Judeo-Christian Morality vs. The Free Society

I'd like to explain why I think that traditional judeo-christian morality does not synch up very well with the principles of liberty and does not provide a beneficial cultural framework for a free society. In many ways, I'm not going to be saying anything particularly new here, as this criticism has essentially already been made by both Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand in their own respectively unique ways, although of course I'm going to be putting this into my own words and expressing it from my own perspective which is both similar to that of Neitzche and Rand and altogether my own. Unfortunately, most people and most libertarians for that matter are not particularly familiar with the substance of this kind of criticism of judeo-christian morality or at least do not entirely grasp what the meat of the issue is.

The Devaluation of the Earthly

To start off, let's consider the implications of the general concept of an afterlife in judeo-christian tradition. According to this view, this life is only a test or a transitional stage. What ultimately matters is that which allegedly lies beyond. As a consequence, the life and time that we have on this earth in the now is devalued. The concept of the afterlife basically posits that the only real purpose of life in the here and now is to prepare for the afterlife. In the grand scheme of things, earthly matters are more or less characterized as meaningless or insignificant. The earthly may even be construed as immoral. Salvation is construed as lieing outside of material existance and consequentially material existance starts to lose its meaning and significance.

The picture gets even more gloomy when we introduce the concept of original sin, which is basically a sweeping declaration of ancestral guilt for all of mankind. Apparently everyone is guilty from birth and "the flesh" is somehow inherently bad. And the most fundamental feature that makes us human, I.E. free will, is characterized as the source of evil in the world. Yet while a free willing agent most certainly is capable of evil, free will is neutral to morality and could also lead to good. Furthermore, morality as such couldn't exist without free will, as without agency there is no responsibility for one's actions. Interestingly, the fatalistic implications of the notion of god as the first cause and watchmaker contradicts the concept of free will. The notion that god has a "divine plan" that will inevitably pan out throughout the course of history cannot be reconciled with the notion that human beings have some kind of free will.

Leaving the meaning and implications of free will aside (I'm leaning towards some kind of compatibalism on the general free will question at the moment), the implications of the concept of original sin and the afterlife are fairly silly. What's implied is that since we are all inherently sinners, we must spend our entire lives paying off this debt we have allegedly incurred. Hence, we have a whole slew of unchosen positive obligations. We are supposed to feel guilty for being "of the flesh" and for having biological drives and psychological motivations. Allegedly it is an imperative that we strive to deny or suppress much of the fundamental characteristics of what makes us human in this life as a path to a gauranteed ticket to the afterlife.

The Seven Deadly Sins

Consider the 7 deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. Before I go into an analysis of these individually, consider this: has there ever been a point in your life when you did not feel any of these emotions at all? No, these are all traits that pretty much describe some fundamental aspects of what it means to be a human. And that leads us to another realization: most of these are emotions or feelings, ones which all of us experience at some point or another, although of course they can be manifested in terms of agency. In either case, quite clearly the implication of this is that it is essentially impossible for us to exist as humans qua humans without "sinning". Furthermore, all of these "sins" have one thing in common: avoiding them constitutes self-denial or self-sacrifice. It's all meant to imply that that which has to do with the self is somehow evil.

Why is pride considered a sin? If anything, is self-esteem not a good thing? What is wrong with being proud of one's accomplishments? Putting forth pride as a sin is a rather sweeping declaration that ignores the positive side of pride, I.E. individual self-esteem based on one's actual merits. Pride as such is not necessarily the same thing as narcissism. The narcissist is not proud of their actual self or their actual merits and accomplishments. Rather, they have created a fantasy world in which they have merits and accomplishments that aren't really theirs. The narcissist does not hold themselves up, they push everyone else down. But should we therefore abandon pride altogether out of the fear of narcissism and essentially propose that all self-esteem and pride-driven self-improvement is evil?

What about avarice, which may be substituted with the term "greed"? We must first note once again that by itself it's just a motivation or emotion, I.E. the desire to have more of something or to keep the plentiful amount that one already has. As realized in agency, it would mean the pursuit of more or the pursuit of holding on to what one already has. It is easy to see how the more socialistic interpretations of christianity may draw from this. But once again it is far too sweeping to consider this inherently immoral. Why is wanting to keep what you have immoral? Why is pursueing more immoral? Does the actual means by which one does this irrelevant, or should distinctions be made between various ways of obtaining plenty or hoarding what one has? Is there no distinction between claiming that which is others and merely pursueing more for yourself in a voluntary or mutual way? And by what standard does one determine how much is too much? Once again, this sin reduces to the notion that the self and its gratification is somehow evil.

