For more, see here.
When did the Canaanites get the opportunity to repent? And how were they supposed to turn back to God when he had never given them his law? The Israelites, not the Canaanites, were God’s chosen people, right? And if this was solely about cleansing wickedness from the earth, why was it only limited to Canaan, the very place the Israelites wanted to settle in? Remember, the US made the same claims when they were driving the Native Americans out of their land, which the US referred to as “Manifest Destiny.”
This video is an incredibly callous answer. You may not have children of your own, but think of the children close to you in your life. Can you imagine God commanding someone to take all the children you love and hack them to pieces? Don’t just read over that — I mean really think about it. Visualize it. What child deserves such a terrifying, painfully horrific end? That’s what the OT says happened to the Canaanites, by divine command.
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“The Canaanites had heard what happened to Egypt”
That’s an odd statement considering not even the Egyptians had heard about what had ‘apparently’ happened to them. Exodus has been debunked since the 18th century… not even Jews teach it as “historical.” If you doubt me please feel free to consult any Rabbi and ask him yourself.
Why must Christian evangelicals cling to such absurdities?
How anyone can believe the binlical account here to be actual Historical Fact involving people who really existed, and also believe this God to be sinless is absolutely beyond me.
And people think it’s the only the emergent liberal types who pick and choose which parts of the bible to believe. Weird.
Responding to most of these comments is a bit frustrating, since the answers are so readily available both inside the Bible and out. These comments can only reinforce my belief that atheists do not read the texts they criticize, but only pass around a few proof texts among themselves and repeat them.
As to who thinks what is historical, I see no references here. Adding up who thinks what is historical does not prove much, since many Christians, Jews, and others believe many things.
I will post responses to much of this in coming days. For now, we’ll leave it with a simple citation of Molech, found in the Jewish encyclopedia:
This is also helpful:
I can only counsel most of you that it would help your cause more if you’d do a bit more research before you merely dismiss things by stating they are not historical, a claim that on the face of it here, is out of thin air. I suppose this trend comes from reading discussion boards, which this is not. Prove your point, or please do not post.
By the way, I don’t want you to feel so on the ropes from our questions that you don’t feel like you can honestly consider what we’re saying. I once believed very much like you do, and it was not easy to consider counter-points. But I finally realized that genocide is simply immoral, no matter whose idea it is. No one should have to defend God on this.
So even if you don’t reply to these points, I hope you’ll really think about them. Personally, I’m ashamed that I ever tried to rationalize barbaric behavior like this, and I’m very glad that I eventually found my way out of it.
Yes, I think the moral repercussions of treating this as a perfectly acceptable event that God would have sanctioned and commanded should throw up many red flags. If you’ve never really thought through the magnitude of just how reprehensible genocide is, then maybe that would explain not recognizing this as a problem. If you have thought through them and still aren’t bothered, I’d really like to hear why.
Your assumption that any critical response must be from an atheist is quite a leap, and says a lot: that’s an impressive jump to an unfounded conclusion.
Additionally, I, for one, did *not* emphatically state that the Canaanite Massacre was not a historical event; I am personally unconvinced either way. I did say that believing it to be so, while at the same time believing God to be sinless is to have an extraordinary spiritual tunnel vision.
I told you how to learn that Exodus is not even taught by Jews as “historical”…. call your local Rabbi. Of course, you won’t, because you’re not actually interested in learning anything.
And believe me, I know the bible.
Humblesmith, if the answers to the comments are so readily available both inside the bible and out then why are you even blogging on this topic? The first comment by Nate is worthy of a response, but you seemingly ignored it.
I watched the video and read your earlier post on the issue. I think all of them miss a critical point. I think the god described is guilty of something even worse than orchestrating the deaths of the caananite children with blunt weapons. Being forced to be the one doing the killing is horrific. Can you imagine after having dispatched all of the warriors in a given city having to go into each house and kill every grandmother, mother, child and infant? It is too awful to think about. The mental anguish alone would have left each soldier scarred for life. If your god asked you to commit genocide on a nation would you be the first to raise your sword?
Your thought is…sobering. Why would an omniscient God need such violent and reprehensible proof of Israel’s devotion? Why did the OT God continually demand such proofs? “If you love me, tie your son to this beam, force him up this mountain, lay him on an altar and burn him alive. Do it. Don’t you love me?”
It’s disgusting, really.
I have a full time job and more than one side project. I was having trouble finding time to keep up with this even before the current batch of criticisms. I don’t have the bandwidth to sit and respond to every comment.
As for the morality of killing people, it is indeed horrific. As I have said before, so was the Canaanite burning of babies to death on hot iron. You seem to want to put God in a paradox of either blaming him for ignoring this torture, which is what God gets blamed for in the problem of evil, or blaming him for administering justice and stopping evil. Even if you don’t accept my answer, one of the two favorite atheist arguments fails since you can’t have it both ways. If god selectively stops all human evil acts and forces us to do righteous acts against or will, he’d get blamed for that too.
So Christians are put in a no win situation, and the atheist demonstrates he is not interested in an answer that leaves God in the picture.
That’s still an evasive answer. All the children had to be hacked to death by soldiers because of the horrors of child sacrifice? That makes absolutely no sense. I know you must see this deep down. It’s okay to question things, man. Even the Bible says to do that (“test the spirits to see if they’re from God,” “[the Bereans] searched the scriptures daily to see whether these things were so…”). Show some real respect for God and question these blasphemous accusations that say he commanded genocide.
Who says the Canaanites were sacrificing babies? This us utter nonsense.
Sorry John! (Wikipedia link).
Not, of course, that such practices by the Canaanites justifies wholesale murder of children by the Israelites, whether divinely sanctioned or not. How anyone can read the Old Testament and not come away seeing the god portrayed therein as their moral inferior, I have no idea.
