Are Christians outsourcing their morality to God? Greg and Amy explain why it makes sense for people who are convinced Christianity is true to believe what the Bible says about morality and reject the relativistic view that we can choose our own morality.
Question: How would you respond to someone who says Christians don’t think for themselves; they blindly follow?
Greg: Well, there’s some truth to that, but it’s not limited to Christians. This is characteristic of human beings in culture. Most of what human beings believe and do, they do as a result of the culture around them. They’re socialized to act and believe a certain way. So, this isn’t a failure of Christians.
Certainly, when it comes to Christianity proper, Christianity is much more self-reflective about the ideas that it promotes than secular culture. This is why you have theology books and systematic theology. In other words, you have books about how to live a good Christian life. This is why you have apologetics books. We have vast resources demonstrating the thoughtfulness of Christianity regarding the ideas of Christianity. It turns out, just about everybody after the time of Jesus, up until the 19th century, almost virtually every one of the major thinkers of Western civilization were Christian theists. So, it isn’t as if Christian theism hasn’t produced good things to think about or hasn’t produced a lot of people who take these things seriously.
However, Christians are people, like others, and they don’t always think through everything. They get socialized. The issue isn’t whether they get socialized to believe things. The issue is whether the things they get socialized to believe are true or not.
Amy: There have been times when I’ve been on Twitter, and I’ve talked about something about God being trustworthy in what he says about morality, and then the atheist will get upset and say, “You’re outsourcing your moral thinking by just trusting what God says or what the Bible says.” But the truth is, if the Bible is the Word of God, then it makes sense to accept what God says about morality. This is where I think what’s part of what’s going on here is, sometimes, atheists in the past have really objected to the idea when I’ve said that they have a worldview. I couldn’t figure out why they were objecting to that idea. A worldview just means that all of your ideas fit together in some sort of coherent way, or I guess you could have a worldview that’s incoherent.
Greg: A lot of people do. But you’re right. I mean, it’s a view of the way reality is.
Amy: So, if, let’s say, there’s no God, well, there are a lot of ideas that follow from that, and so, to be consistent, to be logical and rational, you would accept those other ideas. Well, they really objected to that. And what I finally think dawned on me one time because of what they were saying is that they didn’t like the idea that one idea would entail another idea. They wanted to choose every idea for themselves. They didn’t want to have to accept some sort of bigger picture that resulted from one of their ideas.
Greg: It’s so odd because these are the brights, as Daniel Dennett refers to atheists. These are the rational folk. These are the skeptics who are trying to have a coherent, rational, reasonable worldview, when, then, they push back on the whole notion of entailment, and that’s standard. I’m just trying to think of the notion here. If Nancy’s taller than Mary, and Mary is taller than Beth, then Nancy is taller than Beth. That’s an entailment relationship. It’s a transitive property. When you say certain things, it entails other things that are native and belong to that thing. That’s called reasonable rationality. That’s called coherence. If you say, “I walk through the front door of my house,” what’s entailed is that your house has doors. If they are not willing to understand that, then all that means is they are committed to their own fantasies.
By the way, the giveaway here is the complaint that we are outsourcing our morality to God. What’s the alternative of outsourcing morality? You don’t outsource it. You do it yourself. That’s relativism. All the failure to outsource is—is to say I am an adequate source of my own morality. That’s Stalin. That’s Mao. That’s Lenin. That’s Pol Pot. That’s Jeffrey Dahmer. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. They’re not outsourcing their morality to anybody. They’re doing their own thing. There’s an entailment.
Now, if an atheist complains you’re outsourcing, well, what’s the alternative? This is a question that needs to be asked a lot. What’s the alternative? You don’t outsource it? Then you do your own thing. You do your thing. Hitler did his thing. Mussolini did his thing. Pol Pot did his own thing. I’m just using clear-case examples where people followed their own impulses. They didn’t outsource to anybody. They did their own thing. You do you. Look what happened. So, do you complain about that? Do you complain that Christians are forcing their morality on you? What if those Christians are just doing their own thing? So, what is the basis of your complaint when they are doing essentially what you say they should be doing?
Amy: So, I think what I would say here is, as Christians, we’re beholden to reality. We want to think consistently, and we want to match our ideas to reality, and we want to receive the ideas from others that match reality, just as we do with any area of knowledge. We take in the ideas that match reality.
Greg: By the way, can I just offer an adjustment? I think it’s not as Christians, but it’s as thoughtful human beings we’re trying to do this, and we are Christians because we think that the Christian take of reality does match reality the way it actually is.
Amy: And is it the case that some Christians have never thought about why they’re Christians? Sure. Of course. I’m sure the same is true for some atheists. But, like you pointed out, Greg, there are certainly plenty of people who have thought about it. And let’s say I’m growing up, and I’m in a calculus class. Well, I didn’t have to discover calculus in order to learn calculus. There are people who thought about calculus before, and I could look at what their reasoning is, and I can see that it works, and I can accept that, and the same is true for even those who have never worked out why Christianity is true. They’ve received it from people who have thought about it a lot, and this is no different from anything.
So, if a Christian has found that God actually does exist, that he inspired his Word, we can see in the Bible what the truth is about morality. Well, it makes sense to follow that, even if we don’t understand it at first, because there are a lot of things we don’t understand since we’re catechized by our culture, and we think all sorts of wrong things about what it means to be human or what it means to have a human body, and all these different things. We can look at the Bible for the first time, when we’re just learning it, and it might not make sense to us yet because we just don’t understand it well enough yet, but it still makes sense to accept what it says, even in that case, if it is true that God exists and that Christianity is true. I don’t know if I would call that blindly following. I think I would call it, again, entailment. If God exists and Christianity is true, then therefore these other things follow, even if we wouldn’t have come to them on our own.
Greg: It’s trusting a reliable authority. I mean, this is just like we do with almost everything else we know. Let me back up and put it this way. The vast majority of things that we know, we do not know through personal experience. We know because somebody we believe is trustworthy has told us.
Amy: Finally, I think if somebody told me this—Christians don’t think for themselves; they blindly follow—I think I would start asking, “What is your response to the kalam cosmological argument? What is your response to the moral argument? What is your response to the argument from contingency or teleological design?” See how much they have thought about this. They might find that maybe they haven’t thought about it quite as much as they claimed, and this is just a slogan that they’ve picked up.
Greg: It’s hard for me to think of a religious view that has put into it anything even close to the kind of thought Christianity has put into it. Maybe Judaism. Islam a little bit, more than certainly Hinduism or Buddhism. I mean, these are complex worldviews, but it isn’t like they are displayed for us to accept. They are not thought through. In my experience with them, they’re a series of assertions about the way the world is. It’s not an assessment. It’s an assumption that one lives by. Now, the assumption may include complexity to it, but there’s no complexity to the analysis or the assessment of it, and that’s why people say, “I’ve been Buddhist because I like Buddhism. I like this idea or this—or, in a very general sense, it makes sense to me.” Reincarnation. What goes around comes around. You live through the cycles of life, and one day you’ll just disappear into the spiritual ether if you live long enough, if you have a successful series of reincarnations.