Is God a moral monster who commits genocide?
This week's challenge: “Your God is a monster.”
“The God of the Bible is a monster. How can you possibly believe in a God who would command genocide, much less trust him? Even if I thought he were real, I would never follow him, and frankly, it makes me nervous that you do follow him because how do I know you won't think he's commanding you to commit genocide sometime in the future?"
Wow, that’s a loaded objection. Sometimes, you can offer rational reasons, but they may not be emotionally satisfying. We might find it difficult to offer an emotionally satisfying answer to this challenge because of the background beliefs the objector holds. A challenger argues that God is a moral monster who commands genocide, yet on the other hand is not willing to concede God as sovereign creator with a right to execute justice. The reason they make this argument is because they reject the sovereignty of God over creation.
I think we need to agree on terms so that we are talking about the same God before the conversation can continue. Background beliefs are lurking here. I come to this objection with a host of background beliefs that help me to answer this. They help me provide a satisfying answer, at least for myself. I struggle to provide that same emotionally satisfying answer to the objector. I come to the table with a deep trust in God and His character and specific knowledge of who I think He is. These background beliefs provide me with an emotionally satisfying answer. The objections to God being a moral monster might not be emotionally satisfying to the person I’m dealing with.
We want to carefully walk through this and build our case. There's not necessarily a quick response that will get a person to think differently about this objection. If they're arguing that God commits genocide, the first question would be, "What do you mean by genocide?" If they take genocide to be the killing of a large group of people, I might go along with that definition. But genocide usually implies an evil killing of a large number of people.
The second question is of moral grounding. If the person doesn't believe in any kind of God, you can always question what they base their moral objections on. The people who have brought this objection to the forefront have been the New Atheists. Dawkins says this, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” His argument is that God is a moral monster.
However, when you look elsewhere in Dawkins' writings, here’s what he says about morality, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." Here he's saying there's no such thing as good and evil, there's no objective morality, there is only blind pitiless indifference. On the other hand, he wants to argue that the God of the Bible is evil. You can't have it both ways. If you don't have an objective moral standard, you lose all footing to argue that the God of The Bible is evil. That's a fundamental discussion to have.
If someone wants to say that God is a moral monster, the question is, what objective moral standard are you using to assess God? Do you think there is an objective moral standard? Where do you get that? How do you make sense of that on an evolutionary view? You’ll discover that evolution can't give you an objective moral standard. It can only give you a subjective relative view of morality.
Thirdly, I would bring up the issue of specific examples. The person says that God is a moral monster. The questions are easier to answer when you boil them down to specific acts rather than addressing a vague observation. Which acts would qualify God as a moral monster? Which acts are genocidal? Often times, people won't have the specifics. When they do offer the specifics, we can deal with them on a case-by-case basis.
You're going to have to do your homework on specific cases that are offered. Objectors, skeptics, and atheists typically don't have very good hermeneutics. They don't know how to read or interpret the Bible well, so they're not fair-minded when it comes to the text. They don't do the historical study or look at the background information. For instance, looking at the morals and ethics of the ancient Near East region, Israel was a huge improvement. But atheists don’t typically place their acts in historical context.
Certain acts by God are morally justified. An effected part of the body left to travel its inevitable course will cause the body to die. When cancer becomes so corrupt it will kill the rest of the body, it must be cut out. It’s morally justifiable for God to command the destruction of a certain group of people because of their corruption. Not only their corruption and the resulting corruption within that particular people group, but also the corruption of other people groups.
Looking at the history of the Old Testament narrative and the purposes God had for Israel, God had adequate moral justification for what he commanded in the Old Testament, and the details give us the specifics that we need make that case.