To follow the perspective that God asked for genocide, a person also has to conclude that what is moral is specifically what God asks, and not anything outside of that.
This reminds me of the some Islamic perspectives of morality, which regard anything God allows to happen as the right decision.
For example, if God suddenly strikes down a child through a natural disaster, then it is the will of Allah, and who are we as limited creatures to judge divine decision?
Through this perspective, the emphasis of right conduct is placed on who is teaching the code of conduct rather than what the conduct is, and the why isn’t always necessarily seen as being fully within our scope of understanding.
It’s like starting with the premise that (a) because it is believed that an action was requested by a Holy Authority, then (b) the action itself must be considered holy and right. Therefore, people understandably make an effort to build up a case to explain why these actions were initially requested.
That’s the role of apologetics to my understanding, it defends a position. And because a person following premise (a) doesn’t take the actions independently because the actions are attributed to divinity, then what other option do they have but to take on the position as defender?
Why is it though that if this same action was carried out by a community of atheist’s many apologists would use this as a reason to explain how immoral atheism is?
Is it the action itself that is deemed moral, or is it based on the authority on which an action it is believed to have come from?
The issue with this line of reasoning, starting with the original post, is that it is taking the tact that we need to exonerate God’s actions with human consequences, which half-concedes the atheists’ point from the start.
So the initial line of reasoning and all subsequent responses really seem to hinge on whether the Israelites or some nebulous form of their leadership was justified in these actions. The answer if that is truly the limits of the situation is a resounding NO! However, if there exists a God as taught in the whole of the Bible, not just gleaned from a few chapters here and there, then we’re dealing with not just the author of morality but the author of life itself. Some would even posit that not just our initial existence but its CONTINUANCE is contingent on God’s will.
If I were to begin a painting or some manuscript and decide to irrevocably alter it or toss it entirely, that’s my prerogative as its creator. Now, if I do that to someone else’s work, then I’m a scoundrel. As God relates to his own creation, he’s not racist or a bigot. He’s not guilty of murder or genocide. He created them in the first place and can unmake them at his will by means of his choosing. Let me be clear, however, if I choose to act in such a manner of my own accord, however, then we have a different matter on our hands (nor should we expect such commandments to continue into the present day due to the elimination of Israel as a God-established theocracy, replaced by the covenant established by Jesus).
It’s still not a comfortable idea, mind you, as portal001 points out above. And his/her implicit accusation stands. If this was a case of “Holy” orders being issued by dubious old men, then this is just a wholesale call to massacre, deserving of much of the ire drawn here and in which case, no amount of humanistic reasoning can justify. Nor can I pretend to have every answer, to Dave’s point, which is why command the Israelites to act in such a way instead of clearing the road ahead for them so to speak. On the other hand, if this action was prompted God’s will and command, given after 40+ years of spectacular and public miracles and given by means proven reliable in the past to the Israelites, then these actions must be placed and understood in that context.
But ultimately, is God himself a murdering bigot? That’s impossible given his nature and his relationship to humanity as its Creator and sustainer of life. In the absence of his authority or even his existence, the Israelites very well might have been, though. The final answer to that,must be found on a larger scale than just these few passages.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply, JI. To me, this brings up a couple of questions. For one, since children owe their existence to their parents, should parents be legally able to kill their children, if they desire?
Secondly, if God exists, and he’s the god of the Bible, and he really did order these kinds of atrocities, is he deserving of our worship? I don’t remember if it was a comment on this post or elsewhere, but someone recently compared it to the Nazis just following orders. Is that how we should behave, or should we take a higher moral stance?
Thank you, Nate. Good questions. I figured both would come up, but I was getting too long-winded and figured I’d trim up my post.
The short answer to your first question is that within the paradigm above, if God is the author and sustainer of life, then each life is technically his creation, despite what hand I may have had as a parent in creating and raising the child born from it. So I would have no right to that child’s life in this manner of speaking. (Someone will try to make the same point about art just to be contrarian, I’m sure, but I think the illustration otherwise makes my point).
To the order of whether that God deserves our worship if he had commanded such things, if this is all we had to go on, then I suppose not. But given the broader scope of patience, love, grace and restoration that provide some of the Bible’s meta-themes, I’d say that I’d have to give Him the benefit of the doubt even if I don’t understand a handful of instances. Even in the case of the Canaanites, we see God forestall judgement in Abraham’s day (Gen 15:13-16) for 400 years because their “inequity is not yet complete”.
As for the Nazi comparison, I’ll admit that it’s a strikingly close call here. The potential differentiation (taking the story at face value for now) is that in the Israelite’s case, they were witness to a CONSTANT barrage of miracles in the intervening years between the order to kill the Canaanites: the Egyptian plagues, the pillar of smoke and fire in the desert, the delivery of sustenance in the form of mana, etc…
So it boils down to from whom are you taking your orders? As I admitted above, I’d be dubious too if it was simply from a bunch of old men retreating into a tent and coming out with a plan. Or an angry guy with a funny mustache and an axe to grind against an ethnic group. But if voices and fire miraculous appeared not just to you but thousands of your friends and family, fed you, led you out of captivity as actually promised ahead of time…I guess it brings us up to that point where one has to ask what it would take to a) believe in God? b) trust him enough to do what he says? and c) how far would you go in that case? While I can’t picture myself storming Canaan even with my faith in the Judeo-Christian God, I wasn’t there, either.
Ultimately, though, the subjective questions that you pose are interesting in the face of such a reality. If God exists as an all-powerful transcendent being who determines what is moral, then what is a moral stance against him (not an allegedly religious authority, but God himself)? Also, how do we determine, given our contingent existence, his level of worthiness?