What about lust, which is usually meant to imply sexual desire? Why is it immoral to have sexual desire, and how can one possibly be a human being without experiencing this in some form or another, especially when one is young? Is sexual desire not a fundamental biological drive within us? It certainly seems far to sweeping to consider all sexual desire immoral. While rape may be immoral, voluntary sexual interactions between adults isn't. While promiscuous sexual interactions may be unhealthy for the individual in the long-term, it hardly makes any sense to proclaim it to be inherently evil. In either case, if everyone lived their lives as total prudes then the human race would slowly start to die off. There is, afterall, a connection between sex and the propogation of the species. On an interesting note, this sin contradicts the dictim "be fruitful and multiply", so obviously victorian prudism isn't the only possible interpretation.  

Why is anger considered a sin? Perhaps anger can be misdirected or lead to immoral behaviors, but it need not be so. Anger is an emotion that everyone experiences in one form or another at some point in their life. And how can one possibly not be angry at injustice or immorality? There are times when anger can be a rather good thing, a way for one to release pent up energy or frustration without necessarily hurting anyone else. It would be absurd to expect people, especially people that are in rather dire situations, to go through life smiling and being slap-happy all the time. And sometimes anger goes along with honesty. Sometimes the alternative to expressing anger or frustration is to lie to people just to keep a facade going. I'd rather be both angry and brutally honest to someone then to perpetuate a false sense of comfort which merely enables what is actually a bad situation.

Why is gluttony considered a sin?  I find this to be perhaps the most silly of the 7 deadly sins, since at face value it has to do with nothing but food, although of course it can be construed to imply that one shouldn't take recreational drugs (although I've always thought that food is a drug in a sense). As a motivation or desire, gluttony simply means to want another cookie from the cookie jar. While eating or drinking too much can obviously lead to obesity and some major health problems, it hardly makes any sense to make minimalism in eating and drinking habits a moral imperative. Are we really going to call fat people immoral? I'd rather live in a free and prosperous society full of fat slobs who munch on junk food all day than an unfree and unprosprous society where everyone is surprisingly physically fit.

The case of envy is a bit more complicated then the others. Envy may be characterized as the desire to have something that someone else has. It is often used interchangably with jealousy, but there is a bit of a distinction. Once again, taken simply as an emotion or desire to have something that someone else has, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with envy. I want an extremely talented group of musicians to play with and lots of studio equipment and I don't have it but Steve Vai does, therefore I suppose I envy the guitarist Steve Vai. That doesn't mean that I'm going to try to steal his band or his studio equipment. It's simply that he has something that I want and that I probably will never have. Should that stop me from pursueing my dreams and trying to obtain those things for myself? I think not.

What about sloth? Sloth may be another word for laziness or leisure. Of course I can easily see how this can be a bad thing in that a lazy person may be dependant on others and do little or nothing for themselves, hence showing a lack of responsibility and ability, but I would hardly consider it immoral. For one thing, some people are this way due to their nature, sometimes because of a very real mental or physical handicap. And even when a perfectly capable person chooses to be lazy, that is their perogative. I'm not going to consider someone immoral for wanting to take a long break from working and spend their time in leisure instead. Surely it would be absurd to consider it a moral imperative that people be working and productive at all times. We're human beings, not robots. I can envision a slave-master cracking a whip at a slave and calling them slothful for taking a break from the hard physical labor that they are forced to do.   

All of these alleged sins can be and have been propogated in negative ways. Pride as a sin can be used to crush people's self-esteem. Avarice or greed as a sin can be used to keep people poor or to discourage economic mobility. Lust as a sin can be used to keep the women for oneself or as a method of population control. Anger as a sin can be used to perpetuate dishonesty and to enable bad relationships. Gluttony as a sin can be used to keep people hungry, to essentially starve people. Envy as a sin can be used to discourage people from pursueing their dreams. Sloth as a sin can be used to foster compulsory labor. When they are taken to their logical conclusion and consistantly applied, they amount to the total denial of self-interest, desire and personal well-being. Taken as absolutes, they would require people to be mindless automatons with no trace of humanity.

Altruism As Slave Morality

Let's take a look at the concept of altruism. Altruism is posited in one form or another by most organized religions. It essentially proposes that the individual has an unchosen positive obligation to serve others and that their fundamental purpose in life is to serve others. On the flip side, self-interest is essentially demonized as immoral. This is a very warped view when broken down rationally. Unfortunately, criticism of altruism is often misunderstood because in most people's minds altruism is the same thing as benevolence and empathy, but nothing could be further from the truth. Altruism as an ethic implies unchosen positive obligations. If an individual does not live up to this positive obligation they are viewed as immoral rights violators and they are supposed to be compulsed to live up to the obligation. Afterall, an ethical theory without imperatives wouldn't be functional. In either case, actually choosing to be kind or giving to other people is not fundamentally altruistic because it still involves agency and a genuine desire on the part of the person to benefit another. In true acts of kindness and giving, the emphasis is not on denying oneself but to benefiting another, and the benefit may even be mutual.

