The atheist Godfather Richard Dawkins recently compared morality to the principles of Christianity. During this particular debate with the Christian Oxford Professor John Lennox, Mr Dawkins implied that morality is central to good behaviour, leaving no room for the Holy Spirit. If we are morally sound as Mr Dawkins suggested, we have no need to follow fabricated spiritual nonsense! Ludicrous, deluded, barbaric are just a few words used by Dawkins when concluding his onslaught.
Dawkins believes Christianity is a religion that enforces a specific morality that expects precise and virtuous behaviour from cornered believers; a large group of varying people who are governed by an omniscient yet invisible power. Dawkins supposes a Christian is one who lives by certain rules and regulations that have imposed upon him or her divine ‘thou shalts’ and ‘thou shalt nots,’ and that behavioral conformity to these moral codes of conduct are what the Christian strives to accomplish in order to please a so called God.
It seems Mr Dawkins believes when a person seeks out the Holy Spirit, a Christian for example, they are simply confused while rifling for moral grounding in their life. Searching for a set of rules to govern over them to assure good behaviour. Being a good person, in an earlier afternoon chat show, Dawkins stated that people in general should not applaud the Christian faith for the goodness that may simply be natural. People with faith are deluded, Dawkins suggested, and should have no fear in rejecting their Christianity. By letting go these good people would still remain, well, good.
The tragic part of this delusion is individual Christians like myself have quite often faked morality to make the Christian grade, particularly when distressed, which has allowed Dawkins ample evidence to put across his stance with such vigour. As a result the average john or Josephine believes if such morality is the essence of Christianity why bother with faith at all, particularly when most of us are morally sound anyway, aren’t we?
The purpose of this blog therefore is to highlight the differences that often occur between the Holy Spirit and morality; that the Christ sighted person may have nothing whatsoever to do with moral grounding. Like Dawkins to John Lennox the Spirit of Truth and morality can appear like magnets turned, opposing forces that cannot, at times, touch hands. Morality is not always an extension of the Holy Spirit and Holy Spirit may not create the necessary foundation stone that morality so desperately needs. Morality is not a discourse, spirituality or ideology of its own. It has no base literature, no primary text that could be held up as the fundamentals of morality.
It seems nowadays morality is used by individuals to sever any connection to religion at all, while still applauding apparent good qualities that they may have. Being linked, particularly to traditional religion, is something that many avoid. Some intellectualize pride to express how morally correct they are without having so called dusty old religious rules to govern over them. Dogmatic histories wrapping them up in behavioural patterns simply will not do. By a moral stand many non Christians and Christians alike prove that religious ceremony has nothing to do with how decent we can be to others (or so we believe). As post modernity gets a firm grip also, we tend to think for ourselves to conclude our particular view of what is right or wrong. Societies fashionable perceptions of what appears to be the right thing to do is the general order of the day. Proclaim morality in front of your peers and you’ve cracked it. Perception alone, it seems, fuels the moral boundaries within us. Follow the societal code, appear to do the right thing, and all will be well.
Morality and society cannot be separated. The term ‘moral’ derives from two Latin words ‘mos’ referring to custom, tradition or habit, and ‘alis’ which refers to people. ‘Moralis’ refers to the customs and habits of the people. I read somewhere that present usage of the English word morals refer to compliance and conformity with a conception of what is good and right behaviour.
Varying generations nevertheless have differential views on what is deemed right or wrong. In pre-2nd World War Germany many eugenic theories were seen as morally sound by all professional bodies of the day, and yet murder followed in abundance. The moral code was set on a communal national agenda and staying within these ideological boundaries regardless was seen as a good thing. Self sacrifice for national gain was the moral code that most people followed. Many were alienated and suffered terrible cruelty under this supreme human gaze where a so called national greater good could be achieved. What developed under this evil realm was a discourse and ideology that clearly stated if you hindered national society you had to go. Keep within national morality and all will be well.