Thanks for the responses. This is the kind of dialogue I really enjoy — it’s thoughtful, coherent, and not filled with insults toward one another. Thank you. :)
To revisit the first point: that we are God’s creation — if an artist creates a painting, that is his to do with as he pleases. But if God is the ultimate creator of us, then he’s the ultimate creator of the painting too. So does the painter really have the right to destroy it? I know it’s a silly example — I’m just trying to explore why we defer to God in one sense, but not in the other. In reality, I think we’d both agree that the difference is in the quality of what’s at stake. A painting’s worth doesn’t compare against a person’s life. So if we don’t think a parent should be able to kill their child due to the worth of the child as opposed to anything else the parent might own, then does even God have the right to take that life? Shouldn’t that life be counted as precious and inviolate, no matter who created it? Should it have the opportunity to make its life its own?
To the second point, if it’s okay to follow God’s command of genocide because he’s shown who he is through miracles, isn’t that the philosophy of “might makes right”? To me, that’s still equivalent to the Nazis’ reasons for following Hitler. I mean, with the miracles, it would be obvious that you’re dealing with a very powerful, supernatural being. But does that in itself mean that being should be followed?
I think to people living in the time period these stories are set in, such a god makes a lot of sense. All the nations around them had gods that operated the same way: might makes right, I’m more powerful than you so I deserve your worship, I will destroy your enemies for no other reason than that they’re different and in your way, etc. So people of that time could read these stories and probably see nothing wrong with them. But now that we’ve reached a point where most of us in modern society believe that every person, regardless of creed or ethnicity, deserves to live in peace and have due process, the OT version of God doesn’t make as much sense. He offends our modern sensibilities. Personally, I think our modern sensibilities are a vast improvement over what came before. I think it would be hard to argue that a better version of morality would consist of complete obedience to whomever is strongest. As far as the source of our current morality is concerned, I think it stems primarily from empathy.
But I’ve rambled on enough, so I’ll stop here. :) Thanks again — I’m enjoying the conversation.
“But in a sense, if the Bible’s true, God has put us in a position where we have to question these things”
Oh absolutely! I’m in no way advocating otherwise. What you’ve said brings to mind one of my favorite quotes from a novel by Mary Doria Russell called “The Sparrow”:
“…The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds…If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.”
I think the lack of such inquiry in the church is resulting in both a more antagonistic culture and more people leaving the church. We have to ask the tough questions and be willing to try to answer them or simply state that we don’t know. And in this case, I don’t, not in any definitive manner at least.
I see glimmers here and there of answers that make some sense. The poor actions of the Canaanites. The fact that God specifically gave them time (400 years!) to repent or culminate their inequity in Gen. 15. But those semi-answers beg more questions that require details that aren’t available to us in the texts and don’t fully assuage the idea of the death of innocents. So I remain uncomfortable. I even embrace the discomfort to a degree because it keeps me thinking about such things and keeps me learning.
“the same admonitions are given to trust Allah, or the gods, or whatever, because as mortals, we can’t always understand the divine…The same steadfastness of faith that helps the Christian, hurts everyone else. Therefore, God expects all non-Christians to ask more difficult questions than the Christian has to, thus making him inconsistent in his dealings with people.”
Very true! But on the other hand, if one was to find more reason to believe than disbelieve, is it necessary then to divest themselves of their faith entirely?
To me the preponderance of my own experience, what I’ve studied of existence even in the sciences, of historical examinations a lot of which I’ve done recently in response to challenges and my own doubts have done much to reinforce, not errode, my faith. There were definite realignings of what I believe and what I could defend.
However, in any worldview, secular or religious, there is a level of that going on anyway. There are things in the Judeo-Christian belief system that I can’t always defend. Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists must find themselves in the same boat. Then there are things naturalism can’t explain in the absence of God. The beginnings of the universe, the rise of consciousness, the fine-tuned parameters of the universe. Ardent naturalists can only raise the same flag: “Trust us, we’ll figure it out some day!” And they very well might! I’m certainly looking forward to what gets discovered along the way! :)
In the end, none of us has all the answers and we need to remain open to questions and even answers from other points of view. But does such an answer necessarily controvert an entire worldview? Or do such questions do the same?
Thanks Julio — hope you have a great weekend too!
I just have a few thoughts about your comment.
And you’re also right that it’s much easier claim that these things never happened anyway. However, I feel that there are some very important events in the Bible that did happen and it would be lazy of me to cherry pick past the troublesome ones to simply suit my liking, unless I’ve very good reason to do otherwise such as initial misunderstanding of genre or some other textual context that brings a passage into new light.
That’s an admirable position to take. I really appreciate people who aren’t afraid to clearly examine the potential problems with their stance on an issue.
But then again, if such a God exists and was the true instigator of this incident as well as the source of life and goodness, then do I presume to understand the situation better than he did?
This is a good question, and it’s one I thought about a lot as I was going through my deconversion. On the surface, you’re right: how could we understand something like this better than God — shouldn’t we just take his word for it? But in a sense, if the Bible’s true, God has put us in a position where we have to question these things. For the rest of this paragraph, I’ll assume God is real and that the Bible is his message to us. According to the Bible, God wants us all to be reconciled to him, and the only way we can do that (at least in this day and age) is through his son, Jesus. But many of us in this world come from cultures that are skeptical of Christianity — whether they’re secular in nature, or cultures that revere different faith traditions: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. For people like that to come to Christ, they must first see the problems in their own existing belief systems. All religions have problems — or at least difficulties that lead to doubt from time to time. But in those religions, the same admonitions are given to trust Allah, or the gods, or whatever, because as mortals, we can’t always understand the divine. So when we have questions or problems with our beliefs, we should try to focus on the things that give us confidence so we can weather the storm. We may come out the other side with a bolstered faith. Of course, the obvious problem here is that people in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc, will more than likely stay committed to their own faiths because of this tendency, leaving them outside the fold of Christ. The same steadfastness of faith that helps the Christian, hurts everyone else. Therefore, God expects all non-Christians to ask more difficult questions than the Christian has to, thus making him inconsistent in his dealings with people.
