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Can an individual live according to Christian morals taught by Jesus, but not live according to the "greatest command" (to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.")?

In other words, is it possible to not love God, not follow God, and not believe in Jesus but still keep all the other commands?

Specifically, I'm thinking of commands like "honor one another more highly than yourself", love those who hate you, do not conform to the pattern of this world, do not take revenge, etc.

Is it possible to keep these types of high moral commands and maintain a separation from God?

Furthermore, what distinctions could be made between someone ignorant of the Bible and someone who has outright rejected God's Word?

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closed as not constructive by Richard Oct 18 '11 at 14:24

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
Per our new rules, I'm closing this as Not Constructive. I cannot imagine an answer to this question based on doctrine and the question itself is not asking about doctrine, doctrinal exegesis of text, or upon facts. It is pure speculation and therefore Not Constructive for this site. –  Richard Oct 18 '11 at 14:24

6 Answers 6

I may be wrong, but I think that while someone may not know about God or not believe in God, still this person have a God's law written in heart, thus may follow a law.

Romans 2:14-16
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:

Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

But I'm not sure about high moral commands from question.

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This reminds me of Common Grace. Also, +1 for a Biblical perspective. I think you might be right about this. –  Richard Sep 23 '11 at 13:25

I'm sceptical about your premises:

  • honor one another more highly than yourself
  • love those who hate you
  • do not conform to the pattern of this world
  • do not take revenge

I don't think that Christians in reality reach goal one and two, nor, that it would be a goal to reach at all. Why should anybody love somebody more than himself? Yes - of course parents often sacrifice themselves for their children, but this is a pattern, common to all people, and even animals do it.

In it's broad vagueness, I don't see a goal in point 3.

To not take revenge is a necessity in a society to stop violence, and every human society has rules, to stop revenge. Most societies move the judgement to a third party, which searches for a solution without being a party of the dispute.

If there are rational reasons to act in some way, the society should try to reach a special behaviour. A lot of the rules which are rationalised by religion are a consequence of our ability, to feel empathy, to understand each other. To make advantages towards a society of less violence and more welfare we should study ourselves on a scientific basis, and not be hindered by dogmatic writings, 2000 years old and more.

If your premise is, that it is impossible to find intelligent answers outside the bible, and maybe in dissent to the bible, your discussion here is senseless - what are you looking for? If you look at some of the most controversial discussions here, you will see, how human progress, including moral progress, is more hindered by Christian Religion, and not lead by it.

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So, you're saying "No, it's not possible". And you base that on the fact that anyone apart from God would not find these "high moral standards" acceptable. I think you may be right. –  Richard Sep 23 '11 at 13:23
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I wouldn't say 'apart from God' and I wouldn't call them 'high', but unhuman. –  user unknown Sep 23 '11 at 15:09
    
They're accomplishable. –  Richard Sep 23 '11 at 15:19

It's certainly theoretically possible to come up with an independent system of morals that closely matches revealed morality, but it's highly unlikely that anyone will get it right on their own, for reasons that ought to be intuitively obvious to any engineer.

One of the simplest mistakes for an inexperienced engineer to make is to attempt to design something from scratch to solve a problem that's already been solved, with a well-known and understood solution, one that's been around long enough for people to have found the problems with it and fixed them. This error is generally known as "reinventing the wheel," and it's a good way to bring the ridicule of other engineers down upon oneself, because the reinvented "wheel" does not have the polish of a mature solution and is likely to be full of problems, some minor, some not-so-minor, that have already been found and fixed by more experienced engineers.

And yet people continue to attempt to reinvent solutions to one of the oldest, and most important, and most widely-studied problems in human history: the question of how people should behave in order to ensure a stable society, a subject generally called "morality." This despite the fact that a mature, well-tested, proven solution exists with thousands of years of successful history behind it: the revealed morality of God. When followed, it has historically ensured a stable, smoothly-functioning society as long as people hold to it. When abandoned or distorted too far, the civilization decays and weakens, until the people in question end up meeting a violent end and being replaced by others who live in a more moral fashion. This is a clear, repeating pattern throughout human history that those who attempt to reinvent morality ignore at their own peril.

So yes, to a certain degree, it's possible to come up with a working moral code in the absence of God. But it will almost certainly not have the details right, which puts those who follow it at risk.

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That brings up the interesting point that followers of a religion will be more devoted to it purely because of the religious implications. Without the religious aspect, it loses the cohesiveness. But now we're getting into philosophy.se territory. –  Richard Sep 22 '11 at 20:41
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let us continue this discussion in chat –  Marc Gravell Sep 23 '11 at 5:36

As is common, it largely comes down to how you define morality. If (as per the question) one doesn't believe in God or follow God, then there is no reason to accept some of the things that are only declared "moral" due to being divinely stated. We all know the obvious ones... they have come up here often enough, so I won't get distracted mentioning them.

But yes: one could choose to adopt the same morals as the Bible, but I think everyone should be able to qualify the reasons for their morals; and if you don't have a divine crutch to support them, then there are a few Biblical morals that are pretty hard to justify otherwise.

Re the examples: I would wager that those things are equally challenging for people of all creeds and none, but both society and law generally cover most of them - for example, we don't act in a vigilante way. Likewise "honour one another" and "love those who hate you" generally fit very well with a Humanist outlook, which places emphasis on the rights, human value, and equality of all people.

The "do not conform to the pattern" one cited is interesting, though; if I understand your explanation (comments), then this is "don't worry about earthly things". Now, if we put aside the notion of God (as per the question), completely denying earthly things is... Stupid. The view is "this world (this wonderful, amazing, beautiful world) is all we have". If we don't take the time to enjoy it (with our friends and families etc), then we are missing all that we have. So: while I do not support overt materialism, I absolutely am going to try and enjoy this world and my time on it (but hopefully not to the exclusion of others).

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It is certainly possible for someone to follow various commandments by sheer will power. The Pharisees are a great example of this, following the letter of the law as closely as possible.

However, morality is more than just adherence to a certain set of rules. Morality is not merely a matter of the will, but of the heart and mind as well, because we are more than just a will.

It would also be presumably easier for a follower of Jesus to follow the law, since that person is a new creation with a new heart.

Still, the Bible is pretty clear that there is none righteous, no not one, so even though it is theoretically possible for someone to be moral--Christian or not--in reality it is impossible, with or without God.

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I find questions like this perplexing, in that they strike me as as obvious as "is it possible for a leaf to be red instead of green?". What is the motivation to ask this?

In any case... Thomas Jefferson found the New Testament to be an excellent guide to morals, but excised the supernatural elements (thereby "not loving God") and created his own version, now known as the "Jefferson Bible".

Many of the moral teachings of Christianity are shared in common with other faiths or practices. For example, being "apart from the ways of the world" and not striving for earthly pleasures is a component of some strains of Buddhism. The same could be said for the ancient orphics, Indian sadhus, and probably a great many other ascetic traditions. Buddhism also embraces compassion (loving one's neighbor).

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+1 for the reference to the Jefferson Bible. I didn't know about that. –  Richard Sep 22 '11 at 20:59

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