Obama's Judeo-Christian Morality Junk

I’ve been trying to compare at least some aspects of the candidacies of McCain vs. Obama. Last week’s post didn’t get beyond McCain’s erroneous comment (made during an interview with Dan Gilgoff of belief.net): “Yes… the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” This week, to start, consider another of McCain’s incorrect comments made during the same interview:
On the issue of the war in Iraq and the conduct of it and President Bush’s public statements about it, let me just go back. We were founded as a nation on Judeo-Christian principles. There’s very little debate about that.
As Bill Cosby would say: “Riiiiiiight.” But before commenting on why “there's very little debate about that”, I want to demonstrate that Obama made a similar, ill-considered statement.

Obama’s blunder is contained in his keynote address to the 28 June 2006 “Call to Renewal” meeting. Videos of his address are available, in full or in part, and the full text is available at the “Obama for President” website. Later in this post I’ll show some of the context of Obama’s remark; for now, consider just his raw (and rancid) statement:
Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition…
Gimme a break! For McCain to say that “we were founded as a nation on Judeo-Christian principles” and for Obama to say that “much of our [morality is] grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition” is like saying that the 120th floor of a skyscraper is “founded” or “grounded” on the 96th and 101st floors! In contrast to such descriptions, human morality is like a range of mountains, with different cultures climbing different peaks, with different religions causing varying degrees of difficulty in climbing the mountains (e.g., causing avalanches, forest fires, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, lava flows, etc.), and yet, with the entire mountain range resting on a solid bedrock of evolution.

In particular, the morality of most Americans (and most “Westerners”) has advanced substantially during the 24 centuries since Ezra and co-conspiring clerics cobbled together the Old Testament and during the 20 centuries since Paul and co-conspiring clerics cobbled together the New Testament. For example, think of the substantial progress associated with representative governments, religious freedom, human rights, the anti-slavery, women’s suffrage, labor, anti-monopoly, and women’s liberation movements, environmental protection, and recently, progress toward realizing a global community. In addition, before Christianity and Judaism polluted the world, humans developed their personal and interpersonal moral senses during the ~100 centuries of “civilized” life and during at least 1,000 centuries of tribal life. And as I’ll outline below, before any of that, morality evolved with life itself.

To appreciate the long history of our moral development, first realize the obvious fact that moral values (as with any values) are meaningless unless referenced to some objective. For example, if your objective is to live in a shelter that can withstand wind and rain, then there’s relatively low value in building it out of straw (a value of, say, minus 8 on a scale of –10 to +10), whereas there’s a relatively high value (maybe, a plus 6 on the same scale) in building it out of stone bricks. Therefore, to assess moral values (as with any values), first it’s necessary to define the objective (or objectives).

In addition, realize the obvious fact that the objective of all life is to live. What we call ‘life’ started on Earth about 4 billion years ago, probably when a molecule in some organic goo near a heat source “discovered” how to reproduce itself, i.e., it became “alive”. The life that “chose” to live obviously had a much better chance of continuing to do so than did the life that chose not to live! Thereby, by natural selection, life chose as its prime objective: to live. The basis of morality, then, is not any Judeo-Christian (or any other religious) “tradition” (or better, “concoction”); instead, the moral value of any act is judged against its value to life. Albert Schweitzer saw some of it, with his: “Reverence for life affords me my fundamental principle of morality.”

To promote life, to act (as we now say) ‘morally’, cooperation was found (and is still found) to be highly useful (highly moral). Thus, molecules “learned” to cooperate within cells; in time, cells learned to cooperate between and among cells; in time, groups of cells learned how to cooperate within organs; in time, organs learned how to cooperate within bodies; in time, social beings such as we humans learned how to cooperate between and among individuals; in time, groups of individuals learned how to cooperate within families, tribes and nations, and as a global community of humans develops (with the help of the wonderful internet!), it’s hoped that all people, all groups, and all nations of the world will learn how to cooperate with one another.

Thus, cooperation (at ever increasing spatial scales) has been an act that’s justifiably described as “morally good” (insofar as it promotes life). Similarly with all acts: they can be judged relative to the goal of promoting life and, if desired, they can be put on some convenient “morality scale”, ranging (say) from –10 (extremely immoral) to +10 (extremely moral, i.e., extremely valuable for our survival).