Altruism actually leads to nihilism, and the problem of nihilism is something that both Nietzsche and Rand were trying to avoid in their own unique ways (and while Nietzsche was in some ways an immoralist while Rand was quite clearly a moralist, Nietzsche nonetheless essentially proposes a form of egoism as his personal morality). The logical end of altruism is the total devaluation of the self to the point of absolute selflessness. Your life, your values and your property are deprived of value and meaning and you're expect to act as if they don't exist or don't matter. Of course, from my perspective selflessness is impossible both ontologically and psychologically. The self follows from one's very existance as an individual human being and a human beong's fundamental psychological motivations are inward and personal. However, the attempted implementation of altruism as an ethic does have very real effects.

The notion of unchosen positive obligations, whether it be to a deity, a family or an entire society, is inherently incompatible with negative rights and individual sovereignty. Every positive obligation, to the extent that it is not chosen or not a genuine debt, implies a negative rights violation as soon as it is enforced. The result is that people are coerced to associate with other people and to provide goods and services for other people. The individual is forced to sacrifice their own values, their life and their property, regaurdless of their circumstances and regaurdless of their consent. Altruism is at the heart of both communitarianism and dictatorship. In communitarianism, the individual's life and values and property is sacrificed to "the community" or "the majority". In dictatorship, the individual's life and values and property is sacrificed to the dictator and more people can potentially be effected. In either case, in all cases altruism is the morality obligatory upon what amounts to slaves, sometimes subtley and sometimes quite blatantly.

It's important to note that all of this self-sacrificing, self-denying morality has historically been encouraged by people in political and religious power to get the masses to be complacent or obedient. The masses are discouraged from pursueing their own values and bettering their own lives. What largely goes unnoticed is that this is used to benefit the values and lives of various groups of elites. The masses are encouraged to follow a morality of servitude, and when there are servants there are masters. This is what Nietzsche meant when he drew a distinction between "slave morality" and "master morality". Slave morality functions as an ideology that masters or rulers can propagate on to get the masses to accept their enslavement to them as a moral imperative. The masters or rulers, of course, don't actually follow slave morality. They are its beneficiaries. It is just a convenient mentality to propogate to the masses, an apologetic device meant to make it so that servitude seems like a moral imperative. In practise, the masses engage in self-denial to the benefit of a small group of rulers and associated elites. Hence, it's a parasitic relationship.

If the principle of altruism were universally applied to all human beings, and of course it never is and it would be impossible to do consistantly enforce it in the real world, the implication is that everyone is eachother's slave. Since this cannot be realized in practise, since it defies fundamental facts about human existance, motivation and behavior, what one ends up with is at least two distinct classes of people: the masters and the slaves. Quite likely, the attempt to implement altruism will lead to more of a plural latticework of master-slave relationships while still not reaching the consistant extreme of enslaving everyone to eachother. But usually the slaves outnumber the masters by far or a select elite of people function as masters to a much greater degree than anyone else does, and therefore altruism most often leads to some kind of oligarchy, even if it is a mildly democratic oligarchy. Altruism has historically been an apologetic and enabler of both religious and political tyranny.

Master morality, as I interpret it, amounts to hedonism and "might makes right". Master morality should not be construed as the proper alternative to slave morality, nor is it necessarily the polar opposite of slave morality in a certain context. While master morality is not altruistic, master morality is most certainly not any kind of rational egoism. It is anomie or lawlessness, since the masters are not subject to their own rules. Master morality entails an outwardly oriented sense of self that justifies imposing oneself onto others, sometimes using altruism as a ruse or a mask to hide behind. Rational egoism involves an inwardly oriented sense of self that merely justifies being free from the imposition of others, being at liberty to voluntarily pursue one's self-interest and values without restraint. The rational egoist proclaims that noone else may rule over them, but simultaneously they do not claim to rule over anyone else. Rulers don't believe this or function in this way. They claim the right to rule over others while superficially and hypocritically trying to demand that noone else rule over them.

