Without God, is Jesus a good moral teacher?

One-on-one debates

Moderator: Moderators

Post Reply
User avatar
His Name Is John
Site Supporter
Posts: 672
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:01 am
Location: London, England

Without God, is Jesus a good moral teacher?

Post #1

Post by His Name Is John »

Without God, is Jesus a good moral teacher?

Me and Haven have agreed to debate if 'without God, is Jesus a good moral teacher?' Haven holding the view that he is a good moral teacher even without God, me holding the view that he is not a good moral teacher without God.

Debate format:

Post 1: Haven presents argument for Christian Atheism
Post 2: His Name is John presents rebuttal
Post 3: Haven presents response to rebuttal
Post 4: His Name Is John presents rebuttal rebuttal
Post 5: Haven closing comments
Post 6: His Name Is John closing comments


There is no limit on time to reply or word count.

Now without further ado, I invite Haven to begin...
“People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.�
- G.K. Chesterton

“A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive.�
- G.K. Chesterton

Haven

Jesus is a good moral teacher

Post #2

Post by Haven »

In this post, I'm going to present the case for Jesus as a good moral teacher, even though his theistic and metaphysical claims were false. I will argue that although the god of Christianity almost certainly does not exist, the ethical teachings of Jesus are timeless human values that are good for all people.

The Historical Jesus

Jesus of Nazareth, known to Christians as Jesus Christ, was a man born around 4-6 BCE in ancient Palestine, probably in the city of Nazareth. The first child of a Galilean couple named Joseph and Mary, Jesus received a typical Palestinian Jewish upbringing. Although Biblical scholars such as John Dominic Crossan believe that Jesus was likely illiterate, others believe Jesus may have received a basic education, where he learned to read and write. After completing his education (if any), Jesus went into the profession of his father Joseph, who, according to Biblical accounts, was a tekton, a Greek word which referred to skilled trades such as construction, carpentry, or masonry.

At about 30 years of age, Jesus left his occupation and began to travel around Galilee and Judea, preaching a message of personal integrity, moral excellence, peace, and aid to the poor and downtrodden. Circa 30 CE, after running afoul of the Jewish and Roman authorities, Jesus was crucified and possibly laid in a tomb. At least some of his disciples came to believe he had been resurrected, and went on to found the religion known today as Christianity.

The Teachings of Jesus

During his ministry, Jesus taught a message of universal love, forgiveness, integrity, grace, social justice, and anti-hypocrisy. Although, like all Jews of the time, Jesus was a theist who believed in Yahweh, the god of Israel, Christ's message was not only concerned with divine matters. His message also emphasized brotherly/sisterly love and personal action in service to humanity, rather than simply reverence for the divine. In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus envisioned a world in which the poor were fed, the meek would lead, and the downtrodden would be lifted up. In that same sermon, he exhorted his followers to bless those who cursed them, do good to those who despitefully used them, and to overcome evil with the power of good.

These are messages and exhortations that apply not only to theists, but to all human beings. Jesus' teachings are every bit as powerful and importunate in a godless universe as they would be if the god of Christianity existed. In fact, I would argue that Christ's teachings become more relevant without God. In a naturalistic universe, there is no "heaven" for the suffering to receive reward, instead, we must act to alleviate suffering in this life, to make a "heaven" in this world. Jesus' vision for a socially just and morally excellent world, what he termed the "Kingdom of God," is not to be found in an otherworldly spiritual realm or on a post-apocalyptic renewed Earth. Instead, we as human beings must work to actualize the "Kingdom of God" within our own lives, in our own communities, and across our own planet. As Jesus said in Luke 17:21, "the Kingdom of God is within you!"

C.S. Lewis' Trilemma

Before ending this opening argument, I want to preempt one of the objections my opponent will make to my argument -- Lewis' trilemma. C.S. Lewis, a 20th-century writer and popular evangelical Christian apologist, put forth an argument intending to establish that Jesus cannot be a "good moral teacher," and that he can only be regarded as "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord."

Lewis remarked:
C.S. Lewis wrote:I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.
Lewis sets up this false trilemma on the basis of Jesus' purported claims of divinity in the canonical gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). However, many critical scholars believe Jesus never claimed to be God or the Son of God, and that his divinity claims were misintepretations of Jesus' remarks intending to establish himself as a messenger of God, fabrications by the gospel writers intending to establish Jesus as divine, or literary interpolations that were not found in the original gospel accounts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical ... _as_divine).

However, even if Jesus claimed to be God, that does not invalidate him as a good human moral teacher. Although making such divine claims would point toward eccentricity or even mental instability, such a situation would do nothing to negate the positive things Jesus taught during his three-year ministry. Such teachings stand on their own merits, regardless of what else Jesus may have said.

User avatar
His Name Is John
Site Supporter
Posts: 672
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:01 am
Location: London, England

Re: Jesus is a good moral teacher

Post #3

Post by His Name Is John »

Before I post my rebuttal, I would like to thank Haven for presenting his beliefs on the subject in such a clear and eloquent manner. This is my first head-to-head debate, and it is clear you are not going to make it easy for me :)

Also I would like to clarify what we are not debating. We are not debating if Jesus was a good moral teacher. We both agree on that. We are not debating the existence of God either, but rather the need for God in order for Jesus to be a good moral teacher. Haven has put forward what he believes, and I shall put forward why I disagree. My basic view on the matter is that Jesus' teachings were so closely linked with a belief in God, that editing the divine from the picture is to take his teachings out of context, and to remove much of the intended meaning.

Jesus himself understood the need of God, as he says himself:
19 Jesus gave them this answer: "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."

John 5:19 (NIV)
Jesus only claims to have authority to teach on the law because he believes he was sent by God. Jesus is simply following what he wants God to do, and removing God from the picture, would remove the authority to speak that Jesus had.

In fact, I think there is a strong argument that belief in Jesus as a great moral teacher, but that God does not exist, actually logically contradict one another.

1. God does not exist
2. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)
3. Thus Jesus' greatest moral commandment is void
4. Therefore Jesus isn't a great moral teacher


Or alternatively, starting from you belief that Jesus is a great moral teacher:

1. If Jesus is a good moral teacher, we should follow his moral teaching
2. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)
3. To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we must believe he exists
4. If we are to follow Jesus' moral teaching we must believe God exists


The problem that Christian Atheists are presented with is Jesus' greatest moral commandment, one which they cannot do. They cannot just brush it away either, if you are willing to remove Jesus' greatest commandment just because you disagree with it, then thinking Jesus is a great moral teacher begins to loose meaning as a statement.

Thus an adulterer could brush away:
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?�

John 8:1-5 (NIV)
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?�

11 “No one, sir,� she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,� Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.�

John 8:10-11 (NIV)
In the same way here Jesus is clearly calling adultery a sin, just as Jesus was condemning this way of life; he was commanding that you love God. By ignoring the greatest commandment of Jesus you cannot claim to be following Jesus, or believe he is a great moral teacher.

