Normal moral development, and how Christianity interferes with it…

This is an edited republication of some of my old entries from Goosing the Antithesis.


There are many stages of morality. The first kind is order-based morality: the parents or teachers give orders, and we obey. At this level – mostly babies and small children – there are few ways by which morality is transmitted. There is pre-cognitive conditioning (giving orders, stopping from doing bad things, rewards and punishments) and there is narrativism. But narrativism at this level is used not for the power in the narrative itself but mostly for fear purposes (“be obedient or Santa Claus won’t give you anything”/”be obedient or you’re going to Hell”/”be obedient or you’ll get in trouble”). So the nature of morality at this stage is definitely pre-cognitive, mostly in the form of conditioning and emotions.

Perhaps it can be questioned whether this is really morality at all, but it is morality insofar as it gives us a way to distinguish between right and wrong, just not a very good one. Basically, the little child does have an answer to why things are right or wrong : “because mom said so”.

The second stage is natural morality. Where does natural morality come from? Part of it comes from biological evolution, as our attitudes and feelings are initially set because of evolutionary goals. Another part of it comes from the common observations we make as we grow up, and our process of maturation – our recognition that other minds exist, and that those minds have their own values, and later in life as a recognition of the needs of living in society together. We got them from the loving relationship we had with our parents, and later in life from the trust and love we have for other people. We get them still from our yearning for peace and plenty in ourselves, our family, our society, our world. All of these things are natural and don’t require a religion or doctrine.

Compounding the first stage are three new factors. First, narrativism at this stage is now used, in the form of stories and myths, to implicitly impart more complex attitudes through concretes. Secondly, the brain has developed (by the time one is a teenager, the brain has fully developed), and most of our abilities are now in place. So on the one hand, you have instincts and emotions- the psycho-epistemology- that is fully developed and expressing itself in the body of the teenager. You also have other mental abilities gained, such as the realization that one is an individual, that one needs to do certain things in order to live well, that there are other individuals, that these individuals have distinct thoughts and values, and that other people have the same kind of feelings we do, all of which form an epistemic foundation (that is not at all present in sociopathy).

While a person at this stage can express simplistic moral principles, or in some cases express values, the reasoning behind these principles takes place “behind the scenes” and will likely only become conscious in cases of conflict.

This third stage is based on the recognition that human actions have causal, measurable effects that can be used to evaluate our actions. Some of these are already present at earlier stages – for example, we learn pretty quickly that we must eat, and that not eating is bad, although we may not completely understand the whole process. The role of philosophy is to make explicit our assumptions and reasoning, so at this stage everything should be, at least in principle, conscious, even though all the previous stages are still there in the background (the psycho-epistemology does not dissipate just because epistemology comes to the front). An understanding of causal facts, mediated by our personal values, is the origin of moral principles. I don’t really need to expand on this stage because I’ve already described it more than enough before, and it is not relevant to Christianity.

Where does Christianity fit in this scheme ? It is definitely not stage 2 or 3: Christianity contradicts most of our moral assumptions (from all stage 2 processes) dead-on, and there is no desire to make moral principles or reasoning explicit in Christianity or in the Bible. Certainly Christians are capable of expressing moral opinions, which differentiates them from babies, but this may be simply a consequence of the fact that adults can express themselves, period.

Either way, the transmission of morality in Christianity is definitely stage 1, the level of small children. This is why I call it “regressive”. As I said, there are two elements in this, which are orders from a parent figure and narrativism with the goal of implanting fear. This is what Christianity is, and all that it is. So we have God handing down commandments and being the ultimate source of morality, and also myths and parables designed to make one fear “immorality” (according to the story-teller’s values), the wrath of God, Hell, and so on.

So at that level there are no values and virtues, except in a tenuous way, if only because any behaviour can be fitted to some values or virtues. This explains why Christianity does not have explicit values or virtues: that would destroy the whole point of it. If we look at the behaviour of Christians, what they idolize, we can see, for example, that they loved the movie “The Passion of the Christ”. This seems to indicate that victimhood, sacrifice and injustice are important Christian virtues. Also, the interest with the story of Moses aganist the Egyptians, and the Flood, also indicate very evil virtues. A sociologist would be required to make an inventory, and I’m woefully unqualified, but I think popular culture can give us a good idea.

As discussed earlier, Christianity fits perfectly within stage 1 morality. In fact, it also fits the purpose – to fear and serve God/God’s Word (the expression used by theologians to try to make this sound better is “Divine Command Morality”). But Christianity does not serve a role of immediate survival. It is not for babies, but for grown human beings (and the unfortunate indoctrinated children), who already know how to survive. So how could it possibly serve any useful role in that regard? Apart from concerns which are wholly irrelevant in our modern world, such as trichinosis, nothing in Christianity serves this purpose.

So what Christianity does, is really to keep people who should already be approaching life at stage 2 or more, into the regression of childhood. “Jesus” had the right idea when he said believers should be child-like, obedient and unquestioning. That’s the essence of Christian morality. But Christianity cannot prevent people from getting life experience and their brains from developing. So there are still stage 2 pressures existing within and completely opposite to the regressive context, that can create tremendous tension. This is the conflict between “God’s Word” and “the world”, “the holy” and “the profane”, “the spirit” and “the flesh”.

The dependency created by Christianity is so great that its believers deny en masse that any other avenue is possible. Part of this, I think, is an attempt to reconcile the obvious cognitive dissonance between salvation by faith and belief that good people shouldn’t go to Hell. If both are true, then one way to reconcile both is to believe that there cannot be any good non-Christian people. Another way to explain it, is that Christians tend to either be brainwashed by birth, or need change in their lives because of moral deficiencies, and therefore have not experienced any alternatives.

