Who cares about what is true?

One of my recurring themes is the lack of concern about what is true. It doesn’t take long, trawling Facebook for example, to see how true this is. Graphic after graphic make truth claims or tell stories, which, with very little effort, can be determined to be false or at the very least misleading. Yet, if the comments are any indication, few if any of those commenting have taken the time or effort, minimal though it is, to check to see if what was posted it true before piling on with kudos, pats on the back and cheers of assent.

Equally frequent, and predictable, are the reactions to anyone who DOES take the time to question the veracity of the aphorism or story or to post a link or two showing it’s false. Some people deride the debunking by advancing some conspiracy theory regarding suppression of the “truth”, or question the dark and hidden forces that run snopes.com for example and promote the hidden agenda of misinformation of which snopes.com, and most other “hoax” sites, are apparently guilty. More often though, the response is something like, “who cares, I like it”, or “well it COULD be true”, or “who cares, it makes be feel good and is inspirational”. I despair!!

However, inspirational a story may be, if it didn’t happen, then no one did or said or acted in that inspiring and uplifting way. The serendipitous event didn’t actually occur, the incredible irony or confluence of events never actually conspired together. It matters whether it is true or not, at least so it seems to me, but apparently this is just not the case for a vast number of people.They blithely make truth claims and pass on what they have heard or read with little or no regard for whether it is true and make little. They make little or no attempt to determine the facts and reign in their speculation.

Does is not matter what it true? Are people so enthralled by what they want to be true as to not care what IS true? What’s more this carelessness about what is true masquerades as a concern for Truth especially when it involves the BIG questions. In some way I’ve yet to understand, the criteria for “what is true” is even more relaxed when it comes to the BIG questions then it is for the small ones.

Here is a shining example posted to Facebook with approval by Brad Warner.

“I believe that life passes through us, rather than the reverse. We spend our lives becoming what is disposed of in an instant: a match struck over the Atlantic on a dark night. Life is eternal, we aren’t. But that bit of us that is of Life will never perish. It animates whatever comes next. I suspect that when we die, we each receive a print-out of the life we have just finished; and that this in some way determines where our Energies go next. I wonder how Hitler felt when he opened his envelope. It is fairly unlikely that the personality, the memory or the consciousness, survive death; given how much time we spend building and inhabiting them; this is pretty tragic. Although, given the length of eternity, maybe not. The universe (as a fabric of space and time) is probably onion-shaped. There is no more an end or a beginning to it than there is to the horizon, which plays its own part in the myth of the straight line. But we are, as yet, finite creatures, and infinity is as remote from us as Richard Gere is from Cleopatra.” – Robyn Hitchcock

I didn’t know who Robyn Hitchcock was, so I went to Wikipedia.

“Robyn Rowan Hitchcock (born 3 March 1953) is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. While primarily a vocalist and guitarist, he also plays harmonica, piano and bass guitar.”

That’s basically it although he does seem to also be an artist and cartoonist.

“Hitchcock was born in London, England, son of novelist. He was educated at Winchester College. He writes short stories, paints (often in a whimsical style) and draws in the cartoon-strip mode. Hitchcock’s album covers often make use of his paintings or drawings, and the liner notes sometimes include a short story. His live concerts usually include story-telling, in the form of imaginative and surreal ad-libbed monologues in his lyrical style.”

So, he seems to be imaginative and I suppose one might conclude, thoughtful and reflective about the big question in life. Obviously someone doesn’t have to have a formal education to be intelligent, thoughtful and to give a considered opinion on all sorts of matters.However, to conclude that simply because he is a musician, an artist and creative, he is in some way qualified to make truth claims about BIG questions, I think, is a mistake. Yet, people make that mistake over and over and over.

For some reason because Deepak Chopra has a medical degree he is a “scientist” and must know about Quantum Physics would be another case in point. Just because a minister has a M.Div. degree and has learned theology doesn’t mean she is an expert in Philosophy of MInd would be another example. More close to home, just because Johnny Depp is edgy and quirky and creative and has oodles of money, doesn’t make him an expert on anything in particular or make his pronouncement about anything other than perhaps acting or music significant.

As for Robyn Hitchcock, he makes some significant claims about what is true in this quoted comment. Let’s tease these out.

1. Life passes through us rather than us through life and what we become is disposed of in an instant.

2. On the other hand, though “we” are not eternal, “Life” with a big “L” is and that part of us (whatever that means) IS eternal and somehow is responsible, “animates” what comes next, presumably for the part of us that isn’t really us but yet is us, because is was part of us.

3. Here we get very specific. We, the we that was disposed of, that is not eternal gets a printout of the life we just left, whatever the we is that is still around, at least for the printout and reading part, so must survive after death in some form like that before death at least for a while until the bit that is “Life” or “Energy”, but with capital letters goes on to something else. Yet is it unlikely that the memory and consciousness survive death, so who is reading the printout and how could someone like Hitler care what was in it?

4. If what we were is not eternal, is disposed of, if memory and consciousness don’t survive death what is the “Life” and “Energy” that somehow continue and more one and determine what will happen next? What exactly is it that “happens next”?

5. It’s tragic that memory and consciousness don’t survive death given the actually very brief amount of time we spend “building and inhabiting them”. but then in light of eternity, maybe not. Maybe not what? What does this have to do with eternity and what is the we that “builds and inhabits” memory and consciousness? Is it some homunculous outside of memory and consciousness? Is it the Life and Energy which are really not us, but I guess are us?

6. The universe, the fabric of space and time, is onion shaped and, I presume layered and round and endless and continuous and not linear.

7. We are finite creatures even though part of what we are continues and goes on to what is next, which he never defines.

This is just one example of hopeless pseudo profound drivel that people spout when they address the BIG questions. notice that while he begins with “I believe” which apparently allows him to say virtually ANYTHING without any evidence, argumentation or even an attempt at clarity, he is still making truth claims. In fact any attempt at eliciting any clarity will be met with two gambits.