Now moving on, Jesus gives two reasons for people to follow him:

1. Eternal life in heaven:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)
However, I do want to make it clear here, that I don't think you have to believe in God to go to heaven. Following the other moral laws of Jesus as well as you can should find you a place in everlasting bliss. So I am not going to argue that you should believe in God or you go to Hell. But rather that the reason Jesus gave to following him was a reward in Heaven, if this is no longer the case, why follow him?

2. The miracle's Jesus worked
1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.�

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?�

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.� So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.� 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!�

Mark 2:1-12 (NIV)
Jesus confirms his teachings and message with miracles. If you do not believe in miracles either (as I guess most atheists do not) then the second reason many followed Jesus is also taken away.

By removing the two main reasons people followed Jesus, you are removing what Jesus himself did in order to persuade people. You seem able to follow Jesus without miracles or the teaching on life in heaven, if you had existed at his time, you would have been a minority.

What reasons do atheists give for following Jesus? Why should we love our neighbours? Sure there is poverty in the world, but why does that mean we should help?

Without God, Jesus' moral teachings fall prey to Hume's is-ought gap. David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher (1711-1776):
[Hume’s idea] is that many writers make claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. However, Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be), and it is not obvious how we can get from making descriptive statements to prescriptive. The is–ought problem is also known as Hume's Law and Hume's Guillotine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem
Without a divine law giver, and without moral absolutes, why should anyone follow Jesus? Why should anyone care for others as much as themselves? Love their enemies? Turn the other cheek? As Hume says, just because the world is like it is, doesn't mean we ought to do anything about it.

I will now asses some of your points directly:
Haven wrote:the ethical teachings of Jesus are timeless human values that are good for all people.


That sounds like absolute morality. If certain values are timeless and good for all people, where did they come from if not a divine law giver?
Although, like all Jews of the time, Jesus was a theist who believed in Yahweh, the god of Israel, Christ's message was not only concerned with divine matters. His message also emphasized brotherly/sisterly love and personal action in service to humanity, rather than simply reverence for the divine.
That may be true, but even the message which was not explicitly about God, always had a link. Jesus taught a new law which he believed completed the law of Moses, he believed that he had divine authority to teach on this, despite not being trained as a teacher of the law.
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus envisioned a world in which the poor were fed, the meek would lead, and the downtrodden would be lifted up. In that same sermon, he exhorted his followers to bless those who cursed them, do good to those who despitefully used them, and to overcome evil with the power of good.


But why do so? Why should we help others? What of those innocent which we do cannot help?
In fact, I would argue that Christ's teachings become more relevant without God. In a naturalistic universe, there is no "heaven" for the suffering to receive reward, instead, we must act to alleviate suffering in this life, to make a "heaven" in this world. Jesus' vision for a socially just and morally excellent world, what he termed the "Kingdom of God," is not to be found in an otherworldly spiritual realm or on a post-apocalyptic renewed Earth. Instead, we as human beings must work to actualize the "Kingdom of God" within our own lives, in our own communities, and across our own planet. As Jesus said in Luke 17:21, "the Kingdom of God is within you!"
This is a nice view, but incorrect. With no heaven and no God, there is no reason to do good. Without God then the "Kingdom of God" within us is a meaningless statement. A Kingdom of God is where God's laws rule over our lives, and if there is no laws of God, then the Kingdom of God does not exist, full stop.
C.S. Lewis' Trilemma

Before ending this opening argument, I want to preempt one of the objections my opponent will make to my argument -- Lewis' trilemma. C.S. Lewis, a 20th-century writer and popular evangelical Christian apologist, put forth an argument intending to establish that Jesus cannot be a "good moral teacher," and that he can only be regarded as "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord."

Lewis remarked:
C.S. Lewis wrote:I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.
Lewis sets up this false trilemma on the basis of Jesus' purported claims of divinity in the canonical gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). However, many critical scholars believe Jesus never claimed to be God or the Son of God, and that his divinity claims were misintepretations of Jesus' remarks intending to establish himself as a messenger of God, fabrications by the gospel writers intending to establish Jesus as divine, or literary interpolations that were not found in the original gospel accounts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical ... _as_divine).

However, even if Jesus claimed to be God, that does not invalidate him as a good human moral teacher. Although making such divine claims would point toward eccentricity or even mental instability, such a situation would do nothing to negate the positive things Jesus taught during his three-year ministry. Such teachings stand on their own merits, regardless of what else Jesus may have said.
You claim that I was going to bring this up, yet I was not planning to. I was rather going to adapt it to greater suit our discussion (removing the idea that Jesus thought he was God, just for the sake of debate).

The fact remained; Jesus claimed God was speaking to him, and that he got his moral teaching from his Father in Heaven. This has only three possible explanations:

1. He was deluded
The idea that Jesus was mentally unstable, putting forward ideas that he believed God was telling him, but was in fact his own imagination. In this case why listen to a deluded man who claims his laws are from God?

2. He was a liar
He wanted followers, so he pretended God was telling him things. I think this could potentially make sense, but then he could hardly be considered a 'good moral teacher'. Surely it is immoral to lie, and if someone is an ardent liar, then clearly they are not very moral.

3. He was getting his message from God
Thus he was revealing the absolute moral laws that exist, he was not deluded, ne was not a liar, and he was a great moral teacher, sent from God.

So here we are left with a new trilemma, one which remains intact, and is accurate. Jesus was either a liar, deluded, or sent by God. You must make your choice.

I was reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church yesterday and I stumbled upon something. It says that although belief in God can be found through observing the natural world, belief in the two natures of Christ is a mystery (mystery meaning divine revelation of which human rationality could never have uncovered itself). That is why in this post I have tried to play down the divinity of Christ, and focus solely on his reliance on God.

To finish I want to say that I do think Jesus' morality is meant for all people, and all nations. His ethical teaching is head-and-shoulders above the rest. I believe that by following the teachings Jesus put forward you can find happiness on this world and the next. I just don't believe that Atheism is compatible with thinking Jesus is a good moral teacher. Only under the authority of God, do the teachings of Jesus make real sense. Much like the trilemma, you must make your choice.
“People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.�
- G.K. Chesterton

“A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive.�
- G.K. Chesterton

Haven

Re: Jesus is a good moral teacher

Post #4

Post by Haven »

John, I'd like to thank you for your well-thought-out and informative rebuttal. I greatly respect your opinions. :)

Now, on to the objections you raised:
His Name Is John wrote:My basic view on the matter is that Jesus' teachings were so closely linked with a belief in God, that editing the divine from the picture is to take his teachings out of context, and to remove much of the intended meaning.
I disagree with this statement. As a Christian atheist, I feel it is up to us as rational human beings to radically reinterpret Jesus' message to suit life in our (post-)modern world. Whatever meaning Jesus' words may have conveyed in first-century Palestine, his words today proclaim the distinct, but still radically contiguous, message of sisterly/brotherly love, peace, acceptance, joy, and moral excellence.

