God, unbelief and universal morality

A recent thread on disputes about the nature of information quickly degenerated into the kind of denegration of religious faith usually (though just as unproductively) seen on apologetics sites, which was why I asked for it to stop. Debating such matters is really outside The Hump’s remit – we are here to discuss the implications of holding Christian faith for science; other sites exist to argue about the validity of Christianity itself with anti-theists. I’m not sure why anyone would prefer to debate with apologetics amateurs rather than with the full-timers, other than lack of confidence in ones arguments. But that said, since Christians see morality as a fundamental part of God’s creation, it has an obvious place in any discussion about the alternative view that there is no creation, and hence this post.

The moral argument against God customarily takes the form:

(a) The Bible says that God does/commands A (in this particular case the destruction of the Canaanite nations under Joshua).
(b) Such a doing/commanding is self-evidently immoral.
(c) Therefore the biblical God is immoral.
(d) Therefore he doesn’t exist.

By comparing the two viewpoints, the religious and the anti-religious, some interesting issues are raised. But first, to prepare the ground, a brief survey of genocide, the issue that was invoked in the other post to frame the customary put-down.

Is genocide indeed self-evidently evil? It’s a question scarcely worth considering, it seems, genocide being given as a textbook paradigm of evil in most discussions of morality (second only to torturing babies!). But all such discussions have the disadvantage of occurring here and now – and it is not self-evidently clear on what basis that which is is self-evident to us should necessarily be so to all people in all times, nor why our outlook should trump others. Just a few years ago, would a Bosnian Serb have seen the eradication of Muslims as a war-crime, or vice versa? Did the Chinese look sheepish as they eradicated the Zhongar people in the eighteenth century, or various nationalities of colonists as they concluded the only good Injun was a dead Injun in both North and South America?

The twentieth century probably ranks as the Century of Genocide, commencing with King Leopold’s rape of the Congo c.1908, quickly followed by the Ottoman Armenian and Assyrian bloodbaths (whose centenary we have just reached), the Soviet De-cossackisation of 1920, and proliferating through events around the globe thereafter. These, as I’ve already indicated, were perpetrated by very varied governments and peoples, though as Geoffrey Martin Hodgson in Economics in the Shadows of Darwin and Marx points out, history has tended to allocate or forget blame in somewhat myopic ways. In a footnote he writes:

Trotsky (1937) saw similarities between Stalinism and fascism. From 1939 to 1949 there were mass deportations and killings of Baltic, Caucasian, Polish, Slav and Turkic peoples, often with the aim of eliminating their culture (Pohl, 1999). The deliberately engineered famine in the Ukraine in 1932-33 is estimated to have led to between six and ten million deaths (Conquest, 1986). Stalin’s crimes rival those of the Nazis in scale and cruelty. Yet these episodes have been given much less attention than the Holocaust. Of course, we cannot convict a doctrine such as Marxism, Christianity or Islam simply by the sins of its adherents. Instead, the point here is to show that the awareness and ranking of such atrocities are framed by enduring but challengeable frameworks, acquired from an earlier history.

But on the previous page he nevertheless implicates the very founders (rather than just some bad exemplars) of Communism:

Engels proclaimed that “the disappearance from the face of the earth … of entire reactionary peoples” such as the Slavs would be a “step forward”.

While Marx wrote to him 17 years later:

“…the common negro type is only a degeneration of a far higher one.”

Engels had already cited with approval Ernst Haeckel’s book placing blacks closer to apes than to Europeans. Haeckel, the biologist, did not himself specifically advocate genocide – only the killing of handicapped babies and the withdrawal of medical aid from the sick in the interests of natural selection. However, members of the scientific eugenics movement like Margaret Sanger and her associates in the USA did, proposing if necessary the enforced sterilization of the feebleminded, antisocial and black (often subsumed under the other two as “the negro problem”). Not surpisingly some American blacks are still less than wholeheartedly in support of the Planned Parenthood people.

To be fair, this wasn’t entirely a racially based eugenics, for Dr Harry Laughlin also considered as a “bad strain to be purged” “shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of antisocial whites of the South” and another associate, Norman Himes, targeted their main opponent, the Catholic Church, in Sanger’s journal:

Are Catholic stocks . . . genetically inferior to such non-Catholic libertarian stocks and Unitarians and Universal . . . Freethinkers? Inferior to non-Catholics in general? . . . my guess is that the answer will someday be made in the affirmative. . . and if the supposed differentials in net productivity are also genuine, the situation is anti-social, perhaps gravely so.

