Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Holy toilet paper

Jerry Coyne writes about religious morality, asking the usually-ignored question of why the religious obey some of the rules in Deuteronomy and ignore others.  He cites as examples the fact that many Jews obey strict dietary laws and prohibitions against working on the Sabbath but don’t obey the laws about the stoning to death of disobedient children or non-virgin brides or homosexuals.

As Jerry points out, there is only one possible conclusion: that people get their morality from some source other than god.  Evolution probably plays a part since there is quite a lot of near-universal agreement on certain points of morality, Learning (explicit instruction by authorities such as parents or implicit picking up cues from society) also seems to play a part.  But god can’t be the source since people are picking and choosing which laws to obey.

Jerry illustrates the silliness of some of these laws by pointing out that the tearing of toilet paper is forbidden on the Sabbath and that some Orthodox Jews obey this odd requirement.  They pre-tear their toilet paper.  Apparently, this practice is common enough for a firm to start producing Sabbath-friendly pre-torn toilet paper in case all that tearing is too much effort.  It’s also a protection against accidental tearing of toilet paper, which is also forbidden.

I can’t help but think god would probably turn a blind eye if someone accidently tore some toilet paper, but then I’m not the one professing to know the mind of the creator of the universe.

But Jerry’s point is well-made: since people go to ridiculous lengths to obey all this silly minutia but don’t follow what most people would consider more important laws, their morality cannot come from god.  The only rebuttal I’ve ever seen to this argument is entirely bogus and comes from Christians, usually as a reason to discriminate against homosexuals.  It argues that Jesus changed things to make all the bad laws go away and all the good ones stay.  Even though it doesn’t say this anywhere in the Bible.  And even though Jesus explicitly says otherwise in Matthew 5:18:

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

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