What Is Good?

In a recent discussion in the comments section of another post, the issue of morality and God came up. The argument was made that, unless there is a God who defines right and wrong, and unless God has made those standards known in his inerrantly-inspired word, then we can have no reason for judging one action as preferable to another. Without God, all is relative.

I am a Christian, and might be expected to agree with the aforementioned reasoning. Yet I don’t, and it seemed it might be interesting to devote a separate post to explaining why.

First, it seems to me that the existence of a personal God doesn’t get one from “is” to “ought”. If morality is defined as that which God considers right, are we not still dealing with an “is” scenario? Right and wrong have not been made objective, but are, as it were, matters of ‘divine opinion’. We might choose to follow divine commands so as to avoid punishment, but that isn’t usually what is meant by ‘being good’ except in the case of young children. (Of course, it may be that the approach to moral reasoning this standpoint adopts to be is in fact an immature one, but we’ll set that issue aside for now).

It was also suggested that without God, anything goes. Potentially the reverse can also be said. If God wills Joshua and his armies to kill men, women and children – or kill the men but keep the women for themselves – then that is ‘good’. If you are commanded by God to sacrifice your child, it is good to do so – however much you may hope an angel will stop you, you cannot presume that God would never demand something like that from you, because whatever God commands is good.

Moreover, this identification of morality with “whatever God commands” seems to empty terms words like good of their normal meaning. Goodness in everyday parlance doesn’t involve a child being tied up and threatened with a knife by his father. Most would say that avoiding war and unnecessary bloodshed when possible is inherently good. But on the divine command logic that isn’t the case. If God wills bloodshed in a particular instance, then avoiding it becomes evil.

If the aforementioned approach doesn’t solve the conundrum of what “good” is, what alternatives are there? For one thing, morality seems to require persons. This is true of ‘natural evil’: an earthquake on an uninhabited planet is merely a geological phenomenon; an earthquake in an inhabited region of our planet is potentially a tragedy. Likewise, human actions seem to take on moral value based on our intentions and on the effect(s) they have on human persons.

Perhaps morality only exists when persons exist that are capable of choosing between options, choosing to follow their instincts or not, choosing to treat others as they would themselves wanted to be treated, or not (cp. Job 35:4-8). If one views God as incapable of acting otherwise than God does, then God’s actions might in fact be beyond any sort of morality. Morality might be something restricted to the domain of personal agents of the sort that human beings are. And so then the key question would become whether God is more like a human person, or more like a “force of nature” that is “beyond good and evil” – while perhaps inevitably being beyond either sort of language. But if God is in fact personal, or tripersonal, or in some way analogous to human beings (or if, to not put the cart before the horse, if human personal existence is analogous to the divine), then wouldn’t God’s own morality itself have to follow the precept so many have concluded that God expects of us: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you”? Is there any alternative to either suggesting that God is not ultimately like a human personal agent in fundamental ways, or concluding that a personal God, in order to be moral, must follow the same precepts he is thought to have revealed to (and perhaps imposed upon) other persons made in the divine image?

  • Paul C

    For one thing, morality seems to require persons.Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that morality consists entirely in the relationship between persons. This holds true even in Christian morality, where the relationship is between the individual and God.

  • http://missivesfrommarx.wordpress.com/ missivesfrommarx

    I think that any worthwhile sense of good or bad (I don't like "evil") should be related to how something impacts human interests. It's ethically good for me to do something that serves your interests; it's bad for me to do something that hurts your interests.Now, this obviously doesn't bring any gods into it—as an atheist I don't really care to–but even a theist like John Locke says something like this. Locke says morality is about what helps or hurts humans; if his god gives moral commandments, then it is only because sometimes his god knows what's in our best interests better than we do.

  • polihronu

    Great post! One could go on and argue that the very notion of "absolute" is useless in a personal context. "Person" is by definition an inter-face, a relational construct and a construer of relationships. Relativity is not optional. Trinitarian monotheism allows us to go even further. In the beginning was plurality. If that sounds too paradoxical, good :) It is, indeed, because of God that all is relative.

  • Paul

    This post strikes close to an argument I frequently use against atheist friends of mine to prove that God exists. But I feel like it sort of misses the point. If God is goodness then he doesn't exist outside of morality at all, he is morality. Also asking whether he obeys the golden rule seems to miss the point entirely — the golden rule is one of our best interpretations of how God wants us to behave, but could only be an inferior reflection of God or Goodness. So the answer to the question is meaningless. The upshot of all of this is that if God is unknowable and not really like a human actor — then one must conclude that stories that portray him acting as a human might act are even greater distortions of true reality. Simply the end of a long telephone game.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    The main flaw in these types of discussions on both sides is this idea that whatever God commands, is what God wants, and whatever God wants, God commands.This is patently not true and I have gone some to some length recently on my own blog to offer reasons why – but I'll go further here.James, you rightly point out that the relationship with God is personal – as with a 'person' but I feel that everyone I've read so far discussing this subject has missed the main point.A judge may sympathise with a street urchin who who mugs and steals in order to get by, but he is a custodian of the law – and has a responsibility as such to hand out a sentence for the crime.He may choose the most lenient sentence he can within his remit, he may even visit the urchin after sentence and offer to money and education, but he must still carry out the law to its full effect.So it is with God – the law dictates that sin/wrongdoing leads to death, but God, the judge of all life, wants to be merciful. Furthermore he wants people to intercede – even to offer to do the time in place of the offender (Jesus being the ultimate example).So When God gave the order for someone to be put to death in the OT, what would have happened if the would-be executioner had turned round and said "No"? What would have happened if the executioner had looked at his own sinful life and instead decided to plead with God that the person be spared?This is what people need to understand.It's not about following orders, it's about following God – what God wants, not necessarily what he commands.Do I need to quote bible verses? I shouldn't need to, you should already know at least one story of intercession in the OT, but there are many examples.So the law is good and God is good, but we are not – yet God, in his goodness, makes a way for us to be righteous without fulfilling the requirements of the law. Simply do what he wants: intercede, forgive, grant mercy on his behalf – as he has done to us.Oh and I keep seeing reference to something called 'the golden rule' – is this some kind of Buddhist teaching?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Paul, the stories might be metaphors rather than distortions after a long period of transmission. Or they might simply reflect older theological modes of expression. It seems to me that there are a number of other options worth exploring besides the "telephone game" scenario and a treatment of such depictions as precise representations of the divine nature (not that either of those necessarily ought to be excluded from consideration). Lex, welcome back! I am familiar with the idea (usually connected with a specific understanding of the atonement) that God said sin must be punished, and so God could not simply forgive. I have a number of problems with this suggestion. First, it depicts God as the upholder of an existing law rather than maker of the law. Second, it suggests that the issue of evil is one of legislation or accounting rather than something more relational in nature. Third, there are instances in which God doesn't seem to "play by such rules" – I'm thinking not primarily of Genesis, where they eat of the fruit and yet do not seem to die in that day, but more of the psalms in which individuals seem to experience divine forgiveness – not only before Jesus, but also apart from sacrifice. The Book of Jonah also depicts God saying something and then relenting: "Nineveh will be overthrown within 40 days", and yet it doesn't happen.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    MISSIVESFROMMARX'It's ethically good for me to do something that serves your interests; it's bad for me to do something that hurts your interests.'CARRSo you won't be applying for any jobs that somebody else has already applied for?As for morality, is it 'good' play, or 'bad' play for the head coach to tell his quarterback to fumble the ball on every play?Without a playbook which contains the objectively best football plays in every situation, can we really criticise a head coach whose one play is to get his quarterback to fumble the ball?Yes we can. Morality is the science of deciding which actions best promote the wellbeing of humanity in general and individuals in particular.It no more needs a god than we need a god to tell us the best way of improving crop yields.Now, different people can reasonably disagree on which behaviours best promote the well-being of humanity in general and individuals in particular.But we don't need a god to adjudicate between them, no more than we need a god to tell us whether or not a running play is better than a passing play.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Isn't every effort by individuals and societies to live by some defined morality, at its core, an attempt to live in a way that is perceived to be "right" or "good"?There are many grey areas we have in life, but even in those grey spaces we, as a whole, never stop wrestling with whether there is some way to definitively label something as "right". As we see some of our choices played out, we often refine what we think about them in light of their consequences.We are either creatures perpetually chasing the folly of knowing what's right in an indifferent universe, or creatures searching for something that we feel exists somewhere…however difficult it is to grasp.For me "good" must exist because I feel that it must. When faced with injustice I can't coldly shrug my shoulders and say, "That's life." Most people can't or don't react in that way either. While "feelings" are not "evidence", they are an integral part of what it means to be human and the fuel for many of the advancements humans have made. So while it seems childish, in some circles, to say there must be good because I "feel" there must be, I don't think we can so easily ignore those "feelings".IS there an objective "good"? I say, "Yes!"Do I have any idea about its completeness? No.AS a Christian, it gets boiled down to loving God and loving others.

