Apologizing for God's Bad Behavior
On 9/20/2009, I received an email from an individual identified as "Lily" who commented on one the articles in the "A Taste Of Their Own Medicine" section of my website. I responded to her comments via email on 9/26/2009. Below are reproduced the email from Lily and my response. As of the current date, I have not received any additional comments from Lily. If/when I receive them, I will include them along with my further response.
The Letter from Lily (9/20/2009)
I stumbled upon your site (the article, "Is God [if He exists] worthy of worship"). As I was reading that page, there were a number of things I wanted to say, in reply to your words, but there was so much there, that it would take hours, or days, to go through all of it. And it is obvious that you have extremely strong views on the topic of the God of the bible, so I don't know if it's even remotely possible for your mind to accept other viewpoints.
Anyway, a few minutes later as I was doing a google search on something, I found another site, that had a relatively short but good answer to your main objection. (that the God of the bible is horrendous, for his actions in the Old Testament, namely taking human life) so I thought of your page, and decided to send you the link.
Here it is: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5439
Of course, it doesn't answer all of your objections, but before one can even begin to answer all your objections, the point made in the article needs to be made, and understood.
One more thing (and this is a topic that actually could take hours, to debate, but I'll try to sum it up) your outrage that is clear in your article is something I want to comment on. I think that your deep, gut-level moral outrage at this Old Testament God who you view as unjust, cruel, evil or murderous is something that I think unwittingly serves as evidence FOR God.
I'll try to explain. The fact that you intuitively know that some things are just wrong, points towards an objective standard that exists, that goes beyond our own personal opinions and beliefs.
In other words, you are judging God as immoral and wrong, but what is your basis for that judgement [sic]? Is it your own opinion? If so, that is totally relative, and basically meaningless. It only holds weight if there actually IS an objective, actual moral law that exists - not just for one person or one culture, but for ALL.
And if there is an objective moral standard, or truth that exists, then what is the source? It doesn't come man, or it would be relative and just an opinion. And it doesn't just come about by random chance. I want to give you a quote, by CS Lewis, that talks about this very thing. Here it is:
"My argument against God was
that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of
just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of
a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it
unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why
did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent
reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is
not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up
my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But
if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument
depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did
not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that
God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I
found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of
justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.
If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it
has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore
no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word
without meaning." - C.S Lewis
Please think about what he is
saying, and the point I made that your inner sense of right/wrong regarding
God's actions in the bible comes from somewhere. It can either come from your
relative, human (and therefore imperfect, lacking complete knowledge)
viewpoint, which makes it just an opinion, which
cannot be objectively true...
OR, it can come from something real - the existence of natural law, or an objective standard that exists - which makes some things right, and some things wrong.
If it is the former, then you have nothing to base your outrage towards God upon. Nothing but your own relative, subjective opinion. If it is the latter, then you are showing - by your own actions - evidence that actual moral truths exist- and there IS a source for those truths, apart from man.
Thanks for reading this, and take care!
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. - Psalm 13:5
My Response (9/26/2009)
Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my article "Is God Worthy of Worship." Let me assure you at the outset that it is indeed possible for me to accept other viewpoints - so long as they are evidentially supported and logically conceived. I was once a Bible believer like you until I started seriously examining other points of view. As a result, I learned what objective scholars have discovered about the Bible's purely human origins and its convoluted developmental history. (For example, see "Misquoting Jesus" and "Jesus, Interrupted" by Bart Ehrman.) Exposure to the Bible's various inconsistencies and contradictions also played a role in changing my viewpoint. (See "A List of Biblical Contradictions" and "Bible Inconsistencies: Bible Contradictions?" on the Internet for some examples.) The realization that biblical accounts often conflict with well-corroborated scientific evidence further contributed to my transition to a more enlightened viewpoint. (See http://freethoughtpedia.com/wiki/The_Bible_and_Science on the web for some examples.) So, you see, it is possible for me to accept other viewpoints as clearly demonstrated by my experience with the Bible.
[In what follows, understand that I do not believe supernatural beings of any kind actually exist. References to the biblical god and his purported exploits are included strictly for the sake of discussion.]
God Gets Away With Murder
"We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes." - Gene Roddenberry
To counter the points raised in my article, you provide a link to an apologetic tract authored by Gregory Koukl. In his attempt to whitewash god's despicable behavior as revealed in the Old Testament, Koukl offers three equally despicable excuses.
