December 07, 2005

The application of Christian morality

I was listening, for only 5 minutes before I arrived at work this morning, to an interesting programme on Radio 4.

There was a guest who, I unfortunately can't remember her name, has an agony column in a national newspaper. She was talking about her responses to the letters she had received for her column, and was asked about the influence of her strong Christian faith. She said, interestingly, that she thought Christian morals could not be taken separately but had to be considered within the context of a strictly Christian life. She said this was because Christians have the promise of a life in heaven as a reward for their lives on earth, which atheists cannot look forward to. This seemed to me to be an unusual viewpoint, and one with which I don't think I agree. I no longer count myself as a Christian, but nevertheless lead my life, in the most part, according to Christian morals.

Do Christians live good lives, according to the morals of their faith, only so that they can get to heaven? Is it not a fundamental part of what makes us human to want to be law-abiding and good, irrelevant of our faith? Why shouldn't non-active Christians or atheists lead their lives according to Christian morals? Are the people in this category, in fact, morally more virtuous as they lead upstanding lives without the hope of a reward at the end of it?

How can you remove Christian morality from life in a country whose society, laws and customs are based on it and whose citizens have, in the most part, been educated in it?

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  1. I would argue that morality is mostly social programming, and as a generally Christian country, at least historically if nothing else, most people from the UK will have a broadly Christian moral code. That said, the actual details of such a code will vary widely from person to person, even amongst those that genuinely consider themselves Christians.

    I'm also unimpressed by anyone that only follows religious teachings in order to avoid hell, rather than out of any actual desire to be good. If someone forced you to donate to charity at gunpoint, would you be a good person if you complied? I wouldn't say so. I think it would say rather more about the person threatening you than anything else.

    07 Dec 2005, 18:45

  2. Thought I knew who the woman would be, so I checked on the radio 4 schedules. I was right – she's my friend's aunt. Does Thought for the Day sometimes. Bit strange. She talks about family values and stuff. Then her youngest daughter ran away from home… Bit unfortunate.

    07 Dec 2005, 21:58

  3. Matt Gilbert

    Religion. Time to light the blue touchpaper and retire…

    What do you define as a 'Christian' moral? For instance, "thou shalt not kill," is one of the 10 commandments, but it is also taught in different religions throughout the world and, regardless of any religious belief, is just plain common sense. So can it be said to be a pure Christian moral? I think not. Once you break it down like that, morals that can be said to be purely Christian are the more (for want of a better word) obscure morals that are really only practiced by the more stricter followers. So maybe there is some validity in saying that they should only be considered within the context of a strict Christian life?

    Colin raises an interesting point when he says, "I think it would say rather more about the person threatening you than anything else."

    This leads me neatly on to the role of the devil in the christian faith. Does anyone know how many times the devil appears in the bible? It's actually very few. It was the church that built up the character and used it as something to scare people into being good. Of course some people follow religious teachings just to get into heaven. That is what they're taught after all, "behave this way and you'll be allowed into paradise," which is why people obey even the religious laws that would seem to go against all common sense.

    So these people are therefore allowed into heaven, whereas atheists, who have behaved morally because they've decided it's the decent thing to do, are not, simply because they do not believe in god. So you could well have the situation where heaven is full of essentially selfish people and hell is full of decent, upstanding and independantly minded folk. Makes you wonder if it's such a bad place after all eh?

    08 Dec 2005, 00:29

  4. Ummm…

    Ok, if Christians are following laws in order to get into heaven, well, that's kind of sad.

    Christianity is meant to be free of legalism. Ok, it's not, but we are trying, I promise.

    The point of following Christian teachings and morals and ethics and laws etc etc is that you want to.

    Because though you seriously screw up your life with your thoughts or actions or words, God loves you anyways, and sent His Son to die for you. And because of that, you're free of 'you have to do this at this time on this day with this plate to get into Heaven'.

    The essence of Christianity is that we're not good enough, but God gives us a way to be good enough. Our following His laws and commands is our way of expressing our joy at this free gift of forgiveness, not because we have to to get to God. Because we're human and we get it wrong a lot, that is probably just as well. :)

    13 Dec 2005, 16:50

  5. That's a lovely sentiment, but where do you draw the line?

    Yes, many Christians live wonderful lives and serve God by making the world a very much better place. But if, for example, a serial killer who has lived an utterly unlawful life repents of his sins just before his death, doesn't he go to heaven too? To be honest, in that situation, I'm more inclined to believe in karma. Technically it's possible for someone to live a terrible life and still go to heaven.

    13 Dec 2005, 17:20

  6. Tis the thing. If said serial killer repented, then he (or she, but you said he so we'll go with that) would be totally forgiven, just like that.

    And that may seem kind of unfair, but then that's the whole point of grace. It is unfair. We're getting something really amazingly cool which we completely don't deserve.

    Like Jesus said himself,
    "For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little."

    I've been forgiven a lot. But I didn't have to earn it, or do anything for it except accept it. Incredibly unfair. But for it I'm incredibly grateful.

    13 Dec 2005, 19:17

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