The fact that Jesus' words were originally closely linked with theistic belief is no more relevant to us today than the fact that Plato's words were originally tied to belief in the Greek pantheon. Plato's philosophies still ring relevant today, even though the metaphysical worldview in which they were anchored has been totally debunked. The same is true of the words, teachings, and life of Jesus.
John wrote:Jesus himself understood the need of God, as he says himself:
Jesus, according to a different John wrote:19 Jesus gave them this answer: "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."

John 5:19 (NIV)
Once again, the fact that Jesus believed in God is of no consequence to us today. His teachings and moral exhortations stand on their own, regardless of what else Jesus did and said. Additionally, in my opinion, Jesus' teachings did not flow from his theistic beliefs, but from his excellent mind and heart. He, like the Buddha, would have done and taught the same things whether he was theist or atheist.
John wrote:Jesus only claims to have authority to teach on the law because he believes he was sent by God. Jesus is simply following what he wants God to do, and removing God from the picture, would remove the authority to speak that Jesus had.
I argue that Jesus' belief in God, like Siddhartha Gautama's belief in reincarnation, had to do with the time and place in which he lived. I strongly feel that Jesus would be an atheist or agnostic if he lived in the twenty-first-century Western world rather than first-century Palestine. Yet, he would still teach the same message (updated for today's world, of course) of love, peace, and justice. Jesus' beliefs and actions were not due to his theistic beliefs, but due to his excellent character.
John wrote:In fact, I think there is a strong argument that belief in Jesus as a great moral teacher, but that God does not exist, actually logically contradict one another.

1. God does not exist
2. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to:

Jesus, according to the author of Matthew wrote:]37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)
3. Thus Jesus' greatest moral commandment is void


No, it isn't. Rather than eschewing this command, we Christian atheists radically reinterpret it under a new definition of "God." As I said earlier, I (and many other Christian atheists) view "God" as a symbol or placeholder for the highest of human aspirations, ideals, and goals, for instance, justice, love, peace, freedom, creativity, and equality. Thus, radically reinterpreted for our (post-)modern world, Jesus' greatest command reads:

"Love the highest human ideals and aspirations with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment."

Which absolutely makes sense in a godless universe.

John wrote: The problem that Christian Atheists are presented with is Jesus' greatest moral commandment, one which they cannot do. They cannot just brush it away either, if you are willing to remove Jesus' greatest commandment just because you disagree with it, then thinking Jesus is a great moral teacher begins to loose meaning as a statement.

Thus an adulterer could brush away:

the gospel of John wrote:3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?�

John 8:1-5 (NIV)

Jesus, according to the author of John wrote:10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?�

11 “No one, sir,� she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,� Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.�

John 8:10-11 (NIV)


In the same way here Jesus is clearly calling adultery a sin, just as Jesus was condemning this way of life; he was commanding that you love God. By ignoring the greatest commandment of Jesus you cannot claim to be following Jesus, or believe he is a great moral teacher.


Ignoring the fact that the pericopae adulterae was a fourth-century interpolation not found in the original text of John, your argument falls apart based upon the aforementioned fact that Christian atheists do not throw out the greatest commandment, but reintepret it to more closely align with the evidence for a godless reality.

John wrote:Now moving on, Jesus gives two reasons for people to follow him:

1. Eternal life in heaven:

Jesus, according to the author of Matthew wrote:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)


However, I do want to make it clear here, that I don't think you have to believe in God to go to heaven. Following the other moral laws of Jesus as well as you can should find you a place in everlasting bliss. So I am not going to argue that you should believe in God or you go to Hell. But rather that the reason Jesus gave to following him was a reward in Heaven, if this is no longer the case, why follow him?


Two main points:

1) There is no evidence for the existence of an afterlife of any kind, much less an eternal heaven. In fact, all evidence from neuroscience seems to suggest that the human mind is simply an emergent property of the brain, and therefore ceases to exist when the brain stops functioning upon the body's death. Why should a rational person hope for something that, in all likelihood, does not exist?

2) Following Jesus' teachings in order to get to heaven is in contradiction to what Jesus preached. This is what I feel is the weakest point in your argument. If one follows the teachings of Jesus because she wants to gain access to eternal bliss, then she is not acting in accordance with the selflessness that Jesus taught! Instead, she is seeking her own self-interest, selfishly obeying Christ's commands in order to gain a reward. In other words, she is doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This is at variance with both the spirit and the letter of what Jesus taught, and constitutes a contradiction for the Christian theist.

In contrast, the Christian atheist follows the teachings of Jesus not to gain an eternal reward in heaven, but simply because they are morally excellent. In this respect, the atheist is closer to the spirit of what Christ taught than is the theist, because the atheist acts not from self-interest, but from a genuine love for his fellow human being. Expecting no reward, the Christian atheist does what is right simply because it is right.

John wrote:2. The miracle's Jesus worked

Jesus, according to the author of Mark wrote:1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.�

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?�

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.� So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.� 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!�

Mark 2:1-12 (NIV)


Jesus confirms his teachings and message with miracles. If you do not believe in miracles either (as I guess most atheists do not) then the second reason many followed Jesus is also taken away.


There is no evidence such miracles ever occurred; the reports in the gospels are most likely embellishments or legendary accretions. Why should a rational person take miracle reports seriously when there is no evidence such phenomena are even possible? The salient aspect of Jesus is his teachings, not the miracle myths surrounding him.

John wrote:What reasons do atheists give for following Jesus? Why should we love our neighbours? Sure there is poverty in the world, but why does that mean we should help?


We atheists love our neighbors and help the poor simply because such things are good, right, and just. Unlike many theists, we don't do such things out of the self-interest of looking for a reward, we simply do what is right for the sake of doing what is right. We're good because we want to be good. Is that not enough?

John wrote:Without God, Jesus' moral teachings fall prey to Hume's is-ought gap. David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher (1711-1776):
Wikipedia wrote:[Hume’s idea] is that many writers make claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. However, Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be), and it is not obvious how we can get from making descriptive statements to prescriptive. The is–ought problem is also known as Hume's Law and Hume's Guillotine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem


Without a divine law giver, and without moral absolutes, why should anyone follow Jesus? Why should anyone care for others as much as themselves? Love their enemies? Turn the other cheek? As Hume says, just because the world is like it is, doesn't mean we ought to do anything about it.


As a Christian atheist and a non-cognitivist as to morality, I simply ignore Hume's is-ought problem. I recognize moral statements not as truth-apt statements of fact, but simply statements of esthetic preference. There exists an essentially universal preference among human beings (and other sentient beings, such as dolphins and elephants), throughout all cultures and societies, about what constitutes "good," and appealing to such a preference is good enough for me. Such preferences were likely shaped through the evolution (via natural selection) of the brain and consciousness over millions of years, as they helped us (and other social, sentient creatures) survive. They are not divine laws, but natural adaptations. Still, they are no less real for you and me than are divine exhortations and commands.

