The Morality of the Christian God

Exploring morality in scripture and Christian history

Abrahamic religion, you know, the one with the cross...

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The Morality of the Christian God

#1  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 7:54 am

The topic of the morality of God in the Hebrew scriptures came up in another thread and Moses de la Montagne suggested we have a general thread entitled "The Morality of the Christian God" exploring morality in scripture and Christian history, which I imagine could turn into a long and wide-ranging thread, if people are interested.

I said I would kick off with one the areas I find most difficult and that is with the treatment of peoples such as the Canaanites in the Hebrew scriptures.

To put my cards on the table (in case it helps anyone understand my perspective) - I am a Christian, believing that Jesus, the Christ, was God-incarnate, come to bring the new Kingdom with Him. I treat scripture as inspired, though I see it as coming through the colouring lens of the minds and words of men. I do not see the Bible as akin to how Muslims see the Q'ran (as the dictated word of God). I see the 'Church', the body of believers, as the fallible, and often weak, followers of Christ, always being called onward to better understand and follow Jesus. If anyone is into their Christian theology then you'll find me allied more to the 'Christus victor' and 'Moral influence' schools of atonement rather than the more popular (in the West) "Penal substitution" or "Satisfaction/Substitutionary" schools of atonement.

So onto the passage that I will discuss as a starting point for conversation....

Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite, the Canaanite and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that they may not teach you to do according to all their detestable things which they have done for their gods, so that you would sin against the Lord your God. (Deut. 20:16–18)


So how might a Christian look on this passages? Or perhaps more accurately, how do I look at this passage? Let me consider a few angles, borrowing quite a bit from the thoughtful book "Is God a moral monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God" by Paul Copan (Baker Publishing Group).

1) What is the meta-narrative in which we find this passage?

When considering anything in scripture I always first remember the meta-narrative of scripture. I’m not going to go in depth at all, but let me just say that the meta-narrative is that God creates, man rebels, and God enters into creation in the person of Jesus Christ in order to redeem a fallen world. God, in Jesus, stands in the path of violence and returns it with blessing and a call for forgiveness. He leads the way of a path of love, sacrifice and forgiveness. I hold on to this larger narrative when looking at other passages.

2) Did God command xenophobic ethnic cleansing?

According to Richard Dawkins, the killing of the Canaanites was an act of ethnic cleansing in which “bloodthirsty massacres” were carried out with “xenophobic relish.” So is God xenophobic, demanding ethnic cleansing? When we look at wider scripture I would say ‘no’. There are many passages in Deuteronomy itself about welcoming foreigners, giving them the same rights as the Jews, and it is clear that within ‘Israel’ (the people) there were a mixture of races. Indeed in the proclaimed genealogy of Jesus we have the foreigners Ruth, Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba. God had promised to bless "all the families of the Earth" through Abraham (Gen 12:3), so clearly God is not against those outside of Israel just because they are ‘foreigners’. Indeed at other times Israel herself are the ones expelled from the promised land - God does not favour Israel indiscriminately.

So why the extreme measures against those currently in Canaan. The view of scripture was that the evil of the people had been growing – earlier the people had been spared because “the sin of the Amorite [a Canaanite people group] has not yet reached its limit” (Gen. 15:16). But these people, we are told, were a people who sacrificed children to their God (Lev 18:20-30).

I find this harsh judgement against people difficult, even against evil people, but perhaps I am biased because I have led a soft life. Here is an extract from Paul Copan’s "Is God a Moral Monster?"

Yale theologian Miroslav Volf was born in Croatia and lived through the nightmare years of ethnic strife in the former Yugoslavia that included the destruction of churches, the raping of women, and the murdering of innocents. He once thought that wrath and anger were beneath God, but he came to realize that his view of God had been too low.

