Tom Gilson

Reading Together: Is God a Moral Monster?

Today only(?) on Kindle: Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God  for only $2.99!

A few weeks ago Keith suggested we read through this book together, and now, after a long hiatus due to travel, meetings, and conferences, I’m ready to kick off the discussion. It seems providential that this sale is on today–you can download your copy of the book and start reading. You can use your computer or smartphone to read it if you don’t own a Kindle device.

(My apologies, by the way, for being away from here so long. It’s been a matter of thousands of miles of driving and dozens of meetings over the past few weeks.)

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11 thoughts on “Reading Together: Is God a Moral Monster?

  1. @Tom Gilson:

    Have you read Lydia McGrew on Paul Copan?

    I am out of my depth here, so cannot say much, but by the end of the combox discussion I make one comment to challenge one particular aspect of her response (which not uncoincidentally is Aquinas’ general response) which I think it does not work — I ended up not responding to her response, but I still think it does not work. Matt Flanagan then joins up and the discussion continues.

  2. I’ve not been blown away by Copan’s defence when I’ve hear him speak but at that price I’d happily join the book club to get the chance to flesh it out together.

    BTW, Linda McGrew’s blog is a visual assault on the eyes. I’d recommend installing the Readability add-on for desktop and devices.

  3. Troubles for the Critic:

    Given that we find in Genesis’ metaphysical definitions the fracture lines of Scripture’s metaphysical regress in which innate worth and innate equality amid all Persons logically follows through and reaches beyond all fragmentation, all sins, all circumstances, and all traits/capacities, all such discussions which cannot embrace, include, such ends of regress on human worth in an analysis are flawed analyses from the very start. We find of course, as expected, that the Critic must cherry pick and ignore verses in his ceaseless attempt to get rid of that pesky metaphysical statement of Scripture’s meta-narrative just as he must cherry-pick from both history and scripture in order to get his “killing babies and children” to stick. That is to say, he must ignore both Scripture’s account of “the end product of those wars” and he must also ignore historical nuance which buttresses such on various levels. Absolutely fatal to the Critic’s assertion is (and this is given in its simplest form) the facts, lines, vectors, and data which declare “Total Obedience” to God’s “War Commands” having been FULLY undertaken and carried out and yet find the entire breadth of civilization/city still remaining. Josh. 10:40 and 11:15 tell us that the “Kill Everything That Breathes” command was fully carried out, and yet, still, undeniably, it is clear that the Canaanites continued to live in the land, left to be driven out gradually by the next generation (Josh. 23:12-13, Judges 1:21, 27-28). This is taken from Greg Koukl’s essay (one of many from his blog at Stand To Reason) titled “The Canaanites: Genocide Or Judgment” and following is a short excerpt from that.

    But before we do: three quite simple and quite fatal points we can keep coming back to – over and over and over again – ad infinitum – to keep making the Critic’s life miserable:

    First is that he (the Critic) is, without question, evading, hedging on, and intellectually removing (that is to say, he is trying to, but failing) from Scripture’s meta-narrative the only metaphysical genre on planet Earth wherein the ontological ends of personhood outdistance all claims and all appeals as every human being’s unstoppable worth finds actual intellectual and ontological coherence on the grounds that such forever lands in the lap of love’s self-sacrifice there in the ceaseless reciprocity within the contours of Self-Other housed amid the triune topography of the immutable love of the Necessary Being. The Critic must tell us why Power alone is not a proper and fitting end of regress if god is such – as in – Atheism’s A – Z of Indifference.

    Secondly is that he (the Critic) is, again without question, evading, hedging on, and intellectually removing (that is to say, he is trying to, but failing) from both Scripture and historicity the fatal (to his hypothesis) and inextricable consequences of “Fully Carried Out” (per Scripture) the command to “end all that takes breath” (per Scripture) being utterly, totally, and unmistakably amalgamated with those same Canaanites continuing on quite alive and quite well in the land as men, women, children, and animals remain (per Scripture).

