Dialogue with Angra Mainyu (re: The Morality of God)

This conversation began at The Secular Outpost blog, and I have previously referred to it.

At this point, I am giving answers to some extended points and questions from Angra Mainyu (AM).

AM:  But that will not bring guilt or confusion. What will bring guilt and will make him feel really bad is to believe that looking at a woman and desiring her is always immoral if he’s not married.  As far as I can tell, your position is not limited to directly looking at her – staring may well be wrong in many cases -, but encompasses looking at pictures and/or watching videos: Is that a correct assessment of your position?

Mike:  Yes.

AM:  Moreover, it applies even to using his imagination, right?

Mike:  Yes.

There is a distinction which should be apparent, but in case it is not, let me make it now.  A person is not responsible for being tempted – only if he capitulates to the temptation.  Thus it is not the presentation of an immoral thought that defiles a person, but rather meditation upon it.  You can’t control who knocks on your door, but you can control who you invite in to entertain.  Or as Martin Luther may have put it, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.”

AM:  Of course, most teenagers may not even take that seriously. But many will, and they will suffer a lot because they will believe that they are immoral and will hate themselves for that, try to control themselves with little chance of success, etc.

Mike:  Only through our awareness of the presence of Jesus Christ in every place on earth can we find the grace to achieve success such as this.  He Himself gives us the strength to resist temptation by virtue of our desire to please Him.  Boys find the ability to resist pornography while in the presence of their parents, and men find the ability to resist it while in the presence of their wives.  Therefore, everyone has the ability to resist viewing pornography.  The power to resist is found in the presence of eyes one does not want to displease.  Thus an awareness of the eyes of Christ gives us the power to resist meditation on immoral thoughts even when no human authority figures are around.

AM:  So, there are good reasons to believe that spreading that belief would have serious negative consequences for many people. But I still don’t see the consequences you’re talking about. Could you be more specific, please? 

Mike:  You don’t need more specifics from me.  You just need to use your imagination to realize that my world is the reverse of yours.  In your view, guilt and confusion are the consequences of thinking that a man lusting in his heart for a woman is immoral and judging oneself by that standard.  In my view, guilt and confusion are the consequences of thinking that a man lusting in his heart for a woman is moral and judging oneself by that standard.  What we both agree on is that having the wrong idea about what is and isn’t moral will eventually lead to guilt and confusion.  The guilt comes from the immorality and the confusion comes from differing standards.

You seem quite mindful of the damage that can come if my views of morality are spread because you are currently convinced that your views are right.  However, you seem oblivious to the harm your view causes if you are wrong.  Please think about it.

I am deeply concerned about the harm that your view causes not just to teenagers, but to people of all ages in our society.  I am sixty years old.  If I compare generally accepted societal morals when I was younger to what they are today, using the former as a baseline, I would characterize the change in my lifetime as follows:  Fifty years ago society’s morals were a C and people thought of themselves as C, while today morals are D- and people think of themselves as a B+.  That is, there is an inverse correlation between actual morality and perceived  morality.

You demonstrate this enigma by labeling immoral behavior as moral.  That is, at the same time we become even less like God than we were before, we proclaim ourselves more moral than He.  Therefore, be assured that the burden of proof to demonstrate that you are not corrupting good morals is as great for you as you perceive it to be for me.  In other words, you are not the only one concerned about “serious negative consequences” of holding and spreading the wrong view of morals – not by a long shot.

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AM:  No, I’m not confusing them.  The biblical god claimed or implied that they deserved it, so I asked what your assessment is. While I could have asked both whether you assessed that their actions were immoral and whether they deserved it, given the biblical god’s command, asking the latter was sufficient.  Still, if you want to answer both, that’s no difficulty – as long as you answer whether they deserve it.  The problem is, however, that you refuse to answer.

Mike:  As I’ve said, we can deal with the Mosaic Code in due time.  It’s not that I’m unwilling to answer, it’s just that I don’t want to major on a minor.  Until we settle the issue of Jesus Christ, the Mosaic Code is a moot point for us.  Neither of us is a Hebrew living between the time of Moses and the time of Christ, so the Mosaic Code has never had any applicability to us.  The New Testament claims that Jesus does have authority over us.  Therefore, we need to deal with that first.  If we conclude that the New Testament is wrong and that Christ doesn’t have authority over us (because, for example, He lived or taught immorally), then we can disregard consideration of the Mosaic Code entirely because it could not restore that lost authority to Him.  If we conclude that Christ does have authority over us, then we can examine whether your claims about the Mosaic Code do or do not discredit Jesus (i.e. undermine His moral authority and therefore delegitimize Him).