His first excuse boils down to the barbaric and morally bankrupt proposition that "might makes right." In other words, god made 'em, therefore, he can kill 'em or abuse 'em in any way that suits his fancy. To argue that a creator can do anything he wants with the objects of his creation based on his often baseless and arbitrary whims is moral nihilism. Every infamous dictator and despotic regime in history has embraced that same philosophy. When a husband and wife have a child, are they entitled to kill it simply because they brought it into existence? If not, why is it acceptable for god to exterminate his "children," often for dubious reasons and while inflicting horrendous pain and suffering in the process? Why do Bible thumpers give a pass to their god for doing the same thing they would find morally repugnant (hopefully) if it were carried out by a fellow human being?
And what about all the gratuitous pain and suffering that often accompany the end-of-life ordeal? Wouldn't a loving and compassionate god conceive of a system that would enable the objects of his creation to just painlessly cease to exist when he got tired of them hanging around? Only a sadistic psychopath would purposely devise a scenario, like the current one, that requires many people to endure untold agonies before he finally pulls the plug. The current state of affairs is exactly what would be expected if outcomes were decided by uncaring, unguided, and purely natural processes. Try as they might, Christian apologists have yet to provide a convincing explanation why a loving and caring god (who is also omniscient and omnipotent) would ever be expected to act in the same callous manner.
Koukl's second lame excuse deals directly with this issue of pain and suffering. Any method of extermination god chooses is hunky dory with him. Children suffering the ravages of bone cancer, burn victims lingering in excruciating pain, gangrene eating away at the mortally wounded, prisoners tortured to death in internment camps, pregnant women ripped open at the belly, babies beaten to death against rocks, etc. - they are all fine with him, because his loving, compassionate god father in the sky is calling the shots and can do no wrong. The fact that anyone would admit to worshiping such a depraved monster is testament to what meager moral progress certain segments of the population have actually achieved since our primitive primate beginnings.
Koukl's third excuse amounts to an appalling justification for committing total genocide against one's enemies. According to him, the divinely-approved strategy for subduing an enemy involves annihilating every living thing in your path: including babies, children, women (some no doubt pregnant), the elderly, the sick and infirm, the cattle, etc. Just mow them all down without mercy. Apparently, god is unable (or unwilling) to selectively eliminate the bad guys and nothing is safe from his wrath.
In a desperate attempt to rationalize this atrocious behavior, Koukl dredges up the classic apologetic response that all the ancient Hebrews' adversaries were corrupt and evil and deserved to die. But how could babies and younger children be held accountable for their actions? The sick and elderly could not have posed a significant threat - nor could most women, particularly those who were pregnant. Was there not one individual among them who could have been persuaded to switch allegiance to god's side - especially among the impressionable children? Surely an omniscient and omnipotent god could have figured out how to rehabilitate at least an ox cart full of them, couldn't he? Instead, as was his habit, he orchestrated a complete massacre. (It is truly disheartening to see how readily otherwise decent Christians can be transformed into rabid advocates of the most horrific acts of brutality when they are called upon to defend the sociopathic behavior of their "loving" god.) [See here for more discussion on this topic.]
Being run through with a sword or spear (the weapons of choice during Old Testament times) did not always lead to a quick death. Many victims perished only after prolonged periods of agony. Although god could have presumably eliminated his adversaries selectively with a flick of his mighty finger, he chose, true to form, to subject those who rubbed him the wrong way (and anyone else who got in his way) to the horrors of war. Interesting, isn't it, how god so frequently uses humans to do his dirty work for him. (Of course, the reality is that people throughout history have used the jealous warlord god ideology as an excuse to launch genocidal campaigns against those who held different religious beliefs than their own. Immeasurable quantities of blood have drenched (and continue to drench) battlefields across the globe as a result of this divisive god-is-on-my-side mentality.)
Fortunately, mankind's moral approach to waging war has advanced considerably since god went on the warpath in the Old Testament. We now have more humanistic agreements such as the Geneva Convention that prohibit the type of scorched-earth policies that god favored during his reign of terror. No longer is it considered kosher to murder noncombatants such as babies, children, the infirm, etc. during times of war. The objective now is to minimize collateral damage as much as possible, not to maximize it as was god's modus operandi. (Lily, I think you need to seriously contemplate who is standing on the higher moral ground here - those who condone the wanton atrocities against civilians in the Bible, or those who condemn them. Which group would you rather face as an enemy in a time of war?)
Koukl struggles to liken god to a thoughtful parent who has his children's best interests at heart. But how many parents do you know who mercilessly slaughter their own children (or their neighbor's children) when they step out of line? He also surmises that god "just might know something more than we know." Be that as it may, judging from god's behavior as depicted in the Bible, he could at the very least stand a refresher course in public relations. And it wouldn't be asking too much of him to take a sensitivity training course as well. Many humans are better versed in these subjects than their god appears to be.
As for Koukl's contention that god is good and is to be obsequiously trusted in whatever he does, see "Good God??" on my website. (Google "Evolution/Creation Dialogues," click on "A Taste of Their Own Medicine," and then click on "Good God??".)
