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Abraham, Isaac, Virginity, Rape and Child Killing (Another Old Testament Ethics Post)

January 23rd, 2011 by Matt

Randal Rauser has published a blog post touching on Old Testament ethics called “An update in the wake of Atlanta (plus a bit on rape and child killing)“. His post gives an update on his thoughts following his interaction with Paul Copan, Richard Hess and myself in the Evangelical Philosophical Society’s break-out panel discussion “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster” at the Society for Biblical Literature (“SBL”) in Atlanta in November. While there was considerable overlap between his position and mine, there was one particular issue on which he and I disagreed quite sharply on the night that he alludes to in his post. Let me contextualise this disagreement and then put my response to his comments.

Back in 2009 I wrote “Abraham and Isaac – Did God Command the Killing of an Innocent?” This post addressed a dilemma several philosophers have raised for those Christians who take the patriarchal narratives in Genesis in literal manner. It seems plausible that Christians who do this are committed to an inconsistent triad,

  1. If God commands an action x then x is morally required;
  2. It is wrong to kill innocent human beings;
  3. God commanded Abraham to kill an innocent human being.

These three propositions are inconsistent; 1 and 3 entail the denial of 2.

To respond to this triad, I appropriated a thought experiment provided by John Hare; I wrote:

One example Hare notes, is particularly interesting, “Perhaps (to get more bizarre) God could have willed that we kill each other at the age of 18, at which point God would bring us immediately back to life.” Hare asks us to imagine a world, in which, when people of a certain age are killed they immediately come back to life. He opines, quite plausibly, that if this were to be the case then killing people at this age would not be wrong or at least, not seriously wrong. One of the reasons that killing people is wrong in the world we live in is because people stay dead. If they were only unconscious for a split second and came back to life in full health then arguably killing a person would not be the serious wrong we believe it is.

I suggested that, a careful examination of the text reveals that Abraham’s actions occurred in a context where he knew his son would not stay dead but would come down the mountain with him and live on to adulthood to father children of his own. I argued this fact resolves the dilemma,

Once this is realised, I think it is evident that [1], [2] and [3] are consistent. If one assumes, for the sake of argument, that the Patriarchal Narratives are literally true then it follows that [3] is true only if a certain context is assumed. God commanded Abraham to kill his son in the highly unusual context where Abraham knew that his son would not stay dead but would come down the mountain afterwards and live on to adulthood to father children of his own. Proposition [2] is defensible only in a context where people do not know these sorts of things; the rule to not kill the innocent applies to a world where people do not come back to life after they have been killed. Hence, the story of Abraham and Isaac, if taken literally, does not entail that God commanded something immoral or contradictory.

What I later discovered is that Paul Copan sometimes reads this blog and he, on reading my post, summarised my argument and appropriated it (with acknowledgements)  in chapter 5 of his latest book Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

The EPS Session at the SBL: Richard Hess, Randal Rauser, Paul Copan,  Matthew Flannagan, Michael ReaEnter Randal Rauser. In the paper he presented for the SBL panel, Rauser made a remark on the Abraham and Isaac issue. Copan responded by summarising his argument, which was an appropriation of my argument. Rauser responded with an analogy, which he has since put up on his blog:

“Yeah, what if?” I thought cynically. But that was my inside voice. With my outside (audible) voice I replied: “So what if a virgin child could be raped and then miraculously made a virgin once again? Would the rape of the child still be evil?” That didn’t go over well, I think. But I don’t see the difference.”

Here was my point. Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that God demanded the killing of a child and then immediately resurrected that child. Would that make it all better? Well there would still be that little matter that the child was killed by dad… “Dad, it’s good to be alive again and all, but you did decapitate me, and that kinda stinks, you know?” (Talk about an awkward moment at the Thanksgiving dinner table.)

And likewise a child that was devotionally raped and then had their virginity miraculously restored (physiologically and psychologically) could still say, “Dad, it’s great to be a virgin again and all, but you did rape me, and that kinda stinks, you know?”

My recollection is that Rauser’s comment did go down well initially. It was after a few exchanges that the audience became less enthusiastic. But putting audience reactions aside, does this response work?

As I noted in my response to Rauser on the night, I do not think it does. That is because I think there is a difference between killing someone and their being immediately restored to life and raping someone and their virginity being immediately restored. It is this: what makes rape wrong is not that it takes away a person’s virginity, the act is still a grave moral evil if a non-virgin is raped. What makes rape wrong is some other feature of the act. Killing is different. It is quite plausible to say that one of the major things that makes killing wrong is that when you kill someone you deprive them of their life. In fact, several of the most prominent analyses of the morality of killing in the literature make this point.

Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, for example, argue that killing is wrong because it frustrates a being’s desire to continue in existence. If a person is killed and yet continued in existence then this wrong-making property would not be instantiated and so, on this analysis, killing would not be wrong. Similarly, Don Marquis argues that what makes killing wrong is that it deprives a victim of a future of value, a future the victim would have experienced had they not been killed. David Boonin argues that what makes killing wrong is that it frustrates a being’s ideal desires to continue living. Some Kantian views assume this too; the reason killing is considered disrespectful or demeaning on their view is because it shows a desire to destroy the person, to deprive them of all the goods of their future and so forth. I am not endorsing any of these theories, I am simply pointing out that it is plausible to say that, whatever it is that makes killing wrong, is tied up with the fact that killing ends a life.

This fact makes all the difference because when you kill someone who immediately comes back to life, the property central to making killing wrong has been removed from the act – the person is not dead. When someone is raped and their virginity is restored the property that makes rape wrong is still there. This is why I think Rauser’s example does not work and this is what I said to him at the SBL panel; when a person is raped and their virginity is restored, they have still been subjected to a horrific wrong, the wrong of being raped. But when a person has been killed and their life has been restored, they have not been subjected to a great wrong — yes they have for a split second been killed but the act occurs in a context where the properties which make killing a great wrong were not present. So I think Rauser’s critique of Copan and myself on this issue fails.