Now my point in this survey is not to target the particular persuasions that seriously considered genocide a proper human goal between 1850 and 1950. It is rather that it is not only “the awareness and ranking of such atrocities” that are, in Hodgson’s words, “acquired from an earlier history”, but it’s also the subsequent history – in this case a mere half century – that has turned certain kinds of genocide from being a desirable, moral, scientific, civilisation-enhancing and fairly popular project to the category of “universal atrocity”. For if society at large had considered such ideas that atrocious, they would not have been allowed to gain traction and lead to widespread horrors ranging from forced sterilisation of black women in America to the Holocaust in Germany.

This leads me to consider genocide as a marker for the question of morality generally, arising as I said before, from the condemnation of the so-called Canaanite genocide in the Book of Joshua (but see Hanan’s illuminating comments on its nature and extent in the post), and through that condemning the biblical Judeao-Christian God as a shortsighted moral monster, who therefore cannot exist. Let’s examine the “religious” viewpoint, and then a “skeptical” atheist one.

First to the religious viewpoint, which of course is mine and that of The Hump. The first thing to say is that, whilst some believers would defend God’s moral integrity by the particulars of the case, or by distancing him from the biblical text in some way, I prefer to start from the classic theological observation that morality as such is a feature of the human creation, not an attribute of God. God is not a moral being, but the self existent One who is the source of morality and everything else. That does not mean he is immoral, any more than his immensity means he is big, or his ineffability that nothing may be said about him, but that to be the Creator, Father, and Judge of all puts him in a different category of existence from our – a category in which, albeit in in Trinity, he is alone.

The long list of divine qualities in, for example, the Westminster Confession includes infinite wisdom, holiness, righteousness, love, grace, mercy, longsuffering, goodness, truth, forgiveness, and justice (together with hatred of sin and refusal to clear the guilty) but not “morality”. For God to curtail human life because of sin – as we will all experience and as the very first chapters of the Bible teach – does not in any way contradict his command to us in the same chapters that our lives will be accountable to him for the life of another human being, nor make it unjust or hypocritical.

God, in the Bible, says his ways are right and good as God, not as a human with an innate creaturely moral conscience, subject to the laws he gave to govern human nature. And if we object that we would not act as he does if we were omniscient and omnipotent, we commit the rather elementary logical folly of making that judgement without being omniscient or omnipotent. The only God we can confidently judge is one whom we have created in our own image, whose ways are our ways, and whose thoughts are no higher than ours. Whereas the God who judges us (and all the peoples of the world) is in no way subject to our judgement. He alone made our judgement.

Nevertheless, moving on to human morality, the religious view is that one can account for a universal human sense of morality on the basis that we were created with one human nature, informed by a God-given conscience appropriate to what we are. On that basis, not only may God judge our actions, but men too can judge other men, whether within divinely appointed roles of authority (in which context “Thou shalt not kill” may be inapplicable to criminals or marauding enemies), or merely as humans viewing what goes on around us. All people ought, therefore, to know a true universal morality, and all show some signs of doing so, even if only by hypocrisy (“a tribute that vice pays to virtue” – Francois de La Rochefoucauld).

Religion, too, can account for the manifest shortcomings of human behaviour – whether in the collective madness of societies adopting evil norms, or in the individual who denies his own standards and conscience – through the existence of sin, the assertion of autonomy against both our divinely-constrained conscience and God’s stated laws. Sin being universal, it accounts for the propensity to evil acts as well as fpr the recognition of good ones. Since all have sinned, this may not always put even believers in a good light, but it confirms their theology, and the theology contains the seeds of repentance and change.

If we now turn to the critic of religion, we see in the first instance that he too necessarily believes in a universal morality, for it is only by such a standard that it makes any sense to condemn either the wisdom or the goodness of God for events that took place thousands of years ago in a distant culture. If he did not believe in this universal standard, he would merely be imposing his own individual scruples as binding on both God and the ancient Israelites, which would be absurdly conceited given the overview of recent genocidal events with which I started. And so, it is on the basis of the “self-evidence” of this universal morality that God falls short and ergo cannot exist. Or else he does exist and one must spend ones life shaking ones fist at him … which is actually quite common, I find.

God’s demise, though, means there no longer remains a religious explanation for the existence of the universal morality which condemned him to death. Another kind of explanation must be sought. Philosophically that’s a problem, for the only currently viable alternative to God’s creation is evolution by random variation and natural selection, or as Darwin put it in the title of his book, “the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.” It’s the old problem of Hume’s Law: that “ought” cannot rationally be derived from “is” – and that is especially so when the “is” in question is that life itself, like our own species, has arisen entirely through self-interest. In fact, it was that very conclusion that inspired the social Darwinism behind a number of the genocidal movements of the last century. It’s no easy task to get, from that kind of “is”, an “ought” that universally outlaws the destruction of ones competitors.

