The Instigator
Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss
Pro (for)
Losing
3 Points
The Contender
NapoleonofNerds
Con (against)
Winning
15 Points

Religion does not supply an a priori unchanging objective a system of morality.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/5/2008 Category: Religion
Updated: 9 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 1,026 times Debate No: 1424
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (6)
Votes (6)

 

Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss

Pro

Many fundamentalist claim that their religion provides an objective a priori moral system. If this was true one would expect the morality promoted by the religion would be consistent over time. While I can't speak for all religions Christianity morality has radically changed over years

Catholic Past Protestant Past Catholic Present --------Protestant Present
Unbabtised babies go to hell.
Yes --------------Yes------(recently limbo, now no) --------no

For torture
Yes --------------Yes -------------No --------------------Yes

For Capital punisment
Yes ---------------Yes -------------No --------------------Yes

For Genocide
Yes------------ unclear ------------no ----------------more clearly no

For slavery
yes------------ yes--------------- no ----------------------no

For Usury
No ----------------No------------ i don't know------------- Yes

For socialism
yes then no ------some yes no ----less yes ----------------most no

For Preemptive war
No ----------------No------------- NO ------------------------Yes

For Drug trade
unclear--------- firmly yes ------no -------no when non whites started dealing

For public schools
no ---------When all white------- no --------------------not anymore

For freedom of Religion
NO---------- yes/no---------( recently yes now less so)---- mostly no
NapoleonofNerds

Con

The argument you present here is a complete straw man. Most if not all of the things you cite are not part of the unchanging moral code that Catholics believe in dogmatically, and Protestants have no reason to claim that anything not written in the Bible isn't subject to change, so this is basically a question of Catholic moral theology within a Christian context. I'll throw out there that for Jews and Muslims the law is the law and that's it, but this seems overly rigid and lacks the response to change necessary for long term stability and growth as a religious body.

For Protestants morality can and frequently does change, and any Protestant making a claim about specific unchanging a priori ethics, especially for anything extrabiblical, are in serious need of a theology course.

I'm going to address your parade of straw men one at a time before I present a more cogent look at what an unchanging ethical system really is.

The status of unbaptised infants isn't an ethical question, but even if it were no dogmatic teaching was ever formulated on this issue for or against it.

Your torture point in the Protestant column is specious, because you seem to be taking George W. Bush as a paragon of Protestant ethical thought which is horrifying to every Protestant outside of fundamentalist Evangelical Christianity. The use of torture was actually though humane by most people in the Middle Ages in comparison to the mob killings which were far more common. Even when torturing people it was not used to extract confessions which could be used in court (the tortured had been found guilty already), and there were specific laws limiting its use. Like the Death Penalty, the Church has reconsidered what is humane treatment over time as the philosophy of personhood and rights has developed, but it has always taught that there's some basic level of legal protection all people should enjoy.

Genocide is the systematic intentional killing of a group of people. This was unknown in Catholic circles, or in fact almost any circles, until the modern era.

Slavery is another issue that did not seem wrong to Catholics in 325 because they had no notion of rights or freedom. It is not until much later that the notion Slavery is wrong developed.

Usery is unethical collecting of interest on debts. Loan sharking, predatory lending, exploiting the poor, and any other immoral charging of rates has always been held to be immoral. Before modern financial systems, all usery was predatory and exploitive, because there was no notion that lending money for profit was actually beneficial to society. Remember that modern economics is only as old as the United States.

We were never for socialism as a political system. Nobody ever was. No idea where you got this from.

Again, George Bush and the political right that calls itself Christian are not examples of moral theologians.

Most theologians only oppose the drug trade on the grounds that it is illegal. How to use which drugs is fundamentally a private moral choice that isn't universally applied.

"For public schools" isn't a moral choice and nobody opposed them on political grounds. The Catholics only had problems with them in the US, and then because it was the policy of American schools to teach Protestant Religious Education with the King James Bible in public schools, so Catholics were specifically discriminated against and used Catholic lower schools to break out of the system.

"For freedom of religion" is again not a moral concern. It's a practical statement about how society should be run. And any society has certain beliefs that it finds unacceptable and punishes or socially stigmatizes. In the US, denying the holocaust or advancing the position that black people are inferior to white people is as much a heresy as Catharism was in the 1300s.