The first is the “finger pointing at the moon” gambit. Since all of this is so profound and is beyond the realm of reason or discursive thought, clarity is just not possible. Somehow this lack or clarity is considered an further indication of it’s profundity. The second is the shrug and smug gambit. Since he’s not trying to convince anyone and it’s just what he believes, he can make whatever truth claims he likes without any support at all and still smugly smile knowingly implying “one day you just might understand”. In the meantime he’ll continue to spout this sort of drivel as if he is saying something about reality that even attempts to make any sense at all. Like the first gambit, this gambit is also seen as an indication of profound understanding and truth since there is no attempt to convince. “Just go find out for yourself, then you’ll know like I do”.

Small Epiphanes

Image Leaving the Church and more broadly, Christianity, has been a path paved with epiphanies. Realizations would dawn suddenly but  just like the light of day they had grown gradually from dawn to sunrise, from the first defused glow of light gradually increasing until there is a blaze of realization. I would finally see clearly with articulated thought that which had lain below it’s horizon only moments before. After the first blaze of blinding recognition, full daylight would illuminate the landscape of my thinking and that clarity of vision would become the new day.

Such was the case recently when I realized the decree to which I had ceded all the BIG and IMPORTANT questions and questing to religion. There was an un-articulated belief only religion whether traditional, ancient, new age or of other ethnic origin, was the only sort of inquiry that could delve into the depths of life’s most tenaciously held secrets and the deepest desires of the human heart and mind. I had consigned the most significant truths to the a realm beyond evidence and rational argument, essentially to “faith” and subjective personal experience.

It is really a matter of epistemology. How do we know what we know, and can we be comfortable with what we don’t know and perhaps never will be able to know? Can we be comfortable and secure knowing what it is possible to know and declining to force certainty where it is not? Can we live with a partial understanding which, admittedly, may change? In it’s absence do we, like Esau, trade our rational heritage for a mess of pottage just to fill out bellies and quell the haunting hunger of uncertainty.

Every religion of which I am aware relies on “revelation”. If you have been raised in the west in the bosom of Christianity, that revelation takes the form of a book which in turn is the record of the personal revelation given to individuals or groups. That revelation was then supposed written down having been passed from mouth to ear until someone recorded it. So, even in those religions who revelation is enshrined in print, personal revelation based in subjective personal experience is at their heart. Furthermore, even in when the predominant revelation is in print, there is still a significant role for revelation of a more personal, immediate and subjective nature.

For example, there are Pentecostals and other groups that believe God continues to reveal truth to them directly though dreams, visions ad prophecy along with the gift of tongues and “interpretation”. Even among those who eschew these gifts and graces as belonging to the infancy of the Church, there is a recognition of the need for the interpretation and application of texts to the immediate and personal situation and circumstances of the individual and the Church, an interpretation that is supposedly the supernatural, though rather mundane, work of the Holy Spirit. It is believed and taught that without the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit, the text cannot be properly interpreted and applied. Unless one has been “born again”, they are to a great degree blind to the true meaning and interpretation of Scripture. While they are very clear this is not “inspiration” of the same character as that which gave rise to Scripture, it is, nonetheless, a form of revelation. In the evangelical groups of which I was a member in college it was common to say “God showed me” or “God taught me”, when referring to some realization about a Biblical text especially as it applied to someone personal situation. Also, within the Christian tradition there are the mystics who share the epistemology of all forms of mysticism.

In all of these cases, “knowledge of the truth” is ultimately outside the reach of reason, observation and evidence. It lies in a distant land accessible only by personal immediate experience of varying degrees. In this regard Christianity is not alone. This was one of my first epiphanies. Take any religion in the world including those which are often advertised as immune to this sort of bifurcation of truth like Buddhism, especially Zen, and you will they are all the same. To a greater or lesser extent, when it comes to the core truths, knowledge of the truth is a matter of revelation. Simply because such revelation of truth may be open or more open to any individual does not change the fact that it is still a matter of an epistemology of immediate personal, subjective experience.

Buddhism and Daoism are often described as “philosophy” rather than religion. They are described as non-dogmatic with truth being a matter of observation and experience, or experimentation through the methods of the particular practice. This quote from the Kalama Sutta is proudly displayed.

““Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”

Brad Warner puts it this way in his book, “Hardcore Zen: punk rock, monster movies & the truth about reality”. This is taken from the back cover of the book.

“QUESTION AUTHORITY. QUESTION SOCIETY. QUESTION REALITY. QUESTION YOURSELF.

Question your conclusions, your judgement, your answers. Question this. If you question everything throughly enough, the truth will eventually hit you upside the head and you will know..But here’s a warning: it won’t be what you imagined. It won’t even be close.”

Sadly, as you read Warner’s books, especially his most recent, “There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places”, he pulls up short when it comes to his core assertions about reality. Much of what he relates in his books is biographical and includes a great deal of personal experience, some described, some only hinted. However, it is from these personal, subjective and immediate experiences, experiences conveying knowledge which is not, indeed cannot be, mediated by reason and discursive thought, knowledge which, in fact, cannot be adequately conveyed in words or descriptions but must simply be experienced, that he derives his “truth about reality”, a source and truth he ultimately refuses to question.

