By way of introduction, some of you will remember Matt Dillahunty’s on-air debate with apologist Matt Slick of the CARM website, which was recorded on February 22, 2009. If you missed it, here you go. Keep in mind this is the first of nine parts.
Recently one of our viewers emailed us about a rather alarming article by Slick on the CARM site that stands as an exemplar of just how religion’s confused notions of what constitutes “morality” has led religion to be the foremost enabler of atrocity in history. In brief, when Christians insist that morality itself is impossible without Christianity, and atheists reply by rattling off endless examples both from scripture and real life of the devout behaving badly, the spin machine kicks into gear so fast you can practically see the Higgs boson particles zinging off it in all directions. Justify, justify, justify, is the order of the day.
Here, Slick justifies what may be one of the most appalling crimes there is: the “honor killing” of daughters (yes, it’s always daughters) who are not acceptably virginal in the eyes of their fathers and grooms. In this context, “father” and “groom” is a term interchangeable with “owner.”
Slick begins by quoting a lengthy passage from Deuteronomy in which God’s laws for dealing with an insufficiently chaste bride are detailed. The passage first declares that any groom who is caught trying to weasel out of his marriage by lying that his bride was not a virgin will be fined 100 shekels and then forbidden from ever divorcing his wife as long as he lives (which I imagine is considered the worse punishment). On the other hand, if it turns out that the bride was indeed not a virgin at her nuptials, then the skanky ho is to be taken out and stoned to death.
So let’s review. Man at fault = fined money. Woman at fault = murdered. Yeah, that sounds ever so egalitarian!
To attempt to defend a practice so primitive, inhumane and frankly monstrous, one would, you’d think, have to be not only an idiot, but someone plumbing hitherto unexamined depths of idiocy just to see how far he could go before imploding into something like a black hole of idiocy so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape. Well, folks, we have that intrepid explorer right here. Step right up, Mr. Slick.
When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose, and so Slick leads with his worst punch.
Critics of the Bible must be careful not to impose their present day moral system upon that of an ancient culture found in Scripture and then judge Scripture as though it is inferior to their own subjective morality. The above verses were written 3,000 years ago in a very different culture and location.
Uhhh…yeah. Let’s see, how do I explain this to someone so intellectually impacted?
What is at issue here is the notion of treating a human being as property, denied any sense of personal agency. By slipping in that favorite of all apologetic weasel phrases, “subjective morality,” Slick doubtless believes he’s scored a home run right out of the dugout, when in fact it’s a pop fly. If anyone here is exhibiting “subjective” morality, it’s Slick, making the above quote one of the most awesome irony-meter-melting sentences you’re likely to read from an apologetics source.
Slick appears to accept that our moral precepts are different from those of 3000 years ago. Thus he suggests that while we may be right to be appalled at savage acts of cruelty towards young women in 2011 CE, we have no reason to be appalled by the same acts in 989 BCE. (Yeah, I used a calculator.) I guess time heals all wounds, eh? And yet, Slick gives us no reason why we should suspend our “subjective” morality in this way. Beyond basically saying “This is how they rolled back then,” we are given no valid moral justification (hell, I’d have even taken a mildly coherent one) for why we should think misogynist brutality is A-okay as long as it happened long long ago.
Moreover, is there a statute of limitations (maybe in the fine print at the bottom of the decalogue tablets) for this kind of thing? Is there a cutoff period where my “subjective” morality just becomes straight-up morality and it’s okay for me to call an atrocity an atrocity? Can I just look at American slavery and say, “Well, I must must be careful not to impose my present day moral system on the culture of 160 years ago.” Or is it too soon?
Let us briefly consider what is involved in stoning someone to death.
Matt Frauenfelder at Boing Boing (too many Matts in this piece, I must say) has helpfully provided us with an illustrated guide. This graphic shows how they do it in the Muslim world, which is the only contemporary culture I know of still goat-fucking barbaric enough to pull this crap. The details might have been different when the ancient Jews did it, but I suspect the results were the same: a dead girl.
First the victim is partially buried standing up, because it’s no fun if the stonee is running around frantically for her life. You might miss and hit your mom or something. Then, the actual process of killing the victim can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on, I don’t know, whether the victim’s skull is especially thick, or whether the stones are nice and hard or soft and crumbly, or maybe it’s just a matter of how goddamned sadistic the killers are feeling that day.
