Why, No! No, It Doesn’t At All!

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Dear Dayton Church of the Brethren,

Hello, I am your neighbor. I live not far from your church, which sits on the main road in to our small town. I drive by your building multiple times a day. I see your billboards (both of them; one in front of the church, and this one which sits behind the church along the main highway that borders our town). 

Usually I am inclined to read these kinds of billboards, smirk or chuckle, and move on. But I have to drive by this and sometimes these little messages are more provocative than others. I am also your neighbor after all and wouldn’t expect to address my neighbors quite as confrontationally as this.  I am inclined to answer.

No, my life certainly does not reflect God’s standards! And in fact there are many ways in which my life doesn’t reflect God’s standards. I think I can also safely say that your lives do not reflect God’s standards either. So I have some thoughts and questions. First, I’m going to assume that since you are a Church of the Brethren and this is Virginia that you are referring to the median mainstream Christian God.

What do you think are His standards? How do you define this? Is it the Judaic law? I understand most Christians distance themselves from the morally indefensible Old Testament by claiming that Jesus freed them from having to follow the law. Voila! But not so fast! Wasn’t the OT the law and word of God for millennia, and was it not followed to the letter by the devout? Did these commandments not reflect God’s standards, even if you are somehow untethered from them now (another dubious claim given Matthew 5:18 and the idea that during Jesus’ days there was only the OT and when they spoke of scripture and the Word of God, that’s what they were referring to)? So no, despite many people and U.S. legislators tragically claiming that our country, laws and morality are based on the Ten Commandments, this can’t be right.

But perhaps by some leap of logic or faith, theological sleight of hand or exegesis you think God’s standards are represented mainly in the New Testament instead! Even there I can tell you that my life does not reflect God’s standards if that’s what you mean. The NT requires women to be silent in church, orders them to submit to their husbands, endorses or at best tolerates slavery, does nothing to refute the wicked practices of the Old Testament, and even in the words of Jesus introduces Hell (in its very many different and mutually exclusive theologies) and human sacrifice to mollify the deity. These are just a few of the obvious failures. A more in-depth discussion of New Testament moral problems can be found here, in this fine paper by Professor Elizabeth Anderson, but in any case no, my life does not reflect but exceeds these standards of God as set forth in the New Testament.

Dr. Anderson also addresses the idea that putting these obviously archaic teachings aside, the Bible does have some moral teachings and that these somehow represent God’s standards. Perhaps we should loosen our literal understandings of the bible because they are simply indefensible on the face and go with the good parts and somehow rationalize, justify or claim some other kind of context that would somehow make these verses palatable. She writes:

Consider first the use of Scripture as a source of evidence for moral claims. We have seen that the Bible is morally inconsistent. If we try to draw moral lessons from a contradictory source, we must pick and choose which ones to accept. This requires that we use our own independent moral judgment, founded on some source other than revelation or the supposed authority of God, to decide which biblical passages to accept. In fact, once we recognize the moral inconsistencies in the Bible, it’s clear that the hard­core fundamentalists who today preach hatred toward gay people and the sub­ordination of women, and who at other times and places have, with biblical support, claimed God’s authority for slavery, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing, have been picking and choosing all along. What distinguishes them from other believers is precisely their attraction to the cruel and despotic passages in the Bible. Far from being a truly independent guide to moral conduct, the Bible is more like a Rorschach test: which passages people choose to emphasize reflects as much as it shapes their moral character and interests.*

So in what sense can any of this be considered “God’s standards” either, when we must use “our own independent moral judgment?” Without going into a long discussion of moral ethics it becomes pretty clear that the standard we use today, the one I use, has nothing to do with religion, your theology or what you think God’s standards might be, dear Church of the Brethren, and I would press you pretty hard on exactly what you think those standards are and how they are defined.

So no, my life does not reflect God’s standards in any way. I think it exceeds them. That is unless finally by “God’s standards” you are somehow claiming that God, by some unknown mechanism is the source of what we know is good and right and true by secular means completely separate from religion. How would you support such a claim?

On the other hand, although I don’t believe in a literal Satan any more than I do any other supernatural beings, the Satanic Temple has offered a list of seven tenets that while oversimplified, exceeds God’s standards too.  Anderson and others (here, here, here, and specifically concerning whether God is necessary for morality, here, for just a few quick references) more accurately reflect my moral thinking at a high level and these are the standards that I strive for my life to reflect.

Not only does my life thankfully not reflect God’s standards, whatever those might be, I’d also without hesitation suggest that your lives do not either. Anyone attempting to follow Old Testament teachings would be arrested and imprisoned quickly and would gain little or no sympathy from most people, even the deeply religious. The New Testament teachings, while tempered don’t fare much better as theocratic legislators are finding out in Indiana and North Carolina. And if you have to go outside the bible then in what sense and by what logic can anything be considered “God’s standards?”

