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Two wrongs don’t make a right?

You may have heard the moral principle that two wrongs don’t make a right, but you’ve never read it in the Bible. I was thinking of that in connection with the creation/evolution debate, and specifically in connection with the YEC argument that a merciful, loving God would never use millions of years of death and extinction to create the rich variety of life on earth.

This God, you remember, is a God who wants to “mark” baby boys as His by taking an unsterilized knife to their genitals. This is a God who would snuff out the life of every firstborn child in Egypt, down to the tiniest baby of the lowliest (non-Jewish) slave, just to make a point to Pharoah. This is a God who allegedly produced all the fossils in the ground not over the natural course of eons, but in a sudden fit of wrath that destroyed 99.9999% or more of all life on earth, even in places where there weren’t any of the men He was mad at. This is the “merciful” and “loving” God who is supposedly too nice to use evolution to produce biological diversity.

But this isn’t even the half of it, because in pointing out the above Scriptural stories, we haven’t even mentioned animal sacrifice. And that’s where “two wrongs don’t make a right” comes in.

From a moral perspective, animal sacrifice is, at best, a peculiar institution. As a purely pragmatic superstition it might seem vaguely reasonable. When you live in a world controlled by bloodthirsty gods out to feast on the gory remains of your loved ones, why not satiate them first with the blood and flesh of your livestock so they will leave you, your friends, and your family in peace? It’s a kind of predator/prey relationship, with gods as the predators and people as the prey, but it does give a plausible sounding context to sacrificial worship.

As the kind of worship that would be tolerated, let alone required, by a truly moral God, however, animal sacrifice is rather bizarre. Imagine you’ve done something wrong—say you let the fire go out on a cold Saturday morning, and with malice aforethought you deliberately re-light it so you can stay warm, in direct violation of God’s commandment not to do any work on Saturday. Oops.

So now you’ve done something wrong. How are you going to make things right again? Well, you need to find some innocent creature who has never done you any harm, and you need to make it suffer, and bleed, and die, and then you’ve got to burn the corpse completely so that you can’t even justify your cruelty towards it by eating it or taking its hide or anything useful. Then when God sees the harm you have done to the harmless creature, the wrong you did to the animal will right the wrong you did by lighting a fire on Saturday. This is Old Testament morality.

Notice, this isn’t just another case of God being all hard-core in the Old Testament The whole New Testament Gospel is based on the idea that the second wrong—the vicious beating, crucifixion, and death of an innocent Lamb of God—makes all the first wrongs right. The suffering isn’t just an unfortunate by-product of the sacrificial system, as the New Testament reminds us over and over. The harm and the suffering and the death, are the wrongs that make redemption work.

It’s a direct repudiation of the elementary, secular moral principle that two wrongs don’t make a right. The evil you do to an innocent victim somehow has the magical moral power to make right all the rapes and murders and pedophilia and all the other evil things that people do to one another.

This is a terrible moral system. That’s the kind of reasoning you’re supposed to associate with necromancers and evil cults, not with any kind of good, loving, caring deity. But that horrible, perverted moral system is the essence of the “good news” of the Gospel. It’s two wrongs making a right. And that’s just wrong.