Friday, June 24, 2011

"The Good Book"

Where to start? First blog post. Let's jump right in to The Bible and consider where our morals and ethics come from. Do people learn morals and ethics from The Bible? What morals are they learning? If you don't read "The Good Book" can you be good?

I am going to post the video (Which is from the 2009 DVD, Ready For This?). Then I will post the lyrics. If anyone is still reading after this, I will post some comments from Tim Minchin that he wrote on a message board in response to the question, "Where do morals and ethics come from?". Discuss.

Lyrics: Life is like an ocean voyage and our bodies are the ships
And without a moral compass we would all be cast adrift
So to keep us on our bearings the lord gave us a gift
And like most gifts ya get it was a book.

I only read one book but it's a Good Book don't you know
I act the way I act because the Good Book tells me so
If I want to know how to be good it's to the Good Book that I go,
Cos the Good Book is a book and it is good and it's a book.

I know the Good Book's good because the Good Book says it's good
I know the Good Book knows it's good cos a really Good Book would
You couldn't cook without a cookbook and I think it's understood
You can't be good without a Good Book cos it is good and it's a book and it is good for cooking chook

I tried to read some other books but I soon gave up on that
The paragraphs ain't numbered and they complicate the facts
I can't read Harry Potter cos they're worshipping false gods and that
And Dumbledore's a poofter and that's bad cos it's not good.

Morality is written there in simple white and black
I feel sorry for you heathens got to think about all that
Good is good and Evil's bad and goats are good and pigs are crap
You'll find which one is which in the Good Book cos it's good and it's a book and it's a book.

I had a cat she gave birth to a litter
The kittens were adorable and they made my family laugh
But as they grew they started misbehaving
So I drowned the little fuckers in the bath
When the creatures in your care start being menaces
The answers can be found right there in Genesis
(Chapter six, verses five to seven).

Swing your partner by the hand
Have a baby if you can
But if the voices in your head
Say to sacrifice your kid
To satiate your loving God's
Fetish for dead baby blood
It's simple faith the book demands
So raise that knife up in your hands.

Before the Good Book made us good there was no good way to know
If a thing was good or not that good or kind of touch and go
So God decided he'd give writing allegoric prose a go
And so he wrote a book and it was generally well-received.

The Telegraph said, "This God is reminiscent of the Norse"
The Times said, "Kind of turgid, but I liked the bits with horses"
The Mail said "Lots of massacres – a violent tour de force
"If you only read one book this year, then this one is a book and it is good and it's a book."

Swing your daughter by the hand
But if she gets raped by a man
And refuses then to marry him
Stone her to death.

If you just close your eyes and block your ears
To the accumulated knowledge of the last 2000 years
Then morally, guess what, you're off the hook
And thank Christ you only have to read one book.

Just because the book's contents
Was written generations hence
By hairy desert-dwelling gents
Squatting in their dusty tents
Just because what heaven said
Was said before they'd leavened bread
Just cos Jesus couldn't read
Doesn't mean that we should need
When manipulating human genes
To alleviate pain or fight disease
When deciding whether it's wrong or right
To help the dying let go of life
Or to stop a pregnancy when it's
Just a tiny blastocyst
There's no reason that we should take a look
At any other book but the Good Book cos it is good and it's a book
And it's a book and it's quite good.

Good is good and evil's bad and kids get killed when God gets mad
You'd better take a good look at the Good Book.

Now if you really want to dig into Tim Minchin's mind and heart, read his response when asked, "Where do you think human morals and ethics come from?".

"As we all know (or should), the tendency of religion to lay claim to morality is ridiculous. The Ancient Greeks - for example - were much more advanced in their contemplation of morality (and, arguably, just plain more moral) than the writers of the Bible. And they were cruising around 300 - 750 years pre-Josh.

I have no doubt that morality is a selected trait. ie - somewhere along the line, members of our species who failed to act in the best interests of their entire group failed to survive.*

But it's so complex, because specific ethical standards and moral norms change quite rapidly and at different rates in different places. In fact, one of the great challenges humans face is in trying to balance the need for understanding of others and the need to protect the rights of our fellow humans. For example, apparently we need to "respect" the choices of radical Islamists (freedom of religion and all that), but that means accepting the abuse of women.

This is why I am so passionate (at least intellectually and comedically) about Atheism. I know that we aint going to win the battle in my lifetime nor in the ten generations to come. But this I think is true:

If you accept Faith as a basis for morality then you MUST logically accept that other people are going to use THEIR faith as a moral base. You cannot believe in God and Jesus and the idea that your morality comes from a 2000 yr-old book and then go whingeing if people fly planes into your buildings. They're only playing by the rules you condone: the eschewal of reason and the adherence to mythology that is both extremely powerful and massively open to interpretation.