Your friendly neighbor,

Ojo Taylor

Seventh: […] The distinction between the sacred and the secular can no longer be maintained.

* Anderson, Elizabeth S. “If God is Dead, is Everything Permitted?,” in Louise Antony, ed., Philosophers without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 215-230.

  •  Reprinted in Christopher Hitchens, ed., The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever (Philadelphia: DaCapo Press/Perseus Books, 2007), pp. 333-348

29 thoughts on “Why, No! No, It Doesn’t At All!

  1. Fun day.. a blog post from you in the morning, then in the afternoon, found a cassette copy of your album Relative at a thrift store. Can’t wait to listen to it (never heard it before!). I enjoy life’s little synchronicities. Peace.

  2. You can now decide for yourself what is good and what is evil, since your eyes have been opened and now therefore you are like God. You shall not surely die … Does this not sound familiar? Where did such ideas come from since such a creature as they are attributed to does not exist but yet you follow his way? Can you at least admit that much to yourself? The standard exists and all have fallen short of it. . The definition of the standard is of less importance than what one does with the offering of atonement. (If we say we have no sin we lie, if we confess our sin He is faithful to forgive and cleanse us…) This was called by Jesus a test in that which is least that determines all about each of us. Whoever is faithful in that which is least will be trusted with much while those unfaithful with this test will prove unworthy for the kingdom. One third of heaven 33.3 were lost and will be replaced by one third of mankind while two thirds 66.6 of making will join the third of lost angels in hell. We choose which of these groups we will join. I knew whose you were the day at your concert in San Diego (mid 80s) before the doors were open to the audience but my friend was friends with the drummer and so we were in already and your behavior towards Bill who was there still for one of his last shows with the band made me aware that something was very wrong. I am not surprised now to learn of your current station and I feel a sense of great reassurance and confirmation to see why God kept me from that Christian rock world that I had back then nearly gotten into. Another pioneer in that was of course Larry Norman and he too turned out to be completely other than what was portrayed. My suspicions were there for years surrounding much of this stuff. I never thought they would be so confirmed as this even if it did take this many years. The way that leads to life… Few there be that find it.

      • “Don’t try to teach a pig to sing…” I will take your advice but I do feel sorry for you. Jesus said it first a little differently but the meaning is there don’t cast your pearls before swine… It won’t be long now before you and this world will see the truth for the time is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Thanks for the opportunity all the same, Ojo

      • Hey Ojo,
        Guess I wasn’t clear in that I was not attempting to be “evangelistic” in my previous response for the stated reason borrowed from a bumper sticker on the Undercover bus back in the day about how trying to teach a pig to sing wastes your time and annoys the pig… In other words I’m pretty sure you already have heard and rejected most of what might be said so why go there? But since you came back with this, I will go ahead and give you a couple points to consider regarding your objections to Christianity and the Bible. You mentioned the Bible’s condoning of slavery and its view of women in the church that they should submit to their husbands and not be permitted to teach men. If you can receive it there is a spiritual truth and reason for each of these issues. The slavery issue first: the reality that you fail to consider is the fact any among us are not currently having to live our entire lives as slaves is in itself a testimony of enormous grace and providence of God. We all are slaves. The Bible does not condone it, but rather tried to warn us of its reality if we disobey God’s commands. Like a child suffering a burn from a hot stove after repeated warnings by a loving parent but the child touches it anyway and suffers the consequences, how can you then hold the parent guilty or accuse the parent of “condoning” burning the child? Slavery, like other results of fallen man’s choices is an allowed consequence, as ugly as it is, in the hopes that, like the burned finger the child suffers, we will hate it as much as God does and agree with him that he was right all along. Amazing Grace was written by a slave trader who finally repented and saw the ugliness of man’s sin up close. God has given us choices and we choose slavery and that is why it exists, not because God designed it to be so but Jesus said whoever would be greatest among you let him be servant of all. What we choose is what we get. As for women keeping silent in church, the meaning is not that they are not allowed to speak at all but that a woman should not teach men. There are levels to the spiritual meaning here. First on a surface level, Paul points out that the devil seems to have an easier time deceiving a woman than he does a man. Adam was NOT deceived and yet he still ate the fruit, why? Simple, same reason men still do what they do… Ask a rock star why he does it… To get the chicks, man… Adam saw a choice between staying with God but maybe losing his woman or losing God and joining his wife on her side of the line and we know which he chose. Most men today are choosing the same way Adam did in one form or another. The woman, Eve actually believed the lies Satan was telling her so that is why she ate but Adam knew it was lies and ate anyway to be with her. That is the pull Satan has over us all. He can deceive a woman easier than a man but then gets the man by using the woman to bring the man down also. (I noticed it was a woman that brought you down.) Solomon covers this calling her the strange woman and she is also riding the beast Mystery Babylon. On a deeper spiritual level the woman represents all of us in our fallen fleshly side while the man Jesus represents the reborn spiritual side of those male and female who are born of his spirit. Therefore what the Bible is saying on this level is don’t trust anything taught by men but trust only what you learn from the Holy Spirit who alone leads us into all truth. Wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, easy to be entreated while bitter envying and strife wisdom ascended not from above but is earthly sensual devilish. You choose every day which of these two you will walk by and the choice you make will claim you for eternity after this trial life on earth is over. Sincerely, Ojo, I would wish for nothing more than for you to come back to faith in your God who loves you and gave himself for you. Please forgive me for my previous attitude towards you. I know God loves you and your family. Sincerely, Barry Amundsen

