January 28, 2009

Christian Morality: Belief Over Behavior

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Christianity is quite diverse, with many different sects holding what are sometimes very different beliefs. In this post on Christian morality, I'd like to focus on the group of Christians who describe themselves as "born again" or "saved." We might refer to them as evangelical fundamentalist Christians. I'd like to examine the core of their view of morality and consider some interesting implications of holding such a view.

I believe that the essence of morality for this group of Christians can be effectively summarized as follows: How one behaves is less important than what one believes.

First, the group of Christians to which I am referring here frequently preaches that the path to salvation lies in belief rather than in deeds. Good deeds are encouraged too. I am not denying this. However, the key to salvation is assumed to lie through accepting Jesus into one's life (i.e., belief).

Second, we see these Christians willing to forgive even the most despicable acts as long as one ceases the bad behavior and embraces the belief system. Stopping the bad behavior alone is insufficient; the belief is necessary in order to receive forgiveness.

Third, these Christians insist that even the best behaved atheist imaginable is bound for hell. Without the belief, the number of positive acts matters little to the god of such Christians. Unlike Santa Claus, who is depicted as keeping track of good deeds and bad deeds, the god of the "born again" Christians cares less about deeds than about beliefs.

Finally, and this may be the most difficult to grasp, these Christians have elevated thought to the level of behavior. That is, impure thoughts are not distinguished from impure acts. Cursing one's god in one's mind is equally bad as doing so aloud. Again, this helps to elevate belief to the highest level.

Some of the implications of this sort of morality:

  • The incentive to behave well is weakened by the "get out of sin free" card such Christians believe they can obtain from belief. Regardless of one's bad acts, all will be forgiven if one ceases to engage in the bad acts and accepts Jesus as one's savior.
  • Because there is no valid way to determine the sincerity of one's professed beliefs, these Christians are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Perhaps this has something to do with the number and type of crimes committed by their clergy.
  • The system is structured to maintain belief, even at the expense of good behavior. Is it any wonder why the belief system is so resistant to change?
It is not my intention in this post to argue that any particular form of secular morality is superior to the morality of "born again" Christians I describe here. However, I think it should be apparent that this version of morality, one where belief has primacy over behavior, is seriously flawed.

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