I’ve taken this from a comment by Quesita on a forum that I frequent and changed a few minor things so that it sits well better in isolation.
I am genuinely baffled by the concept that a belief in a deity would help me better distinguish between good and evil, and whatever falls in between. I really spent a great deal of time last night and today thinking about this very question, and trying to make sense of the concept.
I mean no disrespect, but I would really appreciate it if you theists could walk me through one, specific historical example, and help me understand some questions: “If God doesn’t exists, what is good and what is evil? Who decides them?
Dozens of interesting examples come to mind, but let’s just pick one, and take slavery in the US.
A mere 15 decades ago, many adherent Christians in the US believed that kidnapping, torturing, and raping people, in order to exploit their labour for financial gain, was completely consistent with the teachings of the Bible. Now maybe it is because I am a heathen atheist who does not really understand good and evil, but for me, kidnapping, torturing, and raping in order to benefit financially really sort of falls into the evil category. In fact, if we were to have a scale of good and evil, I’d put that sort of behavior pretty far down on the evil side.
So help me understand. I know that there was slavery in the Bible. Do Christians really believe that kidnapping, raping, torturing and then benefiting financially is consistent with the teachings of the Bible? Did Jesus forgive those kidnapping, raping, torturing folks because they accepted him as their savior, and therefore had a better understanding of good and evil than I do? Did Jesus let those kidnapping, raping, torturing folks into heaven because they vocally proclaimed that Jesus was the best deity ever? And did Jesus subsequently condemn my beloved parents to an eternity of hellfire because they were too busy helping humanity to sing Jesus’ praise?
Is it possible that slavery was ok then, but isn’t ok any more because Christianity’s understanding of the concept of “good” has, for lack of a better word, evolved?
Or is Jesus the kind of deity who buys into “the end justifies the means” as a reason to turn a blind eye to some sins? Was Jesus really a bit put off by the all the nasty stuff that went along with enslaving millions of human beings for so many generations, but decided it was ok because many of those slaves, (and an overwhelming number of their decedents), ended up being Christian?
Or did those kidnapping, raping and torturing folks who called themselves Christians, really misread the scriptures? And if so, why did God write scriptures that are so easily misunderstood? I mean, there are a bunch of references to slavery in the Bible. I can see how they might have gotten it all wrong. And if they were really so seriously misreading the scriptures, how do you know that you and your pastor are not seriously misreading the scriptures as well?
You see, for me, kidnapping, raping, torturing and enslaving other human beings for financial profit is evil, under any circumstances. But I am not a Christian, so I don’t really understand good and evil in the Christian way. So when I work my way through the above example, without the help of a skilled Christian to help me really understand it, these are the possible conclusions that I draw:
Kidnapping, raping, torturing and enslaving other human beings for financial profit;
A) Is ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil.
B) Was ok in the past, but isn’t ok anymore because Christianity changes with the times.
C) Is ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil if the people being kidnapped, raped, tortured and enslaved end up learning about the Bible.
D) Isn’t really ok and consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil, but folks who engaged in those practices get to go to heaven anyway because they accepted Jesus. (Sort of like the way that people who say “God damn it” when they stub their toes get to go to heaven because, after all, we are all sinners but if we accept Jesus our sins get forgiven.)
E) Is not ok and is not consistent with Christian teachings on good and evil, and the folks who engaged in those practices in the name of Jesus already went to hell for all of eternity because they misunderstood God’s confusing scriptures as they apply to slavery.
F) Another explanation which I am missing because I don’t understand good and evil and because I don’t have Jesus to guide me and help me understand.
I would really, really appreciate clarification from some of our Christians friends.