Here Volf puts the New Atheists’ complaints about divine wrath into proper perspective:

I used to think that wrath was unworthy of God. Isn’t God love? Shouldn’t divine love be beyond wrath? God is love, and God loves every person and every creature. That’s exactly why God is wrathful against some of them. My last resistance to the idea of God’s wrath was a casualty of the war in the former Yugoslavia, the region from which I come. According to some estimates, 200,000 people were killed and over 3,000,000 were displaced. My villages and cities were destroyed, my people shelled day in and day out, some of them brutalized beyond imagination, and I could not imagine God not being angry. Or think of Rwanda in the last decade of the past century, where 800,000 people were hacked to death in one hundred days! How did God react to the carnage? By doting on the perpetrators in a grandfatherly fashion? By refusing to condemn the bloodbath but instead affirming the perpetrators’ basic goodness? Wasn’t God fiercely angry with them? Though I used to complain about the indecency of the idea of God’s wrath, I came to think that I would have to rebel against a God who wasn’t wrathful at the sight of the world’s evil. God isn’t wrathful in spite of being love. God is wrathful because God is love.


Perhaps wrath against utter evil is right? It’s a view I find challenging, but I can see merit in it. Could it be that the Canaanites had passed the point of no return in this life? Perhaps I try to make God too ‘tame’, too ‘gentle’ when actually evil sometimes requires a stronger response.

3) Men, women and children? All destroyed?

Paul Copan puts forward an argument that the passages describing the warfare against the Canaanites uses a form of writing common at the time, a form using hyperbole. Copan argues that it is clear the language is one of hyperbole by looking elsewhere in scripture where we find that the people ‘utterly destroyed’ are actually still living in Israel. ‘Men, women and children’ he suggests is a dramatic way of saying ‘all’ or 'many' when the same scripture has those people recurring in scripture and clear examples of women, such as Canaanite Rahab, who play a role in the redemptive plan. Indeed Jesus himself uses a Canaanite woman to teach that faith trumps ethnicity (Matt 15:22-28), so we know the Canaanites were still around, and were blessed by Jesus when they put their faith in Him.

Copan gives other contemporary examples of similar styles of warfare writing, and suggests we must read the scriptural passages with this style of literature in mind...

* Egypt’s Tuthmosis III (later fifteenth century) boasted that “the numerous army of Mitanni was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) not existent.” In fact, Mitanni’s forces lived on to fight in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BC.

* Hittite king Mursilli II (who ruled from 1322–1295 BC) recorded making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).”

* The “Bulletin” of Ramses II tells of Egypt’s less-than-spectacular victories in Syria (around 1274 BC). Nevertheless, he announces that he slew “the entire force” of the Hittites, indeed “all the chiefs of all the countries,” disregarding the “millions of foreigners,” which he considered “chaff.”

* In the Merneptah Stele (ca. 1230 BC), Rameses II’s son Merneptah announced, “Israel is wasted, his seed is not,” another premature declaration.

*Moab’s king Mesha (840/830 BC) bragged that the Northern Kingdom of “Israel has utterly perished for always,” which was over a century premature. The Assyrians devastated Israel in 722 BC.

* The Assyrian ruler Sennacherib (701–681 BC) used similar hyperbole: “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.”[/list]

4) A prescriptive example?

Some over the years have justified battle based on the battles passages in scripture. This, I would suggest, is to confuse the “descriptive” with the “prescriptive”. Rob Bell in his book “What we talk about when we talk about God” keeps coming back to the phrase “God is with us, God is for us, God is ahead of us”. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, similarly, in his series “Covenant & Conversation” argues that man is progressively recovering the ideal that God showed the Jews in the Sabbath. What may be necessary in one time may be utterly inappropriate at another. The bronze age world of the middle east was clearly a violent place with many ‘King’ warriors and tribal conflicts. If warfare was needed at that time to secure a place for the people of Israel then Israel is called to subsequently set the example of welcoming strangers (though not embracing any sinful ways). Today many understand the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah not as a sexual sin per se, but as an example of the antithesis of welcoming the stranger. Moses calls on the people of Israel “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Ex 22:21).

5) Do we see the whole story?

A fundamental belief of Christians is that life continues after this life. In Jesus’s narrative of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) Lazarus, who had a poor life, is seen being comforted. Old wounds are being soothed and healed. Warfare always seems to carry the risk of injuring innocents, but I trust God will soothe and heal misfortune in life hereafter with him. The narrative of Job is concerned with how we deal with suffering that we cannot understand. Job’s ‘comforters’ that Job’s suffering must be punishment for something he has done wrong. Job, and the reader, know otherwise. But the reason for the suffering is never explained to Job – he is called to trust God and not think that he (Job) himself can understand all that goes on. A cop out? I would say ‘no’ – it is a reminder that we haven’t seen the full picture yet, just as a young child does not understand why her parent has handed her over to have a needle plunged into her arm.

