Absolute Moral Values

The aim of this page is to examine the claims of Christians that they have access to absolute moral values by examining one example,murder, in particular.

It is often claimed that the existence of absolute moral values is an indicator that there is a god, as it is claimed that only a god can provide absolute moral values.

Let us look at one moral value in particular, killing.

The Ten Commandments say 'You shall not murder.' Murder is a better translation than killing.

It is agreed by most people that you are sometimes allowed to kill people, for example in self-defence. It is agreed by everybody that you are not allowed to murder people. After all, murder is defined as unjustified killing.

Is this an absolute moral value? It would be if everybody agreed what killings were unjustified. In Britain, killing people by the State is regarded as murder. In the USA, the State is allowed to kill people after due process of law. It is then called capital punishment, not murder.

Almost all countries make a distinction between murder and manslaughter. The United States recognises degrees of murder, although I do not know enough about the American legal system to say what distinguishes first-degree murder from second-degree murder.

Unless we have an absolute standard of murder, the commandment 'you shall not murder' means no more than that it is unjustified to kill people when it is unjustified to kill them.

'You shall not murder' can not be an absolute moral value, unless the Bible states what murder is. Otherwise, man and not God is defining what murder is, and, as we all know, different societies define murder differently.

So how does the Bible define murder? How does the Bible let us distinguish between murder, manslaughter, capital punishment, justified homicide, killing in self-defence, and killing during times of war?

One place where the Bible defines murder is Matthew 5:21-22 'You have heard that it was said to the people long ago 'Do not murder' and that anyone who murders will be subject to judgement. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.'.

Although these are the words of Jesus, most Christians would be unhappy at seeing them made into the law of the land, so that anybody who is angry with his brother is guilty of murder. Jesus did not intend to equate anger with murder in that sense, so we must look elsewhere for an absolute definition of murder, one which is God's law and not man's.

The only other place I know of where the Bible attempts to distinguish between murder, manslaughter, justified homicide etc is Numbers 35:16-29, which are , according to verse 29, to be legal requirements.

At last we have established an absolute moral value about killing, based on an absolute definition of murder, to be found in Numbers 35:16-29. The only snag is that this passage gives a definition of murder which is impossible for us to accept.

Here are the relevant verses.

These regulations state clearly that murder is something committed with an iron object, a wooden object, fists, or something thrown etc. Is it really impossible to murder someone by strangling him?

Is it an absolute moral value that non-murderers, ie people guilty of manslaughter, or of carrying out legal executions, are required to stay in specified towns until the high priest dies, or be killed by the avenger of blood?

The Biblical definition of murder take no account of killings in wartime or peacetime. It seems all soldiers are guilty of murder, according to the Bible.

Until people can come up with a better definition of the difference between murder and manslaughter than that given in the Bible, we must conclude that Christians cannot give us an absolute moral value about killing. If such a basic value cannot be made absolute, then how can it be claimed that Christians have access to absolute moral values?

There has been a response to this article. My reply is in bold

You claim that there are absolutely no absolute moral standards because the Bible doesn't provide enough definition of sins such as "murder." I ask you this: Is there any explicit definition covering all possible real-world scenarios that would satisfy your legalistic perception of this? And if you think that you could come up with one, I'll show you a high-paid American lawyer who can find a loop-hole.

The biblical principle of morality is simply this: In all things are you acting out of love for God and do you desire him more than anything else? Putting your life on the line to protect your innocent children or mother is an act out of love, even if you had to kill the attacker.

So murder is not always wrong?

However raping innocent children or women is by definition NOT out of love. This is why it is ABSOLUTELY wrong in all cases.

But according to your belief, there is nothing inherently wrong about rape, for a relativist view must respect the view of the rapist.

OK, provide a definition of rape , showing how you got that definition from the Bible. If you can't, I shall assume your definition of rape is from man, not God, and your absolute moral value about rape is from man, not God.

A man-made justice system cannot know the condition of the individual's heart, thus it relies on narrow legal definitions and evidence. It is a flawed system (but the best we can do) which seeks to carry out one of the functions of government: protection of society. Jury convictions are delivered only when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that an action meets some specific definition. Morality, however, is based on God's all-knowing perfect justice. Some acts are self-evidently immoral to us (e.g., rape); other's are tougher for us to discern based on our outsiders' limited knowledge of facts. But in the eyes of the Absolute, there is always a right or wrong choice in our actions.

And you are no more able to tell us which is which than people who do not believe in absolute moral values.

In your paper on "Absolute Moral Values", you write:

Almost all countries make a distinction between murder and manslaughter. The United States recognises degrees of murder, although I do not know enough about the American legal system to say what distinguishes first- degree murder from second-degree murder.

It is something of a trivial point -- and a complicated one, as laws on murder vary from state to state -- but, generally: 'first degree murder' is both intentional and premeditated (or in some cases, occurs as part of another criminal act, such as during an armed robbery), while 'second degree murder' is intentional, but not planned. And 'manslaughter' may be the result of an intentional act, but without the intent to kill.


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