(note: I’m now a vaguely spiritual neopagan witchy-type. Otherwise, I stand by pretty much everything here)
Part One here.
One of my favorite philosophical questions is the Euthyphro dilemma. It’s from a story about Socrates, as told by Plato. Socrates asks a man named Euthyphro what morality is. Euthyphro declares that morality is what is loved by the gods. Socrates responds by asking whether they love morality because it is moral, or whether it is moral because they love it. Either way feels like a trap. If the first one is true, it erodes the moral authority of the gods. It suggests there is some higher standard that they must bow to, and makes Euthyphro’s first answer incomplete. The second one, however, seems even worse. If morality is only good because God happens to prefer it, there could easily be alternate worlds where God decrees rape and theft and murder moral. Christians apologists often bemoan the moral subjectivism that they think would inevitably follow an atheist’s perspective, but the compare “genocide is okay when God says it is” to any brand of secular humanism, and see which one sounds more subjective. To me, letting morality depend on God’s say-so is just making it subjective from his perspective, and removing our ability to question his subjective whims. At least with human moral subjectivity, I can question nihilists and the like. I can still reject their morality, and if my empathy driven sense of right has no objective grounds, theirs is no more so.
Christian philosophers often solve this dilemma by stating that God is synonymous with morality, that he is the higher moral standard from which all goodness emanates. This is a logical solution, but when combined with the Old Testament God you end up with some tricky questions. Was it really moral to condone rape and genocide? There are multiple solutions, including believing there was something special about those circumstances, rejecting Biblical infallibility, or simply accepting that it is a question humans might not have an answer to, and for the purpose of this post I don’t really care which one you believe in, with one exception. Those who believe that their religion gives them a right to dictate my actions – including criminalizing homosexuality, censoring books I read and write, forbidding me from living a psychologically stable life as my preferred gender – they tend to believe that morality is whatever God says it is. They believe that he is never wrong, that he has never changed his mind and that the Bible is infallible. In essence, they pick the second prong of the Eurythpro dilemma. They say, whatever God declares moral is moral, no matter how wrong it seems to us, and you must never question him.
That is why I am tackling this message. I do not think it is benign. It is, on the contrary, the root of all conflict between fundamentalist religion and the rest of us. I do not think its okay to decide that on one day genocide was okay for no better reason than “God told us to.” I think we need to cultivate our own moral judgment, and question that order. I’m not that picky about where that questioning leads you. You get to make up your own mind, as I sure don’t have all the answers for you. Both of us, using our best judgments, will each still be wrong about some things, and that’s okay. I just care that you don’t let the claim of authority trump your judgment.
I really want to do these reviews in a way that is fair. I don’t want to be one of those vitriolic reviewers who looks for things to criticize, for the sake of stirring up controversy or having something to say. When I think something is good, I call it good, and when I have conflicted feelings, I spell out the conflict for you rather than pick a side. There are many reasons for this, but not least is this; when I come to a story like this, and I get ranty over a beloved children’s story, it will be clear that I am not doing this out of some vendetta against the Bible. I am disturbed by this story, and the more I think about it, the more disturbed I am. As a child, I was told a story of genocide, but it was sanitized beyond all recognition. As I grew older, piece by piece of the real story was given to me, so gradually that as I transformed this innocent story of slushie fights and irate French peas into one of blood and terror, the gory truth still had, to me, an air of innocence and moral clarity. The invaders were the good guys. The oppressors were righteous, the God who commanded this slaughter just and benevolent, and the victims faceless and nameless.