  • http://missivesfrommarx.wordpress.com/ missivesfrommarx

    Carr: "So you won't be applying for any jobs that somebody else has already applied for?"That seems a bit unfair. Of course the formulation I shared was superficial, but that's because it's a blog comment, not a systematic treatise. Of course the relationships between human interests are very complicated.Similarly, I can think of some pretty big objections to your claim that "Morality is the science of deciding which actions best promote the wellbeing of humanity in general and individuals in particular." Put this way something like the Tuskegee experiment might be moral–if, on balance, it helped the wellbeing of humanity in general. But I know you probably don't think that …My claim was simply that morality is fundamentally related to human interests, which isn't all that different from saying that morality is related to human wellbeing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Steven Carr and I have disagreed on a number of things in the past (and presumably still do), but his sense of humor has had me laughing out loud a couple of times recently. And here I think he has hit the nail on the head (a perfectly moral thing to do in this circumstance, I assure you).The question I didn't even ask in my post (but with hindsight should have) is what is morality for? If the question is "what will get us off the hook with a divine judge?" then of course morality is going to consist of doing whatever the judge considers lawful.For many of us, however, morality ought to be something we would do even if no one, not even God, were watching. Otherwise it becomes ultimately self-serving – we're playing by the rules for the sake of our reward, not because what we're doing is inherently right.And so definition is the key. Perhaps morality simply is "treating others as we would have them treat us". You know, that "Buddhist teaching" Lex mentioned. :) And in some cases, there simply is no morally right or morally wrong action, because both options are laced with evil, as well as the desire to minimize it. [Sophie's Choice might provide an example, although not a typical and certainly not the only one].

  • http://cleverbadger.net Jay

    "For many of us, however, morality ought to be something we would do even if no one, not even God, were watching. Otherwise it becomes ultimately self-serving – we're playing by the rules for the sake of our reward, not because what we're doing is inherently right."Well said, James. I know a number of folks who are stuck in the mode of "I want to do right so I won't go to hell". I think they've missed wide of the mark with that approach – if the only reason to act morally is to avoid punishment, the whole thing becomes an exercise in divine extortion.

  • http://mortalquestions.wordpress.com/ mortalquestions

    Lex, welcome back! I am familiar with the idea (usually connected with a specific understanding of the atonement) that God said sin must be punished, and so God could not simply forgive. I have a number of problems with this suggestion. (Let us assume that this understanding of the atonement is correct. This will allow us to fairly deal with James’ points against it.) First, it depicts God as the upholder of an existing law rather than maker of the law. (No James, It does not. God IS the good, thus to not punish the sinner would be an action against his own nature. It would kind of like saying that God could create a rock so big that he could not lift it. There are certain things that God can not do, because it leads to absurdities. Thus, your argument assumes that God’s nature is not the “good”. If you reply that God’s nature could have been different, then I would say that this is not the case; God’s nature is what it is. If he went against this nature then he would cease to be God. Second, it suggests that the issue of evil is one of legislation or accounting rather than something more relational in nature.(Huh? The idea that God must not have sin in his presence is a relational issue! That is why God’s judgment is considered as separation from God. God must do something about evil in the universe, so how else would he tell creatures endowed with some form of freedom (compatibalist or libertarian) not to commit evil deeds? Maybe by telling them what would be good and evil, I should think.) Third, there are instances in which God doesn't seem to "play by such rules" – I'm thinking not primarily of Genesis, where they eat of the fruit and yet do not seem to die in that day, but more of the psalms in which individuals seem to experience divine forgiveness – not only before Jesus, but also apart from sacrifice. The Book of Jonah also depicts God saying something and then relenting: "Nineveh will be overthrown within 40 days", and yet it doesn't happen.(In the Canon God’s nature seems to be balanced by mercy. Remember when God reveals himself to Moses at Sinai? God repents because he gives people the chance to repent, but his mercy only goes so far! Remember that God also hardens his enemies (think Pharaoh!). In the case of Genesis the punishment did in fact happen. Adam and Eve died. Secondly, isn’t the deception of the serpent based on exactly the understanding of death you gave? Are you not affirming what the biblical writer would have seen as deception?)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12334188123201041182 scott gray

    i agree with paul c that morality consists entirely in the relationship between persons. and further, that 'righteousness' is about right relationships, and that 'justice' is about the restoration and maintenance of right relationships.one can question whether god's laws, or god's actions, restore and maintain right relationships, or rather do something else.i think there are stories that both resote, and cripple or destroy, right relationships in the christian and hebrew scriptures.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    James,I still feel you're missing the point here.It is a false dichotomy to state that sin cannot both be punished and forgiven. The whole point of animal sacrifice was a pattern for a later more perfect sacrifice – the 'scapegoat' was provided so that the sin of the poeple was transferred to the animal from the people – and forgiveness could take place.In answer to your first problem this doesn't make any sense. What is the point of God making law if he is not going to uphold it – it brings the whole concept into disrepute.Secondly, the issue of evil is something which I consider neither 'accounting' nor relative. The human heart is said to be evil, in this sense, we are all on the wrong side not of God already. In terms of evil actions, I think it depends on intent yes – but this goes back the point I made about the street urchin – there is a crime that has been committed and for society to maintain some kind of order – the law must be upheld – but for mercy. Mercy is not excusing sin/crime, it is not excusing guilt – mercy is something granted to the transgressor.Perhaps another analogy would be of a soldier fighting a war who is given orders to gun down civilians. He now has a choice to face.He either refuses to carry out the orders or he follows them. If he follows the orders, surely he will gain no reward or punishment – but will be weighed down by his own guilt. If he refuses the orders then he faces immediate consequences but has a clear conscience.Imagine he survives either scenario. 20 years later, a tribunal is held and all who took part in the massacre are called to account. Had he followed the orders, surely this will not be enough to save him from judgement, however had he refused the orders, then he will find himself finally vindicated and elevated.So it is with God I believe, there are commands and orders, but then there are motives and conscience that God has also placed within us. He wants us to be like the second soldier.Finally. I won't digress into what constitutes "playing" by the rules but simply add context to your quote about Ninevah:"On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned." The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust……When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened."Why did God send Jonah to preach against the city.. heck, why did he even provide this story regardless of it's plausibility?In order for God to SHOW mercy to Nineveh, he needed Jonah to JUDGE it guilty of committing sin.How can you know you have mercy if you are not aware of the wrong you have done?As for rules and laws in general. How many laws do you agree to uphold and obey as a citizen? How many contracts have you signed in your lifetime? How many EULAs have you signed everytime you've downloaded a piece of software or registered with a service such as Blogger?The chances are you have broken a few of these laws and contracts without even knowing or realising it. Does this mean the law or contract does not exist? No, but in these instances you have been let off – shown mercy – by the contract holder since there is a greater good served whether that be customer relations, costs of prosecution or just general good will of the contract holder.You cannot just claim that the rules and contracts you have signed and agreed to obey are relative or don't exist.Do you want an example of a contract in the bible? Deuteronomy 29:12. An oath, a covenant. Agree to it and we'll get along just fine.The rules exist but common sense – in other words mercy – prevails.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Lex, my points were implicitly about the penal substitution theory of the atonement, and by not explicitly relating my points to that theory, I may have made my meaning less clear.My point about Jonah was simply that it suggests that God could declare that punishment for sin is imminent, and yet in the wake of the city's repentance, could desist from bringing calamity – without having to substitute another innocent city as a substitutionary replacement for the guilty one, I might add. That's what I meant by suggesting that the issue is relational: it is not about an account for "sin" with a legal requirement that someone pay if the guilty cannot. It is about reconciliation. What is needed in order for forgiveness to be possible is a recognition of what has broken the relationship and a restoration of relationship.I don't necessarily hear you disagreeing with any of this, but it may be that I am indeed missing your point. I'll wait for further clarification from you and we'll see where it goes from there!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15595661232059716190 Paul Flesher