"The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment and action." - Albert Einstein
Despite your effort to attribute the origin of morality to a supernatural law giver, it is now well established that the system of human morals owes its existence to natural selection processes. If you type in "Evolution of Morals" in a search engine you will encounter a number of corroborating articles. A good summary (which follows) of the natural processes at work in the origin of human morals and ethics can be found in the web article, "The Evolution of Morality, Chapter II, The Origin of Social Morality."
(1) The earliest source of social morality lies in the maternal instinct; the first animal that took care of its young stood at the beginning of this wonderful advance. The originating causes of the first slight care of eggs or offspring lay, no doubt, in some obscure physiological readjustments, due to forces irrelevant to morality. But the young that had even such slight care had a survival advantage over their rivals, and would transmit the rudimentary instinct to their offspring. Thus, given a start in that direction, natural selection, steadily favoring the more maternally disposed, produced species with a highly developed and long continuing maternal love. In similar manner but in lesser degree a paternal instinct was developed. The existence of these instincts implied the power of sympathy and altruistic action that is, action by one individual for another's welfare. From sympathy for offspring to sympathy for mate and other members of the group was but a step; and all sympathetic action may have its ultimate source in mother love.
(2) Not only was natural selection early at work in the rivalry for existence between individuals, protecting those stocks that had the stronger maternal and paternal instincts, but it played an important part in the struggle between groups. Those species that developed the ability to keep together for mutual protection or for advantage. And within a species those particular herds or flocks or tribes that cooperated best outlived the others. With the strongest animals, such as lions and tigers, and with the weakest, such as rabbits and mice, the instinct to stand by one another is of no value and so was never fostered by natural selection. But in many species of animals of intermediate strength, that by cooperation might be able to resist attack or overcome enemies that they would singly be impotent against, the cooperative instinct became strongly developed. Notably in such case was man; and we find group consciousness, tribal loyalty, continually enhanced by the killing off of the tribes in which it was feebler. The dominant races in man's internecine struggles have been those of passionate patriotism and capacity for working together. Nature has socialized man by a repeated application of the method hinted at in the adage "United we stand, divided we fall." Successful war demands loyalty and obedience, self-forgetfulness and mutual service. It demands also the cessation of internal squabbling, the restraint of individual greed, lust, and caprice. At first instinctive, these virtues came with clearing consciousness to be deliberately cultivated by the tribe, in ways which we shall in a moment indicate.
(3) As in the development of personal morality, the hostility of inanimate nature, coupled with the urgency of inner needs, has also played its part in the socialization of man. The satisfying of hunger, protection against storm, flood, and other physical calamities, is greatly forwarded by cooperation. The rearing of a shelter, for example, that shall be at all comfortable and secure, demands the labor of several. With the development of civilization, mutual assistance and the division of labor become more and more imperative. As man developed more and more into a reflective animal, the comprehension of these advantages became clearer and clearer to him. Resentment against mere individualism grew keener; and any member whose laziness or passions led him to pull apart from the common good had to incur the anger of his fellows. Under these three heads--the selection of the maternal instinct, with its potentialities of universal sympathy, through the struggle between individuals; the selection of the various powers of loyalty and cooperation through the struggle between groups; and the production of cooperative habits through the struggle with inanimate nature-we may group the causes of social morality in man.
In a nutshell, humans gradually developed the systems of morality we have today because those social groups in which higher moral standards existed and were improved upon prospered and survived, while those groups that lacked moral cohesion and cooperative behaviors foundered and perished. Or to put it another way, "United we stand, divided we fall." Supernatural forces are superfluous to the discussion. Morals did not appear in one fell swoop as the result of some divine fiat. They evolved incrementally as a consequence of human experience. I do not need the morality dispensed from on high by some divine Chief Justice to inform me that the deity depicted in the Old Testament was a deranged, bloodthirsty, and unsympathetic megalomaniac. A morality (even one in its rudimentary stages) fostered by purely natural means is sufficient to make that abundantly clear.
You have it backwards. God did not come first and create moral standards. Moral behaviors gradually developed naturally and then authority figures later invented gods to coerce people into following those rules. Break the rules and the gods will punish you. (The stick approach.) Abide by the rules and the gods will reward you. (The carrot approach.) The ruse actually appears to have had some beneficial effect on promoting cooperative behavior in primitive societies. And that is one reason religious beliefs linger on today - even though science has cut most of the props out from under the superstitions that sustain them. Hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, people will outgrow their need for belief in an invisible, meddlesome, morality policeman in order to keep them from running amok. Perhaps someday humanity will finally come to the realization that good behavior pays its own dividends and conversely, that bad behavior exacts too heavy a price in the here and now.