The materialist’s task, then, is to explain how natural selection, which is the competitive self-preservation of genes or organisms, would give rise to a universal human behavioural trait regarding the preservation of out-groups as an overwhelming priority for all times and places. For, remember, it  must be universal if God is to be found wanting by it. Such attempts have, I believe, been made – in more or usually less detail. And natural selection, one finds, is seldom preserved entire in them.

For example, Richard Dawkins’ position on morality is that we must, in this case, rise above (how?) the otherwise thorough determination of our selfish genes. He has contrived, with little in the way of “how”, to derive “must” from “is”. Free will has slipped in the back door of his theory of memes: goodness is somehow mysteriously chosen, rather than caught. But that lack of a robust explanation wouldn’t matter too much if, by evolution or by his magical self-liberation from evolution, the human race did show a universal pattern of behaviour excluding genocide.

The problem is that it doesn’t, as I have already shown. Assuming there exists a global morality that has arisen through some obscure evolutionary advantage, we also have to explain why it is also universally flouted, and why millions of people in the last century alone have been slaughtered by others determined to eradicate their kind. Perhaps this contradiction, then, represents a more straightforward selective goal, the removal of competition, and that this sits in an uneasy balance with the universal moral sense of benevolence. One then has to account for why the latter is associated with “ought” and the former with “ought not” in our minds. What gives any one evolutionary strategy ethical pre-eminence over another?

Richard Dawkins’ “rising above evolution” justification for morality, as given above, seems all there isby way of a reply – an assumption that, just as a favoured few are rational enough to escape the evolutionary predisposition of the majority to believe in God, so there are those who are favoured enough by nature to rise above it in their moral compass, too.

But this is no less incoherent. To begin with, in such a case, morality is no longer universal, but the prerogative only of self-adjudged right-thinking people, which destroys the case against God as offending against a universal truth. Instead God would only be offending a particular moral élite. In any case, it was the eugenicist Margaret Sanger who said, speaking of the over-fertile religious “There is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped.” So who is to judge which particular group of right-thinking “smarts” are thinking right about genocide?

The second problem is, I’m afraid, another inevitable consequence of undirected evolution. There is little defence against the reasonable contention by Plantinga, Nagel and others (including, at times, Charles Darwin) that reason itself evolved to ensure survival rather than truth. How much more, then, is this true of an evolved moral sense, which is even less possible to test against reality? In a materialist system, what weight can the “ought” of moral awareness exercise over the four billion year old instinctive urge to survive? Given evolution, I should feel outrage against the slaughter of peoples for the same basic reason that I feel outraged if I am hungry or short of a mate – because it somehow ensures my survival. What other motives are there within the framework of evolution? By what miracle can it produce something beyond the mere ability to survive?

By the same mechanism, I might feel outraged by the continued existence of kulaks, or Cossacks, or kaffirs or Catholics if they appear to threaten my survival. Many people have felt like that, in this and previous centuries, and used the highest political and scientific reasons as justification for doing away with them. For myself, I’m convinced that they were all offenders against the universal law of God for mankind to love his brethren created in Christ’s image, deadeners of their creation-nature of conscience, and doomed to judgement apart from the grace of a forgiving God.

But there are an awful lot of theological presuppositions necessary to that view of universal morality.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Creation, Politics and sociology, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to God, unbelief and universal morality

  1. Lou Jost 2 says:

    For what it’s worth, the argument you are discussing today is not the one I made in the thread you referred to. I was not trying to show that god does not exist. My argument was about biblical interpretation (and hence highly relevant to your blog).

    My version went like this:
    (a) The Bible says that God does/commands A (in this particular case the destruction of the Canaanite nations under Joshua, sex slavery of the virgin survivors, etc).
    (b) Such a doing/commanding is self-evidently immoral according to Christians and according to other parts of the Bible.
    (c) Therefore the biblical portrayal of God is immoral internally inconsistent.
    (d) Therefore he doesn’t exist the bible is not closely edited by a god, even if that god existed.
    (e) Therefore the frequent appeal to the authority of scriptural evidence on this blog does not carry the weight you give it.

    And I have to once again express my disgust at attempts to justify large-scale murder of innocents (sometimes the groups being murdered were peaceful, and often they were babies). If there was a legitimate reason for god to order the elimination of men, older women, and babies, why would he also order the virgins to be taken into sex slavery? And what happened to his omnipotence that he could not have arranged a scenario that avoided ordering his people to become butchers and rapists?

