Sunday, October 31, 2010

I'm always a little perplexed by the lay atheists who are really into their atheism, and who spend countless hours expounding upon their atheism. If I were an atheist, I'd be too busy working at a hedge fund*, drinking and chasing women to think much about my atheism. But tonight, my purpose is not to talk about atheism, but to talk about Christian morality. My hypothetical remark gets at a very important question - is religious restriction all that stands between religious people and brazen immorality?

Let's look at my case. If I had entered college an atheist, I would not have had any strong moral objections to the dominant campus social culture, which consisted of drinking oneself into a stupor, promiscuity, and training for the pursuit of wealth for its own sake. In all likelihood, I would have adopted that culture as my own, and would probably have continued in a similar lifestyle for another decade. Having adopted that culture, I would be a fundamentally different person than I am now, one whose view of goodness would be an adolescent hedonism.

As it stands, I entered college a Christian, resisted the dominant culture, and became a person who genuinely believes that greed, binge drinking and cheap sex really do not have a part in a good and happy life. The question posed earlier derives from what I think is a misunderstanding of Christian morality, one that Christians have sometimes perpetuated. It is the idea that Christian morality is designed to restrict and diminish pleasure in order that one may demonstrate one's obedience to God. Of course, Christian morality does place restrictions on pleasurable behavior, but when it does so, it does it toward the end of securing deeper and more lasting pleasure. The Bible condemns adultery - this is to secure the love that can only be found in lifelong marriage. The Bible condemns drunkenness - this is to prevent the foolish behavior in which very drunk people engage. It condemns greed, because greed is destructive to self and to others. And beyond these, it tends to condemn behaviors that are hardly pleasurable to anyone.

Now, this is not to say that I do not want things that are sinful - quite the opposite. But when I recognize them as sin, I recognize that having them would not really contribute to my deepest well-being, and this thought sometimes leads me to reject them, though far, far less often than it should. The point is that Christian morality is not like an invisible fence keeping sheep from the open pasture. To me, it is more like a good teacher, whose pupils leave his classroom not only knowing more, but as different people who want different things.

*There are many fine people who work in finance because they enjoy the challenge of investing. At the same time, there are few professions better suited to the avaricious.

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