Is God [1] A Criminal?

by Bill Schultz [2]

Table of Contents


Introduction

Does God stand above morality, defining for us what is moral and what is immoral in accordance with His will? Or is morality a characteristic that exists independent of what God wills to be moral or immoral? For at least 25 centuries, these two related questions, or variations thereon, have troubled those of us who think deeply about philosophical matters. Frankly, there has not (at least, not until recently) been any really satisfactory answer to the issues raised by these questions. This essay is an attempt to explore this issue, which is quite relevant to the debate between atheism and theism, even though it tends to get short shrift in most debates between atheists and theists. What I will present herein is known technically in philosophical circles as the Moral Argument Against God.

The essential belief of those who believe in the Judeo-Christian God [3] is that God created the universe and all that is within it. Thus, in the minds of believers, their God's creation includes any human abilities to recognize anything resembling a moral value. So, from a believer's perspective, we do not (and, by the nature of being part of God's creation, cannot) legitimately call any acts of God "immoral." This is true by the very nature of morality being subservient to God's will, and a part of God's creation (the universe).

But it is increasingly apparent that our human sense of morality is inconsistent with belief in the Judeo-Christian God and the consequent truth of the above paragraph. Thus, some atheists try to formulate a Moral Argument Against God as part of a proof of atheism. [4] As my own contribution to this genre, I will argue that humans increasingly (additively, over long periods of time) recognize certain broad moral principles as applicable to everybody, regardless of any characterization of their position within the whole group of human beings. The existence of any such principles defeats the whole concept of moral relativism as a possible primary moral rule because there is nothing for these overarching moral rules to be relative to. They must, then, come out of an objective moral foundation that is, unfortunately, not well understood.

My approach to the Moral Argument Against God will be to attempt to summarize a fictional trial of God on charges of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. In proceeding along these lines, I will take a slightly different approach than does Professor Raymond D. Bradley in his essay A Moral Argument for Atheism.

The Facts of God's Acts

In my capacity as the prosecutor of God, I will stipulate for the purposes of this trial that several of the books of the Holy Bible are the inerrant (or at the very least, the "authoritative") Word of God. The books I cite for factual support herein are quoted from in the text contained within Appendix A to this document. Those books I use to indict God herein are: Genesis, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and I Samuel (the First Book of Samuel). I'm certain that other atrocities commanded or committed by God are documented in certain other books of the Bible, but I choose to limit my indictment to those few books simply for the case of brevity, and for the additional reason of not expanding my indictment into any book that might be claimed to be non-historical in nature.

Most believers in God believe that the whole of the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and that the "historical" books of the Holy Bible recount the actual, literal, and truthful history of the early Jews, and for any such believers to deny my stipulation to those books I wish to cite from would be nearly tantamount to a renunciation of their beliefs. Thus, the essential argument I am advancing herein is that if the books that I've selected from the Holy Bible present a true picture of the God of our universe, that God is not only unworthy of worship by humans, but should instead be opposed, on moral grounds, by every member of humanity.

Consequently, we will (for the sake of this argument) take as true each and every fact that is stated in my selected "historical" books of the Holy Bible. Since trials are, first and foremost, about what facts are true or not true, I avoid a great deal of argument by simply stipulating to those selected books from the Holy Bible, which the believers cannot legitimately deny, as presenting the complete truth about God and His acts. Once the facts are stipulated, the attorneys and the judge may then proceed to argue and decide (respectively) the issue presented in the trial as a matter of law. The remainder of this section, plus the whole of the next two sections of this essay, constitutes my legal argument in favor of the proposition that the Judeo-Christian God is a criminal, and that you readers out there, who are the members of the jury empaneled to try this case against God, ought to therefore find God guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

I am indebted to Donald Morgan for his essay, Bible Atrocities, which summarizes many of the most egregious of the so-called Acts of God from the Holy Bible. I will select a few of those atrocities as the basis of my indictment of God. These stipulated facts are contained in Appendix A to this document. Here is a brief summary of those facts:

  1. God gets angry with all of the people on Earth, and kills every living thing on Earth, with a few notable exceptions (Genesis 6 & 7).

  2. God heeded the prayers of the Jews and helped the Jews to "utterly destroy" the Canaanites. Later, God told the Jews that they would leave "no survivors" (including women and children) from among the whole people when they battled the followers of King Og of Bashan. In between those two, the Jews battled the followers of King Sihon of Heshbon, who "God had given him a resistant spirit and stubborn determination" so that he would not surrender his people, and for "even the women and children; there was not a single survivor." (Numbers, Chapter 21; and Deuteronomy, Chapters 2 and 3.)

  3. When the Jews fought the Midianites, the Jewish army killed all of the men, but brought back all of the women and children to Moses, who was then furious at this disobedience of God. Moses ordered all of the male children killed, and all of the females who were not virgins. 32,000 virgin females remained alive; all of the other Midianite people were killed. It is unclear from the text whether or not 32 of these virgins were sacrificed to God (human sacrifice). The Jews enslaved all of the virgin females who lived. (Numbers, Chapters 25 and 31.)

  4. God instructed the Jews that when they invaded the territory that God had granted to them, as for the inhabitants, "you must utterly annihilate them. Make no covenant with them nor show them compassion!" (Deuteronomy, Chapter 7.) God instructed the Jews that, when confronting other people who lived on land other than that granted to the Jews, they could give them an offer of perpetual slavery for their whole population, or else they could kill all the males and take the women and little children as slaves. (Deuteronomy, Chapter 20.) God set rules for male Jews who desired to take a wife from among these captives. (Deuteronomy, Chapter 21.)

  5. When invading Jericho, as instructed by God, the Jews "annihilated with the sword everything that breathed in the city, including men and women, young and old, as well cattle, sheep, and donkeys." (Joshua, Chapter 6.)

  6. When taking Ai, as instructed by God, the Jews "annihilated all who lived in Ai," including all of the men, women, and children. (Joshua, Chapter 8.)

  7. Acting on God's instructions, the Jews "annihilated everyone who lived in" Makkedah. At Libnah, they again "left no survivors." At Lachish, "they put the sword to all who lived there, just as they had done to Libnah." At Eglon, "they annihilated it just as they had done to Lachish." At Hebron, "they annihilated it and all who lived there." Again at Debir, "they annihilated everyone who lived there; they left no survivors." "Joshua defeated the whole land, including the hill country, the Negev, the lowlands, the slopes, and all their kings. He left no survivors. He annihilated everything that breathed, just as the Lord God of Israel had commanded." (Joshua, Chapter 10.)

  8. At Hazor, "They annihilated everyone who lived there with the sword-no one who breathed remained." "The Israelites plundered all the loot of these cities and the cattle, but they totally destroyed all the people and allowed no one who breathed to live." "Moses the Lord's servant passed on the Lord's commands to Joshua, and Joshua did as he was told. He did not ignore any of the commands the Lord had given Moses." "No city made peace with the Israelites (except the Hivites living in Gibeon); they had to conquer all of them," "for the Lord determined to make them obstinate so they would attack Israel. He wanted Israel to annihilate them without mercy, as he had instructed Moses." (Joshua, Chapter 11.)