The notion of “sin”, as central to Christian morality, is another expression of stage 1 morality. To sin is to disobey God’s will. Even though God is not the moral agent, he is so important to the agent’s morality that to act negatively- to sin- is to disobey God. I remember debating Jason Gastrich and asking him what “God is perfect” means. He replied that it means God was sinless. You see how this is circular: God is perfect by virtue of being the master, and we are imperfect and in need of guidance by virtue of being in submission.

What is a master? A master dictates what the slave can do or not do. A master, indeed, must “think for” the slave, even if that is impossible. This is why obedience must always be reinforced. A master can dispose of his slaves as desired; they are not fully human but rather extensions of the master’s will. And we can dispose of extensions of our will literally as we please! A master can also make his slaves commit crimes. In this case, the slaves are only “following orders”.

You will note that these properties are reflected, to a smaller extent, in all collectivist belief systems. Christianity is no exception. God, as infinitely powerful parent, is the ultimate expression of the mater/slave mentality. God dictates what the believer can or cannot do, is supposed to be the source of the believer’s cognition and moral sense, can dispose of humans as it desires, and makes believers commit crimes routinely in the Bible.

In the mater/slave mentality, the slave has no moral responsibility whatsoever. How can it be, when the slave must completely surrender his value-expression? We no more hold our feeling of, say, shame, or joy, as having moral responsibility. They are not autonomous human beings! And likewise the believer in Christianity is not considered to be an autonomous human being: he is considered to be an obedient slave.

16 thoughts on “Normal moral development, and how Christianity interferes with it…

  1. saskia August 18, 2010 at 03:59

    “the transmission of morality in Christianity is definitely stage 1”

    I think you only say this because you have never seen any Christian parents who raise their children in any other way. I have, at least once the children get to the level where that is possible. And those kids are always the ones who turn out the best.

    If it is stage 1, I would say it is a precursor to real Christianity, where morality is internal rather than enforced by an external power.

  2. Francois Tremblay August 18, 2010 at 04:01

    Any Christian parent who is raising his children beyond that stage is doing it despite his Christianity, not because of it. There is nothing that mature in Christian doctrines.

  3. Lori August 19, 2010 at 18:51

    Are you seriously suggesting that the difference between autism and sociopathy is one of degree?

  4. Francois Tremblay August 19, 2010 at 19:12

    I have not suggested that. I have merely pointed out that autism is correlated with the incapacity of attributing states of mind to others, and that sociopathy is also correlated with it to a greater degree. The proposition that that’s the ONLY difference between autism and sociopathy is purely your invention, and does not relate to anything I said.

    May I ask what is your vested interest in trying to portray me in this way? We seem to be similar in political positions, so I don’t see why you are doing this.

  5. Lori August 19, 2010 at 23:45

    I am not in any way campaigning against you. I merely overreacted to the juxtaposition of autism and sociopathy in the same sentence.

  6. Francois Tremblay August 20, 2010 at 01:43

    I don’t see anything wrong with pointing out that autism and sociopathy are both correlated with a lack of empathy. I don’t imply anything further than that.

  7. Luis August 20, 2010 at 03:20

    You have the right approach. Keep informing us of the danger of Christianity for us as sexual beings.

  8. Francois Tremblay August 20, 2010 at 16:32

    I’ve removed the reference to autism, because I didn’t want there to be any misunderstandings. I don’t want to make any autistic people uncomfortable by the association. I still stand behind my statement.

  9. Lori August 20, 2010 at 22:42

    Oh, don’t self-censor, it’s my bad for overreacting. But it may interest you to know that lack of empathy may not be a defining feature of autism; only the perception of a lack of empathy. Certain autism-parent groups have adopted jigsaw puzzle imagery to represent their cause. The thing is, it is said that non-autistics (sometimes called neurotypicals) are also something of an unsolved puzzle according to the autistics.

    A question of more importance to me than whether autistics have certain things in common with antisocial psychopaths is what sort of place autistic people are to have in anarchist society. Are they the sort of differently-abled people for whom mutual aid was invented, or will they be invited with open arms into the process of economic production, perhaps in spite of the possibility that the post-capitalist economy is somehow still a market economy?

  10. Francois Tremblay August 20, 2010 at 23:40

    That’s an interesting question. I’ve never read anything about the relation between autism and anarchist theory. However, I would wager that the answer would be generally that there’s no less reason for autistics to be in control of their lives and cooperate with others to achieve their desired goals as there is for anyone else. I don’t actually know much about autism, but from what I do understand, most autistics are just as functional as “normal” people.

  11. Lori August 24, 2010 at 20:49

    Here’s some autism PR. The writer states, among other things, “7. Autistic people are not sociopaths.”

    • Francois Tremblay August 25, 2010 at 03:03

      I never stated autistic people are sociopaths.

  12. Lori August 25, 2010 at 21:43

    I didn’t say you did. Really. Reading the referenced article led me to believe that someone must be saying such things. Since I apparently still stand accused of accusing you of defaming autistics, now might be a good time to cut my apparent losses by becoming shy and nervous.

  13. Francois Tremblay August 25, 2010 at 21:51

    If you’re shy and nervous, you should blush and shuffle your feet, then slowly walk away while no one’s looking. :)

  14. […] Normal moral development, and how Christianity interferes with it… ( […]

  15. […] promote cohesion and silence dissent). Point 3 is explained by the fact that all these systems are stage 1 morality (since the principles are constructed and enforced for the interests of the elite, they have no […]

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