Sunday 24 April 2011

Obedience vs. Consent

There is an important distinction between sin and immorality... the concept of sin essentially works on the basis of obedience rather than consent, blindly following what is commanded, rather than co-operating with an end that is understood and voluntarily accepted. Indeed, there are passages in the Bible where God orders the performance of acts of great wickedness in order to test the obedience of his children.

Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. 22)

Illustration from Robert Crumb's Genesis
[This] event celebrates the type of consciousness that wants to be commanded to perform extreme acts of obedience by an absolute authority whose attractiveness lies in its very refusal to explain itself. This is the heart of the concept of sin: sin is not only committing what is forbidden by God, but refusing to do what is commanded by God. The power of the concept lies in the unthinking nature of the obedience that is demanded.

We have... entered a fundamental protest against the concept of blind obedience itself, by stressing the importance of our own moral and rational assent to what is commanded. Once we do this, however, the concept of sin loses much of its power as an exercise of divine authority upon us.

Richard Holloway, writing in the introduction to Godless Morality, Canongate Books, 1999.

1 comment:

  1. Gavin, you really need the companion book, Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality by Laurence Tancredi. The material is amazing.

    Laurence Tancredi is a rarity: He is an accredited Psychiatrist and an Attorney. He is versed in history, philosophy and legal thought with a sophisticated background and understanding of the neurosciences. While I am appreciating the Richard Holloway book as I'm making my way through it, the Hardwired Behavior book lends a great deal of depth: The brain is hardwired for morality, but it needs proper socialization.

    I think both are needed for a more complete understanding of this issue.