Thursday, April 7, 2011

Deuling David 2a: The Morals of God

Blogs aren't the best places for debate, but well try to make this work as best as possible.  This is an ongoing debate with David.  See "Dueling David" for the previous round if you'd like to join in, and don't forget to read the comments because that is where David replied.

I've split up the major headings to different posts here. In the next round, maybe we should limit it to 300-500 word replies to encourage real dialog?  I don't know, though, as it can cut down on clarity.  But post whatever you need to David this time for your reply.

New business
In the “I'm an Insensitive Jerk” post, I mentioned that God condemns all wrongdoers, and that God is right in doing so, which David agreed with. David rejected the sentiment I gave that “a believer should feel justified in his or her condemnation of others.” He stated that this “does not logically follow, is contrary to scripture and I utterly disagree.”
I wrote this particular passage from a fictional fundamentalist point of view, more in line with expressing an emotion than a fact. So you are right to criticize it as not being factual, but that was not exactly my aim. However, it's not completely contrary to scripture either. Please read my study “Judging Pigs” for additional details regarding judging. But also consider that all Christians want to be like Christ, right? At least the good ones. Well, according to John 5:22, Jesus is the judge of everyone. So, in a very real sense, being judgemental of others is Christ-like. ;-)

The Morals of God
I must not have written “Holy Divorce” very well, or maybe you did not pay close attention when you read it, because you obviously missed the point. The main thrust of the message was that Jesus was making an illegitimate claim; passing the divorce law off as something Moses himself came up with. It was God, not Moses, who made the law, and the law itself was not even about permission to divorce. If I understand scripture better than Jesus, then we have a problem.

Here's something to puzzle over: What is God's will if not God's preference? If we transgress God's will for us, are we not sinning? Now why would God not write a law prohibiting the sin of divorce, if He considered it to be a sin? Or conversely, why would God's Law permit the sin of divorce? Last, but not least, if God really viewed divorce as a sin, why was no atonement offering required in connection to the divorce? You don't have to reply to these. I'd rather drop the subject of divorce for bigger fish.

You said your point was that “we can't even agree on what the rules should be for ourselves. If God is indeed on another level from mere mortals how then can we judge Him?” Well, that goes back to my plane example. Of the entire population of the world, nobody knows exactly how to fly a plane (or at least not a statistically large enough proportion to measure whole percentages), but just about everyone would agree you are not supposed to turn it into a lawn dart. Yes, we may bicker over the finer details, but larger moral anchors nearly everyone agrees on. Murder is bad. Stealing is bad. Rape is bad. Homicidal rage is bad. Lying is bad. Pedophilia is bad. Etc. (By the way, you will not find that last one anywhere in the Bible.) And the regions of the globe which do not share these same anchors as cultural norms are not exactly well functioning.

Maybe we do not have a good perspective to judge God about the finer details, like whether or not rabbits should be clean or unclean. However, when God starts disregarding the bigger moral anchors, then I think we can judge, indeed. That's what Moses did, such as in Exodus 32. God was about to kill all of the Israelites, but Moses had to remind God about how evil that would appear to the Egyptians (Exodus 32:12) and how killing the Israelites would turn God into a liar (Exodus 32:13).

To me, killing a parent for something their child did, or killing the child for something the parent did, is one of those major morality no-nos that everyone can agree on.  Even God agrees on it.  He just doesn't feel that He is obligated to follow that morality, no matter how righteous that law is.

Now what is so striking here is that God is displaying very human trait.  Nobody wants to be lied to (at least when our egos aren't on the line), but we can all justify to ourselves when we lie to other people.  God knows that He shouldn't kill a child for the sins of the father, but He goes right ahead and does it anyway.  I'm sure He's found a way to justify it to Himself too.


  1. I think sometimes we attribute things to God that happen to us when we feel guilty. Perhaps God didn't kill David's child because of the guilt David felt he presumed that to be his punishment for his crimes. After all he'd had an affair and had Bathsheba's husband offed. That would be enough to feel guilty and deserving of punishment.

    I know that when I have felt extreme guilt over things in my life I've presumed anything bad that happened to me to be divine punishment or consequences for my sins.

    Coming to the conclusion that God isn't the God of scripture, that it isn't inerrant, or infallible or inspired I realize that bad stuff just happens. Period.

  2. Well said D'Ma. In fact, I think there are several passages in the OT which carry a transference to God of something which naturally happened, or happened through human determination. I think there is a little nugget of truth tucked in many of the old legends.

    I can just imagine being racked with the guilt of disgracing my God and my people. It would be intense, and any tragedy to befall me thereafter would have seemed like a suitable punishment for my sins.

  3. @D'Ma The scripture states that God did in fact take the child. It is just as hard not to judge ourselves as it is not to judge others, sometimes harder.

    I have made an attempt at brevity, there is a measure of brusqueness as well. I apologize and beg your indulgence.

    Let's talk about the morals of God.

    The fictional fundamentalist is what is commonly called a straw man. That should be enough about that.