When you’re hiring a new employee, you don’t check references from prior employment until you’re otherwise satisfied that you want to make the hire.  Similarly, focusing on what Jesus may or may not have done in a completely different prior context is premature if we don’t think Jesus in His New Testament context is sufficiently moral to command our attention.  If you are unwilling or unable to judge Him as a man how in the world will you have the ability to judge Him as a god?  For we only know how to be human; we have no experience as gods.

Therefore, if you can be patient, we will get to your question about the Mosaic Code after we decide about Jesus of Nazareth.  If, on the other hand, your patience is exhausted, it’s fine with me to stop now.  Perhaps you already believe Jesus of Nazareth is unimpeachable without bringing in the Mosiac Code argument.  If so, I hope you’ll acknowledge that.

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AM:

a) If a man married two women and they were mother and daughter, the three of them deserve to be burned to death.
b) If a woman was the daughter of a priest and a prostitute, she deserved to be burned to death.
c) If a woman had premarital sex and then got married to someone who didn’t know that, she deserved to be stoned to death.
d) If a woman was betrothed to a man, but had sex with someone else, both she and her lover deserved to be stoned to death.
e) If a woman had sex with a non-human animal, both the woman and the non-human animal deserved to be killed for their actions.

Case a):

i) Are you saying that the man in “a” is immoral, or that he acted immorally in that particular case?
There is a big difference.

Mike:  I’m saying he acted immorally in that case.  Similarly, I am only commenting on what you have written in these five cases.  Therefore, each of my comments has been about what I see as moral or immoral in that case.

AM:  ii) What about the two women?
Case b)
Your reply to b) is surprising.
Are you really saying that she did not do anything wrong for becoming a prostitute?

Not that I claim that she acted immorally, but I’m extremely surprised that you would say she did not do anything wrong.

Are you certain that you didn’t misread?

Mike:  Maybe I did.  I thought you were asking me to comment on the morality of the daughter.  I  see nothing she did wrong.  Her mother the prostitute was acting immorally by being a prostitute, and, of course, the priest was acting immorally with the prostitute.

AM:  Case c)

Perhaps, she lied. Perhaps, she simply said nothing. Why should she?  In any case, she would have been punished if she’d said something, so again, why should she?

Mike:  If she knew that the person she was marrying was pure and that he was expecting her to be pure, then she had a moral duty to him to disclose that she wasn’t.  The same duty applies if their roles were reversed.

AM:  Case d)

No, the man in d) did not necessarily cheat on his fiancee, since the man in d) does not have to have a fiancee.  Rather, the woman in d) is the one who is betrothed to another man.  However, that may not count as cheating, if she did not choose to be betrothed to the man she’s betrothed to – i.e., she could have been the victim of her father’s choice.

Mike:  You’ve introduced another factor with the possible father’s choice.  I’m not an ethicist; I’m just trying to answer the questions you posed to me.  Let’s keep it simple.  You know that I believe sex outside of marriage is immoral; therefore, I believe that betrothed woman and her lover acted immorally.

AM:  Case e)
You say that the woman acted immorally.  But what about the non-human animal that had sex with her? Let’s say he’s a dog. Did the dog act immorally as well? 

Mike:  No.  Animals are not moral agents.

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AM:  Two questions:

1) Does that include the non-human animal in e), regardless of what species he was?

Mike:  Humans have moral capacity and responsibility, and are thus distinguished from animals.  Animals, by definition, cannot sin; they act by instinct.

AM:  2) Are all of those judgments the result of your intuitive assessment, or what you think Jesus believes? 

Mike:  He has been working on my conscience so long it is hard to determine with any certainty what it would say apart from His influence.  My most fervent wish is that my conscience match His, because His is the best conscience I have ever seen in operation: that is, a conscience which leads one to do the least harm and the most good for other people.

Perhaps to your point, I did not arrive at my answers by looking up chapter and verse in the New Testament to see what Jesus said about such cases.  Rather, I infer from His nature, His example, and His precepts.  My conscience is the only tool I have for inferring.

