Is food good but amoral?

In a comment in another thread, the view was expressed that food is amoral because of what Scripture teaches in the following passage: 

1 Corinthians 8:8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

It does not seem to me that view is supported by what Scripture says in several places, including the following passage:

1 Timothy 4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving.

Is food something that is good but amoral or is food something that is good and therefore moral?

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M. Osborne's picture

This thread is kind of frustrating to read, because it's hobbled at the outset:

is food something that is good and therefore moral

The phrase "good and therefore moral" leaps over volumes of ethical conversation about how to relate the "good" (what is beneficial, worth pursuing, practically wise) and the "right" (what someone ought to do or not do). A big question in ethics (for secular ethicists especially) is indeed whether we can derive a concept of the right from our observations about the good. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the OP seems to take it for granted that calling something good is tantamount to calling it moral / right. So does this statement: "How can you account for [biblical statements]...that say that things that God has made are good and still hold that they are neutral or amoral."

Here's why this fuzziness is especially frustrating. First, I've studied primarily apologetics, and some ethics. As a Christian "looking in" on secular ethical discussions, I am struck by how much secularists still want to speak in the register of "ought" even though they have no way to account for the "ought." In an evolutionist's universe, "ought" is a very mysterious phenomenon. Just because something is "good," doesn't mean I ought to pursue it. The fact that unbelievers continue to use the language of "ought" just shows, per Romans 1, that they really do know God's existence, power, and righteous decree, though they refuse to acknowledge and believe what they actually know.

Second, in common ethical problems, like a young lady considering abortion, secular ethicists want to weight the various pre-moral "goods" to come up with some kind of decision. A pro-abortion argument would be all the "goods" that could be had if the young lady could stay in school, finish her education, not hindered by a crying baby. In any ethical crisis, the person is overwhelmed by considerations of what's "good" for me. The Christian answer to this comes from biblical theology as early as Genesis 1-3, that God is the one who can tell us what is "good" for us. For the Christian, what is "right" envelops how we interpret and respond to what we perceive to be "good." A creature will pursue the "good" either in obedience (right) or disobedience (wrong) to the Creator.

@Rajesh, I do think we're on the same page re: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That fruit was in some respects "good" (Gen. 3:6), but because of the prohibition, eating from it would always be wrong.

@Rajesh, I don't understand why you're trying to establish the idea that "food is moral" from the fact that God calls food good. Why not cut to the chase? I'm a covenant creature of God. Everything I do has a moral dimension, my response to food included.

Another distinction that could help a discussion like this--especially the business about carpeting--would be some kind of nature / culture distinction (whether you like Niebuhr or not, Christ and Culture works through that), or a structure / direction distinction (see Albert Wolters, Creation Regained). In any phenomenon in the world, I need to separate the "structure" (what reflects God's original creation) from the "direction" (what man has done with it, where man is taking it). I suppose that you can argue that "food" is closer to nature / structure, although what is grown, and how it is grown, and how it is processed, and what we choose to cook, is already picking up an aspect of "direction." And then "carpet" is more of a human artifact, part of culture.

 

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Larry's picture

Moderator

The phrase "good and therefore moral" leaps over volumes of ethical conversation about how to relate the "good" (what is beneficial, worth pursuing, practically wise) and the "right" (what someone ought to do or not do). 

I think the problem is that attempting to separate good from right requires separating good from God. How can we define good apart from God and his righteousness? I am not convinced there is a way that doesn't involve some denial of God's supremacy of character and standards or some sort of special pleading. At first glance, I don't find the distinction between "good" and "right" helpful, at least for this conversation. I think we would all agree that there is no standard for "good" other than God, so I am not sure how we get a distinction between good and right. It seems to me that something is good for the same reason it is right--because God says it is, and that flows from his character.

RajeshG's picture

M. Osborne wrote:

@Rajesh, I do think we're on the same page re: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That fruit was in some respects "good" (Gen. 3:6), but because of the prohibition, eating from it would always be wrong.

@Rajesh, I don't understand why you're trying to establish the idea that "food is moral" from the fact that God calls food good. Why not cut to the chase? I'm a covenant creature of God. Everything I do has a moral dimension, my response to food included.

Michael,

If you can see how the fruit of that tree was "good," why you do have a problem with seeing that everything else that God made is good?

I explained the reason for this post in the OP: someone affirmed in another thread that food is amoral. I reject that view and do not believe that the Bible teaches that food is morally or spiritually neutral. I explained above from 1 Timothy 4:1-4 how Paul used the goodness of food to refute the demonic doctrine of apostates concerning abstaining from foods.

M. Osborne's picture

If you can see how the fruit of that tree was "good," why you do have a problem with seeing that everything else that God made is good?

@Rajesh. Everything God made is good (Gen. 1:31; Psalm 104; James 1:17).

@Larry: whatever God does is both good and right. I agree that within the character of God, it's hard to separate the good from the right. Also, a huge part of Christian morality is understanding that our highest "good" is in obeying God.

What I'm saying is that calling something "good" doesn't get me very far when it comes to ethical decision-making. There are some implications, e.g., if God calls it good, we ought not to contradict God and call it bad or imply it's bad (1 Timothy 4). But that doesn't tell me much about when / how / what I should eat, and when / how / what I should refrain from eating. There are moral questions that concern food; but the questions are moral questions because they involve moral agents responsible to God for how they relate to God, to each other, and to the world around them.

What I'm saying is that it's possible to say (and I do Smile ),"Food as such is amoral, but a moral agent can never interact with food in an amoral way."