“You may want to ask me how I can know that experience [the experience on the Flower Bridge] was real and not a hallucination. You may want to challenge me to prove how what I’m saying here about this experience is different from some guy saying how when he was gonr again God told him to hate fags. I understand that. But I’m not really interested in pursuing those kinds of questions. I don’t want to prove to anyone that my experience was real. It’s not necessary or even possible. It won’t make what happened any less real if you disbelieve or any more real if you believe it.” [page 59]

In the course of his book he also becomes quite dogmatic about this truth. He recognizes for him to say something is true must necessarily mean something else is false, that’s just the way it is. Throughout the book he repeatedly takes many and varied people and beliefs to task for being wrong, and at times rather obviously so, based on his own personal, subjective experience. Experience which he refuses to questioned and, when criticized, he retreats to the Zen aphorism that his words and descriptions are only a “finger pointing at the moon” and not the moon itself, so, of course, they are not entirely defensible. When I raised this question in response to a post on his Facebook page, he told me to “go sit for five or six years and then you’ll know”, something to that effect. This is not different than the Christian believer, who when pressed regarding the paradoxical or non-scenically nature of their belief, fall back on the assertion, “I just know”. Further, if you accept Jesus, you can know too! Obviously accepting Jesus is not the same as having a sitting meditation practice, but the result is the same, personal subjective certainty of the truth.

Compare Warner’s approach to the question “Can We Communicate With The Dead”. Based on a personal experience which might easily be explained in terms of the operations of our brain. However, apparently “our consciousness” never dies and so we can encounter dead people. All of this he concludes based on a subjective personal experience, the truth of which he relates with great gravity and conviction. Yet, in his above referenced book, Warner blithely dismisses the experiences, probably equally compelling, of those like Eben Alexander and Colton Burpo who recount how they visited heaven or some afterlife dimension from which they draw equally sweeping cosmic conclusions about reality.

I use Warner only as an example of how even the most epistemology punk can still fall into the morass of subjectivism and dogmatism, and poor epistemology, in an effort to assert the truth of things which cannot be proven and to erase uncertainty around the BIG questions. Question Everything apparently doesn’t mean EVERYTHING! Warner relies on revelation no less than the Christians he criticizes.Warner castigates atheists as well, ironically, for fearing the unknown and trying to erase uncertainty, in this case, uncertainty generated by the truth of religious experiences like his own. Speaking in the context of Sam Harris and the New Atheist “movement”, Warner carps below.

“Many in the atheist camp want to deal with their fear of the unknown and the unknowable by believing in what others have said about them in more recent books. If they believe that all spiritual experience is based on hallucinations or imbalanced brain chemistry, then they have nailed it and it is no longer unknown and, therefore, no longer scary.” [page 119]

So, whether you are talking about rather traditional conservative Christianity, Christian mysticism, Buddhism or Daoism, they each rely on a form of revelation of a mystical sort. Mysticism of this stripe, holds that the only means of coming to a knowledge of the “truth” with a big “T”, is by immediate experience which is always personal and subjective experience. It is a personal and subjective experience which cannot be apprehended by anyone else simply because it is subjective and personal. It cannot be observed or measured or validated in any way other than through you own personal, subjective experience. It cannot even be adequately described or conveyed by words or reason. It is entirely and completely outside that realm of operation. However, it is the ONLY way “truth” with a big “T”, can be pursued and known AND it is a reliable way by which it is to be known.

As a result, mystics like Warner take their own personal, subjective experience and draw great sweeping cosmic conclusions. They believe what they experience maps onto and is a reliable guide to reality. So reliable a guide that it countermands observations, experimentation, reason and evidence. They draw conclusions which themselves open an Pandora’s box of other assertions and conclusions which must also be true and are equality fantastic. William of Ockham is spinning in his grave!

Back to my Epiphany! For years, even in the blooming of skepticism, I had taken ideas like Warner’s and other of the religious for granted without question. Science was for the physical world, but there were elements of reality which did not appertain to the method of science. These, these most important questions could only be apprehended through the methods of religion and the more ancient the better. That was an adjunct of the larger idea, that it was a matter of fact that ancient wisdom trumped modern thought every time. Why believe Nietzsche when you have Lao Tzu. Why listen to Bertand Russell when you have Jesus. Certainly THEY must have more and better things to same than anyone modern.

Hoping to see Rick Santorum “throw up”!

I recently read here that Rick Santorum almost threw up when he read JF Kennedy’s 1960 speech on the role of religion in political life. So, I decided I would publish the speech here courtesy of NPR in the hope that Rick Santorum will actually throw up, and not in a good way! (Transcript courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum).

Here is what bothered Santorum.

“Santorum defended his remarks, telling Stephanopoulos that “the first line, first substantive line in the speech, says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’”

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”

He went on to note that the First Amendment “says the free exercise of religion — that means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square.””

December 5, 2007

On Sept. 12, 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy gave a major speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of Protestant ministers, on the issue of his religion. At the time, many Protestants questioned whether Kennedy’s Roman Catholic faith would allow him to make important national decisions as president independent of the church. Kennedy addressed those concerns before a skeptical audience of Protestant clergy. The following is a transcript of Kennedy’s speech:

Kennedy: Rev. Meza, Rev. Reck, I’m grateful for your generous invitation to speak my views.

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida; the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power; the hungry children I saw in West Virginia; the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills; the families forced to give up their farms; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a “divided loyalty,” that we did “not believe in liberty,” or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the “freedoms for which our forefathers died.”

And in fact ,this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died, when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches; when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress, on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I have attended myself)— instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948, which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as Ireland and France, and the independence of such statesmen as Adenauer and De Gaulle.

But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser — in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the presidency — practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, so help me God.

Transcript courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

Editorial Refused! Krystal Myers Editorial deemed “disruptive”

Here is the back story of Krystal Myers whose Editorial for her School Paper (of which, BTW, she is the editor) was denied publication by the School Administration. The Administration deemed the Editorial potentially disruptive to the student body. So, since they will not publish it, I’m publishing it here as are a number of other blogs. The Administration apparently has NO PROBLEM incorporating Christian religious instruction and activities into school events and activities, even the classroom.

“LENOIR CITY — Krystal Myers is an honors student, captain of the swim team and editor of her high school newspaper.

She’s also an atheist in a predominantly Christian student body.