6) A last bit of final personal reflection (at least for now).

I describe myself as a pacifist. I believe Jesus ushered in a new Kingdom based on His example of standing in the path of violence and returning it with forgiveness and blessing. I struggle with the warfare passages in the Hebrew scriptures. I don’t see them as xenophobic genocide, for the reasons given above (God is against sin, not ethnicity, and Israel were sometimes at the sharp end of that). I view these passages as probably using a good deal of hyperbole, and also as somehow necessary for their time. The evangelist John teaches that ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22) so Israel was needed to bless ‘all families of the Earth’. No Israel, no Jesus, no new Kingdom, no salvation. But where I do struggle personally is with the questions “Did it need to be that way at that time? Couldn't another way have been better?”. To be honest I can’t say I fully understand the ‘why?’ (though the thoughts outlined above have helped me somewhat). But I do trust that God is good.

In peace,

Micahel
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#2  Postby Briton » Aug 19, 2013 8:02 am

Michael66 wrote: I am a Christian...


How did you come to be a follower of that particular cult?
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#3  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Aug 19, 2013 8:58 am

You might want to watch this:
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#4  Postby zoon » Aug 19, 2013 9:00 am

Michael66 wrote:The topic of the morality of God in the Hebrew scriptures came up in another thread and Moses de la Montagne suggested we have a general thread entitled "The Morality of the Christian God" exploring morality in scripture and Christian history, which I imagine could turn into a long and wide-ranging thread, if people are interested.

I said I would kick off with one the areas I find most difficult and that is with the treatment of peoples such as the Canaanites in the Hebrew scriptures.

….

6) A last bit of final personal reflection (at least for now).

I describe myself as a pacifist. I believe Jesus ushered in a new Kingdom based on His example of standing in the path of violence and returning it with forgiveness and blessing. I struggle with the warfare passages in the Hebrew scriptures. I don’t see them as xenophobic genocide, for the reasons given above (God is against sin, not ethnicity, and Israel were sometimes at the sharp end of that). So I view these passages as probably using a good deal of hyperbole, and also as somehow necessary for their time. The evangelist John teaches that ‘Salvation is of the Jews’ (John 4:22) so Israel was needed to bless ‘all families of the Earth’. No Israel, no Jesus, no new Kingdom, no salvation. Where I struggle personally is with the question “did it need to be that way at that time?”. To be honest I can’t say I fully understand the ‘why?’ (though the thoughts outlined above have helped me somewhat). But I do trust that God is good.

In peace,

Micahel

I also struggle with my beliefs about morality, but from almost the opposite perspective. I think (I hope, on the evidence) that humans evolved like all other living things, with each individual “designed” by natural selection to maximise their own inclusive fitness. I also think there is evidence that human cooperation and morality evolved in the context of warfare between groups. These basic beliefs of mine give no reason for condemning the behaviour of the ancient Israelites, they were committing genocide and arguing that their god told them to do it, like most other successful groups at the time. My problem is, rather, to know how to respond to this kind of behaviour in the modern world, as in the ghastly recent events in the former Yugoslavia which you describe.

As I see it, the modern world differs from that described in the Old Testament in that we have global communication and weapons of mass destruction, so it makes sense, from the viewpoint of most individuals’ inclusive fitness including mine, to minimise the chances of all-out warfare, which would probably greatly reduce human flourishing. In Old Testament times a local flare-up like the one in Yugoslavia would not have been known to most of the outside world, it would probably only have been remembered by the winners, as a well-deserved victory in a morally just war. Now, it’s reported in real time, and has the potential to spread globally, and even for people who are not directly involved the atrocities which reduce the potential for a lasting peace become a danger which may well be worth minimising if possible, perhaps by sending in outside troops or by threatening sanctions.

