Dealing With Vertical Morality

The problem with religious morality.

How you treat others depends on which direction you see the world. Vertical morality is when you see morality as a hierarchy—that some authority figure above you has a set of rules and punishments you are supposed to live by. The problem is; if you are able to imagine someone as above you, it’s easier to imagine certain others as below you—those that don’t believe in your rules. Your focus will then tend to be on self preservation and measuring your own piety against your perception of others.

In a horizontal framework you judge your actions based on how they affect others—that your actions are motivated by the positive and negative affects of those around you, who in fact are all your equals.

And this is where we are. The vertical framework is an obnoxious bully system. Loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t fair very well when yourself is an insufficient, guilt laden sinner who can do nothing of herself.

Love is never fruitful by way of commandment or dogma, but the realization that we are all equals—not in the sight of a god but in the sight of each other. That would be a chapter I’d like to see.

Author: jim-

Alternatives to big box religions and dogmas

52 thoughts on “Dealing With Vertical Morality”

  1. This is interesting the way you put it. I am a Christian, and I don’t see it quite that way. The way I look at it is that I’m supposed to submit to authority. My boss is an authority, my parents, etc. I don’t look at it as them being above me, more like respecting those who naturally I have to answer to. It doesn’t mean that I can’t agree. It also doesn’t mean that I have to do everything they say. If what they tell me to do contradicts what God tells me then I don’t have to listen. Now if I don’t listen to my boss, the consequences are still there. I could get a write up or fired. By respecting and submitting to authority when we are children we are learning to respect the authority over us. This will only help us later in life. I don’t look down on anyone. If I said I never judge I’d be lying because unfortunately we all judge from time to time. But my judgement isn’t just limited to my peers it can be on my authority as well. My your own post you are judging Christianity. Do you feel like we are less than you? I doubt it. I think you just don’t agree or maybe have a different perspective. Life is hard, it just is. God gives me hope, hope that people can change. Hope that this world we have in matters. Hope that I can be loved even though I fall short. Loving your neighbor as yourself is about loving everyone. Your neighbor could be your boss! I really found what you wrote interesting so thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. “ By respecting and submitting to authority when we are children we are learning to respect the authority over us. This will only help us later in life.
      This is mostly untrue if not completely untrue. Assigning some form of moral value to a cultural expectation has the world where it is today—opinionated and dogmatic. If we are going to survive this we must question everything —for nothing is as it seems, nor is it what we were taught.
      We have this lingering problem of belief and attachment to those beliefs, no matter how false they are. But I do think Christianity and Islam play a vital role in fitness as a specie. It seems that the less we perceive reality correctly, the better it is for fitness. This correlates well with the population boom and the spread of Hebrew religion as a whole.

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      1. That was only one part of what I said. I also said that there is a time to challenge authority. In life we have to learn to listen to our bosses, teachers, law makers or we will get ourselves into trouble. How is that untrue? It’s not if you don’t follow the laws then you can go to jail. Therefore you need to submit to that authority. If you don’t agree then you can challenge it, that’s what the courts are for. If you don’t listen to your boss you can loose your job. If you don’t listen to your teachers you might get a bad grade (for not following directions on an assignment), or if you are rude to your teachers or get in a fight then it could get very bad. How can you say we live in a society where we don’t need to learn submission to authority? I mean sure you could, but who really wants a life where they end up in jail?

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        1. I think there may be a problem at the core of how we are welcomed into the world, here in the west. It’s amazing that anyone can function at all, based on how we are raised to believe and conform. It puts us in an unsolvable problem from the time we are little until somehow we rebel and break free, and find a morsel of contentment.
          Here in the west, whether a believer or not we all do the same things to our children. We act like we are visitors here on probation by the sufferance of a god who merely tolerates us. Sinners by birth, guilty by our own biology. How do you escape that deprecation?
          However we are born we can be praised or blamed for our actions. In stead of celebrating any differences we attempt to shoehorn every personality into a specific mold, while in truth our diversity is our greatest asset.

