Do As Jesus Says, Not As He Does…

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • shane

    There’s no inconsistency here. To illustrate why, suppose I am an adult who likes beer and I’ve got a teenage son. The boy asks for a beer and I tell him he may not have one and so he accuses me of hypocrisy and inconsistency. He’s wrong. The reason he may not have a beer is that he is immature and his self-control is wobbly, which makes it likely he will overindulge and be sick later. In fact, as a wise and loving father, I know that the potential drawbacks for his drinking outweigh any potential benefits he might enjoy, and so, out of love, I forbid him. But I suffer none of those same limitations (let us say). I’m mature; my character is well-formed; and I’m not in danger of overindulgence. Hence, there is no reason for me not to have a beer. But the reason I can have one and he can’t is because he and I are different in the salient respects.

    Now, in general God is different than human in salient respects, and so he is not bound by the commandments he orders human creatures to obey. So, for instance, we normal people are commanded not to judge one another because we are finite beings who are neither omniscient nor absolutely good and hence our judgment is liable to be erroneous and unjust. But this doesn’t imply that God is being inconsistent when He judges someone–precisely because God does not suffer the limitations that judgment problematic for us.

    Just like the father who drinks isn’t being inconsistent to forbid his teenage son from drinking, so too God who judges justly isn’t being inconsistent to forbid us humans from judging one another.

    • George

      Shane is completely right. God is not subject to the same rules as man, as witnessed throughout the bible. Man is told not to kill. God does this with reckless abandon. No man would be judged as good who permitted slavery. God says that slavery is A.O.K.
      We would probably harshly judge a leader who commanded his people to kill children, the elderly and take women as sex slaves. God thinks this is a keen idea.
      God does not need to live within our moral boundaries, or within His own, because He is GOD! Just like your dad gets to play by whatever rules he wants because he is your DAD!
      In both cases you are under his roof and you’ll do what he says.

  • shane

    Hi George,

    I’m not sure what exactly your objection is here.

    In father/son example it is not just because the father is the father that he can have a beer and the child cannot. There is morally salient difference between the two of them that makes the action appropriate for the former and not the latter. For the sake of keeping clear on our terms let’s say some difference D between two people A and B is ‘morally salient’ if and only if there is some action C such that it is good for A to do C, but bad for B to do C because of D. So, the difference between the father and the son is their maturity, and this difference is morally salient to the action of beer drinking because the lack of maturity in the son makes it bad for him to drink, but there is no corresponding lack in the father, hence there is no reason to think that drinking is bad for the father. Examples of morally salient differences like these are easy to find.

    For example, suppose that I were married. Then it would be good for me to sleep with my wife and bad for you to do so because there’s a morally salient difference between us; I’m married to her and you aren’t.

    I think that the differences between our knowledge and God’s and our frailty and God’s are almost always morally salient differences in this sense and so the fact that God forbids humans to perform a certain action, for instance, gives us no prima facie reason to think that God himself should refrain from doing so.

    None of this implies, of course, that God’s actions are arbitrary or capricious, of course, which may be what is worrying you. That is something of a different discussion, but I would be happy to say something about it if you’d like me to.

  • George

    I do agree with the logic of your first post and perhaps the last few lines made that a little ambiguous. I was pointing out that the “do as I say, not as I do” rule extends to those things which are not morally salient and this example makes it easy to shrug off critism of the bible.
    I would definatly be interested in hearing from an intelligent, informed Christian as to why the non-morally salient actions are perfectly acceptable for a diety and not for his flock. I was a very comitted Christian for some time and was never afforded an explanation I felt was sufficient; every time I asked questions to get deeper into the discussion we always got to a point where I was asked to just accept something without question. This is one of the many reasons I left the church and is certainly a good reason why I and many other atheists seem to have a bitter taste in our mouths.
    The additional reason I really dislike this bible passage is that Ray Comfort likes to conflate anger and murder and this is a passage he uses along with 1John 3:15 to conflate the two.