That’s why I think we have to ask these tough questions, and when we don’t get satisfactory answers, we should allow some skepticism. Because it’s still an assumption to say that God was behind any of this. He never spoke to me directly and told me to do anything, or told me about Jesus. The writers of the Bible — people I’ve never met — made those claims, and unless they can provide some really good evidence to back up their statements, I don’t see why I should believe them. So statements that claim God commanded genocide at several points in history make me extremely skeptical. I guess you could say I have more respect for God than to believe that… :)
However, as I hinted at in my previous response, to me it’s about the bigger picture. Even if I can’t cram all the individual puzzle pieces into their intended slots, I feel that the grander picture of God, of human nature and of history presented by the Bible makes sense still.
I get that, even though I feel differently. Thanks.
Very good points! I was vaguely aware I was painting myself into the same corner as Euthyphro as I went, but my responses were running long enough. So the question more appropriately stated then would be is something good and right because God tells us so (making such standards subject to his whim) or does God call something good and right because it is independently so (making him subject to a higher moral authority)? Briefly, the answer which is consistent with the Bible’s claims of God is the idea that good is something that is part of his nature. He’s not subject to it but it is an unchangeable part of him, like a Divine fingerprint.
To place it in human terms, within such a system, our innate understanding of good and morality that we’re using to even measure this, comes from him and is of his very nature. So without God, (not only do we not exist!) we wouldn’t know any better than a plant about what is good or moral.
Which is why such passages are difficult to reconcile. If God is good and just, then why is the commandment to slaughter even innocents suddenly the moral thing to do here? I can employ some theological guesswork here to try to harmonize, but it leads to other questions (already asked by others at various spots in this blog series) and in the end don’t lead to entirely satisfying answers. But nevermind Biblical events, ultimately, the question of why God would do such a thing in such a manner is a question I hear asked almost daily either by myself or others, and frankly in most cases only time will provide the answer. Sometimes, there won’t be one in our lifetime.
So in this case, much like portal001 laments below, do I wish that God had just blinked them out of existence instead of issuing a (failed!) command? Absolutely! Or maybe appeared to them in a fiery rage first and said “No, seriously. Stop.” Sure, even I could use that once in awhile. But then again, if such a God exists and was the true instigator of this incident as well as the source of life and goodness, then do I presume to understand the situation better than he did?
And you’re also right that it’s much easier claim that these things never happened anyway. However, I feel that there are some very important events in the Bible that did happen and it would be lazy of me to cherry pick past the troublesome ones to simply suit my liking, unless I’ve very good reason to do otherwise such as initial misunderstanding of genre or some other textual context that brings a passage into new light. However, as I hinted at in my previous response, to me it’s about the bigger picture. Even if I can’t cram all the individual puzzle pieces into their intended slots, I feel that the grander picture of God, of human nature and of history presented by the Bible makes sense still.
And thanks for checking out my blog! I’ve been mulling over resuscitating it as it’s been almost a year since I’ve written anything over there. I’ll be keeping up with yours as well! Have a great weekend!
You are neither too late nor is your comment too long. Thank you for your very thorough and very thoughtful response!
On the other hand, I apologize in advance for the brevity of my reply. Since you do cover a lot of ground and leave me more than a few threads to pick up, I’d like to see if we can cut straight to the heart of the matter: What is it that makes “might makes right” wrong?
And no, I don’t ask in hypothetical defense of it.
Same here, Nate! Your civil tone is admirable and refreshing in the midst of such discussions.
To answer the question you’re driving at through the parenting vs. art illustration:
“So if we don’t think a parent should be able to kill their child due to the worth of the child as opposed to anything else the parent might own, then does even God have the right to take that life?”
Given that we agree that life holds intrinsic value far more valuable and irreplaceable than any physical object we can manufacture, let’s not get too deep in the weeds on this analogy as we can agree that what I paint (especially given my sheer inability) I own versus my relationship to my progeny which is more of a stewardship (I’m responsible for them but I certainly don’t own them). In any case, I guess we keep weighing God’s actions as though he were human or he somehow owes us our existence. If he truly is the transcendent and ongoing cause and sustainer of life, then he gives and takes it away every day, not just in this circumstance. What disturbs us about this particular situation and what we find hard to reconcile is that he is shown as commanding these actions of others here. Admittedly a tough thing to swallow and I’m not trying to sweep it under the rug but I’d be dishonest if I told you have an absolute answer to it. But whether God himself had a right to take those lives, regardless of the means, I think so. They were only alive at his behest anyway.
“I mean, with the miracles, it would be obvious that you’re dealing with a very powerful, supernatural being. But does that in itself mean that being should be followed?”
Good follow-up! I don’t think I acquitted myself very well on that last point and in light of the day I’ve had, I don’t know that I’ll do much better now. However, the direct answer to that question is no, not necessarily.
For the Hebrews in this instance, if this was just some supernatural being that happens to be more powerful than us but possesses no valid dominion over us, then you’re right. It’s no better than following some megalomaniac that also happens to be more powerful than us. However, I’m positing instead that God, as portrayed in the Bible, is not some demi-god shuffling for power over others and herein also taking for granted that he exists nor is he actually simply some political ploy of the Hebraic leadership. Instead (and sorry for the repeated notion), He supposedly is the direct author of morality, and once again life. The miracles weren’t simply a demonstration of power but part of a revelation of himself as such pretty explicitly and fully in the years preceding this particular story, in which case what is right in this situation was probably more clear than it appears at this distance in time. So while the fog of history has obscured this event to a degree, I see enough there where I can begin to understand it, even if I’m uncomfortable with the purported details (infant slaughter that may have never occurred anyway, etc…)
So essentially the whole idea of whether God a) had a right to demand those lives and b) the Israelites were correct in following those commands still comes down to God’s role as the creator and author of morality. If he is not or if they were incorrect in their assessment of the origins of their order, then they were certainly in the wrong.