Both Christianity and evolution have been used to argue in favour of almost any kind of behaviour, from genocide to determined pacifism even in the face of advancing tyranny. Christianity became important in the context of the Roman Empire, which encompassed most of the known world at the time, and it is a religion which preaches (if it does not always practice) universal peace. Evolution has become a standard set of beliefs (based on evidence) at a time when we need to cooperate globally or fry, and those of us who want to stay within the evidence need to accept that there’s nothing ultimately immoral about warfare or even atrocities, but that at the same time we need to actively prevent both as far as possible if we are to survive.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#5  Postby Animavore » Aug 19, 2013 9:10 am

Michael66 wrote:So why the extreme measures against those currently in Canaan. The view of scripture was that the evil of the people had been growing – earlier the people had been spared because “the sin of the Amorite [a Canaanite people group] has not yet reached its limit” (Gen. 15:16). But these people, we are told, were a people who sacrificed children to their God (Lev 18:20-30).

I find this harsh judgement against people difficult, even against evil people, but perhaps I am biased because I have led a soft life. Here is an extract from Paul Copan’s "Is God a Moral Monster?"


Thankfully the archaeological evidence suggests that such a genocide never happened. That the Canaanites seem to have been subsumed into Judaism. That the exodus never happened or that Moses never existed. And that these stories seemed to have been folk legend invented by people who wanted give reason as to why there were old Canaanite ruins.

But even had they existed pointing out that the Bible, hardly an unbiased source, says that they were "evil" and that they "sacrificed children" holds as much water as "blood libel".
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#6  Postby Thomas Eshuis » Aug 19, 2013 9:12 am

Not to mention that killing the children of a people who sacrificed them, hardly puts you in a morally superior position.
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#7  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 11:16 am

zoon wrote:I also struggle with my beliefs about morality, but from almost the opposite perspective. I think (I hope, on the evidence) that humans evolved like all other living things, with each individual “designed” by natural selection to maximise their own inclusive fitness. I also think there is evidence that human cooperation and morality evolved in the context of warfare between groups. These basic beliefs of mine give no reason for condemning the behaviour of the ancient Israelites, they were committing genocide and arguing that their god told them to do it, like most other successful groups at the time. My problem is, rather, to know how to respond to this kind of behaviour in the modern world, as in the ghastly recent events in the former Yugoslavia which you describe.

As I see it, the modern world differs from that described in the Old Testament in that we have global communication and weapons of mass destruction, so it makes sense, from the viewpoint of most individuals’ inclusive fitness including mine, to minimise the chances of all-out warfare, which would probably greatly reduce human flourishing. In Old Testament times a local flare-up like the one in Yugoslavia would not have been known to most of the outside world, it would probably only have been remembered by the winners, as a well-deserved victory in a morally just war. Now, it’s reported in real time, and has the potential to spread globally, and even for people who are not directly involved the atrocities which reduce the potential for a lasting peace become a danger which may well be worth minimising if possible, perhaps by sending in outside troops or by threatening sanctions.

Both Christianity and evolution have been used to argue in favour of almost any kind of behaviour, from genocide to determined pacifism even in the face of advancing tyranny. Christianity became important in the context of the Roman Empire, which encompassed most of the known world at the time, and it is a religion which preaches (if it does not always practice) universal peace. Evolution has become a standard set of beliefs (based on evidence) at a time when we need to cooperate globally or fry, and those of us who want to stay within the evidence need to accept that there’s nothing ultimately immoral about warfare or even atrocities, but that at the same time we need to actively prevent both as far as possible if we are to survive.


Thanks for your thoughtful reply Zoon. Do you really see morality as just about survival of the species? The sense I get from your reference to Yugoslavia is that there was something really "wrong" that occurred there. here seems to be a 'moral compass' in many people, though I can see how anybody growing up in a war zone can be quite significantly affected by their experiences - maybe recognising the horror and being determined not to repeat it, or maybe consumed with the need for vengeful justice. I guess the bigger question is whether we can all, together, find some common grounding for morality. Perhaps that is a wish too far.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#8  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 11:27 am

Animavore wrote:Thankfully the archaeological evidence suggests that such a genocide never happened. That the Canaanites seem to have been subsumed into Judaism. That the exodus never happened or that Moses never existed. And that these stories seemed to have been folk legend invented by people who wanted give reason as to why there were old Canaanite ruins.

But even had they existed pointing out that the Bible, hardly an unbiased source, says that they were "evil" and that they "sacrificed children" holds as much water as "blood libel".