  9. King Saul of Israel, acting on God's orders, "captured King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but he executed all his people with the sword." (Later, God got angry for this "disobedience" of leaving the king alive and for other matters.) (I Samuel, Chapter 15.)

The Law Governing These Facts

I assert, as part of the highest principles of morality recognized by all humans, those Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, 1950, [5] as repeated and set forth herein:

Principle I - Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefor and liable to punishment.

Principle II - The fact that international law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III - The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV - The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V - Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle VI - The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:

(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

(b) War crimes:

Violations of the laws or customs of war include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave-labour or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war, of persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.

(c) Crimes against humanity:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connexion with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII - Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

In his article, A Moral Argument for Atheism, Professor Bradley argues in favor of the following as being objective moral values:

P1: It is morally wrong to deliberately and mercilessly slaughter men, women, and children who are innocent of any serious wrongdoing.

P2: It is morally wrong to provide one's troops with young women captives with the prospect of their being used as sex-slaves.

P3: It is morally wrong to make people cannibalize their friends and family.

P4: It is morally wrong to practice human sacrifice, by burning or otherwise.

P5: It is morally wrong to torture people endlessly for their beliefs.

Professor Bradley then goes on not only to justify the above as being moral values that most people certainly ought to agree with, but he then shows that the Holy Bible contains one or more incidents (or at least, threats) of God ordering, causing, or otherwise demonstrating complicity in the commission of a violation of those stated objective moral values. This is all quite similar to my own approach herein, of demonstrating that God's orders to the Jews clearly violate what we now recognize as universal prohibitions. In other words, if the Jews of today took off and began following the commands of God which are recorded in the stipulated books of the Holy Bible, and murdering all of the people and pillaging all of the property in numerous towns in and around modern-day Israel, the people of the world would quite rightly speak up as a single voice and declare that those acts were immoral and illegal in spite of the Jews having been commanded by God to do those things. This is the trap for believers which constitutes this Moral Argument Against God. If God were to do these same things today, would we not be morally forced to condemn Him? And if the believers in God will not condemn Him, should they not be seen today as being at least as morally abhorrant as we view members of the neo-Nazi movemets around the world? How, then, can anybody believe that the Holy Bible is the truth and yet fail to condemn the God of that book as a morally abhorrant intelligent being? That is the ultimate question I seek to ask herein, and it is up to you readers out there to make your decision to either support God in all of His moral abberations, or else to at least denounce God for his morally abhorrant history.

So, in any case, there is certainly some overlap between the incidents cited by Professor Bradley with respect to his P1 and P2 propositions and the case I am attempting to make herein with respect to Principle VI of the Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the Nüremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal, 1950. I frankly feel that any of the facts from the Holy Bible discussed above and supported in the quotes contained in Appendix A, and any of the severable provisions of Principle VI, can be just as easily plugged into Professor Bradley's argument as they might be separately considered herein. So, to at least some degree, you may take my essay here as solidifying and supporting Professor Bradley's argument, as well as my own.

Jurisdiction

It is appropriate for every Court that sits in judgment of any controversy to first examine its jurisdiction over the cause. This will be a particularly crucial matter for the case that confronts us herein, in that most adherents of the affected religions will almost certainly deny humanity's jurisdiction over their God for the moral judgment to be pronounced at the end of these proceedings. This issue turns largely on the question as to whether or not morality comes from a judgment or command given by God, or in the alternative, whether or not morality exists as something independent of God, and to which standards the acts of God can be held. This has been a matter of controversy for at least the past 25 centuries. I hope to show that morality exists independent of any God or gods, and particularly of the Judeo-Christian God.

I will first analyze the question of whether or not God is subject to moral judgments by examining the classic case of Euthyphro's Dilemma. [6] The syllogism involved in this philosophical argument proceeds as follows:

P1. Either God exists or else God does not exist.

P2. If God does not exist, then God's commands cannot make an action moral.

P3. If God exists, then God's commands cannot make an action moral.

C. Therefore, God's commands cannot make an action moral.

P1 is analytic, and therefore non-controversial (the question of "existence" does seem to involve a simple true/false judgment). P2 is an obviously self-evident assertion. It would certainly seem that if P1, P2, and P3 are all true, then the conclusion must necessarily follow. In other words, there is no obvious error of reasoning inherent in this syllogism. Thus, the believer must deny P3 in order to preserve God's moral authority.

But is the believer's denial of P3 rational? Plato defends P3 this way:

(1) Suppose what is moral is commanded by God.

(2) If so, then:

(2a) what is moral is moral because it is commanded by God; or

(2b) God commands what is moral because it is moral.

(3) If (2b), then what is moral is moral independently of God's commanding it and God's commands cannot make an action moral.

(4) If (2a), then whatever is commanded by God is moral.

(5) It is not the case that whatever is commanded by God is moral (e.g. God could command something atrocious [such as demonstrated, above, and as argued in this essay]).

(6) Therefore, (2b).

(7) Therefore, what is moral is moral independently of God's commanding it and God's commands cannot make an action moral.

(8) Therefore, if God exists, God's commands cannot make an action moral.

Once again, the trapped believers are forced to deny a key part of an otherwise valid syllogism. In this instance, they must deny (5) and claim that it is the case that whatever is commanded by God is moral. When believers make this denial, they are making a claim that no matter how atrocious or uncompassionate God's conduct might be, it is still right and proper for God to conduct himself in that fashion (for instance, by having his "chosen people," the Jews, murder massive quantities of otherwise-innocent children). [7] However, most believers are not so bold as to state their case quite so directly (which would leave them far too open to a valid counter-attack). Instead, let me give an example of how William Lane Craig handles this point:

As for objective moral values, Dr. Washington proposes the Euthyphro dilemma, that either the good is what God wills, or else whatever God wills is good. I would say that this is a false dilemma. You split the horns of the dilemma by saying that the good is the very nature of God and that the commands of God flow necessarily out of His moral nature. Because God is just, He commands things that are for us just. So the good is neither arbitrary, nor is it something outside and above God. Rather the good is the moral nature of God Himself, which is expressed necessarily in His moral commands, which become for us our moral duties.

First, I'd note that Craig has attempted to confuse the issue by introducing the concept of "justice" as a defense for God's commands (the "facts" stated above). Now, "justice" is "the assignment of merited rewards or punishments." And what standard could possibly be applied to judge whether or not "rewards or punishments" are "merited" except the external moral standard implied by the very concept the believers are attempting to deny? How is it different to state that "whatever God commands is moral" as opposed to stating, as Craig does, that "the good is the moral nature of God Himself, which is expressed necessarily in His moral commands, which become for us our moral duties?" Isn't that really begging the question by Craig? I certainly think so. And to illustrate this point, try replacing the word "moral" with the word "just" in the Euthyphro arguments, above. Does it change anything? Again, I don't think so. In this context, "just" and "moral" are clearly interchangeable words, and thus Craig uses the word "just" solely to equivocate it's meaning. Try replacing the word "just" with the word "moral" in Craig's statement, above. It doesn't alter the meaning at all, but it does make clear that Craig is talking in Presuppositionalist circles about God, morality, and justice. In fact, it virtually admits that morality should limit God's actions. In other words, Craig is attempting to argue that God cannot cause or commit an immoral act because God's very nature is limited to being a moral entity. However, this very argument of Craig's then admits that morality is external from what God commands, and would (if it were functioning properly) constrain God from commanding or committing these highly-immoral acts.