Judeo-Christian morality essentially proposes slave morality as a solution to master morality. In its zeal to oppose hedonism and anomie, it provides a false alternative that only enables the hedonism and anomie of certain people while devalueing everyone else. A society that is dominantly filled with people who accept slave morality will not have the necessary mindset or attitude to resist the yoke of tyranny. It provides the perfect atmosphere for rulers to arise and dominate the naive masses. The cultural framework of a free society must contain the personal sense of value and purpose necessary for people to actively free themselves, otherwise their lack of confidence and their lack of any genuine sense of self-worth and personal value will enable tyranny. It's time to reject both slave morality and master morality to persue some meaningful alternatives.

Published Sat, Jun 21 2008 10:21 PM by Brainpolice

Comments

# dwight baker said on 02 July, 2008 08:55 AM

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# MsPatriot said on 27 July, 2008 01:38 PM

Amen. No pun intended. ;-)

These religious precepts demand the impossible and illogical of human nature. When I encounter such presumption I can't help but replacing "sin" with the word "skin" - to crystallize the point. Even if we could do away with skin, as soon as we did so we would all perish and begin decomposition. Nothing about this predicament implies anything beyond death (besides decomposition). The fundamental problem here is that religionists et al have no real comprehension of how they function, what these organs and systems are "designed" to do to keep them alive at all, and so their argument superficially comes off as a no win zero sum game. As a means of exploiting the stupid, however, it's quite brilliant!

# MhRipley said on 31 July, 2008 11:15 PM

Absolutely right. It doesn't add up. I can't help but shudder whenever I see someone coming with the opposite argument. But you have made one frivolous comment that needs to be cleared up:

''I'd rather live in a free and prosperous society full of fat slobs who munch on junk food all day than an unfree and unprosperous society where everyone is surprisingly physically fit. ''

What? Are you kidding me? If you look attentively around you, you will see it's more like the other way around, 'cause destructive habits would have no raison d'etre in a truly free world. Right?

Hopefully, you should agree on this one.

# Freecitizen said on 08 August, 2008 04:22 AM

Wrong, MhRipley, raison d'etre has no raison d'etre in a free society. :-)

# Brainpolice said on 08 August, 2008 05:06 PM

Ripley, I think you're missing the full context of the statement. I'm not predicting that that will be the outcomes, I'm saying that even if those were the outcomes I would be content in the free society nonetheless.

# texasman said on 09 August, 2008 10:36 AM

You make some points, but really only half truths.

There is an afterlife, but we are instructed what to do HERE as well.  The idea we just sit around waiting to die is not Biblical.  So, while we have hope of an afterlife, if we follow the teachings it does NOT necessarily mean the Earthly life is somehow less.

Free will is a choice.  You point out that free will can choose evil.  But free will can also choose good, otherwise it would not really be a choice at all.  So the fact man has free will is not a bad thing at all, it is what a man choses to do with the free will is the question.

The list of sins are not Biblical, God will use the 10 commandments to judge.  But, some of them are the same.  You leave out God has a plan for most of these "desires".

Lets take sexual sin.  Did you know God wants you to have sex?  Did you know God invented sex?  Did you know God commands us to have sex?  Yes, its in the Bible.  And not just for procreation, but all the time.  In fact, we are instructed to have sex continously, except for prayer and fasting.  So the idea that God or Christians are anti-sex is not Biblical, its just another satanic ploy.  God has instructed us to have sex with our wives or husbands with all we have, to totally give yourself to the person.  The song of Solomen alludes to oral sex- you name it.  The Bible forbids premarital sex and sex outside of marriage.  And yes, the Bible sets a high standard, even thinking about sex with someone else other than your partner is forbidden. But is this not the goal of most marriages?  Why marry if you want another person?  God gives us the perfect outline, we just need to try and follow it.

The rest of your "sins" could be answered in the same way, but you get the idea.  The Bible does have a plan, most people don't know what it is because they have never studied the Bible and take what the "world" says "about" the Bible.

Christains are slaves, but to God only.  And true Christians will follow his teachings, of love and forgiveness, kindness, and the "golden rule"

It is the unbeliever you should be wary of.  He is decieved, he can be tricked into following a man, such as Hitler. And you know what happened from there.

