I was reading some biblical scripture in Joshua last night and came across this story and it got me thinking about morality. Specifically, it got me thinking about the Christians who claim that the Bible is their source for moral values and how, if put to the test, most of those same Christians would consider themselves MORE merciful and humane than the god depicted in the Bible. The following is a great example. Not only does it reveal quite a bit about god’s character, but it’s also absurd.
In Joshua 24, we have an account of Yahweh bragging to the Isrealites about how he plagued and drowned the Egyptians. Joshua further explains that they should fear the Lord and serve him and only him. What’s more… “Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. (King James, Joshua 24:19-20).
As if it’s not absurd enough that the Lord would demand they serve him, then have Joshua tell them they cannot serve him, this absurdity happens: the people agree that they will serve the Lord and they make a covenant between them. Joshua wrote it down in the “book of the law of God” and then they moved a great big stone under a tree and Joshua’s all like, “behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spake unto us. It shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.” Boiled down, it was the ancient form of Big Brother. “This rock heard everything you committed to. If you don’t live up to your promise, this rock will be here to not only to remind you but to report back to God.”
Yeah, a rock witness. Sounds legit. So this what free will looks like?
Let’s take a look at this on a more personal, one-to-one level. A husband and wife make a similar covenant to love each other for life. They wear wedding rings that symbolize their love, and while the rocks in the rings aren’t able to literally hear their words of commitment, I suppose that one might consider them reminders, or a signal to others that the wearer is spoken for. But for the sake of making a point, let’s imagine that one of them breaks the covenant by taking the ring off. Let’s go even further and say that one of them decides to end the marriage. Let’s go one step further and say they had an extra-marital affair and now they want a divorce so they can pursue this new relationship. Imagine for a moment that YOU are the injured betrayed party.
Would you expect them to change their mind if you called them up to warn that if they don’t love you back and love only you, you will physically hurt them? Would you expect them to love you if you boasted that you killed lots of people before them and would have no qualms doing so again if rejected? And then, if they went on loving another, would you become so insanely jealous and unforgiving that you would drown, consume, or in any other manner murder them?
Don’t get me wrong, it does happen, but when people do this, we call them crazy. We institutionalize them. We attempt to remove them from the rest of society because they are emotionally unstable and cannot be trusted.
Look around you. There sure are a lot of divorced people mulling about. Some have even remarried, divorced again and remarried again. How many of us have had our hearts ripped out and stomped on? The point is that we, as mere humans, have the ability to heal from heartache and disappointment. We have the ability to forgive with time, to move on and to find happiness in other ways, perhaps find someone loyal to love us back. Most of us have had enough experience with love/heartbreak to understand that we cannot force anyone to love us forever – love is often times conditional. Further, we know that our bonds to one another are symbolically in our hearts, and certainly not a covenant our rings or a rock can literally watch over. Sure, it hurts when someone breaks their promise, and though we might temporarily seek comfort in the idea of a piano falling on their heads, we don’t really want the promise-breaker to die. If something horrible DID coincidentally happen, most people would probably feel guilty for even having imagined it!
Now, let’s reapply this same logic to a supposed infinite, perfect and merciful God. Let’s multiply that one errant spouse by a nation of Isrealites and you’ll see how truly ridiculous it is. Why would a loving, all-knowing, and forgiving God threaten its subjects to love and serve only him or face torment and certain death?
I can hear the apologists already. “But that was Old Testament. Everything changed when Jesus arrived on the scene because he sacrificed himself for all.” But that’s simply not the case. Jesus also condemns entire cities to dreadful deaths and torment in hell (Matthew 11:20), he condemns disobedient children to death and criticizes those who do not do so by OT law (Matthew 15:4-7, Mark 7:9), and Revelations promises that those who are not chosen will be killed by Jesus’ sword (Revelations 19:20-21). There are many other instances where the father or son threaten violence or death on those who do not believe, those who do believe but don’t keep his commandments, those who serve other gods, etc. See Psalm 89:31-2, Malachi 4:3, Revelation 9:5-6 and 14:10-11, Matthew 13:41-42 and 25:41, Mark 9:43-49, Luke 12:46-48 and 16:22-24 for just a few examples.
If we are not, as a society, becoming more humane than this father-figure god and his son, how do you explain the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Why would anyone bother to write Article 17 of the Third Geneva Convention, which says that “no physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war,” or the 1992 U.S. Army Field Manual, which tells soldiers that “[Geneva] and U.S. policy expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats [or] insults, … as a means of or aid to interrogation.”
It is because we have grown, we have become more humane, we understand that even in grave instances, even in war and turmoil, even our enemies have certain human rights.
Think of how outraged people get when they hear about waterboarding prisoners of war. Remember the worldwide public outcry over the incidents of torture that were reported to have taken place at Guantanamo Bay under Bush? Remember how people were up in arms over the former Iraqi general who “died of asphyxiation after being stuffed head-first into a sleeping bag … at an American base in Al Asad” (The New York Times, October 23, 2005) and when parents spanked their 7 year old adopted daughter to death because they believed god told them to (CNN, August 15, 2011), or how about the Yates mother who drowned her 5 children back in 2001 because she wanted them to live eternally with god?
We hear these things and we wonder how anyone could be so cruel, so extreme, so inhumane. We tend to see these instances as abnormal, newsworthy events, because they are shocking and we in turn ask ourselves how we can learn from them. Just for a moment, can we take a critical look at the Christian god and agree that a god who claims to be perfect should be held to a higher standard than mankind? The Bible contains numerous accounts of Yahweh’s actions, instructions and commandments that are unequivocally less humane and merciful than those I just mentioned above. War, slavery, rape, destruction, eternal suffering, even the murder of children, it’s all in there. I can’t help but come to the conclusion that one cannot claim that their god is a forgiving and peace-loving god while at the same time, reconciling that he has the right to threaten, torture, kill or commit genocide on entire nations because, that, in some strange way, proves he is also just.
Once more in closing I’ll repeat, that is not free will.