Inexplicable Justice

“Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mold me Man? Did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me, or here place
In this delicious Garden? As my will
Concurred not to my being, it were but right
And equal to reduce me to my dust,
Desirous to resign and render back
All I received, unable to perform
Thy term too hard, by which I was to hold
The good I sought not. To the loss of that,
Sufficient penalty, why hast thou added
The sense of endless woes? Inexplicable
Thy justice seems.”

Paradise Lost, Book X

“…it is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

—Lord Chief Justice Hewart, opinion in R. v. Sussex Justices, Ex parte McCarthy (1924)

The first quote above comes from the scene in Paradise Lost where Adam and Eve are being driven from the Garden of Eden for their sin. As they’re cast out, God transforms the Earth from its original paradisical state into a ruined, fallen world – creating scorching summers and freezing winters, pestilent swamps and glooms, introducing death and setting all living things to kill each other in a perpetual war of predation. Seeing this curse take effect, Adam wonders why his sin has brought down such punishment on the innocent planet and on all his future descendants: “Why should all mankind, for one man’s fault, thus guiltless be condemned?”

Granted, the text does slip in a self-justifying apologetic – having Adam acknowledge that his act means that all his descendants will be as corrupt and sinful as him. But again, why should this be the case? Morality is not Lamarckian: what we choose has no necessary connection to the character of our descendants. Criminals do not always beget criminal progeny, nor do law-abiding citizens invariably give birth to the same. Adam and Eve were not genetic engineers, to rewire their own genomes to affect their descendants in this way. If original sin gave rise to a sinful race, who could be the architect of such a change but God? If he hates sin so much, why would he work a change that would ensure a vastly greater amount of it would be produced? And how could it be just for him to cause humanity to be sinful and then punish us severely for being what he created us to be? This is truly, as John Milton put it, “inexplicable justice”.

But as the famous legal saying goes, it is not just important but is of fundamental importance that justice should be seen to be done. Part of what makes a decision just is that all people, including the recipient, see and understand the connection between the act committed and the reward or punishment accrued. If that connection is broken, so that rewards and punishments arrive seemingly at random with no discernible connection to a person’s actions, then how can anyone know which deeds they should or should not commit? If there is no clear link between what we do and what we receive in return, there can be neither moral learning for the agent nor deterrence or encouragement for others.

It follows, therefore, that “inexplicable justice” is not truly justice at all. Even if there’s a cosmic overseer counting up our merits and demerits and dispensing karma accordingly, if we do not know why these things are happening, then in fact we have not been treated justly. This argument applies to all the odious religious apologists who explain the natural disasters and catastrophes that afflict humanity as God’s justified punishment for our sin. Unless the connection between act and punishment is made clear and explicit – and it has not been, as much as some would like to pretend otherwise – then this theodicy cannot hold up.

The fact that inexplicable justice is a contradiction in terms also applies with a vengeance to another time-honored religious doctrine, the idea of Heaven and, especially, of Hell. As Greta Christina points out, the invisibility – the lack of evidence – of such a place makes it fundamentally unjust, even if it really exists. We cannot know for sure what actions will incur such a punishment, nor can we see others who’ve been sentenced to it. As a means of social control through fear, Hell is unfortunately very effective. But for this and many other reason, a means of justice is one thing it cannot possibly be.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Polly

    having Adam acknowledge that his act means that all his descendants will be as corrupt and sinful as him.

    For a time, when I was a true believer, I started to become convinced that bad behavior was genetic and that people were predisposed to being evil. My “reasoning” came straight from god’s curses on whole people’s sometimes centuries in advance. Since he knew they would turn out bad and since it was always the bad guys who’s descendants were getting cursed, there must be a genetic component. (obviously this had nothing to do with races of today since all those nations have long since disappeared) It made me think that people who are rotten were very likely to have rotten kids. I doubt most believers would take so much of their thinking from the bible, but if they are consistent, it should have effects like that.

    having Adam acknowledge that his act means that all his descendants will be as corrupt and sinful as him.

    You mean going around eating fruit? Monstrous! “Fruit” is “sex.” They were naked until they ate the fruit, the SERPENT tempted EVE! HELLLOOOOO?!

  • Polly

    I just noticed I quoted the same part of the OP twice. This should have been in place of the 1st quote:

    Morality is not Lamarckian: what we choose has no necessary connection to the character of our descendants. Criminals do not always beget criminal progeny, nor do law-abiding citizens invariably give birth to the same.

    That’s what reminded me of the bible’s “lamarckian” view of morality:

    Original sin

    Cursing whole peoples and their descendants – ie Canaanites, Perrizites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Amalekites, and others

    Moabites / Ammonites could NEVER enter the Temple congregation – does that mean they couldn’t be “saved”?

    Descendants of bastards couldn’t enter the congregation to the 10th generation

    A man with crushed testicles couldn’t serve as priest.

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    “God transforms the Earth from its original paradisical state into a ruined, fallen world – creating scorching summers and freezing winters, pestilent swamps and glooms…”

    He sent Adam and Eve to Minnesota?

    Sorry. A little punchy this morning. Five hours of sleep, again.