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          1. I can escape that deprecation, because that is not the God I know. It’s also not the one my friends, or son knows. We are born into a sinful world, not born sinful. However, we win everyday. Yet we have a God who loves us right where we are at. He also wants us to do better and cares for us. Yes bad things happen to us, because we have free will to do as we want. However, all of our actions have consequences good and bad. Sometimes horrible things happen to us because other peoples sins. For example, my son is adopted and he struggles with a lot of things. Mainly because he is trying to overcome the abuse he suffered by his biological parents. I am his aunt first, and the day everything happened God made sure I showed up at the exact right minute so that he came to live with me and didn’t enter foster care. God has used my trauma from my messed up childhood to better help my son. God doesn’t just tolerate us he LOVES us just the way we are. Just as Jesus wept for Lazarus’ death. God weeps for our sorrow and hurt. The God I know wants us to choose him of our own free will. Now do I think there is truth to what you are saying? It is true to you because you believe it, but it’s not the real sorry. You probably believe it because some people warp Christianity into something it’s not. Maybe it’s because people are sinners and have hurt you and turned you away from God. I’m not sure exactly why you believe the way you do, but what you are talking about… It’s not the God I know and love.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Yes, each person constructs their own god they can tolerate or deserve. Now, with the “word” god there is nothing to which it refers, so each man creates his own image of that for which there is no reference. The theologian does it in one way, the intellectual in another, and the believer and the non-believer in their own different ways. Hope generates this belief, and then the seeking. This hope is the outcome of despair—the despair of all we see around us in the world. From despair hope is born, they also are two sides of the same coin. When there is no hope there is hell, and this fear of hell gives us the vitality of hope. Then illusion begins. So the word has led us to illusion and not to god at all. God is the illusion which we worship; and the non-believer creates the illusion of another god which he worships – the State, or some utopia, or some book which he thinks contains all truth. So I am asking—whether you can be free of the words with their illusions?
My purpose is to crack the code, not to dabble in erroneous practices.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. You Stated — Vertical morality is when you see morality as a hierarchy—that some authority figure above you has a set of rules and punishments you are supposed to live by.

    My Response — I’m not sure that vertical morality exists. I do believe we have hierarchies in society pertaining to every aspect of our combined culture. What would be an example of vertical morality?

    You Stated — The problem is; that if you are able to imagine someone as above you, it’s easier to imagine certain others as below you.

    My Response — Currently I don’t imagine people above or below me I know it as a fact. Wouldn’t it be impossible for anyone not to be either above or below another individual?

    I am most likely above you in the knowledge of computer systems.

    You are most likely above me in the knowledge of construction.

    We are both most likely above many on the poverty scale.

    There are most likely many above us with the knowledge of biochemistry.

    Don’t we need a type of hierarchy to identify who is best to assist us with a challenge when seeking a solution?

    Am I getting this wrong? Are you referring only to class? Is vertical morality a reference to class within society?

    You Stated — In a horizontal framework you judge your actions based on how they affect others—that your actions are motivated by the positive and negative affects of those around you, who in fact are all your equals.

    My Response — But isn’t the opposite true? Don’t we all immediately judge our own actions based on how they benefit us or those whom we care about (family, friends, group, etc.).

    If your baby needs food and you are broke you steal it (for the baby).

    It’s the right thing to do for the baby (morally justified)
    It’s the wrong thing to do for the person you stole from (morally corrupt)
    The law will punish you for the theft (possible Vertical morality in action but not really)
    People in your circles will fight to get you released (possible Horizontal morality in action but not really)

    What if there is no horizontal, vertical, or any other form of morality? What if everything is simply relative?

    You Stated — Loving your neighbor as yourself doesn’t fair very well when yourself is an insufficient, guilt laden sinner who can do nothing of herself.

    You Stated — How are we insufficient? What are we laden with guilt about? Why can we do nothing? Where or what is stating these 3 default positions as a neighbor?

    I am more than sufficient for many things. I have no heavy guilt. There are many things I can do and in fact, am doing some.

    You Stated — Love is never fruitful by way of commandment or dogma, but the realization that we are all equals—not in the sight of a god but in the sight of each other. That would be a chapter I’d like to see.

    My Response — But we command our children not to cross the street without looking both ways… it has been very fruitful for those who have listened.

    Commands are the fastest and most efficient way to save lives, increase productivity, and reduce loss. It’s a system that works in every society and it keeps chaos at bay.

    Love is at its best when it defines the boundaries of acceptance, trust me on this I’m married… I love my wife and she has many commands that must be accepted to keep the peace.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well said, Jim. I think a lot of Christians agree with you. I think Jesus set the record straight when he said, “Our Father…”. He is God with us as opposed to God above us, the author of all being in communion with all beings, the “I Am” clearly saying “We Are”. The literalists and inerantists must by their convictions believe in the hierarchy but that is not the heart nor the truth (imho) of the good news God speaks through Jesus. Our disbelief in the hierarchy is certainly one thing we hold in common. I have an aversion to the “kingdom” language of Christianity. Even the word God smacks of what you’re describing. I guess I believe we are all the second person of the trinity united with our progenitor through the Spirit. Jesus said,”Don’t consider any person your teacher or rabbi (pastor) and don’t allow yourself to be considered those either because the Father alone fills those rolls. And don’t lord it over each other because there is one Father of all and you are all siblings”.