  3. Been a long time since you put one out and I’m always glad when you do.
    Simple, easy to follow and to the point. If this country ever got to the put where someone who wasn’t “beholdin'” to the Evangelicals and whatever other kind of special interests there are were president, I would want you or someone very much like you advising him.
    Proud to call you friend.

  4. Been a long time since you put one out and I’m always glad when you do.
    Simple, easy to follow and to the point. If this country ever got to the pointt where someone who wasn’t “beholdin’” to the Evangelicals and whatever other kind of special interests there are were president, I would want you or someone very much like you advising him.
    Proud to call you friend. ~ had to edit the typo………

  5. Stumbled onto this post while surfing the net. Oh my. A whole lotta ink spilled for a church road sign. Sigh, I guess it needed to be said. But in the immortal works of Billy Shakes, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Now…back to our regularly scheduled programing…

    • I consider such things symptoms of larger issues, and I hear this kind of stuff all the time, whether it’s on a church sign, from religious friends or in the pulpit. Can’t minimize it when it’s so widespread just because in this case it’s on a sign. Thanks for reading and the comment. ~J

  6. The Torah wasn’t given to give people righteousness, it was given to Israel to show them their unrighteousness and inability to live up to God’s standard.

    • Well, I think I dealt with the problem of “God’s standard” in the post. Besides not having received an answer for what that standard actually is, if we take the Torah at face value (and there are many theologians who disagree with you, that say it is more midrash than anything else, or others who say it is a crude attempt by early bronze-age man to understand a deity) then that’s not really a God I’d be interested in knowing or serving at all. Thanks for the comment. ~J

      • God Himself is the Standard, and the Law a reflection of God’s character – the inability to live up to that standard shows our need for God’s mercy.
        The wages of Sin is Death…but the gift offered by God is Forgiveness, and the restoration of Life.

      • So then I can interpret the sign to mean that God’s standard is the OT Law. And to that I say “No thanks!” Such an immoral God does not deserve to be asked for forgiveness for anything. Living under the Law, a reflection of God’s character as you call it, is not the restoration of life, it is quite the opposite – the Taliban ethic of Judeo-Christianity. No sane person would choose to live under the mandates of the Old Testament if that is in fact God’s Standard.

      • You are correct, living under the Law is not the restoration of life. It IS the opposite since no one could actually keep that Law and they were all condemned by it. God included within it the things that were to be done thru which He offered Atonement, which under the Torah was only temporary, and had to be done over and over again, year after year – quite a pain in the ass to say the least. The restoration of Life could only come thru complete forgiveness, which is not the same as an only temporary atonement.
        If God Himself is the standard then who could live up to that standard but only God Himself?

        Is the message of the Bible really that Barbaric?

      • I’ve been over all that in the blog post. Temporary or not, if the OT reflects God’s standards, I’m having nothing to do with it. Anyone who wants to try to live thus would rightly be thrown in jail. And yes, it really is that barbaric. Have you read it? Do you really have to ask?

      • The Torah/Law is a standard, but the entire OT story is a record of a people repeatedly failing to live up to that standard. It is also a story containing promises of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. As the Torah was only given to Israel, anyone not of Israel was under no obligation to keep it anyway. I’d assume anyone of Israel that really didn’t want to bother could have just gone and lived among the Gentiles as a Gentile and if someone not of Israel wanted to, they could become a part of Israel and live accordingly.
        It’s strange that you would be so critical of the Torah, and then chide Christians for not keeping it. Yes, during His life Jesus taught the Law – that was the standard for His people at that time and the most basic component for the Covenantal relationship they had with God, so what else was He going to do. And it didn’t pass away as even today, it continues it’s function of showing people their inability to keep it.
        Just because certain parts of modern law code may have been influenced by the Biblical story doesn’t mean it always resulted in bad laws. The influence of the Bible on America and it’s people’s history I would think is undeniable. Don’t lie, cheat, steal, murder, treating parents and elders with respect, etc. – are those really Insane propositions for a society and the conduct of it’s citizens?
        Sure, there are brutal episodes and perplexing customs contained in the Biblical narrative, but is Barbarism really the message of the Bible as a whole?