A true a priori moral system is not a series of unchanging positive or negative injunctions, it's a basic set of principles that moral reasoning can be based on. The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Works of Mercy, the Capitol Sins and Virtues, the Greatest Commandments, these are the unchanging things that create a moral framework. Loving you neighbour in 1007 looked a lot different than it does in 2007, and I imagine in 3007 it will look profoundly different again, but the key to moral reasoning isn't any specific action or non-action, it's the constant guideline that we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves. You've confused individual moral issues which change and develop, along with people's perceptions, with a concrete set of moral ideals which do not and have not changed, and which allow moral reasoning in any situation which takes into account developments in other areas of human understanding. Just as American laws have changed drastically but the Constitution remains basically the same, individual moral questions have had different answers, but the bases for these answers have not wavered.
Debate Round No. 1
Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss

Pro

I find your views on history and morality interesting. I am a bit confused because you seemed to have actually made my point. Since you chose to oppose my proposition I am in a bit of confused as to what you are exactly you are opposing. I will restate my opinion and see if we really do differ.

During the last few years there has been increasing trend amongst conservative members of the Abrahamic religions in the United States to abandon arguments based on our shared values deriving from predominantly western culture in favor of arguments based on specific religious beliefs. According to their argument western morality can not evolve to accommodate such innovations as gay marriage, but is fixed and unchanging based on religious commandments that are unchanging. They further argue that they are duty bound to enact this morality into law rather than just preach about it.

Your comments on torture are ones with which I am complete agreement. As you state torture was in the Roman empire and for sometime after words intended as a way for an accused person to demonstrate their innocence before people had watched CSI on the telly.

Although I have to say that the church also employed torture as a punishment for heresy. And, executions of criminals often included an elaborate and lengthy use of torture before the actual killing of the condemned.

You argue that as the things changed the Church adapted its moral stance consistently with its principals. This is exactly the kind of morality that I support.

The kind of morality I oppose is where people claim they have been told by God that homosexuality is forbidden and because of this morality regarding homosexuality can never change and they are obliged to force members of other faiths to conform with their believes through the use of secular law.

Another problem I have with this kind of thinking is how arbitrary the decisions the Catholic church are as to which beliefs are enforced in this manner.

Why is the Catholic Church against domestic partnerships on the basis of their opposition to homosexuality, but don't have any political position on the purveyors of gluttony?

Why does the Catholic church threaten excommunication for politicians who support abortion rights but threatens to defrock pastors who urge politicians to provide food for the poor?

Why are Catholics required to use secular law to oppose abortion, but are forbidden to petition the government to end starvation?

My understanding of Judaism, and Islam is that these types of discrepancies are quite common with them as well, but as I already have stated I am not well versed enough in these religions to provide specific examples.

One other little question for fundamentalist protestants why do they follow the bible and reject science on evolution, but follow science and reject the bible (which strongly suggest that human life begins with the first breath) on the beginning of humanity.
NapoleonofNerds

Con

Your position, stated in the resolution, was that Religion doesn't supply an a priori unchanging moral system. I'm saying it does provide one, just not the one that Protestants who don't understand Christianity think it does. Your case wasn't that any specific moral principle is unchanging, but that an unchanging moral system doesn't exist at all. You're saying that now you believe one does exist, so I'm the confused one.

Commandments are unchanging, but their interpretations and applications vary from age to age. Sodomy remains wrong, but what Sodomy actually means has changed a great deal in 4000 or so years, just as the works of mercy have taken on a different meaning in different social contexts throughout the 2000 years of Christian history. It's not any one specific teaching which forms the core of these beliefs, it's a larger moral framework from which specific, potentially fallible doctrines can be derived.

The Church doesn't have the capacity to make the laws it might want on every issue, and even if it did some of those laws would be bad ones. But the basis for those laws: respect for life and the dignity of human people, care for the poor, love of neighbour, these form an unchanging system of ethics which has subsisted in authentic Christian thought from the time of the Apostles to the modern age.

You seem to be confusing a system of ethics with unchanging uniformity on every issue across all time. You present a false dichotomy between historical uniformity and a total lack of objective morality. There is an objective moral code typified by religious values which exists independent of changes in societal norms. Much of what Christians believe about certain issues is unsettled, but the only reason Christians, especially Catholics, have the ability to reasonably discuss ethics without talking past one another is that they have a shared set of immutable values which have existed across time and which must be assented to if one wishes to call themselves a Catholic.

Those values include:

Love of God and love of neighbour (The Greatest Commandments)

1. Feed the hungry
2. Give drink to the thirsty
3. Clothe the naked
4. Shelter the homeless
5. Visit the imprisoned
6. Visit the sick
7. Bury the dead

1. Admonish the sinner
2. Instruct the ignorant
3. Counsel the doubtful
4. Comfort the sorrowful
5. Bear wrongs patiently
6. Forgive all injuries
7. Pray for the living and the deceased (The Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy)

A love for the various virtues and gifts which come from God (The Cardinal Virtues, the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit, etc)

These are the things that form a moral framework, not a disjoint series of laws and precepts. Moral reasoning doesn't come about from a checklist like the one that you find in the profile pages of debate.org, it comes from a deeply held set of values that inform every decision, and no group, philosophy, or institution does a better job of laying out and promoting those principles than religious bodies.

