Thursday, June 6, 2013

Old Testament Genocide

Jake and I were having a comment box discussion on Unequally Yoked about some of the divinely commanded massacres in the Old Testament. His last comment was pretty long so I thought I would respond here.
God has a right to kill people on a whim. He does not.
Except when he does. Flip to a random page in the old testament and dollars to donuts, you'll find an example. Moreover, even if this were true, it still wouldn't salvage your moral position- replace "God" with "the North Korean government" and this is a clearly absurd claim. What does it even mean to claim the right to do something and then say you can't do it by definition?
If it's not wrong for God to kill people, then why doesn't he? If it's not a moral consideration, then give me a reason that God doesn't kill people that doesn't ultimately reduce to "because it's wrong."
People die all the time. God is omnipotent so He could prevent any death. He does allow people to die because it is part of the curse of sin.  He also uses His wisdom to decide who should die when. Often we don't understand His wisdom so it might seem like a whim to us. We trust God. We don't trust the North Korean government. So making that claim about them would be absurd.

I know atheists compare God to the North Korean government more often. That is a very mistaken idea of God. I would be an atheist to if I thought God was like that. God has power but also intimate knowledge of what is best for us and self sacrificing love. North Korea dictators are just raw power with a highly suspect desire to do good and a very limited knowledge of what is actually good for its citizens. We tend to think our plan for our life is better than God's plan for our life. When we do we turn God into Kim Jong un. 
He[Mohammad] claimed it was normally immoral but God gave him a free pass. Christianity does not accept that.
You mean like Abraham sacrificing Isaac? Or Jephthah sacrificing his daughter? Or the mass genocide and rape of conquered nations? Those thing are all "normally immoral" by any reasonable definition.
Abraham didn't sacrifice Isaac. God commanded him to but reversed Himself at the last moment. It was obviously an object lesson. What kind of sacrifice will it take to conquer sin? Animal sacrifices are something but not enough. They point to the bigger sacrifice of Jesus. Here God hints at what that bigger sacrifice will look like.

Jephthah sacrificing his daughter? That is more a descriptive event rather than a prescriptive event. God did not tell Jephthah to do that. Even then it is not clear whether she was killed or whether she remained celibate and sacrificed married life.

The mass genocide and rape of conquered nations? I don't know that God ever commanded rape. He did command genocide. Was it immoral by the standard of the day? No. That was something that happened in war. Today, thanks the Christianity, we have the concept of a just war and humane treatment of prisoners. That is applying modern moral standards to a very different time. God did not offend the consciences of Israelite soldiers when He gave the command. He would not command modern Christians to do this. He would have those people killed another way. Remember God has the right to take life. The only issue is why He did it by commanding what we now know to be an immoral act.
This is why I take great pains to point out that what God is calling men to is increasing over time. We are called to a higher standard of holiness than Joshua was. Things like polygamy were fine back then but are not fine now. That should be our reaction when we read such passages. That we have come a long way by the grace of God
I have seen you point this out several times. The trouble is that a) this is a deathblow for any sort of claim of a meaningful objective morality,
Not at all, objective morality exists. It is being revealed over time. We know more about what it means to be moral than we knew in the time of Joshua. Catholicism believes in developing doctrine and morals. St Thomas Aquinas didn't believe in the immaculate conception.Why not? It was not part of the deposit of faith until the 19th century.
b) you have no justification for thinking that what you currently believe is right, since it will likely be superseded by future revelation,
The superseding revelation never completely contradicts the current revelation. Killing is wrong except in wartime. That remains in force. What has changed is the "except in wartime" has been refined to say that some killing in wartime is also wrong.

