Moral Guidance From God’s Law In The Bible

A video for sharing with your Christian friends as a (difficult) conversation starter…

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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.

  • Loyal Hall

    Militaristic non-Christians often seize upon the many difficult passages where God is condoning morally repugnant acts. However, I believe that this is done without taking into account the broader scope of the Bible and human history. (It also ignores the incredible focus on social justice- taking care of those who were powerless, such as widows, orphans, and aliens, and redistribution of wealth through the year of jubilee to prevent chronic generational poverty.)

    God takes a primitive and brutal society and begins the process of bringing them into line with His original design for creation. Those morally repugnant commands can often be explained as modification of common practices into something more in line with God.

    Take the example of the rapist of a virgin be required to pay a severe fine and marry the woman. If an unmarried woman was raped, she would be considered unmarriable. A single woman could not support herself in that society and would be a social outcast. The requirement that a stiff fine be paid served as a deterrent and restitution to the offended family and the marriage of the woman (in a time when very few married for love, but by arrangement) guaranteed that the woman would live a life of less suffering. The law took a bad situation and made the best of it.

    God was not content to leave His people in that moral situation. Saving His children may have started with revealing himself, providing land, and giving a rudimentary code of law to a bunch of shepherds in the middle east, but it did not end there. It was a process.

    In Jesus, the process continues. He taught things like (I am paraphrasing here), You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ [equitable justice], but I tell you to love your enemies and do good to those who do evil to you so that you may be like your father in heaven who loves all his children. And he taught that you have heard that it was said ‘whoever divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce’ [he could not remarry her later, this prevented capriciousness and gave some measure of security to women], but I tell you that you were given this law because your hearts were hard (Matt 19:8, Mark 10:5); Divorce is not for your convenience but because of to take into account that this world is screwed up and your spouse may at some point refuse to keep the covenant of marriage. God joined you together, you should not tear yourselves apart.

    Later, as God’s saving work progressed into non-Jewish areas, God taught though Peter and Paul that His children were not only Jews, but all people. The work of breaking down ethnic and cultural barriers began.

    We have seen hints of Gods longer-term goals throughout the Bible. His desire for all humanity to know him is demonstrated when Elijah took care of a non-Jewish widow during a famine, the inclusion of Rehab (a non-Jewish prostitute) and Ruth (a non-Jew) in the lineage of King David and Jesus, the sending of Jonah to preach to the Assyrians, Jesus’ healing of the Roman centurion’s servant, and many others.

    The use of God’s early efforts to move the moral center of a barbaric society as evidence for a bad God ignores His overall work.