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    1. Any imagination of god as a deity smacks of ancient Rome and its art. Calling god father, alone has refrained its subjects from escaping the imagery and idol worship.

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      1. Doesn’t everyone either by careful thought or blind faith ultimately submit themselves to an imagined origin of being? You imagine there is no supreme, intelligent, creator and Father of being. You imagine it based on your human reason and personal experience. This is enough proof for you. I imagine that I have a spiritual progenitor based on human reason combined with my experiences. But what we imagine about origins is not your point here. It’s hierarchy you’re talking about. I think what you are saying is that morality is best perfected by a horizontal rather than vertical perception of humanity. I agree. That’s what I meant by saying that Jesus took away the social strata. He was killed for this, making himself and, thereby, making people equal with God. We do disagree about deity and origins but as I said, my deity does not disagree with you. Jesus, the word of God puts us all on the same plane.
        Having said that, in a purely horizontal way, are there life choices and styles that are better than others? I should ask, what is your definition of morality? It is probably similar to mine. Still, I think many people are better at it than I am.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. You Stated — “He is God with us as opposed to God above us, the author of all being in communion with all beings, the “I Am” clearly saying “We Are”.”

      My Response — Acts 7:49
      Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?

      A person can be with you and above you but it would be deceptive to embrace the one and ignore the other.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. This is an interesting TT but I would bet money that if I were to stay with this person for a month, she would have a very Horizontal set of rules for me on day one.

      Morality in her home would also be based on her cultural upbringing.

      The first and easiest being related to shoes, food, and the bathroom.

      These are the 3 things that someone from America can instantly offend someone in Japan when visiting.

      Maybe it’s all just relative.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That morality is man-made: do this, don’t do that. Creeds and beliefs. Whereas Christ lived a 24/7 relationship with his Father. And said, “Be perfect, as is your Father in heaven.”

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You Stated — “That morality is man-made: do this, don’t do that. Creeds and beliefs. Whereas Christ lived a 24/7 relationship with his Father. And said, “Be perfect, as is your Father in heaven.”””

          My Response — I agree that morality is a man-made concept and I would go one further and state that the bible is not a book of moralities but rather a book of commands… but there is no absence of “do this” and “don’t do” that.

          Again… to embrace the one and ignore the other would be deceptive.

          Mark 10:17-31
          18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. 19 But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’[a]”

          20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

          21 Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

          22 At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

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          1. And I agree, it IS a book of commands- impossible ones at that! The solution isn’t found in DOING, rather, in BEING “good,” BEING “perfect.”
            The commands only reveal our inability to do them. So Jesus told Nicodemus, Don’t be surprised that I said, You must be born of God. “Only God is truly good.”

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            1. You Stated — “And I agree, it IS a book of commands”

              My Response — Then we now agree it is not a book of morality or a promoter of morality.

              You Stated — “impossible ones at that!”

              My Response — The commands are not impossible for me but if you think they are for you that’s fine. Not killing someone seems doable to me.

              You Stated — “The solution isn’t found in DOING, rather, in BEING “good,” BEING “perfect.””

              My Response — Isn’t the opposite true? The bible clearly states that no one is good but god so there is no reason to focus on that impossible goal. We are free to be whatever we want and ask for whatever we want.

              Women and blacks are not treated as equals in my country so I can’t pretend to be ignorant of some type of Morality system that gives a pass based on what color or gender you are.

              Morality is relative and point in time specific. I’ve written enough on it to know this to be true.
              https://realitydecoded.blog/tag/morality-check/

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            2. My “reality” is being rightly related to God, and walking with him. A personal relationship with him that extends to others.

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            3. Right, the bible word is “walk” so maybe “share” is more appropriate. I share everything with him- every person, place and thing, every thought, intent and act. The good, the bad and the worst. Everything.

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            4. If that were accurate he’s on your mind. Your body is an apparition of massless packets of energy. If he is outside time and space and of a different substance than the world, the two are immiscible. The universe is different forms of the same theoretical particles. According to Christian beliefs he is outside space and time. The two can never meet but in your imagination.

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            5. You refer to god as a person. You haven’t answered my question. This god in the flesh is where, exactly?

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            6. I that were true, that this is really a life changing walk with god, I doubt you’d be here commenting on free WordPress sites.

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  4. Interesting post, Jim. I share your vision of a world in which we view each other as equals/partners and not as superior/inferior beings, based on our gender, race/ethnicity, religion/morality, social status, and more.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You Stated — “I share your vision of a world in which we view each other as equals/partners and not as superior/inferior beings”

      My Response — That would be a dangerous world.

      Nazis are not equal to the rest of us. They are monsters. Not everyone can partner with the rest of us.

      Russia cannot partner with the EU or the United States. They are not equal to us.