And when Craig argues that God's commands become our duties, is Craig really defending God's right to command humans to commit atrocities? Should God command or commit acts that, in any other circumstances (outside of a command from God), are the gravest sort of moral violations, such as genocide? Does Craig really argue that it is our moral duty to comply with God's genocidal commands? That would certainly seem to be the case here, and in fact the Holy Bible bears witness (in several different passages) to God's anger against those humans who failed to follow His commands to commit exactly the sort of morally abhorrent acts that are at issue here. [8]

A believer, such as Dr. Craig, would surely respond that we (modern humans) are in no position to judge those people whom God chose to utterly destroy so many thousands of years ago. But is that a rational (let alone, justifiable) stance for him to take? Have we not, as civilized people, all agreed that, no matter how heinous are the acts committed by any person among us, the wives (or husbands) and particularly the innocent little children of that criminal should never be made to suffer for the morally repugnant acts of that other person (parent or spouse)? If this is a broadly-accepted moral rule among modern humans (and it surely seems to be that way), then why shouldn't the God of old recognize and abide by that same moral rule? Ask yourself this question: is there ANY heinous act or omission that your spouse or parent could commit which would justify severe punishment, even to the point of a brutal and bloody death, for YOU? I don't think there is, and this merely demonstrates that the whole attempt to import the Unknown Purpose Defense [9] into this atheistic moral argument falls extremely flat, as most humans deny the slightest possibility of an unknown purpose so mighty as to justify the performance of the greatest sorts of evil imaginable (such as out-and-out genocide, or the killing of an entire population of innocent children).

Another sort of believer might claim that God has the right to do with humans whatever He wishes to do, given that He created us in the first instance. His might justifies whatever acts He might order or commit that we would otherwise view as moral atrocities. Frankly, this is an admission of Plato's point (2a) to the effect that these actions only become moral because God has ordered them to take place. This argument is really "might makes right; and thus ultimate might (as God) makes ultimate right." But again, if there is a lesson for humans in the history of the 20th century, it is that we must morally deny that "might makes right." So, this argument also fails as an immoral attempt to dodge the requirements of what most humans agree to be fundamental moral principles common to most humans around the whole world.

And, realistically, should we not fear the actions of those who would justify obedience to God's immoral commands in this fashion? Would they not be the next Hitler if the circumstances were such as to permit it? This is a valid fear: that obedience to God might overcome adherence to the most basic of moral rules we humans commonly recognize (such as: "don't commit genocide and don't kill innocent little kids after defeating their parents in war"). For too long now, we have allowed the believers to escape judgment against their God for his self-admitted atrocities. Since there is not any human leader or group of people we would not put on trial for these sorts of crimes, should the situation present itself for such a trial, why cannot we bring the allegedly most-powerful entitiy in all of Creation to justice for His self-admitted crimes? There is really no good reason not to.

So, what is the real situation here for believers? They are still forced to deny (5), above, on the ground that whatever God commands cannot be atrocious. But on what rational basis can they make such a denial and the accompanying counter-claim about atrocities? It must be one of these:

  1. Is it as William Lane Craig asserts: those actions of God that might appear to us to be immoral really aren't because, in those cases, we merely have God commanding an exaction of justice for some real offense against Him? If so, what sorts of "real offenses" against God could possibly justify these sorts of extremely heinous exactions? Can that really be "justice" for mankind?

  2. Or is it that those acts we feel to be inherently immoral (such as stated by the above Principles) are not in reality inherently immoral after all, and thus our modern moral Principles are the result of some erroneous human views of morality? If so, exactly what is the error made by humans in viewing morality in this way? Should morally offensive conduct be compelled under the circumstances of some higher moral principle? If so, what is that exact principle? If it is just obedience to God's commandments, then (5), above, cannot be denied! And yet, it is exactly that point that believers must deny in order to avoid judgment against God herein. But if it is not just obedience to God's commandments, then the believers in God are trapped by the equally devastating admission that morality exists independent of (or even, above) God.

In his Moral Argument for Atheism, Professor Bradley presents a similar dilemma for believers in the form of an inconsistent tetrad:

These--and countless other--passages from the Bible mean that theists are confronted with a logical quandary which strikes at the very heart of their belief that the God of Scripture is holy. They cannot, without contradiction, believe all four of the statements:

(1) Any act that God commits, causes, commands, or condones is morally permissible.

(2) The Bible reveals to us many of the acts that God commits, causes, commands, and condones.

(3) It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.

(4) The Bible tells us that God does in fact commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.

The trouble is that these statements form an inconsistent tetrad such that from any three one can validly infer the falsity of the remaining one. Thus, one can coherently assert (1), (2), and (3) only at the cost of giving up (4); assert (2), (3), and (4) only at the cost of giving up (1); and so on.

Once again, believers must deny either (3), (4), or both of those, and thereby roll our human moral standards back by two to four millennia. Is it really desirable for modern humans to return to the Bronze Age morality of the Old Testament where genocide against a neighboring tribe was not only permissible, but was highly desirable and sanctioned by God? And once again, we must ask whether it is rational for believers to deny (3) or (4). In either case, the argument would proceed exactly as the prior argument over the denial by believers of Plato's point (5), above. In other words, the believer defending God's apparently immoral acts must claim the existence of some higher moral principle, known only to God, which principle compels humans to perform otherwise atrocious acts when God commands them to be performed. On the one hand, to argue that such a principle exists is to simultaneously argue that morality exists independent of God, which is exactly the point of this whole matter: to clearly demonstrate that our human sense of morality exists independent of any belief we may (or many not) have in God. On the other hand, to argue (as Dr. Craig does) for a unity between God and this allegedly "unknown" higher moral principle is to place humanity in the position of having no reliable moral rules at all, since we cannot ever know, without continuous and direct guidance from God (which is not forthcoming; at least, not for most of us), just when our natural moral instincts should be followed and just when those instincts must be ignored. And in this latter case, aren't the commands from God morally arbitrary, at least from the standpoint of humanity? In other words, if there is the claimed unity between God and morality, then just how can you ever view God as acting morally instead of arbitrarily? And how can it be good to command a bad thing for some unknown reason and leave the moral actors (humans) in the dark as to the true nature of the controlling and foundational moral principles? Would that be a proper way to obtain moral behavior from any moral actors? It is, frankly, inconceivable that either of these could be the case, but just to make sure, lets again examine these points in detail.

One way out for any God believer is for them to claim that some higher moral principle is at work here; one that allows God to command the performance of acts that would otherwise be viewed as morally atrocities. And yet, it must not be something that only amounts to "God has commanded it to be so" (which would admit the exact case which they are attempting to deny, point (5) of Plato's argument). That traps them into an admission of (2)(b), above, that "God commands what is moral because it is moral."

The other way out is to admit that the commands of God are morally arbitrary, which is to admit the Plato's point (5), above, which is exactly the point they are attempting to deny. So here, too, they admit that morality exists independent of God.

