Yesterday, I tweeted some criticisms of Christians who crucify their moral intuitions on the altar of their particular readings of biblical violence. As you can imagine, the effect is like jamming a stick into a hornet’s nest and jerking it around. Within minutes a mixture of dazed and angry hornets come shooting out.
Today, I picked up the conversation with one fellow, Alex, who did not agree with my views. Alex was neither dazed nor angry, however, and he made his case in a straightforward manner. Our exchange also outlines in broad relief some basic positions and — in my view — fundamental errors with Christians who adopt a particular reading of biblical violence.
Two points are worth noting here. First, at the end of our exchange, it becomes clear that Alex rejects trinitarianism. However, as I point out, that is not directly germane to the question we are discussing since many trinitarians adopt readings of biblical violence that are closely aligned with those of Alex.
The second point is that I press Alex — as I always press biblical violence folks — on the question of whether God could possibly command rape. The argument can be stated like this:
- If x is not worse than y then if God can command y God can command x.
- Rape is not worse than genocide.
- Therefore, if God can command genocide then God can command rape.
- God can command genocide.
- Therefore, God can command rape.
To be sure, I didn’t relay that argument in my exchange but it is in the background. And now, without further ado, we can set up the conversation with my comment on another guy with whom I’d been debating:
Randal: This fellow [not Alex] on Twitter just referred to my objection to the genocidal slaughter of Canaanite infants and children as my “hangup”. As if moral revulsion at the disembowelment of a toddler is an irrational emotional inhibition on my part.
At that point, Alex joined the conversation in response to that tweet. I’ve relayed our exchange below.
Alex: God is the sole giver and taker of life.
Randal: It doesn’t automatically follow that God will command people to hack apart infants. You’re missing a few premises, it would seem.
Alex: No, but it does follow that if he did, it’s a moral imperative to obey him regardless of our emotional response to his mandates.
Randal: It also follows that if God commanded you to rape then you ought to rape. But the question, of course, is whether it is possibly the case that God commanded rape. Do you think that’s possible?
Alex: I don’t see how anyone would benefit from such a command, but our emotional response would be irrelevant to the fact that his sovereignty gives him the moral right to perform such a command.
Randal: So on your view, God might possibly command a man to rape a little girl?
Alex: Again, I (a human who isn’t by any degree omniscient) don’t see how that would benefit anyone. God doesn’t take pleasure for sexual acts, either. You can make up whatever repugnant scenario and reject it but if God commands it, by definition it’s moral. Is worship conditional?
Randal: Jesus says that if you want to know what God is like, look to him (John 14). Do you think the God revealed in Jesus could possibly command a man to rape a child?
Alex: I don’t see for what purpose he would do that. God probably killed babies so they don’t grow up to become enemies of his followers. I don’t see why God would want to have a child be raped.’
Randal: You already pointed out that human beings are not omniscient so the fact that you cannot conceive of a reason for God to command rape doesn’t mean he wouldn’t.’
And by the way, there are other ways from keeping infants from growing up to become enemies apart from butchering them as infants. Jesus actually had some great thoughts on this. Stuff about loving your neighbor as yourself, for example.
Alex: That’s correct. So I can only give a flawed, partial opinion to a question as to what God “possibly” could command.
Randal: You have staked out a position that God can possibly command anything given that he is “sovereign”. This view steamrolls your own God-given moral intuitions as well as the revelation of God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Alex: So when you see something in the old testament that you don’t like you go “no, that can’t be true because I don’t like it” or “no, that can’t be true because I can’t imagine Jesus doing it?” I believe Jesus is loyally submissive to God for all eternity.
Randal:‘If you want to accuse me of “not liking” genocide I guess I need to plead guilty. It sounds like you’re an adoptionist. I believe Jesus is God the Son, the image of God who reveals the Father to us.
Alex: Why do you try to have God contradict God? If infallible revelation says both God slaughters children *and* you should love your neighbor, both are true.
Randal: God doesn’t contradict God. You are the one embracing a contradiction. Jesus should be your hermeneutical lens through which you read Scripture.
Alex: Does your view stem from trinitarianism? Mine doesn’t, I don’t read my bible backwards.
Randal: I can see that. But actually, trinitarianism vs unitarianism underdetermines this question. It depends on what you believe about whether Jesus reveals the nature of God and whether you believe our moral intuitions have any value. You, clearly, do not. But have a nice day.
Alex: Probably our differing view of Jesus is the crux of the question, then.
Please don’t think I believe God commands rape. That is a very extreme hypothetical scenario. But: our moral intuition is limited. This includes how we interpret Jesus’ revelation of God which imho must never override OT revelation. God always, always knows best.
Randal: Rape is no more “extreme” than the eradication of entire civilian populations.
Alex: My flawed human intuition agrees.
Randal: Let me suggest that you should consider whether your hermeneutics and theology are more flawed than your moral intuitions.
Let’s now return to my argument. You see, I’d be very unhappy if you stopped there. Instead, keep going:
6. God cannot command rape.
7. Therefore, God cannot command genocide.