Bible-believers obstinately argue that the divinely sanctioned massacres in the Bible were morally justified–even an example of God’s goodness and mercy! The logic behind their reasoning is as follows:
The biblicist is working under two assumptions: 1) God is good and all-powerful; 2) God, in fact, ordered massacres as described in the Bible. Therefore, there must have been some reason for God’s actions, no matter how bad they seem, a reason on which we can only speculate. The skeptic is asked to rule out every conceivable loophole, but how can he do that if he lacks the mind of God?
What has been overlooked is that the biblicist has already assumed everything, leaving nothing for rational debate! If we begin with the biblicist’s two assumptions then, of course, the massacres were morally justified! But it’s an empty claim, a bald-faced claim by fiat, not a compelling conclusion reached by reason and evidence. Skeptics, of course, don’t begin with both of these assumptions. That would beg the question.
If we assume that God is good (and all-powerful) then the question is whether God, in fact, ordered those massacres. If this is to be a reasoned inquiry, we must begin with the idea that God may or may not have been responsible. We must begin with both possibilities on the table! The data must guide us–not preconceived doctrine. Which view best fits the data? Are these massacres of men, women and children more likely the work of a god who is morally perfect or a god who is morally defective? If Chemosh or Baal were depicted as slaughtering children in some pagan manuscript, what would you conclude? I doubt you would cite it as evidence of superior morality!
The question is not whether we can shoehorn these deeds into a god of goodness. That approach reflects an a priori assumption, without benefit of evidence, that God performed those deeds. Rather, we are weighing the two possibilities on a balance. Are those deeds what we would expect from a god of goodness or are they not? Certainty is not possible and, thus, not a requirement! We need only observe whether the balance leans predominantly in one direction or the other. From that perspective the answer is obvious. Only a defective brain could suppose that such massacres are best interpreted as acts of moral perfection.
What Bible-believer would not gladly ditch these passages, this albatross about the neck, if only an inerrant Bible could be retained! It’s not by accident that conservative theologians do backflips through flaming hoops to explain why God must act so badly! The moral stench is pretty obvious, that being the cause of mighty efforts to make it go away.
The best conclusion, by far, is that if God is good then he did not order those massacres. He did not order the taking of young women in a battle to serve sexually. That is, if God is good then biblical inerrancy goes out the window.
If we begin with the assumption that God did, in fact, order those biblical massacres, then let us ask if God is truly good. If this is to be a reasoned inquiry, then we must begin with the possibility that God may or may not be morally perfect. There is no point in asking that question if our mind is already made up! All possibilities must be on the table at the start of an objective inquiry; the evidence must decide, not preconceived doctrine. Are these massacres more likely the work of a morally perfect god or are they more likely the work of a morally defective god?
Once again certainty is not possible and, therefore, not a requirement. Once again, the question is not whether we can shoehorn such deeds into a god of goodness but, rather, which way the balance leans. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of morality knows that, all things being equal, the slaughter of women and children is immoral. It’s a no-brainer. The balance tips heavily in favor of a god lacking in moral perfection. Such deeds (without the influence of preconceived doctrine) would never be attributed to a god of moral perfection! If the slaughter of children (and the rape of young women) were seen as evidence of high moral behavior, we would not find apologetic tomes dedicated to explaining why a God of goodness must act so!
The best conclusion, by far, is that if God ordered and supported these massacres then he lacks moral perfection. That is, if the Bible is the inerrant word of God then God’s goodness goes out the window.
Once we understand the logic behind the argument over the massacres in the Bible, we may dispense with certain confusions. The skeptic need not have the mind of God or close every loophole in order to draw a sound and robust conclusion. He or she need only follow the evidence and draw the best, the most natural conclusion. If the Bible-believer were to do that, he would find himself in a serious quandary. Either he must give up God’s goodness or give up an inerrant Bible. Liberal Christians have decided that God’s goodness is the sounder theological position. Conservative Christians have never worked out the logic or, else, are in deep denial.
The Bible-believer may, of course, assume both points. No logical contradiction is entailed, though it does propel one into a kind of Alice-In-Wonderland world. Nevertheless, one should be up front about it and not pretend to be reaching a conclusion based on evidence and reason. It’s a case of burying your head in the sand and declaring that all contrary views–and evidence–are irrelevant! Obviously, there is no point in having a debate with such a person. Without appeal to evidence and reason, an honest believer can only say “Believe me, I’m right!” to a potential recruit. Fanatical believers in a flat earth, Zeus, or Cinderella are all on the same, logical plane with such a person. Once we admit that evidence and reason do not apply, then the knot that holds us to reality is slipped, and it’s off to fantasyland! For most of us, that is unacceptable.
In case you have gotten lost in all this logic, here is a synopsis. If the Bible-believer must reach deep into “creative” explanations, into the merely possible rather than the natural, to justify the divinely inspired massacres of the Bible, then it is clear that he or she is effectively operating under the assumption that a moral God, in fact, is responsible. An objective mind, bringing no such a priori baggage, would hardly go to such extremes to defend one position over the other. Once we understand that the Bible-believer actually begins with the assumption of God’s goodness and with the assumption that God wrote an inerrant Bible, we rightly wonder why there is a debate at all–the key points have already been assumed by the believer! A mountain of data will not persuade those believers as long as there is a single loophole to hide in, and there will always be loopholes to hide in.
The skeptic is saying that if the Bible-believer wants to seriously debate this point, then the debate must begin with objective neutrality. All possible outcomes must be on the table at the start! The opposing conclusions must be weighed for truth and the best one selected. In reaching for the best conclusion, the most natural conclusion, certainty is not a factor. Loopholes are not a consideration. We are not required to plumb the depths of God’s mind.
When objective neutrality is enforced, the conclusion is a no-brainier and the Bible-believer has the unsavory choice of choosing between God’s goodness and an inerrant Bible. The liberal Christian has chosen to take his or her stand with God’s goodness. The conservative Christian seems to have gone into deep denial. The atheist, of course, rejects both assumptions. A nonexistent God does not contradict what we know best about our universe. Nor do we have the problem of pretending that an error-riddled Bible is somehow his word to us.