Moral Teachings From the Christian Bible
The Fresh Perspective Podcast - Episode 15
How’s it going everyone? I’m Nick and you are listening to the Fresh Perspective Podcast.
As we continue our search for powerful moral lessons that anyone can follow without having to belong to any religion or ideological group, we turn again to the most successful religion on earth: Christianity. We soon will study other things such as the teaching of Plato, the Japanese code of the Warrior: Bushido, and Sikhism. But today, we are continuing on from our past episode: 5 Life Lessons From Christianity:
Now it’s true that Christianity has its bad ideas, but does it have a few more good ones? In today’s episode, we will see if we can find more moral teachings from the Christian Bible.
This program is brought to you by the members of the Free Thought Initiative.
We help those in need of an inclusive, supportive, and free-thinking community by hosting public discussions on moral philosophy, healthy living, and science, to improve the cohesion, health, and scientific literacy of our society.
Everyone is welcome, (regardless of personal religious belief, political leanings, etc.) to participate (in-person) in these open and civil discussions.
To find a Free Thought Forum meeting near you, to start your own local group, or to become a member and support this program through monthly donations – please visit freethoughtforum.org.
Are the ideas in this episode good because they are Christian? No, they are good ideas, because they are good ideas. Not only is it possible, but it is tremendously helpful to be able to discuss the moral philosophical concepts of a belief system that is not your own. How else do you propose that we all develop a more sophisticated philosophy?
That is our goal today. For those of us who are not Christians, can we reasonably expect to find any salvageable ethics buried in the theological teachings of the Bible? I certainly think we can, and I think we should. We should talk about good ideas, even if they started out as religious stories. We will continue our list from our previous Christianity-based episode:
6. We all Sin, so don’t be Judgmental
Matthew 23:26 "Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also."
Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”
Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven”
Matthew 7:2 “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”
Luke 23:34 “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.”
Jesus is considered by Christians as the greatest exemplar of moral discretion and righteous living. Interestingly enough, he was often depicted as someone who would talk with lepers, make company with tax collectors, and eat with sinners. He was kind to the minorities and the despised classes of his day.
A common idea today is that friendship and respect must be earned and that you don’t owe anything but contempt to your fellow man. Strict tribalism is common, laced with impossible standards that are helpful in judging others as worthless, disgusting, or worse.
But Christian teachings turn this idea on its head, depicting the most holy being keeping company with the lowest members of humanity. From Jesus’ perspective, everyone is a sinner, everyone has skeletons in their closets, everyone has shameful secrets, and every last person has committed transgressions that make them unworthy of him. So how does he act, surrounded by shameful and degenerate beings? He befriends them, supports them, and shows them compassion and kindness.
There is something healthy about the idea that we are all sinners. Our ego likes to puff itself up, like a bird trying to intimidate a rival. But in reality, every single one of us falls short. We sometimes compromise our morals. We can be lazy or dishonest. Whatever our mistakes, one thing we all have in common is that we all have made mistakes.
This realization is in stark contrast to the Instagram-filtered-trending-Facebook-event version of ourselves that we so often like to broadcast to the world. We are quick to put on makeup, sweep our personal misgivings under the rug, and face the day as a kind of plastic manikin of perfection.
When we allow ourselves to take a deep breath and realize that we aren’t really as wonderful as we pretend to be, then we realize that we are in good company. We are all in the same boat. None of us are as virtuous, as wonderful, as accomplished or as glamorous as we may want to be. All of us carry some guilt, pain, and regret. So why not face the facts, and embrace yourself and one another fully, warts and all. Think of what it would mean to you, if more people close to you accepted you, completely, as you are.
We all sin. We are all sinners. Nobody is perfect. Despite all the pretense, we are all less than we should be. So how can this mindset inform our morality? Well, if we realize that we need patience and a second chance from others, then it follows that they also need patience and a second chance from us. With this mindset, we become more realistic, more forgiving, and slower to judge, condemn, or form hate mobs on twitter.
Make no mistake, we all live in an extremely judgmental society. Religious groups get a lot of criticism for often devolving into petty hives of gossip and judging glances. But I see this behavior in secular groups as well. We are so quick to turn on one another. We are so quick to start political witch hunts and hold others to some elaborate purity test. It’s immoral. It isn’t productive or helpful. It is, all of it, just too much.
The parable of the prodigal son can be found in the book of Luke, chapter 15, verses 11 through 32. In the context of the narrative before this story is told, Jesus is found to be at odds with the strict and judgmental spiritual leaders of his day. When they criticize him of eating with sinners and keeping company with the despised and outcast members of society, he tells a story about a father that had two sons. The older son was rigidly ethical, but the younger son couldn’t wait for his father’s death and demanded to be given his share of the inheritance from his father. His father obliged, and the younger son wasted the money through lavish and hedonistic living. Soon, he was broke and starving. He returned to his father, begging for a job as a servant. But his father gave him a ring, a robe, and held an expensive celebration. The father couldn’t contain his joy that his son had come home.
We often like to think of ourselves as the older son, the ones who follow the rules, live the right way, and deserve the praise and adoration of those around us. But I think that is missing the real point of this story. We are, all of us, the prodigal son. But if we are objectively sinful degenerates do we really deserve misery and pain? Not at all. The prodigal son was celebrated and loved by his father. Likewise, we should not be so harsh on the people around us. Rather, we should celebrate their inherent worth as human beings, and show tolerance, forgiveness, and friendship. And if that is true for everyone else, that is also true for you. We all sin, so don’t be so judgmental.
7. Honor the Separation Between Church and State
Matthew 22:19-21 “Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
Christianity does not work very well as a state religion. First, it would no longer conform to the oppression narrative baked into every biblical story. Second, it would no longer conform to the theological stance that people must believe in order to claim the gift of salvation. If someone is being forced by a government to believe in Christianity, can that really be considered genuine belief?
In my opinion, a lot of the atrocities committed by Christians in the past are tied to their religion becoming a powerful politically-driven force. Perhaps the best parts of this religion, or any belief system for that matter, emerge only when they operate as a plurality within free secular governments. After all, it was Jesus who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Christians (for the most part) believe that devotion to their god should not come at the expense of their society. Therefore, Christianity is NOT a political movement, leading to a healthy diversity of race and belief in Christian-predominant nations.
Likewise, we would do well to keep our personal codes of ethics or moral philosophies to ourselves, and never seek to legally force them onto others. Religious belief is a personal matter. It is usually a private matter. No religion should ever be prescribed by a state. No government should ever prop one faith-based belief system above another. The politicization of belief tends to lead to oppression, segregation, war, and tyranny.
Perhaps no one understood this better than the early European immigrants to North America. After the signing and ratifying of the United States Constitution in 1788, this country’s founding fathers agreed to codify protection of the rights of the citizens. And what was the first amendment to the constitution to start off this Bill of Rights?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Keep religion separate from the government. Keep religious endorsement, prayer, and other such practices out of our public schools, away from our courthouses, and off our money. Honor the Separation Between Church and State. Not only is this our constitutional right as Americans, but it is also something that is advocated by Christ himself.
If you have enjoyed this conversation or have learned something from it, please leave a like, subscribe, and share it with other open-minded people. All of those small things really do make a big difference and help others find our group and our podcast.
That is all I have for you today, but the conversation continues across social media and in the comment sections below. Do you agree with today’s message? Am I mistaken about some detail? How can I better elaborate on this topic in the future? Feel free to share your perspective!
Written By Nicholas Burk, Executive Board Member © 2019 Free Thought Initiative