Hi Animavore,

Yes, your first point pretty much repeats point #3 in the OP. The bible itself repeatedly points to the Canaanites and other peoples continuing to co-exist in Palestine, hence (in part) Copan's conclusion that military narratives use hyperbole. Though as for whether the Jews were in, and came out of Egypt, that is perhaps another topic though I would find it a little surprising if such an important founding narrative in Judaism had no basis in truth. Slavery and exodus seemed to shape the Jewish nation to a very considerable degree - could it really have never happened? I think given how much it shaped the Jews (it was/is still echoing through into Christianity) I would need to see some pretty compelling evidence to believe there wasn't any truth in it, but that's just me.

Your second point is reasonable, though I would say perhaps outside the topic of looking at the morality of the Christian God as described in the bible.

As ever, in peace,

Michael
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#9  Postby zulumoose » Aug 19, 2013 11:28 am

I guess the bigger question is whether we can all, together, find some common grounding for morality. Perhaps that is a wish too far.


Common ground would have to start with agreement on what is totally unacceptable, and how can that be possible if a large percentage of people think absolute moral standards are set by an invisible being whose standards apparently involve wholesale slaughter of populations, sometimes getting the 'moral' populations to do all the slaughtering on his behalf?
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#10  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 11:32 am

Thomas Eshuis wrote:You might want to watch this: .....


Hi Thomas

Yes, the full film is very worth watching (you also get the defense 'side' of the trial which, together, I think gives a better picture than just looking at the 'prosecution'). Did you know that in the real event (the play was based on fact) the Jews followed the 'trial' by going to worship God? We see this also in the psalms - the psalmist crying out against God about why He is not doing anything, only then to return to praising God. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks makes the point that the Jews have always felt that they must cry out to God when they don't think justice is being done (in Abraham even Sodom and Gomorrah had an advocate, see Gen 18:16-33), and that doing such is part of their strong commitment to justice. It is something we perhaps have lost a little of in the Christian tradition, even though the psalms play such an important part in our worship.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#11  Postby chairman bill » Aug 19, 2013 11:39 am

I'm a slaphead. If children laughed at my bald head, and they have done, the last thing I'd do is look for a couple of bears to tear them apart. God seems to think that bears tearing apart children is a fair response, in certain circumstances. I think it quite immoral.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#12  Postby Animavore » Aug 19, 2013 11:39 am

Michael66 wrote:Yes, your first point pretty much repeats point #3 in the OP. The bible itself repeatedly points to the Canaanites and other peoples continuing to co-exist in Palestine, hence (in part) Copan's conclusion that military narratives use hyperbole. Though as for whether the Jews were in, and came out of Egypt, that is perhaps another topic though I would find it a little surprising if such an important founding narrative in Judaism had no basis in truth. Slavery and exodus seemed to shape the Jewish nation to a very considerable degree - could it really have never happened? I think given how much it shaped the Jews (it was/is still echoing through into Christianity) I would need to see some pretty compelling evidence to believe there wasn't any truth in it, but that's just me.


In The Bible Unearthed one hypothesis, which sounded reasonable, was that the Jews may actually have been Canaanites who, after an economic disaster, ended up dispossessed and living in dwellings, shanty towns if you will, on the outskirts of Judea. There was something about the root of the word 'Jew' (in it's original form) having something to do with a derogatory term (like 'white trash'). Unfortunately I'm a bit hazy on it now.
Anyway there is no evidence for contemporary sources, nor from archaeology, that an exodus of the scale described in the Bible ever took place. Whether there is 'some' truth in it I'm not sure but if slavery have shaped the Jewish nation it might be because of things happening at the time the books were written rather than any previous history. Israel was captured and enslaved a few times by various peoples like Babylonians and Romans, for instance. Myths usually reflect and are influenced by society, not the other way around.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#13  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 11:53 am

Myths usually reflect and are influenced by society, not the other way around.


Yes, and that is the point I was trying to make (perhaps clumsily). It seems much more likely to me that the Jews did have history of slavery by Egyptians (with any 'mythology' developing from that) than the Jews shaping a mythology of Egyptian slavery themselves.

