Skip to main content

Where does morality come from -- part 2

By John Draper ~

In Part 1, I introduced the idea that morality is discovered by humans bit by bit over the slow roll of the centuries.

Of course, that’s not what religious folks believe. They say we know the difference between right and wrong because God tells us. Their idea is that the bulk of morality—the Law of Moses—was revealed by God all at once, right around the invention of barbecue, as best as I can tell. At least that’s what the fundamentalists insist. Evangelicals won’t quibble about specific dates other than to venture that morality was first revealed by God in a mega-dose in the Olden Days, more or less. We call that mega-dose scripture. After that, God adds the filigree to our moral code—the mundane daily decisions about right versus wrong—through personal revelation, also known as The Still, Small Voice.

That’s The System. That’s where morals come from. This post and the next consist of a critique of that system. Long story short, we like to believe that God actually reveals His moral will to us, but the truth is in both cases—scripture and personal revelation—that we’re just talking to ourselves.

First, scripture.


It’s not as miraculously clear-cut as the fundamentalists would have us believe. They talk like the Bible just dropped from the sky, fully annotated and leather-bound. Actually, they know that scripture was written by men, but it might as well have dropped from the heavens. To them, the humans were just conduits—stenographers.

The premise is problematic. First off, in our hearts we know that God doesn’t possess people in that way, taking over their free will and precluding the various boners to which we are prone. Inspiration, if there is such a thing, is much more subtle. Imprecise. Big-picture stuff maybe, but not schematics of the plan. Even the most hair-shirted fundamentalists would have to eventually admit—after you applied the thumbscrews—that God acts vaguely in their lives. Opaquely. In fact, if fundamentalists hear anyone claim to know God’s will too specifically, they will think someone is trying to con them—or that people who claim such things are off their rocker.

humans wrote and canonized scripture—the same people who made Kim Kardashian famous.And that’s the actual authorship of scripture. Someone had to choose which of the “inspired” writings were to become scripture. Humans, fallible humans with ancient worldviews, had to make those decisions.

Ardent Catholics are quick to point out the fallacy of the Protestant notion of Sola Scriptura—that all authority rests in the Bible. The reality is that the Bible is authoritative because the church said so. In other words, the authority of the Bible rests in the authority of the church. As noted before, the Bible didn’t just fall out of the sky.

So, as harebrained as it sounds, humans wrote and canonized scripture—the same people who made Kim Kardashian famous. So, in effect, what religious folks are really saying is, “Well, God doesn’t speak to me plainly, but He did to the people wrote scripture and cataloged it.” That, plainly, is a statement of faith—highly dubious on its face, knowing what we know about how God speaks to humans.


But it doesn’t end there. The Bible doesn’t interpret itself.

Words are malleable, which makes literature so wondrous. Everyone gets something different from a given work, which led to the invention of the book club and has been the cause of no end of bar fights. Any given word means one thing you, quite another perhaps to whoever is sitting on the stool next to you.

Picture the fine stream of inspiration entering the mind of the Apostle Paul, precise and explicit. That same stream of inspiration then gets sprayed all over the landscape when it goes from the page to your brain. If God can constrain one human brain to write the words of a biblical book, why can’t He constrain the minds of everyone reading the book? Said differently, what’s the point of making sure the biblical author got your ideas just right if that book’s teachings will get splayed into a thousand different interpretations? If a biblical passage can mean anything, it means nothing.

Certainly God knows this. He is God, after all. So why did He choose to speak through scripture? Well, He didn’t choose it. We chose it for Him. Frankly, we panicked. We weren’t hearing from God, so we created scripture. But it didn’t really clear things up, did it?

In the end, scripture is a cheat. It’s a shortcut we created to avoid doing the end hard work of figuring out on our own how to live. Our mistake is in assuming that God is overly eager to tell us what He thinks. Truth is, He’s perfectly happy just watching things and nudging them along now and then—to the extent He nudges.

This is on us.