I should add that Craig's argument, above, makes the exact same point: it admits (2)(b), above: "God commands what is moral because it is moral." Claiming (as Craig does) that there is a unity between God and this alleged "higher moral principle" doesn't really resolve any part of this paradoxical situation. It ought to be clear to all of us that if morality isn't separate from God (admitting Dr. Craig's point), then it is quite simply also arbitrary in accordance with God's will (God could change his mind at any time; and perhaps that explains why genocide was acceptable in the Old Testament, as I've shown, above, and this again makes morality totally arbitrary).

And God believers are trapped here because human morality has recently evolved far beyond the morality reflected in the text of their Holy Bible. Modern humans have evolved new moral ideals that transcend the ancient commandments of the Judeo-Christian God. These modern human ideals eliminate any and all need for God's commands as the foundation of moral authority. Human morality has evolved into something that is far superior to the God morality of the Holy Bible!

The plain fact of the Principles, stated above as the law for this case against God, is that most humans, acting through their respective governments, have all agreed, regardless of their underlying religious or moral beliefs, or their racial, ethnic, or social affinities, to the moral imperatives inherent within those Principles, as stated above. The only real question is whether or not human acts commanded by God can be judged on this same principle. Principle IV obviates the answer to that inquiry:

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Believers would certainly agree that "God" is "a superior" in the context of the above. And in fact, in modern times (meaning the past couple of centuries), when members of minority religious groups claim a religious justification for acts that the majority finds to be morally reprehensible, few will stand up for their right to perform those morally reprehensible acts, even if their particular "God" has commanded such acts. [10] Here in the United States, we do not recognize a "religious belief" exception to any of our otherwise-neutral criminal laws. Notwithstanding the "free exercise" provisions of the First Amendment, all people here in these United States must abide by the criminal laws of the various applicable government entities, with virtually no exceptions. [11] By law, we, the people of the United States of America, have declared that God's commands must remain compliant with the moral standards represented by human laws. The United States has placed itself above God in at least that one respect: people may not use God as an excuse to avoid moral responsibility for their acts and omissions. [12]

Professor Bradley continues this argument by posing the question of what a modern God-believer would do if one of the ancient commands were to be repeated in modern times:

Consider First Samuel 15:3 in which the Lord commands his people:

Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him: but put to death both man and woman, child and infant . . .

Now ask yourself three questions:

(i) Was "put to death both man and woman, child and infant" the very word of the Lord whom you worship?

(ii) Is it conceivable that your Lord could again issue the same command in our time?

(iii) If you did believe you were so commanded by your Lord, could you and would you obey?

If you answer "No" to question (i), you deny the authority of God's so-called word, the Bible. If you answer "No" to question (ii)-perhaps because you think your Lord might have mended his ways-you deny that God's commands have the kind of universal applicability which is a necessary condition of their being in accord with, let alone the source of, moral truths. If you answer "No" to question (iii), you must think that it is sometimes right, or even obligatory, to disobey God. You thereby admit that moral truths are independent of, and may even conflict with, God's dictates. You admit that ethics is, as most philosophers have long insisted, autonomous; and that we must, therefore, do our moral thinking for ourselves.

But if you answer "Yes" to each question, then I submit that your belief in the God of biblical theism is not just mistaken but morally abhorrent. For, in the words of my friend, John Patrick, who resigned from the Presbyterian ministry in New Zealand after he discovered how many of his parishioners also answered "Yes" to all three questions: "a doctrine of the Scriptures as containing the Word of God, the supreme ruler of faith and duty, has the power to turn otherwise gentle, thoughtful, and basically loving people into a group prepared to sanction genocide in the name of the Lord they worship."

Many Christians, when confronted by this dilemma, will attempt to deny (ii) on the ground that Christ's passion "changed the rules" and what were once binding moral rules for all of mankind are now neither binding nor moral. This at least explains the disparity between the Old Testament and the Principles as a more modern statement of universal morality. But again, doesn't that admit that God's once inviolable (Old Testament) covenant with mankind is ephemeral? Having changed His mind at least twice, [13] could not God change it again (and again), and once again command a change in morality? And isn't that back to (2)(a) of the Euthyphro dilemma, "what is moral is moral because it is commanded by God," which we (as a civilized people) refuse to allow? Isn't this exactly the morally repugnant principle of moral relativism that you hear many Christians rant and rave against as a justification for their belief in God? The contradictions in the positions of God-believers abound, since it is impossible to reconcile the moral rules of three millennia ago with the moral lessons humans have learned in just the past two centuries.

With all of this in mind, we are now ready to consider the question that began this essay section: is God subject to human moral judgments? Certainly, in the case of humans who claim to be acting under the command of God, we do not hesitate to hold their conduct to conformance with the Principles. Thus, if the Israeli people were to claim that God had commanded them to exterminate the Palestinian people, the world would rise as one voice, with a strong sense of moral outrage, and condemn any and all steps towards the attainment of that objective. So, what is the difference between the modern conduct of Jews exterminating Palestinians and the ancient concept of Jews exterminating the Canaanite people, the Bashan people, the Heshbon (or Amorite) people, the Midianite people, and so on and so forth for most of the battles of the Old Testament? If we would find genocide to be morally repugnant today (if, for instance, the Israeli people killed all of the Palestinian people within the borders of Israel), then why is it not morally repugnant when performed about 3,000 years ago? And if genocide is acceptable when performed about 3,000 years ago, then upon what basis can we declare it to be morally repugnant today? In this latter case, upon what basis do we proceed with any war crimes trials, anywhere? Do we then indict ourselves for having held the Nuremberg trials and all of the rest of them? I cannot believe that, for the sake of maintaining the dual beliefs in God and the literal truth (or moral authority) of the Holy Bible, we would renounce the basic moral Principles stated above!

And if those Principles transcend all particular forms of religious conviction, then isn't it proper to judge the actions of all people in accord with those Principles? And if the acts of all people are to be judged according to those Principles, can't we at least consider whether or not a God who commands those acts is morally culpable? I believe not only that we can, but also that it is morally imperative for us to do so! Morality can (and does) exist independent from (and as a superior concept to) God. So, rendering judgment herein is morally proper (and even compelled) conduct for humanity.

Principle III states: "The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible Government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law." If God is the superior of all Heads of State, then why can't we judge God by the same Principles we would use to judge any Head of State? [14] Isn't that particularly appropriate when these Heads of State claim to be acting under the direction of God, as Moses, Joshua, and the rest of the leaders of ancient Israel were claiming to act in the quotes, above?

Who here will deny that if a Jim Jones or a David Koresh claims to be acting as God's one true prophet here on Earth, and that God is commanding him to act in some particular way, that we would hesitate to judge such people according to the laws of men? In fact, we do it very frequently. We have never established a legal right to "the God defense" in any criminal prosecution. We do not allow people to defend themselves in criminal actions by claiming justification due to divine command. [15] If we refuse to allow such a defense, aren't we, in fact, judging the morality (or immorality) of the command to be equivalent to the morality (or immorality) of the act? And isn't that exactly the same moral principle stated by Principle IV, which I will state, again, here:

The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

If I hear the voice of God in my head, commanding me to commit genocide, don't I have a moral duty to ignore that voice, and to take whatever additional actions might be necessary to prevent me from acting on that voice? Whether or not you believe in that as a principle of law, it is a fact that this is the operational rule that governs situations of this sort in practice in most societies around the world.

