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Monday, July 23, 2007

When Christian Morality Fails

Terry Mangum (left) murdered Ken Cummings (right) on orders from the Christian god to kill homosexuals.

I want to continue in the same vein that I began with my criticism of Michael Gerson, who claimed that although atheists could be good people, they could not justify their moral system. Presumably, however, Christians have access to a superior moral system (ultimately expressed in the "nature" of their god, but only practically accessible through their sacred scriptures) which provide the guidelines for the only truly moral life. Unfortunatly, a sad story from Texas is a keen illustration of why Christian morality is not a superior system.

Terry Mangum, a Christian Texan about my age, has studied the Bible extensively, and has even been in communication with the Christian deity. During one such supernatural experience, Yahweh directed him to kill a homosexual man. After six months of planning, Terry drove into Houston to do so. He found Ken Cummings, a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, at a bar, and after a few drinks went to Cummings' home with him. There, he stabbed Cummings to death with a six-inch knife, took his body to Mangum's grandfather's ranch near San Antonio, then burned and buried the body in a shallow grave.

One might think that such a violent, unprovoked act could not possibly come from someone with a strong religious background. But remember that the Christian scriptures are chock-full of hideously violent acts, most of which make Mangum's act seem downright polite (at least he had a couple beers with his victim before killing him), and all of which are justified by Christians today the same way that Mangum justifies his own actions- "I believe I'm Elijah, called by God to be a prophet... I believe with all my heart that I was doing the right thing."

Indeed, Elijah is a appropriate example for Magnum in this instance- the holy prophet of Yahweh slaughtered 450 men in one sitting, just because they worshipped a different god. But are there other Biblical examples that Mangum could have been drawing on when he committed his action? Of course there are- in Leviticus 20, we read:
The man who has intercourse with a man in the same way as with a woman: they have done a hateful thing together; they will be put to death; their blood will be on thier own heads.
And the deity Yahweh presumably punctuates the "hatefulness" of homosexuality by destroying two whole cities of people in Genesis 19 (we can safely assume this included many small children and babies), even though Abraham tries to intercede and prevent Yahweh's slaughter. But this hostility to homosexuality continues into the New Testament as well- in the letter of Paul to the Romans, we read:
That is why God abandoned them to degrading passions: why their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural practices; and the men, in a similar fashion, too, giving up normal relations with women, are consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameful things with men and receiving in themselves due reward for their perversion.
Is it any real mystery why a devout young Christian, deep in the heart of conservative Texas, would come to the conclusion that homosexuals are flaunting the will of his god, and are deserving of death? Is it any wonder that when Terry Mangum received communication from his god, it advocated violence against them? And yet, Christians such as Michael Gerson would have us believe that it is only by appealing to the violence-choked scriptures of Christianity that one can truly be justified as a moral person. In the ultimate act of irony, some Christians will defend their scriptures by claiming that for that particular time and place, the seemingly immoral actions were actually good- and thus engage in the same moral relativism for which they would be eager to condemn others. If anything is made clear by this sad affair, it is that pointing to a book which contains actions no good person would commit today is no substitute for a well-developed moral system based only on reason and the facts of reality. Otherwise, we are doomed to continue equating piety with morality, as Terry Mangum does: "It's not that I'm a bad dude... I love God."

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12 Comments:

At 7/23/2007 10:57 AM, Blogger Joseph declaimed...

The usual flippant response from a Christian would be that the murderer is a) not a true Christian, b) mentally unstable (and therefore not representative of a true Christian), c) a bad apple and does not invalidate God's teachings or d) today's Christians are not bound by the Old Testament rules since Jesus came to form a new convenant (and therefore the murderer was not following God's true law). Whenever an heinous act is taken in God's name, Christians' first response is to deny the person was ever in their group or did not follow their rules. Of course this is not unique to Christians. This is a natural human response to unwanted criticism or attacks against their group: overlook the bad, focus on the good. If only the natural response for humans was to politely accept criticism, fix the problems and refuse to unjustifiably criticize others in the same manner, then the world might be a little more peaceful.

 
At 7/23/2007 3:38 PM, Blogger Hellbound Alleee declaimed...

I don't think you can fix the problem as long a collectivist belief system around such text (or similar notions) exists.

 
At 7/23/2007 7:41 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Sounds to me like he's the model of Christian morality -- what God wills you to do, you do without question... Right?

