So I have been on and off arguing for the thesis known as “Theistic Moral Nihilism”, which in essence simply says that there are no moral truths or moral facts, no “objective” moral propositions of the form “This is right” or “This is wrong”. There only exists propositions of the form, “God commands X” or “God wills X”, “If you do X, God will do Y”. But no propositions of the form, “X is right” or “Y is just”, “W is obligatory or required”, etc.
Any such moral language in the Bible or anywhere else can be reduced and translated to, “This is what God wants.” or “This is what God does not want.” The Biblical language here is what is right in the sight of men versus what is right in the sight of God, it’s purely subjective all the way down.
I would like to further motivate this thesis by discussing whether or not the Bible understands sin and holiness within the framework of “morality”, in terms of justice, rightness, validity, ought, obligation, etc, or within the positivistic framework of cause and effect, Do X, get Y consequences, etc. The latter framework is usually associated with Buddhist ethics where there are no prescriptive ought, should, or whatever, merely actions and their effects/consequences.
I would like to begin our exploration on these points by looking at a passage I’ve discussed before, Numbers 30:13-15 concerning oaths by wives:
Every vow and every binding oath to humble herself, her husband may confirm it or her husband may annul it. But if her husband indeed says nothing to her from day to day, then he confirms all her vows or all her obligations which are on her; he has confirmed them, because he said nothing to her on the day he heard them. But if he indeed annuls them after he has heard them, then he shall bear her guilt.
Here is the curious point: it is clear that it would be a sin for the husband to annul an oath which he had earlier confirmed by silence because the text here does expressly say here “he shall bear her guilt”. Yet if this is a sin, then how could the action of annulling the oath be valid? Sinful actions by definition cannot be valid, if it is a sin to annul an oath, then how could the annulment be valid and a husband can just willfully annul it? The husband in fact has an obligation not to annul it, he is simply not permitted that action.
Let’s look at it from another point of view. Suppose you signed a contract which you regret, then you kidnap the other party with whom you signed the contract and then threaten him at gun point to sign another contract annulling it. In any court of law that contract voiding the previous one would not be upheld in any court of law because obviously you used illegal coercion and kidnapping to secure the coercion, thus the first contract and its obligations will remain valid and it cannot be annulled by illegal actions like being threatened at gunpoint.
So if annulling an oath is a *sin* which guilt the husband will bear, how can he willfully sin and proceed to have it annulled? He has an obligation then *not* to annul the oath. This would not make sense within the right/wrong moral framework, but it would make sense under the cause and effect framework. When the Bible says that an action is sinful or “wrong”, it is not about validity, ought, justice, or whatever, it is simply that certain consequences, “undesirable” and costly consequences, would follow from an action. Thus, a husband who sinfully annuls an oath by his wife shall “bear her guilt”, that is, pay the price or the consequences. As such, this is a purely “cause and effect” logic here at work.
If this framework or reasoning is correct, then the Bible would itself be moral nihilistic, there are no propositions of the form that it is right or wrong, there are only propositions of the form that desirable effects flows from certain actions and undesirable effects flow from certain other actions, that is all. Do X and live, Do Y and die. That is all there is to it. “Moral discourse” as such is not about right or wrong but discussing the cause and effects of actions, without posturing or performative moral rhetoric, etc.
Bernard Williams once argued that morality is that “peculiar institution” which issues commands or obligations from the ether. I suggest that we should lay to rest this “peculiar institution” of morality and simply think of actions in terms of their consequences as coordinated by God the Creator. As a side point, there was a Tiktok video about a former atheist who said that he became Christian because it’s the atheists who are overwhelmingly Woke and denying basic facts of creation like gender, biology, etc, and it’s only religious people who affirm the structures of these creation. I suggest that our “moral discourse” would be much more profitably engaged by discussing positive facts of creation, referring to the divine will for creation, than engaging in postures about rights and wrongs. In short, I think we should just abolish the “morality institution” and all become moral nihilists.