    Dear James,Thanks for drawing my attention to your piece. It gives some good examples for my analysis. If your readers are interested in another take on this, they can visit my Religion Today blog at: http://religion-today.blogspot.com/2009/06/morality-of-god.htmlThanks,Paul

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Sorry I didn't engage this topic yet, I was a dork and didn't check back.Here is what I mean when I say that the biblical morality is objective.1) God created the universe, and He created it a certain way. One of the ways He created it is that following what He says is right, and not following it is wrong.2) God's Word is the highest authority. God is the ultimate judge. No person or group of people is higher. 3) God doesn't have "opinions". He knows everything, sees every angle, knows the whole future, the whole past, the whole present, all the minds and thoughts of every person who has ever lived in any place at any time. 4) To deny that God's character is the standard is to descend into subjective, relativistic absurdity whereby one can only say "Raping little girls is distasteful to me, but apparently you dig it, so you know, whatever," and there is no way to tell if your distaste means you SHOULD try to stop the other guy from raping a little girl.5) God backs up His authority with punishment that fits the crime, and His justice is always in good time, according to His omniscient oversight and foresight. He might seem slow to you, but who are you?6) All of this makes the statement "Raping little girls is always wrong for everyone at all times everywhere." true, everywhere, for all people, at all times. Show me another belief system (except for Islam or Judaism) that can ground a statement like that. Certainly not liberalism, postmodernism, or atheism in its various putrescent flavors. Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    OK, let's pursue your example. Would you please explain to me how you get from the Bible to "Raping little girls is always wrong for everyone at all times everywhere."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr McGrath,I can hardly believe you're being serious. I'm very tempted to think someone has hacked your Blogger account and asked a ridiculous question.Raping little girls is wrong because:1) Rape is specifically proscribed.2) Rape is also theft, which is specifically proscribed.3) Rape is also wanton aggression against another, which is specifically proscribed.Any other non-ludicrous questions or comments are happily entertained.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    It is me, and not a hacker (of course, a hacker would say that too, I suppose), and I'm completely serious.You have not provided specific verses. Anyone can say "The Bible says" without providing specific verses for discussion. Please amend your comment to clarify where the Bible says these things. That will enable us to discuss in detail and with specificity whether the passages in question clearly mean what you say they do, and whether there are other passages that are in tension with them.For me, such an elaborate investigation is not necessary. If morality simply is doing to others what you would have them do unto you, and not doing to them what you would not want done to you, then rape is wrong – simple. What I'm hoping this conversation will get at is whether one can make a similarly simple case for rape being proscribed in the Bible, with underage girls specifically protected, in the way you suggest.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    Well James I've used imperfect analogies of course but that is why it takes many stories to describe the Kingdom of Heaven because there is no model on earth that is perfect enough to describe it.Yes, no substitute was needed in the case of Nineveh – but the way I read your original post, it was as though you were saying that God might be doing something bad or evil by judging the city fit for destruction.Perhaps where we are faulting here is on our own imperfect scale of goodness.We each have an individual sense of 'good' that may differ slightly or greatly from what another defines.Most of us can agree that paedophilia is not good, but then people's definition of goodness begins to break down when, say, two 14 year olds are discovered having sex together – then a lot of people tend to defend it and think it's good and natural – despite under current law it is underage sex.So it seems that human beings do not have a working set definition of good – it depends on culture and belief.However God is outside culture and is constant. God, being in such a position to actually define what actually is good, is fit to judge us all.Therefore we have ALL sinned and fallen short of Gods goodness standard. We're all guilty of sin.It is as though we are all trying to reach the moon by jumping in the air. Even if someone was able to jump 6 feet, and another able to only jump an inch – we are all falling short of reaching the moon.So we all deserve the death penalty as far as God is concerned. However, he does not want someone who can only jump 6 feet, to judge another who is only jumping an inch. If there is any judgement to be handed out it is up to him, not us.And the ultimate judge of all human life has granted mercy. He has allowed us to live. Why? Because despite us being no good at all, he loves us.So the reason God gave us the stories of the bible – showing judgement and mercy in effect, was for us to learn and understand the judgement we face and his mercy he grants despite judgement.So God says to his servant "This person/city has sinned against me (has fallen short of my standard) and I am therefore going to destroy them." But the servant has read the scriptures and knows the old stories and so he knows that God wants mercy not sacrifice. So the servant replies to God "Please, do not carry out your destruction, have mercy on them – if need be punish me".This is what God has always wanted to hear. So God is good, in that he wants to forgive, always. And remember – the servant is also a guilty sinner, someone who does not meet Gods glorious standard – but for the purpose of showing his mercy – this is why he does it.Maybe I myself am also guilty of not being too clear and mixing atonement in with my general theory of judgement and mercy – but I find they are interconnected and difficult to separate.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    1) Deut 22:25 But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die.But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case.27When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.2) Exodus 20:15 You shall not steal. 3) There's not room in this blogpost for how many references to this there are in the Bible.Here are two:-Love your neighbor as yourself. Good Samaritan parable follows. Go thou and do likewise.-Jeremiah 22: 1Thus says the LORD, "Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and there speak this word 2and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, who sits on David's throne, you and your servants and your people who enter these gates. 3'Thus says the LORD, "Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place. And the "underage…specifically protected" is your condition, not mine. If all rape is wrong, then raping little girls is wrong. I typically use that example b/c it's one of the most horrible things I can possibly think of.-If morality simply is doing to others what you would have them do unto you, and not doing to them what you would not want done to you, then rape is wrong – simple.-Well, sure that's simple. A few fatal problems, though.1) Most fundamentally, why should anyone accept this rule? On what authority do you bind it to anyone else? Why is it prescriptive outside of how you feel (right now)?2) On that same note, maybe I prefer a rule that says morality simply is doing to others what I want to do to them, and that may well include doing to them what they would not want done to them. How am I wrong and how do you know?3) Maybe some people like being forced into sexual encounters. So your rule would lead TO rape, not away from it.4) Jesus already thought of this way before you. Why plagiarise?Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Version of "Don't do to others what you wouldn't want done to you" and "Do unto others what you would want done to you" can be found in lots of places, and it is entirely possible that Jesus was offering a variation on something Hillel said, is it not? Rather than discuss whether anyone, including Jesus, was "plagiarizing", I am going to assume until I have evidence to the contrary that these sayings are in the public domain.You have shown that raping someone who was engaged is prohibited, and punished by death, in the Bible. How do you get from that to all rape being prohibited?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    And while we're on the subject, I'd like to ask for clarification on what you mean by something being "objectively wrong". I'm sure you don't mean that everyone everywhere agrees that it is wrong. And I hope you don't simply mean that such things will be punished. So perhaps you could offer a definition?And just to preempt one possible route this could take, I don't think defining "objective morality" as "what God defines as wrong" is going to lead to anything other than a tautology. In that case, you haven't made morality objective, you've simply defined it as "God's perspective", but it isn't clear what makes the phrase "objective morality" an apt description of that. Objective seems by definition to involve something that is true irrespective of persons' perceptions or values. And since you said that the universe is created in such a way that certain things are right and wrong, perhaps you can clarify where in the universe such objective right and wrong are embedded, as it were.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Rhology, while many of the verses you quote are meant guide people into right behavior, very few of them actually address the issue of rape. I think that's what James is looking for.I would also add…as the only woman commenting on this thread…that I find it offensive to have rape labeled as "stealing", as if a woman's virginity were some sort of object to be possessed by men. Meaning….who is the rapist stealing it from? If we're going by the examples provided, he's stealing it from the woman's fiance.You didn't list the last few verses which were attached to the portion you quoted. If you go on to read the following verses in Deuteronomy, you will find the command for the rapist of an unbetrothed female is required to marry her.The question I have—Is it "good" to force a woman to marry her rapist?…to be forced to spend her life with a man who brutalized her once and will probably brutalize her again?This is what James' post is partly about.If you say "no…that's not good"…what do you use as a basis for that answer. If you say "yes, that's objectively, irrefutably, and for all time, good"….then its a scandalous version of "good".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    stupid lack of proofreading…always makes my phrases garbled!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr McGrath,Nope, showed far more than just that engaged ppl are protected. Please see (and deal with) my other points."Objectively wrong" means exactly what it sounds like. It carries prescriptive power and applies further than just "how I feel I should act, though I have no evidence to that effect". The command of God is the most powerful, highest authority that exists. He knows how the world is; He created it. You don't get to argue with God. I mean, you CAN, but you'll lose, like Job. Punishment is only part of it. I've already gone over this, actually, so I refer you to previous comments.-I don't think defining "objective morality" as "what God defines as wrong" is going to lead to anything other than a tautology.