*waits for mob of justifications by hypocritical folks who call themselves Christians*

I really wonder when people will realize that the only people who are scripturally diligent, and completely dedicated are the fanatical fringe so castigated by so-called 'moderate Christians'?

Religion is a joke. Because it's knowledge is inherently unchangeable (thats the nature of revealed knowledge folks), it is incapable of adapting to new realities... Equally, as 'moderate' followers of any given religion try to mix the secular world with their ancient revealed knowledge religion, they end up abandoning one or the other out of neccesity...

...or of course it coild also mean living delusionally, maintaining the fiction that revealed knowledge has a place in a secular world, living as hyoocrites.

 
At 7/23/2007 11:28 PM, Blogger Butch declaimed...

I think it's more complicated than all that. Certainly this act could not be justified using Scripture; it would be out of context and thusly inapplicable to just anyone who wanted to use it.

Secondly, if we are using the Bible as a reference point, God commanded people who saw Him act directly. They didn't act on impulse or allow a singular individual to act who was not accountable to the community at large.

Third, saying someone who murders someone else is not a true Christian isn't a "flippant" response; rather, it's a natural inability to reconcile what Jesus taught with those actions, well thought-out, mind you. Many Christians don't mind criticism, they just don't want to be painted with the same brush as someone who lives that way. Christianity is not an acceptance of propositions and then a moving-on to whatever; it is an altogether different life being lived out.

I think intellectual honesty disallows the pictures presented here of what "true" Christian morality is. It would be difficult to find any majority of Christians who really think homosexuals should be punished at all, let alone murdered.

 
At 7/24/2007 1:33 AM, Blogger olly declaimed...

"I think it's more complicated than all that. Certainly this act could not be justified using Scripture; it would be out of context and thusly inapplicable to just anyone who wanted to use it."

This act could easily be justified in scripture, in many, many places in the old testament and new... and Zach has given you a couple examples in this post alone. Saying something is "out of context" is a cop out... you can easily twist the bible to mean anything you want in that sense. The whole "the bible must be read in context" thing doesn't really fly when the scripture is quite plainly saying that homosexuals should be killed.

"Secondly, if we are using the Bible as a reference point, God commanded people who saw Him act directly. They didn't act on impulse or allow a singular individual to act who was not accountable to the community at large."

So God is a democratically elected leader now? That's a new one. Please, God is quite plainly the one and only final word in the Bible ... indeed, to say otherwise is and always has been blasphemy in the eyes of every Abrahamic relgion. If God told a singular individual to go up a mountain to recover some tablets that had some questionable morality, and that person had faith, then the person would do it whether the community liked it or not: that's the definition of "letting go and trusting God".

"Third, saying someone who murders someone else is not a true Christian isn't a "flippant" response; rather, it's a natural inability to reconcile what Jesus taught with those actions, well thought-out, mind you. Many Christians don't mind criticism, they just don't want to be painted with the same brush as someone who lives that way. Christianity is not an acceptance of propositions and then a moving-on to whatever; it is an altogether different life being lived out."

If God and Jesus are the same being, as the Bible claims then answer me this: if Jesus tells you murder is wrong, but God tells you to kill homosexuals, what are you left to believe? One: you can believe that God is a schizophrenic. Two: you can believe that God is testing you, and choose which 'being' to listen to (which puts you in quite the conundrum AND puts you in a position where God's word is contradictory, therefore no longer absolute).

"I think intellectual honesty disallows the pictures presented here of what "true" Christian morality is. It would be difficult to find any majority of Christians who really think homosexuals should be punished at all, let alone murdered.""

Again you bring up this idea of the majority... do you truly believe that Christian morality is derived from the will of the majority? (As a hint, I BELIVE THIS IS TRUE). If you do, you've just completely disavowed any authority the Bible had... you've instead gone with the idea that morality should be decided by collective majority... and THAT my friend scares the shit out of me even more than some ancient Babble.

-olly

 
At 7/24/2007 2:48 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Butch,

Terry Mangum is a way better Christian than you.

Certainly this act could not be justified using Scripture; it would be out of context and thusly inapplicable to just anyone who wanted to use it.

Got any Bible passages to support this assertion?

According to the stories in the Bible, KILLING is like the #1 thing "true" Christians do, besides actually praying to God and praising Him.

 
At 7/24/2007 9:26 PM, Blogger Jamie declaimed...

"According to the stories in the Bible, KILLING is like the #1 thing "true" Christians do, besides actually praying to God and praising Him."

I made a negative claim that Scripture doesn't support it, so I wouldn't have Scripture to back that kind of thing up because it's not there. The burden of proof would be on you.