      • In a word? Yes. See the Elizabeth anderson article o linked to for the very many scriptural “standards.” There is nothing moral about the central message and nature of the abrahamic God in the three monotheistic religions that stem from him. The moral code you suggest did not originate in the Torah.

  7. “indulging in murder, rape, theft, perjury, and genocide” (from the lead in to the article)
    Non-human living creatures engage in these sort of behaviors regularly and never bat an eye or apply any moralistic critique to such actions – why not? Are they barbaric, wrong, even evil for not doing so?

    Doesn’t the Bible teach that Gentiles who had no Law to keep or Torah standard to try to live up to were perfectly capable in and of themselves thru conscience of often living within’ it’s precepts and that those of Israel who specifically had that guidance where just as guilty in every way before God and no more moral than anyone else? (Romans 2)
    (Same as E. Anderson insisting Religion in no way being necessary for Morality nor in any way giving any)

    And where in the Torah or Bible does it say God wants Religion from us anyway….?
    Just because God told Israel to “love (Him) with all their heart, mind, body, and soul and to love each other as yourself” doesn’t mean that they would ever get there through observance of the Torah or Religious behavior in general.
    Just because Jesus said “if you love Me you will keep my Commandments” doesn’t mean he expected anyone would ever succeed in doing that.

    • I’m not sure really what you’re trying to say, but it is clear that you’re missing my point. Whether we are expected to to follow the law or not, any god that has the OT as its standard, again, whether we can or are expected to follow it, is an immoral god. That’s the point.

      • Is a World where any day of your life another people could swoop down over the nearest hill, kill all the men, rape all the women, enslave all the children and set themselves up as the rulers an Immoral world?

      • What does that have to do with anything? I would say no, the people would be immoral, as would any moral code that sanctioned such behavior, but the world is just the world.

  8. Immorality is the deliberate breach of a known standard – so what standard was the God character of the Bible beholden to?

    • The only one we know is moral, the one we are all obligated by… the well-being of sentient creatures, the maximizing of that well-being and the minimizing of harm. The god of the bible violates those standards regularly and not even most believers advocate for them anymore other than to offer the rather lame “well, we’re not obligated by the OT law anymore.” Doesn’t get the god that gave those immoral standards off the hook.

      • Hey Ojo,
        Have you ever read C. S. Lewis The Problem of Pain? He as you know also was an atheist who came to faith over his exposure to the resurrection evidence of Christ, the one sign Jesus said would be given to prove he has authority over creation. In Lewis’ book, he takes on many of the same issues or accusations against God that you are discussing. Another good book on the same subject also written by a converted former atheist but more recent and more on a regular “joe’s” level is A Land Unknown: Hell’s Dominion, by B. W. Melvin and here is a pertinent portion being read by me in a video I did about faith and why God requires it of us. https://youtu.be/VCsbbpIaklA
        You are interested in this subject much to your credit. Solomon, the wisest among us also left faith for much of his life but returned so much the wiser for having asked the tough questions and not resting until he got answers. For this I respect you!
        Sincerely,
        Barry Amundsen

  9. If you’re not Jewish and have no desire to participate in the Mosaic Covenant, than you’ve never been obligated by(sic) the Torah…ever. Nor would non-Jewish Christians be obligated to become Jews, as a simple reading of the Book of Acts would show. If you are going to be critical of Biblical concepts, then you should be able to accurately present them.
    It’s strange that under “Biblical” influence, your former band didn’t write songs more like Slayer – a band of young men roughly the same age, from the same general geographical location, and whose artistic highpoints took place in the same relative time frame.

    “the only one we know, the one we are all obligated by”
    Know how, and says who?

    Academics pondering the world from the comfort of their offices, faculty lounges, gated communities, or over coffee at Panera Bread are hardly the norm – most living things or even people have no knowledge of that easy life.

    “the well-being of sentient creatures, the maximizing of that well-being and the minimizing of harm”
    Most living things don’t live this way. Sharks engage in shark like behavior, and who are the Tuna to tell them it’s not appropriate? Even the Tuna live by devouring smaller fish, squid, and a host of crustaceans. Isn’t a basic tenant of Evolutionary Theory “….whatever works..”?

  10. Ojo,
    I have enjoyed and appreciated your music over the years. Many thanks for your effort and all it took to do that.
    Martin McClary

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