Like most Bible believers, you make an issue of the distinction between relative and objective morality - accusing nonbelievers of practicing the former. Do you believe rebellious sons (Deut. 21:18-21), adulterers (Lev. 20:10 and Deut. 22:24), homosexual men (Lev. 20:13), people who pick up sticks on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32-36), blasphemers (Lev. 24:16), and non-virginal brides (Deut. 22:13-21) should be stoned to death? Do you believe slavery is acceptable and that it is okay to sell one's daughter into slavery (Exod. 21:7-8) and to beat slaves to death (Exod. 21:20-21)? Do you honestly believe there is nothing wrong with committing total genocide against one's enemies including the slaughter of innocent children, women, the elderly, and animals showing no mercy whatsoever (Deut. 7:1-4, 7:16-24, 20:13-17; Judg, 1:1-8; 1 Kgs. 16:9-13; 1 Sam. 15:3; Josh. 8:1-29; Ezek. 9:5-7, etc.)? If you do not approve of any of these biblical "moral" precepts, then it is hypocritical of you to chide others for practicing the same type of relativistic morality that you do.
Regarding the quotation from C.S. Lewis, his philosophical musings are convincing primarily only to those who have been, and continue to be, thoroughly indoctrinated in the Christian faith. Examined with a critical thinking cap firmly in place, they come across as little more than a concerted exercise in question begging. I am assuming that the quotation is taken from Lewis' "The Problem of Pain." A critical review of that book can be found at http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/books/problemofpain.html. The concluding paragraph of that review reads as follows:
In sum, Lewis' theology describes a god who chose to make the path of evil easy and the path of good difficult, and then exacts vengeance upon those who choose the easier way. Indeed, it describes a god who, seemingly at every turn, made choices that were manifestly inferior compared to others he could have made that would have better achieved his own goals. It is a contradiction in terms to call this the handiwork of benevolent omnipotence, and this theodicy can "solve" the problem of evil only by leaving many blatantly begged questions unanswered. Christians who agree with Lewis' basic worldview may draw comfort from this treatise, but those who do not share his beliefs can easily perceive the problems with it.
Incidentally, if morals have been permanently established as an absolute standard of objective truth and are non-relativistic, then they are immutable and forever unchanging. If they are immutable and forever unchanging, then even god cannot alter them. In that case, god is not omnipotent as the Bible claims he is.
And, if you are truly concerned about people leading morally upstanding lives, you should encourage them to renounce their religious affiliations. As reported in the research paper "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies," there is an inverse correlation between religious belief and several aspects of moral behavior in democratic countries. (The paper is available on the web by searching for the title.) I leave a summary statement from that paper as food for thought:
In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies (Figures 1-9). The most theistic prosperous democracy, the U.S., is exceptional, but not in the manner Franklin predicted. The United States is almost always the most dysfunctional of the developed democracies, sometimes spectacularly so, and almost always scores poorly. The view of the U.S. as a "shining city on the hill" to the rest of the world is falsified when it comes to basic measures of societal health. Youth suicide is an exception to the general trend because there is not a significant relationship between it and religious or secular factors. No democracy is known to have combined strong religiosity and popular denial of evolution with high rates of societal health. Higher rates of non-theism and acceptance of human evolution usually correlate with lower rates of dysfunction, and the least theistic nations are usually the least dysfunctional. None of the strongly secularized, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction. In some cases the highly religious U.S. is an outlier in terms of societal dysfunction from less theistic but otherwise socially comparable secular developed democracies. In other cases, the correlations are strongly graded, sometimes outstandingly so.
Finally, I do not harbor any more "outrage towards God" than I do towards the nefarious Draco Malfoy of Harry Potter fame. One cannot feel genuine outrage toward an entity they believe does not exist in reality. I am a scientific naturalist who is concerned about the detrimental effects supernatural beliefs can have on scientific progress. The ongoing opposition of biblical fundamentalists to the teaching of the theory of evolution is a case in point. We can ill-afford such anti-science sentiment to dictate our educational and research policies at a time when our economic wellbeing is becoming more and more dependent on scientific innovation. That is why I critique the Bible. To expose its faults and deficiencies so others can be made aware of what it really is - a purely human invention that was concocted by self-serving religious propagandists, that is riddled with exaggerated and erroneous claims, that touts the virtues of a cruel and dysfunctional man-created god, and that is equally as divinely inspired as a copy of Mother Goose. What my readers do with that information is their prerogative. My hope is that at least some of them will come to understand that the arguments posed by the Bible-inspired [I used the term "biblical" in the email] science bashers are grounded in nothing more than superstitious nonsense.
P.S.- Please note that I reserve the right to include any dialogue between us on my website.