In other words, good still exists, even on atheism. We know what we think of as "good," and seeking to cultivate that "good" should be enough for any rational person in tune with his heart.

John wrote: That sounds like absolute morality. If certain values are timeless and good for all people, where did they come from if not a divine law giver?


See above.

John wrote: That may be true, but even the message which was not explicitly about God, always had a link. Jesus taught a new law which he believed completed the law of Moses, he believed that he had divine authority to teach on this, despite not being trained as a teacher of the law.


See my first paragraph.

John wrote: But why do so? Why should we help others? What of those innocent which we do cannot help?


We should try to help simply because it is the right thing to do. No one person can help everyone, but if everyone lived by Christ's teachings, maybe we could end all suffering.

John wrote: This is a nice view, but incorrect. With no heaven and no God, there is no reason to do good.


How is a selfish reason for doing good (getting on God's "good" side and getting to heaven) better than an unselfish reason for doing good (to help others, to improve one's community, doing right for right's sake)? That seems absurd. One should do good because it is good, not to earn "brownie points" with God or get a ticket into an eternal heaven.

Doing good only to receive a reward is the action of a spoiled child, not a rational adult raised to full consciousness.

John wrote:Without God then the "Kingdom of God" within us is a meaningless statement. A Kingdom of God is where God's laws rule over our lives, and if there is no laws of God, then the Kingdom of God does not exist, full stop.


Like with the God concept, we Christian atheists radically reinterpret the "Kingdom of God." To the Christian atheist, the "Kingdom of God" is a state in which the highest human ideals ("God") reign. The "Kingdom of God" on Earth would be a society in which evil is eliminated (or greatly reduced) and truth, love, peace, justice, and right living dominate.

John wrote: You claim that I was going to bring this up, yet I was not planning to. I was rather going to adapt it to greater suit our discussion (removing the idea that Jesus thought he was God, just for the sake of debate).


OK, I apologize :).

John wrote:The fact remained; Jesus claimed God was speaking to him, and that he got his moral teaching from his Father in Heaven. This has only three possible explanations:

1. He was deluded
The idea that Jesus was mentally unstable, putting forward ideas that he believed God was telling him, but was in fact his own imagination. In this case why listen to a deluded man who claims his laws are from God?

2. He was a liar
He wanted followers, so he pretended God was telling him things. I think this could potentially make sense, but then he could hardly be considered a 'good moral teacher'. Surely it is immoral to lie, and if someone is an ardent liar, then clearly they are not very moral.

3. He was getting his message from God
Thus he was revealing the absolute moral laws that exist, he was not deluded, ne was not a liar, and he was a great moral teacher, sent from God.

So here we are left with a new trilemma, one which remains intact, and is accurate. Jesus was either a liar, deluded, or sent by God. You must make your choice
.


There is a fourth option:

Jesus was mistaken.

Like all human beings, Jesus was prone to errors, mistakes, and failures of analysis. Growing up in a heavily theistic culture, he may have thought his strong moral feeling was a call from God, when in reality it was an effect of his own mind. In such a case, he is neither a liar, a lunatic, or a messenger of the Lord, but simply a man mistaken about the nature of his moral imperative.

User avatar
His Name Is John
Site Supporter
Posts: 672
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:01 am
Location: London, England

Re: Jesus is a good moral teacher

Post #5

Post by His Name Is John »

Thank you for your reply Haven. I think I see your belief with a lot more clarity now. Your reply made some good points, and while I still virmently hold to the view that the teachings of Jesus and belief in God are unseperable.

Now, onto my second rebuttal:
Haven wrote:


The fact that Jesus' words were originally closely linked with theistic belief is no more relevant to us today than the fact that Plato's words were originally tied to belief in the Greek pantheon. Plato's philosophies still ring relevant today, even though the metaphysical worldview in which they were anchored has been totally debunked. The same is true of the words, teachings, and life of Jesus.
John wrote:Jesus himself understood the need of God, as he says himself:
Jesus, according to a different John wrote:19 Jesus gave them this answer: "Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."

John 5:19 (NIV)
Once again, the fact that Jesus believed in God is of no consequence to us today. His teachings and moral exhortations stand on their own, regardless of what else Jesus did and said. Additionally, in my opinion, Jesus' teachings did not flow from his theistic beliefs, but from his excellent mind and heart. He, like the Buddha, would have done and taught the same things whether he was theist or atheist.
John wrote:Jesus only claims to have authority to teach on the law because he believes he was sent by God. Jesus is simply following what he wants God to do, and removing God from the picture, would remove the authority to speak that Jesus had.
I argue that Jesus' belief in God, like Siddhartha Gautama's belief in reincarnation, had to do with the time and place in which he lived. I strongly feel that Jesus would be an atheist or agnostic if he lived in the twenty-first-century Western world rather than first-century Palestine. Yet, he would still teach the same message (updated for today's world, of course) of love, peace, and justice. Jesus' beliefs and actions were not due to his theistic beliefs, but due to his excellent character.
John wrote:In fact, I think there is a strong argument that belief in Jesus as a great moral teacher, but that God does not exist, actually logically contradict one another.

1. God does not exist
2. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to:

Jesus, according to the author of Matthew wrote:]37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)
3. Thus Jesus' greatest moral commandment is void


No, it isn't. Rather than eschewing this command, we Christian atheists radically reinterpret it under a new definition of "God." As I said earlier, I (and many other Christian atheists) view "God" as a symbol or placeholder for the highest of human aspirations, ideals, and goals, for instance, justice, love, peace, freedom, creativity, and equality. Thus, radically reinterpreted for our (post-)modern world, Jesus' greatest command reads:

"Love the highest human ideals and aspirations with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment."

Which absolutely makes sense in a godless universe.

John wrote: The problem that Christian Atheists are presented with is Jesus' greatest moral commandment, one which they cannot do. They cannot just brush it away either, if you are willing to remove Jesus' greatest commandment just because you disagree with it, then thinking Jesus is a great moral teacher begins to loose meaning as a statement.

Thus an adulterer could brush away:

the gospel of John wrote:3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?�

John 8:1-5 (NIV)

Jesus, according to the author of John wrote:10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?�

11 “No one, sir,� she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,� Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.�

John 8:10-11 (NIV)


In the same way here Jesus is clearly calling adultery a sin, just as Jesus was condemning this way of life; he was commanding that you love God. By ignoring the greatest commandment of Jesus you cannot claim to be following Jesus, or believe he is a great moral teacher.


Ignoring the fact that the pericopae adulterae was a fourth-century interpolation not found in the original text of John, your argument falls apart based upon the aforementioned fact that Christian atheists do not throw out the greatest commandment, but reintepret it to more closely align with the evidence for a godless reality.