    If you think god exists and he is good, then the logical conclusion is that none of this really happened (I think Hanan made this point in past comments). It shows that the bible is a human document, a collection of myths written mainly to justify and explain the world of the dominant dynasties of the ancient Israelites, and clearly not dictated by a god (even if he did exist).

  2. Merv Bitikofer Merv Bitikofer says:

    Ahh, Lou! That’s a good and healthy bit of angry fist-shaking you do expressing a universal morality that you claim not to believe in. You continue to make Jon’s point for him.

    By the way, I’m pretty sure I’ve never expressed the thought that the Bible was dictated by God to human authors dutifully acting as no more than dictation secretaries. I agree (and always have agreed in recent memory) that the books in the Bible are written by humans (as those very books claim, after all). So I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that I’ve ever argued otherwise. Perhaps it is because I see no conflict with thinking that fallible humans wrote the books now in our bibles and that I also think that, the bible is something significantly more than just any collection of books.

  3. Hanan says:

    >sex slavery of the virgin survivors.

    Didn’t we already go through this once Lou? Is it really fare, given the context of the time to call this sex slavery, though today, we have decided to give it that name?

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      Yes, we have been through this before, as I noted. I bring it up again because it disproves Jon’s attempt to justify the god-ordered mass murder of selected peoples. If they were so bad that they had to be completely eliminated, why save the virgin girls but not the babies? (Also, in fairness, it means these orders are actually something slightly different and weirder than genocide….)

  4. Hanan says:

    It’s interesting that Lou brings up this issue since today, I was privy to an interesting discussion for TV between an atheist and a Liberal rabbi. Now even though he does not believe the Bible is the actual dictated word of God to the Israelites, he felt it necessarily to squash the idea that the Bible allows for wholesale sexual slavery in the modern sense. Again, this was a Liberal rabbi. And he said exactly what I have always said: Given the context of the time, where women were basically at the mercy of their family, there would be two options for women that their husbands’ were killed (which negates that she MUST be a virgin). She will either die or simply be raped, right there and then die. The Bible says NO. Since Israelites males are no different than other males of the age, the Bible says he is not allowed to touch her. She must first become his wife and part of his family……and, he cannot sell her off. (If she was simply a sex slave as you call it, why would he be forbidden to sell her?).

    Yes, she gave no consent. I agree. In our time that would be considered a form of rape, but given the reality of places like Syria where women by the thousands are being raped by enemy soldiers, I would say this was a big moral leap.

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      Come on Hannan.

      ISIS is currently doing something similar, making sex slaves of their female prisoners, sometimes after killing the male family members. Like good muslims following their holy book, I think they actually marry them first. Sound familiar? Does the marriage thing make it ok? I think the world is justifiably horrified by this, and I don’t think the victims in ancient times would have felt much better about these things than they do now. Why would your god inflict this when it was not needed? An omnipotent god could have avoided this situation in a million different ways.

      So why not honestly admit this is not consistent with the concept of a loving god, and therefore much of the bible can’t be inspired by this god? You actually did say in the past comments (if I recall correctly) that these massacres probably didn’t happen. That’s the point I am trying to make too.

      • Hanan says:

        Yes, in those days where there was no UN or organizations to help women, and the cultures simply allowed for women to die, the best bet for them would be for them to be married.

        The question is not whether you think it is barbaric compared with today. The question is given the society in question if it was an improvement in behavior.

        >and I don’t think the victims in ancient times would have felt much better about these things than they do now.

        How do you know that? How do you know a woman – given that brutality and war was the norm – would be as upset to be taken care of (yes without initial consent) as she would today? Remember, slavery was absolutely normal. It was part of the economic fiber of societies, and the same women that would be enslaved or wed lived in culture that did the same thing to others. If anything, in those days, she would be expected to be raped, sacrificed or killed off immediately.

        Notice no rabbi or priest is calling for anything like that today, and they haven’t been calling for that for hundreds of years.

        >An omnipotent god could have avoided this situation in a million different ways.

        So what you are really saying, if we were to broaden the concept at hand, is why does God allow humanity to be free, to evolve as cultures when it would be simply better to work every human being and civilization, and culture as if they were robots. To control everything (and I mean everything).

        At its core this is simply a question of why does God allow for humans to inflict suffering on each other, right?