    Thirdly is the potent issue that is, as we’ll see, that the Critic just discounts historicity, that is to say, that the Critic just ignores in all his analysis the actual genre of the time in question. Such would be akin to reading today’s “Sports Language” laden with “decimation-speak” 3000 years from now (the year would be 5014…..think about that….) and the Critic using that text as “proof’ of our (2014’s) savagery in our arena sports. Well, are lions and man all in the arena killing one another as in Rome’s historical ends? Well of course not. And so on as “Language / Genre” alone just will not suffice for academic, intellectually valid, dialogue when appealed to in such a dishonest way. And that is particularly troubling for the Critic’s thesis when Scripture itself affirms that men and women and children and animals and so on carried on quite alive and quite well in the land after Israel “Fully Obeyed” the command to “end all that breathes”. The actual (real) Genre of that day, hyperbole (and so on) as we will see, actually buttresses Scripture’s historicity in that that Genre of that day (verifiable) combined with Scripture’s account that the men, women, children, and animals were left quite alive and quite well (verifiable) actually reveal from two (supposedly) unfriendly sources (history and scripture) equal testimony diametrically opposed to the Critic’s assertion.

    I suppose the Critic can embrace these three (there are far more) intellectual dishonesties and thereby attack some non-scriptural and non-historical text, but then, he is not speaking of the OT/NT nor of historicity. He is not speaking of the Bible, of History. That is to say, he has crafted a rather robust, complex, and wordy straw-man that is so (seemingly) thick with texture and so (seemingly) laden with nuance that, well, it just rolls of the intellectual tongue. That is until reason, science, and intellect begin to dissect it. Suddenly a very, very different “texture” emerges.

    It is left to the Critic to reveal his ontological regress whereby people innately and absolutely matter (of essence) at the bitter end of that regress (of essence), and, it is left to the Critic to, forever, hedge and evade the pesky (scriptural) fact about Fully Carried Out yet nonetheless Quite Alive and Quite Well men, women, children, and animals. And of course it is also left to the Critic to evade and hedge on historicity’s other texts (from other sources) which reveal that time’s genre on the language of battle as hyperbole is inextricable from such vectors. And of course that such sources actually affirm Scripture’s dynamic-duo of “Fully Carried Out” fully amalgamated with “Quite Alive and Quite Well” is another vector which the Critic will have to forever hedge on.

    Here’s a brief quote from Greg Koukl’s essay:

    “[The Critic must not misread the genre.] God gave the directives, to be sure (the Jews hadn’t thought this up on their own), but one must accurately understand God’s intention before he can accurately assess God’s commands. First, the wording should be understood in the context of ancient Near Eastern military narrative, the argument goes. Ancient writings commonly traded in hyperbole — exaggeration for the sake of emphasis — especially when it came to military conquest. The practice is evident throughout battle reports of the time. “Joshua’s conventional warfare rhetoric,” Copan writes, “was common in many other ancient Near Eastern military accounts in the second and first millennia B.C.” Therefore, phrases like “utterly destroy” (haram), or “put to death men and women, children, and infants”—as well as other “obliteration language” — were stock “stereotypical” idioms used even when women or children were not present. It decreed total victory (much like your favorite sports team “wiping out” the opposition), not complete annihilation. Second, Copan argues, women and children probably weren’t targets since the attacks were directed at smaller military outposts characteristically holding soldiers, not noncombatants (who generally lived in outlying rural areas). “All the archaeological evidence indicates that no civilian populations existed at Jericho, Ai, and other cities mentioned in Joshua.” Third, on Copan’s view the main purpose of the conquest was not annihilation, but expulsion — driving the inhabitants out—and cleansing the land of idolatry by destroying every vestige of the evil Canaanite religion (e.g., “You shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.” Deut. 7:1-5). Further, this process would be gradual, taking place over time: “The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You will not be able to put an end to them quickly, for the wild beasts would grow too numerous for you” (Deut. 7:22). Finally, the record shows that Joshua fully obeyed the Lord’s command: “Thus Joshua struck all the land, the hill country and the Negev and the lowland and the slopes and all their kings. He left no survivor, but he utterly destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded…. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses”. (Josh. 10:40, 11:15) Still, at the end of Joshua’s life it was clear that many Canaanites continued to live in the land, left to be driven out gradually by the next generation (Josh. 23:12-13, Judges 1:21, 27-28). According to Copan, if Joshua did all that was expected of him, yet multitudes of Canaanites remained alive, then clearly the command to destroy all who breathed was not to be taken literally, but hyperbolically [as other texts from non-scriptural backgrounds affirm of that day’s obvious genre – historicity to the rescue of truth once again]. If these arguments go through—if God did not command the utter and indiscriminate destruction of men, women, and children by Joshua’s armies, but simply authorized an appropriate cleansing military action to drive out Israel’s (and God’s) enemies— then the critic’s challenge is largely resolved…..”