John wrote:Now moving on, Jesus gives two reasons for people to follow him:

1. Eternal life in heaven:

Jesus, according to the author of Matthew wrote:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Matthew 25:34-40 (NIV)


However, I do want to make it clear here, that I don't think you have to believe in God to go to heaven. Following the other moral laws of Jesus as well as you can should find you a place in everlasting bliss. So I am not going to argue that you should believe in God or you go to Hell. But rather that the reason Jesus gave to following him was a reward in Heaven, if this is no longer the case, why follow him?


Two main points:

1) There is no evidence for the existence of an afterlife of any kind, much less an eternal heaven. In fact, all evidence from neuroscience seems to suggest that the human mind is simply an emergent property of the brain, and therefore ceases to exist when the brain stops functioning upon the body's death. Why should a rational person hope for something that, in all likelihood, does not exist?

2) Following Jesus' teachings in order to get to heaven is in contradiction to what Jesus preached. This is what I feel is the weakest point in your argument. If one follows the teachings of Jesus because she wants to gain access to eternal bliss, then she is not acting in accordance with the selflessness that Jesus taught! Instead, she is seeking her own self-interest, selfishly obeying Christ's commands in order to gain a reward. In other words, she is doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This is at variance with both the spirit and the letter of what Jesus taught, and constitutes a contradiction for the Christian theist.

In contrast, the Christian atheist follows the teachings of Jesus not to gain an eternal reward in heaven, but simply because they are morally excellent. In this respect, the atheist is closer to the spirit of what Christ taught than is the theist, because the atheist acts not from self-interest, but from a genuine love for his fellow human being. Expecting no reward, the Christian atheist does what is right simply because it is right.

John wrote:2. The miracle's Jesus worked

Jesus, according to the author of Mark wrote:1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.�

6 Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 7 “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?�

8 Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? 9 Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? 10 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.� So he said to the man, 11 “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.� 12 He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!�

Mark 2:1-12 (NIV)


Jesus confirms his teachings and message with miracles. If you do not believe in miracles either (as I guess most atheists do not) then the second reason many followed Jesus is also taken away.


There is no evidence such miracles ever occurred; the reports in the gospels are most likely embellishments or legendary accretions. Why should a rational person take miracle reports seriously when there is no evidence such phenomena are even possible? The salient aspect of Jesus is his teachings, not the miracle myths surrounding him.

John wrote:What reasons do atheists give for following Jesus? Why should we love our neighbours? Sure there is poverty in the world, but why does that mean we should help?


We atheists love our neighbors and help the poor simply because such things are good, right, and just. Unlike many theists, we don't do such things out of the self-interest of looking for a reward, we simply do what is right for the sake of doing what is right. We're good because we want to be good. Is that not enough?

John wrote:Without God, Jesus' moral teachings fall prey to Hume's is-ought gap. David Hume was a Scottish Enlightenment Philosopher (1711-1776):
Wikipedia wrote:[Hume’s idea] is that many writers make claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. However, Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be), and it is not obvious how we can get from making descriptive statements to prescriptive. The is–ought problem is also known as Hume's Law and Hume's Guillotine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Is%E2%80%93ought_problem


Without a divine law giver, and without moral absolutes, why should anyone follow Jesus? Why should anyone care for others as much as themselves? Love their enemies? Turn the other cheek? As Hume says, just because the world is like it is, doesn't mean we ought to do anything about it.


As a Christian atheist and a non-cognitivist as to morality, I simply ignore Hume's is-ought problem. I recognize moral statements not as truth-apt statements of fact, but simply statements of esthetic preference. There exists an essentially universal preference among human beings (and other sentient beings, such as dolphins and elephants), throughout all cultures and societies, about what constitutes "good," and appealing to such a preference is good enough for me. Such preferences were likely shaped through the evolution (via natural selection) of the brain and consciousness over millions of years, as they helped us (and other social, sentient creatures) survive. They are not divine laws, but natural adaptations. Still, they are no less real for you and me than are divine exhortations and commands.

In other words, good still exists, even on atheism. We know what we think of as "good," and seeking to cultivate that "good" should be enough for any rational person in tune with his heart.

John wrote: That sounds like absolute morality. If certain values are timeless and good for all people, where did they come from if not a divine law giver?


See above.

John wrote: That may be true, but even the message which was not explicitly about God, always had a link. Jesus taught a new law which he believed completed the law of Moses, he believed that he had divine authority to teach on this, despite not being trained as a teacher of the law.


See my first paragraph.

John wrote: But why do so? Why should we help others? What of those innocent which we do cannot help?


We should try to help simply because it is the right thing to do. No one person can help everyone, but if everyone lived by Christ's teachings, maybe we could end all suffering.

John wrote: This is a nice view, but incorrect. With no heaven and no God, there is no reason to do good.


How is a selfish reason for doing good (getting on God's "good" side and getting to heaven) better than an unselfish reason for doing good (to help others, to improve one's community, doing right for right's sake)? That seems absurd. One should do good because it is good, not to earn "brownie points" with God or get a ticket into an eternal heaven.

Doing good only to receive a reward is the action of a spoiled child, not a rational adult raised to full consciousness.

John wrote:Without God then the "Kingdom of God" within us is a meaningless statement. A Kingdom of God is where God's laws rule over our lives, and if there is no laws of God, then the Kingdom of God does not exist, full stop.


Like with the God concept, we Christian atheists radically reinterpret the "Kingdom of God." To the Christian atheist, the "Kingdom of God" is a state in which the highest human ideals ("God") reign. The "Kingdom of God" on Earth would be a society in which evil is eliminated (or greatly reduced) and truth, love, peace, justice, and right living dominate.

John wrote: You claim that I was going to bring this up, yet I was not planning to. I was rather going to adapt it to greater suit our discussion (removing the idea that Jesus thought he was God, just for the sake of debate).


OK, I apologize :).

John wrote:The fact remained; Jesus claimed God was speaking to him, and that he got his moral teaching from his Father in Heaven. This has only three possible explanations:

1. He was deluded
The idea that Jesus was mentally unstable, putting forward ideas that he believed God was telling him, but was in fact his own imagination. In this case why listen to a deluded man who claims his laws are from God?

2. He was a liar
He wanted followers, so he pretended God was telling him things. I think this could potentially make sense, but then he could hardly be considered a 'good moral teacher'. Surely it is immoral to lie, and if someone is an ardent liar, then clearly they are not very moral.

3. He was getting his message from God
Thus he was revealing the absolute moral laws that exist, he was not deluded, ne was not a liar, and he was a great moral teacher, sent from God.

So here we are left with a new trilemma, one which remains intact, and is accurate. Jesus was either a liar, deluded, or sent by God. You must make your choice
.


There is a fourth option:

Jesus was mistaken.