In a recent editorial that Myers, 18, intended for the Lenoir City High School newspaper entitled “No Rights: The Life of an Atheist,” she questioned her treatment by the majority.

“Why does atheism have such a bad reputation? Why do we not have the same rights as Christians?” she wrote.

Myers’ editorial also accused school administrators, teachers and coaches of violating the constitution by promoting “pro-Christian” beliefs during school-sponsored events.

Lenoir City school authorities have denied Myers permission to publish her editorial in the Panther Press, the staff supervised student newspaper.”

http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2012/feb/23/lenoir-city-high-school-wont-publish-atheist-on/

Here is her Editorial:

No Rights: The Life of an Atheist
By Krystal Myers

The point of view expressed in this article does not necessarily reflect the point of view of the Panther Press, its staff, adviser, or school.

As a current student in Government, I have realized that I feel that my rights as an Atheist are severely limited and unjust when compared to other students who are Christians. Not only are there multiple clubs featuring the Christian faith, but youth ministers are also allowed to come onto school campus and hand candy and other food out to Christians and their friends. However, I feel like if an Atheist did that, people would not be happy about it. This may not be true, but due to pervasive negative feelings towards Atheists in the school, I feel that it would be the case. My question is, “Why? Why does Atheism have such a bad reputation?” And an even better question, “Why do Christians have special rights not allowed to non-believers?”

Before I even begin, I just want to clear up some misconceptions about Atheism. No, we do not worship the “devil.” We do not believe in God, so we also do not believe in Satan. And we may be “godless” but that does not mean that we are without morals. I know, personally, I strive to be the best person I can be, even without religion. In fact, I have been a better person since I have rejected religion. And perhaps the most important misconception is that we want to convert everyone into Atheists and that we hate Christians. For the most part, we just want to be respected for who we are and not be judged.

Now you should know exactly what an Atheist is. Dictionary.com says that an Atheist is, “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” However, this does not mean that Atheists do not believe in higher causes; we just do not believe in a higher being.

With that being said, I can move on to the real issue. Before I begin, I want you to think about your rights and how your perceived “rights” might be affecting the rights of others.

There are several instances where my rights as a non-believer, and the rights of anyone other than a Christian, have been violated. These instances inspired me to investigate the laws concerning the separation of church and state, and I learned some interesting things. However, first, I would like you to know specifically what my grievances are against the school. First and foremost is the sectarian prayer that occurs at graduation every year. Fortunately, I am not the first one to have thought that this was a problem. In the Supreme Court case, Lee v. Weisman, it was decided that allowing prayer at graduation is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Special speakers can pray, but the school cannot endorse the prayer or plan for it to happen.

Public prayer also occurs at all of the home football games using the public address system. This has, again, been covered by the Supreme Court case Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe. The Court ruled that school-sponsored prayer is an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. If a speaker prays, it is fine. However, as soon as the school provides sponsorship, it becomes illegal. Sponsorship can be almost anything, even something as simple as saying that the speaker can pray or choosing a speaker with a known propensity to pray or share his or her religious views.

However, it is not just the speakers who we have to fear at Lenoir City High School. We also have to fear some of the teachers and what they might say about their own religious beliefs. On at least two separate occasions, teachers have made their religious preferences known to basically the whole school.

One teacher has made her religious preferences known by wearing t-shirt depicting the crucifix while performing her duties as a public employee. Also, Kristi Brackett, a senior at Lenoir City High School, has said that the teacher, “strongly encouraged us to join [a religious club] and be on the group’s leadership team.” Yet again, this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. When asked if this was true, the teacher replied, “As a teacher I would never use my power of influence to force my beliefs or the beliefs of [a religious club] on any student in the school.” Regardless, the religious t-shirts are still inappropriate in the school setting. Teachers are prohibited from making their religious preferences known; the Constitution requires them to be neutral when acting in their capacity as a public school teacher.

Not only are religious preferences shown through shirts, but also through a “Quote of the Day” that some teachers write on the boards in their classrooms. One teacher has Bible verses occasionally as the teacher’s “Quote of the Day” for students. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been violated, yet again with no regard for non-believers.

But perhaps I would have more hope in our school and the possibility of change on the horizon if our own school board did not open their meetings with prayer. A person who wished to remain anonymous that has been present at school board meetings says, “They do have prayers. They pray to ‘Our Heavenly Father’ and end with ‘In Jesus’ Name We Pray.’” Not only is this a violation of Supreme Court law, but also a violation of the board’s own policy that prohibits prayer at school-sponsored events. The whole foundation of how our school is conducted is established by obvious Christians. Somehow, this is unsurprising. If our School Board chooses to ignore the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Supreme Court, then it is no surprise that teachers choose to do the same.

I know that I will keep trying to gain my rights as an Atheist and as an American citizen, but I also need your help in educating other people to realize the injustice done to all minority groups. The Christian faith cannot rule the United States. It is unconstitutional. Religion and government are supposed to be separate. If we let this slide, what other amendments to the Constitution will be ignored? I leave you to decide what you will or will not do, but just remember that non-believers are not what you originally thought we were; we are human beings just like you.

End of her Editorial.

Is God a Moral Monster?

This question forms the lead title for a book written by Paul Copan. The subtitle is “Making Sense of the Old Testament God”. I find the title and subtitle curious as Dr. Copan seems to segregate “God” as he supposedly presents himself in the Hebrew Bible and as he presents himself in the New Testament. I’m sure that’s not his intention but that is certainly the way it came across to me. I think it illustrates very clearly something which resonate in most readers of the Christian Bible, that somehow the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New need some reconciling and some serious explanation. This is what Copan attempts to do in the 306 pages that follow specifically in terms of the “ethics” or “morality” of the actions attributed to “God” in the Old Testament. Obviously there is an issue here or there would be no topic for such a book.