Clearly, the genocidal conduct of any human is subject to judgment under the Principles no matter what commands they received or who those commands came from. And if the acts of the Jews who carried out God's commands can be judged under the Principles, then it would defy logic to claim that God Himself was exempt from judgment under the provisions of Principle VII:

Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.

Thus, it necessarily follows, from all of the foregoing, that we humans have jurisdiction to judge God and the acts of His followers in carrying out His commands.

The Judgment Against God

It is apparent that all of the humans whose acts are described in the summaries from my selected Books of the Old Testament, as stated above, (Moses, Joshua, etc.) are all long dead. Thus, it only remains to us to pass judgment upon God.

Once jurisdiction is admitted (or proven, by the foregoing argument), there cannot be any doubt about the ultimate judgment. Nuremberg is still too fresh in the memories of humanity for any such doubt to exist. The Old Testament records multiple incidents where God ordered the Jews to commit atrocities that constitute crimes under the Principles, as stated above. According to the Principles, God must be found to be guilty of crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

God committed crimes against peace by violating his "non-aggression pact" with mankind after the flood (Genesis 8:21.); while he didn't destroy "every living thing" ever again, he did destroy every living member of certain tribes of humans. And God committed crimes against peace by mounting wars of aggression, using his Jewish troops to invade otherwise-peaceful territory then belonging to other people.

God committed war crimes by ordering the murder of people not engaged in armed resistance against the Jews; by deporting people to slave labor, working for the Jews; by murder (or ill-treatment) of prisoners of war; by plundering public and private property; by wanton destruction of entire cities, towns, or villages; and by devastation not justified by military necessity.

Many of the same facts convict God of crimes against humanity, in that he ordered the murder (or extermination) of entire populations of people; the enslavement of human female virgins; and other inhuman acts done against civilian populations, all done in execution of (or in connection with) the aforementioned crimes against peace or war crimes.

The God of the Torah is a beast; reflecting the beastly state of human morality several thousands of years ago. We should not be surprised to find God convicted of crime under modern-day moral standards, agreed to by the vast bulk of modern governments.

Of course, the reality of the situation is that we have tried God in absentia, because (we atheists would assert) God does not exist. Believers have long recognized that the Argument from Evil was one of the strongest arguments against theism. Well, holding God to the very moral standards that His believers have agreed to impose upon each other ultimately seems to be a fitting end for Him. There do not appear to be any valid arguments for believers to use to escape the consequences of this rather simple moral argument against God. As compared to the Argument from Evil, this argument would appear to be much stronger due to its far greater simplicity.

From Where Does Morality Come?

I've always personally preferred arguments that not only disprove what the other side claims, but which also explain the basis of the counter-claims by our side. Thus, while not strictly relevant to the trial of God for genocide, etc., I'm including this brief section to explain the true source of the moral rules that we proclaim for ourselves. This same argument can also be used as evidence for objective moral values in the dispute over whether morality is subjective (i. e., "moral relativism") or objective in nature. [16]

From the foregoing sections, it seems clear that morality is independent of God. The alternative is to hold that no matter what God orders, it is a moral duty simply because God orders it. That holding must be denied at the peril of being found to be an abhorrent and potentially genocidal person. Denying that holding requires us to discover some other source for morality. But from where could morality actually come?

The real answer is very descriptive and quite explanatory, even if modern philosophers cannot adequately systemize it. Morality is a product of human evolution.

Specifically, morality appears to be a meme. [17] The principle of natural selection appear to operate upon memes in some fashion, causing some memes to become widespread and others to be discarded. One of the most widely held moral memes is the Golden Rule, which is found in many seemingly distinct forms within most advanced societies. Yes, it is expressed differently in each society that holds to it in some form. And in application, at least, it has clearly evolved itself as a concept. In more primitive civilizations, the rule only applies to dealings with other members of the civilization, and not to outsiders. In our modern view, we see the Golden Rule as a moral standard that ought to be broadly applicable to all dealings among humans.

Of course, there is also some reason to believe that at least some components of moral behavior are controlled by genetics. We can observe hints of this in animals as low as insects (the so-called "social insects" being a primary example). To the extent this is true, it ought to be clear that morality can be controlled to that extent by evolution.

One of the most intense debates in philosophy is between the advocates of moral relativism and the advocates of moral objectivism. But, as we can clearly see from looking at the foundational issues of this debate, moral relativism doesn't really have a viable foundation as a moral theory. And, frankly, it should not. Most of us at least wish to believe that our most basic moral rules ought to remain constant no matter where we choose to live and no matter what the circumstances of our life might become. For such wishes to be true, some version of moral objectivism must be true. But which version is true? And just how do we explain an allegedly "objective" moral rule set that changes?

The best arguments seem to come from the adherents of consequentialism. And in fact, the Golden Rule itself can be seen as a form of consequentialism (the consequences of failing to treat others as you would wish to be treated can include the unhappiness you will feel when others treat you the way that you treat them, etc.).

Also, the concept that moral memes arise through evolutionary forces like natural selection would tend to indicate that experience teaches humans what the consequences of their various actions (and inactions) are, and our reactions to those consequences would seem to provide the impetus for evolving new (or related) moral memes. This can easily explain why people in the time of the Old Testament would not see the abhorrent nature of genocidal wars, while modern people, who have experienced things like the Jewish Holocaust in some way, would. Thus, we can see that our moral principles change (evolve) in accordance with our shared human experiences. Once again, we confront the necessity of a broad and complete overview of recorded human history, taught to our young with a sense of vigor and importance, as an indispensable aid to promoting morality in our society. [18]

Prior to the nineteenth century, slavery was an accepted practice. The Holy Bible itself gives the Jews several sets of rules on how to acquire and manage slave populations (see, for instance, Deuteronomy 20:10-18 on how to acquire slaves). And Jesus said nothing at all against slavery as an institution of civil law; and he could not, for he was bound, as a devout Jew, to proclaim that he was not to alter any part of the Old Testament law. [19] That fact provided biblical justification for slavery in the United States until the Civil War. England abolished slavery three decades before the United States did, and both nations still struggle with the primary relic of a slavery mentality: racial discrimination.

Still, if we look back over the millennia, we can see clear signs of moral evolution from our roots as barbaric, primitive peoples, on through early civilizations, and progressing onwards to our present time. We can plot our progress in defining greater moral rules by looking back in time, on an exponential scale, something like this:

  1. Roughly 32 centuries ago, we had a large tribe of Jewish genocidal bigots running around in what is roughly modern-day Israel, killing all of the inhabitants who were not either Jewish or virgin females (see above).

  2. Roughly 16 centuries ago, we had the Christians rise to power in the Roman Empire and begin persecuting pagans and other non-Christians who stood in their way. Prime examples of this are the sack of the pagan temples (including the Serapeum) [20] in Alexandria (around 390 CE) and the extremely brutal death of Hypatia [21] (around 415 CE).