  4. Clarification:

    “The Critic must tell us why Power alone is not a proper and fitting end of regress if god is such – as in – Atheism’s A – Z of Indifference.”

    That is to say: Atheism’s god just is Indifference. Power alone is Atheism’s end of regress as the essence of innate love actually, ontologically, outdistancing such innate indifference in ontological regress is only the stuff of autohypnosis (at best) and/or irrationally conditioned reflex (at worst) within Atheism’s paradigm.

  5. The views of modern society regarding religion, and specifically Christianity, are in a state of great flux. Beliefs that were once sacrosanct are now being called into question. Is the day soon coming when the majority of people in society will view “the Holy Bible” as immoral and evil?

    Imagine if your grade schooler brings home a few books from the school library with these titles:

    1. Giving the Death Sentence to People who eat Forbidden Fruit

    2. Drowning Millions of Children for the Crimes of their Parents

    3. How to Murder First Born Children in their Beds

    4. The Genocidal Annihilation of Evil Foreign Peoples is Justifiable

    You would be horrified that your local school would allow such books in a library for children, wouldn’t you? But yet fundamentalist Christians would love to have the Holy Bible in the same library and would not bat an eye at the bloody, barbaric violence and twisted justifications for that violence and immoral behavior contained therein.

    “Oh but that was in another Era of time. It is a mystery why it was necessary for God to do these shocking acts, but we must simply accept by faith that God had good, moral reasons for his actions in the Old Testament.”

    Ok…so we will sweep all that barbaric behavior under the rug because Jesus has changed everything. All that bloody violence is no longer necessary because Jesus has ushered in the Era of Grace. We now are to love our neighbor as ourselves…not slaughter him in righteous anger.

    But there is one little problem: Slavery.

    I don’t see how putting shackles around the neck, ankles, and wrists of your neighbor and calling him your property is in any way, shape, or form “loving your neighbor as yourself”. And I also don’t see why a loving, just, Jesus would not have condemned this evil institution, which he did not, nor why the Apostle Paul would condone it, which he very much did.

    Any book that condones slavery is evil and should not be in any school library…nor on your child’s nightstand.

  6. Gary, you say,

    I don’t see how putting shackles around the neck, ankles, and wrists of your neighbor and calling him your property is in any way, shape, or form “loving your neighbor as yourself”. And I also don’t see why a loving, just, Jesus would not have condemned this evil institution, which he did not, nor why the Apostle Paul would condone it, which he very much did.

    Jesus and Paul did not condemn “this institution” because the one that you describe here has nothing whatever to do with the term slavery as it was understood in the Bible. The Bible actually does condemn slavery as we think of it today. Did you know that? Do you actually know what you’re talking about?