        • Hanan says:

          >So why not honestly admit this is not consistent with the concept of a loving god, and therefore much of the bible can’t be inspired by this god? You actually did say in the past comments (if I recall correctly) that these massacres probably didn’t happen. That’s the point I am trying to make too.

          It’s a fair point. I don’t have an answer to that. I frankly haven’t fully grasped the concept of “inspiration” in the Christian manner. I believe there was a Mosaic core. More was added to it to supplement the Mosaic core. The Torah I feel is binding because as a whole, that has become The Law of Moses (sort of how we call Psalms “The Psalms of David” even though we know he did not author everything. He initiated the work, therefore we call the whole enterprise “The psalms of David).

          The Law has been “amended” by Rabbinic traditions to void many things and alter other things to make them applicable for the times as best as can.

        • Lou Jost 2 says:

          “So what you are really saying, if we were to broaden the concept at hand, is why does God allow humanity to be free, to evolve as cultures when it would be simply better to work every human being and civilization, and culture as if they were robots. To control everything (and I mean everything).”

          But Hannan, many people on this site argue daily that your god does control or design the universe so as to produce very detailed outcomes, such as the evolution of humanity, the “hardening” of Pharoah’s heart, and lots of other little interferences that circumscribe what you call free will. Your god also supposedly answers some prayers. All these things infringe slightly on free will. Evolution itself imposes biological limits on our free will. So under your god concept, it was certainly unnecessary to have god’s chosen people killing the male members (including babies) of entire nations and taking their virgins as slaves. Even if being taken as a slave is better than being killed, or raped once and left to die, neither of those outcomes were needed if your god is omnipotent.

          “At its core this is simply a question of why does God allow for humans to inflict suffering on each other, right?”

          No, Hannan. The question is why your god actually ORDERS his favorite humans to inflict great suffering on others.

          • Lou Jost 2 says:

            Hannan, also note that your argument about free will is refuted by your god’s behavior: giving orders and harshly punishing those who disobey. Your god coerces when it is convenient for the OT authors.

  5. Hanan says:

    If you ask me Lou, I think that particular law was made for one thing: A deterrent.

    “If you want it, you should have put a ring on it.”

    No battlefield rape.

    Both Christian and Jewish commentators have noticed that even before she can be your wife you have to cut her nails and shave off her hair and let her mourn her family for a month, which would probably eliminate any action based on a soldier losing his head to lust or temptation.

    And, also, as I said, whether you want to keep or has a wife or in the end not, you have to let her go. You can’t sell her. And how does the text end? “Because thou has “humbled” her.” Humbled CAN mean sex but it doesn’t have to mean that (as you can see from earlier texts of Hagar being humbled by Sarah. Clearly it’s not meant sexual there). It can mean a trying ordeal against her, which means, I believe, the text itself is judging the soldier harshly from the get go. The hebrew verb for “Humbled” is never used in positive light in scripture.

  6. Hanan says:

    Sorry I don’t understand what biological outcomes (teleology) has to do with man choosing to war with his neighbor or anything man chooses to do

    I also don’t think u are making much philosophical sense saying x or y is needed if God is so and so. Hell was it really needed for me to get bronchitis? Surely God COULD have avoided that no? Ultimately the atheist is arguing that for a good and powerful God to exist would by definition require any harm or pain to exist in any way, thus making us automatons to an infinity higher degree than what he would do to a ruling pharoah

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      We’re not going to solve the problem of evil or suffering here to the satisfaction of both of us. For you, it is insoluble. For me, the problem doesn’t exist.

      But there is a tremendous difference between the mere existence of suffering and pain, and a god that actively orders his people to inflict lots of suffering and pain on innocent people. Babies, at least, were innocent yet they were to be killed, not adapted or cared for. The only people who were to be spared were the desirable virgins. Sorry, there is no way you can paint this as a charitable, or justifiable, or merciful order of an omnipotent benevolent being.

      Of course, the solution is to accept that the bible must not be correctly reporting the words of your god. The bible cannot be authoritative, even if your god were real. That’s my point.

  7. Hanan says:

    Lou…. I understand the problem over the ORDER to kill even though the bible makes it clear they never actually followed through, but I am going to throw the ball in your court. Paint me a picture of a perfectly good and powerful God. I don’t just want the outcome of the goodness but HOW God accomplished it on a micro and macro level on a world scale. Also, if you please, would there be any consequences to the type of you portray? This should be a fun exercise for a scientist

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      Sorry, I don’t think such a being can exist. But I thought YOU did believe in such a being? If not, then we are making progress.

      • Hanan says:

        Wrong. I never believed in a God like that. I don’t believe in a God that requires his beings to be robots.