In post war times during welfare reforms the moral code swerved to a more social outlook. It became hip to help someone deemed less able. A few decades later media companies set out trophies to celebrate morally sound people where many were lifted up in front of cameras to receive there lifetime selfless award. In the background of this grand side show small groups of semi-professionals appeared on the intellectual scene and stood their ground against the higher professionals like architects, lawyers and bank management by aggressively suggesting a change in our architectural and financial outlook should be the way forward. Similar to Christianity, serving those less well off became a popular politically correct discourse. The Disability Programme Unit at the BBC were front runners within this positivity. Access across roads, audible traffic lights, egress into buildings and around the social arena like stadiums, restaurants and pubs changed dramatically, which brought the moral code, for a brief moment in time, closer to the Holy Spirit than ever before. Like the painting on the Sisteen Chapel ceiling they almost touched hands.
Some people were real heroes and helped society move forward. The problem however was in those of us who nodded our approval at one particular self made millionaire who promised his local northern UK youth centre, after paying for its refurbishment, “that as long as I live this youth centre will never close again”. Ramps were installed beside concrete stairs and decorative issues were addressed. The cameras showed off his tears and commitment during his opening speech, but failed to see that his kind and moral act would never sustain that youth centre for ever. The man held his trophy high and wiped away the glory tears, he felt good for the moment. This good and kind deed was morally sound but will only last until the money runs out or when the man, long after the cameras have departed, changes his mind and decides otherwise. We assume he is telling us the truth because we need a positive ending to sustain our emotional balance, but do we really know what financial burdens that community building will heap upon him in the future, say ten years. We imagine a secure ending to shelter ourselves from anger and disappointment. To maintain a healthy moral and mental balance the above story has our own fictional ending added to it. We wish the best for those children who attend the youth centre, but none of us can predict what will happen in the future, so we make it up. The truth is far from our minds. To be sure, one mans promise is far from enough security for a community centre, and everyone within it knows that. Nevertheless, our modern moral code prevents us from saying anything at all, because the man was a successful individual who performed a temporary good deed. How can that be challenged? We find and look at the kindness that was evident, and leave it at that. Futures are swept under the carpet. We are far too often afraid to challenge someone who appears bright, wealthy, charismatic and giving. Who would challenge the man who has given so much emotional stability in other peoples minds, even though only momentarily?
With this kind of fear governing our moral stance, charities lavish high wages on top performers in the giving world of cuddly animal fund raising events where the act of giving, rather than the giving itself, highlights modern morality, and we lap it up. In a world where panda bears in some cases have more value than starving children, (and why not some may still say) we still applaud and hide behind our moral stance as long as we keep away from religion, right!
We have allowed our betters (TV personalities) to govern our moral dilemma, which we overcome by “phoning the number on your screen now”. In doing this we relinquish guilt, a recent selfish act, or simply to confirm how good we can be. The spirit of truth remains untouched under such conditions. The ego is smiling all the way to another bank account.
Since the first Band Aid in the early 1980’s, the embarrassment of not giving was cashed in for a fiver. On one occasion, while putting a fiver in the pot during a pub collection, I so desperately wanted everyone to see. A few people saw, pride took over and I felt great! The truth of addiction and how I needed to overcome my overwhelming maladjustments were hidden deep within the labyrinth of my thinking, which was the real issue that should have been addressed. My fiver giving attitude never made a squat of difference to my inner being. Just give a fiver until the next time will suffice.
Therefore, I can be morally sound and spiritual sick at the same time.
It appears too that morality is often boasted as achievements to hide inner secrets, pride and fear. Morality is like a broom sweeping all the debris underneath the carpet. The rubbish we need to be rid of builds up over time, and can only be discarded in totality with help and guidance from the Spirit of Truth.
Morality therefore prevents spiritual growth. If we measure the essence of our inner most self by managing to perform a good deed every so often, then we are in trouble.
The adulation we receive through morality runs dry and must be repeated and reinvented, when the Holy Spirit remains constant. In John 4: 12 to 15 we are told that moral goodness fails when juxtaposed to the Holy Spirit.
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
13Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
15“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
In this parable the living water is the spirit of truth, and the water the woman has been drinking is similar to morality, where she must visit and revisit time and again to quench her thirst.
It is clear morals are not an essential ingredient for the truth, when the Holy Spirit is precisely that. Giving a fiver was a kind and moral act, but having this mind set did nothing when up against, for example, alcoholism. When the Holy Spirit got through on the other hand, via the 12 step programme, my inner self, or ego, was smashed. It seems, therefore, that I could be in denial and dishonest in one area of my life, and yet morally visible in many others. Holding thoughts that are no good to anyone and still be morally functional by following our societal code was viable.