    Great post, as always. I’ve been bugged by the Adam and Eve story for years, for so many reasons. The thing that strikes me as seriously crazy — apart from, as you point out, the essential injustice of invisible punishment and condemning descendants for their ancestors’ behavior — is the whole “knowledge of good and evil” thing. Before Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, how were they supposed to know that eating the fruit was bad? As Nurse Ingrid keeps pointing out, they actually have the perfect insanity defense — they didn’t understand the difference between right and wrong.

    But of course, they were supposed to just do what God told them to do, without knowing why. That was the real sin — not disobedience per se, but thinking for themselves. Yet another case of the “blind faith good, independent thought bad” version of religion.

    And thanks for the link!

  • http://panicon4july.blogspot.com/ Will E.

    A great argument, one I’ve not run across before. Greta Christina’s piece is excellent as well.

    “And how could it be just for him to cause humanity to be sinful and then punish us severely for being what he created us to be?”

    This is usually where the apologist brings up “God wanted us to have free will and choose good over evil.” Well, so what? If God had created people without free will, we never would have known any other way. It wouldn’t have mattered. But don’t punish us for not choosing you–God is like an abusive partner: “See what you made me do?!” Anyway, free will is just so much hooey. The whole theology smacks of ad hoc reasoning. But of course you knew that.

    And can’t Adam’s lament be simplified to the frustrated teenager’s cry of “I didn’t ask to be born!!!”? Yes, yes it can.

  • http://grimrhapsody.wordpress.com Dawn Rhapsody

    Perhaps we should rename him Darth Jehovah. “Join me, or I will destroy your planet and inflict horrendous pain on you and all your descendants.” …on second thought, I’d rather have Vader as a god.

    Another disturbing thought is that the events that will ultimately cause the next huge natural disaster are already in place, thanks to God’s omniscience. “Professor, please turn off your tsunami warning system, I’m planning one to kill your sinful newborn baby son in a decade or so.”

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    I think the idea of justice has to be seen to be done is why you have loonies blaming 9/11 and Katrina on sinners. Yes, the connection is not clear and explicit, but what really is in religion? That’s not their game. Their game is to reinforce the faith in the herd and perhaps draw a few sitting on the fence into the fold. I don’t think it will ever end. I just heard last week some clown say that the US economy would go to shambles should the “In god we trust” be taken off the currency. I’ve heard that “under god” in the Pledge means god protects US soldiers in Iraq. Hell, they don’t care about clear and explicit connections, which is why I like to remind them that the middle class has shriveled up and we haven’t won a war since both of those sayings have been adopted. What’s good for the goose…

  • James Bradbury

    Perhaps we should rename him Darth Jehovah. “Join me, or I will destroy your planet and inflict horrendous pain on you and all your descendants.” …on second thought, I’d rather have Vader as a god.

    “I find your lack of faith disturbing” :-o

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    If there is a God, it is possible that God’s idea of justice differs from ours. Perhaps God has a different perspective. We are judging these things based on our concept of what “should” be. Perhaps God sees it differently.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    In that case, Matt, I have to wonder if “God’s idea of justice” bears any relationship to ours at all. If not, why use the same word? Why not just say “God has this weird idea of how things should be that will make no sense to you, but He’s God, so shut up”?

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org/ Ebonmuse

    If there is a God, it is possible that God’s idea of justice differs from ours.

    I actually have an upcoming post about this, but let me just make one point: If God’s idea of justice is completely different from ours, then isn’t it actually misleading to use the word “justice” to describe both ideas?

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Lynet,

    I suppose one could use any word that one would want to use. Perhaps a modifier such as “God’s Justice” would be appropriate. My point is that if there is a supreme being we cannot expect that that being will necessarily fit our idea of what we think that being should be. I also think that it is good for people to voice their ideas so I would not dream of imposing on you to “shut up”. This sort of discussion is healthy to help people make sense of the more illusive ideas in life.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Ebonmuse,

    Perhaps. As I suggested, a qualifier such as “God’s Justice” could be helpful. On the other hand, since such a thing is so hard to speak authoritatively on, this may not be useful.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Brock

    Once we start with how god’s ways are not our ways, and maybe he means something totally different when he speaks about justice, we’ve abandoned any hope of saying anything at all meaningful about god, in order to respond to questioners by continually falling back on the mysteriousness of god. At this point, I have to say, why bother. If we can’t know anything about god, isn’t that just another way of saying that if there is a god, then he’s totally irrelevant to the world and to us? Faith reduces under these circumstances to—ATHEISM!!! Welcome to the ranks, Matt!

  • Damien

    Once we start with how god’s ways are not our ways, and maybe he means something totally different when he speaks about justice, we’ve abandoned any hope of saying anything at all meaningful about god

    I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, Matt (and even more than that, I appreciate just how reasonable and polite you are in these discussions)…but I’m going to have to agree with Brock here. If we believe in a single, universal meaning for “justice”, then it has to be one that applies to everybody, from me to you to God. If not, then it’s just another case of somebody saying “I’m stronger than you so I make the rules, and I can change them whenever I like”.

    We don’t accept arbitrary rule from mere mortal dictators. Why should we accept it from the Author of Morality?

  • http://elliptica.blogspot.com Lynet

    Matt,

    I also think that it is good for people to voice their ideas so I would not dream of imposing on you to “shut up”.