Irrelevant side notes: Torture wasn't a punishment for heresy, it served the same purpose it did in the Roman Empire. Confession was usually a way for the convicted heretic to avoid being handed over to civil authorities because having recanted the heretic was allowed to live in normal society again.

The Church doesn't defrock pastors who aid the poor or forbid political advocacy on social justice issues. I have no idea where that came from.
Debate Round No. 2
Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss

Pro

My argument about defrocking priests comes in part from the broad rejection of Liberation philosophy by the Church and the current Pope in particular.

here's a bit from Wikipedia on the subject

In March 1983, Cardinal Ratzinger made "ten observations" on aspects of Guti�rrez's theology, including accusing Guti�rrez of politically interpreting the Bible and of supporting a temporal messianism. Ratzinger also declared that the influence of Marxism was proven by the predominance accorded to orthopraxis over orthodoxy. Finally, this document states that these conceptions necessarily uphold a similar class conflict inside the Church, which logically leads to a rejection of hierarchy. During the 1980s and 1990s, Ratzinger continued his condemnation of these strains within liberation theology, prohibiting some dissident priests from teaching the doctrines in the Catholic Church's name and excommunicating Tissa Balasuriya in Sri Lanka for doing exactly that. Under his influence, theological formation schools were prohibited from using the Catholic Church's organization and grounds to teach these condemned theological formulations.

The Catholic church almost always supports rightest governments and rightest insurgencies. It played a pivotal role in bringing Pinochet to power in a bloody coup, the most recent coup in Haiti, and the most recent coup in Venezuela's. It played a huge role in the election George W. Bush and the subsequent abandonment of constitutional government in America. It supported keleptocracies through out eastern Europe where state property was either corruptly sold at ridiculous prices or outright stolen causing the collapse of virtually all the economies as well as a dramatic drop in life expectancies.

Despite what church leaders say Jesus was not a precursor Adam Smith. He did repeatedly remind people that spiritual help was greater than material help. But he encouraged people to give all their money to the poor, to pay taxes, not to worry about future, and to obey temporal authorities.

Here is the wikipedia link to Christan socialists
http://en.wikipedia.org...

It is hard to read about the life of Jesus and believe that he would have more in common with the conservative Christians who preach several heresies such as that taxation could be construed as theft.

On the torture front you are simply wrong. Both Religious and secular authorities incorporated elaborate torture as part of the execution of Prisoners. It was common for example to cut out the tongues of heretics, which would obviously tend more towards precluding confession than facilitating it.

My central argument is that Churches claim that the oppose homosexuality, abortion, and even the progressive income tax because it is forbidden in the bible and that they endorse always living according to the morality in the bible is just flatly a lie.

Christians churches have not consistently observed all, most or even the most significant portions of morality as it is presented in the Bible. It is especially telling that the two major issues for conservative Christians where nowhere mentioned by Jesus.

Even though Jesus lived in the midst of Hellenistic society which definitely included the Roman providences which are now part of present day Israel, he never said a thing about homosexuality which was an institution in Hellenistic society.

Jesus also did not say a word about abortion though it was common practice.

The bible nowhere says that life begins at conception. The implication of God's creation of man is clearly that life begins when the soul enters the body with the Babies first breath. Which is also supported in the scientific fact that in comparison with other vertebrates, humans are born with almost no software. If you feed and take care of a baby but don't interact with it socially it will not "boot up" and will simply turn itself off.

Returning again to the things that Jesus did say to do. He specifically endorsed taxation although the Jewish people being occupied at the time hated Roman taxes.

He said that it was very difficult for the Rich to receive salvation. The church said that slavery was ok because it brought savages to Christs. But it opposes a progressive income tax which Jesus clearly indicates would save more souls.

Simply put In many churches their message is a blend Christianity and of Rightest political philosophy with no particular emphasis on Christianity.

Summing it up:
Conservative Churches do not promote all aspects of morality presented in the bible and actively oppose some parts of the bible.

While there are some Christian virtues that could be considered a core part of Christianity conservative Christians do not universally promote or even accept these virtues.

The main point is that conservative religious leaders claim that they get all of their morality from the bible and the follow it consistently. However the reality is the morality presented by conservative religious leaders comes from a variety of sources with no particular preference given to the sacred books that underlie their religions.

While they claim to subscribe to an objective moral system, their positions are actually more variable than those who adopt a relativistic moral system.
NapoleonofNerds

Con

This round has two things in it: philosophical debate about the nature of a moral system and (I think, irrelevant) side debate on individual acts and positions of Christians generally and the Catholic Church specifically. I'm going to talk about the meat of the round, the philosophy of it, first, and then get into the factual debate with whatever space I have left.

