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Friday, July 23, 2004

The Morality of the Bible 

This is a response to Ed from Dispatches from the Culture Wars.  Ed took me to task for not responding to him in an article which was not written in response to him.  Odd.

Anyway, Ed thought I didn't really answer his objections to Christianity in this article, but then as I said, I wasn't trying to.  Since Ed apparently really wants to hear such an answer, so much so that he criticized me for not answering him when he hadn't asked me to and I never said I would, I guess I'll oblige and try to answer.

Ed,
You, like DarkSyde, keep switching the argument in the middle.  If Moses simply claimed that God told Him to destroy the people of Canaan, but God did not tell him to, then Moses is just another bloodthirsty madman.  Make that argument all you like.  It won't convince anyone of anything. The whole difference comes down to whether or not you accept that God told him to.  Half the time in your argument, you’re trying to prove that the moral system of the Bible is repugnant, and therefore assuming for the sake of the argument that God actually did tell Moses that.  The other half of the time you assume that God didn’t tell Moses that, and we should just judge Moses like we would any other bloodthirsty maniac.

If God commanded Moses to destroy them because of their great idolatry and cruelty, just as He has destroyed other wicked people at different times and in different ways, then God is perfectly within His right to do so, and no moral relativity is suggested, since it is always God’s right to destroy wicked people and He does it all the time.  There is also no moral relativity suggested by saying Moses was correct to obey God since it is always right to obey God and always wrong to disobey Him.  Genocide is not right sometimes and wrong other times.  It is always God’s right to save whoever He chooses and destroy whoever He chooses.  All of us are guilty of terrible sin in His eyes and therefore worthy of annihilation.  And if it’s right for Him to destroy an entire nation, it’s also right for Him to destroy an entire nation except for some subset of the people in that nation such as the virgin women whom He decides to have mercy on.   

Now you can object to that if you like, but if the God of the Bible actually exists, and has created all and commanded all people to worship Him and Him alone, then He is perfectly within His right to destroy all who oppose His rule of the universe.  I’m not asking you to see that as being consistent with your own particular moral beliefs.  I’m asking you to recognize that it is internally consistent.  There’s nothing relative about it.  If I were Moses and God commanded me to do what God commanded Moses to do, I’d do it, and not concern myself with substantiating that claim to the people I’d been commanded to destroy.  There is no ‘evolution’ of morality- if God commanded it, it would be just as right today as it was then.  If God didn’t command it, it would be just as wrong then as it would be today.  Now the issue of slavery is a different one, and one that I haven't addressed here.  I'm aware of that.  I'll take that one up another day.

The question you're trying to ask is, does the God of the Bible act in a moral way?  And my question in response is, by what standard could you judge?  If He exists, will you judge Him, who were created by Him?  There is no external standard of righteousness that we could use to judge what God does.  He is the standard.  We act as He has commanded us.  That never means that we can do whatever He can do.  All life is in His hands, because He has created all.  But nobody's life is in my hands, or yours.  So there isn't the slightest relativity in saying it's always right for God to give life or to take it away, whether by the sword (or the AK-47), or by disease or famine or flood or any other means.  It's never right for me to do the same thing.  I have no right to decide who lives or dies.

If on the other hand, the God of the Bible does not exist, and you're trying to convince people of that by impugning the morality of the Bible, then you need to demonstrate that the moral system of the Bible is internally incoherent, that is to say, contradictory.  You haven't done that yet.  All you've done is to say that modern sensibilities don't approve of the God of the Bible, and my answer to that is I don't care two figs about modern moral sensibilities.  Modern moral sensibilities have taught us to look the other way while we slaughter 45 million babies and excuse any kind of sexual perversion and quibble over a few words in a speech while Iraqis got murdered and raped by the thousands.  We've been standing by watching Sudanese get massacred and North Koreans get massacred and how many other groups suffer horribly while we worry about whether we've got enough UN resolutions passed to help.  Our own degeneracy funds the slavery of thousands of women and girls every year in conditions far more horrible than what the slaves of Israel would have experienced.  Our courts tell us that we can't protect the right of a Texas high school to say a prayer before a football game, but that we have to protect the rights of people to publish pictures of little boys getting sodomized on the Internet, and protect the rights of people to pull their babies halfway outside their wombs and have their brains sucked out through a straw.  You'll pardon me if I think modern moral sensibilities aren't up to the task of judging God.

So if you can show me that the moral system of the Bible is itself contradictory, fire away.  If all you've got to say is that you don't approve, I'll bid you good day, sir.


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