-Oh, and it's worse than saying, as you do, "it's wrong for me b/c it's wrong for me"? -Objective seems by definition to involve something that is true irrespective of persons' perceptions or values. -Exactly what I've been saying. Your worldview allows you no access to this.terri,-I find it offensive to have rape labeled as "stealing"-I meant stealing from the woman's future husband. But it's also taking what's not yours. It's both. -Is it "good" to force a woman to marry her rapist?-It was in OT Israel. Might be now, too. Who are you, seriously, to challenge God's command? -.to be forced to spend her life with a man who brutalized her once and will probably brutalize her again?-She has legal protection and plenty of recourses in that case as well, on the OT Law.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Rhology,Please enlighten me about these "resources" women have for abusive husbands under OT Law.I don't recall any.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Gen 9: 5"Surely I will require (D)your lifeblood; (E)from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man. 6"(F)Whoever sheds man's blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For (G)in the image of God He made man. 7"As for you, (H)be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it." Ex 21:10 10"If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or (F)her conjugal rights.Ex 21: 22"If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him, and he shall (N)pay as the judges decide. 23"But if there is any further injury, (O)then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24(P)eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. Deut 27: 24'(R)Cursed is he who strikes his neighbor in secret.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.' Thou shalt not commit adultery.Etc.Terri, I'm not going to do your homework for you. Ask me sthg you reasonably might not be able to find yourself and we can talk. Don't ask me to be your Bible gopher. Whole websites are set aside for that. biblegateway.net is a good start.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Rhology…it was a rhetorical question.You won't find any resources for women, protecting them from physical abuse, or rape, from their husbands because those regulations do not exist.At most one can find places where women may be exonerated of a husband's accusations, though even those exonerations are subject to dubious interpretation.The examples you quote have nothing to do with abusive husbands….especially rapist husbands which is what led to this discussion. In OT Law, a husband was not prohibited from abusing his wife. There are many ways a husband can be abusive without causing the loss of an eye or tooth or wound. The husband had all the rights and the wife had none. Divorce, was solely by the husband's initiative. Keeping a wife stolen from a conquered nation was completely the man's prerogative. He had some stipulations if he chose not to keep her, but it was completely his choice. If he chose to keep her, she had no right to protest.I am willing to say that some of these regulations were better than nothing, but I would not label them "good" in the highest sense of the word, or promote them as God's highest wish for humanity.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    -You won't find any resources for women, protecting them from physical abuse, or rape, from their husbands because those regulations do not exist.-And yet I was able to find quite a few. You seem impervious to evidence, terri.-There are many ways a husband can be abusive without causing the loss of an eye or tooth or wound. -Read more than one verse.Now that you've made kind of a fool of yourself with your naked assertions, would you mind letting me know on what basis these charges of yours, even if true, are morally reprehensible? How do you know it's bad to rape a woman?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, you often said in one of our earlier discussions that I "had not answered your questions" because I had not answered them in a way that satisfied you.I think it is clear that both Terri and I do not find the meaning you attribute to these texts to be self-evidently there. Our request for you to address these issues is not "asking you to do our homework for us", it is asking you to explain why you find something in these texts that other readers do not.Of course, the fact that different readers understand these texts in different ways itself raises issues for your "objective morality" case.But I think the most fundamental problem is that you are defining "objective morality" as "God defining X as good" (and apparently embedding that in the created order, although you still haven't explained where or how). You presuppose that this is coherent and meaningful, and then accuse those who do not share your presupposition as "having no basis for objective morality". But it does not seem that your alleged basis is either open to critical discussion, or a coherent basis for something that can genuinely be called objective morality.Perhaps even more fundamental, you are so concerned to make God somehow be the basis of objective morality, that you cannot consider the traumatic suffering that rape victims undergo itself a sufficient basis for considering rape evil. Suffering, pain, trauma – none of that is evil, unless God defines it as evil. And what you refuse to acknowledge, in spite of repeated occasions on which it is pointed out, is that in the Biblical tradition, God seems to be depicted as causing precisely such things. And so, while you claim that the rape of young girls is horrific, it shouldn't be for you, because there could conceivably be instances in which God could sanction it for such a higher purpose.In short, I think the grounding of morality, and the definition of morality, in terms of the persons involved in the actions and the effects on others, provides for a more objective morality than your own approach, which is to simply attempt to define the problem away, and in the process to define yourself as right and everyone else as wrong.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Rhology,I wouldn't know how to make you understand, because to make you understand would require you to consider a point of view other than your own.You are the one showing your imperviousness to biblical evidence and using your head to think through the implications of these verses. I have read Deuteronomy and Leviticus…many, many times. I have examined the role of women in the Mosaic Code many, many times. I have a vested interest in the subject, what with being a woman and all that. It is of keen interest to me to know whether God views me, as a female, in the way that the Mosaic code would view me.You are taking general verses out of context and trying to apply them to a specific case–a woman married to a rapist, abusive husband–and it just doesn't work….because no matter how many verses you find that sound "nice"…and seem to promote overall goodness…you are not thinking in the way OT Israelites men thought. Wives weren't "neighbors"….in the same way that slaves weren't "neighbors".It was OK to hit your slave in secret, so your "neighbor" verse was not meant to apply to them. A woman's value was tied up in her virginity, so being raped was a financial loss to be addressed by Mosaic Code. If she wasn't married or betrothed than a fine was to be [aid for the loss of her virginity. The rapist was forced to marry her because no one else would have her, forcing her into a life of poverty and chasteness.Now…if you want to argue that a woman's worth is really measured by her virginity, and these regulations are objectively "good"….then I will only say that I hope you don't have any daughters.Also…its very tiring when you bring out the same old,"well how do you know that such and such is wrong?"It doesn't do anything to further your point and only serves as something to say when you realize that someone has actually made a point which you can't refute without appealing to inerrancy.I'm done now…I'm sure James is probably sick of me taking over his comment threads to argue with you.I'll be sure to come back and read you sarcastic, insulting reply, though. I wouldn't want to miss something as predictable as the sunrise.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr McGrath,Some of those laws were quite general, and thus apply to all people in the society. If they apply to all, they apply to married women, single women, young girls, etc.-the fact that different readers understand these texts in different ways itself raises issues for your "objective morality" case.-No more than my (wrongly) interpreting your words here to mean that you are eating corn chips while worshiping Vishnu on the moon does. Let's be serious, really.-accuse those who do not share your presupposition as "having no basis for objective morality".-I've repeatedly invited you to overturn that contention. But it's no presupposition; you yourself admitted as much in the thread that precedes this one. So don't be angry at me for trying to advance the conversation. :-)-you cannot consider the traumatic suffering that rape victims undergo itself a sufficient basis for considering rape evil.-On Christianity, yes, rape is evil. Suffering is not necessary evil, but it often is. Gratuitous suffering is. But on your worldview, I don't see on what grounds anyone could make suffering the standard of comparison for good vs evil. Remember, suffering IS. Where's the ought?-Suffering, pain, trauma – none of that is evil, unless God defines it as evil. And what you refuse to acknowledge, in spite of repeated occasions on which it is pointed out, is that in the Biblical tradition, God seems to be depicted as causing precisely such things-Well, suffering, pain, and trauma are not always evil. They are not evil in and of themselves. I suffered after my recent tonsillectomy, but it wasn't evil. Genesis 50:20 – 20"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive."-And so, while you claim that the rape of young girls is horrific, it shouldn't be for you-Yes, it should. Under no circumstance, biblically, is rape permissible. Not so for "suffering, pain, trauma". -there could conceivably be instances in which God could sanction it for such a higher purpose.-A meaningless statement. God never has thusly sanctioned it.However, notice how empty this is on your worldview. Your God is a partially-potent God. Can He enforce His law? Does He know the future with all clarity and completeness? Do you know for sure that rape will be evil in the future? What happens if all the people who believe that rape is wrong die out and are replaced by rapists? -in the process to define yourself as right and everyone else as wrong. -Everyone else? Hardly. How many millions of people out there believe like I? terri,If you've read the Torah so many times, you have that much less an excuse to have missed what I pointed out to you, I'm sorry to say.What is your argument for how my quotations are out of context?-It was OK to hit your slave in secret, so your "neighbor" verse was not meant to apply to them. -Where do you get that?-its very tiring when you bring out the same old,"well how do you know that such and such is wrong?"-Believe me, it's no less tiring to keep asking it and see no answer, over and over again. Just answer the question and we can move on.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Terri, I'm delighted when there is discussion. Never apologize for making discussion happen or taking part in it. There is nothing more discouraging for a blogger than a post with no comments or discussion.Rhology, I think everyone here but you can see that you think the verses you are quoting prohibit rape absolutely, because you know deep down that rape is wrong, period, and are sure that the Bible must take the stance on morality that you know deep down is right. Your moral sense, more highly developed than that of many ancient societies, is trumping the Biblical text. All I can say is "bravo", and keep encouraging you to be honest that that is in fact what is happening.

