“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.”
– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
Christians maintain that God is all-good, all-loving, and the ultimate standard of morality. However, many atheists hold the opposite view of God, evidenced by Dawkins’ infamous rant above. They claim that God is a moral monster who committed or commanded many immoral actions in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.
The purpose of this series, God Behaving Badly?, is to respond to these claims. But before examining any specific instances of God’s supposed immoral behavior, we first need to define what we mean by immoral.
Objective vs. Subjective Morality
For an action to be called immoral, it must be contrary to some moral code. So what is this moral code that the atheist is accusing God of breaking? If it is his own personal opinion on how people should act, then who cares what the atheist thinks? It’s tantamount to him saying “I don’t like what God did in the Old Testament.” Well, so what? That’s your opinion.
This is known as subjective morality, meaning that every person, or group of people, decides for him- or herself what is right or wrong. I have my moral code, you have your moral code, and there’s no way of judging between them. But is that really how morality works? No. There are certain actions that are really right or wrong for everyone. For example, it is truly good to love and care for a little child and it is truly evil to harm and abuse her. This applies to all people at all times. And this is what is known as objective morality.
Grand Moral Authority
But where does this moral code come from and why must we follow it? We know that human laws come from a human authority, like a ruler or government. And an objective moral law that binds every human being across all of time requires a grand moral authority who rules over everyone and everything: God.
God is the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Behaviors that align with God’s nature or commands are good and actions that contradict them are evil. This is how we determine right and wrong. So for an atheist to accuse someone of performing a truly immoral act, he is actually providing evidence for God’s existence.
To complain that God has committed immoral acts is also to admit there is an objective moral law. But God is the best explanation of objective morality. Therefore, calling certain actions truly immoral actually provides evidence for God’s existence.
However, a skeptic may instead argue that God has done things in the Old Testament that contradict his all-loving, morally perfect nature. Then we must examine the actual act or command and see if God had a morally-admissible reason for it. The one cited most often is the destruction of the Canaanites, which will be the subject of my next article.