Hopefully, one day, we will grow up and realize that morality should not be treated relativistically - I think it needs to be treated as an ongoing human discussion, the goal of which is global concurrence. Obviously that goal will forever elude us, but maybe that's how it should be approached. And as times change, we need to be able to adjust. (Of course moderate Christians are the greatest adjusters of all. They just keep reinterpreting the text as morality moves forward. "Oh yes, Jesus would have been cool with woman priests and gay adoption". Fuck off. Jesus would've looked at you like you'd just asked him if he'd like his kebab microwaved.)

Sorry, that's some pretty open-ended and wildly idealistic thoughts."

Edit: When I first posted this, I forgot to include the asterisked footnote: *A really nice discussion on Altruism can be found on the last documentary made by Rhian Skirving (who is also making "Rock n Roll Nerd"!) It's called "The Kindness of Strangers" and apart from the lovely soundtrack (cough), it has interviews with all sorts of amazing people. One of whom Dawkins, who of course came to fame on the back of his book, "The Selfish Gene". hmm. Interesting. I'm not sure how one would find this doco. ABC stores?


  1. Every day for the last 6 weeks I have spent most of my days Monday thru Friday caring for a sister that is 2 years older than me because she fell and broke both her arms badly. Last wednesday during a conversation about my fundamentalist sister who had come to visit her, my broken arms sister, who knows I am an atheist, told me that I was not moral and chose atheism so I could live my life without constraints. We nearly had a big falling out, but I let her rant and did not reply. Had I "fought back", she would have told me to leave and her care would have fallen on to family members who really have no time to care for her, as they all have full time jobs. My broken arm sister is not a church goer in any way, her views of christianity are "customized to suit her needs". I find that most people like my sister just give no logical thought to what they say. It is truly amazing to me that this sister has me fixing her meals and taking care of all of her personal needs and can sit with a straight face and say I have no morals because I do not believe in her "customized god". Christians, even nominal "customized god" type of christians rarely have much intellectual curiosity, and that is certainly the case with my sister. I think that until our country begins to really revere and appreciate intelligence and intellectual curiosity we will be stuck with the fundamentalist and the "customized god" believers.

  2. Hey, thanks for my first comment! It sounds like you have a lot on your hands, giving your time and energy to care someone and then not feeling your views are understood or respected. I agree it is quite annoying when we take the time to think through this stuff and make hard choices, and people assume we just give no thought at all to our beliefs or choices. In reality, it seems many people just take the easy out of letting "The Good Book" and the preachers that claim to understand it make their choices for them.

    I've also had moments of family rejection and strife because of my beliefs. It is crazy. Thanks again for your comments. I hope your sister heals soon!

  3. I recommend listening to Scott Clifton on youtube for an interesting point of view on moral right and wrong from a non theistic point of view. It may be a bit simplistic but is a good starting point.

  4. 1. I have liked all of Tim’s songs and poems that I have seen. It has been very refreshing to listen to his humor, satire and just fun stuff. Sometimes it feels like religion cannot be discussed rationally, it can only be mocked and Tim does a good job of it.
    2. The so call bible morality has always seemed strange to me. The idea that we could have bad thoughts was the first thing that raised a question in my mind. I always knew that thoughts weren’t very controllable and for something to be a sin that you cannot control just seemed wrong. Doing meditation proves how hard it is to control your thoughts. Biblical morality also seems to fly in the face of reality. There are exceptions to all of the commandments, but we don’t talk about that. In my later years the items that were missing from bible seemed to be very important – slavery, human rights, and environment.
    3. The question seems to be is there another approach to morality that is more universal. I think that is the point that Sam Harris brings up. Each religion has its own morality – we need to find a better and more universal approach to discussing this. I believe religion attempts to hijack morality to justify itself. I think that people had some type of morality long before religion. Religion can easily be a barrier to morality.
    4. We accept those biblical stories because we grew up with them – otherwise they just seem crazy. I guess people love the idea of god – it is like loving an idea, painting, book or car but they don’t really love you back. The loving god thing is just another religious trick so you will buy into whole religion thing.
    5. I have never felt the bible had much merit and was extremely boring. I did not understand most of the stories. There are a lot better books – why is Shakespeare a better writer than god. When I read the Tao I felt I was reading something monumental and universal – not true with the bible.
    6. Yes I think that our biology affects our morality. I remember reading something that fundamentalist tend to have a larger amygdala – the part of the brain that processes emotions and fear. Is that why they are so afraid of change and always want to go backwards because they are biologically more prone to fear.
    7. I am more and more troubled with the idea of respect for religions – not a good thing for a UU. UU’s tend to be accommodationalists – with the freedom of religion philosophy. Many atheists are becoming confrontationalists – it is time to challenge these crazy religious beliefs. Tim is right, if you are going to respect their religion you would also have to respect their right to do crazy religious things.
    8. Taken from Scott Clifton
    Morally right – promotes happiness, wellbeing or health
    Or minimizes unnecessary harm or suffering
    Morally wrong – diminishes happiness, wellbeing or health
    Or causes unnecessary harm or suffering
    Rather than having absolutes like religions supposedly has, we have the basis for discussions – does homosexual marriage promote happiness and wellbeing (yes) does it diminish happiness or wellbeing (only in the minds of fundamentalists)

    I hope this kick starts some discussion.