    Sorry to mischaracterise you :-)

    Still, once you’ve said that we just don’t know what God’s ‘Justice’ would look like, there’s really not a lot we can say. And I still think calling it justice at all implies that it shares some kind of quality with our own justice: deterrence? revenge? fairness? anything that corresponds to anyone’s understanding of what justice is??

  • OMGF

    Instead of “god’s justice” we should call it “god’s sadism.”

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Brock,

    Thank you for the welcome, however I am a rather moderate person and would probably never make the leap, which for me would be rather audacious, to atheism. I am more likely to turn to a pensive agnosticism.

    Nevertheless, my point is that if there is a supreme being, one who does control everything, or who can do with us as that being sees fit, then it is more practical to determine that being’s idea of justice and fall in line than to hold to our own ideas. It is a question of self-preservation to a great degree.

    This is not an apologetic, but a reflection.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Damien,

    If we believe in a single, universal meaning for “justice”

    It is almost impossible to think that with the billions of people on our planet and the potential hordes elsewhere that a universal meaning for anything is impossible. If there is to be a standard to to adhere to, and if there is a supreme creator being, then it is most practical to adhere to that being’s definition.

    As I said to Brock, this is not an aplogetic, just a reflection. I have noticed that many arguments against God focus on differences between a given concept of something and God’s percieved view on it. If God is, in fact, there then our concept is trivial and we should defer to God’s concept out of practicality, I think.

    What God wants is another question and if you ask it of me, I will disappoint you.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Lynet,

    No sweat, no blood no foul. :).

    Regarding the unknown nature of God’s justice, that is a problem. If we want to adhere to a supreme creator’s ideas, we have to know what they are. I guess that is for us to discover.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Instead of “god’s justice” we should call it “god’s sadism.”

    Regardless what we call it, if God is there, then it would behoove us to adopt God’s view on things.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Regardless what we call it, if God is there, then it would behoove us to adopt God’s view on things.

    Then I’ll go right out and purchase some slaves, stone some adulterers, and make sure that kids respect their elders or else I’ll stone them too. This new idea of justice seems rather harsh though.

  • Damien

    If God is, in fact, there then our concept is trivial and we should defer to God’s concept out of practicality, I think.

    Thank you. But still doesn’t make God a moral being. It makes Him the Strongest Strongman. You will understand, I hope, if some of us do not find this an adequate basis for our own morality.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,

    I was just discussing this kind of idea with someone at a pub the other night. I found myself continually raising points, the answer to almost all of which I got was “it’s possible”. While I can appreicate the questioning nature, and cannot 100% rule something out as “impossible” what I can do is tell you “It’s possible” is not any kind of a line of reasoning.

    I have noticed that many arguments against God focus on differences between a given concept of something and God’s percieved view on it. If God is, in fact, there then our concept is trivial and we should defer to God’s concept out of practicality, I think.

    Those arguments aren’t really arguments against god, but rather arguments against people playing the morality card of religious claims. The ones who insist you can’t have morals without god, and without god, people would act much like god does in the old testament.

    Nevertheless, my point is that if there is a supreme being, one who does control everything, or who can do with us as that being sees fit, then it is more practical to determine that being’s idea of justice and fall in line than to hold to our own ideas. It is a question of self-preservation to a great degree.

    I can agree with the idea of wanting to be on the winning team, but if people start betting on teams before they know their track record or even if the team exists in the first place, I don’t think there will be a lot of winning tickets for the Osaka Mountain buffalos. Or, you could think of it more along the lines of looking for some unknown object smaller than a needle in a haystack when you don’t know if you’re in the right field. But don’t let that last analogy fool you, because built into it is the assuption that the object exists somewhere; We don’t even know that in this case.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Then I’ll go right out and purchase some slaves, stone some adulterers, and make sure that kids respect their elders or else I’ll stone them too. This new idea of justice seems rather harsh though.

    If you are convinced that this is what God wants you to do, then good luck. I think you are misguided, though.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Damien,

    Thank you. But still doesn’t make God a moral being. It makes Him the Strongest Strongman. You will understand, I hope, if some of us do not find this an adequate basis for our own morality

    Morality is a subjective idea that ha changed with cultures throughout the ages. If God exists, then God has ideas of what is “right” and “wrong”. Those who agree with these ideas will see God as the basis of morality, and those who disagree will see God as a tyrant dictator. The quintessential point is exactly as you have pointed out. God is the strongest strongman. If God exists there is nothing we can do about it and we should consider how we will react to the situation.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    If one does not think that God exists, then I would not expect that individual to give consequence to what God may or may not want.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt,

    If you are convinced that this is what God wants you to do, then good luck. I think you are misguided, though.

    Ah, but the only clues that god has left us are in the Bible, correct? And, this is what the Bible advocates.

    Morality is a subjective idea that ha changed with cultures throughout the ages.

    You’re so close to getting it. Yes, morality changes throughout the ages, but Biblical morality is still stuck in the pre-dark ages. The morality of god is Biblical morality. Our morality has evolved and changed. When you automatically assume that god’s morality is the best of all, you deny the evidence that is in front of you. The only writings that we have on god’s morality are to be found in the Bible. The only “evidence” then is what is in the Bible, and hence reflects the morality of 2000+ years ago. Again, you are begging the question, in that you assume that god’s morality is perfect, therefore it is.