    I must have missed the point of Holy Divorce, possibly because I did not read Matthew 19:8 as Christ blaming Moses for divorce. I think that is because I commonly read "Moses" as representing the Law not the man in the gospels. I believe this interpretation is common and yours is the anomaly.

    In the interest of brevity let me make this quick. If there is no God, arguments about his morality are a foolish waste of time. If, on the other hand, God exists then arguments about His morality are just foolish and a waste of time ;-)

  4. Ah, but you've dropped an important detail. Jesus said "Moses wrote you this law" in regard to divorce. (Which as I point out as well is not even a law about permitting divorce, so Jesus was wrong on two accounts.) Moses, as in the person, wrote, as in the physical action, and the inference of the sentence in its entirety is that God had no involvement.

    You are experiencing confirmation bias.

    If you were the only one who believed in God, you are correct, this effort would be a waste of time. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

  5. Not sure about your translation, but it is irrelevant. Moses only has authority in his role as law giver because he was ordained by God (or claimed such). Therefore what Moses "as a man" may or may not have written did not matter. Jesus as a Jew (as well as his audience) would have understood this. Therefore your argument that Jesus was blaming Moses is illogical.

    WRT Arguing about God's morality. I forgot about your public service.

    However it seem to me that arguing God's morality to enlighten someone who believes in God would require the intended convert to also believe they could judge God, which, it also seems to me, would require the god they believed in not to be much of a god. It might be better to leave those folks alone since if you point out the god they believe in isn't the real God they might actually find the real thing.

    Unless of course that is your intent.

  6. Oh, so feisty! Nice mocking, sir.

    My viewpoint is not so illogical. Take a hard look at the NT. Check out when Jesus speaks about the law of murder, or adultery, or eye-for-eye justice, or divorce. What you see is a lack of ownership. Never does Jesus say God once gave you these laws, but now I (God) am refining them. Instead, he presents them as if someone else was responsible. Why would that be? Hmmmm?

    Right, my public service. You know, to try to get people to stop spending charitable funds on church, and instead trying to get them to realize that it's a fake, and that they should cut out the middle man and just give directly to those in need. Stop supporting mega-churches and preachers with private jets, start giving directly to the poor or those affected by tragedies. Yes, that kind of public service requires that I help people doubt their religion first.

    But you probably wouldn't understand. I'm sure you're a tither+.

  7. Thank you, I try.

    Nevertheless, Jesus does not have to say God gave the law. The Jews understand this fact. Do you suppose the Hebrews said said, "Gee, this guy Moses has some interesting ideas about how we should live, let's live that way"?

    It was understood, that is "why" that would be.

    Giving - I'm sure you are aware why people give to churches in this country. It has to do with the separation of church and state. During the early 1800's churches were largely funded by the government for schools. This changed and US churches had to be able to support themselves. Like anything else run by humans it is subject to human failures. Fortunately there are a lot of good local churches that somehow manage to both fund themselves and provide public services, the Salvation Army is one such national example.

    I think I understand pretty well. Groups and teams can accomplish more in an organized way that individuals acting alone.

  8. Regarding the whole Moses/Jesus thing, I don't think you are grasping the absurdity I see in it. Maybe I'm just weird, but try imagining this:

    David, you write a book, only you don't actually write it, you dictate it to Bob. Bob writes down everything you say, and also clearly attributes the source of the content to you. In your book, you have Bob write "You can make something similar to Cookies and Cream ice cream. Just buy some vanilla ice cream and some Oreo cookies, and put them in your mouth at the same time." Your book becomes a smash hit. Everybody has read it and loves it. One day you walk into a book store and identify yourself as David, the very one who was the source of that book. Some guy comes up to you and says "I like eating vanilla ice cream with Oreo's." Then you reply "Bob wrote you that sentence only because not everyone could get pre-made Cookies and Cream ice cream. I say everybody should only eat pre-made Cookies and Cream ice cream."

    You may be interested to know what your pastor's salary is. I don't know if you go to a big church or a small one, but, unless your pastor's more of a cult leader, he's pretty well compensated. The church's specialty is not exactly disaster management, so while I share your sentiment that groups and teams can accomplish more (sometimes), I also promote the belief that specialists can enhance the ROI, such as the Red Cross.

    But you're right, I remember now about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan, upon seeing the injured man, went into the nearest synagogue and donated money, letting them know of the man in need. The elders arranged a committee, appropriated the funds, and then in 7-5 vote, approved the rescue effort. Sadly, the man who needed help was no longer there. But the Samaritan still acted like a good neighbor. ;-)

    Before you take another swipe at my morals, perhaps you should read "An Atheist Defense of Salt" to see where I am coming from.

  9. WF - I did not mean to take a swipe at your morals. If you are referring to the "Thank you, I try.", comment I apologize. I thought you seemed secure and would not mind a little levity. If I misread the situation I am sorry.

    If that wasn't the basis for your concern that I was attacking your morals then I am at a loss.