  3. Roughly 8 centuries ago, we had the Roman Catholic Christians raping and pillaging the Islamic (and Orthodox Christian) cities of the near east, during the crusades, creating resentful feelings that persist to this day. [22]

  4. Roughly 4 centuries ago, both the Catholics and the Protestants were still burning religious dissenters at the stake. The Catholics burned Giordano Bruno in 1600, while John Calvin burned ("roasted alive," more correctly) Michael Servetus in 1553. (As a side note, the Salem witch trials were in 1692, and while none of the convicted witches were burned, over a dozen were killed by hanging and other means. Again, the Christians were out to kill those who were "different" than them.)

  5. Roughly 2 centuries ago, the enlightenment had brought an era of moral rationalism to our society, but while people were learning to be tolerant of religious differences, there were still many slaves owned by the revered founders of the United States. Slavery was abolished in Great Britain about 1835 and in the United States about 1865.

  6. Roughly a century ago, the idea of a common set of "human rights," that were seen as applicable to all humans, everywhere, as a matter of right, was spreading throughout the world. But nationalism was still keeping people from different nations from viewing each other as truly "equal." Nonetheless, for the first time in history, virtually all women were granted at least equal political rights with men, in that the leading nations of the West granted women the right to vote.

  7. Today, we view people from all nations and religious beliefs as possessed of these basic human rights, and we have begun (with a few notable trials of "war criminals" and so forth), as a body of people containing the whole human race, to enforce those rights in certain limited circumstances. We have encroached upon nationalism to at least the degree required to hold the more-despicable nationalist leaders responsible for their moral crimes. And we have witnessed the rise of huge international charity groups, like the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders, who are each dedicated to helping people who are not necessarily part of their own "kith and kin." This viewing of all people as being part of a common "family of man" has led to an empathy for others against whom we might take up arms, and thus we have anti-nationalism, anti-colonialism, and anti-war demonstrations taking place in all parts of the world in the past half-century.

  8. I look forward with some hope that our concept of a universal human morality will spread over the next half-century, and that when we reach that point in time, almost all people on Earth will view themselves as first and foremost, part of the human race, entitled to dignity, respect, and good treatment for that reason alone, and only to some lesser degree members of some national, religious, or other group of fellow humans.

  9. What lies ahead for humanity even further into the future? That is a very difficult question to even grasp. But just as the past record of progress in shared moral values seems to illustrate progress in the past, I can only hope that humanity will continue to achieve even greater progress in establishing a common moral foundation for all of mankind.

The very fact that our fundamental moral values can change drastically over time argues against morality being controlled by God (or by any gods of any sort at all). After all, if a perfect God controlled morality, then morality would come to humanity in its final (perfect) and fully-evolved form. It would not come to us piecemeal, delivered painfully over long periods time, as the result of lessons drawn from human history. Thus, the very fact that we humans must learn morality clearly demonstrates to us that God does not give us morality; morality is of human origin, and is totally independent of God.

But the lack of long-term moral rule stability could also be seen as arguing against the concept of moral rules being in any way equivalent to the "constant" physical laws of our universe. However, just as Einstein's Theory of Relativity remained an undiscovered physical law until very recently in human history, so too the moral rule against genocide may well have been an undiscovered moral rule until fairly recently. What might have caused that moral rule to be discovered? For those of us who believe in the trial-and-error approach to science, it was the lack of a compelling case of the death of innocents. The Jews of the Holocaust provided just such a case, and the empathy of the world for their plight caused us to recognize that we would never wish for any group, anywhere, to suffer any similar sort of fate.

It has always been difficult for humans to adopt a new basic moral rule (or rule set). It is almost two centuries since the "civilized nations" of Europe abolished slavery, and we still struggle with its after-effects of racism here in the United States. And the dramatic changes of technology over the past century have introduced the need for even more basic changes in human morality.

If "change" is to mean "progress," then there must be some sort of absolute scale upon which the morality of the past may be measured and declared to be inferior to the morality of the present. I would personally argue for some moral standards based upon the principles of evolutionary survival (for instance, we know that a gene pool needs diversity and strength to survive; a moral "meme pool" must also need those same kinds of characteristics). We now recognize that diversity in our genes and memes is part of our strength as the species of homo sapiens. We cannot obtain this diversity if we act in ways that force conformity upon everybody within the influence of our various governments. As these scientific principles emerge from the darkness of our prior ignorance of them, our moral principles are forced to evolve to accomodate an increasingly diverse population of humans at all levels. The ancients (and the moderns until very recently) sought to enslave and/or economically exploit the people of foreign nations. The ancients (and the moderns until very recently) sought to obtain a homogenous population of people who all worshipped the same God(s), believed in the same governmental systems, and pursued the same goals of conquest of others. As far back in history as you might care to go, it is "us" against "them" with the former always characterized as the "good guys" and the latter always characterized as the "bad guys." Today, we don't view the King of Sweden as having any more "inherent natural rights" than does an "untouchable" in India. We are increasingly viewing ourselves as the family of man, and that change clearly makes us more moral in how we interact with each other. [23]

It is always easy to be angry and to try to hurt those who are your "natural enemies." The smaller you form your group of "friends," the easier the whole business of morality becomes. The more "enemies" you have, the more people there are to "plunder" and "obtain advantage over." But those acts of taking advantage of others will generate resentment among those who are taken advantage of, and some day, the "chickens will come home to roost." There are many wisdom sayings in many cultures here on Earth which teach us not to take advantage of our fellow man. But we have always, in the past, seen this as a commandment only to behave with respect to those of us who are part of our "us" group. The "them" group was always "fair game." If there is a new basic morality working its way through humanity right now, it is based upon this concept of our having empathy for all humans, no matter what sort of human they might be. In other words, everybody is now part of the "us" group, and is to be protected, respected, and cherished, with the same moral privileges as anybody else we know. It is this exact overarching moral rule which is totally at odds with the whole Judeo-Christian God. The God who would send most of mankind to Hell for disbelieving in Him cannot command the respect of those who adhere to, or advocate, this new universal human morality. Accordingly, we must now be on the brink of the Humanist millennium, as there will be no place in the 21st century for the Christian bigots of the 20th century.

Some Conclusions

It is frankly apalling to see just how many people continue to blindly follow the amoral lead of the Judeo-Christian God. Frankly, it is only by ignoring issues like those presented herein that believers can continue to both believe in their God and consider themselves to be "moral actors" within the human population.

When you take a long view over past millennia of human history, two things become obvious. The first is the hopeful signs of human progress, as we have clearly evolved new moral standards and thereby improved our relationships to each other within the overall human community. The other is the realization that religious claims to moral truth cannot be true. Religion cannot be the foundation of human morality. Instead, human morality evolves over time, as history clearly demonstrates.

We seem to evolve new moral rules only long after we could really use them. It is like we have to be really sure that a new rule is needed, and to force ourselves to adopt that rule only when there is no other alternative. So it seems with our moral rules against racism and genocide. Still today, we struggle with the question of just what sorts of abhorrent conduct would justify a violation of national sovereignty by the nations of the world. Our current attitude is to only send troops into nations who ask for "peace keeping forces," such as in Bosnia. In other countries where human rights violations are rampant, we do not send troops, because to do so would be to violate that other currently inviolable rule: the sanctity of national sovereignty. So the spread of newly discovered moral rules is a slow (and for many people, painful) process. Can we guess what might be the next "universal moral rule" to be "discovered" in this same way?