    The quintessential point is exactly as you have pointed out. God is the strongest strongman. If God exists there is nothing we can do about it and we should consider how we will react to the situation.

    Sorry, but might does not make right.

  • Wedge

    Matt,

    Apparently, the Christian god’s justice is so far beyone our comprehension that it seems to us to be the exact opposite of justice. Ebonmuse’s example above is one case where his justice is against the very definition (for humans) of justice. There are other fundamental principles which are not met by Christian cosmic justice: immediacy, for example, or the idea that only the person responsible can be punished for a crime. (Given the Christian god): If God is just, you are completely right: it is a justice that we cannot understand even on a most fundamental level.

    Given this, how can you say that OMGF is misguided? On what basis do you judge what is just according to God or unjust? If we cannot understand anything about God’s justice, there is no understanding or lack of understanding, only obedience and disobedience. The only thing left to argue is what God really wants. But God has notoriously left what he really wants vague and unclear – from your response to OMGF, it seems that you believe that stoning children was just in OT times, but that morality has changed. But how can you know that it has changed? How do you know what God wants?

    And how do you decide that what God wants is just? By what measure? Do you really think that it is simply a matter of following the biggest bully (that you see) on the playground, and trying to guess what will please him? If so, then there is no morality and no justice by any definition that humans can understand.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “If God is, in fact, there then our concept is trivial and we should defer to God’s concept out of practicality, I think.” — Matt R

    If this is the case, Matt, then why would our creator bother to create us with a moral seat — the conscience — at all?

    Further, it would seem from the quote above that you do not cotton to the idea of free will. Is that so, or am I misunderstanding you? It certainly is in line with my views on free will, namely that free will is irrelevant when one’s soul is held hostage.

    Perhaps this is an explanation for the Bible’s directive to abjure judgment. However, I reserve the right to use my powers of judgement (in an informed manner) on any and every subject, including the morality of any postulated creator. If he or she doesn’t like that, well, so be it. Or, to quote a fabulous philosopher, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all I yam.” If in his or her judgement my morality, and thus my judgement is inferior, then I’m all ears. However, having wondered this without an answer for my twenty-seven years of non-belief, the silence is speaking volumes, to me at least.

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    I am picking my teeth because the myriad of words you have placed in my mouth have become lodged between my cuspids, bicuspids, and molars. You have assumed too much about me without looking to see what my views may or may not be. You write as though I were a staunch literalist evangelical, which I am not. Theologically, I am probably about as liberal as a Christian can be. Morally, I am somewhat more conservative. I tell you these things to keep the strawman conflagrations at a minimum.

    With that being said, I recognize everything you say about the Bible. I am not blind to the paradoxes established therein. I am perfectly aware of the cultural backdrop of the Old Testament. Therefore your lectures on the Old Testament are lost on me as I see the same things as you do. I just react differently.

    Thus is my response for your first two remarks.

    Regarding the question of “might” and “right”. Your sentiments are idealistic, but if God is a reality, they are not practical. Of course, inherent in your statement is the assumption that God’s morality is immoral, which may not be the case. This, of course, brings us back to the inherent subjectivity of morality. Your view of morality may be different.

    It is worth noting that though might may not make right, it often makes reality.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hello Wedge,

    If God is just, you are completely right: it is a justice that we cannot understand even on a most fundamental level.

    No,no,no, a thousand times no. I do not propose that God’s justice may be beyond our understanding, it may simply be different than your concept. We certainly have no problems understanding, for example, the justice system of other societies, but we may disagree with them.

    Given this, how can you say that OMGF is misguided? On what basis do you judge what is just according to God or unjust?

    I generally judge based on what Ebon ocassionally refers to as “empathy” or by the “do unto others” standard. Humans have, for whatever reason you may choose to accept, the ability to understand the consequences of their actions. This makes us capable of reasoning, in most cases, whether or not our actions will hurt another. I think that if God exists, this would mostly likely be God’s measure of morality because it seems the simplest and most universal.

    Based on that, since i could imagine what slavery would be like (to a small degree) I can reason that it would be hurtful to others. Therefore I think it is wrong. And thus, I disagree with OMGF’s rather audacious proposal to purchase some slaves.

    The only thing left to argue is what God really wants

    Correct. Whether that is vague is a matter of opinion, I think.

    from your response to OMGF, it seems that you believe that stoning children was just in OT times, but that morality has changed. But how can you know that it has changed? How do you know what God wants?

    You have surmised incorrectly.

    Do you really think that it is simply a matter of following the biggest bully (that you see) on the playground, and trying to guess what will please him?

    I hope not, but maybe.

    If so, then there is no morality and no justice by any definition that humans can understand.

    IF there is one thing that I have learned well in my short years on this earth is that there is not justice or morality by any definition that humans agree with which is evident in reality. The good may or may not be oppressed. The wicked may or may not prosper. Children die, the wicked live long and well. It should be quite obvious that there is no inherent understandable morality in our reality. The only morality which I have observed is that which we make for ourselves.

