What is Your Authority?

abraham-and-isaac-on-mount-moriah

Question the morality of much of the Bible with a believer, and you’re almost guaranteed to be asked this question. “By what authority do you claim your morality to be valid?” Of course, the person asking the question considers the Bible (or Qur’an) to be the ultimate authority because they believe it is their god’s direct communication to humanity. Since atheists do not rely upon a “holy book” to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong, the question asked is an attempt to “trip up” non-believers by insinuating that their morality is not morality because it does not come from a Supreme Source, but rather from personal opinion.

The fact is that the Bible and the Qur’an only have “authority” because some people choose to believe that they do. They have no intrinsic authority on their own. Further, if a book tells you to do something, and you do that thing because the book tells you to do so, without questioning – that is not “morality”. Morality is distinguishing between right and wrong. When you ascribe moral superiority to a book, and refer to it exclusively to determine a course of action, that is “blind obedience.” A holy book can never teach one how to be moral. It can only teach one to obey. Worse, it can condition one to justify obscene, inhumane actions with the defense that “it’s God’s will.”

This is not to say that the Bible (or Qur’an) do not state the obvious from time to time. Every religion has a variation of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love thy neighbor as thyself.” It’s the simplest of ethical statements, so obvious that one easily comes to this conclusion without need of any holy book. At the risk of sounding cliche, it’s a “no-brainer”. (“Be excellent to each other,” saith the Gospel of Bill and Ted.)

When you point out the immorality that is found throughout both the Bible and the Qur’an, the response is almost always, “God created everything, he can do as he pleases with his creation. Our only response should be to trust and obey him in all things.” Now, I won’t say that I’m any kind of expert on the Qur’an – it’s on my list of things to read, however. My religious past, though, has made me very knowledgeable about the Bible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Obey. Do not trust your own judgment. Switch off your reasoning, and trust that he will lead you to do the right thing.” A flowery way of saying that which every parent has said to a child: “Because I say so, that’s why.” So what happens when this god tells a believer to do something that clearly goes against common decency?

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. – Genesis 22:1-3

If you heard a voice telling you to ritually slaughter your own beloved child, would you obey, or would you question your own sanity? Abraham did not question, but did what he was told – to the point of having the knife raised to execute his son at Yahweh’s command. Yahweh stops him before he commits the act, and blesses Abraham for his unquestioning obedience:

He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” – Genesis 22:12

But according to the Bible, Yahweh is omnipresent and all-knowing:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. – Psalm 139:1-5.

So such a test would clearly be completely unnecessary for Yahweh of the Bible. There was no reason for Yahweh to question Abraham’s faithfulness, if Yahweh was “acquainted with all” of Abraham’s ways. Had Abraham not been stopped, according to the story, he would have butchered his son to death – because Yahweh commanded it.

Were Abraham’s actions, therefore, moral? Or simply “following orders?”

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives. – Deuteronomy 22:28-30

I recently hashed this verse out online with a presuppositionalist. He, of course, responded with “What’s your authority for morality?” Clearly, he was no longer able to see this act as an extremely unjust response to rape – buying the victim from the father and remaining married to her for life – because he insisted that the Bible was the ultimate authority on morality, and if God said it, then it must be moral. No human being with a shred of empathy would consider this to be any form of moral justice whatsoever – to imprison a rape victim in a “relationship” with her rapist for the rest of her life, after being sold to the rapist by her father. One can only imagine that the “husband” would continue to rape and abuse the woman – and why not? He bought her fair and square. This is part of the “absolute moral authority” of the Bible.

Here’s an experiment – tell a Christian that the above-quoted verse is from the Qur’an. Tell them it’s ‘Surah 4:24’. Then ask them what they think about the verse. I can almost guarantee that they will register disgust with the passage and declare it proof of why Islam is not moral. Then, take out your Bible and point the passage out to them.

What happens if God tells you to commit genocide?

Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. – 1 Samuel 15:3

“Put to death men and women, children and infants.” A direct command from Yahweh himself, according to the Bible – from the alleged Mouth of the Supreme Author of Morality.

Children and infants. Every single one.

The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open. – Hosea 13:16

Hear the voice of the “Ultimate Moral Authority”. Does this sicken you? It should. If it doesn’t – if you can accept this because it’s “God’s Will”, then you have no basis by which to claim any standard of morality – particularly if you claim that the Bible is “pro-life”. It’s not. It’s a record of immoral human atrocities – murder, mutilation, plundering, rape, slavery, sexual slavery, and destruction. Atrocities committed by men under the claimed authority of the Creator of the Universe, and allegedly by his command.

Now, lest this be mistaken to be the rantings of an angry theist, and not an atheist, let me clarify – I assert that the Bible is a collection of human writings and nothing more. But this Bible is declared by many to be the most moral, most ethical, most trustworthy guide to life on earth ever to exist. Yet no one who truly believes it to be an inspired, inerrant document can allow themselves to question its authenticity or render personal judgment on any of the barbaric acts committed, therein, attributed to the command of Yahweh.

The Bible itself carries no authority on its own. By itself, it is merely a book. Some people choose to believe that it does, and no matter what you care to call it, that is personal opinion and nothing else. There is no “ultimate, unquestionable moral authority”.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.  – Jesus, Luke 14:26