A good candidate for a next "universal moral rule" would be some way of dealing with the possibility of the total destruction of humanity (and most other life forms here on Earth) through nuclear warfare. Most humans would probably see any moral rule that would prevent that occurrence as beneficial.

But the question as to what sorts of undiscovered moral rules actually exist is a troubling one to those of us who would like to adhere to the best possible moral standards right now. But there must be some strong impediment to thinking deeply about these moral standards. Perhaps our bias in favor of a God as a source of morality is preventing us from addressing these deeper moral issues (at least, until now). It surely seems that a formal study of ethics leaves us with far more questions than it gives us answers. In any case, we should not allow our current inability to formulate an "iron clad" ethical rule set as a moral foundation for modern or future humans to provide an opening for believers of the Holy Bible to drag us back to the immorality of its ancient declared rule set. [24] To discard three to four millennia of moral progress would truly be a tragedy for mankind!

Just how far can we carry the analogy between genes and memes? Is there a "design space" (a la Dennett) for our memes of morality? History would surely argue that some increasingly refined sense of morality is needed for people to live in larger and larger communities of increasingly diverse humans. Genetic and memetic homogeneity is possible only in very small groups. The larger the group, the less homogeneity there is, simply through the process of evolution through random chance.

But whatever ultimate answer for our moral questions might actually exist out there in the future of mankind, that answer will most likely be properly characterized as an objective moral rule (or rule set). And any such moral rule (or rule set) will most likely be viewed as a major advance over whatever moral rule (or rule set) has been set down by any God (or gods). Finally, any such universal and foundational moral rule (or rule set) will most likely be created from the people of the Earth (through "experience" for example), by the people of the Earth, and for the benefit of all the people here on Earth.

At least, that would be my personal hope.


Further Reading:

As far as I know, all book-length treatments of trials of God are fictional. I present herein a few of the best:

  • Blameless in Abaddon - This is the second book in James Morrow's Godhead Trilogy, with the theme herein being a Job-like situation wherein the Job-character rebels and puts God on trial in the World Court for crimes against humanity.
  • The Trial of God : A Play - This fictional trial incorporates elements of the real-life trial that the author, famous Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, witnessed while in prison at Auschwitz. Wiesel translates that experience to "a medieval European village where three itinerant Jewish actors put God on trial to answer for His silence during a pogrom." This provides a uniquely-Jewish perspective through an examination of their tradition of "arguing with God."
  • God on Trial, by the now-deceased Holocaust-survivor John W. Rice, provides a far more factual, if perhaps too-gritty, portrait of the trials and tribulations of the Jews during the Holocaust. This was a self-published book, and has very limited availability.
  • GOD ON TRIAL 2000: The Indictment of God for Crimes Against Job, by Stuart C. Goldberg, is another self-published effort, this time by a former federal prosecutor, who uses the literary device of an investigation and trial to look at the same sorts of questions raised by this essay.

I would like to also recommend the other James Morrow books that are somewhat related to his "trial" book, listed above:

  • Towing Jehovah is the first book in James Morrow's Godhead Trilogy. It looks at the same underlying facts from a different perspective. Chronologically, while the books are independent of each other, this book provides the first glimpse at the death of God.
  • The Eternal Footman is the third book in James Morrow's Godhead Trilogy. In this book, the world must go on without God, and we get a glimpse of a humanistic society as it takes hold.
  • Only Begotten Daughter isn't part of James Morrow's trilogy (above), but it is interesting in its own right as the tale of a modern-day second-coming with a female in the lead role.

Acknowledgements:

This essay would have been a great deal more difficult for me to write but for the similar prior essay written by Professor Bradley, A Moral Argument for Atheism, and but for the extensive compilation of Bible Atrocities by Donald Morgan. I express my deep thanks to them both.

I would also like to thank the many people who read earlier versions of this essay and who made constructive suggestions for improving it. What you see here was greatly affected by the many good suggestions I received. Richard Carrier was particularly helpful in this regard.


Footnotes:

[1] My reference here is to the Judeo-Christian "God" of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Said "God," who is also known as "the God of Abraham," is also revered by Islamic people. For the sake of any Hindus or believers in any other "God(s)," I do not mean to imply that this essay extends to them.

[2] This essay is an offshoot of my debate with Jim Mitchell. I probably would not have thought much about these matters if I had not been forced to come up with a strategy to counter his worldview, which is based upon the presupposition that the "revealed truth" of the Christian Holy Bible is the basis of everything that exists in the universe. The only counter-argument that seemed valid was that belief in the Judeo-Christian God is immoral.

[3] I'm going to generally omit the phrase "Judeo-Christian" from here on out, although the argument I am presenting herein is clearly made only against that particular God.

[4] By "atheism" in this context I mean disbelief in the "God" defined above. Under this standard, I am an atheist, although with a broader definition of the word "God" (such as a "First Cause" definition of God) I would return to my basic philosophical stance of agnosticism.

[5] These Principles are derived from the Charter of the International Military Tribunal, established by a treaty between the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, after the Second World War, "for the just and prompt trial and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis."

[6] This is derived from one of Plato's dialogs, between Socrates and Euthyphro.

[7] Richard Carrier makes a strong point to me, in a private e-mail message, that merely demonstrating God's lack of compassion in ordering the murder of othewise-innocent children, even if morally justifiable, still makes God into a monster unworthy of worship. This is a theme and variation on Wittgenstein's comment to Drury, as quoted in Jim Still's essay, The Mental Discomfort of "Why?" Wittgenstein said: "If I thought of God as another being like myself, outside myself, only infinitely more powerful, then I would regard it as my duty to defy him." Lord Acton's comment about power tending to corrupt, and absolute power tending to corrupt absolutely, probably enters into this value judgment. The moment we begin to view God as a tyrant, our seemingly-natural instinct to defy tyrants will cause us to feel that Wittgenstein must be correct and that we ought to denounce and defy a tyrannical God. And just how can we view the God who orders the total destruction of entire cities of people as being anything but tyrannical? So, once again, it is our moral duty to denounce and defy this Judeo-Christian God.

[8] See, for instance, 1 Samuel 15:1-35, where Saul fails to kill the king of the people he conquered, as well as failing to kill the cattle and the other animals that God has ordered to be killed.

[9] For a discussion of the Unknown Purpose Defense in its usual context, the atheistic Argument From Evil, please see Section 8 of Professor Ted Drange's essay, The Arguments From Evil and Nonbelief. The threshold argument against this defense revolves around the burden of proof. If the defenders of God wish to invoke this particular defense, they must at least characterize the nature of the purpose for which these sorts of abhorrant acts are justified. In other words, they must be able to describe at least one potential set of circumstances which might justify the killing of the entire population of innocent young children that were living as inhabitants in some city or area of the Earth. The essence of the Unknown aspect of this defense is that the defenders claim that mankind cannot know God's ultimate purpose. But should we accept that assertion when it is being used to justify the most heinous sorts of acts imaginable by humans? There is substantial agreement among most of humanity that these sorts of acts are criminal in nature, and no court of law on the face of this planet would accept a defense that asserts merely that the defendant knows something that justifies these most-heinous of acts. Accordingly, the whole Unknown Purpose Defense must necessarily fail when it is being asserted in support of the most heinous of acts known to mankind.