  • Antonio Jerez

    I always get a funny feeling when I read our superorthodox Calvinist. EVERYTHING appears so simple to him. God wish that the Universe were really that simple. It isn´t. And the rape case our Calvinist talks about is a prime example. Today a guy like Mohammed would be thrown into jail as a rapist here in Sweden. The age limit for consensual sex in this country goes at 15. According to muslim sources Muhammed had sex with his wife Aisha at the age of 9. He married her at the age of 6. I´m sure king Abraham, David, Solomon and many of the other biblical heroes would be convicted of rape in a modernday court both in America and Europe for having sex with underage girls. Obviously the heavenly pascha had other standards some time ago.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    It seems clear to me that anyone who can say "God would never command/permit/condone X" really does believe in objective morality, in the sense that there's something inherently wrong in the action and/or/because of its effect on the victim.Intentionality is a key part of morality. A driver trying to regain control of a bus sliding on ice may be morally praiseworthy, while an angry driver aiming at pedestrians may be blameworthy, even though in both cases the bus hit and killed the same number of people.For this reason I side with Elihu against Rhology (cf. Job 35:4-8). Evil is such because it involves not caring about the harm inflicted on another person. That's as objective as it gets, and as objective as it needs to be, in my opinion.

  • http://www.abandonallfear.org.uk Lex Fear

    OK I'm going to stir the pot a little because I believe in examining our values and this could be offensive to some and digressing, but James, you said:"…because you know deep down that rape is wrong, period."Why is rape wrong? And why do we feel 'deep down' that it is wrong?(Now I do feel that rape is wrong but I want to know why I/we would feel this? If it's not something that is taught in school, taught in a church or taught in a bible then why have I/we arrived at this conclusion?)