Such morality wasn’t developed by humans: it was started by replicating molecules and was highly developed by dolphins, elephants, apes, monkeys, and other social animals. In an earlier post in this blog (and elsewhere), I’ve shown many examples studied by evolutionary biologists. The one example that frequently comes to my mind is of dolphins that swim beneath a wounded cousin, periodically lifting it to the surface to breathe. As Michael Shermer wrote in his 2204 book The Science of Good and Evil:
Hundreds of such examples exist in the scientific literature, and thousands more in popular literature. The following characteristics appear to be shared by humans and other mammals, including and especially the apes, monkeys, dolphins, and whales: attachment and bonding, cooperation and mutual aid, sympathy and empathy, direct and indirect reciprocity, altruism and reciprocal altruism, conflict resolution and peace making, deception and deception detection, community concern and caring about what others think about you, and awareness of and response to the social rules of the group…
Similarly and unsurprisingly, continuing the ~4 billion-year-old evolutionary trend, primitive humans were highly moral – or they wouldn’t have survived.

With the invention of writing by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia (~5,000 years ago), written records of human moral codes soon became available. For example, consider the following “Instructions to Zi-ud-sura from his father, Curuppag”, found on clay tablets in Mesopotamia dated to be written ~4,600 years ago. In what follows, I quote (and show in blue) those few “lines” of the Instructions (of a total of 280 lines) that are similar to the indicated (red) quotations from the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments – written approximately 2,000 years later! Interested readers can find the full Instructions from Curuppag (and translations of a thousand-or-so other Sumerian clay tablets!) at the tremendous website: “The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature”, hosted by The Oriental Institute, University of Oxford.
You should not speak improperly… You should not curse strongly…
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain…

You should not speak arrogantly to your mother… You should not question the words of your mother… The instructions of the father should be complied with.
Honor thy father and thy mother.

You should not cause a quarrel… You should not pick a quarrel… My son, you should not use violence…
Thou shalt not kill.

You should not buy a prostitute… You should not play around with a married young woman… You should not commit rape on someone’s daughter… You should not have sex with your slave girl…
Thou shalt not commit adultery.

You should not steal anything… you should not commit robbery…
Thou shalt not steal.

You should not… [tell] lies…
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

You should not serve things; things should serve you…
Thou shalt not covet…
Therefore, the clerics who concocted the Ten Commandments didn't report any communications to Moses from some giant Jabberwock in the sky; instead, they obviously just recorded the thoughts of earlier people.

Similar moral codes were recorded in Ancient Egypt. For example, ~4400 years ago (again ~2,000 years before the Old Testament was written), the Egyptian city governor Ptahhotpe wrote:
Let the love thou feelest pass into the heart of those whom thou lovest…
Another example from Ancient Egypt, this one from ~4100 years ago, is by the author (whose name is lost) who wrote in The Teachings for Merikare (his son):
Do justice, that you may live long upon earth. Calm the weeper; do not oppress the widow, do not oust a man from his father’s property… Beware of punishing wrongfully… Instill the love of you into all the world, for a good character is what is remembered.
Thus, such moral codes (e.g., as summarized in the Egyptian Book of the Dead) were highly developed thousands of years before the Old Testament was cobbled together, almost certainly by Ezra and his fellow priests and who, in the main, simply plagiarized available moral codes.

Moreover, as I show elsewhere, not only did the Old Testament “authors” plagiarize available moral codes, they mixed them with myths that had been diffusing orally throughout Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years e.g., the Egyptian genesis myth that starts “In the beginning…”, the Persian genesis myth about creation in “six periods”, the Egyptian myths about the first man, Atum, and “the tree of knowledge”, the Mesopotamian myths about “the rib woman” and the “eternally living snake”, the Sumerian myth about “the Great Flood”, etc. This mixing was done, however, not to define any “Judeo” moral code, but to create and establish another, damnable, parasitic priesthood.

Similarly with Christianity: the vast majority of the sayings attributed to Jesus by the authors of the New Testament are simply restatements of sayings that were well known in the “wisdom literature”, derived from Egyptian, Greek, Jewish, Persian, Indian, and other sources and available at the amazing library that existed at Alexandria. As illustrations of available statements of “the kindness principle” (e.g., “the Golden Rule”, the most famous statement attributed to Jesus) consider the following examples (references for which I give elsewhere).