[10] There are numerous court cases on record upholding this point of law. In the United States, many of them trace back to the claim of the Mormons to their right, granted by their holy book, to live in polygamous marriages. The courts of the United States, in spite of the First Amendment, refused to grant the Mormons any such right. Our common moral standards are asserted to exist above the religious beliefs of any and all sects.

[11] The one recent notable exception is when the City of Hialeah, Florida, attempted to criminalize certain animal slaughter practices of the Santeria sect. The U. S. Supreme Court found that the practices had not been otherwise illegal previously, that the City had enacted these laws specifically to prevent the Santeria sect from establishing its facility within the City, and that there was no cognizable neutral purpose that could save the law from these findings.

[12] In fact, one of the political objectives of the Radical Religious Right is to invert this moral standard so as to force the civil law to become subservient, once again, to religious courts. Personally, I can only hope that these forces fail, for success would push us back several centuries into the past so far as ascertaining the applicable moral standards governing human conduct are concerned. At least some of the right-wing Christian adherents may well believe that Hitler's morally repugnant extermination of the Jews was "the right thing to do." I would only hope that the force of worldwide public opinion would necessitate a change in that attitude, should those forces manage to come to power within this nation.

[13] The first time is in His covenant with Noah, and the second time is in His covenant due to Jesus.

[14] Technically, even the Pope is a "head of state" in this regard. We can judge the Pope, so why not also judge the God commanding the Pope's actions?

[15] This is, of course, quite distinct from mounting an insanity defense based on those same facts.

[16] In his commentary on this essay, Larry Hamelin points out that my main argument, above, works just as well when somebody is committed to a subjectivist moral stance. He points out that, under this scenario, God (if God exists) created humans with a subjective moral sense which requires us to judge his genocidal commands (and related acts and omissions) as abhorrant. Therefore, we must either assume that our moral sense is absolutely unreliable, or else that God can, in fact, act immorally. On the first horn of this dilemma, we are unable to act morally without specific (and continuous) guidence from God since we cannot rely upon our built-in moral sense to determine what is moral and what is not moral (because we cannot gain specific insight by using our innate moral sense to guide us based upon any sort of general principles we might recognize). Since God no longer gives this sort of specific (and continuous) moral guidance to (at least most of) humanity, we are cast adrift in a moral cesspool of God's own devising, and thus God is irrelevant to subjective human morality. On the other horn, we have the possibility that whatever God might do can be immoral, and thus even our God-given moral sense can be unreliable as a moral guide, since any God capable of acting immorally cannot be trusted to have given us a proper moral sense. Again, God is irrelevant to subjective human morality. Because my "moral progress through moral evolution" argument seems to be quite strong, I don't attempt to make any argument for subjective morality, but for the moral subjectivist folks who might read this essay, I offer Larry's commentary to you.

[17] Richard Dawkins coined the word "meme" in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. It is defined as: "an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture."

[18] The underlying thought goes back at least to Thucydides [c. 460 - 400 BCE], cited by Dionysius of Halicarnassus [c. 54 - c. 7 BCE], "The contact with manners then is education; and this Thucydides appears to assert when he says history is philosophy learned from examples." (Ars Rhetorica, XI, 2.).

[19] See, for instance, Matthew 5:17-20.

[20] An excerpt from The Ecclesiastical History, by Socrates Scholasticus, which has generated much controversy (due to its description of the destruction of the Serapeum, while failing to mention the many books that were stored there), is hereby quoted in full: "At the solicitation of Theophilus bishop of Alexandria the emperor issued an order at this time for the demolition of the heathen temples in that city; commanding also that it should be put in execution under the direction of Theophilus. Seizing this opportunity, Theophilus exerted himself to the utmost to expose the pagan mysteries to contempt. And to begin with, he caused the Mithreum to be cleaned out, and exhibited to public view the tokens of its bloody mysteries. Then he destroyed the Serapeum, and the bloody rights of the Mithreum he publicly caricatured; the Serapeum also he showed full of extravagant superstitions, and he had the phalli of Priapus carried through the midst of the forum. The pagans of Alexandria, and especially the professors of philosophy, were unable to repress their rage at this exposure, and exceeded in revengeful ferocity their outrages on a former occasion: for with one accord, at a preconcerted signal, they rushed impetuously upon the Christians, and murdered every one they could lay hands on. The Christians also made an attempt to resist the assailants, and so the mischief was the more augmented. This desperate affray was prolonged until satiety of bloodshed put an end to it. Then it was discovered that very few of the heathens had been killed, but a great number of Christians; while the number of wounded on each side was almost innumerable. Fear then possessed the pagans on account of what was done, as they considered the emperor's displeasure. For having done what seemed good in their own eyes, and by their bloodshed having quenched their courage, some fled in one direction, some in another, and many quitting Alexandria, dispersed themselves in various cities. Among these were the two grammarians Helladius and Ammonius, whose pupil I was in my youth at Constantinople. Helladius was said to be the priest of Jupiter, and Ammonius of Simius. Thus this disturbance having been terminated, the governor of Alexandria, and the commander-in-chief of the troops in Egypt, assisted Theophilus in demolishing the heathen temples. These were therefore razed to the ground, and the images of their gods molten into pots and other convenient utensils for the use of the Alexandrian church; for the emperor had instructed Theophilus to distribute them for the relief of the poor. All the images were accordingly broken to pieces, except one statue of the god before mentioned, which Theophilus preserved and set up in a public place; 'Lest,' said he, 'at a future time the heathens should deny that they had ever worshiped such gods.' This action gave great umbrage to Ammonius the grammarian in particular, who to my knowledge was accustomed to say that 'the religion of the Gentiles was grossly abused in that that single statue was not also molten, but preserved, in order to render that religion ridiculous.' Helladius however boasted in the presence of some that he had slain in that desperate onset nine men with his own hand. Such were the doings at Alexandria at that time."

[21] An excerpt from The Ecclesiastical History, by Socrates Scholasticus, describes the death of Hypatia this way: "For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them." The word rendered here as "tiles" can be translated either as oyster shells or roof tiles. Either way, the implication here for most people is that they flayed her alive.

[22] During his recent visit to Greece, Pope John-Paul II was obliged to apologize for the many excesses committed by the Roman Catholics during the Crusades.

[23] Islam, in particular, has a set of moral rules which command its believers to treat other believers fairly, but those moral rules do not extend to any "infidels." Other religions have themes and variations on this same sort of concept. For Christians, it seems to take the form of advertisements in the Yellow Pages containing fish symbols for Christian-owned businesses who want other Christians to patronize them. At its base, this is all just a religiously-encouraged "us versus them" mentality, which we MUST today see as immoral, or at least, unfair (which should be the same thing as "immoral").

[24] It would seem, from a study of the current sects of Christianity, that the stronger their belief is in the Old Testament as the inerrant word of God, the stronger their belief is in the restoration of those Old testament moral rules, such as stoning people to death for apostasy.


The text of this essay is Copyright © 2001, by William A. Schultz. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of the author.

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