As for the etymology of 'Jew' - as you know the usual understanding is that it comes from Judah - the people associated with the tribe of Judah (y'hūdāh, or Yehuda), with Judea being the Kingdom of Judah ("Mamlekhet Yehuda"), though the Anglicized word seems to go back only the about the 13th century (in a Passion narrative in Old English).
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#14  Postby Precambrian Rabbi » Aug 19, 2013 11:58 am

Michael66 wrote:. So why the extreme measures against those currently in Canaan. The view of scripture was that the evil of the people had been growing – earlier the people had been spared because “the sin of the Amorite [a Canaanite people group] has not yet reached its limit” (Gen. 15:16). But these people, we are told, were a people who sacrificed children to their God (Lev 18:20-30).

I find this harsh judgement against people difficult, even against evil people, but perhaps I am biased because I have led a soft life.

Or, perhaps, you are more loving, empathetic, and forgiving than God.

Or, perhaps, you are more loving, empathetic, and forgiving than a bronze-aged tribe living in a dangerous and violently competitive world would want to believe their god and protector to be.

On a slightly different note, I find any attempt at validation of such stories on the basis that the "other" people were so evil/unnatural/inhuman/ungodly that they deserved everything they got, hugely, hugely, troubling. I think, if there is anything that truly contends for the rather ambiguous title of 'evil', it resides within the classification of people into groups that are either worthy or unworthy of compassion. Precisely as the horrible stories you have adopted can be, and have been, used to justify.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#15  Postby Animavore » Aug 19, 2013 12:01 pm

Michael66 wrote:
Myths usually reflect and are influenced by society, not the other way around.


Yes, and that is the point I was trying to make (perhaps clumsily). It seems much more likely to me that the Jews did have history of slavery by Egyptians (with any 'mythology' developing from that) than the Jews shaping a mythology of Egyptian slavery themselves.

As for the etymology of 'Jew' - as you know the usual understanding is that it comes from Judah - the people associated with the tribe of Judah (Yehuda), with Judea being the Kingdom of Judah ("Mamlekhet Yehuda"), though the Anglicized word seems to go back only the about the 13th century (in a Passion narrative in Old English).


It might not of been "Jew". Maybe "hebrew" I'm thinking of. Unfortunately I no longer have the book.
The Jews may of had a history of slavery or at least oppression with Egyptians outside of Egypt, I think a part of Judah was an Egyptian outpost at one stage, but the whole story about this unnamed 'Pharaoh' and how they 'one-upped' him sounds to me like inflated folk-legend not much different to some of our Irish legends like that of Fionn mac Cumhaill or Cú Chulainn.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#16  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 12:51 pm

Precambrian Rabbi wrote:On a slightly different note, I find any attempt at validation of such stories on the basis that the "other" people were so evil/unnatural/inhuman/ungodly that they deserved everything they got, hugely, hugely, troubling. I think, if there is anything that truly contends for the rather ambiguous title of 'evil', it resides within the classification of people into groups that are either worthy or unworthy of compassion. Precisely as the horrible stories you have adopted can be, and have been, used to justify.


Hi Precambrian Rabbi,

I'm actually pretty sympathetic to all of that. But perhaps there are people or groups at times who are really evil. I find that a challenge to my pacifist views, and yet I see such a common problem of violence (even if 'justified' as necessary) begetting violence (and i seems to me that Jesus was ushering in a new Kingdom where such reciprocal violence would cease).

I also agree with your second point, and do recognize that has been a problem in the Christian faith at times.
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#17  Postby Precambrian Rabbi » Aug 19, 2013 1:42 pm

Michael66 wrote: But perhaps there are people or groups at times who are really evil. I find that a challenge to my pacifist views...

This illustrates a point that I find superficially irritating and, on another level, profoundly disturbing. You recognise that your natural compassion and empathy is in conflict with the assertion that there are entire groups of people that are so irredeemably evil that they cannot be reasoned with, taught, negotiated with, cajoled, tolerated, or suffered to live, and yet you insist that it must be your compassion at fault and in moral inferiority to the blood thirsty power-political legends of violent, semi-literate bronze-age nomads. Because... well, I really don't know why.

There is a reason why you struggle to square the acceptance that genocide, rape, brutalisation and infanticide are actually more moral - more loving! - than tolerance, compassion and empathy. There is a reason why that feels wrong.