Morals can change ideals over generations when the Holy Spirit cannot. The Holy Spirit unlike morality, is steadfast and the same loving energy force it always has been. The Spirit of Truth guides, rebukes, takes us to task and changes our thinking regardless.
Looking at Dawkins once again, had he ever considered the dynamics of Jesus functioning in the Christian? Regrettably not! It appears that his take on the Holy Spirit engages more in moralistic conformity that emphasizes visible external conduct rather than the spiritual dynamic of God’s grace working within someone.
There are fundamental differences between the two.
Morality feeds pride, the Holy Spirit challenges it, which can vex and disturb us at times. Morals give of comfort when the Spirit of truth can at times be painful. Morals can be action only that simply interrupt negative thoughts as a momentary pastime while the moral act is being performed. The Holy Spirit on the other hand will highlight those thoughts and bring them to the forefront of our thinking, which allows us to discard them to more mature Christians. The Holy Spirit helps us give up our inventory to redeem our inner nature. Morals are external and bound up in our attempts to both actually be good, and to appear good to others. The spirit searches out the dark caverns of our internal thinking, which makes us behave in a certain way, often irrational for the newly baptized Christian. The spirit can remind us of (and help us be rid of through confession) bad thoughts before we find peace, which can be detrimental to how we would like to behave. To search for spiritual inner peace therefore has nothing whatsoever to do with morals. We can be morally sound but spiritually corrupt. We can help an elderly person across a busy road, which is a kind and moral act, while thinking nasty thoughts about an enemy or neighbour, which is spiritual corruption that needs redeeming. We can have lustful thoughts about whoever while acting out a good and moral deed. The moral act is present while the spirit of truth is absent.
Jesus asked His disciples while knowing their thoughts, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? (Mathew 9: 4) It is our inner person that the spirit searches, which often rebukes us when we search for thanks after a good deed has been done, although what we can receive is spiritual tribulation. Our pride is hurt and we scream “but look at the good I am doing” and still we habour an uncomfortable feeling that stays with us until the inevitable confession has been uprooted.
Saint Paul tells us; “The spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who amongst men know the thoughts of man except the man’s spirit within him. In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2: 10-11)
When listening further to the Atheist godfather Richard Dawkins, while he clarified his good friends morality as an example, and how that alone is sufficient to bring about good character and wellbeing (which seems to suggest that if we all behaved like his friend then all would be well with the world) I could see quite clearly how whimsical atheism really is. What caught me most was Richard Dawkins actually believes that noticing morality in another person meant that that person is sound and stable, which many, if not all atheists, believe is enough to venture humanity forward. After hearing this I had hoped that John Lennox would jump at the chance to express, and he did briefly, that witnessing moral soundness in another person is far from enough to lead humanity the way Jesus has. We all have friends who we believe are morally good but do we really spend time with them to discuss their inner most thoughts that can at times be quite wrong, disturbing, lustful, selfish, greedy and so on. Had Dawkins ever offered his moral friend an opportunity to discuss his inner most self as a process of regeneration through some psychological means. If so I still doubt that the power present would be sufficient to bring about the truth for his friend.
To be sure, in recent years I have focused much attention and pondered over moral humanity or Christian Spirituality, and thanks to God Christ won. Since my baptism those harsh hidden truths that were locked inside me for so long were pulled from me like bad teeth, and relieved me from the stress such things caused. Having no choice in the matter, my pass deeds came out of me in the shape of tears and words, and after confession and prayer, I almost floated home after each occasion. A grateful enforcement from the Holy Spirit was working within, without any help from me. It was only the good strong Christian faith that was evident in my friends that allowed me to keep my feet on the ground. During this low and sobering period moral goodness was still viable, and yet inside my head all hell was breaking loose. I had no problems remaining morally sound, but being spiritual was practically impossible. My mind was far from clear. I’m not suggesting that Richard Dawkins friend has no morals, or some truth, just that we often fail to see the wrong in morally grounded people because many of us can hide our inner most thoughts behind boastful morals that are merely used as evidence to show others how good we can be. Having noted this, I also believe that Dawkins moral friend falls short the way the rest of us do and beholds thoughts that are no good to anyone, which is where the devil thrives in a mind that tells people of the good, but hides the bad things that eventually find isolation and a way out from inner thoughts to actions.