“the OT version of God doesn’t make as much sense. He offends our modern sensibilities.”
I totally sympathize here. There are acts and passages that are very hard to reconcile with said modern sensibilities, of which being a child of this age and Western culture I fully possess. However, I also feel as if the Old Testament depiction of God gets a bit over-maligned due to conversations such as these where the questionable and confusing get highlighted at the expense of the rest of a fairly expansive book. We tend to remember the moments of wrath and judgement but we forget the passages that demonstrate God’s slowness to anger and immediate and unhesitant willingness to accept repentance.
From the Canaanites as mentioned above to King David to the Ninevites to their own missionary Jonah*, we see God portrayed as patient and forgiving as well.
Ezekiel 33: 11 – “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…”
Not to mention passages that illustrate God’s love, joy and even heartbreak.
Not that it’s bad to question and study the troublesome passages, but it feels like God’s multi-faceted portrayal in the Old Testament gets boiled down and oversimplified into, well, this.
* NOTE: Whether the book of Jonah be poetic or true, the point is that even in an allegedly jingoistic Israel-centric book, we have a story wherein a prophet is forced to preach to an enemy he’d prefer to see dead and with very little effort they repent joyfully.
Yikes! Just re-read and paragraph 7 makes me question my own grasp of the English language. My apologies. I overedited and turned it into some sort of Frankenstein.
Since I can’t edit comments, let’s try this instead:
“In this instance, if this was just some supernatural being that happens to be more powerful than us but possesses no valid dominion over us, then you’re right. It’s no better than following some megalomaniac that also happens to be more powerful than us in a political or economic fashion. However, I’m positing instead that God is not some demi-god shuffling for power over others nor, for the sake of argument, that he is simply some political ploy of the Hebraic leadership. Instead (and sorry for the repeated notion), He supposedly is the direct author of morality, and once again life. The miracles weren’t simply a demonstration of power but part of an explicit and full revelation of himself as such. So while the fog of history has obscured this event to a degree, I see enough there where I can begin to understand it, even if I’m uncomfortable with the purported details (infant slaughter that may have never occurred anyway, etc…)”
No apologies necessary! Thanks for the thoughtful reply.
You make a fair point that we’re overlooking vast sections of OT scripture that portray God a bit more favorably. And I definitely appreciate that you’re willing to admit these are difficult issues that, at least on the surface, look pretty bad.
It seems to me that the biggest difference between us is in the source for morality. If God is the source, then anything he commands becomes moral. So, like in this example of genocide, the murder of infants was actually the moral thing for the Israelites to do. If an Israelite soldier had attempted to defend some of the children, he would have been acting immorally.
To me, if I think about God being the source of it, then it seems problematic. For one, it means that morality is not an objective standard, since it can change whenever God gives a different command. More importantly, if the roles of God and Satan were switched, with Satan being the more powerful and being the creator, then everything would be opposite: murder, theft, rape — these would be “fruits of the spirit,” and honor, integrity, honesty, loyalty, selflessness — these would all be evil.
I think that even if God exists, morality is independent of him. It’s something he calls us to because he knows it’s right, not because it necessarily fits his wants. And if it’s true that morality is separate, then passages like these become a bit more problematic, because God is knowingly choosing an immoral option. That creates some major problems for Christian doctrine.
I guess the easiest way around these issues is if we assume these stories are fables, or that the claims of God’s involvement were fabricated for political expediency. Truthfully, I don’t really think these things happened. At least, the archaeological evidence doesn’t seem to support them at this time. But for fundamentalists that believe in inerrancy (as I used to) I think passages like these create a real problem, and I wish more of them could recognize that.
By the way, I’m glad to see that you have a blog too. I’ll definitely be keeping up with you over there. :)
Maybe I arrived too late, but I want to make a few points.
I am always befuddled when so many theists defend the DCT in the face of this sort of despicable celestial behavior. The notion that morality is based on divine will, not on independently existing reasons is absurd, in my opinion. The idea that not only does morality originate with God, but moral rightness is, simply stated, ‘willed by God’ and moral wrongness is simply ‘not willed by God’ seems to be filled with all sorts of logical and ethical problems. It reminds me of Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karamazov saying, “If God doesn’t exist, everything is permissible.”
This sort of reasoning has all kinds of problems but two very prominent ones are: that it makes the goodness of God redundant and conception of morality arbitrary.
On the goodness of God, when a theist says, ‘God is good,’ that person thinks he/she is saying something about the nature of God or is giving him an attribute of goodness. However, all that individual is saying is that ‘God does whatever the hell he wants to do.’ And the idea that God commands humanity to do what is good is a tautology. God just orders us to do what he wants us to do.
Also, as Nate pointed out, this conception of morality makes morality arbitrary. If there are no constraints on what God can command and no independent measure or reasoning for moral behavior, then anything goes, anything can become a moral duty, even rape, murder, and torture. Additionally, all this can change from moment to moment. It just depends on what kind of mood God is in. Of course, someone may point out that God has revealed his word to us and that establishes what God believes is good. Okay, but how do you know God is telling the truth? He could be lying, right? Since, there is no independent evaluative process for determining the honesty of God’s claims on morality how would we know if God is being honest? I mean, we are, presently, discussing the OT God commanding mass murder. That seems pretty contrary to the God of the NT, huh? As the NT reminds us ‘God is love.’ But could a God of love command murder? Not to mention, as Nate has already pointed out, within this view Nietzsche’s ‘might makes right’ is king. God just so happens to be the biggest bully on the block.