    As I already understand the implications of this statement, I think that you can forgo the obvious suggestion that this may be because God does not exist. Believe me, I recognize the possibility.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi Thump,

    I hope you do not mind my abbreviating your name. It is quite a handle and I am afraid that if I were to type it in its entirety I may be stricken with carpal tunnel syndrome or similar malady! :)

    “If God is, in fact, there then our concept is trivial and we should defer to God’s concept out of practicality, I think.” — Matt R

    If this is the case, Matt, then why would our creator bother to create us with a moral seat — the conscience — at all?

    I am interested to read why you think that my statement may call into question the purpose of a conscience. I do not see that a creator which possesses a certain idea of morality should necessarily produce creations which possess the same idea. Perhaps if one is operating within one of the popular Christian reformed systematic theologies, one may expect such, but certainly you do not subscribe to such systems? Also noteworthy is that there are no guarantees that God is all good, or all powerful, or either.

    Further, it would seem from the quote above that you do not cotton to the idea of free will. Is that so, or am I misunderstanding you? It certainly is in line with my views on free will, namely that free will is irrelevant when one’s soul is held hostage.

    If you are referring to the “freely choose eternal hell, or freely choose me?” concept, then I think I agree. Not much of a choice there! I think people are free to choose things which they are familiar with, but I think those choices are strongly influenced by environmental constraints and biological mechanisms. For example I may want to jump off of a bridge for fun, but I realize that jumping off brindges inevitably leads to hitting the water hard, which hurts. Therfore my choice is modified and I choose not to. But this in itsself is a choice, for I am free to choose whether to give in to the biological feedback or ignore it. I think that free will is an infinite regress. It is possible that it is a complex system which is initialized somewhat at random. Who knows! I’m a question man, not an answer man. :)

    Perhaps this is an explanation for the Bible’s directive to abjure judgment. However, I reserve the right to use my powers of judgement (in an informed manner) on any and every subject, including the morality of any postulated creator. If he or she doesn’t like that, well, so be it. Or, to quote a fabulous philosopher, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all I yam.” If in his or her judgement my morality, and thus my judgement is inferior, then I’m all ears. However, having wondered this without an answer for my twenty-seven years of non-belief, the silence is speaking volumes, to me at least.

    Maybe your morality is right on. Maybe it is completely but God doesn’t give a rip. Maybe you are predestined for hell and it somehow glorifies God (sarcasm there!).

    I like your comments.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • OMGF

    Matt,

    I am picking my teeth because the myriad of words you have placed in my mouth have become lodged between my cuspids, bicuspids, and molars…I tell you these things to keep the strawman conflagrations at a minimum.

    Not intentionally. What, specifically, did I put in your mouth? And, what strawmen have I erected?

    With that being said, I recognize everything you say about the Bible. I am not blind to the paradoxes established therein. I am perfectly aware of the cultural backdrop of the Old Testament. Therefore your lectures on the Old Testament are lost on me as I see the same things as you do. I just react differently.

    I wasn’t making an argument about paradoxes. (shrug) And, I’m not lecturing you on anything. I’m simply trying to make my point. You can’t attribute to god this great morality without some reason for doing so. You don’t have any reason to do so from reading the Bible, so where does it come from? Doesn’t it make more sense to say that morality has evolved as our culture has, and leave it at that?

    Regarding the question of “might” and “right”. Your sentiments are idealistic, but if God is a reality, they are not practical. Of course, inherent in your statement is the assumption that God’s morality is immoral, which may not be the case. This, of course, brings us back to the inherent subjectivity of morality. Your view of morality may be different.

    It is worth noting that though might may not make right, it often makes reality.

    Surely you understand the difference though. Reality doesn’t make something moral. If god’s genocides are moral because god is god, then the word “moral” doesn’t really hold any meaning.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,

    I think that if God exists, this would mostly likely be God’s measure of morality because it seems the simplest and most universal.

    But that’s only occuring to you. I know that’s not an argument, but if we ignore (for the moment) the non-existance of a god(s) aspect of the question and for the sake of argument assume that a god exists, where do you get this idea that ‘do unto others’ is it’s moral code? I have yet to encounter a religion for which this is the case. If we were using the bible, even in a figurative manner, there’s little way to get around killing god and making him suffer forever because he displeased you, or because something someone else who lived around him did. Do unto others as you want to see them do to you is a nice ideal, and do unto others as they have done to you is a more typical reality; it’s called tit-for-tat, and doesn’t require a god.

    And thus, I disagree with OMGF’s rather audacious proposal to purchase some slaves.

    Which is good, and most everyone would be right there with you, but you find no such writing in the bible. If that is what we’re using for evidence (which I assume it is, correct me if I’m wrong) the Golden rule standard and the distaste for slavery are coming from you, not from the book.

    As I already understand the implications of this statement, I think that you can forgo the obvious suggestion that this may be because God does not exist. Believe me, I recognize the possibility.

    Also noteworthy is that there are no guarantees that God is all good, or all powerful, or either.

    This kind of gets to the point of “if we can make god(s) anything we want, anyway we want, and attribute any kind of morality we want to them” where does that get us? An infinite amount of possible gods, possible wills, possible moralities, many beyond our understanding or ability to test. Like I mentioned before, simply saying “It’s possible” isn’t really a line of reasoning or a useful question, because anything, literally, can fall into that. The idea of a morality is one that can be neatly explained by evolutionary theroy and the idea of divine morality is one neatly removed by Occam’s Razor. It’s either an infinite amount of extreme improbablity, or a set of data that can be tested with evidence. Merely noting that god may not exist doesn’t take all variables into account equally.

