Some of the common attacks against the Christian moral teaching involve the attempt to negate or evade the parts of Scripture that are disliked. For example, the teaching on homosexuality involves people trying to negate it on the grounds of other teachings--Leviticus is denied on the grounds that the Church doesn't oblige people to keep the dietary codes also listed there. St. Paul's epistles are denied on the grounds that people don't like what he had to say about the role of women. In other words, such attacks take the "all or nothing" view, saying that if one wants to insist on the moral obligations of Scripture, they have to take the rest of the demands as binding as well.
I am certain that such people believe that they have created a reductio ad absurdum to confound the Christian. In their eyes, they believe they have created the perfect foil: Either the Christian is forced to adopt other rules of behavior they find repellant or they will be forced to admit that others have the right to pick and choose as well.
The problem with such an argument is that it assumes that all Christians are sola scriptura literalists who have the Bible as their sole rule of faith and assume everything must be given equal weight. Such Christians do exist, but it would be a mistake to assume that all Christians hold such a view. It would also be a mistake to assume that Christian moral teaching was invented out of this way of reading the Bible.
The fact of the matter is, Christian moral teaching comes from several sources. The Catholic Church, for example, believes that the Word of God comes from both the words of Scripture and the Sacred Tradition (which we deny is the same as the human tradition Our Lord denounced in (reference). We believe that the Church established by Our Lord has been given the authority and the responsibility to assess whether an action is in keeping with the Word of God. But the Church is the servant to the Word of God, and does not have the authority to go against what God commanded. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it:
85 “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ.” This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. (888–892; 2032–2040)
86 “Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith.” (688)
87 Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles: “He who hears you, hears me,” the faithful receive with docility the teachings and directives that their pastors give them in different forms. (1548; 2037)
Once one recognizes this, we have to ask some questions:
- What exactly is the teaching? (As opposed to what someone might think it is)
- Why does the Church teach what she does?
In other words, before a person understands what the teaching is, and why it exists, a person is making an ignorant assumption in attacking it. GK Chesterton wrote once, in the article, The Drift from Domesticity:
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
His point is a good one. Not understanding why some teaching exists is not a valid reason for overturning it. If one wants to overturn something, that person has the obligation to understand why it exists and whether it might still remain valid after all once understood. That doesn't happen however. Instead, the modern world assumes that because they are not aware of a reason to justify a teaching, it does not exist (the argument from ignorance fallacy) and the only reasons to hold to such a teaching is hidebound ignorance and intolerance. Both of these are charges we would deny.
The fact of the matter is we oppose behaviors which go against our moral beliefs because we hold that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship which is open to the possibility of fertility and the mutual support of the spouses. Behaviors which violate this design: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, masturbation (I'll leave out the more repellant behaviors that most people already recognize as wrong and, when mentioned, invariably bring up the accusation that we are equating the disputed behavior with) are condemned—not because the teachings were made up by cranky old celibates who were suffering from an "ick factor" (a common straw man fallacy)—but because those behaviors violate in one way or another what marriage was designed to be.
Now, yes, in the earlier years of Hebrew history, we did see things like polygamy seen as normal. Just like we did see all sorts of other behaviors mentioned which cause us to raise our eyebrows today. But one needs to understand the concept of divine accommodation. The problem people have is they assume that the world was an enlightened place until the Jews (and later, Christians) showed up with their "barbaric" laws and started slaughtering people willy-nilly who didn't happen to agree. It's a common view, but dead wrong.
The fact of the matter is, if you understand the behavior of the times, the culture of the region was extremely brutal. Mass extermination of an entire population in a city, rape and enslavement of captive women etc., were widely practiced. When you look at the other cultures of the region, it becomes clear that the teachings God gave to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses were not opening the floodgates to a psychotic people. They were putting restrictions on the Jews that set them apart from the barbarism of other cultures. They did not have the permission to commit genocide. They were sent to drive out those practices which were incompatible with serving God.
For example, those cities mentioned in the Bible as being "put under the ban," (herem) were guilty of practices we don't even tolerate today (though Planned Parenthood seems to be moving in that direction) such as the human sacrifice of children. The fact of the matter is, the Law of Moses made the ancient Israelites far less barbaric than their neighbors. But people who are ignorant of this fact assume the exact opposite.
Divine Accommodation is the term used to describe how God picked out the descendants of one chosen man (Abraham), set them aside to be His holy people and moved them away, gradually, from the practices they shared with their neighbors, first by putting restrictions on them and then by forbidding them. The Law was not intended to be the final state of the Israelites, but a preparation for Christ.
Unfortunately, people today assume that Jesus was some sort of a teacher who said "Be excellent to each other," and wanted us to be nice to each other and never say that something is morally wrong. People who say that actions are wrong and that hell is the ultimate result of choosing to refuse to obey God are accused of "judging others" contrary to Matthew 7:1 and that hell is contrary to the idea of God being love as expressed in 1 John 4:8.
But such views ignore the fact that Jesus was the one who warned us about hell in the first place. Think about it. If Jesus warned us about hell and died to prevent us from going there, isn't the possibility of going there something to be avoided at all costs? Jesus thought so. Remember He once told us:
8 If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life maimed or crippled than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into fiery Gehenna. (Matthew 18:8-9)
So why are we going so out of our way to pretend that the warnings of the Bible to do good and reject evil are something we can ignore? Why do we pretend that "God is love" means there is no hell when it is clear that He meant it in the sense of God desires to save us from hell? Why do we pretend that God changed things from "X is a sin" to "X is OK" just because the thought that X is no longer a sin is pleasing to us (see Peter Kreeft’s thoughts on the attitude here).
But people who do that forget that Jesus called us to take up our Cross and follow Him. The “be nice to each other” smiley face Jesus is someone who the world would not hate, and followers of smiley face Jesus would not be hated. But Jesus told us:
18 “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. 20 Remember the word I spoke to you,* ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 And they will do all these things to you on account of my name,* because they do not know the one who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me also hates my Father. 24 If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But in order that the word written in their law* might be fulfilled, ‘They hated me without cause.’
In short the smiley face Jesus is a counterfeit who has nothing in common with the Jesus who spoke against sin and warned us against hell and was willing to die to make it possible for us to be saved. We should keep this in mind and remember the teachings of Jesus that speak about our need to repent, turning away from evil and towards Him.