Another Response to Rusty on Biblical Morality

Another Response to Rusty on Biblical Morality July 26, 2004

Rusty Lopez has written a more thorough response to my post on morality. I specifically brought up Numbers 31, and Rusty has taken up the cause to defend the biblical passage and the genocidal command allegedly given by God. Here is his defense:

There are several avenues of response available to the questions posed by Ed and Dark (very good questions, by the way). For one, I could discuss how the instances of God commanding the Israelites to slaughter their enemies varied in application. In other words, the commands were situation specific and had to do, among other things, with God’s judgment regarding the level of depravity of the particular people in question. With regards to the Numbers 31 incident, one must first look at Numbers 25:1-3 to see the type of depravity that Israel had fallen into:

When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel.

By joining themselves to Baal-peor, Israel sinned against God. The initial judgment levied by God was against Israel in which a plague wipes out 24,000 Israelites (Numbers 25:9). In Numbers 31:1-2 we read:

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Exact vengeance for the Israelites on the Midianites—after that you will be gathered to your people.”

The level of judgment is tied to the level of depravity that occurred (i.e., Israel’s sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab). The nation of Israel could not exist in union with both God and the Midianites. That certain nations had degenerated to a state of debauchery which included child sacrifice is a point that some critics seem to conveniently ignore.

Notice how he has to say “certain nations” rather than saying that the Midianites committed child sacrifice? This is because the text does not even make the claim that the Midianites did any such thing. Notice also that the text says that the sexual immorality was between the Israelites men and the Moabite women, not the Midianite women. In Numbers 24, it mentions that the elders of Midian met with the kings of Moab and devised a plan to place a curse on the Isrealites, who were moving into their lands. And of course they worshipped gods other than Jehovah. That’s it. That’s the “level of depravity” that Rusty refers to that the genocidal attack on them was supposedly “tied to”. Now let’s do a little thought experiment…

Let’s say that the leader of England announces that he has spoken to God and God has told him that they are to attack France and kill every man, married woman and male child in the entire country of France, and all of their livestock and animals, except the young virgin French girls who will be passed out to the English soldiers as the spoils of war. The reason why this must be done is that some of the English young men have been having sex with French women. And the French, being Hindu (it’s a thought experiment, remember), worship a different God than the English, making the English God very angry at the idolatry of the French.

Now, is there a single person on the face of the earth who would accept this claim? Not likely. Is there a single soldier in the British military who would follow an order to do that? Not likely. Would the British leader who said such a thing be considered a great and holy man, or would he be considered an utter madman? I’ll vote for madman. I bet Rusty would too. I bet every Christian would hold the exact same opinions I just expressed about that situation. Yet, the situation is absolutely identical. Would Rusty be justifying that genocidal order by saying that it was proportional to the “level of depravity” of the French? Of course he wouldn’t. In logic, this is known as “special pleading”, when one accepts a rationalization in one particular aspect that they would reject completely in any analogous context.

It is also true that God, being allegedly omniscient and omnipotent, could have dealt with the situation in many other ways short of genocide. Why didn’t he appear before the Midianite people and awe them with signs of his power and tell them that their behavior was sinful? If for some reason he was insistent upon getting rid of them entirely, why not just strike them dead? And why on earth keep the virgin girls alive for the soldiers to use? I know, I know – “who are you to question God?”. But I’m not questioning God, I’m questioning these silly rationalizations of actions that I believe were falsely attributed to God.

I don’t think Rusty really believes that genocide is a reasonable response to the “level of depravity” that is mentioned in the text here. I think he just MUST believe that it’s reasonable because the only alternatives – admitting that God is a monster or that monstrous things are falsely attributed to God in the bible – are not even open to consideration for him. Those things simply have to be false or his entire belief system comes crashing down. I know this because I’ve been there before. I went through this myself some 20 years ago and ultimately decided that the only intellectually honest answer I could give was that I could not continue to believe in something so irrational.

The rest of Rusty’s post is devoted to repeating, in a lot of verbiage, the argument that I have already addressed previously. It’s the “how can you know what right and wrong is without God” – the Simon Says argument. He will ONLY accept a moral position if it begins or ends with “God said so”. But as I’ve already noted numerous times, the divine command theory doesn’t make it any more objective and consistent than any philosophical moral position because God can say one thing and do another (as with David and Bathsheba) and the believer has to believe that BOTH are equally moral because they both came from God. And if two opposite actions can both be moral in the same circumstances, you don’t have an objective morality, you have “might makes right” – God is the biggest bully on the block and he can do what he wants, so you better just shut up and take it or he’ll kill you too.

You see how all of this runs around in a circle? You must presume the conclusion, and once you presume the conclusion then you can swat away any and all logical objections to it with “who are you to judge God?”. It’s an absolutely perfect mobius strip of logic, turning back into itself and automatically making the claim impervious to all logic. It’s not logical, it’s alogical.

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