Quantcast

«

»

Oct 27 2011

From the Archives: How Religion Contorts Morality: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide

Since I moved to the Freethought Blogs network, I have a bunch of new readers who aren’t familiar with my greatest hits from my old, pre-FTB blog. So I’m linking to some of them, about one a day, to introduce them to the new folks.

Today’s archive treasure: How Religion Contorts Morality: Respected Theologian Defends Genocide and Infanticide. The tl;dr: William Lane Craig, noted theologian and debater, wrote a piece defending the morality of infanticide and genocide… as long as God orders it. I express my horror — and point out that religion forces people to either cherry-pick the texts of their faith, or defend that which is indefensible.

A nifty pull quote:

It’s funny. One of the most common pieces of bigotry aimed at atheism is that it doesn’t provide any basis for morality. It’s widely assumed that without religion — without moral teachings from religious traditions, and without fear of eternal punishment and desire for eternal reward — people would behave entirely selfishly, with no concern for others. And atheists are commonly accused of moral relativism: of thinking that there are no fundamental moral principles, and that all morality can be adapted to suit the needs of the moment.

But it isn’t atheists who are saying, “Well, sure, genocide seems wrong… but under some circumstances, it actually makes a certain amount of sense.” It isn’t atheists who are saying, “Well, sure, infanticide seems wrong… but looked at in a certain light, it really isn’t all that bad.” It isn’t atheists who are prioritizing an attachment to an ancient ideology over the clearest moral principles one can imagine: the principle that entire races ought not to be systematically exterminated, and the principle that children ought not to be slaughtered.

Enjoy!

8 comments

1 ping

Skip to comment form

  1. 1
    hoverfrog

    Greta, do you prefer comments to go on the original post or on the reintroduced post? Perhaps you don’t mind.

    Anyway, I’m here now so I’ll just say that I agree with you. As I am fond of saying religion is a Curate’s Egg. The bad parts spoil any good parts that it might have and this twisting of morality is definitely a bad part.

  2. 2
    Brad

    Hmm, I don’t think “Enjoy!” is quite the right tone for your link to the original article ;) Extremely thought-provoking, disturbing even, but hardly “enjoyable”.

    I’m a lifelong evangelical in the middle of what might end up being a deconversion, and arguments like you’ve posted here are profoundly persuasive.

    When you start with the presumption that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant, then rationalizations like this are so easy and natural (and necessary when dealing with difficult passages). It’s only when you allow yourself to step outside that presumption for a moment can you see and understand all the problems.

    The use of the Israelite soldiers as the “sword” of judgement is somewhat unique to this specific passage, but the overall theme isn’t out of character for the God of the bible:

    * Destruction of 99.9999% of humanity through Noah’s flood
    * Destruction of entire populations of Sodom and Gomorrah
    * Prophecies of widespread death and destruction at the “end times” in the book of Revelation

    Not trying to justify, mind you, just showing how someone inside this mindset (from which I am slowly emerging) might find it easy to lump this “judgement” of the Canaanites with other similar passages.

  3. 3
    Steve Jeffers

    “When you start with the presumption that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant, then rationalizations like this are so easy and natural”

    I’m a lifelong atheist coming to the same conclusion. The world is divided into people who think ‘God exists’ is axiomatic and those who think it’s a testable claim.

    The two groups are literally speaking a different language, in that we can hear the same sentence and interpret it completely differently: ‘Why would God allow a baby to die in a house fire?’.

    If you aren’t sure God exists, it’s a question that points to testability. Given what we know the properties of God are meant to be, it would seem to indicate that there’s no God. But there might be something to explain it.

    If you think God exists, it’s a different question. God allowed it, so we need to explain why He would do that.

    And as we both try to figure it out, it sounds like we’re having the same discussion. But we’re really not.

    Here’s the sum total of my religious belief: ‘I do not believe that the statement “God exists” is axiomatic’. God might exist, might not. It’s testable. If you believe God exists, that *is* the ultimate explanation, it *is* the answer. Why does God allow genocide? Because he wills it. Why does God commit genocide? Because he wills it. And so on.

  4. 4
    'Tis Himself

    Lane Craig is trying to justify his god being loving and omnibenevolent and simultaneously being a sadistic bully who kills people just because he can.

  5. 5
    Karellen

    @Steve Jeffers: That’s fascinating in a number of ways. One implication is that it is the reason why many theists seem to be more comfortable with theists of another religion, than they are of atheists. Discussions about gods are only possible if the conversants are speaking the same language!

  6. 6
    Steve Jeffers

    “That’s fascinating in a number of ways. One implication is that it is the reason why many theists seem to be more comfortable with theists of another religion, than they are of atheists.”

    Thanks, and I think you’re right.

    One of the more hilarious things in recent years was the last Pope declaring that all religions were in it together against secular humanism.

    My other thought was this: ‘old atheism’, people like Shaw and Nietzsche, used to take on Christianity by saying things like ‘well, why would Christ do X?’. Going down the rabbithole and taking the debate on its own terms. The Dawkins/scientist/New Atheist approach is simple: ‘before we go on, where’s your evidence that happened?’. And it’s lethal, because there just isn’t any. As I’ve said in other thread, theology’s a parlor game, one people like Shaw played with some killer moves. But ultimately, to quote the computer from WarGames, the only way to win is not to play.

  7. 7
    Hazuki

    @4, 6, 7

    Very good insight. I notice that virtually all apologetics these days is “presuppositionalist” (in the school of van Til, etc). And you have pointed out why: for those who take it as axiomatic, it’s great fun, like a circus.

    They know that evidentialist apologetics fails, and they also know that most people they would debate are scientists, not philosophers. Having watched Craig Gish Gallop his way through several debates, all I can think of is that the debate format favors, to put it bluntly, peeing on the rug over trying to rinse the pee stains out.

    But if there really is such a difference in language, why are these debates held at all?

  8. 8
    Steve Jeffers

    “But if there really is such a difference in language, why are these debates held at all?”

    Are they debates? If you hold that God is testable, there’s an obvious corollary, because no test has yet shown the slightest sign he’s there. If you hold it as axiomatic, then when God fails the test, it’s the test that’s got something wrong.

    By definition, if the Christian God exists he can pull some crazy bullshit. If he exists, then this is a universe that runs exactly the way he wants it to. That includes creating a universe that looks like pretty much the only one we can imagine with us in it that a god couldn’t possibly have created.

    What we debate is rights issues, with some people appealing to the authority of some fan fiction about one of the gods that, if you squint, looks like it agrees with their position. The existence of God per se isn’t the issue.

  1. 9
    Why I Do What I Do | Greta Christina's Blog

    [...] case anyone is wondering why I do the work that I do, I direct you to this comment, posted by Brad in response to my piece How Religion Contorts Morality: Respected Theologian [...]

Leave a Reply