Like all human beings, Jesus was prone to errors, mistakes, and failures of analysis. Growing up in a heavily theistic culture, he may have thought his strong moral feeling was a call from God, when in reality it was an effect of his own mind. In such a case, he is neither a liar, a lunatic, or a messenger of the Lord, but simply a man mistaken about the nature of his moral imperative.

User avatar
McCulloch
Site Supporter
Posts: 24068
Joined: Mon May 02, 2005 9:10 pm
Location: Toronto, ON, CA
Been thanked: 2 times

Re: Jesus is a good moral teacher

Post #6

Post by McCulloch »

Post Removed. :oops:
Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good.
First Epistle to the Church of the Thessalonians
The truth will make you free.
Gospel of John

User avatar
His Name Is John
Site Supporter
Posts: 672
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:01 am
Location: London, England

Post #7

Post by His Name Is John »

Before I begin I would like to apologize to Haven and anyone reading this, for taking so long to respond. Thankfully McCulloch saw people were getting tired of waiting so he thought he would liven things up a bit. Any post is better than no post :D
John, I'd like to thank you for your well-thought-out and informative rebuttal. I greatly respect your opinions. :)
Also, I would like to say thank you Haven for your reply. I think I see your belief with a lot more clarity now. You made some good points, and while I still vehemently hold to the view that the teachings of Jesus and belief in God are inseparable, Christian atheism appears to make more sense.

Now, onto my second rebuttal:
The fact that Jesus' words were originally closely linked with theistic belief is no more relevant to us today than the fact that Plato's words were originally tied to belief in the Greek pantheon. Plato's philosophies still ring relevant today, even though the metaphysical worldview in which they were anchored has been totally debunked. The same is true of the words, teachings, and life of Jesus.
Plato's philosophies were not based foundationally upon a belief in God. Plato's great philosophical idea was not 'love the Lord your God' in the way Jesus' moral teaching was.

If one was to take Plato's teachings outside of the culture and setting they were presented within would take them out of context. Sure someone could mis-interpretation them and still get some good things out of them, but quite probably not the meaning Plato intended. So to change the teachings of Jesus and then claim he is great is not actually calling Jesus great, but the idea you have of him.
Once again, the fact that Jesus believed in God is of no consequence to us today. His teachings and moral exhortations stand on their own, regardless of what else Jesus did and said. Additionally, in my opinion, Jesus' teachings did not flow from his theistic beliefs, but from his excellent mind and heart. He, like the Buddha, would have done and taught the same things whether he was theist or atheist.


I am sorry, but that is pure speculation, we can't know if he would have been the same if he was a theist or an atheist. There is a pretty large difference in regard to views on morality between atheists and theists.

Theism or atheism shapes our entire world view, how we come up with our morality. We don't know if Jesus would have done what he did if he was an atheist, all we know is that Jesus was a theist.

And he wasn't just a side-line theist as perhaps someone like Georges Lemaître was (a scientist who happened to be a theist). Jesus gathered followers, encouraged worship and repentance, and spoke more about God than anything else.
I argue that Jesus' belief in God, like Siddhartha Gautama's belief in reincarnation, had to do with the time and place in which he lived. I strongly feel that Jesus would be an atheist or agnostic if he lived in the twenty-first-century Western world rather than first-century Palestine. Yet, he would still teach the same message (updated for today's world, of course) of love, peace, and justice. Jesus' beliefs and actions were not due to his theistic beliefs, but due to his excellent character.
Again, interesting speculation, but I don't really know what place it has here. You seem to be claiming that Jesus was limited by his culture in some aspects (ones which you personally disagree with) but not others (ones which you happen to agree with). If his culture had influenced him so much so as to make his greatest commandment 'love the Lord your God', then who is to say that his culture didn't influence his other morals as well?

Just because you think they are good now doesn't mean that in five years everyone thinks loving your neighbor is outdated and a result of Jesus' cultural limitations. It makes his teachings totally relativist, something he did not intend.

You see the thing is, Jesus didn’t just talk about God; he redefined how we talk about God. He told us to call God our Father, he told us about God’s great love, forgiveness and mercy. He teaches on the law, and claims to complete the law (rather than abolish it). He reprimands those who do not believe in an after-life and angels. Jesus isn’t just a passive follower of the Jewish religion, he is a radical.
No, it isn't. Rather than eschewing this command, we Christian atheists radically reinterpret it under a new definition of "God." As I said earlier, I (and many other Christian atheists) view "God" as a symbol or placeholder for the highest of human aspirations, ideals, and goals, for instance, justice, love, peace, freedom, creativity, and equality. Thus, radically reinterpreted for our (post-)modern world, Jesus' greatest command reads:

"Love the highest human ideals and aspirations with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment."

Which absolutely makes sense in a godless universe.
That is of course still a good moral ‘law’, however that is clearly not what Jesus meant. When Jesus spoke of God (as Father no less) he meant far more than simply the highest human ideals.

The act of changing the understanding of the word ‘God’ to suit your requirements is effectively the same as what the Nazi’s did by changing the understanding of the word ‘neighbor’ to not include the Jews.

You are making the evidence fit the theory, rather than the other way around.

If anyone is free to interpret Jesus’ teachings how ever they like, then how can anyone claim he is a good moral teaching? I could take Stalin, and when he gives orders to kill, I could understand that word ‘kill’ as ‘love’, and thus call him a great moral teacher, as he wanted to ‘love’ millions of people. Do you see the problem with your view? It is totally subjective. You say you like Jesus, and then whenever he says something you disagree with you say that he didn’t mean that (or that we shouldn’t believe that). Under such a system absolutely anyone could be considered a great moral teacher.

So let me slightly re-word my two arguments showing how the belief that Jesus is a great moral teacher and atheism are non-compatible:

1. God does not exist
2. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)
3. Thus Jesus' greatest moral commandment as he intended it is void
4. Therefore Jesus isn't a great moral teacher


Or alternatively, starting from you belief that Jesus is a great moral teacher:

1. If Jesus is a good moral teacher, we should follow his moral teaching
2. Jesus says the greatest commandment is to:

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

Matthew 22:36-38 (NIV)
3. To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, we must believe he exists
4. If we are to follow Jesus' moral teaching as he intended it we must believe God exists


And as such, both arguments still stand.
Ignoring the fact that the pericopae adulterae was a fourth-century interpolation not found in the original text of John, your argument falls apart based upon the aforementioned fact that Christian atheists do not throw out the greatest commandment, but reintepret it to more closely align with the evidence for a godless reality.
You do throw out the greatest commandment (as Jesus meant it) and replace it with something that you think is similar of the title ‘greatest commandment’. Your greatest commandment and Jesus’ are not the same, yet you seem claim that they are.
Two main points:

1) There is no evidence for the existence of an afterlife of any kind, much less an eternal heaven. In fact, all evidence from neuroscience seems to suggest that the human mind is simply an emergent property of the brain, and therefore ceases to exist when the brain stops functioning upon the body's death. Why should a rational person hope for something that, in all likelihood, does not exist?
I am not going to get in an argument over the existence of an after-life, all I am saying is that Jesus thinks it is ‘good’ to believe in an after-life, and speaks about it regularly (very often connected to his teaching on morality). They – like belief in God – are inseparable from one another.
2) Following Jesus' teachings in order to get to heaven is in contradiction to what Jesus preached. This is what I feel is the weakest point in your argument. If one follows the teachings of Jesus because she wants to gain access to eternal bliss, then she is not acting in accordance with the selflessness that Jesus taught! Instead, she is seeking her own self-interest, selfishly obeying Christ's commands in order to gain a reward. In other words, she is doing the right things for the wrong reasons. This is at variance with both the spirit and the letter of what Jesus taught, and constitutes a contradiction for the Christian theist.


