The Evolution of Sin

My claim is that religion and morality both evolve. Since the canonical Bible was written over a period of about 1200 years or so, we can see this evolution in the Bible itself. Professor Gary Anderson tells us of the evolution of ideas about sin in this interview.

15 comments:

Lenoxus said...

Every single online discussion of "morality" gets derailed because of the conflation of at least two different definitions of "morality": The (possible) existence of right and wrong as "brute facts", and the innate and/or external human interpretation of moral facts. (I would certainly agree that the second one has evolved and this evolution is documented in the Bible; conversely, I feel that slavery, rape, and genocide never "became" evil, although Bible apologists like to talk as if they used to be okay — "It was that socio-cultural time and place! God couldn't help condoning it!")

Even those atheists who say "there is no objective morality" still believe, despite the assumptions of theists, that the nature of right and wrong come down to more than a society's or individual's opinion of those things — that, for example, "rape is good" and "rape is bad" are not equally valid statements. Some atheists (not including myself, so I could be misrepresenting this) simply feel that the notion of "objective morality" is incoherent, or only makes sense if there is a God. Since there isn't, "objective morality" is a meaningless phrase. To some degree, it's the queerness problem.

Myself, I feel that morality naturally emerges from the reality of our subjective experience. For example, the wrongness of suffering (such as the suffering caused by rape) is inextricably tied to what suffering is. Is is consequently reasonable to refer to moral statements as being "brute facts", although there are very few of them, maybe only two or three altogether. (Examples: suffering bad, coercion bad, happiness good). The complexities of reality make working out what takes precedence how, of course, means that moral philosophy will never be "solved", although religions often like to think they do have a simple, non-refutable answer (Do what God says.)

delinquentminer said...

When it comes to the problem of suffering, as an atheist, I cannot blame God for the various tragedies and suffering that occur in the world. If I attempt to determine a root cause of suffering in the world (since I, personally, have a hard time accepting the “shit happens” solution), it leads me to conclude it’s generally our own fault. Outside of a few specific, tragic instances, the responsibility eventually boils down to us and the choices we as human beings make. Sure, there are extenuating circumstances and mitigating factors. Suffering is our own fault–most of the time.

What this means is, in the absence of a cosmic scapegoat, I am now forced consider the human condition in a vastly more participatory way. What responsibility do I bear for the suffering of those around me, or maybe even those far off? I negatively affect a great many more people than I can likely imagine. We all must live this short life on this small planet, together. What we do affects each other. Our responsibilities lie, not in trying to live longer and more comfortably, but in trying to live together peaceably. What does justice, then, demand of me? Since I am implicated in the suffering of others, to some extent, what must I do?

Another way of looking at it: we are all guilty. This presents an existential problem of conscience. What is the atheist solution? Is there one? As an atheist, is there such a thing as guilt? I read all the arguments about morality not requiring God, but simply being the contract between people (or some other similar argument). Well, if morality–good and evil–exists, it implies guilt exists. What is the answer to it?

Brad said...

Delinquent,

"What this means is, in the absence of a cosmic scapegoat, I am now forced consider the human condition in a vastly more participatory way. What responsibility do I bear for the suffering of those around me, or maybe even those far off? I negatively affect a great many more people than I can likely imagine."

Good assessment, as the fundamental problem doesn’t just vanish at the end of the day when you're done blame shifting.

shane said...

I think as far as moral rights and wrongs go, we do not need a superior being to tell us the difference!

It is my firm belief that humans assess right and wrong.....good and bad, by how everything effects us.
Anything which has a negative effect on us, whether it be emotional, physical, or even uncomfortable to our sense of wellness we consider bad!

When we come to realize the negative effects that certain things have on us, we also realize these things must effect others the same way (hence we develop morals).
But I believe our morals are human only, there is nothing to suggest a universal right and wrong!

The animal kingdom for instance, does not have the capacity for morals anything like we humans do.
They kill without regret, they have multiple sex partners, they steal food and territory....etc...
These things are not considered immoral amongst them.

Yet, we find it immoral to commit adultry because it entails the unfairness and emotional hurt it causes us.
We find killing immoral because we find pain and death very negative to our senses.
We find it immoral to steal from others because it does not belong to us we did not earn it.
But all of these factors are only relative to us because we have the capacity to be effected negatively by them!
I dont see there being a cosmic right and wrong.

Breckmin said...

The (possible) existence of right and wrong as "brute facts", and the innate and/or external human interpretation of moral facts. (I would certainly agree that the second one has evolved and this evolution is documented in the Bible; conversely, I feel that slavery, rape, and genocide never "became" evil, although Bible apologists like to talk as if they used to be okay — "It was that socio-cultural time and place! God couldn't help condoning it!"

God never condoned slavery. We have equivocation on the word slavery as it relates to servants in the New Testament, and in the O.T. we have instructions which were meant for the protection of slaves against certain abuses DUE to the "reality" of slavery just like the reality of "divorce" and the hardness of their hearts.

From the beginning it was supposed to be One Man and One Woman in marriage...just as God alone owns all people and one man should never own another man (but servitude and selling yourself into servitude was a reality of the culture). Question everything.

Breckmin said...

Also...it is very important to understand that when they took slaves instead of slaughtering them it was a act of grace/mercy.

IF they did allow them to go off and be free they would have formed another army. It was better to allow them to be servants than to kill them and send them to eternal separation without the chance of learning about the God of Abraham and the One true orthodox religion at that time.

Either way...taking slaves rather than slaughtering them was an act of mercy and a lesser of necessary evils.

Breckmin said...

"God never condoned slavery."