  5. Thanks, uuatheist. Well, I will be happy to discuss with you, especially the idea of UUs being “accomadationalists”. That is one of the things I am beginning to struggle with, and perhaps why I am so attracted to Minchin, (and why I started this blog). Like, whoa, what will happen when we get to
    “The Pope Song”? Or “Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins”? Will I be able to reconcile these scathing critiques of religious people with my UU heritage of valuing the inherent worth and dignity of every human? I am sure this has been addressed many times within our community, but I haven’t dealt with this aspect of cognitive dissonance yet, and am choosing to go through the process (publicly) here. Hopefully, it will force me to start doing the research and asking the hard questions that I may have been too lazy to think about in the past.
    1. “Sometimes it feels like religion cannot be discussed rationally, it can only be mocked”. My heart wants to disagree with you. I want to find a way to discuss it rationally (so I’m wondering about the path I’m on, where I’m enjoying the mocking part).
    3. I had to look up Sam Harris, and this will give me a lot more material to consider as well.
    6. “I remember reading something that fundamentalist tend to have a larger amygdala – the part of the brain that processes emotions and fear. Is that why they are so afraid of change and always want to go backwards because they are biologically more prone to fear.” I have never heard this. It is interesting for me to consider this, since I went through a phase when I was a fundamentalist, and I did have a persistent sense of fear. In hindsight, I have always attributed that to being depressed. If there is, such a biological feature that contributes to moral tendencies, how can one change worldviews?
    7. As I said above, I am more troubled by this acceptance as well, and THAT troubles me. I wonder if there if this inclination is becoming more pervasive in our denomination?
    8. And this reminds me of what Marshall Rosenberg teaches about emotions. There are not good emotions of bad emotions, or even positive or negative emotions. There are “feelings when our needs are satisfied” and “feelings when our needs are not satisfied”. Neither are right or wrong; we should use them to identify when our needs aren’t being met and make changes accordingly. Not sure if that completely relates.

    The numbers I didn’t address, I mostly agreed, or didn’t have more to add. Thanks for contributing to this discussion!

  6. I ran across this from Richard Wade on the Friendly Atheist web site and thought it was interesting. Religion does offer emotional support as long as you can take the fear and restrictions. The UU church does answer a few of these needs for people.

    Your former religion gave you emotional and social benefits:

    * It reassured you that death is not the end of you.
    * It reassured you that a parent figure loves you and is protecting you.
    * It gave you a sense of meaning or purpose.
    * It made you feel important both in the cosmos and in your community.
    * It gave you guidelines to follow. Many things were already decided for you.
    * It gave you easy, pat answers for tough questions and complex dilemmas.
    * It gave you external forgiveness for your screw-ups.
    * It gave you the comfort and confidence of being in the majority.
    * It gave you social approval and affirmation.
    * It gave you a group you could draw upon for practical help.
    * It gave you fun things to do with people who were like you.

  7. Yes, many of those are true. I feel I've "grown" now that I don't want many of these things (guidelines to follow, easy answers, external forgiveness, life after death), while I still do want some of these (sense of meaning, group for help, fun things to do), so my UU church does provide some of these same benefits.

  8. I agree - it is time for atheists, skeptics, free thinker, agnostics, etc to come out of the closet. In reading several atheist blogs the emphasis is getting people to say that they are not religious rather than trying to convert Christians (which is almost impossible to do)

  9. Found this on a blog called Camels with Hammers and liked it.

    I always hate to be called an atheist – it characterizes me in terms of what I don’t believe, rather than in terms of what I do believe. And that sucks. Worse, the label itself seems purely negative: ok, so there’s no God, but what is there? And worst of all, the label comes with way too much baggage.

    I’d like to propose a label that captures most of what most atheists do seem to believe in: evolution. Stop calling me an atheist.

    Call me an evolver.

  10. uuatheist, Regarding converting Christians, yeah, I really have no desire to convert Christians in their personal beliefs about god, but I would like to convert some in their personal beliefs about atheists. I'd like for them to respect my beliefs, as I respect theirs, but often they don't.

    Regarding the label, I like "evolver"! Are you going to change your screen name? For some reason, I can't find our blog. Do you have a blog? I feel like I've looked at it before, but now I'm lost.

  11. Hey, I forgot to mention, I changed my screen name here to snicketmom, instead of tim mUUsing, because it is what I use everywhere else online.