There is much debate on whether or not those in Christ are to keep certain laws and practices that the Jews were required to keep o execute; I could be wrong on this but I'd rather err on the side of not killing people. Plus, I don't see anywhere in Scripture where homosexuality as a desire is wrong--only homosexual acts. Regardless I don't see any warrant for Christians to obey any such law. At least gentiles aren't easily pointed to as needing to do so.

No, God is not a democratically elected leader; however, 1 John 4:1 and Deuteronomy 13:1-3 are a couple of examples that any individual cannot do as he pleases simply because he is convinced of something, he is still accountable, NT or OT.

Aaron-why the negativity? I thought you and Zach and I were good for a beer when you come to Dallas! Found a great micro-brewery that sells 1/2-gallon growlers, by the way. Cheap and reeeal good.

 
At 7/25/2007 2:22 AM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

John-

I don't think that Aaron's observation that Mangum "is a way better Christian than you" was meant to be insulting (as strange as that may seem).

I also want to distance myself from any appeal to True Christianity™, because it can be used just as easily to conjure up the concept of True Atheism™, and I just don't think it serves any point. If someone claims to hold any particular creed, it's my policy to take them at their word.

That being said, my intent in pointing out this story was to show that Christian morality, which usually consists of appealing to the Christian scriptures as well as invoking personal communication from the Christian deity, can go horribly awry. Whether or not the Bible actually advocates killing homosexuals (and I've heard some plausible arguments that it doesn't), it's at least a reasonable conclusion from a simple reading of the text. The fact that Christians today would be far less likely to carry this out than Christians 100 years ago says less about advances in Christian exegetical sophistication than it does about the increasing influence of humanistic values, in my opinion.

However, for a young man in Houston to disagree with you on your interpretation of those passages (and for the Christian god to send him messages of support) should give us the clear conclusion that simply arguing from Christian morality is not enough in this situation. Both you and Mangum claim to be Christians, and yet you both seem to have vastly different moral values. There's a disconnect there, and I'm not sure that simply appealing to the Bible is enough to explain it.

 
At 7/25/2007 6:37 PM, Blogger Jamie declaimed...

Good point. I think you're right insofar as dispositions are concerned. I wouldn't go so far as to say that my not murdering is based on Scripture; I don't think I would murder anyone anyway...or would I...? Not really. I wouldn't.

 
At 7/26/2007 3:08 PM, Blogger Aaron Kinney declaimed...

Jamie,

A clarification is in order. I didnt mean that in the negative/insulting way that it sounded. Well, more specifically, I was trying to insult Christianity, not any person in the comments here.

I made a negative claim that Scripture doesn't support it, so I wouldn't have Scripture to back that kind of thing up because it's not there. The burden of proof would be on you.

Fair enough. Im a bit lazy at the moment so Ill just offer up a link.

I thought you and Zach and I were good for a beer when you come to Dallas! Found a great micro-brewery that sells 1/2-gallon growlers, by the way. Cheap and reeeal good.

I certainly hope I would still be able to pick up a beer with all you guys whenever I hit Dallas! 1/2 gallon growlers sound great.

It may be hard to tell by my written essays and comments, but I really am a very nice and friendly guy in person. Im just full of strong opinions and in written form it makes me look aggressive. :-/

 
At 7/27/2007 7:59 AM, Blogger Butch declaimed...

Right on. I'm not really that sensitive, just trying to keep my own mood light or something. Yeah, my wife was logged in to her gmail so it came up as her responding to that. Sorry for the confusion.

 
At 7/28/2007 5:05 PM, Blogger breakerslion declaimed...

The bible can be, and has been, used to justify any number of heinous acts. From the massacre of the Heugonauts, to the Salem Witch trials, to the mad bombing of abortion clinics. All of these are examples of forcing one’s ideology upon another, or resorting to violence and murder to destroy the competition and terrorize the general population. The Bible is rife with supporting examples. There are injunctions against this behavior as well. That’s called contradiction. The problem is not one of old versus new testament either. There are plenty of choice curses and dire threats in the NT. The breakdown is, and has always been, tribal. It’s wrong to murder one of US, but it’s ok to kill one of THEM. Self-serving, hypocritical Clerics have been painting that distinction for their followers since the dawn of religion. The only difference I see between the hatemongers of today and those of yesteryear, is that today’s lunatics are quick to shout “He acted alone!” after they wind up a psychopath.

 

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