  • Antonio Jerez

    Lex wrote:"(Now I do feel that rape is wrong but I want to know why I/we would feel this? If it's not something that is taught in school, taught in a church or taught in a bible then why have I/we arrived at this conclusion?)" I think Lex is into something. I do not believe that humans are basically preprogrammed with morals. Morals is something that we are indoctrinated with. And different cultures have different morals. The aztecs had no qualms about human sacrifices or cannibalism.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    On the one hand, Antonio's point is an important one. Can anyone doubt that much of our morality derives from culture and upbringing? Culture is precisely that set of shared values that is so taken for granted that it seems natural.Having said that, this need not mean that our morals are irrational or without basis. And so, to stir the pot a little more, let me suggest that the reason why most modern people agree that rape is absolutely wrong, period, while many ancient people did not hold this viewpoint, is because we've made the case and become persuaded that women are to be valued as persons and not merely as virgins, potential brides, mothers, or property. We've come to view them as ends and not means (hmm, seems I've heard that somewhere before…)There are principles found within the Bible that would support such a stance (e.g. the depiction of humanity, male and female, made in God's image). The point being made in earlier comments is simply that the authors of some of the Biblical legislation hadn't got there yet).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    But what you haven't done is demonstrate why, beyond the tautological "Society has evolved to the point where we're enlightened enough to regard women as persons and not property", anyone SHOULD agree with you. And God never endorsed Elihu's opinion. He ignored Elihu altogether, but what He *does* do is assert His sovereignty over and over again, leaving Job in repentance. I commend a similar approach to all of you.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I'm not sure what I think of the argument of Elihu overall, and whether the book's author understood it as offering a solution or just one last bit of bluster from a latecomer to the conversation. But as for the main point, I believe I have provided a basis why one should or shouldn't do certain things: because we would/would not want such things done to us. This allows us to actually figure out what to do as we make our way through life.Your view, on the other hand, tautologically identifies good with the divine will/command, and leaves human beings in every circumstance with no choice but to seek or await divine revelation about what they are supposed to do. And you still haven't addressed the issue of the rape texts, and your interpretation of them as meaning something they don't seem to.Job's friends, who sought to "defend" God, were in much greater need of forgiveness. Just thought I'd point that out. I'm certainly regularly repentant for views I've held and things I've done. But I still try to follow the path of Job and have the courage to disagree with traditional wisdom where it doesn't seem to do justice to the realities of existence.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Well, I think that my "rape texts" are perfectly fine and have not been refuted. I didn't see any different argument beyond "That's unconvincing to me". You may disagree, but I'm sure we can agree on this: Let the reader judge. Elihu is a weird character. That's on my list of questions to ask in Heaven. I (selfishly) hope to have some Q&A; time with Jesus. Agreed about Job's friends, mostly. God rebuked them for incorrectly representing Him. Job's point seems to have been: I didn't do anythg to deserve this. Why does God afflict me? His friends' point: Um, yeah you did. Would have to have been SOMEthing, otherwise God wouldn't afflict you.God's point: Who the heck are you to question Me? Mind if I be God and you be the puny man you are? Please? Thanks. (And yes, God was pretty sarcastic too.) ;-)I would relate your position to Job's, and my answer to you is my best imitation of God's to Job. You say "the realities of our existence" but take it upon yourself to define them, even going so far as implicitly to call God's revelation incorrect. Your boldness exceeds your power.Could you clarify why my position and identification of good=in line with divine character as revealed thru divine comands is tautological? I'm not sure I see the circularity. It seems like a good answer to me, since we're discussing the nature and identification of good in this combox.-I'm certainly regularly repentant for views I've held and things I've done. -Well, at least on that we can agree. Your views are largely repugnant to me, as are views I've held and things I've done and continue to do. Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, your view of morality is repugnant to me. Kindness simply is doing to others what you would want done to you. And your view is that there is a divine will that can trump kindness and demand genocide, theft (of the land and other property of the victims of the genocide), and much more. you can say that your views remain "unrefuted", but it was not just me that pointed out that the laws about rape do not treat the woman as a victim. Her father is reimbursed for his loss. The woman is to marry the rapist. If you don't wish to discuss the details of the Bible, that's your prerogative, but I hope you'll then stop claiming to be interested in the meaning of the Bible as a basis for morality. It seems dishonest to claim that your morality is based on the Bible, and yet also be unwilling to discuss details in the Bible that might challenge your own views.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    But Dr McGrath, how do you know that kindness is good, on your view? B/c you feel deep down it is? In that case, I know some young men with nametags and thin black ties who'd be interested in talking to you.B/c society says it is? But other societies have differing definitions of all sorts of issues. Which society is right?Some other way? Plenty of societies have seen fit to engage in mass theft and genocide. Were they wrong? Well, I'm happy to discuss details of the text; I didn't see any comments until now that wanted to do that. The woman has been raped and now her virginity is violated; it will be much more difficult for her to find a husband. She is to marry the man so that she can have his protection, availability to his sexual duty, and availability to have children. Otherwise she might very well be left alone until death, no children, no husband as protector, etc. It's not so much the father reimbursed, I should think, but a penalty (and a functional dowry).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    How can a woman be "protected" by a rapist husband? He's exactly the type of person a woman would need to be protected from.Or do you think that the rapist will have some sudden change in character and become a good husband and father forsaking his violent, abusive ways?There are many dead women who have gone to an early grave by being married to such "protectors". Abusive husbands tend to exact their frustration on their wives and sometimes their children. A rapist who has been forced to marry a woman he only meant to use temporarily, is likely to resent and hate her, not become loving and kind to her.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    On the one hand, kindness can indeed differ from culture to culture. But that simply means that the principle of kindness needs to be applied in different ways, and expressed in different concrete actions, in different contexts. Belching after eating is not inherently good or bad – but doing it or failing to do it may be kind or offensive depending on one's context. I don't know that there is an absolute divine view regarding belching. But I do believe that kindness provides its own rationale, and its own reward. And if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. But it is no less a coherent view than your own, which provides a far less obvious view of morality, one that seems to have nothing to do with human persons or kindness.Along the same lines, your point makes sense of why the law about rape of non-engaged women made a certain kind of sense in a specific cultural and historical context. But it is not self evident that a society that gives women who have been raped no other option, because of its honor-shame values system and patriarchy, is inherently better. To many readers, it is obvious that the text reflects a certain historical and cultural context, and legislates in relation to that context. And what you seem to be doing is not merely absolutizing the text but also absolutizing the context, so that what simply happened to be the ancient context in which the texts were written becomes normative. And it is precisely that approach to the Bible that has often stood in the way of those who, often motivated by principles found in the Bible, have wanted to make more fundamental changes to the status of women, or the institution of slavery, or whatever else.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    terri,As I explained before, she has legal protection in the marriage too. And God is all about redemption. He took a scumbag like me and has made me a totally different man. So yes, I believe God can save the vilest sinner! That's my only hope.And, once again, you refuse to provide any standard of comparison by which we could know whether it is bad or good that a woman would be killed by her husband. How do you know how to label all these actions? Dr McGrath,-I do believe that kindness provides its own rationale, and its own reward.-Let's say I believe that raping little girls provides its own rationale and its own reward.Who is right, and how can we know?-it is no less a coherent view than your own, which provides a far less obvious view of morality-Perhaps less obvious TO YOU. But you just said that kindness varies from culture to culture. You're exhibiting ethnocentrism here; you're a true child of the (Judeo-Christian) West.Finally, if you can't provide a standard by which to know what is good, better, and best, I see no reason to entertain your self-centered evaluation of OT rape laws.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology wrote: "Finally, if you can't provide a standard by which to know what is good, better, and best, I see no reason to entertain your self-centered evaluation of OT rape laws."And I reply that unless you can show me a reason to believe that the rape laws of ancient Israelites did not reflect their own moral sensibilities and culture, then I see no reason to simply replace my own moral intuition with theirs.But I've explained why I personally find rape abhorrent, and the rape law that made the victim her rapist's property for life abhorrent. I am a follower of Jesus, and although I often fail, I seek to live, and view morality, according to the Golden Rule. And I submit that your View of morality is fundamentally unchristian, since it attributes inerrancy to laws that seem to be profoundly at odds with the most fundamental of Christian Moral principles.If you were truly a follower of Jesus, you would not take the attitude that God-given certainty is all that matters, while evidently the suffering and trauma of victims apparently has nothing whatsoever to do with morality, as far as you are concerned. Yours is the logic the oppressors seek in order to justify themselves: "If I can just persuade myself that God has ordained my course of action, I can ignore the screams of my victims, because God, by commanding me to do what I do, makes their suffering as a result justified".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Rhology….I am happy that you feel you have significantly changed….and it is integral to my faith to believe that people can change.But we are looking at things from a Christian perspective, from a standpoint of redemption and transformation and being led by God from darkness to light.The Mosaic Code is not that…it is useless for that. It is only a list of regulations for governing Israel. If you start looking at the Code as anything other than that, from a religious perspective, you are commiting the folly that large portions of the New Testament refute. The Law had a purpose…but its purpose was not redemption and transformation as we understand it in Christ.I am willing to cut the Old Testament regulations some slack. It was an attempt to try and guide people in a way to promote the rule of law, and unify their worship of God. Yet it was incomplete and imperfect. If that offends you or you find that statement blasphemous, then I can only say that you would feel the same way about Paul and much of what he had to say.Speaking with you has done one thing for me…it has strengthed my sense of how radically Christianity has broken from The Mosaic Law. The whole idea of being indwelt by God's Spirit, is anti-thetical to The Law. We are to know good from evil by the awkening of our being to God.Once again, if you don't like the idea of that, perhaps Christianity isn't for you….because that's the take-home message of the Epistles.To suppose that everyone has had to rely on Scripture alone as a guide to what was good and evil is to ignore the fact that many people lived and died before those Scriptures existed. Once they did exist, it was only rather recently that most everyone could own a copy of The Bible and actually have the skill of be able to read it…in their own language.Jesus frequently criticized the Pharisees for their inability to plainly recognize good and evil through their own common sense. Their reliance on the Mosaic Code was a hindrance to them, not a help.We are supposed to become people who know the difference between good and evil through our relationship with God…not through defending a Code that has been declared "insufficent for bringing righteousness".Getting back to the rapist husband….you are far to generous in your assumption that he would somehow change. If you had a daughter who was set on marrying an abusive husband…would you counsel her to do it?I surely hope not. I would hope that you would realize that while it's possible for people to change, forcing someone into a marriage with someone who has shown no evidence of change could be nothing but disastrous.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr McGrath said:-you can show me a reason to believe that the rape laws of ancient Israelites did not reflect their own moral sensibilities and culture,-Now you're moving the goalposts, with all due respect. We're moving away from a question of whether the OT provides for protection of rape victims to whether the Mosaic Laws come from the Israelites or from God. I answer that the OT is the only record of any length that you or anyone has of OT-era Israel. You have no reason to attribute error to the records, especially for sthg like the origin of its laws, which is pretty well beyond the purview of archaeology. The only thing you know about OT-era Israel is what the OT says. But you obviously prefer a naturalistic account, scrubbed of any reference of God actually working among His people. This is the atheist in you talking; this viewpoint is not even close to a Christian one. -I am a follower of Jesus,-Except when Jesus witnessed unquestionably to the fact that God spoke thru the OT and said it would never pass away, said it cannot be broken, quoted from it as an absolute authority. You prefer your Jesus sliced and julienned, according to your personal preference. It makes me sad for you, and that's no lie, b/c Jesus is a wonderful Savior, but half of Jesus is all of Hell.