    Your analogy is interesting but I thought we were arguing about whether Christ was calling Bob a liar. As you have written this it is clear that Bob only wrote what I told him, and that I'm explaining why it was written that way when I come into the bookstore. I think you see this as absurd because you imagine the Law was something other than it was (which is what I have been claiming right along).

    I don't know what my pastor makes for a salary, but he might surprise you because he retired from business to be a pastor, and from what little visibility I have it seems like he has his own money. But I realize this is atypical.
    I've seen his job, and I can't imagine he gets paid enough however much it is. Do you work in social service? My wife does and it is emotionally and physically draining. I am amazed anyone does that job.

    Disaster management is not the only need out there, to argue from that position is unbecoming of your intellect. That extends to the Samaritan. Have you ever heard the phrase "Charity begins at home?"

    I will check out the link shortly.

  10. Ahh, I see where the confusion comes from now. No, the absurdity comes from the lack of ownership or the identification of true origin. Moses was only writing what God told him to write (or at least that's what the Bible says). So when Jesus says that "Moses wrote you..." (Mark 10:5) or (even worse) "Moses permitted you..." (Matthew 19:8) it's the equivalent in the my example of your book as you saying "Bob wrote you..." or "Bob permitted you..." It just doesn't add up.

    No, I am not saying that Jesus is calling Moses a liar. I am saying that Jesus is misrepresenting the source of the Law. That is the issue at hand.

    And while you are somewhat right to say that Moses and the Law were almost synonymous in that culture, the way Jesus uses Moses' name does not permit that substitution.

    I never said disaster management was the only need. I was only providing an example. Terrorism and biased-hate are also urgent needs associated with the need to weaken faith. ;-)

  11. "No, I am not saying that Jesus is calling Moses a liar. I am saying that Jesus is misrepresenting the source of the Law. That is the issue at hand."
    And yet I was not confused by His words. So I suppose the argument is open to interpretation.

    I have read "Defense of Salt" and am in remarkably close agreement.

    WRT - Giving. It seems that you agree the organization known as the church adds value to human society. In this country (US) that organization is not supported by the state. The only way for the benefits you outline to be made available is through individual contributions by group members. I know you know this, so I don't understand your position (NOTE: Is it such a large leap to believe those benefits are part of a plan?)

    WRT - The need to "weaken faith". I recently read "Terrorism in the Name of God" by Jessica Stern (NOTE: This is a completely secular work.) It isn't just about Islamic terrorists, but covers Christians as well. One significant point she makes is that it is the unwillingness of the deeply religious to wait for God to work and so take matters into their own hands that is the root of the atrocities you mention. So I would argue it is a LACK of faith, not too much faith that causes these problems.

    IMO From reading "Defense of Salt" it seems to me you are not far from the Kingdom. The work is the same, it is just your heart that needs to change.

  12. I don't mean to be kicking a dead horse here, but I think you should pay close attention to how Jesus said what He said. It's not a matter of knowing what (you think) Jesus means, but rather knowing that words do have meanings in and of themselves, and they are used to convey certain meanings.

    The way Jesus spoke the words "Moses wrote you" or "Moses permitted you" assigns the source of the Law (or at least this particular law) to Moses. (Even our modern terminology of "Mosaic Law" does the same by name.)

    If Jesus was simply agreeing with the law (or Law), it wouldn't be a big deal, and I would be forced to reconcile my view with yours; that it was simply a type of metaphor or symbolism.

    However, Jesus was effectively overriding the law; saying that the law about divorce is not what God wants, and people who divorce and remarry commit adultery.

    If we were psychoanalyzing Jesus, we would have to say that this behavior is what psychologists call projection. It's as if Jesus was ashamed that such a law existed even though He (as God) played a role in creating it, so He projects the ownership, the source of that law, onto Moses.

    This is not completely an isolated incident. Although Jesus doesn't blame Moses elsewhere, He does distance Himself considerably when changing the laws. For example, when Jesus equates hate to murder, He begins "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago..." And when Jesus equates lust to adultery, he starts with "You have heard that it was said..." And you find the same when Jesus says not to pursue eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth justice.

    Jesus never plainly says anything like what is the actual (Biblical) truth: "My Father told Moses that, but I tell you this." Why? Why the disassociation?

    We're pretty far off the topic of the morals of God in this stream. But we'll pick it up again in round 3, where we explore the Law's purpose, both NT and OT perspectives.

    Quickly countering your comments on salt:
    Giving to the church is OK if you are looking to help others, but it's terribly inefficient. That's my point. The main thrust of churches, with the exception of highly specialized ministries and the all-too-rare big-hearted churches, is to spread the Word. That's it. That's the mission. That's where the overwhelming majority of the money goes. That's why, although I acknowledge some of the good which comes from churches, I would not advocate giving to them first and foremost, just as I would not advocate giving to certain secular charities due to their high overhead costs.

    "So I would argue it is a LACK of faith..."
    Yes, blessed are those who wait on the Lord. But, the great thing about the Bible is you can find verses to contradict any POV. Check out "God Rewards Extremists" for the lovely tale of Phinehas. He wasn't one to wait around for God to fix everything, and God loooooved him for his initiative.