        But you keep on bringing up why such a god DOESN’T exist. So I merely wanted you to paint a picture of a God that can allow his creations to develop naturally with human choice but still not allow evil to develop, in ANY form. If you can’t, than how can you complain?

        • Lou Jost 2 says:

          OK, if you don’t believe your god is perfectly good and all-powerful, then you can escape the dilemma. If you remember, I always gave that option. A god could be a scoundrel or not have the powers usually attributed to him. If so, my point crumbles.

          But again, I am not complaining about the existence of evil, I am complaining about your god ordering evil. Let’s say for the sake of argument that a god wanted to let his creatures make free choices. Maybe this lets him off the hook for the evil things they do to each other. That seems quite different from a god who ORDERS people to do evil. There, how can he escape blame?

          • Hanan says:

            Im not complaining about the existence of evil nor do I think suffering is a problem for a good God.

            >That seems quite different from a god who ORDERS people to do evil. There, how can he escape blame?

            You’re right. He can’t. If he orders X, than he is responsible for that order. The question is, is X evil. Anyways, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s take a simpler case that, perhaps, we can derive a principle out of. When the guy that picks up sticks and desecrates the Sabbath (I would argue according to the text on purpose) is given a death sentence by God, is that an evil order? (Afterall, something is evil whether it is single individual that suffers or a large amount, right?)

            • Hanan says:

              I would like to hear your answer for this too Lou.

            • Lou Jost 2 says:

              As a human being rather than a member of a religious society, I would have to say that killing an old man for gathering sticks on some arbitrary day is evil. It is like ISIS killing people for not being sufficiently Muslim (women not wearing the hijab, for instance). I think enforcing arbitrary tribe-identity rules via the death penalty (as opposed to just ostracizing the guilty) is evil. I’d say it is always evil to kill someone for doing things like that. The bar for killing someone should be set pretty high, in my opinion, since there is no life after death. It is the ultimate punishment.

  8. Hanan says:

    Lou , do u have kids? You never bark out orders and threats of consequences ? How does that negated kids possessing free will

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      Hanan, let’s assume for the sake of argument that your kids are old enough to marry. Do YOU order your kids to kill their male neighbors (including babies) and take their virgins as wives? If you did order your kids to do that, would you not be a hypocrite to also tell them to turn the other cheek and love their neighbor as themselves?

      You would say,”Those neighbors were drug dealers and murderers who would probably have killed my kids if my kids didn’t kill them first.”

      But if you were Yahweh, you could have convinced your neighbors to be nice, just as Yahweh supposedly influenced Pharaoh to be nasty. Or, being omnipotent, you could have avoided the situation completely by using locusts or droughts or whatever to keep people from settling next door to you in the first place. Instead, you CHOSE to let the situation develop, and then you ordered your kids to become ISIS-like bloodthirsty murderers and rapists (granted, you redefine what happened as “not rape” because “times were different”).

      • Hanan says:

        >…Or, being omnipotent, you could have avoided the situation completely by using locusts or droughts or whatever to keep people from settling next door to you in the first place. Instead, you CHOSE to let the situation develop….

        Excellent. Which means on principle, this can be said for anything right? Why would God let the situation develop to the point where Soldiers in the Philipenes are taken on death marches? Why let ANY situation develop to the point where great suffering is the eventual outcome right? Because in the matter of God, is there really a major difference between “ordering” and “allowing?.”

        • Lou Jost 2 says:

          Because in the matter of God, is there really a major difference between “ordering” and “allowing?.”

          Hmm, that is an interesting question. Maybe there is a difference. It is not hypocritical to allow people to be evil. However, ordering people to do evil is hypocritical in light of the other things this god supposedly orders.

          Going back to your parenting analogy, if you spent lots of time telling your kids to love your neighbors, turn the other cheek, etc, but you let them make their own decisions about how they act, you would not be a hypocrite. But how could your kids respect you if you told them on Sunday to be nice to your neighbors, turn the other cheek, and then on Monday ordered them to kill and rape those same neighbors?

  9. Hanan says:

    >But how could your kids respect you if you told them on Sunday to be nice to your neighbors, turn the other cheek, and then on Monday ordered them to kill and rape those same neighbors?

    Because, at least according to the text, nobody suffers if they are innocent. We have to be at least honest with the text, right Lou? When Moses (not God) orders the killing of everyone except for the virgins, that isn’t an attack for the sake of being a jerk. It was retribution for what Midian did to the Israelites un-provoked. Even, with the Canaanites, the text makes clear the Israelites are getting the land, because the Canaanites decided to use their free will to be corrupt and immoral (The text will often use the ritual of passing children through the fires of Molech, as an example of the Canaanites depravity). So at the very least, the text is consistent. A society – including a pagan – doesn’t get punished unless they did something to warrant it.