From Hinduism, which predates Christianity by at least 1,000 years:
Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you… Let no man do to another that which would be repugnant to himself… One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself. This is the essence of morality.
From Zoroastrianism, which predates Christianity by at least 500 years (Zoroaster may have lived from perhaps ~630–550 BCE, but perhaps he lived as early as 1200 BCE, in what is now Iran):
Nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good for itself.
From Lao-tzu, who lived from ~604–531 BCE in China and who, in some ways, was the founder of the philosophical system known as Taoism or Daoism, although its origin can be traced back to the Book of Changes or I Ching, written in about 1200 BCE:
Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss. Whoever is self-centered cannot have the love of others.
From the Buddha [Siddhartha (or Shakyamuni = The sage from the tribe of the Shakyas) Gautama], who lived from ~563–479 BCE in India and founded the philosophy known as Buddhism:
Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
From Confucius [Latinized from “Kung the master”, i.e., Kung (or K’ung) Fu-tse (= the master)], who lived from ~555–479 BCE in China and founded the philosophy known as Confucianism:
What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others… Recompense injury with justice; recompense kindness with kindness.
From Aesop (who lived ~500 BCE, but the wisdom in his fables almost certainly is from much earlier, e.g., from during the time of the Seven Sages):
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
From Pittacus (~650 BCE):
Do not do to your neighbor what you would take ill from him.
From Thales (~464 BCE):
Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.
From Sextus (~406 BCE):
What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them.
From Plato (~390 BCE):
And may I do to others as I would that others should do to me.
From Aristippus (~365 BCE):
Cherish reciprocal benevolence, which will make you as anxious for another’s welfare as your own.
From Aristotle (~340 BCE):
We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends to behave to us.
From Isocrates (~340 BCE):
Act toward others as you would desire them to act towards you.
Thus, certainly the Golden Rule (allegedly promoted by Jesus in the form “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) wasn’t first proclaimed by Jesus. In fact, and as might be expected from the Greek authors of the New Testament, what’s claimed to be Christ’s Golden Rule is essentially a restatement of Plato’s formulation of the kindness principle.

Furthermore, the Golden Rule is an unwise interpersonal moral code, since following it, “you” presume too much. Instead, as Edward Babinski points out, better than the Golden Rule is the Platinum Rule:
Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.
“In other words,” as Babinski explains, “take time to learn about your neighbor’s tastes, their mood, their nature, and their temperament, before you start ‘doing’ things ‘unto them’. Treat others the way they want to be treated.”

Moreover, in the erroneous labeling of our moral principles as Judeo-Christian, even the most outlandish (and traitorous) statement attributed to Jesus by Matthew, namely, “love thy enemies”, is an incorrect interpretation of older, wiser counsel. For example, as Babinski reports, there’s the following from the Akkadian Councils of Wisdom (from the ancient Babylonian civilization that existed ~2,000 BCE):
Do not return evil to your adversary. Requite with kindness the one who does evil to you. Maintain justice for your enemy. Be friendly to your enemy.
Further, as is illustrated below, similar wisdom was contained in other religions/philosophies, whose founders lived ~500 years before Jesus:
Taoism: “Return love for hatred.”

Zoroastrian: “… may I strive to make him who is our enemy, a friend; to make him who is wicked, righteous; to make him who is ignorant, learned.”

Buddhism: “Let us live happily, not hating those who hate us. Let us therefore overcome anger by kindness, evil by good, falsehood by truth… In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.”
Such examples show far more wisdom than the ill-advised Christian principle “love thy enemy” (which is commonly called 'treason'): the wisdom literature didn’t promote pacifism (as did the clerics who wrote the New Testament); instead, the goal of such advice was to get one’s enemy to smarten up!

In general, then, Christian clerics didn’t create a new moral code; they didn’t put the finishing touches on some new, enlightened Judeo-Christian moral code; instead, they created still another, damnable, parasitic priesthood – which has now been polluting humanity for almost 2,000 years. Similar occurred with all clerical concoctions, of course including the abominations known as Islam and Mormonism.

In sum, morality isn’t based on any religion; it’s based on life. No god dictated any moral code; life did. “We the living” decided to describe living as ‘good’, or alternatively, that living has a high moral value.

Even religious kooks such as the Muslim maniacs who say “we love death” put an extremely high value on life, but in their insanity (similar to earlier Egyptian, Zoroastrian, and Christian insanities), Islamists pursue what in their delusions they consider to be “the ultimate good”, namely, the oxymoronic idea of “life after death”. But sane humans, those whose brains are still functioning, recognize that the act of highest personal morality (a +10 on a moral scale from –10 to +10) is to use their brains as best they can, i.e., evaluate. At the other extreme, the act of lowest personal morality (a –10 on the same scale) is to do what all clerics and dictators demand, i.e., don’t evaluate; obey.

Further, using their brains as best (i.e., acting morally), sane humans then see that the highest interpersonal morality can be expressed in many ways, such as those given above or as given by Ayn Rand, “Give equal value for value received.” An alternative that I prefer is: “Everyone has an equal right to claim one’s own existence.” All such sane, interpersonal moral codes follow because of the truth in the folk wisdom: “What goes around, comes around.”