Dr. Copan is Professor and Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University and holds an M.A. Diploma in Philosophy of Religion as well as an M.Div. Diploma in Divinity both from Trinity International University. He also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy with an emphasis in the Philosophy of Religion from Marguette University. From reading his curriculum vitae it is fairly clear Dr. Copan focuses on morality and ethics. I came to this book from a recommendation by Dr. William Lane Craig in his debate with Dr. Sam Harris on whether there can be an objective ground for morality entitled “Does Good Come From God”. Generally speaking I have been impressed with Dr. Craig’s skill at the strategy and tactics of debate but thoroughly unimpressed with his arguments. All you have to do is watch a few of the debates to see how he attempts to manipulate the debate to gain a technical victory in the absence of substantial arguments. Nonetheless I thought if this book contains what he thinks is the best argument for the morality of God in the Old Testament I would give it a try.

Although I have not yet finished the book by Copan it is clear early on the sole basis for his answer to the question “Is God a Moral Monster” is that “God was morally justified”. This is the one and only argument which he applies to a number of topics. More specifically it goes like this and I paraphrase, “If you understand what is really going on and what is really at stake then GOD IS MORALLY JUSTIFIED (emphasis mine) in doing what he did (fill in the blank). For example, Chapter 4 is titled “Monumental Rage and Kingly Jealousy” where he spins off comments and accusations made by the “new atheists” as he does throughout the book. He goes on to deal with the issue of “jealousy”. He defines jealousy in such a way as to allow for both “good” and “bad” jealousy and spills a great deal of ink on the “marriage analogy” in the Old Testament which as a description of the nature and character of God’s relationship with Israel. He attempts to portray God as a jilted and rejected lover who has opened his heart to Israel, who has bared his soul and made himself vulnerable to the emotional hurt of rejection and betrayal. God is “engaging and relational “and his love is that of a “passionate husband”. The anthropomorphizing flies fast and furious and is limited to only one side of the “relational” activities of God; what he considers the emotional vulnerability of God as he relates to Israel in his love and commitment to them.

He then paints Israel’s religious “apostasy” as being a religious “slut” and “whore” who “opens her legs” to any and all in the most heinous acts of “spiritual adultery imaginable. However, this is in the context of a marriage covenant in which Israel becomes “Mine” and in which their adultery is really the act of failing to worship the husband and refusing to consistently and absolutely obey what the husband says and requires of Israel even down to the most minimal requirement. What we have here is the infinite epitome of marriage as male dominion and the wife as “owned” with divorce only possible at the hands of the husband and the wife obligated by her husband’s giving to her lavishly of his wealth. Many of these requirements and obligations carry with them the penalty of death if violated.

Copan goes on to say that Israel’s idolatry was like “a husband finding his wife in bed with another man–on their honeymoon!” Here is the climactic conclusion in Copan’s own words.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that God wanted to wipe out Israel after the golden calf betrayal: “Let me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you [Moses] a great nation” (Exod. 32:10)””

Frankly I would hope, in my finite flawed human way, if I were in that situation I would be more high minded than for my mind and emotions to immediately contemplate slaughter and to have to be deterred from acting on my impulse. But then thankfully, I’m not God.

I suppose you could take up angel dancing and argue that God didn’t really mean to destroy Israel as Moses prevailed up him not to and God can’t after all change his mind so he didn’t intend to to begin with. Exactly what the purpose and meaning of this exchange would be in that context I don’t know. It is a test I suppose of some sort, the sort of which the God of the Old Testament is very fond. However, taken at face value we have a volatile, jealous, domineering husband enraged by his wife’s infidelity and ready to kill her for it. Moses is able to prevail on God’s vanity “What will the nations think, how will you appear if you kill them in the desert?” and God appears to relent. Taken at face value Moses has managed to appease a volatile, jealous, changeable deity. It is only with forced attempts to impose consistency and more “high minded” views of the divine on this narrative that one can make it anything more than it clearly appears.

Unfortunately Israel isn’t able to gain a divorce and take out a cosmic restraining order. Nor can they, according to another analogy often used, get out of the suzerain treaty to which they are bound with Yahweh. Basically Yahweh has chosen them, he is obsessed with them, he has offered them “protection” in exchanged for loyalty and obedience and they have little other alternative. They are, like the lowly shopkeeper caught between the thugs and extortionists. In the milieu of the Middle East it is either Yahweh or any host of more powerful kings and countries who would force tribute. This is a patriarchal abusive marriage. Yahweh loves them as long as they are prepared to be the obedient, worshipful spouse otherwise they curry his wrath. The history of Israel could be viewed as the repeated beatings of an abusive husband attempting to enforce abject submission on a spouse with whom he is obsessed and over whom he is determined to exercise power and dominion.

Now we come to the failing of this “moral justification” argument. It is simply another circular argument being palmed off as reason. First there is a clear appeal to revelation. The account and perspective of the Bible is taken for granted. We are asked to accept not only the narrative but the whole biblical world view to make this moral argument even capable of being advanced. Further we are asked to accept the theological assumption that all of the Bible must be read in terms of the whole of the Bible as though it were a unified work.

However, the Bible after all is NOT one book. It is a collection of ancient manuscripts whose date and authorship is essentially unknown. Whats more, it is actually TWO collections, one in the Hebrew Bible and one in the New Testament which arose out of radically historically dis-separate religious communities. We are being expected to accept this assumption and to view it as though it were a consistent whole rather than what it far more arguably is, a patchwork quilt. It is a collection of manuscripts held very loosely together by the history of a religious community, selected to be as consistent as possible considering the widely divergent representations they contain and the significant historical distance they have both from the events they purport to recount and from each other.