Of course this is complicated because of war and because of the reality of the culture. The same thing was true of divorce OR having multiple wives.

It may appear in the scriptures that God condoned slavery by allowing them to take slaves rather than kill them, but it is far more complicated just like divorce and remarriage as well as polygamy.

If I appear defensive on this point, please understand that from the standpoint of systematic theology slavery would NOT be optimal since God owns every one.

I admit it is a complicated reality back in the type period of ancient Israel...and there is nothing "fair" about it.

That doesn't mean that it was an optimal practice, and Christians all throughout history have fought to abolish slavery.

shane said...

Breckmin.

So when the bible says, when a slave owner beats his slave so severely that the slave dies from it, its ok aslong as the slave survives for a day or two because the slave is his money......this you consider merciful?

Here the slave is considered as money/a possession rather then a human being.

When the bible says, that if a slave has been given a wife from his owner and the slave has children with his wife, then when the slaves time comes to be free, his wife and children must remain with the owner because they belong to him.
If the slave wants to remain with his wife and children he must have his ear bored through and belong to the master forever.

This you find merciful?
Its merciful to deny a man his wife and children because they should belong to a slave master instead?

You said, this is merciful because it was better to be a slave and learn about the ways of God, then to be killed and go to hell?

Here's a better solution, how about if God decided to reveal Himself to all people instead of just the Jews at that time?
How about give all people His ten commandments and not only the Jews?
How about strive with all people not just the Jews.
Wouldn't that have been a better and more sensible way to have these people learn about Him and show mercy to them????

P.Coyle said...

Breckmin writes,

"That doesn't mean that it [slavery] was an optimal practice, and Christians all throughout history have fought to abolish slavery."

This is simply wildly misleading. I don't see a lot of "fighting" to abolish slavery among the Christians of the early Church, for example. At any given time, some Christians might be in favor of abolishing slavery, but others, often a majority, might be opposed.

In the United States, from about 1830 through 1860, oceans of ink were spilled on the publication of Biblical defenses of slavery. Thanks to Google, it is now possible for the average person to read many of those defenses online. For example, try Slavery Ordained of God, by "Rev. Fred A. Ross, D.D., pastor of the Presbyterian Church, Huntsville, Alabama." I won't include the URL here, since it's rather lengthy, but you can easily look it up. Or there's Bible Defence of Slavery; and Origin Fortunes, and History of the Negro Race, by "Rev. Josiah Priest, A.M." Or Slavery Sanctioned by the Bible by John Richter Jones.

It is true, of course, that at the same time numerous works were being published to claim that God and the Bible were "agin" slavery, not "fur" it. However, neither side "won" the debate. Every single nationwide Protestant denomination split over the issue, and some of those splits have persisted to this day.

In the end, the two portions of the American Christian community took up arms against one another in part because one side believed that slavery was wrong, and the other side believed it was right. God did not come down from the heavens to settle the dispute, and hundreds of thousands died during the resulting Civil War among Christians.

A few years ago, I asked a fundamentalist minister whether holding people in slavery was sinful. After a certain amount of beating around the bush, he finally said, well, no, because there's nothing in the Bible that would lead one to such a conclusion....

Brad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad said...

Hi P.Coyle,

"This is simply wildly misleading. I don't see a lot of "fighting" to abolish slavery among the Christians of the early Church..."

So can we assume that you've never read Philemon and considered the wider doctrinal implications that Paul was appealing to as he was arguing for the slave's release?

shane said...

Brad.

The point is, Paul with all his divine influence did not reach the desired outcome of non-slavery (if thats true), since slavery was practiced by christians up to the 1800 hundreds!

P.Coyle said...

Brad asks:

So can we assume that you've never read Philemon and considered the wider doctrinal implications that Paul was appealing to as he was arguing for the slave's release?

That would be an incorrect assumption, my friend.

I referred above to Rev. Fred A. Ross' Slavery Ordained of God. Look it up in Google Book Search. Go to p. 176 and following to see how he uses Paul's letter to Philemon in defense of slavery -- and how he would dispute your notion that the letter had any "wider doctrinal implication" that there was anything morally wrong with slavery. For Ross, the implication of the letter was that Paul was morally obliged to return Onesimus to his rightful owner

Scott said...

Brad,

Why is it that murder and homosexuality is clearly prohibited, but not slavery? How is it that other older religions could clearly enunciate the moral wrongness of slavery, but the Bible supposedly makes vague references which could be easily misinterpreted?

For example, the Jains seem to make it quite clear in their mantra: " Do not injure, abuse, oppress, enslave, insult, torment, torture, or kill any creature or living being."

Imagine if such clarity was found in the Bible? While this would not have prevented all slavery completely, it would have made it clear slavery was wrong both then, now and in the future.

If Jainism is merely the work of finite human beings, doesn't it seem odd that they could enunciate the wrongness of slavery far clearer than the authors of the Bible, which were supposedly inspired by a all powerful, all knowing being?

If you suggest that it was the culture or circumstances which prevented such clarity, I'd ask why did God choose the a small tribe in bronse-age Palestine, when there were more literate cultures far more capable of clearly presenting his message at the time.

Leonardo de la Paor said...

JOHN W LOFTUS IS COMING OUT OF THE "CLOSET"!

JOHN "WANKER" LOFTUS HAS FINALLY ACCEPTED THAT HE IS A SODOMITE. HE AND CARL SAGAN HID THEIR LIKING FOR MUD DIVING FOR YEARS. SAGAN DIED FROM AIDS, I WONDER WILL "WANKER" LOFTUS GO THE SAME WAY???