Your arguments about morality all fall short because you don't seem to appreciate what a moral system actually is. It's a framework of values from which moral choices can be made, not a checklist of what's good and what isn't that is passed down unchanging from generation to generation. That was Saint Paul's problem with Jewish law - it was a legal code, but not a moral system.

But religion, including Judaism, does provide a moral framework. It creates a set of values that allow a person to make decisions about a question on a checklist. The interpretation of the values (and therefore the decision) might change, but the framework which informs the decision never has. Christianity has been and remains about those things, and Christians are at their best when they remember the core values around which the religion was formed.

I've explained this, I've even outlined, for Christians, where this framework can be derived, at least partially, but you have not responded. You didn't understand the argumentation or the proper definition of a moral system, and for this fatal flaw all the bickering about individual subjects fails, because it doesn't sufficiently analyse the larger picture.

You also seem to have two other major logical flaws. You argue a lot from absence - "Jesus didn't say [blank]." Jesus also didn't say we were allowed to have cell phones, nation states, or the middle ages, but nobody runs around arguing that we should go back entirely to life in the Ancient Near East c. AD 30.

You also make the error, like a lot of people, of mistaking a highly politicised group of people who don't authentically follow Christian values for responsible, valid Christian thought. If you want Christian theology, turn to theologians, not to Ted Haggart and the 700 Club. Authentic Church teaching, and even authentic biblical Protestantism, doesn't look like what we see from George Bush.

Now, all of that said, I want to address some of your misconceptions before I sum up.

First, Liberation Theology. I'm actually a theology student, and one of my areas of focus is Liberation Ethics. Liberation Theologians don't get in trouble for poverty advocacy. They get in trouble for supporting violent revolutions like the ones you were talking about and for deeply flawed Christology and other theological problems. Nobody has problems with responsible ministry, but heresy is still an issue. It's a theological problem that needs to be dealt with by theologians.

I'm going to say that no Christian group or individual perfectly meets up to the ideals of the Faith. That's the point - it's about seeking good, not about thinking yourself a perfect person. When we make mistakes it becomes possible to recognise and fix them only with a concrete moral framework. Without one, it becomes impossible to judge what position was right or wrong, either then or now.

In summation: Religion represents an ideal set of beliefs, and it holds to them no matter what. The consequences of those beliefs are different in different ages, and change greatly depending on time and circumstance, but the core beliefs from which all moral choices are made are eternal and unchanging, and these principles are never defined better than they are by religious bodies.
Debate Round No. 3
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss 9 years ago
Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss
The key word in the challenge was objective. I made some efforts to make this clear in round two but did not do a particularly good job of it. I very much enjoyed your ideas as well. As I said, when I looked over the debate I was disappointed in my performance. Especially in round three I seemed to go off some deep end. It was my first debate. I hope I do better next time.
Posted by NapoleonofNerds 9 years ago
NapoleonofNerds
I'll respond here too.

I did argue for a unchanging system of morality, but you never gave a definition for unchanging. If you had at the beginning I wouldn't have accepted the challenge, but for the whole debate to come down the fact that you didn't like my definitions and never challenged them over three rounds seems kind of capricious. I agree that religion doesn't and shouldn't provide the kind of ethical system your comment talks about, but that isn't the same as what the debate we just had was about.

That said, thank you, and I enjoyed the round a great deal.

And Evan, my name is a reference to Sherlock Holmes - He calls Moriarty the Napoleon of Crime, and while I'm definitely not that, the description stuck with me when it came time to choose a new AIM screenname, and now it's stuck.
Posted by Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss 9 years ago
Robert_Lee_Hotchkiss
I don't know how kosher it is to continue the argument in the comment system. But, I would just observe that I argued that Religion does not provide an objective system of morality. My opponent said that Religion provides a system of morality which are subjective to the times. He never has made an argument for an objective system morality which produces the same outcomes given the same stimulus over time. I should have made this clearer in the debate.

But he essentially never even argued that religion provides an objective morality. Rereading the argument I don't know who I would vote for as the better debater. I made a lot mistakes but he didn't really argue the point at all.
Posted by Evan_MacIan 9 years ago
Evan_MacIan
Napolean, I think you pretty clearly won that round. Go Catholicism.

Oh, and would you name be a reference to "The Napolean of Notting Hill," by chance?
Posted by NapoleonofNerds 9 years ago
NapoleonofNerds
Hope I did you proud, Raisor.
Posted by Raisor 9 years ago
Raisor
Aw, I wanted to take up this challenge...
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