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AM:  That’s very disappointing.  You’re interested in the truth, right?  So am I, and I’m asking you what your intuitive moral assessment is about the claims in question, in order to learn about your method for making moral assessments: Essentially, the question is as follows:

All I’m asking is for you to please use your own own sense of right and wrong – not your religious beliefs – and let me know whether you truly assess that – in ancient Israel, of course:

a) If a man married two women and they were mother and daughter, the three of them deserve to be burned to death. 
b) If a woman was the daughter of a priest and a prostitute, she deserved to be burned to death. 
c) If a woman had premarital sex and then got married to someone who didn’t know that, she deserved to be stoned to death. 
d) If a woman was betrothed to a man, but had sex with someone else, both she and her lover deserved to be stoned to death. 
e) If a woman had sex with a non-human animal, both the woman and the non-human animal deserved to be killed for their actions.

Mike:  I’ve answered you on all this so I’m not sure what else you’re asking at this point.

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AM:  Are you saying that your own sense of right and wrong does not tell you whether or not those women and men deserved to be stoned to death, or burned to death, and that you do not know whether the non-human animal in question deserved to be executed for having sex with a woman?

Mike:  I thought I was being obliging by answering your questions about the morality of each case.  As for the sentence imposed for disobedience, I’ve stated repeatedly that I am willing to address this after we have settled on whether Jesus was moral.

You want to ignore the human life that Jesus lived and impeach Him solely on the evidence of what you deem to be immoral about the Mosaic Code.  That tells me you must feel uncomfortable trying to attack the morality of Jesus of Nazareth.  I don’t blame you.

AM:  If that’s what you’re saying, I have to say that you have a very odd sense of right and wrong.  If that’s not what you’re saying, could you please let me know what your sense of right and wrong tells you about that?

Mike:  Given some of your views about morality I can see how you would think my views were odd.  In fact, I know exactly how you feel.

AM:  That aside, you can’t reasonably claim moral goodness of Jesus while ignoring the Mosaic Code and at the same time claiming that Jesus is the same entity who commanded that code, since, well, those are his actions, and in order to assess whether he was morally good, we have to assess his actions the best we can – not just ignore some obviously evil actions.

Mike:  As I’ve said, I’m willing to discuss Jesus and the Mosaic Code in due time.  It appears to me that you just want to avoid Jesus entirely and focus on what you consider the sensational aspects of the Mosaic Code in 21st-century eyes.  You cleverly concede the idea put forth by Jesus’ admirers that He is Yahweh, but only for the purpose of ignoring His life, death, and resurrection – which is the only reason we Gentiles have any benefit in the Bible.  Address the morality of Jesus of Nazareth, His life and death, and this conversation will advance.

AM:  For that matter, a brutal tyrant may love his children. But it would not be reasonable to ask people to judge him on the base on that alone in order to establish legitimacy, and then claim that in the cases that appear “problematic” (i.e., obviously immoral), he must have had a good reason, since he was good.

Mike:  Poor example.  I am not talking about partitioning one part of Jesus’ earthly life from another, as is the case in the analogy you propose.  On the contrary, I’m saying look at His life as a whole.  Attack it if you can.

AM:  Sorry to be blunt, but I already spent many hours on this, and we’re going nowhere: This is not about disagreement between your moral intuitions and mine; it’s about the lack of rationality of the criterion that you’re using.

Mike:  I’m sorry about your time loss, but I’ve given you multiple opportunities to drop the  discussion with me.  As I’ve said from the beginning, I am interested in defending the morality of Jesus Christ.  If you can’t demonstrate Him to be immoral, or you are unwilling to attempt to demonstrate Him to be immoral, fine.  Just move on without me.  If there is anything irrational here it is a person insisting on debating the morality of the Mosaic Code without any basis for thinking it might apply to him.

AM:  Still, let me try another angle:

A) If Jesus was the same entity as the biblical god, then he was a monster for the reasons previously explained.  The commands he gave to the ancient Hebrews and the claims he made are relevant when it comes to assessing his moral character, simply because those are some of his actions.

Mike:  Yes, you’ve said this.  And I’ve said that I reject it.  And we’ll get to debating it if you have the patience to get there.

AM:  B) If Jesus was entirely human, going by the biblical description (minus the claims of superpowers), he apparently was a cult leader, who told men to hate and abandon their families to follow him.  That’s probably not enough to qualify as a monster, but that’s not right.

Mike:  It would only be wrong if He were only human.  But if He were sent by God as the Messiah, it would be wrong for Him not to have said those things.