    So going back to my analogy: I WOULD be hypocrite if the scenario played out like you laid out. But that isn’t how the text portrays it….ever. You kill that neighbor if he did something to you (or at least, within the narrow confines of the Israelite covenant, if the Israelite went against that covenant on purpose). Nowhere in the OT does the text say Love the foreigner, but kill him when ever you feel like it. In fact, quite the opposite. Do you remember what happened with King David and Uriah? Do you remember in the text God saying: “Ya, Adultery and murder are bad….but since you did it to a Hittite, I will let it slide”? Of course not. David had a Hittite killed……a NON Israelite, yet God is perfectly consistent with His condemnation. So there is no hypocrisy.

    I think you are stuck with the: How can God say, thou shalt not murder and than say kill all the inhabitants of Canaan. THAT is where you see the hypocrisy.

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      …at least according to the text, nobody suffers if they are innocent.

      So infants are guilty of the sins of their fathers? The concept of group guilt is of course a central theme of both OT and NT, and contradicts what you claim the text says about punishing innocents. Note also that, in some instances, the virgins (who are less likely to be innocent than the babies) are NOT to be killed. The standard excuses for these atrocities are that the evil race needed to be stamped out so that Israel would not be contaminated by their pagan beliefs, but this is just flatly contradicted by the text. The pagans which are sexually interesting are ordered to be brought into the houses of the Israelites. Why not the babies?

      …Moses (not God) orders the killing…

      Sometimes the orders are quoted as the words of Yahweh himself (though of course, if you want to say the people repeating these quotes are mistaken, I would gladly agree, since that is my main point):
      1 Sam. 15:1-3 “Then Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

      Josephus on this story: “”He betook himself to slay the women and the children, and thought he did not act therein either barbarously or inhumanly; first, because they were enemies whom he thus treated, and, in the next place, because it was done by the command of God, whom it was dangerous not to obey.”

      About the difference in cultures affecting whether these acts are right or wrong, I imagine (and hope) you condemn the atrocities of ISIS today. Yet they are often occurring in very orthodox cultures rather similar to those of the ancient Near East. I don’t see major differences between what ISIS is doing, supposedly following the commands in the Quran, and what the Israelites supposedly did, following the commands of their god. I’d love to hear why you think one of these things is fine and the other is horrible.

      (I think we might both agree that most of the stuff described in the OT, including the enormous slaughters reported there, never really happened. You’d then be agreeing with my main point about the lack of reliability/authority of the OT.)

      • Hanan says:

        >So infants are guilty of the sins of their fathers? The concept of group guilt is of course a central theme of both OT and NT, and contradicts what you claim the text says about punishing innocents.

        I agree. Group guilt is everywhere and also against the Israelites too. The whole OT is about group guilt and punishment.

        >Note also that, in some instances, the virgins (who are less likely to be innocent than the babies) are NOT to be killed.

        Ok, I need to expunge something here. There is nothing in the OT about virgins/war/slavery relation. What you are talking about is the story of the war against Midian. The reason why “virgins” are highlighted is simply due to the nature of the assault that started the war. The initial assault was sexual in its nature, therefore, the virgins, by definition are not-guilty of the assault. In any other war, a non-virgin may be taken as a slave and made a wife.

        >The standard excuses for these atrocities are that the evil race needed to be stamped out so that Israel would not be contaminated by their pagan beliefs, but this is just flatly contradicted by the text. The pagans which are sexually interesting are ordered to be brought into the houses of the Israelites.

        But that is only for the 7 “nations” of Canaan, not the Midianites. Ideally, you were not supposed to take a wife from those nations. Also, don’t forget something about the ANE. Women, once married were required to take the belief of the husband. That isn’t just Israelites but anyone in the ancient near east. The woman, is acquired, those required to follow the in the patriarchal traditions. So if you WERE to take a wife, she is supposed to take your traditions and therefore – hopefully – anything pagan would be removed.

        >Why not the babies?

        I agree. I don’t know. My guess is that since the concept of adoption did not exist till the Romans ( I think ) that baby would be the child of nobody. No inheritance, no nothing.

        >Sometimes the orders are quoted as the words of Yahweh himself

        Right….but I was just being technical when I said, it was Moses, not even QUOTING God, for what he did in Midian. It was on Moses’ orders to kill the kids and non-virgins.

