Religion or the church as a source of moral guidance

I consider going to church worse than a waste of time. A waste of time is to, say, watch paint dry, but there may be some benefits there (you might relax, although that may be offset by the intake of whatever nasty stuff your paint emanates). But going to church is submitting yourself to regular brainwashing.

Anyway. I was recently presented with the following argument:

People who go to church do so because we want to receive moral guidance...

My landlord is pretty good with accounting. He could probably offer me some good guidance about doing taxes. But I'm not willing to take the risk, so I go to a professional. That professional is qualified to do my taxes, and I am certain that IRS won't be after me.

When I need moral guidance, I could go to church, but is the church qualified to offer moral guidance? There is no legal requirement that a priest have training in therapy or counseling or ethics. Priests may also have biases of all sorts. Suppose you are queer. Not many priests will offer you moral guidance in agreement with your queer nature (and who are they to question God's decision of making you queer?). What will you do? Seek a priest that you "like"? Nothing wrong with that, but how is that priest better entitled to give you moral guidance than a knowledgeable therapist or friend that you like? Perhaps a person who studied ethics, philosophy and moral systems for a while?

Does the priest have some divine gift that makes him a divinely good counselor? Why then do you keep coming back? "Because of my weak nature and my failing to follow his teaching". In that case, are you willing to take the following bet? Go to a good personal coach, and read (or listen to) a good motivational speaker. I bet that your problems will find faster and better resolutions than if you keep going to the priest. And you'll feel much less guilty for sure (read below).

...and atone for our sins (yes, even for non-Catholics, lol).

"sins" are established by the Church. I wrote in Sins 2.0 how new sins were recently invented by the Pope. How moral is it to invent a sin, then offer atonement for it? Sounds like hurting someone then offering them a bandage. Would you seek moral guidance from a morally dubious source?

The whole idea of sin started with eating from the tree of knowledge.

But why was eating from the tree of knowledge a sin at all? Is it evil to seek knowledge? Is it a crime to want to be wise? According to the Genesis text, what angered God was that "the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil" (3:22). But aren't we supposed to want to be like God according to the Bible? Or does God prefer to keep people ignorant so that they do not threaten his sovereignty? What kind of loving parent wants to keep his children forever submissive and ignorant? As this Usenet post says, a truly good god would not forbid his human children to eat from the tree of knowledge - rather, he would insist that they eat from it every day.
-- ebonmusings

There is another deep problem with the idea of sin: you live a finite life, and can only sin so much, yet you can be punished infinitely in Hell. How moral is that?

My debate partner continued:

Just because I go to church doesn't mean that I feel that I am morally better than others. In fact, maybe I even make more moral errors than average, who knows?

When you take your car out of a mechanic shop and it has the same problems it had beforehand, you know they didn't do a good job. Whenever you use a service, you evaluate its performance afterward. "Who knows" if it was good or not, just doesn't work. If going to the doctor doesn't help you become better, you stop going. If you want to become a morally better person, why the double standard when it comes to going to church?

They went on:

I try to be ethical and I try to follow God's moral lessons.

That in general leads to pretty good conduct, by society's standards. But what if ethics and God's moral lessons are in conflict? Let's quickly examine a few topics: government, slavery, beating children, and genocide. All are completely unethical nowadays. But what does the Bible say? (various excerpts from ReligiousTolerance.org:

  • Christians' belief about slavery have reversed during the past two millennia. Slavery was condoned, regulated and approved by the writers of the Bible. The Pentateuch contains rules from God concerning the regulation of slavery, including under what conditions a slave owner could be prosecuted if he beat his slave to death. In his book Philemon, Paul wrote to a slave owner about one of his slaves. Paul had every opportunity to condemn slavery as immoral, and to ask the slave owner to free his slave. But he apparently believed that slavery was an acceptable institution. With the exception of Christian Reconstructionists, slavery has been rejected by essentially all Christians today. The lesson here is simple: if you happened to go to church 200 years ago, they'd teach you that slavery is fine. Ethics doesn't depend on the mood of the Church.
  • Beating children with a rod is condoned and recommended in the Bible. But an increasing percentage of Christian parents have abandoned this method of discipline. Various denominations promote spanking, and cite passages in Proverbs about child discipline. Other Christian groups recommend child discipline without violence, and consider beating a child with a rod to be child abuse. Sociologists have found that disciplining children through physical violence results in lower IQs, and higher rates of adult depression, violence, and criminal behavior.
  • Beliefs about government structure have also changed greatly. The Bible promotes dictatorial monarchies and the divine right of kings. When a delegation of Jewish leaders approached Moses with the request for some elements of democracy, God killed them and their families. Most Christians now promote democracy, in which power is shared by the people. They also value human rights, and oppose (for example) burning some prostitutes alive as is specified in the Bible.
  • The Hebrew Scriptures frequently promote the genocide of others who hold different religious beliefs. Some Christian fanatics in Bosnia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Nigeria, Northern Ireland and elsewhere have followed these teachings and engaged in mass murder and genocide. Most contemporary Christians promote religious freedom so that others can follow other religions without oppression.

The point: religion has been plagued with some really wrong teachings and is s_l_o_w_l_y trying to catch up with ethics. Why not study ethics directly?

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