  7. Exodus and Philemon commentary explorations are revealing.

    The following post/comment (following this post) is a quote from the Phillips Commentary Series on the letter to Philemon as we explore God making war against man’s sins, as the commentary “comments”, “No Roman general planning the best way to subdue a city could have covered all of the approaches with more meticulous care than did Paul when laying siege to Philemon’s soul.” Nature’s regeneration, newly created, rather than war will be – ultimately speaking – the solution to the human condition and though we are just discovering such lines God from the get-go has always known Man’s unique condition. Because of the radical – and inescapable – differences from “slavery” outside of YHWH’s strange laws the bracketed [indentured servitude] has been injected in place of “slavery” as – every single time – definition matters here. Israel’s inhabitants – compared to the world outside which burns children alive to the gods – or enjoys Rome’s blood sports (neither of which evolutionary morality can coherently inject with the immutable ought-not) are a peculiar brand of ex-slaves who on YHWH’s Command bring the foreigner into their strange laws and out of that outer darkness of non-personhood as any foreigner brought in is ipso facto brought into said personhood as such are brought into that location on the moral map where the Courts are his defense if he so much as loses a tooth. The strange God Who from Genesis to Revelation reveals Himself as love’s singular “us” makes for Himself a strange nation of ex-slaves wherein the full force of His – YHWH’s – curious Laws of His peculiar people are – forever – on all men’s side. “By you all nations will be blessed” is – to this day – effervescing out of even the Skeptic’s Christianized conscience in our part of the world. YHWH’s Covenant with His ex-slaves finds that all men whether native or foreign there in Israel are – finally – safe. For life. The numerous commentaries out there and their various quotes on Exodus and Philemon are – well – devastating to the fictions of the Critic as both historicity and – well – what scripture’s words on the pages actually do – and actually do not – say bring such fictions into the light. As we allow scripture to define itself it seems that – a generation from now – all those fictions of the skeptic along the lines of “The whole OT/Bible thing is the whole southern plantation thing” will no longer gift the skeptic with such dishonest traction.

  8. Phillips Commentary quote, the italics and the [brackets] added:

    “One can study a book such as Philemon in numerous ways.

    For instance, we could examine the epistle through the eyes of Philemon himself. With Philemon, the dominant issue would be slavery, which was so much taken for granted by the world of his day. The Romans had conquered most of the known world and had reduced whole populations to bondage. Some slaves were exceedingly valuable, being artists, scholars, and highly skilled craftsmen. Others were little more than beasts of burden, and all were useful as a source of cheap labor. From the standpoint of a slaveowner, to upset such an entrenched social institution was unthinkable. Paul’s letter, at first reading, must have come as a shock to Philemon. He might, as an unusual act of appreciation for some singular and extraordinary service, set a slave free. But free a runaway slave like Onesimus?

    Paul’s demand was revolutionary.

    We could examine the epistle though the eyes of Onesimus. He knew the other side of slavery. He knew the indignity of being mere chattel, of being always at another man’s beck and call. He knew the fear of the lash, the terror of death by crucifixion. He knew that even a benevolent master such as Philemon could change, in a fit of temper, into a tyrant. Or, even if that fear were to be removed, there was always the possibility of the good master’s death and of being put back up for public auction. He could have no life of his own. He could be torn from wife and child, from family and friends, sold and shipped off to some distant province. He could fall into the hands of a monster, a sadist, whose chief delight was to torment a slave and against whom the law offered no redress.

    We can well imagine with what trepidation Onesimus approached Colosse notwithstanding Paul’s letter in his hand. We can picture his quailing before Philemon’s eye, trembling as Philemon exclaimed aloud again and again at this line or that in the letter. His life hung in the balance.

    We could examine the epistle through the eyes of Paul. He was no stranger to slavery. He has been familiar from childhood with the benevolent form of [indentured servitude] permitted under Hebrew law and with the safeguards built into the system to protect the [indentured servant] from abuse. Paul had been raised in a Roman city and knew well enough the horrible abuses to which a slave could be exposed under Roman law.

    Paul looked at slavery from the standpoint of Calvary. The cross changed all human relationships. Man or master, it made no difference; all were one in Christ. In Him, there was neither Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, Greek nor barbarian; Calvary reduced all men to the same level- all must come to God by way of the Cross. Christ lifted all men to the same dizzy heights, made them equally sons of God, joint- heirs with Jesus Christ.

    Paul was too wise to make a frontal attack on slavery. He had no intention of involving the church with the state. Politics was not the answer, and no social conscience existed in Paul’s day as far as slaves were concerned. The answer was love- brotherly love in Christ, which would make it impossible for one man to abuse the rights of another man.

