Over the last week I have heard on at least three different occasions claims made to the moral equivalency of God allowing x and God commanding x. The argument has been made by Christians to demonstrate that if I accept that God providentially allows evils like genocide and infant sacrifice, I should have no problem if God also commands genocide and infant sacrifice. The argument has also been made by non-Christians to argue that if I have a problem with God commanding genocide and infant sacrifice, I should also have a problem with God allowing genocide and infant sacrifice.
It’s always interesting when you have same premise — the moral equivalency between allowing and commanding — used for completely opposite ends. I disagree with both conclusions however because I disagree with the starting premise. In this brief commentary I’ll present two arguments against it, the first one general, the second aimed specifically at Christians.
The argument for everybody
In response to Pete on this issue I presented the following two scenarios, the first allowing and the second commanding:
(1) Mr. Jones sees Billy picking on Tommy. He allows Billy to pick on Tommy for two minutes and then steps in, using Billy’s bullying as a teaching moment for both Billy and Tommy so that neither will bully in the future.
(2) Mr. Jones commands Billy to pick on Tommy. He insists that Billy pick on Tommy for two minutes and then steps in, using Billy’s bullying as a teaching moment for both Billy and Tommy so that neither will bully in the future.
As I noted to Pete, most people will recognize that Mr. Jones’s actions in (2) are morally problematic in a way that they are not in (1). Human beings recognize that there are many things which it is morally permissible to allow but not to command.
It should not be surprising then that God likewise may allow things that he would never command.
(Of course a person could retort: “But Mr. Jones could never allow Billy to kill Tommy. And yet God allows things like that every day.” In response, we could note several points at which God is disanalogous to Mr. Jones. But that would take us too far afield. Instead, I’ll simply observe that even if you want to argue there are some things that ought never be allowed, that is still a different moral issue from commanding those same things.)
The argument for Christians
If allowing is the same thing as commanding then there is no moral distinction between God allowing x and God commanding x. This has absurd consequences that should make any self-respecting Christian theist run from this kind of argument.
Recently a man in Canada made headlines because he (allegedly) killed, dismembered and then ate an acquaintance all while filming it. If the allowing is morally equivalent to commanding premise is true then there is no moral difference between God allowing this atrocity and God commanding it. And from this it follows that it is possible for God to have commanded the man to kill, dismember and eat his acquaintance.
In other words, if one accepts this premise then they must accept that anything that happens as the result of a moral agent’s actions could have been commanded by God. And that’s crazy.