Recently, I read an atheist view point somewhere that stated a person cannot “justify his belief in a God in the name of reason and moral necessity”, which is absolutely true. To gain faith reason was replaced with trust and moral necessity was washed out of my thinking and replaced, as much as possible on any given day, with the Holy Spirit.
Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me”. (Romans 7: 18-21)
I try to be morally sound, simply because immorality lurks within me, which is why many of us have to shout out loud how moral we are, which we believe hides our defects. If we stay quiet long enough our sins will reveal themselves and we know it. It is therefore essential that Christians reveal their sins first through confession before they are acted on. Christianity certainly has the monopoly of the supernatural power that gives off the necessary strength to relinquish any damaging inner mental burdens to a loving God through Jesus. This is achieved by admitting (redemption) that we have immoral thoughts that flourish within us, rather than suggesting and acting out our moral soundness, which can be the opposite to much of our thinking. Jesus called some people “white washed grave stones” because they appeared clean on the outside but were full of dead dust an bones.
Many of us begin our day assuming that we will do good to whoever we meet, and yet we can rage at the guy who stole our parking space, yell at the cost of this or that to whoever serves us and allow lust to burn us up. We stand firm with our politics while we point the finger at those 2 percenters who apparently run the world. Waving intellectual banners combining law and morality shapes us socially. We set out to do good for the workers, and yet we think bad about those we blame. Division feeds our moral stance and kills us off spiritually. Jesus tells us to look at the log in our own eye before taking the spec out of other peoples, and to love our enemies. The brightest intellectuals among us mean to do good, but fail to uphold a spiritual stance for a single day, and yet many boast the moral high ground perhaps to counteract the sin they have lurking within.
Another area where Dawkins gets it all so badly wrong is in his endeavour to pronounce Jesus and the Bible as medieval and the early biblical pioneers as barbaric. It is clear that the most influential writer in history is Saint Paul, and he wrote almost half of the New Testament and has influenced an array of writers we know today. Humanity could not grow into Big Society due to greed, vulgarity, slavery and other human upon human manipulations, until the New Testament released its Godly essence. Look at it this way, when my two year old son was too scared to enter a darkened room, I gently ushered him to one side, turned on the light and entered the room on his behalf to show him the path he needed to walk. This is what Jesus did, and still does to millions who ask or who are invited to His realm. Jesus turned on the light that allows us to walk on aided by His word. I can walk the path Jesus has set without having to endure anymore external moral boundaries. Whatever happens in my life can happen under the gaze of Christ and all will be well regardless, as long as I maintain and always further my spiritual balance.
Jesus delivered this loving discourse with such force the human mental condition changed shape overnight, Amen. True good deeds can only happen when society is built upon a sound narrative. We are told in the Gospel of John that Jesus was the word made flesh, and that He lived among us to deliver the narrative of God to our hearts, which is the Bible, the foundation stone of modern society. The printing press is therefore key to our living condition. If we get the primary communal narrative wrong then all people within that realm will suffer. If the narrative changes, so does our morality.
It could be said that doing good as a deliberate task is superficial, when if we pray to be God guided the result will change where an act of goodness works at a deeper level. Morality is to help a homeless person with money, food and clothing. The Spirit of Truth is to sit with them and discuss how they came to that point in their lives, and to offer change via finding their truth.
I have known many Christians who have prayed together and then set out to feed their spiritual essence to the homeless. One particular church in Westcliff On Sea organizes these outings on a daily basis where Christians, (or not) join their ranks by attending team workshops where guidance and prayer is offered by more experienced members. A good gesture by a passer by offering a pound coin fails to make the same wave that a group of well organized Christians can make. When a fiver is offered the homeless person can spend it on whatever they want. When redemption, love and the Spirit of Truth is offered that very same person can change regardless. A moral fiver will not make a squat of difference to the long term homeless, when the Holy Spirit does just that. Many addicts are told that the same person will always drink or drug again. Change is the essence of recovery. An addict can be morally corrupt, even quite vile, and yet still attain to the Holy Spirit and gain recovery. An addict will never change by being temporarily held up by minor financial support. Change happens when the addict gives up their inventory to a Spiritual person who is organized, has strong support themselves and is set on God’s foundation stone, Amen.