    Quick for instance. Maybe the bible is literally true, maybe the koran is, maybe the romans were right, or half-right, maybe god is answerable to his creator, and that creator so on down the line. Maybe god just doesn’t care, maybe god’s a psycho, maybe one god is good and helping us, maybe another is bad and hurting us and they fight. Maybe whoever is strongest is the most moral, maybe whoever is the weakest is. Maybe you’re god and just don’t know it, and everything you do is moral; maybe I am.

    All of those are equallity as legimate questions, but not ones that need to be taken seriously. Just a few I rattled off the top of my head; the list could go on forever

    But more importantly, maybe the question doesn’t require god in the first place. Before one decides to add god to the idea they need to start with the question of god’s existance in the first place.

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt, (Correcting a bit of my last post)

    but that’s only occuring to you. I know that’s not an argument, but if we ignore (for the moment) the non-existance of a god(s) aspect of the question and for the sake of argument assume that a god exists, where do you get this idea that ‘do unto others’ is it’s moral code? I have yet to encounter a religion for which this is the case

    Should read:

    but that’s only according to you. I know that’s not an argument, but if we ignore (for the moment) the non-existance of a god(s) aspect of the question and for the sake of argument assume that a god exists, where do you get this idea that ‘do unto others’ is it’s moral code? I have yet to encounter a religion for which this is the case (I actually forgot, that is Satanism’s Moral code basically.)

  • Wedge

    Hello Matt,

    I do not propose that God’s justice may be beyond our understanding, it may simply be different than your concept. We certainly have no problems understanding, for example, the justice system of other societies, but we may disagree with them.

    You seem to have missed my point. The argument here is not that God’s justice is different, it is that it is diametrically opposed to anything humans call justice, opposed to the very definition of justice itself. For example, if a loving mother offers to go to jail for her son, it would not be considered justice to punish her in her son’s stead. Or, as in Ebonmuse’s elegant article, if justice is doled out without its recipients understanding why and how it is being applied it is not justice. Not different, not higher, simply not justice.

    If God’s ‘justice’ is so different that it literally calls black, white and up, down, then it cannot be understood by human beings. If it is something so different from what we consider justice that our definition in no way covers it, then it isn’t something ‘from another culture’; it is not justice. Justice is a human word with a human definition.

    I generally judge based on what Ebon ocassionally refers to as “empathy” or by the “do unto others” standard. Humans have, for whatever reason you may choose to accept, the ability to understand the consequences of their actions. This makes us capable of reasoning, in most cases, whether or not our actions will hurt another. I think that if God exists, this would mostly likely be God’s measure of morality because it seems the simplest and most universal.

    And yet you just said that God’s justice is different from our own. What you just outlined here is exactly what our sense of justice (as a culture) is based on. So God’s justice is both different, and exactly like modern Western justice?

    I don’t know what you believe, of course, but in general Christians believe that all people are sinners and that Christ died for their sins. This is not justice. It’s not mercy, either, or love, according to any human definition. If this basic Christian belief is so radically inhuman, and so closely related to the concept of ‘cosmic’ justice, on what grounds do you decide that God’s justice agrees with what you like to think of as justice?

    Based on that, since i could imagine what slavery would be like (to a small degree) I can reason that it would be hurtful to others. Therefore I think it is wrong. And thus, I disagree with OMGF’s rather audacious proposal to purchase some slaves.

    And I think everyone here agrees with you! And yet, for nearly 2000 years, intelligent, pious men who tried their hardest to follow God and determine what he wanted, morally, condoned slavery.

    The only thing left to argue is what God really wants

    Correct. Whether that is vague is a matter of opinion, I think.

    *shrug* I suppose so. I base my opinion on things like the long-standing Christian support of slavery, of the inferiority of women, of the historical religious confusion over salvation, justified and unjustified torture/war, the current Christian divisions over homosexuality, women priests, abortion, divorce, birth control, etc.. I also assume that many of the Christians who disagree passionately about what God wants in each of these cases are intelligent, honest god-seekers. So yeah, in my opinion, Christian moral dictates are pretty vague.

    IF there is one thing that I have learned well in my short years on this earth is that there is not justice or morality by any definition that humans agree with which is evident in reality. The good may or may not be oppressed. The wicked may or may not prosper. Children die, the wicked live long and well. It should be quite obvious that there is no inherent understandable morality in our reality. The only morality which I have observed is that which we make for ourselves.

    As I already understand the implications of this statement, I think that you can forgo the obvious suggestion that this may be because God does not exist. Believe me, I recognize the possibility.

    Well, I can’t disagree with you there. However, I think the fact that we have made morality for ourselves is one of the great and beautiful accomplishments of mankind. If you ask me, it beats anything any so-called god has displayed hands down.

    Have a good one,

    Wedge

  • Wedge

    Matt,

    I had the vague impression that you were a Christian of some stripe, but in re-reading this thread I think I may be mistaken. Still, I think my points apply to a more generic god as well as the Christian god, so feel free to reapply if a particular example is off-base.