Imagine being in the pit. You can see nothing, but you hear the deafening roar of the crowd’s bloodlust. Your pulse is hammering, and you have probably already shit yourself in blind terror. Then, after what seems like an agonizing eternity, the first rock clips you. Maybe it hurts like a bastard, but wasn’t hard enough to kill you. (In Islamist countries, there is in fact a law that the rocks used cannot be so heavy and large as to kill with the first blow. Not nice spoiling everyone’s fun.) But after the explosion of pain, you start feeling light-headed, dizzy. A few more blows, and you go into shock. Your vital signs plunge, your whole body begins to feel cold, and if you haven’t shit yourself already, now you do. You slip out of consciousness. If you’re lucky, you’ll die very soon after this.
I suspect this is as terrifying and brutal a way to die 3000 years ago as it is today. I see no reason to think a young girl experiencing the above back in the distant past would have felt any less horror, agony and despair than her modern-day counterpart. So why is Slick telling me that it’s okay to be appalled by modern-day stonings, but that I’m out of line for being appalled by 3000-year-old stonings? Is there some “moral absolute” at play that I’m just not Christian enough to get here?
Anyway, let your imagination run with all this as you continue to read Slick’s apologia. Remember the above is what he’s defending.
Sexual purity was very highly valued, unlike today, and when a man would marry a woman, her virginity was critical. In ancient times a dowry was paid to the father of the bride and the rightful expectation was that the bride would be a virgin.
So there, you see? She’s his property, so that makes it okay. And notice the snide aside about “sexual purity [being] highly valued, unlike today.” Yeah, because we all know a woman’s hymen is of more value to her male owner than her fucking life. There’s your religious “morality,” gang.
When you’re in a hole, stop digging, unless you’re a Christian apologist. Slick goes on yet some more, reiterating that really, it’s just all about teh mehnz.
In the culture of the time it was the father who was charged with the covering, care, and well-being of his daughter. Her sexual purity was representative of the father’s ability to raise her according to the laws God. Therefore, in that culture, a man’s reputation, as well as the family’s reputation in the community, could be adversely affected by the fornication of his daughter. If his daughter had been promised to a man to be married, and a dowry had been paid, there was every expectation from the bridegroom that she would be a virgin. If the contrary was discovered after the marriage, then the implication is that there had been a deception in which the father could be implicated, or it would mean that he was unaware of her sin and this would bring great shame to the family and the community, not to mention it being a display of outright rebellion against God’s law. In this case, to insure the integrity of the family, and to remove the evil of adulterous/fornication from the community, stoning was advocated.
Again with the “in that culture” business. Here is why Matt Slick is a moral imbecile: S.F.W. if this activity was the norm “in that culture”; does Slick think it’s right or wrong to do this to another human being, period? Especially — especially — for reasons as pitifully selfish and banal as your own “shame.” Slick steadfastly avoids passing any moral judgment upon the killing, while telling “critics of the Bible” they are in no position to pass a moral judgment either, which is itself a moral judgment. Somehow, you can’t condemn death by stoning (if it’s ancient and Biblical, that is, because something tells me Slick would flip-flop in a picosecond when presented with the spectacle of modern-day Islamist stonings), but you can condemn those who’d condemn it, on the ground that they are somehow applying “subjective” moral standards.
So what is the Godly “moral absolute” on this issue then, Mr. Slick? Can young women be treated as chattel by their fathers and husbands, or not? Can they be murdered for making men embarrassed about their pee-pees, or not? If a “morally subjective” approach is the wrong way to think about all this, then clearly a “morally absolute” approach is the right way. So what does the absolute moral lawgiver have to say, Mr. Slick? Is he pissed off that we no longer stone our women to death? If his morals are absolute, shouldn’t this still be common practice today?
I think I’ve said enough. If any article demonstrates better than this one how badly religion can screw up a human being’s fundamental sense of right and wrong, I’ve managed to miss it. Religion, far from providing anything like morality, simply sets a list of arbitrary rules that allow any number of vile acts to be visited upon the helpless, and it is all elaborately justified with feeble rhetoric later. Secular morality may not be perfect either, but it is immeasurably stronger for being rooted in basic human empathy and reason. Not only do I not need a God to tell me that “honor killings” are a horrible evil, but it appears that people who do have a God don’t think it’s all that evil after all. Lord, protect me from your followers!
(That was sarcasm.)