The main argument fails on the very point it’s proponents are anxious to promote and indeed on which the “objective ethics” argument relies; the aseity of the God of the Old Testament. Here is a little introduction from Wikipedia:

Aseity (from Latin a “from” and se “self”, plus -ity) refers to the property by which a being exists of and from itself, or exists as so-and-such of and from itself.[1] The word is often used to refer to the Christian belief that God contains within himself the cause of himself, though many Jewish and Muslim theologians have also believed God to be independent in this way.[1] Notions of the aseity of the highest principle go back at least to Plato and have been in wide circulation since Augustine, though the use of the word ‘aseity’ began only in the Middle Ages.[1]
Often, as a part of this belief God is said to be incapable of changing.[1] Many, (St. Thomas, for instance) have also thought that aseity implies divine simplicity: that God has no parts of any kind (whether spatial, temporal, or abstract), since complexes depend on their individual parts with none of which they are identical.[2] A further implication often drawn among classical theists has been that God is without emotion or is “impassible” for, it is said, emotion implies standing as patient (pass-) to some agent – i.e., dependence.[3]

Basically God is a law unto himself. There are no standards outside of or apart from God by which he may be judged. He and he alone defines everything. This is the argument put forward by Dr. Craig. God is the ground of morality. Objective morality arises from and is a reflection of the very nature of God (by God he means the God of the Bible not the god he claims to be referencing and whose existence he claims to be able to prove by “natural religion”). As an aside this is part of the slipperiness of what he and other apologist do here. They claim no appeal to revelation. They claim they are proving their claims based on reason and natural religion only but then use the term God in the sense in which only revelation, the Christian revelation, could determine. The god of natural religion and the arguments from reason flawed as they are, is a far cry from the God revealed in the Bible or more specifically created by Biblical and Systematic Theology out of the raw Biblical material. The apologist blithely gloss over this point and hope you will not notice.

So the argument runs, God defines what is moral by his nature. God can only act consistently with his nature, therefore everything which God does is moral because God defines what is moral. Basically God is just, why? because he just IS, that’s why. It’s that simple AND that ridiculous. Further they want to have their cake and eat it too. They argue that the moral sense we as humans have is derived from being created in the image of God and therefore is a reflection of the God’s nature and God’s morality. However, if you question the actions of God as immoral they will quickly tell you that you cannot use you sense of morality to judge God’s actions because your sense of morality is flawed. It is not a reflection of an objective standard by which God can be judged. Rather it is a “sinful” rendition of the morality which arises out of God’s nature and must be “informed” by the actual actions of God, which, remember, as always moral despite what you might think. After all everything God does is moral by definition. This essentially makes the use of the words, justice, love, and compassion meaningless when applied to God.

Justice is whatever God does, Love is whatever God does, Mercy is whatever God does, Compassion is whatever God does and so on. If you disagree then go back to the beginning and repeat, Love is whatever God does, Justice is whatever God does, etc. Once again you could also apply the rule of falsifiability (although apparently Logic and Reason are also what the Bible say they are and NOT what you might think they are as are the standards of historical proof but that is for another day). You cannot falsify the claim God is Loving, or God is Just, or God is Merciful. There are no conditions, no actions of God that if they were uncovered would demonstrate the falsity of those assertions. As a result they are not claims about the real world which can be taken seriously.

Isn’t this fun??

I was disappointed in Dr Copan’s book. He offered nothing which I had not heard and employed decades ago in the defense of the actions of the God of the Old Testament. This is not a sophisticated argument, it is not new and it is not compelling and most of all it’s not rational except within the theological box in which he is working. I was disappointed but not surprised that Dr. Craig recommended it so highly and is apparently parroting it in his own published work.

This argument does nothing to erase the great Bogey Man of Christian apologist when discussing morality, the great Bogey Man of SUBJECTIVITY. All it serves to do is move that subjectivity to the divine and out of the realm of human thought. By so doing it becomes about the most subjective subjectivity possible, the definition of something by only one; the mind and nature of God which ultimately, according to Dr. Craig, we cannot possible really know. That is why God has to tell us what to do without any real offer of justification. Human being are, in his view, incapable of coming to the right conclusions regarding morality and apparently would not even know it if we saw it as is the case when we attempt to critique the morality of God in the Old Testament.

Musings on the Moral Argument for the Existence of God

It seems, listening to debates between theist (primarily Christians) and non-theist, one issue arises over and over again and that is the question of morality. Whether the debate is about the existence of God or about morality proper (can one be good without God), morality comes up over and over.
 
With regard to the debates about the existence of God the argument seems to be that without God there can be no objective (read, I believe, universally obligatory dictates of behavior) morality. God is the source and, more importantly, the “ground” of what is “good” and therefore of the dictates of “good” behavior and “not-good” behavior. They then either argue that there is a necessity to have dictates of “good” behavior or that our “sense” of an objective morality prove the existence of God, God being the only guarantee of or explanation for such objective morality. Otherwise on the one hand,  there would be an outbreak of “not-good” behavior which everyone agrees would not be pleasant. If not a descent into immorality there would at least be confusion about what to do in specific situations because we are concerned about what we “must” do, that is we are concerned about “good” and “not-good” or “right” and “not right”. Thus there must be a God. On the other hand, the argument might run that there is a sense of “good” and “not-good” even if we don’t know what is “good” and “not-good” or that we do seem to have some sort of universally accepted idea of what is practically “good” and “not-good” thus there must be a God for this sense or practical knowledge to exist.
 