So, getting back to McCain and Obama, first I’d say that McCain should consider the possibility that the reason why “there’s very little debate about that” [that “we were founded as a nation on Judeo-Christian principles”] is because the statement is so absurd that it’s not worth debating! Next, with respect to Obama’s ill-advised statement that “our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition”, I wonder how he managed to get his law degree and to teach Constitutional law! I wonder if he’s ever heard of a fellow by the name of Thomas Jefferson. I wonder if he’s ever examined the basis of our common law. If not (as seems to be the case), I’d recommend that he’d start by reading Thomas Jefferson’s 10 February 1814 letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, which includes:
For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law, or lex non scripta, and commences that of the statue law, or lex scripta. This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here, then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it.
Besides that, though, would Obama (and his wife and daughters) really want our laws based on the good old “Judeo-Christian moral traditions”, such as slavery and denigration of women, including Biblical rules for the proper ways to beat your slaves to death and how to sell your daughters into slavery?!

But enough of that. Now (and in contrast to Obama’s promise about using only public funds for his presidential campaign), let me keep my promise (made earlier in this post) to show you the context of Obama’s comment. The context follows, which I’ve interrupted in places with some notes in “square brackets”:
In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality [well said!], I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they’re something they’re not. They don’t need to do that. None of us need to do that. [Well, that certainly is debatable: it obviously needs to be done if one wants to be elected to a public office, and some of us feel that it’s necessary to remain anonymous to protect our families from harm perpetrated by religious kooks.]

But what I am suggesting is this – secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. [No, Obama, you’re the one who’s wrong: when people enter the public square, civility demands that opinions be supported by evidence; in contrast, when people enter the public square claiming that their positions are supported by an invisible friend in the sky, then we secularists claim the right to say “Put up or shut up”.]

Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King – indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history – were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. [A part of that statement is supported by evidence; however, just because our grandfathers used buggy whips doesn’t mean that our grandchildren should. Furthermore, though, what a myopic sample of “the majority of great reformers in American history”! What about Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams…? How about Abigail Adams, Ernestine Rose, Elizabeth Stanton, Susan Anthony…? How about Gibbs, Michelson, Morley, Hubble, Bardeen, Cori, Pauling, Feynman…? How about Edison, Ford, Carrier, Carnegie, Kaiser, the Wright brothers, Boeing, Douglas, and so on, out to including maybe even Bill Gates and certainly Steve Jobs? And for that matter (looking again at your list and wondering who the devil “Dorthy Day” was!) what about Doris Day and all the other actors, writers, entertainers, artists, educators, philosophers…? What are you: another damn politician who thinks that the only “great reformers” are politicians?!]

So, to say that men and women should not inject their “personal morality” into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. [I doubt very much that anyone is expecting that! What we hope for is that the essence of everyone’s personal morality will be something similar to “always use your brain as best you can” or simply “evaluate”, rather than people parroting clerical absurdities, with the fundamental goal of such people being their greed for “eternal bliss”, claimed by the clerics to be attainable if the people will just “obey” (or more completely, “pray, pay, and obey”).] Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition… [Riiiiiight]
Yet, I admit that the rest of Obama’s speech is, for a politician, amazingly good:
While I’ve already laid out some of the work that progressive leaders need to do, I want to talk a little bit about what conservative leaders need to do – some truths they need to acknowledge.

For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice…

Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize some overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country…

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

Now this is going to be difficult for some who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, as many evangelicals do. But in a pluralistic democracy, we have no choice. Politics depends on our ability to persuade each other of common aims based on a common reality. It involves the compromise, the art of what’s possible. At some fundamental level, religion does not allow for compromise. It’s the art of the impossible. If God has spoken, then followers are expected to live up to God’s edicts, regardless of the consequences. To base one’s life on such uncompromising commitments may be sublime, but to base our policy making on such commitments would be a dangerous thing…
In fact, such statements by an American politician are so refreshing that I’m tempted to vote for him! But it’s best not to get carried away: the highest morality is to use one’s brain as best one can. Let’s evaluate his ideas about how to strengthen our schools, science, and economy. And besides, don’t forget that he’s a politician – and if that’s not damning enough, he’s a Chicago-area politician!



  1. Very nice treatise! While fairly balanced on the whole, it would be much better if you did not denigrate those who choose a religious perspective upon which to base their morality. You can disprove without being disparaging or disrespectful!

  2. Thank you for the summary comment. And of course I agree with you that, "You can disprove [or at least discredit] without being disparaging or disrespectful", but after trying for decades to politely correct the mistakes of religious people and their clerics - mistakes that have had (and continue to have) horrible consequences - I've reached the point (near the end of my life) of saying, essentially: "Dammit, people, enough's enough; it's time to smarten up!" Maybe I won't be able to convince them, but perhaps I can help the next generation of scientific humanists hoist the torch, to try to enlighten those still shrouded in religious darkness.