-it attributes inerrancy to laws that seem to be profoundly at odds with the most fundamental of Christian Moral principles.-These are laws that issued from the very mouth of God. Who are you, o man, to answer back to God?terri,-The Mosaic Code is not that…it is useless for that.-You're half right. Law does not change hearts, it only condemns. It is meant as a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3). Yet the Law cannot be broken, according to Jesus. He held it in highest regard. You should too. Your wanton disregard for it and condemnation of it in the name of your humanistic, flawed, and limited personal worldview is a pitiful act of rebellion, and I pray God will have mercy on you as He did on me.-It is only a list of regulations for governing Israel.-Not all of it. -We are to know good from evil by the awkening of our being to God.-Anyone can claim that they've been "awakened to God". This is the language more akin to Buddhism than to a follower of Jesus.Further, I keep asking you for a standard of comparison by which I can know that your "awakening" isn't attributable to Satan, who as we know can disguise himself. You haven't given one, and so I can only conclude your statements come from no higher authority than you. And you're o authority.-Jesus frequently criticized the Pharisees for their inability to plainly recognize good and evil through their own common sense.-Quote one psg where He did so, please.-Their reliance on the Mosaic Code was a hindrance to them, not a help.-On the contrary, they didn't rely on the Mosaic Code. That's why Christ criticised them.-If you had a daughter who was set on marrying an abusive husband…would you counsel her to do it?-I don't live in OT Israel?And you're switching the terms – we're not talking abusive husbands here, but rather men who rape a woman. That's what the laws I cited deal with.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, show me where the Bible teaches that goodness is good because God defines it as such. Amos condemns Israel's neighbors who hadn't received the Torah, expecting them to be able to recognize right and wrong. Your skill as a chef of the Bible is hindered by a severe handicap, which is that you see everyone else's slicing and dicing, but not your own.I am not answering back to God. I am seeking to interpret the Bible as a whole in light of Jesus' teaching. If that is not your approach, that's your business, but you really shouldn't call it Christian. Your current approach sounds like it would criticize Jesus for suggesting that Moses' permission of divorce might not have perfectly expressed God's will.You pepper your phrases with fire and brimstone and Christian phraseology. But your clear vision of the specks in the eyes of others, and your self-justification when anyone suggests that there might be something in your own eye, shows that the teaching of Jesus is not your guiding principle in how you approach these matters. Where does Jesus say that 'half of him is all of hell'? Your rhetoric certainly reflects a certain kind of American religion that bears the label of Christian. But you have yet to demonstrate that it deserves that label. And you ironically accuse of atheism anyone that fails to jump on board your pseudochristian bandwagon. I'm sure you think this labelling is justified. I'm sure you believe that you are honoring God by trying to make him the only ground of morality. Yet in doing it, I say again, you are minimizing and disconsidering the suffering of the victims. And you seem as well to have missed the point of one of the most famous pieces of teaching attributed to Jesus. The parable of the Good Samaritan features two main characters who followed the letter of the law, and in concern to observe ritual purity avoided contact with what appeared to be a dead body. They believed that God had made demands of them that took priority over compassion. What the Samaritan did was allow compassion to trump everything else, including religious and national obligation. He was praised for it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Leviticus 22:5-6or if he touches any crawling thing that makes him unclean, or any person who makes him unclean, whatever the uncleanness may be. 6 The one who touches any such thing will be unclean till evening. He must not eat any of the sacred offerings unless he has bathed himself with water.So…one was unclean without washing..whether from touching a corpse, or a crawling thing, or a bodily discharge.Yet….here we have Jesus saying that none of those things makes one unclean when he is asked by the Pharisees why he and his disciples have not washed their hands.Mark 7:14-20 14Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' "[f] 17After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18"Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? 19For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.") 20He went on: "What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' 21For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean.' "I would point out that this is a thematic contradiction between the Mosaic Code and Jesus' teaching….but I know you don't believe in Biblical contradictions.There's always the time when Jesus justifies what would have been a sin for David:Mark 2:23-28 23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" 25He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." 27Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."There are many more examples in the gospels…they occur almost any time Jesus debates the Pharisees.Over and over Jesus reorients man's relation to The Law. You could say that the Pharisees had gone too far with the Mosaic code and that's why Jesus was hard on them, but that's too convenient.The Pharisees were doing only what they could do. They had no authority to move outside of The Law or refine its interpretation. They were convinced that the Mosaic Code was perfect, inspired, and sufficient….and therefore they tried their hardest to conform their lives and the lives of those around them to that Law.Jesus arrives and says, "Whoa, your strict adherence and interpretation puts the cart before the house."Further, I keep asking you for a standard of comparison by which I can know that your "awakening" isn't attributable to Satan, who as we know can disguise himself.Nice….I am not afraid of these veiled accusations and implications. I'm pretty sure I recall the Pharisees making the same claim about Jesus. I consider myself in good company.As far as my authority…aren't you a protestant? you don't believe in the priesthood of the believer or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Who gives authority to man? What makes a person "authoritative"?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Dr McGrath,-the Bible teaches that goodness is good because God defines it as such.-Isaiah 40:12-18Mark 1:21-22Hebrews 6:13Romans 9: 14 -212 Tim 4:1 1 Pet 4:5God is the judge. Where does any man get off talking back to God? Look at how Job reacted. The examples could be multiplied.Besides, we've been seeing over and over again that the alternatives you're offering lead to absurdity. We need SOMETHING that works, that can tell us right from wrong and judge between conflicting parties. What you seem not to get is that "I follow the Golden Rule" is just as disputable as any other claim. I just ask the same questions about that as about any other moral question – why?-Amos condemns Israel's neighbors who hadn't received the Torah, expecting them to be able to recognize right and wrong. Eccl 3:11 Rom 2:14-15Also, your challenge here confuses categories. God can ask them to distinguish precisely b/c there is a way to distinguish. It's one thing to have a standard, and another to communicate/reveal it. Finally, this challenge cuts your own position's heart out – if there is no objective right or wrong, which is where your position leads, God's challenge thru Amos makes no sense.-I am seeking to interpret the Bible as a whole in light of Jesus' teaching-By thinking the OT He claimed was perfect and holy has errors and mistakes and immoral commands? You jest, I think.-Your current approach sounds like it would criticize Jesus for suggesting that Moses' permission of divorce might not have perfectly expressed God's will.-Why? Besides, Jesus Himself said that allowing for divorce was a CONCESSION to the hardness of their hearts, so your statement is correct anyway.-You pepper your phrases with fire and brimstone and Christian phraseology-I'm trying to warn you of the deadly consequences of your ideas.-your self-justification when anyone suggests that there might be something in your own eye-1) Don't see how that's relevant. 2) If you think I have a log in my eye, point it out and I will be judged by the Scr, just like everyone is. 3) B/c I am identifying the Scriptural teaching about itself and calling out error in others' positions, I'm justifying myself? How so?-Where does Jesus say that 'half of him is all of hell'? -"Take up your cross and follow Me.""No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit to be my servant.""…but he counts the cost and then begins to build.""For wide is the path that leads to destruction, and many are they who follow it."You know, Jesus Himself said an awful lot of fire and brimstone type stuff, b/c He was concerned for our warning as well. I'm just aping my Master.-you are minimizing and disconsidering the suffering of the victims.-1) Why is that a bad thing? How many times do I have to ask this question, sir?2) I don't disconsider it, but I recognise that EVERYONE dies, and God has the right and prerogative to kill anyone at any time in any way He chooses. Death is everyone's just end and judgment, b/c we are all sinful. The Amalekite who lived 2 days before he was killed by an Israelite soldier lived 2 days longer than he deserved to, in God's sight. Yet God graciously allows many people to live 80, 90, 100 years before we die, b/c He is merciful, generous, and patient. I recognise they might have suffered, sure, but I don't see a good reason to make human suffering the touchstone of morality; rather God's character and commands are.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    -The parable of the Good Samaritan features two main characters who followed the letter of the law, and in concern to observe ritual purity avoided contact with what appeared to be a dead body.-Sorta. Remember what question preceded the parable – What is the greatest commandment?Jesus says: Love God, love your neighbor. That's the greatest cmdmt in the Law itself. Those who did not show love VIOLATED the Law. Their view of the Law was legalistic and screwed up. Jesus here corrects them. The Samaritan FULFILLED the Law by loving the victim.terri,Let me recommend a thorough study of the Epistle to the Hebrews and also Galatians 2-4. It would do you alot of good, and I mean that in all sincerity. It would prevent you from posing these sorts of challenges as if they're some kind of unanswerable obstacle to my position. You need to understand the relationship of the Law to how we live after the Messiah has come.-Yet….here we have Jesus saying that none of those things makes one unclean -Correct – it's what comes OUT of one's mouth that makes one unclean. To worship, just like in the OT, this uncleanness would keep one from joining the assembly. And what does Jesus say? "If you have aught against your brother, leave your gift at the altar and be reconciled to your brother, then come back and worship". Jesus has fulfilled the ceremonial Law in His atoning death on the Cross – I am clean before God by justification, b/c Jesus took on Himself my sin and filth and gave me, freely, His perfect, alien righteousness. I stand before God totally clean, by His grace alone.As for Jesus' correction of the scribes' and Pharisees' misunderstanding of the Law, see what I wrote above to Dr McGrath. Again, this is actually a case of you needing to do a little more homework. -The Pharisees were doing only what they could do. They had no authority to move outside of The Law or refine its interpretation.-So wrong! They pretended to follow the Mosaic Law perfectly, and lorded it over the ordinary people. They also ADDED to the Law to make it even harder and to make themselves look even better, but they followed neither the Law nor their special add-ons perfectly. They NEEDED to refine their incorrect interp of it – that's what Jesus criticised all the time. -They were convinced that the Mosaic Code was perfect, inspired, and sufficient.-Jesus was also convinced that the Mosaic Code was perfect, inspired, and sufficient. I follow Jesus, so I believe that. I wish you guys would too.-As far as my authority…aren't you a protestant? you don't believe in the priesthood of the believer or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?-Yes, I'm a Reformed Baptist. Yes, I blv in those things. The problems are:1) The Spirit already gave the Bible; He does not garble nor contradict Himself. And the Bible is much clearer and more objective than "an impression in the Spirit". Rather, we discover whether the impressions we have are from God by submitting them to and testing them by the Bible.2) You give me no reason to think you're a Christian. I say that only based on what you've expressed as your position. If you're just playing Devil's advocate (for an unreasonably and unwisely long time), that's one thing. But if you really blv what you've been saying, you're no Christian. You're a liberal, mirror-worshiper who have remade God in your own image, one that makes you more comfortable.That's why I urge you to repent; worship the Jesus of the Bible, not half of Him. Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Rhology, it is hard to know what to say. You keep citing verses from the Bible and seem to genuinely believe that what those verses are saying is what you are saying. And yet I can only speak for myself, as someone who has the privilege of studying the Bible for a living and thus has spent much more time submersed in the Scriptures than most people can afford, that (to paraphrase the Princess Bride), "Thoses verses you keep quoting, I don't think they mean what you think they mean".And so I suppose all I can do is appeal to you in words that paraphrase something I read somewhere recently: "But if you really believe what you've been saying, you're no Christian. You're a conservative, mirror-worshiper and have remade God in your own image, one that makes you more comfortable.That's why I urge you to repent; worship the Jesus of the Bible, not half of Him." The half of Jesus you have is the one who said "no one comes to the Father but through me", but neglects the half that identifies him as the "light that gives light to every human being". The half of Jesus you have is the one who warns of Gehenna, but you've neglected the half that praises Gentiles for their faith without double checking that they subscribe to monotheism, much less Christianity.You have, in my opinion, a "greatest hits collection" of prooftexts that you think support your viewpoint. And yet you've not only missed much in the process, you seem to have largely missed the point.My main concern is not to persuade you to think differently. Your current thinking may be appropriate for this point in your life. But it will do serious damage to your conscience, sooner or later, if you keep throwing accusations at others without recognizing that they apply at least as aptly to you as well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12399706958844399216 terri