However, if God does not exist and therefore is not the source or “ground” of what is “good” then the only approach left to us is a non-theistic, non- “divine command” approach. It doesn’t matter whether such an approach is desirable or undesirable, it is all that is left. Just because we think we “need” objective, universally obligatory dictates to behavior does not justify manufacturing a source and “ground”. This is akin to the “usefulness” of religion argument. Whether it’s true or not true is secondary to it’s usefulness. If it is useful then why not acknowledge that it might be true and indeed it’s usefulness may be an argument that it is probably true. This is of course ridiculous. What is true is our primary concern regarding the existence of God. Whether we like where that leaves us morally in the even God does not exist is beside the point, that is our reality.
In addition to the above argument often then there is thrown in the critique of “naturalistic” morality that you cannot get an “ought” from and “is”. This is given credence by quoting the epitome of empiricism and naturalist philosophy, Hume. Other philosophers have followed suit, like G.E. Moore to argue that Hume is right. So, it would seem that non-theist are left with no method or path to universally obligatory dictates of behavior. This is used to strike fear into the hearts of any insipient non-theist or to argue that non-theist are really theist when it comes to “morality”. You can’t throw away your cake and have it too was it were.
 
It seems to me that this argument has a number of issues in terms of hidden assumptions. First there is the assumption that there must be Objective dictates, meaning they arise outside of and apart from the minds and consciousness of human beings. It is assumed that if it does not arises outside of human beings it must be individualistically relative, that is that it cannot be universal (similarly held ideas or dictates). It is also assumed that there must be “obligation” and obligation cannot exist unless the dictates arise from some source to which one is obligated presumable external to oneself and to humankind in general. So the assumption is that you must have an “ought” which is imposed from outside, not arising from human beings or human society or human development and you must have a source which is unchanging so that the dictates do not change. Only then can you have “morality”.
 
Lying deeper is the assumption that human beings are incapable of determining what to do in these special “moral” situations and that there is some special category of “moral” behavior which is more than practical. Apparently you cannot have principles unless they are not practical and unless they never change and never admit to exceptions. Much ink has been spilled by Christian apologist to deal with exceptions which are clear but which are unpalatable, to show they are really not exceptions. A classic example is the “hiding-Jews-in-your-basement-when-the-Nazis-coming-knocking” problem. The argument regarding Objective Morality falls apart if even one of these assumptions proves false.
 
Another issue is the question of “good”. What exactly is “good”? They argue there must be an Objective (coming from outside human beings) definition of “good” or “not-good” otherwise there can be no definition of “good and “not-good”. They then argue that God is the very definition of “good” and “not-good”, that God is the “ground” of “good” and “not-good”. So that the very nature of God is “good”. However unless you allow for there to be a sort of ideal outside of God by which God is judged then you simply move the relativism from human consciousness to God. “Good” and “not-good” become relative as they are determined by divine fiat based on divine nature. In this sense what is “good” is “good” simply because God says so. Just because it is a reflection of the “divine” nature does not make it any less a fiat. Is it not possible that what we accept generally and mostly universally as “good” actually arises from human consciousness from which the “goodness” of God has been created. So, the aseity of God becomes an issue but cannot be given up. Otherwise “good” becomes god and God is no longer supreme. Obligation is simply based on God being more powerful than we are and perhaps having created us.
 
That there is a special category of behavior called “moral” seems to beg the argument and essential come from the assumptions of religion and of Christianity in particular. They then define this special category as by necessity requiring obligation and universality of a non-relative sort. This obligation must be “objective” and the universalism must also be “objective”, the only alternatives are said to be no obligation and total individual relativity. They also insist on a category of behavior called “good” and “not-good” which like morality is a special category or behavior which does not arise out of human nature or consciousness and is not perceivable by that consciousness. It must be revelatory or infused.
 
The latter is the explanation of the “Presuppositionalist”. Any universal consciousness of “good” does not arise from human nature or consciousness but rather was infused by God and continues to be witnessed to by God in creation and revelation. In fact they go further and claim that while one might expect mankind to descend into utter wickedness (as they define it) they do not because God prevents them from being as bad as they could and “ought” to be by his “Common Grace”. So, the world outside the box is explained by arguments in the box so that the world within the box continues to “sync” with the world outside the box.
 
Another issue is the assumption of Free Will but that is another argument.
 
Suppose this is all just a self-created problem which then, from their view, admits only to their answer. Suppose there is no special category called moral behavior there is just behavior. Suppose it is possible to have universally held ideas of behavior which arise out of human nature and consciousness. Suppose then that people are naturally inclined to behave that way. While there are exceptions generally people do. 
 
Suppose further there is no need for a category of “good” and “not-good” in a moral sense. Suppose that there need be no other obligation other than common social and cultural obligation or obligation to “humanity” as a whole. Why would it not be sufficient to determine behavior by what promotes well-being for example unless they impose restrictions like those imposed above by hidden assumptions. Is this not similar to the issue of uncertainty and unknowing but in the realm of behavior and not cosmology or ontology? Being fearful of that which one cannot know and of what is inevitably uncertain there is an insistence there be knowledge and certainty in areas where there is and can be none. In this case, a wrong answer is better than no answer.
Perhaps there is no need to go from Is to Ought. Perhaps is, is enough. Most likely “is” is what we have.

God’s Ethics

This is supposed to be a justification and explanation of the God’s ethics in the Old Testament

by Dennis Smith on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 at 1:57pm
The Author’s answer to his own question “Did God Order the Killing of Babies” is yes, he did, but it was okay! Anyone who can be horrified by the genocide of man yet blink and turn a blind eye to the genocide of God is just not taking the biblical narrative seriously. If you read this in the news and the name of the perpetrator was not “God” but “Gaddafi” any rational, feeling human being would be revolted to the point of vomiting. However somehow because it is in the bible and the perpetrator is God, it’s okay. What sort of warped ideas must you accept and must become part of your psychology for them to justify God’s behavior in the Old Testament. You just can’t possibly be treating it as a “real” event. There must be some mental and emotional abstraction and distancing taking place.

The God of the Old Testament on the one hand condemns the actions of the worshipers of “pagan” gods then does the same thing himself. Perhaps these deaths were not performed on his altar but as the author makes out, they were a “sacrifice” to a holy and righteous God because of sin. That makes it okay. Once again you must accept the presuppositions of the bible about God and the reality he has supposedly created in order to then accept the portrait of God the bible draws. We are then told that we cannot understand or accept that reality in the bible, indeed the reality in which we supposedly still live, unless we first accept the God who created that reality. Once gain we are dancing around a circle. The problem is that no matter how fast and sprightly you dance it is still a circle and does not lead to the truth.

