that matter what makes you sure the God you believe in isn’t still another bipedal delusion? The only brute fact is our inability to take our own judgement out of the equation entirely. If we’re not qualified to make sense of morality how much less qualified must we be to rule on what does or doesn’t qualify as God?

Whether or not I can make an air tight case supporting my love for my wife or my allegiance to what I think God belief is about I’m content to hold both on faith even if I am a primate and even if I am bipedal.

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This is more an intellectual/hypothetical discussion to me. I think most of us assume genuine love and morality and operate from there. Whether it’s a delusion or not. And I think that air right case is only available with God.

Different groups of people believe mutually exclusive things with equal certainty and conviction. Take slavery. Millions of people have thought slavery was ethical. It was defended vigorously by some even using Bible.

I don’t see a way out of the maze if there isn’t an actual, objective morality. I refuse to believe sexually assaulting children being evil is just a matter of onion. I think it’s really wrong, cosmically wrong. I may be wrong but I can’t live any other way. Morality becoming subjective like art is an unsustainable world view to me. I see it that way without God.

We certainly mess up on both accounts over and over again. I’d love to say we can make sense of morality and to a degree I think we can, but there are people who absolutely and unequivocally convinced wearing a bomb and waking into a crowded room is the right and ethical thing to do right now.

I can’t argue against “greater good” ethics but I can’t justify them either. Intellectually, in a godless universe, I can’t see how humans have any more value than any other assemblage of atoms. Stardust thinking it had meaning. I feel morality needs to be more than mere human opinion or “avoiding the feeling of pain.”. Tie it into creation. Tie it into God’s being. That works for me. But like I said, I wouldn’t present these as arguments.

Define sure. I’m not sure or absolutely certainty of very much on cosmic scales but I have my beliefs and convictions. I generally don’t do well with intellectual certainty. I live a certain way by faith and experience though. God is just self-evident in the world to me. I get intense doubts but my theism is almost as normal to me as breathing is.

Vinnie

Getting late but just to say I do appreciate the honesty and intent behind what you’ve written here even if I have my doubts about the actual efficacy and reach of what we can accomplish with intellectual/hypothetical discussion in this arena.

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Many search support for their worldview from biblical scriptures instead of trying to adjust their worldview to what these scriptures teach. Slavery is just one example. I fear that most believers have done that at some point of their life - I admit that I’m guilty, or at least I was when I was a young believer. I was quite certain that my thinking was right and tried to prove it to other believers by searching suitable verses or chapters from the bible.

I’m not sure if those supporting slavery thought that slavery was ethical. It just was how life worked and it was ok that the ‘superior’ utilized the ‘inferior’. No moral thinking needed.

And many claim to be doing the latter while actually doing the former.

It is not hard to defend slavery from a Biblical perspective. Ask half the preachers in the 1800s in the US. It shows just how tenuous most hermeneutical systems are. How grounded in the temporal morality of the day we make the Bible. How it has been for thousands of years.

Slaves were viewed as property. Viewing another human as property that you can force to do whatever you ant, beat, have sex with (can’t “rape” property), etc, is a moral issue to me. That is my point though. Society as a whole thought it was accetpable. It was great for Israel’s kings to have five million concubines. Shows how great and powerful they were! Just like many Jews thought it was okay to give your wife a certificate of divorce as the Law. Jesus said, “No no no.”

Moral and immoral changes a lot throughout human civilization when we come to specifics. There are certain universals but once you dehumanize people, these rules no longer apply to them (Jews during the Holocaust, Slaves all over human civilization from time immemorial etc). I for one second do not think a suicide bomber does not believe he or she is doing the right thing. One man’s terrorist is another person’s martyr. What is the truth if its all a matter of subjective human opinion based on whatever temporal morality and social condition we have been subject to our whole lives? Is there any way out of the maze? I think God provides one. ground morality in Jesus: the Son of God who lowered himself and came to earth in the form of a servant and was mocked, abused, rejected and crucified. Beyond that I got nothing. The atheist is a shaken up bottle of coke and the theist a shaken up bottle of Pepsi. Our whole debate over morality is just seeing which bottle fizzes the highest. In order to construct moral systems we need some basic axioms. I would not question the validity of atheists starting axioms (greater good, golden rule, etc) because we agree on them. My whole question is where do these come from? Are they anymore than the delusions of bipedal primates thinking they have any real value or significance?

Vinnie

There really is no such thing as the latter. That is only what people say when trying to force their worldview on another person. Psychologists have established that belief is part of the process of perception. We cannot even see and hear without what we believe coming into it. This is even more true when getting meaning out of a text, especially when it wasn’t even written in our language.

There is no original unaltered self-interpreted meaning of the text. Nevertheless, as Christians we believe God has used the Bible to communicate with all people of all ages and thus we can get some divine guidance from the text and the authority of the text is part of the definition of the Christian religion. It is one of the tools we have for making our case to Christian brethren. Dismissive treatments of the text and claims that it does not mean what it actually says will never be a strong case for your claims.

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That is also true of objective moralities as shown by the many disagreements between religions that all claim to have an objective morality.

Easier does not mean better. Replacing morality with obedience to religious edicts isn’t an improvement, at least in my book.

A subjective morality is based on the human condition, so it can’t be just anything. However, an objective morality can be anything. All one needs to do is write the moral code down in a book and say, “God commands it”.

If that moral code is based on religious scriptures how could you argue against it? Wouldn’t it be a proper moral code? If someone belongs to a religion that calls for genocide, aren’t they justified in committing genocide if objective morality is the way to go?

I would argue that we should base our morality on what humans feel, how we interact with each other, and with how we reason. Why should we follow a moral code that goes against what it is to be human?

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I am more optimistic about the possibility to adjust the worldview to what the biblical scriptures teach. It is a long process with small steps but possible.

As we learn, we may note that our way of thinking is in conflict with what a chapter of the scriptures seems to tell, or with the facts we can read from the other book of God, nature. At that point, there are two main options: reject the new information or adjust the previous worldview so that the new information fits into the frame.

If people are afraid that their world(view) could collapse, they tend to deny new information that does not fit to the previous picture. Those who feel that they stand on solid ground can study the new information and adjust their worldview, if necessary. All people are not mature enough that they can receive conflicting new information in a constructive way but at least some are.

The best way to do that, IMHO, is to base your arguments on the human condition. In fact, that is how most western democracies function. At least in the US, if the only reason you can give for enacting a law or policy is “Because God demands it” then the law is considered unconstitutional. I happen to think that is a good thing. If you can’t justify a law based on the human condition then it isn’t a morally based law.

I would also think most Christians would balk at the idea of have their society based on Sharia law, even though Sharia law is just as objective as the worldview based on your religious beliefs.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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