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      1. I’m so sick of hearing that atheists can’t have morals because we don’t believe in a god! Hello? You’ve read the Bible? Will someone please highlight all the acts of moral turpitude for these ignorami?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. You Stated — “I’m so sick of hearing that atheists can’t have morals because we don’t believe in a god! ”

          My Response — It’s my understanding that everyone is an atheist (in respect to other religions) so is it possible you are only hearing that from other atheists… just a weird thought and off topic so please ignore it.

          With that said, believing in god has nothing to do with morality.

          I have never seen a human being that didn’t have a set of moral beliefs regardless of religious belief.

          I believe in god and I am stating that atheists can indeed have morals and will go one further and state that some who proclaim god in fact do not have any.

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          1. Many theists claim that atheists have no source of morality without god which, as you say, is complete nonsense. Do you need a god to tell you it’s probably not right to murder your neighbor, or steal his things or his wife? Maybe theists need this since they ca n’t seem to think for themselves.

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            1. You Stated — “Many theists claim that atheists have no source of morality…”

              My Response — I’ll do you one better, many people (theists and atheists) claim moral high ground, but it doesn’t mean anything.

              Anyone can claim moral superiority anytime they want, for whatever reason they want.

              Morality is best seen in those who do rather than those who claim.

              Just saying

              You Stated — “Do you need a god to tell you it’s probably not right to murder your neighbor… Maybe theists need this since they ca n’t seem to think for themselves.”

              My Response — Do you need laws to tell you it’s probably not right to murder your neighbor… Maybe atheists need this since they can’t seem to think for themselves.

              Obviously, your statement and mine are both nonsensical since telling someone not to do something isn’t done to prevent them from doing it or to create a moral structure. It’s there as a warning that there will be consequences for one’s actions.

              A law, command, or order are there because you have the ability to think on your own.

              When I was in the military this was an easy concept to understand. We had our orders, but no one was going to stop us from doing anything we wanted to do (because we Think On Our Own)

              You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequence of your choice.
              — A Universal Paradox

              Liked by 1 person

    1. You Stated — “The constant repetition of aristocratic language in reference to God is one of the ways this verticality is commonly expressed.”

      My Response — Possibly but a reference to god above is not a definition to morality below.

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      1. Lander, you have quite a twisted sense of logic. It’s the atheists that can’t think for themselves really? “A law, command, or order are there because you have the ability to think on your own.” If this is the case, then why do you need commands, laws, or order? In the case of the Army of Willfully Ignorant laws are needed because they CAN’T think for themselves or they wouldn’t need to believe in the invisible man up in the sky. And, yes, there are atheists & theists that claim moral high ground however the theists have their “rule book” that tells them all the actions that are off limits and the implications of breaking those rules. (Usually a horrible, painful death.) Atheists do not need any such nonsense, we can actually figure that out for ourselves without the threat of burning in a lake of hellfire for eternity. Which is better?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You Stated — “It’s the atheists that can’t think for themselves really?”

          My Response — You may have missed my point since you asked this question but there is no simpler way to put it so this will have to be lost.

          You Stated — “If this is the case, then why do you need commands, laws, or order?”

          My Response — You currently live in a society that has laws. Do you think we should remove them?

          Is your thought that society is better off without laws?

          Do athiests believe that laws are useless?

          You have an interesting position, but I am not aware of any form of absence of commands, laws or orders in any society.

          Do you have a better process for the world rather than the laws we currently have in place?

          Show me an example of your better truth.

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          1. Of course I don’t. I was originally talking about morality, not laws per se. There is quite a difference and one does’t necessarily comport with the other. One could envision a world where laws aren’t necessary however it isn’t this one.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. You Stated — “Of course I don’t. I was originally talking about morality, not laws.

              My Response — But you postulated that I myself (a theist) must need to be told not to kill (from the bible) because I can’t think for myself.

              When You Stated — “Do you need a god to tell you it’s probably not right to murder your neighbor, or steal his things or his wife? Maybe theists need this since they ca n’t seem to think for themselves.”

              I simply pointed out that you live in a land with laws that tell you not to kill your neighbors. I was curious if you have the ability to think for yourself given that those laws are in place.

              If so, then you must see the nonsensical nature of the statement you made to me… if not then you must think it to be true and therefore laws are not needed.

              Again… Laws, commands, and orders are not meant to create morality they are warnings of consequence.

              You Stated — “One could envision a world where laws aren’t necessary however it isn’t this one.”

              My Response — Then it would appear that I can both have a god that commands me and still have the ability to think on my own since you think on your own in a world with courts that command you.

              Maybe it’s a good thing that we are told not to kill each other… maybe one day we will actually listen.

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