    Rhology, If I were worried about whether or not some guy on the internet, who I don't even know, thought I was enough of a Chrisitan…I imagine I would be too afraid to speak about anything that entered my mind.Fortunately, I don't depend upon your approval or analysis of my character.It would be hard to know how more of a Chrisitian I could be….batized, believing, subscribing to a high Christology, attempting to live in a forgiving, loving way. I must have forgotten to check the box that said,"Rhology stamped and approved."Am I perfect? By no means. Do I know everything? no way. Could I be wrong? quite possibly.Yet my standing with God has been bought and paid for and your hand-wringing, accusation-throwing, condemnation-bearing attitude can't take that away from me.Christ purchased my freedom and supplied me with peace with God.I won't throw that away to appease anybody.What exactly am I supposed to be repenting of? Having ideas? Thinking about how people communicate with God?In your world it seems that salvation depends not on faith in Jesus, but faith in inerrancy. It seems impossible o you that someone could believe in Jesus and yet question things…..no matter how many people you come into contact with who do just that.The only way you seem to make any sense of it is to believe that it's impossible for such people to exist……so therefore they don't…they must only think they are Christians.whatever

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Hi Dr McGrath,I suppose you'd simply need to engage in an exegetical argument as to why the psgs mean sthg different. I certainly prefer that! Thing is, any citation or argument you might make along those lines will be crippled by your position that the Bible is errant. It's a warning – I'll call you on it every time and demand that you be consistent with your own position. I expect nothing less from you and expect such demands from others on me as well. (Or you could change your position away from your absurd one and embrace Jesus' position – that is the ideal.)Up to you to show HOW I'm a mirror-worshiper. I've come from a pretty similar background to yours, then been an atheist, been a charismatic, been an Arminian. I don't think that appellation fits, but feel free to make the argument.RE: half Jesus, I *do* believe that Christ gives light to all men.-praises Gentiles for their faith without double checking that they subscribe to monotheism, much less Christianity.-An unargued-for assertion. Christ was, you know, omniscient and knew what people were thinking. He knew that they DID have faith in Him; the text doesn't say either way (unless you can show one that does). You're apparently a little cheesed-off that I peppered you with prooftexts. I know they make you uncomfortable; that's the point. And besides, you asked for those very things. Then I give you what you ask for, and you're upset? -But it will do serious damage to your conscience, sooner or later-Do you really never get tired of making these naked, unsupported, and inconsistent assertions? I seriously find it hard to believe that anyone could just keep refusing to face up to what I've identified as the fundamental question in this discussion and just keep begging the question over and over and over. terri,-What exactly am I supposed to be repenting of? Having ideas?-Of ideas about the Word of God and His revelation that stand in direct opposition to Jesus', for starters. This whole "having ideas?" issue is, I would guess, your pomo Western political correctness talking. You (and I) are called and obliged to have the same ideas as God does, and He has let us know how to do that and what those ideas are. "Having ideas" is not commendable but rather condemnatory if those ideas are in conflict with God's ideas. I hope you will come to realise this rather than clinging to your self-righteousness.-In your world it seems that salvation depends not on faith in Jesus, but faith in inerrancy-No, not at all, but in my experience an errancy position gives me serious doubts that the person I'm talking to does indeed have saving faith in Christ and has indeed repented. Rarely happens. And you've said little in all our interactions to make me think I'm wrong (to my sorrow, and to your eventual sorrow).But even if you were saved, you'd still be obligated to repent of your sinful and absurd views on the errancy of God's revelation of Himself. And before you jump deeper into more self-righteous tu quoques, yes, I've repented of an awful lot of wrong viewpoints I've held in my own life, to say nothing of the thousands of bad things I've done.Peace,Rhology

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I don't get "cheesed off" about prooftexts (unless you quote the famous saying "Blessed are the cheesemakers…"), nor do they disturb me. But as you seem to be aware, my view of the Bible will lead me to ask what else the Bible says, and the claim that "the Bible says…" (which in fact means "this or that author wrote the following words" and hopefully also means "don't just read the quote, read the book to see the context") will not be sufficient to settle a matter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14245825667079220242 Rhology

    Oh, I thought it was "Blessed are the Greek!" ;-)"Don't pick your nose!"I know how annoying it can be to get a bunch of prooftexts you think are actually out of context thrown at you. I listen to alot of podcasts and interviews and debates and such, and that comes from all sides. LDS, JW, liberal, Emergent, fundamentalist KJV-only, pædobaptist, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, every position has someone who does that. I cringe when I see it coming from ppl with whom I agree.But I really do think that the texts I provided do speak to the point in question, properly understood in context. I couldn't live with myself otherwise. Peace,Rhology


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