        >1 Sam. 15:1-3 “Then Samuel said to Saul, “The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD.

        Right. I am just as disturbed as well, but to be fair to the text as a whole….Samuel’s speech to Agag is that he is deserving this due to “leaving mothers’ childless,” implying Amalek as before were waging wars with Israel. Also, there were other Amalekites tribes around that Israel did not wage war against…since they are obviously present in later stories.

        BTW, I am not necessarily disagreeing with you. The initial order is clearly unpleasant to any modern ears. I’m just particular about being true to the text, and, that in fact, given the context, the initial writers knew very well the limited scope of the operation where it might not be too obvious to us today.

        >I’d love to hear why you think one of these things is fine and the other is horrible.

        I’m not sure how to answer that. If the Israelites were like ISIS than everyone living during those times were like ISIS. People conducted war like that with or without gods telling them what to do. And though my bias is coming out, I think the difference in objective is important. ISIS wishes to have everyone like them, believing what they believe in, taking over as much as possible. The Israelites were willing to live in peace, and, in the end, the Canaanites were not expunged from the nation. They never forced converts under penalty of death and in fact, you see the indigenous people joining in and being elevated in the royal courts. I don’t think you would ever see something like that with ISIS.

        >You’d then be agreeing with my main point about the lack of reliability/authority of the OT.)

        Well, it depends. I believe in the authority of it because that, to me, is the edited book that records an actual revelation. Is it perfect book? No, not to me. Do I believe in an actual revelation? Yes I do. If later editors screwed up on some things than so be it. Jews have never looked at the story of Midian and Canaanite wars as THE center point of any of it. I’m willing to live with imperfection and understand the main point of what my religion has always sought out.

  10. Lou Jost 2 says:

    I forgot to mention how hypocritical it is that some commentators justify the Israelites’ genocide because the enemy culture was so depraved that they sacrificed children to their god. Sure, that’s a good way to end child sacrifice– just kill ALL the kids. Isn’t that (literally) throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

    • Lou Jost 2 says:

      And by the way, child sacrifices were not unknown among the Israelites; see Jeptha for example.

      • Hanan says:

        >And by the way, child sacrifices were not unknown among the Israelites; see Jeptha for example.

        Being “known” is not the same as “condoning.” The story of Jeptha is located in the book of Judges; a book dedicated to showing how bad the Israelites were. There is a saying that goes “The book of Judges shows how bad the Israelites were without a king. The book of Kings shows how bad the Israelites were WITh a king”

        >Isn’t that (literally) throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

        It is indeed. Look, what do you want me to tell you, that it doesn’t bother me? Of course it does. Like I said (somewhere) that the Israelites to God were a tool in the story no different than the Flood was. The society is corrupted. The society corrupts everyone in it. So you get rid of it and start new…..and you give the next land owners the same warning as well.

        • Lou Jost 2 says:

          Yes, I remember your comment that the Israelites were just a tool.

          I still think there is a problem with how free will fits into this. Is a bad person with free will not to be granted the possibility of reforming?

          • Hanan says:

            >I still think there is a problem with how free will fits into this. Is a bad person with free will not to be granted the possibility of reforming?

            Free will isn’t negated because punishment is coming. An individual can do whatever they want, but if it becomes rampant in the very fiber of society?

            Look, I’m going to say something that you absolutely hate, is unscientific, is unverifiable and can only make sense to someone that already believes in this particular god: God is huge. He knows the future and all it’s possibilities and knows everyone in their hearts. I can’t imagine – me as being just a human – to be able to understand everything in God’s cosmic calculations. That’s why I love the movie “Bruce Almighty.” It basically tells humans that you can have all His infinite powers and do what you want…..but humans lack His wisdom. Bruce thinks he knows how to use his news powers but ends up making a mess of everything. To me at least, it’s a humbling thought.

  11. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Well, I waited, but see no argument in the comments by which personal disgust can be translated into a universal morality that carries any authority for other times and places, or even people, on materialist grounds. Nor have I understood how such a materialist morality accounts for the recent historical examples in the OP that buck such morality on a grand scale.

    In the meantime, another imponderable (from the PoV of materialism), “free will”, albeit limited, has been introduced as a universal, though in a conception that is very far from universal (ie as the modern “autonomy” rather than the classical “natural desire for the good”). Generally it’s almost as hard to get “want” from “is” as it is “ought”.

    To some extent the discussion has stumbled on a limited understanding of the classic Christian position on such things – all too common today. There’s a good account of that misunderstanding, and an explanation in A-T terms, here.

    Comments are now closed.

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