Where would Jesus keep his moral compass?

Moral CompassDo you know the difference between right and wrong?

Ok, we all flail around helplessly in the grey areas posed by philosophy teachers and medical and legal ethicists, but they are professionals and paid to be smart-arses. As an amateur, I have a fairly strong sense of practical ethics, as I am sure do you, gentle reader, in contrast, it seems, to Christians.

Twice recently I have come across Christians who claim that without divine guidance they wouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Since they didn’t say this to me (one was in a reported interview, the other in a conversation with someone else) I didn’t have the chance to say “woah, back up a minute there, do you mean what I think you mean?”

What they’ve said implies that their moral compass is kept in the giant map-drawer in the sky.

Do they mean this? It’s what they said, after all, so I have to assume they do. Even so, I find it hard to believe that they’d be out there, nicking things from Tescos, raping donkeys, falsifying their tax return and knifing people to death if it wasn’t for the Big Guy. Is the ONLY THING stopping them from doing this explicit divine instruction not to? Are they claiming to be barely controlled psychopaths who simply happen to have a nicer class of imaginary friend than Peter Sutcliffe did?

I don’t know.

I don’t want to rant, so I’ll stop here. I don’t know what it does to them, but what they’ve said makes me gibber and gives me a stabbing pain right behind the eyes.

19 responses to “Where would Jesus keep his moral compass?

  1. That is pretty odd. I’d say that my faith gives me a different moral compass, but it certainly isn’t the only thing stopping me from rampant muder, rape, theft and copyright violation.

  2. This post raises a lot of interesting questions. First and foremost is: where did you get this nifty snowfall effect?

  3. Religions are a handy way of oppressing people and preventing them from using their brains.

    If I have any hope for this new year, it would be that common sense overrules superstition

  4. You seem to have settled on a fairly amoral baseline for your assumptions about how moral compasses (compii?) operate. Perhaps it is fairer to say that Christians, like most people, generally won’t go round nobbing donkeys but may be inclined to steal the shampoo from a hotel room occassionally. However, their divine moral compass deters them and points them to Boots instead.

  5. And more to the point, the compass in that picture looks just like the one we used on Geography field trips at school. In fact, think I liberated mine and still have it. Many years later, the school may be still looking for it. Oh, the irony.

  6. I would say that, as a Christian myself, I believe that we are all born with a God-given feeling of what is right and wrong, no matter our personal religious leanings. We call it a conscience, and I would have it no matter if I were practicing my faith or not. What these people have said doesn’t really make much sense to me. Are they rational, thinking and feeling human beings? Why on earth wouldn’t they have a moral compass, inherent to our human natures?

  7. Reading this type of comment I often feel the people may not have really expressed what they meant. Or may have been quoted selectively. It can be quite hard to put your exact meaning into words and be understood. It seems reasonable to me that practically everyone has a sense of justice, and right and wrong, but that also your religion may influence your judgement.

  8. I apologise if I came across as offensive or inflammatory with my comment. I agree with this completely: “It seems reasonable to me that practically everyone has a sense of justice, and right and wrong” and I hope my intent shines through my stumbling words.

  9. I’m sorry too – I didn’t mean your comment at all I meant the original ‘divinely inspired’ people’s comments. Just shows how easy it is to give the wrong impression.

    I also thought after writing I sounded patronising, saying that other people couldn’t say what they meant, but I often find it hard to express what I mean exactly and unambiguously.

    I just find it hard to believe that any fairly normal person would say that they wouldn’t know what to do without divine inspiration, unless what they mean by divine inspiration is not what I think they mean, and is something a lot more common and vague.

    Sorry. Sarah

  10. Now Sarah and the Raisin, stop apologising. Your opinions weren’t remotely offensive. Your moral compass is evidently well-adjusted.

    The whole conscience and moral compass thing is very interesting. Without divine guidance or society’s guiding hand, I wonder if morality would be skewed considerably. Evidence in situations where society breaks down (eg war) suggests it would.

    And on a slightly tangential note, what would perhaps back up the ‘God tells me what’s right and wrong’ Christian argument reported by Aphra, is that until God sorted out various chaps in the Old Testament, many were coves and cads of the first order. Wasn’t Moses a murderer and David an adulterer, for example? Fortunatel God pointed out what was right and what was wrong and they turned out ok.