It isn’t just the Old Testament. Any believer who accepts the Bible as the very Word of God, inspired, inerrant and infallible must accept this portray of the Old Testament God and carry that same portrait into the New Testament for indeed the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New are one. In fact, if you believe the doctrine of the trinity, Jesus is the incarnation of the God of the Old Testament. Jesus as the Son was fully and completely “on board” with the actions of the God we see in the Old Testament. No slight of hand of asserting the one in three and the three in one, one God in three persons can slip past this conclusion. Even if one was to question that association, indeed that identity, Jesus has enough words of judgment of his own. The Jesus who, writing in the dirt, encourages the Pharisees to “cast the first stone” and then sends the woman caught in adultery away with a simple, “go and sin not more” hides the executor of the Final Judgment riding on the White Horse, wearing a white robe soaked in the blood of his enemies.

So concludes the author himself.

“Those who reject the ethics of God’s destructive activity in the Old Testament, to be consistent, must reject Jesus and the New Testament. Over and over again, Jesus and the New Testament writers endorsed and defended such activity (e.g., Luke 13:1-9; 12:5; 17:29-32; 10:12; Hebrews 10:26-31). The Bible provides the only logical, sensible, meaningful, consistent explanation regarding the principles of retribution, punishment, and the conditions under which physical life may be extinguished”

I believe he has made his case but the verdict is not what he intended.

Did God Order the Killing of Babies?
by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Skeptics and atheists have been critical of the Bible’s portrayal of God ordering the death of entire populations—including women and children. For example, God instructed Saul through the prophet Samuel to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Samuel 15:3-4, emp. added). Other examples include the period of the Israelite conquest of Canaan in which God instructed the people to exterminate the Canaanite populations that occupied Palestine at the time. However, if one cares to examine the circumstances and assess the rationale, the Bible consistently exonerates itself by offering legitimate clarification and explanation to satisfy the honest searcher of truth.
The Hebrew term herem found, for instance, in Joshua 6:17, refers to the total dedication or giving over of the enemy to God as a sacrifice involving the extermination of the populace. It is alleged that the God of the Bible is as barbaric and cruel as any of the pagan gods. But this assessment is simply not true.

If the critic would take the time to study the Bible and make an honest evaluation of the principles of God’s justice, wrath, and love, he would see the perfect and harmonious interplay between them. God’s vengeance is not like the impulsive, irrational, emotional outbursts of pagan deities or human beings. He is infinite in all His attributes and thus perfect in justice, love, and anger. Just as God’s ultimate and final condemnation of sinners to eternal punishment will be just and appropriate, so the temporal judgment of wicked people in the Old Testament was ethical and fair. We human beings do not have an accurate handle on the gravity of sin and the deplorable nature of evil and wickedness. Human sentimentality is hardly a qualified measuring stick for divine truth and spiritual reality.

How incredibly ironic that the atheist, the agnostic, the skeptic, and the liberal all attempt to stand in judgment upon the ethical behavior of God when, if one embraces their position, there is no such thing as an absolute, objective, authoritative standard by which to pronounce anything right or wrong. As the French existentialist philosopher, Sartre, admitted: “Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist…. Nor…are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimize our behavior” (1961, p. 485). The atheist and agnostic have absolutely no platform on which to stand to make moral or ethical distinctions—except as the result of purely personal taste. The mere fact that they concede the existence of objective evil is an unwitting concession there is a God Who has established an absolute framework of moral judgments.

The facts of the matter are that the Canaanites, whom God’s people were to destroy, were destroyed for their wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4; 18:9-12; Leviticus 18:24-25,27-28). Canaanite culture and religion in the second millennium B.C. were polluted, corrupt, and perverted. No doubt the people were physically diseased from their illicit behavior. There simply was no viable solution to their condition except destruction. Their moral depravity was “full” (Genesis 15:16). They had slumped to such an immoral, depraved state, with no hope of recovery, that their existence on this Earth had to be terminated—just like in Noah’s day when God waited while Noah preached for years, but was unable to turn the world’s population from its wickedness (Genesis 6:3,5-7; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 3:5-9). Including the children in the destruction of such populations actually spared them from a worse condition—that of being reared to be as wicked as their parents and thus face eternal punishment. All persons who die in childhood, according to the Bible, are ushered to Paradise and will ultimately reside in Heaven. Children who have parents who are evil must naturally suffer innocently while on Earth (e.g., Numbers 14:33).

Those who disagree with God’s annihilation of the wicked in the Old Testament have the same liberal attitude that has come to prevail in America just in the last half century. That attitude has typically opposed capital punishment, as well as the corporal punishment of children. Such people simply cannot see the rightness of evildoers being punished by execution or physical pain. Nevertheless, their view is skewed—and the rest of us are being forced to live with the results of their warped thinking: undisciplined, out-of-control children are wreaking havoc on our society by perpetrating crime to historically, all-time high levels.

Those who reject the ethics of God’s destructive activity in the Old Testament, to be consistent, must reject Jesus and the New Testament. Over and over again, Jesus and the New Testament writers endorsed and defended such activity (e.g., Luke 13:1-9; 12:5; 17:29-32; 10:12; Hebrews 10:26-31). The Bible provides the only logical, sensible, meaningful, consistent explanation regarding the principles of retribution, punishment, and the conditions under which physical life may be extinguished.

REFERENCE
Sartre, Jean Paul, (1961), “Existentialism and Humanism,” French Philosophers from Descartes to Sartre, ed. Leonard M. Marsak (New York: Meridian).

Genocide of the Amorites