Indoctrination stunts moral development. There is no such thing as a single “biblical morality,” but there are many immoral biblical teachings. Morality is more of a muscle than a fixed set of rules; it needs to be exercised, and it requires critical thinking, trust in one’s own judgment, and openness to outside perspectives. Biblical morality is often oppressive. In fundamentalism, God becomes the thought police, and you are judged for thought crimes, or for not using your resources and time perfectly. Morality can become total surrender of human will and personality; all of your time and energy–your whole life–must be in service of the deity. The deity’s law demands more than just moral goodness. It requires an absolute perfection that’s often arbitrary and unfair to our human nature, which is flawed and incapable of constant attention to the deity’s whims. Even pleasure is frowned upon if it’s done for the benefit of the self instead of the deity. Frequently you are taught that decisions which would normally be morally neutral are sinful because they’re not done according to god’s will. Life becomes a guessing game in “hearing god’s voice” and interpreting obscure biblical texts accurately. This morality is unreasonable, dictatorial, and unrealistic. Moral growth is further inhibited by suspicion of moral teachings from other religions, secularism, or science as “worldly” or demonic. This moral framework is limited and often closed to moral developments and scientific advancement.
Fundamentalism teaches us to see the world in black and white terms: everything is good or bad, right or wrong. Not only does this not fit a world filled with grays and ambiguities, it keeps one from developing moral discernment. Morality becomes conformity to authority. We are taught our basic moral impulse is sinful and deceptive, so we must hand over moral reasoning and trust whatever the text and religious leaders say. The indoctrinated still usually “struggle” and “wrestle” (religious cultural language) with obviously immoral teachings like eternal torture, genocide, and shaming. Yet as the person surrenders moral agency, morality becomes blind conformity and it is easier to stomach massive moral inconsistencies. There are valuable morals in the text that promote goodness, but you don’t have to accept immorality in order to appreciate such lessons. Throughout the ages people have committed so many atrocities in the name of god or with great biblical precedent.
We are also told that, in order to be moral, we need a “universal moral standard” or else morality would be subjective or relativistic. Fundamentalists then claim this universal moral standard is whatever their deity says. Even if there was a universal moral standard, it is certainly not modeled by the arbitrary or even maniacal behavior of the biblical deity. This god is completely exempt from supposed “biblical morality” by means of a “divine mystery exemption” and get of out jail free card. Yet biblical morality means modeling our behavior after this deity. How confusing!
There is no such thing as a “biblical morality.” The bible is loaded with contradictory moral teachings. By what standard do Christians judge some scriptures (like commands to genocide) to no longer be relevant, and others to be timeless? You see Christians applying morality to immoral biblical passages all the time–and thankfully so, else we would still have slavery and stoning. Fundamentalists do not have the “universal moral standard” they claim to know. We don’t need to get into abstract philosophical debates about how to define “love” and “evil” in order to basically know what they are. Most children know that genocide and torture are wrong without needing to learn apologetics or philosophy. There is no universal moral standard; we understand morality from a combination of things like ethical and scientific inquiry. Humanity constantly progresses in its understanding of morality as it progresses in understanding the natural world. Yet it is hard to progress morally when you are forced to base morality on the understanding of ancient biblical writers who knew so much less about it the world, or were sometimes just plain wrong.
People often have a hard time with morality once they leave religion, viewing decisions as having drastic consequences because they feel they have to “get it right.” They take it as a personal statement of character when they do something not morally ideal. It takes them time to rebuild trust in their moral instincts, and to be OK with not having a ready-made answer for everything. It gets better, however. It becomes easier to be moral, because morality is mostly natural, especially when your basic needs are met. For our basic nature is not sinful or evil, it tends towards goodness. Most humans find great meaning and purpose in being good for its own sake.
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