    Ta,

    Wedge

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    You use arguments against me which only work if one holds a certain view of the Bible which I do not hold. Regarding morality, you are certainly right.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    Jesus taught about loving others in a similar manner to “do unto others…”. I also would like you to consider the idea that it is reasonably possible that the concept of atheism did not occur to the developers of early christian theology as a rationally supportable position. Therefore I think that it is reasonable to conclude that in their mind, hell was reserved for people who had committed wickedness and not just because of not believing in something.

    cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Mrnaglfar,

    It made sense to me. (regarding where I got the idea of “do unto others…” as an appropriate moral code. Furthermore, as you certainly know, I am not the originator of the idea as a moral code. I cannot remember now who developed it, but it has been around for a long time.

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Hi Matt –

    No problem with abbreviations. It is rather a clunky name.

    To your questions:

    “I am interested to read why you think that my statement may call into question the purpose of a conscience.”

    As I understand it, in Christian theology the purpose of the conscience is to inform the feeler that his or her actions is wrong. Having been raised a SoB (if you don’t mind my abbreviating Southern Baptistry :D ) I was taught that the conscience is indeed the holy ghost inhabiting us. (Admittedly, I’m not sure of the general acceptance of this idea in Christianity). Given that understanding, in arguing that we had ought to disregard our morality you would seem to be arguing that we should disregard god’s morality, especially since you elsewhere state that “I generally judge based on what Ebon ocassionally refers to as “empathy” or by the “do unto others” standard . . . . I think that if God exists, this would mostly likely be God’s measure of morality because it seems the simplest and most universal.”, thus equating our measure of morality with god’s. This seems to contradict your statement that “I do not see that a creator which possesses a certain idea of morality should necessarily produce creations which possess the same idea.”, because, given empathy, one can project not only moral implications but other thought processes, like how others arrive at conclusions (such as “what is right and wrong to me?”).

    Insofar as free will is concerned, I must say that the only thing which saves your position is your doubt of god’s omniscience — a mighty rare position indeed. Only if god has limited knowledge is free will possible at all. However, that still doesn’t address the immorality of threatening me with eternal suffering lest I refuse to worship him. I cannot judge by god’s morals as, as OMGF and others have pointed out, they are utterly inscrutable. I can only judge by my own morals, which argue that taking hostages and compelling behavior by threatening violence are evil acts. And though deciding not to jump off a bridge due to the pain of a sudden stop is indeed a choice, your example is no denial of free will, as many readers of the San Francisco Chronicle might tell you. People do it all the time because of the stop. However, that is a different thing than a robber poking a .45 at your piehole and demanding your legal tender. Is it really your will to give him the money? No. It is HIS will. Likewise with the demand to worship. (As an aside, wouldn’t this worship be more fulfilling if it were freely given? Just wondering).

    Sorry about the length of this response. Wasn’t it Wilde who said that brevity is the hallmark of genius? Hmph.

    And thanks for your kind words. The struggle to encapsulate our differences without tendering offense makes me a better writer; I thank you for helping out.

  • Thumpalumpacus

    Matt –

    One last quick (I promise) thought:

    If god isn’t omniscient, then how can he be sure that he is punishing the right people? And doesn’t that cast further doubt on his morality? Just a thought.

  • OMGF

    Matt,

    You use arguments against me which only work if one holds a certain view of the Bible which I do not hold. Regarding morality, you are certainly right.

    I fail to see how this constitutes putting words in your mouth or making strawman arguments.

    Further, I protest that I do no such thing. I still wish to learn how you can assert that god must have high moral standing. The only thing you have to go off of in the way of “evidence” is your holy books. Beyond that, what? If you reject your holy books, then what do you use to determine that god is indeed moral? In short, your assertion of god’s morality is entirely made from thin air if it is not based on the only “evidence” you have, and that “evidence” points to a creature that is not moral by any standard that we have.

    Further, if might does not make right, then why should we follow god’s morality? There is no reason to, especially since none of us can lay claim to exactly what it is, unless we accept the scriptures as “evidence” which leads us back to immorality.

  • Jar Jar Vader

    Hindusim excells at blaming the victims- If you have a miserable life, or killed in a calmity, they just chalk it up to karma- actions you committed in a past life are being paid for in this one…

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    Hi Thump,

    I think that I should write more clearly in the future. My intent in my original comment on this thread was not necessarily to make a concrete statement about God, but to point out a possibility or a conditional statement. I can understand, given the course of this argument, and the constraints of the written word, how my intent has not been clear.

    Therefore, I am not suggesting that we abandon our morality, only that we consider the possibility that our morality may not be the only morality by which actions may be measured, due to the subjectivity of morality. This really has little bearing on whether God exists or what Gods attributes may or may not be.

    Regarding free will and the systematic theology of modern popular Christianity, yes there is the issue of coercion. I agree with much of what you say that giving someone a choice between worship and hell is a poor example of a choice. I guess the only way out of that one is that since there is little concrete evidence that people who don’t worship God go to hell, hell is not a very good threat. It would be like a man holding up an empty fist to you and telling you there is an invisible gun there which you can neither see, touch, or perceive in any other way. Not much of a threat there.