Arguing to establish the "morality" of food based on its goodness confuses the categories, and it's an unnecessary argument if the point that really needs to be me made is that it matters to God what I do about food. Yes, it matters to God what I do about food.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

RajeshG's picture

M. Osborne wrote:

What I'm saying is that calling something "good" doesn't get me very far when it comes to ethical decision-making. There are some implications, e.g., if God calls it good, we ought not to contradict God and call it bad or imply it's bad (1 Timothy 4). But that doesn't tell me much about when / how / what I should eat, and when / how / what I should refrain from eating. There are moral questions that concern food; but the questions are moral questions because they involve moral agents responsible to God for how they relate to God, to each other, and to the world around them.

Even today, there are people who believe in other religions who hold that eating certain foods is sinful
 

Not only onions and garlic.they don't eat carrot, beetroot, radish, potatoes etc etc.actually according to jains vegetables which r grown below the ground r considered as sin to eat .

Quote is from this source

In view of the existence of such beliefs, Christians must affirm the Scriptural teaching that God made all foods as good in every sense, including moral/spiritual goodness.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Kevin and Michael, 

Things are righteous because they align with God's character, and creation is part of that. You seem to want to have a category of good that is separate from God's character of righteousness. I don't know how we would define anything as good (or bad) apart from God. And I still don't know where this ambiguous category of ambivalence towards something comes from. If we are to "do all to the glory of God," that seems to attach a moral significance to everything.

It's not that God attributes goodness or badness to carpet or anything else. It is that something reflects or aligns with his character. You still seem (even in your last comment to Rajesh) to be operating on this idea of "inherent" morality. I don't know how that is useful. To me it seems we over complicate this by chasing this third category.

Michael, you raise the category of "ought," and I think that is perhaps a valid point to press on. If you believe that we "ought" to do everything that is good, then I think you could make your way towards your position (or at least what I think your position is). But if you take the position that we do not have to do everything that is good, then we have an entirely different scenario, do we not?

When you question whether animals were immoral, isn't the obvious answer no? They were part of what God declared to be good and very good. How would that be immoral? Or even neutral? 

Why not just say, "Do all to the glory of God" with the understanding that that can be done, whether laying carpet, enjoying carpet, vacuuming carpet, removing carpet, or whatever. 

I suppose in the end, I think categories of "moral" and "amoral" and "immoral" probably confuse things more than they help. Perhaps I am immoral for suggesting that.

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

Kevin and Michael, 

Things are righteous because they align with God's character, and creation is part of that. You seem to want to have a category of good that is separate from God's character of righteousness. I don't know how we would define anything as good (or bad) apart from God. And I still don't know where this ambiguous category of ambivalence towards something comes from. If we are to "do all to the glory of God," that seems to attach a moral significance to everything.

It's not that God attributes goodness or badness to carpet or anything else. It is that something reflects or aligns with his character. You still seem (even in your last comment to Rajesh) to be operating on this idea of "inherent" morality. I don't know how that is useful. To me it seems we over complicate this by chasing this third category.

The only reason I seem to be operating on the idea of "inherent" morality is because Rajesh seems to be making statements that indicate it. Just in the last post before yours, he wrote, "Christians must affirm the Scriptural teaching that God made all foods as good in every sense, including moral/spiritual goodness." That seems to be referring to an inherent characteristic present since creation. I hope he lets me know if I am reading him wrong.

Even your own statements, Larry, have been a bit confusing to me. Earlier in the thread, you wrote, "What's the other alternative? A whole category of things about which God has no view? How can we argue that a God of infinite knowledge doesn't know whether something is good or bad? In the same post, you wrote, " Again, what's the alternative? Some nebulous and undefined category of "amoral"? I can't see how you avoid arguing that an omniscient God doesn't know whether something is good or bad, pleasing or displeasing." Those statements made it seem like you were talking about an inherent quality that God would assuredly have a view of. Now, you're telling me "It's not that God attributes goodness or badness to carpet or anything else." That's just what I've been saying, but you've gotten after me for supposedly inventing some third category.

I agree with your statement when you say "I suppose in the end, I think categories of "moral" and "amoral" and "immoral" probably confuse things more than they help." The confusion lies in the semantic framework that each of us places on the particular words. I simply see "moral" as a bit more specific than you do. If I were to make a claim that food is either worldly or spiritual, you would probably start asking questions about what I semantically mean by "worldly" and "spiritual." I might say that spiritual things are in line with God's character and creation is a part of that, but that really wouldn't be a common way of using the term "spiritual." It has a more specific meaning.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Those statements made it seem like you were talking about an inherent quality that God would assuredly have a view of. Now, you're telling me "It's not that God attributes goodness or badness to carpet or anything else." That's just what I've been saying, but you've gotten after me for supposedly inventing some third category.

Perhaps the confusion is in this: I don't think God attributes goodness or badness to things. It is good or bad based on how it relates to God's character. I don't think that is what you are saying. You seem to be saying there is something in itself or nothing in itself, that there are a bunch of neutral things out there. I think everything is either okay with God (good or righteous) or not okay with God (sin or evil). I can't conceive of something that doesn't fit in one of those categories. Sure, it depends on use. You can use good things for bad purposes. But the thing is acceptable to God. It is good.

RajeshG's picture

Here is another key passage with relevant data:

Acts 14:16 Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.

This passage says that God's filling our hearts with food and gladness is a facet of how He in His goodness has not left Himself without witness to all nations. Food does not just function to sustain our lives--God witnesses universally to Himself through His goodness in "satisfying [our] hearts with food and gladness"!

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