I don’t even understand why anyone would defend this view when there is a much more logical and less problematic theory of autonomy that denies that God’s omnipotence includes moral law. Within this view, God cannot override the laws of morality; just like he cannot override the laws of logic. God cannot make what is intrinsically evil–rape, murder, so on–good. Just like he cannot make a three-sided square. In other words, morality exists independently of God. If God is to be moral he must follow the same moral laws humanity follows. One might wonder, if this is true, what is the point of basing moral laws on what God says? Well, one wouldn’t if they were contrary to rational morality, but assuming God is good, as the Bible tells one, there is some advantage to God because he would know what is right better than we would and, since God is good, there would always be something to learn from him if we consulted him about morality. Not to mention, there would be no need to defend the commands of God as immoral or moral because man decides what is moral and immoral-using and experience alone–independent of God’s commands. God cannot enforce just any morality, but is subject to the same morality we are, if he is to remain moral and, therefore, if God commanded something immoral he is immoral, but seeing as how God cannot command man to do anything regarding morality because the decision to act morally or immorally is made independent of God, God is not morally culpable for man’s actions. Kant held to this viewpoint. I am not a Christian, but this seems like the more reasonable approach, in my mind.
Even if one could say, as Augustine did, that: “All evil is either sin or the punishment of sin.” I would wonder how that makes any sense at all. Since, if, as the Bible claims, H. sapiens were created finitely perfect and they lived in a finitely perfect environment then humanity should have never fallen into sin or evil. The very idea of a perfect creation’s going wrong spontaneously and without cause is a self-contradiction. It amounts to the self-creation of evil out of nothing, ex nihilo. This is equivalent to nothing, meaning not anything, creating something. How absurd! And something I assume most theists are opposed to?
The fact remains, then, that a perfect creation would never go wrong and that if the creation does go wrong the ultimate responsibility for this going wrong occurrence must lie with its creator; not with the creation.
Additionally, it was logically possible for God to have created free beings who would never in fact fall, as Mackie contended. I am going to quote at length and I apologize: “If there is no logical impossibility in a man’s freely choosing the good on one, or on several occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.”
One is reminded of Epicurus’ s paradox: Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
Now, in the light of modern knowledge, it is no longer reasonable to think that our species existed, initially, as morally and spiritually perfect beings and then they fell from that state into our current condition. We know that humanity gradually emerged out of lower forms of life with very little moral awareness and with very crude conceptions of spirituality. The natural evils can no longer be thrust upon humanity as a form of justice because evil existed long before humanity arrived upon the scene. Life preyed upon life, and there were storms and earthquakes as well as disease during the hundreds of millions of years before our species emerged.
Speaking from a specifically human perspective, evil is simply part of the natural evolutionary process, which, as Tennyson pointed out, “is red in tooth and claw.” Evil has a biological basis, being simply the inextricable concomitant of characteristics that served an adaptive function. As Hume told us, “Man is the greatest enemy of man.” Of course, there are other sources of pain that are entirely independent of the human will–for instance, bacteria, earthquake, hurricane, storm, flood, drought, and tornado. These all befall humanity from without and seem to be built into the very structure of the world, and are indifferent to human concerns. The point here is that we don’t need to appeal to dogmas or myths or God to explain evil. Evolutionary processes are a sufficient explanation.
Now, if you hold the Leibnizean-Irenaean notion that evil exists for some extramundane reason then I would wonder with Dostoevsky’s Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov: (…)but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature–that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance–and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth.”
In my mind, no amount of utility can justify the torture of a child, which is what Attenborough was getting at, I believe, with his parasitic worm scenario.
Perhaps some evil is impossible to prevent, but why is there so much of it? Couldn’t God have envisioned–like the mere mortals Mackie and Epicurus–another possible world in which humans are free but do much better than we do? Couldn’t an all-powerful, all-knowing deity do better than this? Not to mention, if God doesn’t intervene in human and animal suffering, don’t we have grounds to suspect that he doesn’t exist, doesn’t care, or is limited?
In my estimation, the free will argument hasn’t survived the centuries because the metaphysical libertarian free will, which is necessary for the free will defense, is not supported by any sound argument. Not to mention not any theist, to my mind, has explained what free will, the libertarian sort, is–how it functions–or how it is possible, which would be necessary for the argument to have any semblance of coherency or persuasiveness. And the theodicy defenses just seem implausible to me. Couldn’t an all-powerful, omnibenevolent God do better than make a world with this much evil in it?
And, after all that, I don’t see any reason to suspect, if God exists, he is anything other than limited, particularly on the issue of morality, as all the evidence seems to indicate. Of course, I don’t think you will find I said religion or God is irrelevant to morality, assuming that was going to be an objection. In fact, in the Kantian sense, religion and God are necessary to complete morality and, contrary to Russell’s opinion, religion and God seem to enhance morality, in specific ways.
Sorry for the long comment.
That should be “using *reason* and experience alone”
In the end, none of us has all the answers and we need to remain open to questions and even answers from other points of view. But does such an answer necessarily controvert an entire worldview? Or do such questions do the same?
I think it depends on the severity of the question. It’s true that even a secular worldview will have gaps (what caused the Big Bang, etc). But I think the difference is that secularism doesn’t pretend to have all the answers; its goal is to look for them. Religion, on the other hand, claims to answer many of these unknowns. But when that religious system seems contradictory (as Persto’s comment shows), I think it leads to a bigger problem than what secularism has to deal with.
Of course, I suppose it’s fitting that I would see it that way, since I’m a secularist. ;)
Sorry, it logged me in under another account. Same user, obviously.
Reblogged this on Defend Your Post and commented:
Let’s see if we can get this author to defend this post.
This is why I appreciate Sharon Baker so much. She brings a perspective to the Bible that I can understand and support. I have read most of this one and almost every sentence I find myself saying, “Now THAT makes perfect sense!!” http://www.amazon.com/Razing-Hell-Rethinking-Everything-Judgment/dp/0664236545/ref=la_B00404H4UQ_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363284921&sr=1-1
What if man is the violent one? What if the O.T. writings do not reflect what God told the Israelites to do, but the account of their efforts to interpret their world through a lens of violence they themselves were living in and trying to understand? What if Jesus really is the ONLY true reflection of God in all of history? He absorbed our violence and by His life and death showed us that God is not the one Who is violent, we are.
