I Vas Only Following Orders

We wrote recently on the “problem of evil”, and argued that it is hardly necessary that good and evil be absolute, objective features of the world for subjective beings like us to have difficulty reconciling the notion of an omnipotent, loving, and infinitely merciful God with the gruesome and arbitrary suffering we see all around us, and with the many horrendous examples of divinely encouraged murder, rape, torture, enslavement and genocide that are reported in the Bible.

I hate to keep harping on this topic — really, I do — but I’ve just run across a truly breathtaking example of the outermost limits of rationalization and sophistry in the defense of religious faith, and of the built-in unfalsifiablity of theological dogma. Have a look at this extraordinary essay, in which we learn that the brutal extermination of the Canaanites, in which children and pregnant women were put ruthlessly to the sword, was morally A-OK, because the Israelites were just doing as they were told.

I find it hard to imagine what one might say in response to this sort of thing, which to my mind seems completely insane. There is, I am afraid, no rational argument one could make, and no empirical fact, that could possibly penetrate such a belief system. On such a view, once given the whip hand by God, one would be capable of absolutely anything, and of doing it with a smile.

Once again, I’d welcome your comments. Lighter fare tomorrow, I promise.


  1. Kevin Kim says

    As you wrote earlier, this is Euthyphro/divine command territory.

    I think quite a few mainstream Christians have trouble with the bloodier aspects of the Bible, in part because of the way Christian education and liturgy skews New Testament-ward, with many churches doing at least two NT readings and only one OT reading during the service. One NT reading will almost always be from one of the four gospels.

    Of course, plenty of Christians are untroubled by the bloodier scriptures, but if we’re to be fair, we should sort that group out into finer categories, e.g., those who look upon the scriptures as sacred/symbolic narrative and not literal history, those see see the scriptures as literal, eye-witness accounts, and so on.


    Posted January 4, 2008 at 8:38 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Thanks, Kevin.

    Indeed, this is divine-command territory, as the author makes clear – but I see no Euthyphro in sight. The author, after perfunctorily expressing some qualms about the subjective moral repugnancy of the acts being described, immediately sets those qualms aside to choose the “good because God says so” option in a blithe and untroubled way. The sufferings of the children being slaughtered? No worries, God will look after them later. The Israelite soldiers whom God made do his dirty work (when of course God could just have slaughtered them all with a volcano, or something)? Hell, they didn’t care. Life was tough back then, ya know. The young mothers put to the sword? Hey, they had it coming — I mean God had been patient with those damn Canaanites for years. (That’s like the utterly tasteless joke: What do all battered women have in common? They just won’t fucking LISTEN!!!)

    This is a classic example of the secular and adaptive utility of a religious belief: binding a group together in order to fight and kill a dehumanized competing group. Once you’re on a sacred mission, brandishing the flaming sword of God, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that is off limits. Fly a plane into a building. Gas the Jews. This is exactly the same mindset, and it is mighty scary. And as I was reading, with mounting horror, there was the author at the upper right, with that Ted Haggard smile…

    Posted January 4, 2008 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  3. Charles says

    I opened this link up in a tab so I could read it later, and I have finally done so. A few comments:

    1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

    2. Objective moral values do exist.

    3. Therefore, God exists.

    In fact, insofar as the atheist thinks that God did something morally wrong in commanding the extermination of the Canaanites, he affirms premise

    I realize that the horse is well putrefied by this point, but if I may beat it one more time: No, he only admits that he believes that God did something wrong according to his (the atheist’s) subjective moral values.

    I do happen to agree with this, though:

    I spoke once with an Indian missionary who told me that the Eastern mind has an inveterate tendency toward amalgamation.

    As Kevin can attest, much of Korean philosophy is predicated on the idea of certain things being “not two,” or one. I can’t quite figure out what this anecdote has to do with the author’s point, though.

    Posted January 4, 2008 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  4. Charles says

    Just a quick note here: while trying to submit my previous comment, I mistook a zero for an “O” in the character recognition test. I got an “Invalid Code” message and was brought back to the comment form–but my comment had disappeared. Fortunately I was able to use the back menu to retrieve my comment, but this seems like an extremely broken way of doing things.

    Posted January 4, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Thanks for the comment, Charles. Yes, it’s worth beating that damn horse into a jelly, because this simple point still seems to be missed.

    I do apologize for the comment problem. Why not register for a waka waka waka account? Then you don’t have to go through that rigamarole. I should mention that in a post, too. I think I will. You can sign up here.

    Posted January 4, 2008 at 11:23 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *