Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The source of morals and ethics

Where do morals and ethics come from?

In my case, it's from thinking about what's right and what's wrong, from living experience for the last 65 years, and from society around me influencing my ideas.

For religious people, it's from their god.

So I'm puzzled about the ethicality of women bishops. I wouldn't want to be a bishop myself (and they probably wouldn't have me, because I'm an atheist, but I'll come to that later). But women used to be barred from becoming bishops, and this was a matter of religious faith. Apparently, somewhere in the New Testament it says "Women can't be bishops", or something that leads to that statement.

Here's what I don't understand. That statement is *still* in the bible. If last year it said "Women can't be bishops" then today it still says "Women can't be bishops". Yet the Church of England is now allowing women to be bishops (with some caveats, which I'll get to later). Did their god change it's mind? If so, how do they know?

It seems to me, that this change in their ethics (from "Women can't be bishops" to "Women can be bishops") has come from thinking about what's right and what's wrong, from living experience, and from society around them influencing their ideas. Because it can't have come from their god.

Which means that when religious people say that they get their morals and ethics from their god, they are mistaken.

What happened was, there's a society consensus that people shouldn't be barred from jobs on account of their gender. And that consensus has finally penetrated the Church of England, which has changed its morals and ethics to conform with everyone else.

But. There's also a society consensus that people shouldn't be barred from jobs on account of their faith. Which means that atheists should be allowed to become bishops. And there is some appeal - you get to dress up in fancy dress, you get to live in a palace, you get to move diagonally. Some appeal - but not enough. I'd have to tell people how to behave, and I'm not keen on that. And I don't fancy spending long, boring hours in churches.

And now the caveats. If a parish is unwilling to accept a woman bishop, they can ask for a male alternative. OK, I understand that this exception was necessary to get the vote through (more on voting for right later), but if a parish insists on having human sacrifices, should that also be allowed? It's either right to allow women bishops or it isn't. Letting people choose their own morality and ethics? That's tantamount to atheism! Anathema - I pronounce anathema.

On voting for what's right. I remember, 25 years ago, on Usenet, there was a technical question about viruses. I gave the correct answer, other people gave answers. Eventually, the person who asked the question added up the responses, and said "20 people said yes and 15 people said no, so the answer is yes."

And one of the things that most annoys me about religious people, is this assumption that where the law of the land conflicts with their religious beliefs, the law has to give way. And that's just wrong.


  1. The model used within Anglicanism is the three-legged stool, balancing scripture (as primary), faith, and reason. Where scripture is plain, there is no debate. If the Bible said "women can't be bishops," that would largely be the end of it.

    Where the Bible isn't clear, then faith and reason play a greater role. It's oversimplistic to say the Bible says "women can't be bishops." Paul writes that, for his part, he doesn't permit women to be overseers (epi-scopes, or bishops). That doesn't make it universal even in his day. There is evidence in the New Testament for a female apostle, although it's not cut and dry.

    The revelation of God in the Bible has not changed--our reasoning has changed.

  2. That's pretty much my point. We can't get our morals and ethics from an old book that is hardly ever clear, and often contradicts itself, it has to come from our reasoning.

    What you're saying with "The revelation of God in the Bible has not changed--our reasoning has changed." is that you can't rely on the revelation from your god, and when the revelation from your god conflicts with your reasoning, then your reasoning trumps your god.

    Which means, you don't actually need your god to know right from wrong.

    1. Christians are guilty of putting the Bible forth as if it were some kind of technical manual full of 1-2-3 procedures, or as simple as a paint-by-numbers approach to how to live. Just compile it and run it, and everything will be fine. Hogwash. We talk about "divine inspiration" as if the human authors and translators were just robots. Some holy books were allegedly received by "automatic writing," but that's never been either a Jewish or Christian view of the Bible. Inspiration means something more.

      I need God, to know right from wrong. Maybe others don't, and that's fine. I can only speak for myself. If God is a crutch, then I am a cripple. I know that my natural inclination is towards selfishness and confronting my need for God, at the grotesque cross, pushes me to see beyond my own wants and needs.

  3. We all have a natural inclination for selfishness. I'm happy to say that I can mostly overcome this tendency without outside help. You can too, because you already are. The fact that you're imagining help from a god doesn't reduce your achievement, it just diminishes it in your own eyes.

  4. I'm still chuckling at the vision of you moving diagonally...