    Finally, we could examine the epistle through the eyes of Tychicus (Col. 4:7), who accompanied Onesimus to Colosse. Tychicus was not personally or emotionally involved. He must have taken the keenest interest in the whole situation. He could be much more impartial and objective than Philemon, Onesimus, or Paul. Onesimus had not robbed and run away from him as he had Philemon. His life and liberty did not hang in the balance as did that of Onesimus. He was concerned for God’s people, but he had neither the authority of an apostle nor the care of all the churches as did Paul.

    To Tychicus, the affair must have been a fascinating study in psychology. What would be the outcome of these struggles of mind, heart, conscience, and will?

    Philemon was a prosperous slave owner who lived at Colosse. He had a slave named Onesimus who, having helped himself to some of Philemon’s wealth, had run away to bury himself amid the multitudes who thronged the streets and slums of Rome. Rome, a cosmopolitan melting pot, provided a convenient hiding place for anyone wishing to disappear from public view. There, Onesimus was sure that he would be safe. Instead, he was destined to be saved!

    In some way, his path crossed that of the apostle Paul, a man hungry for souls. Paul promptly led him to Christ and proposed returning him to his master, also a Christian, who had been introduced to Christ by Paul. Because Paul had never been to Colosse (as far as we know), the likelihood is that Philemon had been saved sometime during Paul’s remarkably successful evangelistic crusade at Ephesus.

    Naturally, Onesimus must have been very much alarmed at the prospect of being sent back to his master, who, understandably, could be expected to deal with Onesimus with the utmost severity. The law was harsh. Mutilation or scourging would be the least of the terrors that would loom in Onesimus’s mind:crucifixion or even some more horrible death was very likely. But Paul preached no cheap gospel. It was the clear duty of Onesimus to return to Philemon and throw himself on his mercy. Perhaps at this point in his talk with Onesimus Paul rattled his own chains. A bribe to Felix years ago would have secured his release (Acts 24:25- 27). Instead, he was awaiting the alarming uncertainties of an appearance before Nero simply because he had done what was right. Now Onesimus must return to Philemon; it was his duty. He could not begin his new life in Christ by ignoring a debt that he had accrued in his unconverted days. What kind of salvation would that be?

    To still the fear of his new convert, Paul offered to write a covering letter to Philemon. And so he did. It is in our Bible to this day as the epistle to Philemon, Paul’s polemic against slavery and the Holy Spirit’s answer to all social ills. It is a marvelous little memo, full of tact, persuasion, personal glimpses, and Christian grace. No Roman general planning the best way to subdue a city could have covered all of the approaches with more meticulous care than did Paul when laying siege to Philemon’s soul.

    We can divide this memo (for it is little more than that) into three main parts. We have, first, Paul’s cautious approach (w. 1- 7). He did not demand instant submission to his apostolic authority; indeed, he does not mention his apostleship at all. He began with words of greeting and grace. Then we have Paul’s comprehensive appeal (w. 8- 19), in which Paul leaves no moral or spiritual stone unturned in his quest for his friend Philemon’s positive response to all that Christian love and duty could urge. Finally, we have Paul’s compelling appendix (w. 20- 25), in which Paul cautiously seals off any loopholes through which an unwilling or unworthy believer might slip.”

  9. I have some issues with this book. I feel some of the reasons paul copan give are not based on exegesis, but on his interpretation of the times that these people were living. I am not sure his “phenomenological” language argument holds for all these instances in the bible. like his football argument “the jets killed the giants this week” I do not see God trying to use the same style language in the text. If God calls for the destruction of people in a context we cannot fully grasp, I do not think it appropriate to attempt to make the text say something palatable to our standards; as if we intrinsically obtain a fully objective truth measure with which to judge Scripture. This is in regards to the rest of the book, past the first chapters. While I can agree with much of what he is saying, and the historical contexts do help in exegesis, of course, I think the book is more of an attempt to release God from some responsibility of evil by making claims that He did not say what the text seems to say on its own grounds.

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