My 2 cents.
Just some thoughts, let’s assume the Canaanites were debased and completely depraved as a tribe.
And let’s assume that God knew based on His complete understanding the sort of people the Canaanite children were going to grow up to be, and that in their adult lives they would cause untold abuse towards Gods chosen people.
And let’s assume God was stopping a cycle of cruel child sacrifices by ending tribe itself, and that countless future generations of humanity were saved from the corruption of Canaanite abomination and demon worship.
Let’s assume that if the Canaanites were allowed to exist, that they would have grown into a nation of deviants, that left to their own debauchery would have deceived the Israelites and led the entire world to an idol practice of cruel baby sacrificing and disease spreading sex magic.
And finally let’s assume that God in His mercy saw the whole picture for what was to come, and as a result God led His chosen people to victory.
Given all of this, even if the Canaanites were threatening to corrupt Gods chosen people through their idol worship. Even if God entitled the Promised Land and countless generations to the Jewish people, how does any of this lead to the butchering of the Canaanites with the sword? In times past fire from heaven and earthquakes devoured the rebellious evildoers.
My question is why were the Canaanites slaughtered in this way? In this seemingly very violent way that required humans and not divine fire, walls falling, the circling of a city or the earth opening up?
And assuming all this – that left to their own devices that the Canaanites would have deceived, corrupted and converted the Israelites and the world, then where does this leave the idea of redemption? Or was this to come in the NT in Christ?
However, people do believe that only God knows, His plan unfolds and He sees the whole picture.
I just don’t completely understand why entire tribes were killed in this horrible way, and can an entire tribe be that truly evil to deserve such a violent death?
Read Joshua. One of the reasons God asked Israel to do the job rather than using some other method was to test the Israelites on their faith and obedience.
As to redemption, perhaps you’re actually asking about forgiveness? That was always available, and God always relents if we repent. The same was true for the Canaanites.
As to not understanding the horror of it…
I agree it is horrible. Part of our problem is we don’t understand holiness. We compare our sin to ourselves and not Gods perfect holiness.
humblesmith you wrote:
“Part of our problem is we don’t understand holiness. We compare our sin to ourselves and not Gods perfect holiness.”
My understanding is that from a biblical perspective –
God is considered holy and cannot allow evil to stand in His presence.
Holiness (as I understand it) is someone or something set apart and pure from any corruption. Sin, which is considered transgression from God’s law, causes this separation from holiness (or completeness with God).
According to the OT, God requires sacrifice to be done in a certain way, and for sacrifice to be without blemish.
Although no one has seen God, When He manifests Himself (for example through a burning bush to Moses) the ground where His manifestation occurs becomes holy. Therefore, holiness is transferred onto creation based on the relationship God has with it.
The NT describes Jesus being sacrificed and dying in a certain way, just as past sacrifices were made in a certain way in the OT. Jesus is believed to have never transgressed Gods Law, and therefore He is a sacrifice without blemish.
Without the sacrifice of His Son, Christians believe that no human could stand in Gods presence and survive. The eternal forgiveness for those who accept Christs Holiness and sacrifice is based on Christ taking persons entire transgression from Gods Law and placing upon Himself to be dealt with, Christ was therefore directly punished for their sins as a consequence and was separated from God.
This sacrifice is therefore enables any person who accepts Jesus to be able to be with their Creator in relationship and to be whole.
Christians are therefore transformed into holy new creatures (saints) by accepting the sacrifice of Christ and then following His teachings,
Therefore, all of Christianity is fundamentally based on Christ’s resurrection, as Paul of Tarsus writes.
humblesmith, How do you understand Gods perfect holiness?
What does it mean for God to be perfectly Holy?
I finally got around to posting about God’s holiness, or at least what I was referring to. Look here: https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/holiness-and-the-justice-of-god/
The theology, as you have pointed out, is important, but I was referring more to the vast difference between ourselves and God when it comes to holiness. We compare ourselves with each other, and have our own standards of righteousness and justice. But if we had God’s perspective, we would realize we all deserve what God commanded to the Canaanites. It is only by His mercy that He does not command this of everyone. If the governor pardons a few off of death row and lets the others be executed, he is merciful, for they all deserved death.
Surely, “If the governor pardons a few off of death row and lets the others be executed,” he is being unfair, by treating them unequally?
As stated in the post, if God did as you suggest and gave us what we deserve, he would not save anyone. That would be perfectly fair, which is what the atheists seem to want. But they also seem to think Him unfair for judging guilty people to hell, and unfair for not forcing sinful people to be righteous, thereby stopping evil. They also think He would be unfair for not letting them sin however they want. So when it comes to God, the atheists seem to think God unfair whatever He does.
Without wishing to appear confrontational, I am not “the atheists.” I try very hard, when talking to individual religious people, to address what they say as individuals and not make assumptions based on what other religious people may or may not say. I’d ask the same courtesy, please.
I also note that you didn’t actually address my implied question regarding how punishing the same acts with unequal punishments can be considered fair.
The Christian god does not primarily judge people on the basis of their deeds, but on the basis of their beliefs. Yes, I say that’s immoral of him.
So when it comes to God, the atheists seem to think God unfair whatever He does.
Well, yes. If he never does anything fairly, then it’s—ahem—fair to think him unfair.
Sorry if I mischaracterized you. It seems the majority of who I get these days are atheists. But the points I made still apply.
You seem to think that Having enough mercy on some to give them a way out of their deserved separation is unfair. Personally I don’t see how mercy is unfair, but if you insist, then I’d say he is sovereign, has the right to give life, and has the right to take it back. If you hold that to be unfair, I guess it is.