If convincing people that their natural revulsion to genocide, their natural empathy for other people, is wrong and must be suppressed in order that they may obediently visit the worst atrocities upon the their fellow human beings, is the loving act of a moral god, what is there left for the devil to do?
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#18  Postby Animavore » Aug 19, 2013 1:50 pm

Precambrian Rabbi wrote:...what is there left for the devil to do?


Why what he has always done, old boy. Teach people to rebel from and disobey this tyrannical monster and think for themselves Image
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#19  Postby Michael66 » Aug 19, 2013 2:15 pm

Precambrian Rabbi wrote:
Michael66 wrote: But perhaps there are people or groups at times who are really evil. I find that a challenge to my pacifist views...

This illustrates a point that I find superficially irritating and, on another level, profoundly disturbing. You recognise that your natural compassion and empathy is in conflict with the assertion that there are entire groups of people that are so irredeemably evil that they cannot be reasoned with, taught, negotiated with, cajoled, tolerated, or suffered to live, and yet you insist that it must be your compassion at fault and in moral inferiority to the blood thirsty power-political legends of violent, semi-literate bronze-age nomads. Because... well, I really don't know why.

There is a reason why you struggle to square the acceptance that genocide, rape, brutalisation and infanticide are actually more moral - more loving! - than tolerance, compassion and empathy. There is a reason why that feels wrong.

If convincing people that their natural revulsion to genocide, their natural empathy for other people, is wrong and must be suppressed in order that they may obediently visit the worst atrocities upon the their fellow human beings, is the loving act of a moral god, what is there left for the devil to do?


Well, the issue, I think, is one many might find easy, but for perhaps the opposite reason to which you allude. If you have a chance to stop a multiple killer by killing him, do you do it? Many would say 'yes' - that is just reason and it is a simple choice. As a pacifist I say 'no', but I recognize the difficulty of that position. The vast majority of people support 'just war', accepting that combatants on the other side (who may simply have the misfortune to be conscripted to their national militia) will be killed, and even some civilians. People thought Dresden was justified, and the same with Hiroshima, on the basis that they would help bring about an end to the just war. Those that stood against the violence were imprisoned. Those of us who stand against all violence are in a very small minority.

So I think we need to be careful about painting this as a simple problem. I don't think it is. How much force was/is it acceptable to use to protect the Jews from the Nazis? I come from a straight pacifist angle (no war/killing in any circumstances; civil disobedience only) but I don't pretend I think that's a neat answer with no associated problems (it worked in giving India emancipation from the British Empire, but I somehow doubt it would have worked against the Third Reich; maybe if my preferred way were followed there would be no Jews).

Anyway, that's just how I see it - I do struggle with if/when violence is acceptable, though have ultimately (and only very slowly) come down on the side of total non-violence in any circumstance. I believe that is the New Kingdom, even though people would necessarily have to die for it (though they wouldn't kill for it).

In peace,

Michael
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Re: The Morality of the Christian God

#20  Postby Precambrian Rabbi » Aug 19, 2013 2:23 pm

Animavore wrote:
Precambrian Rabbi wrote:...what is there left for the devil to do?


Why what he has always done, old boy. Teach people to rebel from and disobey this tyrannical monster and think for themselves Image

Whispering evil ideas of subversion in people's ears -
:whisper: "Abe, don't do it, Abe. Killing innocent children is bad. I know that sounds crazy but think about it - how would you like it if someone killed you for no reason, just because they'd heard some James Mason-like voice in their head? I know, I know... 'Just following orders' it seems like such a convincing moral argument but let me tell you, in a couple of thousand years, I'm gonna've used my evil influence to fuck that defence up for good. Think about, Abe, how much better the world would be if everyone treated each other how they themselves would... hmm... actually, forget that train of thought - it feels like I might be running into an obvious internal contradiction. (Perhaps the time has come for me to invent Theology.(Or would that be a good thing (in the particular frame of reference of this story) that I should be opposing? (It all gets so horribly confused and incoherent. (Perhaps the time has come for me to invent Theology)...))

Anyway, in the meantime, just concentrate on the part about being horribly disobedient, evil, ungodly and unloving by refusing to kill children. Tell you what - If you're really evil and manage not to kill, maim, or rape anybody for, let's say, two pages, I'll see what I can do about that whole chopping off the end of your knob thing"
Last edited by Precambrian Rabbi on Aug 19, 2013 2:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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