  11. No need to apologise for such thoughtful and to the point comments. I am sorry for ignoring this thread for so long – I posted a reply, but the internet ate it.

    Singing Librarian, Raisin Cookies and Sarah, I am glad that you find it odd too, it’s good to have Christians who say it ain’t so.

    Rebecca, it’s a wordpress thang – check out: http://wordpress.com/blog/2007/12/25/let-it-snow/ which is currently the second item in WordPress News at http://wordpress.com

    Dragonqueen, it’s not just that religions prevent some people from using their brains, it is also that they give them permission to use them in nasty ways – god tol’e me to ay-tack those evil ay-rabs. Etc.

    Scribbler, what they said was extreme and ridiculous, I merely pointed it out by using extreme and ridiculous arguments. It’s the NLPer in me.

    Sarah, neither were quoted particularly maliciously. One was a piece on the intranet at work about diversity: there were first-person pieces by a buddhist, a number of christians, a couple of hindus, some muslims and some sikhs. No Jedis (thank goodness), no pagans and no atheists though. If I felt like stirring virtuous trouble I’d object to the lack of atheists. Having provided a first-person piece for the intranet myself on another subject, the standard approach seems to be to let people express themselves with minimal editing. The one who reported the other conversation to me didn’t do so with malice, but he was equally astonished. I can however talk to the person he was quoting and probably will some time.

    Scribbler, the OT story which springs to my mind here is god telling Abraham to kill Isaac (was it Isaac?) The OT god always strikes me as being a self-righteous shit. Mind you, Abraham should have told him where to get off. Note that it was Abraham, and not Sarah, who took the poor kid up a mountain with a sharpened knife. I better stop now before I start offending people all over again.

    Thanks all


  12. Aphra, I didn’t really think you quoted maliciously – I think, on the face of it, ‘I wouldn’t know what to do without divine inspiration’ sounds mad – but if you asked what they mean by divine inspiration it may be something like conscience, or thinking what people they admire would do. And it maybe something that is not exclusive to Christians, though others would call it something different.

    If it turns out that a voice comes from heaven at every ethical dilemma I will agree that it is very strange indeed. And surprising when most of those without the direct line seem to behave pretty well too.

    And I agree about people using religion to back horrible behaviour – you can’t imagine how anyone could read the New Testament and then think that burning heretics, or stoning witches, or blowing people up is the recommended course of action in any circumstances at all.

    I think in the history of Christianity there has been a lot of discussion about how you could actually tell whether you were inspired by God or carried away by your own ideas. But maybe no clear answer.

  13. Hmm,

    If you’re really interested in this debate, see the Euthryphro question from Plato’s Republic. Euthryphro asks ‘Is an action good because the gods deem it so, or is it good of itself?’

    In the Bible Moses says to God at one point, ‘Will the God of all the world not do what is right?’ which favours the idea that an action can be good in itself, not just becuase God says so.

    I’m a Christian; I certainly believe there is virtue outside religion, which I see all round me. But bear in mind God and religion are two different things. We do believe that all virtue ultimately comes from God, whether the person in question believes in God or not.

  14. Perhaps, Aphra, you and I should become members of The Church of LOTU

  15. There’s a fascinating, long-running debate running on Stephen Law’s philosophy blog [stephenlaw.blogspot.com] with Ibrahim Lawson, the headmaster of an Islamic school, on the appropriateness of teaching children that Islam – or any other faith – is ‘true’. A recent comment of mine, relevant to this thread, was

    “I totally disagree with Ibrahim that ethics is ‘problematic’. From infancy upwards, every single human being instinctively knows the difference between ’good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. At the very lowest common denominator, we all know that it is wrong to harm others, whatever the reason. It is only when pretentious doctrinaire-bound adults start tampering with the child’s innate sense of justice that tribalism and sectarian bigotry get a foothold.”

    What do others think?

  16. I don’t know how much is socialisation and how much is inborn, but I certainly know it’s not exclusively religious.

    A good point well made, as always anticant.


  17. sorry but you suck!

    how dare you diss my school you smelly 13itch!

  18. your messed up you are,, our hall is not gruuby or wteva you sed,,

    get a grip
    get a brain
    get a LIFE!

  19. Hi Peep,

    I’ve apologised for being rude about your school. As I said, I’m seriously impressed by how passionately you all defend it. It must be a good school to inspire such loyalty.

    If you want to see my apology, it’s here:

    All the best


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