Friday, January 01, 2010

Post Christian Morality

Quit a while back Australia introduced a citizenship test. At the time the local paper ran a quiz which claimed to contain questions from the actual test. One of the questions was about the guiding principle of Australian law, with answer options including 'Christian' and 'secular' and the obvious red herring of 'Sharia Law'.

The correct answer, was 'Christian'. My partner however, who is catholic wanted to answer secularism. Which got me to thinking that in despite what we might like to claim she is right. I have very much grown up with post Christian values. And indeed ones which are in places opposed to most religious teachings. To me the key concept is the idea of personal freedom. If it harms none, do as you will.

The fact that this also happens to be a key statement of Wicca is coincidence. However it flies in the face of judo christian tradition. Modern progressive churches do (I belive) accept some idea of free will to do. but they do not seem to attach any special moral meaning to it, other than a negative one where your free will gives you the right to damn yourself, or you can surrunder it and follow the church teachings and be saved. This is not however universal as soem Protestant denominations still teach the Calvinist idea that God has decided who is and who is not among the saved, and there is nothing you can do to change his mind.

When I look at the ten commandments, Ignoring the various controversies about what is and isn't aprt of this set, I find that only three of them are enshrined in Australian law. We hare prohibited for Stealing, murdering and bearing false witness. But then again these are things that have been discovered by most successful societies around the world, though granted not all of them.

As to the others. the first Thou shalt have no other god before me, is unconstitutional in Australia. Likewise for the making of idols. As we have freedom of religion. In other words the writers of the Australian constitution, following in the footsteps of the American founding fathers, said that the bible is wrong on that point. That to restrict the free practice of other religeions is morally wrong. So wrong in fact that the fact should be noted in the document of final arbitration.

Adultry, taking the lords name in vain, and being rude to your parents may be considered bad form as it where but are not considered illegal. The last one about honouring your mother and father requires some careful thought in considering what a strict reading actually implies. to me it suggests following their orders qithout question, but what if said orders are themselves illegal. Is a child that is being abused dishonouring their parents if they report the abuse? Morally I'd have to say no, taking the commandment literally I'm not certain of the answer.

Then we come to the idea of working on the Sabbath, and coveting of goods. Both of these seem to be part and parcel of capitalism. A good chunk of our economic activity is based on coveting and encouraging others to covet. On the whole we seem to have settled that coveting, while bad in excess, is necessary in moderation. Without it international trade would all but grid to a halt. Ditto for research and development, which is based on wanting to know and wanting to create.

So overall are we a Christian society then? One third of the ten commandments cannot be enforced because to do so would be against either the constitution or the established conventions of our society. The breaking of another third are either encouraged, tolerated or seen as a personal matters. This leaves only 1/3 which remain codified in law, and these are so common to the human race that they can hardly be called Christian values. So all in all I think that the idea that we are still a nation built on Christian ideals is demonstrably false.

Then there are the many other points which we have made moral judgements on, but which the ten commandments are silent on. Chief among these is slavery. the then commandment eplicitly prohibits you from coveting your neighbours slaves (some transaltions say servant). This implied that your neighbour, and you, might actually own slaves. Similarly no mention is made of universal suffrage, racial or gender equality. Worst still the bible is consistently sexist, implicitly racist (certainly in the old testament), and has historically been used to justify the divine right of certain individuals over others. And yet our values say that these three things are important. Again we appear to be post Christian rather then Christian in our prevailing world view.

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