This is a complex topic. The definitive work on the subject is done by Bl John Henry Newman. He tries to make precise exactly what kinds of changes can be considered developments and what kinds of change should make you conclude that the source of revelation is problematic. That means either it was wrong before or it is wrong now. I think that is the problem you refer to. It can exist but does not always exist.
c) this is directly contradictory to your earlier claim that "If what you claim is from God contradicts scripture, sacred tradition, and the magisterium of the church then you must have heard God wrong,"
Not at all. God does not tell us to do something that He has previously told us not to do.  He won't tell a man to take many wives. He might have before polygamy was declared immoral by the church.
d) this makes no sense if you're claiming an omnipotent and time-independent God
Why not? God does not change in nature but man changes. So He deals with us at the level of moral development we currently have.
e) there's no actual reason morality would need to be revealed gradually, and
I can think of lots of reasons. Morality is complex and even small improvements in moral behavior seem to take a long time for a society to internalize. God takes individuals on a journey of moral development. Why would he not do so with mankind?
f) this looks suspiciously the exact same as it would look if God did not exist.
Not even close. You really need to read that Newman link. He describes what doctrinal and moral change would look like if it was driven by purely human reasoning. Then he describes what it looks like when it is driven by an infallible, unchanging revelation. He argues that Catholicism is the only religion that matches the second description. He concludes that every religion except Catholicism and atheism make demonstrably false claims. Catholicism is not proven true by this analysis but the odds of any religion passing such scrutiny for such a long time just by chance is virtually zero.
I do wonder why you are so exercised over the notion that God controls life and death.
I am excised because this is a dangerous belief. I wasn't kidding earlier- this is exactly the belief that allows radical Muslims to blow up civilian areas. While I do not expect you to do anything of the sort, the proliferation of this idea that anyone has the right to murder needs to be fought wherever we find it. At the very least, this is a warped morality that allows you to stop thinking of other people as human, and think of them instead as God's property.
Being human means being created and loved by God. That does not mean I can murder them. It means murder offends God in addition to all the other problems it causes. In fact, I can imagine convincing myself that all the other problems don't apply in some case or other. I can't imagine convincing myself that any killing would not offend God. That is why it is always the Christians who balk at justifying killing. Abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, etc.

Muslims don't believe that all people are loved by God. Mohammad never hesitated to kill people to advance the cause of Islam. He is their moral example. Jesus claimed he could call 10,000 angels to save him from the Romans and Jews and yet He chose to die. It is not that He didn't have the right to do that. He did. He just chose something better.
Who else would control it?
This presupposes a God who is actively maintaining and controlling every single thing that happens. I don't agree to that claim, but fine, let's roll with it. Even if God is actively maintaining everything, I suppose we can agree that he's set up laws that reality follows? Gravity, Strong Force, Weak Force, Electromagnetism, etc.? Then there is a categorical difference between the laws of nature existing in such a way that person X dies at time Y, and between the conscious agent God actively intervening to cause the death of person X at time Z. He's breaking his own rules to murder people.
How God physically does things is not really the issue here. If you are trying to remove God's love and justice and mercy from consideration because certain scientific laws exist then you end up with a kind of Deism. We don't believe in that. We believe in a God who intervenes in history. He often does it in ways that have scientific explanations but not always. If the laws of nature say person X dies at time Y that does not get God off the hook. He wrote the laws and can override the laws. So every death only happens because He permits it.
BTW, your justification of why murder is wrong is very easy to throw out. If you made that argument to someone all they would have to say is "I disagree."
Yes. The only thing standing between us and utter chaos is empathy and societal norms. This is just blatantly true- an observable fact about the world we live in. This is how life worked for the first few billion years before social animals evolved. This is how life still works for the vast majority of species on the planet. You do what you want, and the strong survive. We humans have found what we consider to be a better way of doing things, a way to make everybody more happy. And that's what it means for something to be moral. It is categorically and unequivocally wrong to murder someone, specifically because of the reasons I mentioned, and not because "God said so." But that doesn't mean people can't say "I disagree" to me any more than they can't say it to you.
The trouble is we get wrapped up in our emotions and start to think we are an exception to the normal rule against murder. If the immorality of murder depends on a logical argument then all you need to do is convince yourself that one of the premises does not hold in this case. Then anything goes. This is what happened with Hitler and Stalin. It will keep happening to atheists.

People can still say "I disagree" to the "God says so" argument. This is especially true when you have a bad understanding of God like I mentioned with Islam. The solution is a better understanding of God. That is why bad theology needs to be fought wherever we find it. Atheism is the worst theology in terms of preventing murder.
What if a people group really does need to be eliminated for the good of humanity? Who is to say that situation won't happen?
Gulp is right. The truth is Catholicism can say this will never happen. God creates people for a purpose and that purpose is good. To say you need to eliminate people is to say God messed up. If you don't believe in God then you just need to say evolution messed up. That is a perfectly rational thing to say.

No comments:

Post a Comment