Atheist Ramblings
by Stephen F Roberts
issue 1.7
October 1997
Things I ramble about:

Moral Absolutism
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Are the Commandments moral absolutes?

Well, a broader question would be "are there moral absolutes?" to which I say no.

This is not to say there aren't "universally agreed upon Bad Things ". But even those things we can all agree are bad are not necessarily "moral absolutes".


I've always held that morality is not a black and white issue, but like so many other things, it is a big band of gray stretching from one end to the other.

Moral relativism is one of those nasty words that theists claim is destroying our country, but even a brief exam of the world and your own feelings will convince you otherwise.

Lets look at the 10 Commandments. Trumpeted by Christians, the 10 Commandments are held up as absolute moral truths, but are they?

From Exodus 20
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make onto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the lord's name in vain.
4. Remember the sabath and keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness (lie).
10. Thou shalt not covet.

Well, the first four have absolutely nothing to do with morality, so I'm gonna ignore them in this discussion.


Number 5: Honor thy father and mother.

Is this a moral absolute?

Would anyone think a child was wrong to report his parents for sexually abusing him/her even if the parents told them not to? According to Commandment 5, the child should obey his parents and not tell anyone.

Should a child honor his parents if they are horrible evil people? Would children of Hitler be expected to hold him up highly in honor?

What if the parents tell the child to violate another Commandment? Which Commandment should take precedence? Should the child kill in order to honor his parents? What about stealing on request for his parents?

So is honoring one's parents just a good idea or a moral absolute?


Number 6: Thou shalt not kill.

Is this a moral absolute?

Well, of all of them, this comes as close to an absolute as possible, since murder is always a bad thing... or is it?

What if I know for sure that someone is about to kill me, and killing them is the only option to stop them?

Self-defense? Yes. But what if the person is going to kill someone else and killing them is the only way to stop them? It that ok then? What if he was going to kill 10 people? 100? 1000?

Would god send someone to hell for killing another in order to save the lives of 1000 people?

At what point does it become morally ok to kill someone in order to save many more? If Commandment 6 was a moral absolute, then by definition, there would be no point where killing is ever ok... no matter how many people I can save, even if I save the lives of every other person on the planet. If I have a gun and am standing before someone with their finger on "the button" I would be morally obliged to let them continue.

So even killing isn't absolutely bad.


Number 7: Thou shalt not commit adultery

This one is a bit more vague and harder to say if its ok to be bad.

So lets just compare it to others for simplicity.

If all the Commandments are moral absolutes, then you couldn't say one was better than the other.

So what if my parents tell me to be an adulterer? What if I have the choice between stealing and adultery? killing someone and adultery?

Is the xtian really prepared to say that killing someone is on the same level as sleeping around on one's spouse? That given the choice between killing and adultery, I should just flip a coin?

If two things are both moral absolutes, then a coin toss is the only way to choose. And killing is equal to cheating...


Number 8: Thou shalt not steal

Lets say I know someone has a gun and is going to kill others. Can I go in and steal that gun to save lives?

Like adultery, the choice between stealing and killing is just a coin toss.

And like others, what if my parents told me to steal? What then?

Is it ok to steal if its my only choice between starving? What if I steal only a sandwich to save my child? What about a tiny crumb? Is there no case anywhere where it is ok to steal?


Number 9: Thou shalt not bear false witness (lie)

If someone is about to steal, can I lie to convince them to stop? What if they are about to kill themselves or others? Can I lie when someone holds a gun to my head? Can I lie to protect someone's feelings? Should I honor my parents when they tell me to lie or should I tell the truth and not lie?

What about a simple exaggeration? Is "I am sick as a dog" in the same league as "I am the most powerful person in the world"?

If the 9th Commandment is truly a moral absolute, then telling my wife she looks great in a dress even when she doesn't is just as bad as telling a judge that I am innocent of a heinous crime even when I know I am not.

If lying is always morally wrong, then all lies are equivalent and that's just absurd. God will punish a person who makes a little white lie with the same strength as a person who habitually and chronically lies.


Number 10: Thou shalt not covet

Coveting is the basis for our country. If people didn't covet a better lifestyle, our society would collapse. If we didn't covet, we would never fall in love, since falling in love is a form of coveting.

Wanting is synonym for coveting. Wanting kids? Wanting to get healthy when you are sick? Wanting world peace? All morally wrong according to the 10 Commandments.


I'm not going to claim my examples aren't stretches, because most of them are. But that really only serves to illustrate my point. If something is a moral absolute, then it is always true, even in the extremes.

And if you can think of even one example where it is not true, even if that example is contrived and extremely unlikely, then it is not a moral absolute.

Much as xtians dont want to admit it, there are no moral absolutes. Its all a shade of gray.

Back Issues:

On Goodness
My Quote
The 100% Problem
God and Hell
The Problem with Faith
The Missing Link
Random Thoughts
My beliefs
The Design Problem
Is there a problem?
Know god, know fear
Christians vs. Death
RIFRA and You
The Problem with Salvation
A Question of Morals
It boils down to faith
The Wow! Factor
Why not Faith?
The Banana Trick
Something to think about
Why?
Atheist Ramblings
Copyright © 1997- 2001
by Stephen F Roberts
sroberts.at.wildlink.dot.com
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