OK, UnkleE, Fran, I suppose you do have a point that before I can criticize Jesus for sanctioning genocide, despotism, and slavery, I have to demonstrate that those are morally wrong. Since neither of you have taken the opportunity to say that you consider genocide, despotism, and slavery to be morally wrong (at least not in any absolute, objective sense), and the Bible which you uphold as the source of your objective, unchanging, non-relative/non-culturally determined Moral Absolutes clearly does sanction these things, I will have to take your silence as implicit sanction, unless you say otherwise.My Ethical System
I hold that it is possible to establish a system of objective ethics, but it is a process of discovery, like the requirements of physical health. In other words, we already know "the basics" of what is required for physical health, things like excercize, balanced diet, and so on, but there is still some "fuzzinezs on the edges," as we see in the "four food groups" being changed to the "food pyramid," this being revised a time or two, the debated studies where researchers will say "X is related to incidence of heart disease" while other researchers produce a conflicting study. However, we know enough now to know that certain things (excercize, a healthy diet, vitamins) are healthy for us, while certain things (heroin, overconsumption of alcohol, open sores) are not healthy for us.
In a similar way, we can know that certain things are "good" for us morally, and certain things are "bad," even if philosophers can produce wildly unlikely hypotheticals in which ethical decisions are difficult to make and pick away at things until they're debating what the meaning of "is" is.
So here goes:
Before we can ask what the proper moral system is, we need to ask, "why do we need a moral system at all?" In other words, if ethics is to be considered a science, instead of subjective or theological whim, on what facts of reality is it based?
Humans are entities of a certain nature. Our existence as humans is conditional.
We continually face the alternatives of life and death. If we fail to take the actions required for our survival, or take actions inimical to our survival, we perish. The concepts of morals, values, and ethics arise from the concept of life as a process of self-sustaining, self-generated action. They pertain to a specific set of living beings, namely humans and other sapient entities (i.e. extraterrestrials, if they exist, future sapient ) for whom nature does not provide an automatic set of "proper" behavior patterns. A shark or a praying mantis has a "given" set of behaviors it needs to engage in if it is to survive, and it has no choice in the matter. The shark cannot decide to become a vegetarian. If it fails to adequately perform the behaviors necessary to survive as a shark (i.e. finding and catching prey, avoiding or defeating threats such as dolphins or fishermen), it will perish.
Humans must also adequately do what is necessary to survive as humans. Unlike other animals, humans are not automatically "programmed" to do what is needed for them to survive as humans. We have the capacity to deliberate before acting, to engage in volitional, goal-directed action. We must discover for ourselves what is "good" for us and what isn't, and choose to act on that knowledge.
This begins with the first choice, with regards to the fundamental alternative: existence, or non-existence. We choose between life and death. For the person who chooses death, ethics ceases to have import once they have implemented that decision.
So, the science of ethics begins with a condition, namely, "If
you want to live..."
From this we can derive an objective standard of ethics. Life is something that exists objectively and has objective requirements. Those things that are required for life to continue may be defined as "values." For example, access to food, air, and water are "values" to living entities since they are needed to sustain life. Now, it is possible to "surivive," but to do so on such a level of misery that death may be considered a preferable alternative. Humans possess an objectively-existent nervous system, psychological makeup, etc. that determines whether we are "miserable" or "happy."
So, "if you want to live," you will need to obtain those conditions that are necessary to continue to want to live, i.e. "flourishing" or "happiness." Therefore, objective ethics may be derived from a bi-level standard of survival and flourishing.
Therefore, ethical principles ("oughts") are related to objective facts in the same way other normative prescriptions like medical advice and a health-coach's counsels are.
"If you want to live and be happy, you ougt to do X and refrain from doing Y."
"If you want to cure this sickness, you ought to take these antibiotics according to the instructions on the bottle's label."
"If you want to burn fat and build muscle, then you ought to follow this excercize regimen."
Now, it is possible for humans to be in error about what is required for their survival and flourishing. If a human makes ethical decisions based on an inaccurate perception of the reality of what is needed for human survival and flourishing, the person will not survive and flourish. You are free to hold inaccurate beliefs and make inaccurate decisions based on them, but you are not free to succeed at it. Reality is the court of final appeal.
What this means is that there is an ethical imperative for humans to gain the most accurate possible understanding of reality they can. There is an objective need for humans to discover and apply generalized operating principles of Universe, and root out and reject errors and delusions. This leads us to value
rationality and logic as means to identify and integrate the facts of reality, and develop a set of protocols that provide us a working "BS Detector," such as peer review and repetition of experimental/observational validation in the scientific method.
Protocols which do not work to separate accurate perception of reality from inaccurate perception of reality--such as "faith"
--should be discarded.