Of course, this isn’t the only reason. We do good because God is good. So in a way we both have the same incentive in doing what we do. I didn’t mention it in my first post because it isn’t something that we really disagree on. We both believe we should do good, because it is good.

However for an atheist there is no source for this good, it just is. Where as for Christians, God is good, and that is why we should do it. There is absolute good, and it has a source.
In contrast, the Christian atheist follows the teachings of Jesus not to gain an eternal reward in heaven, but simply because they are morally excellent. In this respect, the atheist is closer to the spirit of what Christ taught than is the theist, because the atheist acts not from self-interest, but from a genuine love for his fellow human being. Expecting no reward, the Christian atheist does what is right simply because it is right.
If Jesus didn’t want us to have a fear of Hell and hope of Heaven he wouldn’t have spoken about it as many times as he did. It’s a warning as much as a reward, if you love merciful justice and love then surely you should love the idea of Heaven. Is it selfish to want to be rewarded for good deeds? Not just for yourself but for others? I wouldn’t have thought so. Being selfless does not mean hating yourself, just putting others above yourself.
There is no evidence such miracles ever occurred; the reports in the gospels are most likely embellishments or legendary accretions. Why should a rational person take miracle reports seriously when there is no evidence such phenomena are even possible? The salient aspect of Jesus is his teachings, not the miracle myths surrounding him.
But without the miracles of Jesus' life, much of his teachings are lost. The story of forgiving the man's sins, his whole passion and death (which looks very strange without the resurrection), and many other things are reliant on the miracles. I understand that you can just about make sense of it, but so many of the great stories are lost.

Also, Richard Dawkins, raging fanboy that he is, believes miracles are probably happening. The evidence that miracles do happen (as pointed to at Lourdes and other similar places) are too strong for even him to disregard. He claims that there are other explanations (mental power etc.) but we just haven't found them yet. Thus he prescribes to a naturalism-of-the-gaps.

I feel that we have gone slightly off topic here, but I wanted to address the points raised, even though they do not have much relevance on the actual discussion at hand.
We atheists love our neighbors and help the poor simply because such things are good, right, and just. Unlike many theists, we don't do such things out of the self-interest of looking for a reward, we simply do what is right for the sake of doing what is right. We're good because we want to be good. Is that not enough?
Presumably you mean 'We Christian atheists'. Not all atheists agree with you on this. And this ‘doing good because it is good’ sounds like Kant's Categorical Imperative (do your duty for duties sake...).

I personally don't think it is enough (without the existence of God or a reward/punishment system). You say you are good because you want to be good. But isn't that in itself perhaps a form of selfishness? Would you be good when you don't want to be good? Would you do right when you don't feel like doing right? Would you be good even when it makes you unhappy and miserable?

If so why? Why do what is good? Why do what is right? Who decides what is the moral thing to do?
As a Christian atheist and a non-cognitivist as to morality, I simply ignore Hume's is-ought problem. I recognize moral statements not as truth-apt statements of fact, but simply statements of esthetic preference.
Ignoring it wont make it go away.

Here you claim that moral statements are not truth-apt statements of fact, but simply statements of esthetic preference, however earlier you claim that they are truths evident to everyone. These two views seem to be conflicting. I don't see how they are both compatible with one another, could you please explain this to me.
There exists an essentially universal preference among human beings (and other sentient beings, such as dolphins and elephants), throughout all cultures and societies, about what constitutes "good," and appealing to such a preference is good enough for me. Such preferences were likely shaped through the evolution (via natural selection) of the brain and consciousness over millions of years, as they helped us (and other social, sentient creatures) survive. They are not divine laws, but natural adaptations. Still, they are no less real for you and me than are divine exhortations and commands.
Then why are you a Christian atheist? I think you could argue that the evolutionary morals could include condemnation of murder, rape and perjury. All three of which have been abhorred in every single human culture. However, this seems rather like an eye for an eye morality. Don’t do something to me or else I will do it back to you. Not harming your fellow man etc.

Such a view of morality is a world away from loving your fellow man (even those who are your enemies). Jesus was utterly original in this. There was never small steps in the development of this morality as would be expected if it had simply been an evolutional development, but rather a huge leap.
In other words, good still exists, even on atheism. We know what we think of as "good," and seeking to cultivate that "good" should be enough for any rational person in tune with his heart.


But the word ‘good’ becomes totally subjective and looses much of its meaning. You can't condemn someone who thinks murder is good as there is no objective morality.
We should try to help simply because it is the right thing to do. No one person can help everyone, but if everyone lived by Christ's teachings, maybe we could end all suffering.
I completely agree. It's just a shame that so often when the Church is in a position where they can make a huge difference, and start ending suffering, corruption or evil people hijack it.

Also, just a slight note, I find it interesting here that you call him Christ. Perhaps you have done so before, but this is the first time I have noticed it. Christ mean’s anointed one: Messiah. Such a title hold’s strong connotations about what the person saying it believes. I personally don’t mind you using such a title, but I think you might want to think about it, as some people might misunderstand your views if they here you calling Jesus by the title Christ.
John wrote: How is a selfish reason for doing good (getting on God's "good" side and getting to heaven) better than an unselfish reason for doing good (to help others, to improve one's community, doing right for right's sake)? That seems absurd. One should do good because it is good, not to earn "brownie points" with God or get a ticket into an eternal heaven.


Because wanting God’s love is not selfish, we were made to love and be loved (by God and others).
Doing good only to receive a reward is the action of a spoiled child, not a rational adult raised to full consciousness.
Do we not do actions simply to get effects? Perhaps the reward isn’t something that is obviously selfish, but if you try to help someone, surely you get some reward in seeing them being better off. If there were no 'effects' to your 'causes' why do anything at all?
Like with the God concept, we Christian atheists radically reinterpret the "Kingdom of God." To the Christian atheist, the "Kingdom of God" is a state in which the highest human ideals ("God") reign. The "Kingdom of God" on Earth would be a society in which evil is eliminated (or greatly reduced) and truth, love, peace, justice, and right living dominate.
The re-definition of God is severally flawed, the same problems I mentioned before also apply here.
There is a fourth option:

Jesus was mistaken.