In the end, he is merciful to all men. Some accept, some reject.
I am “an” atheist. My objection was to being treated as “the atheists.” If we’re talking to an individual, we should talk to that person, not to a stereotype of whatever group we’ve pigeon-holed them into.
Mercy is not unfair. Unequally applied mercy is.
As to his right to treat his creations in any way he chooses, well I guess if he has the ability to do so, then he has that right. Which is, though, a very different thing from saying it is morally correct for him to do so. I discuss that here, if you’re interested.
Point granted. Thank you for reminding me to be civil. I beg forgiveness if I was rude. Pleasantries are all too uncommon online these days.
I have a post that deals with our sense of holiness compared to God’s, which is part of the issue at hand. See here:
You posit a third option, somewhere that is good but not having to deal with a pesky God hanging around. What you ask is for something in between good and non-good….something that is not “love your neighbor as yourself” but is not “being selfish is perfectly fine.” I cannot fathom how such a world would be, one where we do not expect people to hate lying but lying is not done. In the end, we want good, but we want good to be on our own terms, with all of us individually being supreme dictator of our own world. God gives us the only “other” way out, which is to allow us to leave His presence if we so desire.
(Cross-posted from the linked article. We need to pick a venue and stick with it :-) )
You misunderstand the main point I’m making above, I think.
The choice should not be between “good” and “not good.” The choice should be that, as adults, we should be free to decide for our collective selves what is good and what is not. If God insists on “His house, his rules,” that would only be a reasonable position if we could live elsewhere.
And, of course, if we are “as children,” not adults, in his eyes, then the punishment of childish transgressions by infinite torture is in itself unfair and immoral.
However, maybe God chooses not allow evil to stand in His presence, rather than cannot allow evil. cannot suggests God doesn’t have an option
I think what’s also interesting is that Christ is considered to have become The sin offering for humanity, and once He was separated from God the Father and was punished for the millions of sins of humanity He then was resurrected and returned to be with His Father again (and is believed to return to earth again).
But how does God separate Himself from God? Perhaps this is beyond our understanding.
However, I find it very hard to understand why there even needs to be such a thing as hell if Christ has paid the price for His creations transgressions. I mean, if hell is in fact actually prepared for satan and fallen angels then why would people be sent there?
I figure that if Christ is the Complete Sacrifice, then He died for all. Hell to me is an absolutely horrible concept.
To put this into perspective, What’s worse: (1) having Israeli soldiers kill an entire tribe with swords in the name of their God, or (2) selecting a number of people to be placed in darkness, thirst and torment for all eternity?
Some Christian denominations (like the 7th day Adventists) believe that “sinners” and unbelievers are instead annihilated after the resurrection of the dead. But this also bothers me. Who is then considered worthy? However, people are not cartoon characters, they are complex, and they do both generous things as well as selfish and cruel things, sometimes within the same day! And this seems to be true whether or not they believe in Jesus. I suppose God is fit to judge if he knows us best.
I should also add though when I wrote, “Christians believe that no human could stand in Gods presence and survive.” I was assuming too much, and was working off stereotypes. I shouldn’t have made such blanket statements about an such a hugely diverse group of people.
“Christians believe that no human could stand in Gods presence and survive.”
And by human I human from a Christian perspective, AKA – a human who has not accepted Christ, and allowed Him to stand in their place in judgement.
And by human I meant* from a Christian perspective
The assumption that all Canaanites are morally reprehensible and deserving of death (without a salvageable person or building or cattle among them) is called RACISM. Just putting that out there. Of course, if we were made in God’s imagine, it makes sense for God to be a racist, I’m just questioning whether that is moral, that’s all.
To say that God cannot be judged for the commands that He gives is ridiculous. We hold judges accountable all the time that’s why we have an appeals process. Saying that God must have come up with a just sentence for Canaan is also a nonsense, because on one side we have people arguing about the slaughter of an entire village being indefensible and on the other side we have people with their fingers in their ears just shouting “no. God did good, no matter what God did”.
You guys would do much better if you’d just read the text. In all seriousness, you would find more difficult things to accuse if you would just learn what the text is actually saying.
For a response to this comment, see the latest post, here: https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/was-god-racist-when-he-commanded-the-destruction-of-canaan/
As for whether God can be judged, this ultimately deals with our view of holiness, which is flawed. Watch for a post on this in coming days.
Actually, I think I do actually understand at least partially why it is believed that there will be such a thing as hell.
If Christ has sacrificed himself for the sins of humanity, then there has to be consequences for the transgression of Gods Laws (Sin), otherwise what is Christ saving humanity from?
If the consequences to sin is separation from God – to be placed in a place that has been prepared for satan and his angels – then Christs Gift to humanity is the opportunity to be reconciled with our Creator through His Sacrifice.
It then follows that if we accept Christ’s divinity, sacrifice, resurrection and teachings then Christs sacrifice allows us to be new creatures in God by (a) asking for, (b) accepting and (c) Actively Following His Spirit.
I think it also depends on the actions people take based on the light and understanding they are given.
Obviously, if someone has never heard of Jesus then how can they reject him?
But this can place a lot of pressure on the unbeliever I think eg – the more you hear, the more you understand, the more you have to believe or – face judgement :(
I think this thought can really confront some people, for example – I understand the gospel and the teachings of Christ better now, will I then be punished more if I then do not believe?
However, if people condemn themselves by seeking to understand more about Jesus and the Christian faith by still not believing that faith, then from a Christian perspective is this then a worse position to be in, than that of being ignorant of the gospel?
This line of thinking seems to translate as – the more you understand, the more you condemn yourself unless you believe.
I just find this line of thinking interesting, and a quite disturbing.
However, if people condemn themselves by seeking to understand more about Jesus and the Christian faith but* still not believing that faith, then from a Christian perspective is this then a worse position to be in, than that of being ignorant of the gospel?
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