Humans are by nature social animals. By living together in a society, we are able to achieve levels of survival and flourishing we could never hope to reach as isolated subsistence-farmers/hunters. However, not all societies are equally beneficial to human life and flourishing, and some are demonstrably inimical (e.g. the Soviet Union), which leads to their collapse. Some societies, such as the United States and Europe, are demonstrably better places to live in than others, such as the Aztec Empire and Nazi Germany. As "ethics" is the science of how human individuals ought to behave, so "politics" is the science of how socieities ought to be ordered.
"If humans are to survive and flourish in a society, then that society must be so ordered as to enhance the survival and flourishing of its individual members."
Now, entire book-length treatises can be written explaining these things in detail.
For the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on ethical and political principles related to what is needed for humans to coexist peacefully together in society (this being demonstrably superior to a Hobbesian "war of all against all" in terms of human life and flourishing). While all human societies that endured for any significant period of time have discovered at least some of the "basics" of objective ethics ("don't kill each other" "don't steal from each other" etc.), some have discovered and applied more than others, and did so more consistently.
Savages in New Guinea figured out that it wasn't good to just randomly kill and eat members of their own tribe (so far so good), but they did not discover, or choose to apply that principle to other tribes. In other words, it's demonstrably wrong to kill and eat "us," but we don't apply that principle to "them." The result is a meta-society of brutal, warring tribes that is able to survive on only a minimal level.
If we compare them with the advanced societies where people suvivie (have much longer life expectancies) and flourish (live at a much higher level of prosperity and happiness) more effectively, we can compare the ethical and political principles being used in both cases and accept those differences in the level of survival and flourishing as objective indicators of superior knowledge and application of objective moral and political principles in the advanced societies. We can do the same thing with regard to the advanced societies and ancient societies, i.e. compare the United States or European Union with ancient Israel, or ancient Greece with ancient Israel.
Humans possess neural structures called "mirror neurons" which enable us to understand what is happening when we see another human being or animal in pain, and in a psychological sense, feel it ourselves. This is "empathy." As we can an understanding of what is "good" for us (health, prosperity, happy children, etc.) and what is "bad" for us (torture, being killed, being raped), we can choose whether or not to apply this understanding to others, and how broadly.
Historically, humans have tended to apply their highest ethical understandings to the ones they define as "us" while exempting the ones they define as "them" from the protection of ethics. I call this the "horizon of empathy." One thing we can see that distinguishes the advanced societies from the primitive ones is broadened horizons of empathy. For example, in the era in which the Books of Moses were written, men of that time understood that rape was a Bad Thing--if it happened to them. We see this in the narratives of Lot in Sodom, and the story in Judges about the man and his concubine.
In both cases, male visitors come to a city and the men of the city want to rape them. In both cases, their hosts recognize this as bad--they would not want to be raped because of the pain, injury, and violation involved, and they apply this understanding empathetically to their male guests. However, they do not
apply this understanding to women. Lot offers his daughters to the mob, and the visitor in the other story offers his concubine. There is no implication in the Bible that they are considered unethical in this. In the New Testament Lot is referred to as "just" despite this action (2 Peter 2:7-8).
In comparison, the Minoans appear to have extended their horizons of empathy to include women (their artwork reflects equality between the sexes, portraying women as prominent figures, and participating equally with men in activities like bull-leaping). Judging from the archaeological excavations, they achieved a far higher and broader level of prosperity for all social classes than other societies of their era. We can contrast the relative survival and flourishing of modern societies (e.g. the U.S. and Europe vs. the Islamic nations) and see, as a demonstrable fact that expanded horizons of empathy (to include women, people of other races/ethnicities, etc.) among other things (such as freedom of thought and action) provide higher levels of human survival and flourishing.
I doubt that very many Christians would prefer the Israel of Moses' time, the Judea of Jesus' time or the Christian Empire of St. Augustine's, to the United States or Europe as a place to live and raise their children.
Now, I'm sure that pretty much everyone here, including UnkleE and Fran, would not like to have themselves and their loved ones murdered in a genocide, or used as slaves, or live under an iron despotism. Right? We can all agree on that, can't we?
From the quotes of mine UnkleE citied in the OP, we can see that Jesus sanctions genocide, slavery, and despotic monarchy (with him as the proper despot), unless maybe he's just speaking in incomprehensible riddles.
Premise 1: Jesus sanctions genocide, slavery, and despotic monarchy, in many clear statements of his own, and by claiming divine sanction for the OT.
Premise 2: Genocide, slavery, and despotic monarchy are demonstrably inimical to human survival and flourishing.
Premise 3: Our acceptance of the fact of Premise 2 is demonstrable in that we would not wish these things on ourselves or our loved ones (those within our horizon of empathy).
Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus is not (at least not always
) a "pleasant" (i.e. moral) guy.