Like all human beings, Jesus was prone to errors, mistakes, and failures of analysis. Growing up in a heavily theistic culture, he may have thought his strong moral feeling was a call from God, when in reality it was an effect of his own mind. In such a case, he is neither a liar, a lunatic, or a messenger of the Lord, but simply a man mistaken about the nature of his moral imperative.
As I touched on before, you seem to think the only areas of morality where Jesus was prone to errors, mistakes, and failures of analysis are in the area’s you disagree with him. If he was so sure of a untruth that he based his greatest commandment on it, surely other things he was perhaps less sure of were also untruths. This surely undermine's his aulthority as a good moral teacher.
“People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.�
- G.K. Chesterton

“A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive.�
- G.K. Chesterton

Haven

Post #8

Post by Haven »

To start my closing remarks, I'd like to thank my opponent for participating in this debate with me. Although I disagree with his beliefs, his arguments have been a challenge to me and I am intellectually richer for having read them.

I feel I have made a strong case for Jesus as a good moral teacher and wise sage regardless of whether or not God exists. The fact that some things Jesus said are not applicable to today's atheists is irrelevant, as even the greatest of human teachers are products of their time period. The fact that Jesus based many of his teachings on his theistic beliefs is no more relevant than the fact that the Buddha believed in reincarnation or that Martin Luther King never addressed issues of gay rights; all of these admittedly great teachers were products of their time and their lifestyles and teachings reflect that. Despite that, however, we still rightly recognize such individuals as moral leaders, even though many of the things they taught are of no relevance today.

Regardless of what else Jesus said or did, his teachings on loving one's neighbor, doing good to one's enemy, and laying down one's life for one's friends are morally excellent and stand on their own merits, God or no God. The Christian atheist can incorporate Christ's timeless moral teachings into her life without accepting the superstition and magical thinking that colored ancient Palestine. The fact that God doesn't exist does not remove the goodness of loving one's neighbor as oneself or giving to the poor and needy, and it is those morals, among others, that will help humanity continue to advance ethically and empathically.

To conclude, the Christian atheist has just as much merit as the Christian theist at laying claim to the moral and ethical system that Jesus taught, stripping it of its supernatural elements and radically reinterpreting it for our (post-)modern world. To do this is not to divorce the message from the original messenger, but to continue in the Jesus tradition as a community of "affirmers" committed to moral excellence. I feel that doing this is not contrary to the message of Jesus, but in line with it -- starting from Jesus' example and moving forward with new insights colored by today's moral, ethical, and empirical knowledge. We no longer live in the first century, so why limit ourselves to first-century interpretations of the timeless message of Christ?

User avatar
His Name Is John
Site Supporter
Posts: 672
Joined: Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:01 am
Location: London, England

Post #9

Post by His Name Is John »

To finish off this debate, I would like to begin by saying a huge thank you to my opponent Haven. Through our discussion, I feel like I have come to know his views, and beliefs with more clarity, and I honestly respect his opinions. He answered many of my arguments, and expertly challenged and pointed out weakness. As I said earlier, this is my first debate in the head-to-head formate, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I consider Haven a friend, and if he ever wants to debate me in the same way again, all he needs to do is ask :) .

However while I respect him, I do not agree with him. I think there were two logical contradictions in his views, and I would like to quickly summarize them. In his opening post he writes:
Haven wrote:I will argue that although the god of Christianity almost certainly does not exist, the ethical teachings of Jesus are timeless human values that are good for all people.
And indeed, the topic of debate is:

'Without God, is Jesus a good moral teacher?'

Yet in his second last post, he claims:
Haven wrote:I recognize moral statements not as truth-apt statements of fact, but simply statements of esthetic preference.
This statement seems to clash with the two above it. How can Jesus' ethical teachings be timeless human values, if they were simply shaped by evolution and are only ones' preference? How can Jesus be an objectivly good moral teacher, if morality isn't a truth-apt statement of fact?

If the morality we experience today was simply shaped by evolution, then presumably, it will continue developing over the next few thousand years (judging by how quickly it has developed and changed from 4000 years ago, and today). It this is the case, then presumably in 1000 years the teachings of Jesus will no longer be relevant, and as such his teachings are clearly not 'timeless'. To suggest there is a 'timeless' morality suggests objective or absolute morals, which cannot exist without a divine law giver.

Another problem with this is if Jesus' teachings are 'timeless' then why must...
Haven wrote:Christian atheist['s], feel it is up to [them] as rational human beings to radically reinterpret Jesus' message to suit life in our (post-)modern world.
...as Haven suggests in his second post. If they are timeless, then they are not restricted by their culture and context. However, Haven at different times in this debate argues that they are. As I said earlier, it is making the evidence suit the conclusion (that Jesus is a good moral teacher) and not the other way around.

This appears to be a contradiction within one of his deeper views (a view that perhaps shapes his opinions on the issue at hand) and actually not really something we are debating here. However I think it is perhaps why the second logical contradiction takes place.

However, I will pause for a moment here. I want to clarify that I am not trying to throw arguments at my opponent when I know he doesn't have the change to answer them. I wanted to raise the point above simply because I think it presents a logical inconsistency within the discussion. It doesn't undermine the argument for Jesus being a good moral teacher without God, however I wanted to bring it to Haven's attention anyway, as I think it perhaps shapes the problem I will now discuss.

To conclude, I think that you can change the meaning of the word 'God' to mean 'the highest human ideals and aspirations' and still have a good system of morality. However, I said the following in my opening statement:
His Name Is John wrote:Also I would like to clarify what we are not debating. We are not debating if Jesus was a good moral teacher. We both agree on that. We are not debating the existence of God either, but rather the need for God in order for Jesus to be a good moral teacher. Haven has put forward what he believes, and I shall put forward why I disagree. My basic view on the matter is that Jesus' teachings were so closely linked with a belief in God, that editing the divine from the picture is to take his teachings out of context, and to remove much of the intended meaning.
I think I have demonstrated that section in bold is correct.

Haven himself agrees that he has changed the intended meaning of the word 'God', and to remove his deeply theistic context.

I presented arguments in my last post, shown how to be a Christian Atheist is to go against Jesus' intended meaning when he spoke about the greatest commandment (as he clearly meant God). This leaves us with one final ultimatum:

Either Jesus isn't a great moral teacher.

Or:

If we are to follow Jesus' moral teaching as he intended it we must believe God exists.

I don't know about Haven, but I am more inclined to go with option number two.
“People generally quarrel because they cannot argue.�
- G.K. Chesterton

“A detective story generally describes six living men discussing how it is that a man is dead. A modern philosophic story generally describes six dead men discussing how any man can possibly be alive.�
- G.K. Chesterton

Post Reply