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God’s Subjective Morality

August 22nd, 2013

This is the kind of thing that is truly frightening to hear people say:

It’s right for God to slaughter women and children anytime he pleases. God gives life and he takes life. Everybody who dies, dies because God wills that they die.

God is taking life every day. He will take 50,000 lives today. Life is in God’s hand. God decides when your last heartbeat will be, and whether it ends through cancer or a bullet wound. God governs.

So God is God! He rules and governs everything. And everything he does is just and right and good. God owes us nothing. …

The Bible says, “Thou shalt not murder,” yet God says to Joshua, “Go in and clean house, and don’t leave anything breathing! Don’t leave a donkey, child, woman, old man or old woman breathing. Wipe out Jericho.” …

So I would vindicate Joshua by saying that in that setting, with that relationship between God and his people, it was right for Joshua to do what God told him to do, which was to annihilate the people. …

An example of this right now is that God has given the sword to the government (Romans 13:4). Therefore I believe the government has a right to take a rapist and a murderer and to put him in jail. Or to kill him.

Essentially: God created all, and so He can do anything He pleases with his creations. There is no higher morality for God, no accountability; whatever He does is, by definition, good. He says commit genocide, therefore that act of genocide is right.

Already I have problems with that. God can literally make anything right by saying so, without regard to consistency or, for that matter, any restraint of any kind. God has no responsibility for tending to his creations. Or, at the very least, He is supposed to have Really Good Reasons for doing apparently horrific things and we are simply to trust Him on it.

Beyond the specter of an omnipotent being of that nature, the real worry is that this is not just about God. God serves as a model for many. The relationships to fatherhood are virtually countless, both literal and subtle. And the model which says “Whatever I say goes, and I don’t have to explain myself” is as frightening as authoritarianism often is.

However, that’s far from the greatest worry. Far more horrifying is the combination of two facts:

Fact #1: Anything God commands is moral, right, and good; and
Fact #2: People decide what God commands by reading scripture and interpreting what it means.

Take, for instance, the quoted author’s justification for the death penalty: Romans 13 states that God has given His seal of approval to the governing authorities—so whatever a government does is equal to God’s will, and is moral, right, and just. Go ahead, read it. There are no exceptions; presumably, it means any government. How this applied to the Soviet Union, for example, I am not sure, but I am certain there was some explanation which got around that apparent contradiction, there always is.

Not scared yet? Just remember that while Romans 13 is pretty straightforward, there is so much in the Bible which can be construed as meaning virtually anything a person wishes it to mean.

What this comes down to is that, ultimately, Christian morality is meaningless, as it is whatever one decides it to be.

That is not to say that in any given setting or situation, it means anything goes. What it means is that, like the quoted author’s submission to governmental authority, whoever is in charge gets to decide what the rules are.

Again, authoritarianism.

And in case you disagree, well, just remember that not only is God (meaning whoever speaks in God’s name) the source of all good, but there is no possibility of any good from any other source. No matter how good it seems, no matter how kind, generous, fair, or just someone or something appears to be, if they do not bow to God (meaning representatives of God, specifically our God), then they are simply without good.

Naturally, not all Christians feel this way. But it’s the ones who do who scare me.

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  1. Tim
    August 23rd, 2013 at 08:00 | #1

    I call it “The Rascalian Pretext”.

    “We are at our worst when we are least accountable for our actions.” –
    - M. Scott Peck, M.D., “People of the Lie: the Hope for Curing Human Evil”, (paraphrased from memory)

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” –
    - Samuel Johnson

    “As for myself, I would never tell a lie. But for Germany, I would tell 10,000 lies.” –
    - Hitler, according to Hitler appologist David Irving in “Hitler’s War”.

    We all want to avoid accountability, to others, for our actions. One of the first things humans do when they gain money or resources is buy additional privacy. In America this meant running out to the suburbs after WWII. Privacy provides us the ability to be less unencumbered by potential duties to other human beings. Especially for our mistakes, fetishes and ‘picadillos.’

    So, its natural for us all to attempt to shed accountability for our actions. But when we do so we run into the danger of drifting into the grips of evil.

    One way of shedding accountability is to latch or attach our actions to a higher, loftier, purpose – perhaps a purpose in the abstract: patriotism, god, religion, truth, freedom, community, etc….

    This becomes the pretext that permits one to side step their accountability to others and themselves (their conscience) and allows an evil act to occur.

    The desire to do evil might exist before the emergence of the pretext, or on the other hand, the lack of accountability granted by the pretext facilitates ones drift into the proximate occasion of evil.

    But either way, an act of evil is committed by scoundrals or another word, rascals. Thus you have the “rascalian pretext”.

    And thats all it is: a pretext, that allows one to shed their accountability. A prologue to evil.

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