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Is Christianity a Moralistic Religion? Written by Ed Farrell, May 22, 1998
There is 'social' Christianity and 'metaphysical' Christianity (these are my own terms for purposes of discussion) and the two are often mixed in inappropriate ways. For instance, when you say that Christianity is a moralistic religion, you are making more of a social statement about practitioners than about what they are attempting to practice. And it is a general social statement that can be more or less applied to practitioners of any religion. The Christ of the gospels is remarkably unmoralistic. In fact, Christ's rare display of fury is reserved for the moralistic Pharisees because their moralism caused them to place their own behavior above God. St. Paul sometimes has the tone of the moralist yet what moral instruction you find in his letters is never for morality's sake.

In Christian metaphysics, 'sin' is an inborn condition amounting to spiritual death. It cannot be remedied by moral behavior, nor can it be equated with immoral behavior. Because of this, 'moral epistemology' is certainly not God's main utility. If that were so, God would clearly have failed because it is a commonplace observation that Christians and non-Christians can often behave with equal immorality.

Moralistic behavior usually has far more to do with religion as a human construct. But religion in this sense is purely social and has little to do with Christ. Human morality need not be tied to God (even though the 'desire to be moral' may originate in God, as natural theology tries to demonstrate). Human morality is often nothing more than a manifestation of the will to power. Rheinhold Niebuhr has pointed out quite forcefully that the will to power may manifest itself in attempts to subordinate life to an ideal as easily as it is manifested in attempts to forcibly eliminate competition.


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