    If god isn’t omniscient, then how can he be sure that he is punishing the right people? And doesn’t that cast further doubt on his morality?

    You are definitely asking the wrong person. I am not convinced of eternal punishment or reward. My view of God is much less concrete than the average Christian’s. This is because of my difficulties with the Bible.

    It is a pleasure discussing with you and I appreciate your courtesy and writing style. Regarding brevity, the geniuses can have it! I prefer to be verbose!

    Cheers,

    Matt

  • http://www.auniversenamedbob.com Matt R

    OMGF,

    Well, if you feel that you were not making a strawman, then I will not argue because that would be “straw-manning” you! :) I will withdraw my remark.

    I still wish to learn how you can assert that god must have high moral standing.

    I don’t feel that I can prove this as a fact, but conditionally, I think it makes sense. Here is why: I think that *if* God exists and *if* God created humans then it is reasonable, though not necessary, to think that God cares about humans. Therefore if God cares about humans, then God would want humans to behave kindly toward one another. Since this is generally accepted concept of “morality” then I think that it makes sense, under stated conditions, that God is moral.

    and that “evidence” points to a creature that is not moral by any standard that we have.

    Isn’t life a pickle!

    Further, if might does not make right, then why should we follow god’s morality?

    I guess that would depend on whether one agreed with God’s morality.

    cheers,

    Matt

  • Mrnaglfar

    Matt,

    Here is why: I think that *if* God exists and *if* God created humans then it is reasonable, though not necessary, to think that God cares about humans

    If only the same logic applied to parents who beat their kids, abandoned them, or never took care of them. Just because you created something doesn’t mean that you care about it or want to take care of it (applies to both living and non-living things). Likewise, punishing or hurting one’s creations with no explaintion why doesn’t exactly move me as a moral thing to do; most especially when punishments are things like death, from which one cannot even try to learn.

    Of course, it also would take us back to the point of if god wanted us to behave morally, why would he allow us to not and then punish those people (or even others who are actting morally – it all seems kind of arbitrary who supposedly gets punished and why) who didn’t?

    A quick real life example; I’m realitively sure you’re not one of these people, but there are those who use your same general standpoint to justify this. The people who say AIDS is god’s punishment for homosexuality. Follow the logic of this:
    1) God allows for homosexuality to exist
    2) God punishes homosexuals with aids
    3) God also punishes heterosexuals with aids (since HIV doesn’t care who it infects)
    4) God then punishes homosexuals again with hell

    Now I understand that’s not your view, but it is the view of people using the same book you are; many times their intrepretion is just a bit more literal. Yes, if god created people and if god did care about them, he also created the hiv virus, and seems to care about them too. He also created cancer, and cares about it, along with every other disease and illness you can think of. If god truly cared about humans more than them, why would he allow them to effect us?

    So where’s the morality in that? Where can learning happen? How do we know what’s a punishment and what isn’t?

  • Mrnaglfar

    oh yeah, and add to that list:

    5) God wants every person who contracts HIV to have it, irrespective of mitigating factors (like a family or age)

  • KShep

    mrnaglfar:

    How about adding this:

    1a)God says homosexuality is bad.

    Followed by your full list.

  • Josh

    Hold up. Why do we assume that we cannot understand God’s definition of justice or morality? Admittedly, that’s not the way I mean to ask this question, but it stands nevertheless.

    Isn’t the Golden Rule – “Do unto others…” – an accurate representation of what God would see as moral? I would think this at least gives us a starting point.

    Although, God Himself does not adhere very strictly to this rule. While no one can conceivably ‘kill’ God, this is no excuse to punish ‘sinners’ with such extreme justice as death. Refer to the Old Testament to see the many times God essentially commits genocide, and mass homicide, upon a town or race. It would be unthinkable to believe that God would permit such atrocities to be committed against Him!

    And this leads clearly into His definition of justice. Unfortunately, I have no words to accurately describe it, but one point I would like to make is that He dishes punishment and justice as he sees fit on a near-arbitrary basis but is not to be held accountable for any of his actions. It is very apparent that He does not view justice as a two-way thing, but rather a one-way street wherein He is the Final Judge and no one may question him(lest they be cast into the pits of Hell for blasphemy) nor may anyone enforce justice upon him, as he is the Supreme Ruler.

    Imagine, if you will, that there was another being with a power equal to God who could effectively punish Him for the sins He commits, much as God does to us. If God could be killed in retaliation to killing, if He was to be held accountable for his atrocities, would He be the same fierce deity? Would he administer such things as the myriad plagues, including the death of every first-born, as just punishment for the disobedience of a single man?

    I know I went off track. I always do. I can’t quite keep a single line of thought flowing. But I believe I got my point across well enough.

    Cheers.

  • Snoof

    It seems to me that if there is an omnipotent deity out there, then its laws are obvious.

    In no particular order, they include:

    Thou shalt not go faster than light;
    Thou shalt neither create nor destroy energy;
    Thou shalt not reduce the total entropy of everything;
    And so on and so forth. Of course, the second one on that list can be rephrased as “These laws are invariant in time” thanks to Noether.

    I note that most religions don’t claim that being forced to follow these laws violates “free will”.

  • Snoof

    Ack. Apologies for the necropost, I was browsing and didn’t pay attention to the last post’s date.