# Joann said on 15 August, 2008 07:18 PM

I agree with a lot of what this Blog is saying. As a Christian, I am still struggling with my faith because I feel as though others are imposing their values and beliefs on me and condemning me for not agreeing with them or measuring up to what they want from me, making me feel as though everything I do is wrong and nothing I do is right, and making me into something I'm not (despite my faith and lack of desire to leave it, I've always considered myself a free-thinking non-conformist who isn't afraid to think for myself or do my own thing). I don't leave my faith because I've been conditioned into fearing Hell if I do, and now I think it's become my only reason for staying, which makes me wonder if I truly love God as He loves me. But if God loves me just the way I am and doesn't want me to be something I'm not, then why does my church set such impossible standards for me to follow, condemn me or make me feel guilty for falling short of God's glory or for not following through, throw Fire & Brimstone and constantly remind me time and again that I am a sinner, then turn around and tell me that we are all human and we all sin? Why is my hope of true salvation always dashed with hellfire and condemnation, in other words, if all I am is an imperfect human being who can't possibly live up to all of the expectations that this Blog mentions above? Isn't this a double standard? I have every reason to believe it is. And while I oppose abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage/parenting (no apologies here, so, as your Blog says, please accept me for who I am), when it comes to sex, desire, and masturbation, I believe the Christian faith in general, and especially the conservative fundamentalists who seem to hate all things pleasurable and mentally good for us and want to control how we enjoy ourselves sexually, is a bit out of touch with reality in these areas (although I do support the idea of saving oneself for marriage only as long as it is chosen by the individual and not by the church). Christian parents disrupt their children's natural sexual curiosity of their bodies and genitals and condemn infant and childhood masturbation because they are conditioned by their church to believe that these will lead them to sexual immorality later on (this, of course, has never been proven to be true). Teens and young adults are pressured into saving themselves for marriage and to condemn masturbation without being offered any guidance whatsoever on how to control their sexual urges, desires, and thoughts. Marriages suffer, and Christian couples file for divorce, because expectations for a good, solid Christian marriage are too high and unrealistic (how can you expect these couples to keep one another satisfied at all times when they are not always going to feel like making love?). Isn't it any wonder we live in such a screwed up society? I mean, how is it humanly possible for any of us to live (or even maintain a joyful, positive, selfless attitude, for that matter) if we have to constantly think of others while keeping our eye on God at all times, treat what we own as if none of it matters to us (apparently, it is a form of idolatry, and you have to throw it out or get rid of it some other way, if you find yourself spending too much time with it, because you may be placing it ahead of God), and deny ourselves anything and everything that even remotely allows us to feel good about ourselves and our bodies (such as masturbation)? Impossible, I say!

# exile said on 12 September, 2008 02:23 PM

Most of what I want to say has been covered by earlier commenters, but I wanted to point out one serious problem with your exposition on the 7 deadly sins: pride, avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. The sin does not lie in the act alone, the sin arises when the these emotions define our character. We can be proud of our accomplishments, but we cannot use this pride to elevate ourselves above others. It is good to rest, but it is not good to be lazy. It is good to desire the opposite sex but not to let those emotions interfere with respectful desires.

Bottom line is that the act itself is not sinful, but rather overindulging the act itself makes it so.

Judeo-Christian morality matches liberty perfectly. Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1 states: "...I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ" (summarized from 1 Corinthians 6 and Romans 14). That is to say, no other human being, be (s)he pope, king, pastor, president, best friend, anyone - nobody owns your life and likewise you certainly do not own anybody else's. Free-will is a gift to you to accept whatever is good and reject whatever is evil.

# Sringtime916 said on 22 March, 2009 01:14 PM

Good thoughts Brainpolice2...

let me add that Sloth can be both good and bad... not simply laziness and natural desire for rest. Our desire to do things in ways that take less time and effort is basically the desire for efficiency... Why use a hoe when you can have a horse pull a plow? why have a horse pull a plow when you can use a tractor? Why use Cow Manure when you can use genetic modification of plant life. The Laziness humans have... the desire to escape work by physical effort, is that has given humanity the ability to live to the ripe old age of 78 (on average, usually higher sometimes) However note that this sloth is sloth of the body

I know you have a dislike of objectivists... I have to agree with Rand that the ultimate evil any person or society can commit is sloth of the mind... the refusal to think or the refusal to exert your OWN effort in the process of thinking and problem solving. Is probably at the root of humanities Mooching and true laziness.

Another way of putting it is this. If you're too lazy to walk or ride a bike to work, there's no sin in driving a car. But there can be no moral justification for demanding someone provide you with the technology of that Car for nothing in return but... say.. a federal law backed by a death ultimatum.

# laura d said on 25 July, 2010 03:01 PM

There is no superior system of Liberty than Christianity.  Christianity is the system of Liberty which teaches us that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.  The Spirit of Liberty is the Spirit of Christianity whereby we practice the sacred command, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "Love your neighbor as yourself".  It is man's evil that is the destruction of Liberty in the lust for money, power, and self-centered pleasure.  Man's inhumanity to man is the opposite of Christianity and the destruction of all Liberty.