AM:  C) If Jesus was neither the biblical god nor entirely human, but some other sort of entity, it remains the case that he does not appear to have been morally perfect. For instance, he still falsely claimed that the biblical god was good, and also told men to hate and abandon his families to follow him.

Mike:  C) is superfluous to your point because it is merely a repetition of A) and B) framed differently.

AM:  However one slices it, he wasn’t morally perfect.

Mike:  Correction:  In the way you slice it, He wasn’t morally perfect.  Not everyone slices it as you do.

I note that you identify here no immorality in Jesus other than His allegiance to, and claim to represent, the Old Testament God.   That’s significant.  Should I take this to mean you ascribe no immorality to Jesus other than these two points (which are really the same point you have been trying to make from the beginning).

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AM:  First, you’re not addressing my question.  I did not ask whether other humans should punish them. I asked whether they deserved to suffer the aforementioned punishments, according to your intuitive sense of right and wrong.

Mike:  We can discuss this when we get to the Mosaic Code.

AM:  Second, why would you leave it to the biblical god?  How is he any better than human judiciary systems?

Mike:  Human judiciary systems are entirely inappropriate for dealing with sins of the heart.  I’m shocked you’d even suggest it.  Human governments getting involved in that sort of thing raises the specter of “thought crimes.”

AM:  Actually, due time was long before, and is now as well.  And I’m sorry to be blunt, but you’re not being rational on this matter, for the reasons I’ve explained throughout this discussion.  You may not be able to understand them because your faith gets in the way, but I find an irrational reply on this matter particularly problematic, as it dismisses a repeated and very accurate explanation of what’s epistemically wrong with what you’re doing – actually, a number of them -, and which is crucial to the matters at hand.

Mike:  A legal code that expired two millennia ago is hardly a “matter at hand.”

I understand your frustration.  You do not want Jesus to have authority over you.  Neither do you want Him to have authority over anyone else because that could still affect you, presumably through laws, social customs, etc.  You need to discredit Jesus.  If you can’t discourage people from following Him you at least want to discourage bystanders from starting to follow Him.  So you ask yourself, “How can I discredit Him?”  You can find no way to do that in His own earthly life which was unparalleled both in the scope and quality of kindness shown to others.  Neither is there a life that approaches His in terms of unjust suffering endured with graceful acceptance.  Truly, His is the finest human life ever lived.  Thus you must avoid discussing it at all costs.  The Old Testament – ah, yes, that’s the place you need to focus.  It is a much easier target to attack.  And, the good news is, you get to discredit Jesus through discrediting it.  It’s just so frustrating to you when someone won’t play along and forget Jesus and focus on the Mosaic Code – as if deciding anything about it was going to help a human life one way or the other.

I claim that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.  Attack Him if you will.  But if you can’t or won’t, just admit it and go back to playing your Old Testament game with whoever you can get to play it with you.

I am a seeker of truth.  That’s what led me to Christ and that’s what keeps me there.  The only way that the Old Testament applies to anyone today is if the New Testament does.  Therefore, focusing on the Old Testament before deciding about the New Testament is wasting time, procrastinating, and avoiding the issue at hand.

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AM:  Okay, so you put Jesus’ words over your own sense of right and wrong.
What makes you believe that he’s got a better sense of right and wrong than you do, and that he was truthful about morality? 

Mike:  I’ve never seen another human life anywhere close to it.  It’s morality is beautiful beyond description.  Oh, that I could be like that when I grow up!

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AM:  Okay, so you give him this right to moral authority because he was the biblical god. But why?

Mike:  Because He lived a morally perfect life and claimed to be God.  Based on my experience, only God could lead a morally perfect life.  I know of good people – I know of no other perfect ones.

AM:  If the biblical god said that it’s morally right to rape children for fun, would you believe that it’s right? 

Mike:  I cannot imagine Him saying such a thing.

AM:  If not, then why do you believe that what the biblical god says is right, is right? – because the reason why you put Jesus’ judgment about your own sense of right and wrong seems to be precisely that he’s the biblical god. 

Mike:  I put His judgment above mine precisely because He is more moral than I am.  Everything He says elevates my sense of morality from where it was before I heard Him.

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AM:  First, that is irrational on the part of Jesus.  An entity of immense power would not need to lie and issue immoral commands. And he shouldn’t, actually.  Second, the biblical god claimed or implied that, in ancient Israel:

a) If a man married two women and they were mother and daughter, the three of them deserve to be burned to death. 
b) If a woman was the daughter of a priest and a prostitute, she deserved to be burned to death. 
c) If a woman had premarital sex and then got married to someone who didn’t know that, she deserved to be stoned to death. 
d) If a woman was betrothed to a man, but had sex with someone else, both she and her lover deserved to be stoned to death. 
e) If a woman had sex with a non-human animal, both the woman and the non-human animal deserved to be killed for their actions.

Was he lying to, or did he believe those claims? 

Mike:  Please send me the chapter and verse for each of these (I presume you’ve taken them from the Old Testament), as I’ll need them when we come to discussing the Mosaic Code.  Once you admit me to that Jesus’ human life was unusually moral (I won’t even require you to say it was morally perfect; I just want you to acknowledge that it was exemplary), I’ll be ready to argue why His belief in “the biblical god” as you call Yahweh, was well-founded because Yahweh is as moral as Jesus was.  If, on the other hand, you convince me that Jesus is immoral, then you will have won your case without even having to appeal to the Mosaic Code.

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AM:  Thanks, but I’m afraid that only very limited progress is possible in this way.

The main difficulty is not the cases that you don’t remember, but the ones when you misunderstand the question and/or choose not to answer because of a non-rational procedure of making moral assessments. 

Mike:  I’ve worked hard on this dialogue with you.  If I’ve misunderstood you, it’s been a mistake made in good faith.  I understand that you fail to see rationality in how I make moral assessments because I fail to see rationality in how you make yours.  I at least have a standard to which I can appeal – a standard which transcends both of us.  You are arguing that I should accept as moral what you consider moral without offering me any objective basis for doing so.  In the non-theistic mindset which you embrace, there can be no true north.  All direction is a matter of taking a vote, which is why your standard of morality seems to match generally accepted moral principles of today’s American society – a subjective and rapidly-declining standard.

Jesus Christ offers an enduring and unchanging standard of morality for us all.  He is not the God of Christians – He is the God of all human beings.  He is not the God of religion, He is the God of morality.  That is, He does not judge the world according to religious standards.  Rather, He judges it according to moral standards.

There was indeed the Law of Moses that applied to a very select group of people for 1,500 years in ancient times.  But the requirements God places on all of us today are much greater than the requirements of that code.  In order to avoid God’s judgments today we must not just act properly, we must think properly.  This, however, is not a hardship.  On the contrary, thinking morally is the most peaceful, the most sublime way that a human being can live.  Nothing is more inwardly satisfying and enjoyable than doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason.  Through Jesus Christ we can do this.  And this life of righteousness (which is the word the Bible generally uses for morality) is full of peace and joy.  I pray that it will soon be yours…and everyone’s.

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3 Responses to Dialogue with Angra Mainyu (re: The Morality of God)

  1. riandouglasHavok says:

    Mike: In order to avoid God’s judgments today we must not just act properly, we must think properly.
    Isn’t this contrary to Christian teaching – that none shall avoid judgement, unless they accept Jesus?
    I know you have some unorthodox views – is the claim that by acting morally one can gain grace (salvation through works) one of them?

  2. Mike Gantt says:

    Grace is our means of acting more morally.

    I only teach what I find in Scripture.

    What you describe as Christian teaching is a perversion of the Scripture. Here’s how the perversion goes: 1) accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, 2) you will be forgiven of your sins and go to heaven when you die, 3) you should try to be as moral as you can but it really doesn’t matter because you are going to heaven because you accepted Christ not because of any good thing you have done. This is not only a perversion of the Scripture, but it’s also a misrepresentation of God’s plan that we should think and act more like Him. Instead of grace being the means to live more morally it becomes the excuse to not live more morally. This is awful.

    Here’s how that perversion would read if it were corrected: 1) Jesus already is Lord and Savior of heaven and earth, and He is present at all times and in all places, 2) He will forgive your sins and give you the grace to be more moral, but you must accept that grace and act on it every day so that you might grow in it (to him who has, more shall be given), 3) everyone is going to heaven, but your place there is determined by how morally you lived on earth. I should add that God deals with us according to our abilities, so that to whom much is given, much is required.

    As to salvation, consider that It’s a Salvation of the Soul…Not Circumstances.

  3. Pingback: The Folly of Angra Mainyu | Current Events in Light of the Kingdom of God

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