There are numerous other issues here that I could go into such as the fact that raping a person and restoring their virginity is logically impossible in a way it is not with killing. Also, the fact that God intervened to prevent Abraham killing Isaac and so on but here I simply wanted to address the main difference between us.

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  • “Raping a person and restoring their virginity is logically impossible in a way it is not with killing”

    Right, the my god can raise people from the dead but he cann’t recreate a hymen argument.

  • Atheia,

    Virginity is not simply about a hymen – otherwise men would be perpetually virgins. Virginity is about whether or not you have had sex.

    There is an historical act that takes place, and even if God wiped the memory of the rapist, and the one being raped, the event still occurred and the person is still not a virgin. That’s what is being said here.

    On the other hand, if God raised you from the dead, your life is fully restored, regardless of the historicity of your being killed. it is possible, at least in theory, to restore life, while it is not possible logically to restore virginity.

  • I was going to say that the rape/ restoration is logically impossible, but I see you covered that. This I think renders the argument void. In one the wrong is the action, in the other it is the result of an action. An wrong action cannot be undone, a bad result can sometimes be undone.

    I am not certain your propositions are inconsistent if rephrased

    1. If God commands an action x then x is morally required;
    2. It is wrong for men to kill human beings without divine authority;
    3. God commanded Abraham to kill an human being.

    The innocent is unnecessary. God allows men to kill human beings if he tells them to generally or specifically. General as in war, or capital punishment. Specifically in the case of Abraham. God creates life thus has the authority to remove it, or command others to do so on his behalf.

    If you are going to say that innocent is necessary to the presuppositions, I think #2 is incorrect. While it is generally wrong to kill innocents, it is not clear this is always the case.

    Consider the situation where certain death will come. Trapped by an army. You have already seen the soldiers, rape and murder other captives, or perhaps burn them to death. Is it wrong in this situation to kill innocent children to spare them other wrongs. Or to spare them slow death by burning? If not, we have established that #2 is incomplete. It needs modification

    2. It is wrong to kill innocent human beings without adequate reason;

  • Madeleine,

    Preview has gone. And I am automatically subscribed to any post I comment on (which I don’t want). Can this be modified?

  • Rauser’s virginity comeback is clearly wrong.

    If there’s a parallel between killing and taking away virginity, it would only work if Matt had argued as follows:

    Sure Abraham was commanded to kill Isaac, but this is in a context where he knew that after killing Isaac, God would bring it about that Abraham has not killed Isaac.

    After all, virginity is about whether or not somethinghas happened in the past. But Matt did not make the claim detailed above, so the “God could give you back your virginity” parallel just fails from the outset.

  • I see that Matt covered the above point I just made. I tend to put together comments on the fly, and then read for details later!

  • Sorry Bethyada, the blog has broken 4 times in the past week – twice in the past 24 hours and we do not know why – just that it is the same problem each time. I have disabled as many plugins as I can which includes the preview and I thought the subscribe to comments option – I have no idea why you are subscribed to this thread if the plugin is no longer there… I’ll see what I can do.

  • Madeleine, I am not subscribed to this post, to previous ones. I just meant that I thought subscribing should not be automatic by default.

    Given that automatic subscribing has been on this may be a moderate of work for your server, sending out all those emails? Perhaps stopping it like you have should help?

    I note your site has been intermittent. Pain for you guys when you have so much commenting going on!

  • Bethyada I have unsubscribed you – you were only subcribed to one post according to the plugin files (who knows how reliable they are). Let me know if you keep getting emails from here on – you should not.

  • That’s right L Taylor, the existence of a virgin who has had sex in the past is logically impossible. It is like a married bachelor.
    The claim that a person who was dead has come back to life is logically possible. Sceptics argue it is not actual or probable or that it violates natural laws but that is a different question to the bare logical possibility.

  • I do have one question for you Matt. A friend brought up the point about tortue or other violence, like knocking someone out, that doesn’t lead to death or permanent injury. I mean, if I put a choke hold on someone (or maybe we should imagine Mark Driscoll doing this) they may pass out, but they will wake back up and presumably be fine. What’s the difference between that kind of outcome based moral decision making, and the one at hand?

  • Hey Matt and Co,

    Somebody just sent me the link to your discussion. Unfortunately I have a busy day of churchin’ ahead of me. I look forward to joining your conversation tomorrow, but for now let me briefly note the following.

    First, I think the point and force of my virginity example is being misunderstood. No doubt that is due to my poor communication skills.

    Second, I’d like to respond to this comment by Matt:

    “But when a person has been killed and their life has been restored, they have not been subjected to a great wrong — yes they have for a split second been killed but the act occurs in a context where the properties which make killing a great wrong were not present.”

    If I read Matt correctly, restoration of life is sufficient to overturn the apparent badness of being slaughtered by one’s father. As a result I find reference to “for a split second” to be unnecessary. So long as Isaac’s life is restored it is okay, no?

    With that in mind, how about this scenario: Abraham believes God commands him to slit Isaac’s throat, drain the blood into a basin and then bathe in it. Dismember Isaac and place his head on top of a pike in the center of the family compound, and then resurrect him next Tuesday at which point his life will be restored, everything’s okay, and they can all go out to Pizza Hut. Possible?

  • Hi Randal, good to hear from you.

    You asked, “If I read Matt correctly, restoration of life is sufficient to overturn the apparent badness of being slaughtered by one’s father. As a result I find reference to “for a split second” to be unnecessary. So long as Isaac’s life is restored it is okay, no?”

    I think that the split second thing is not trivial; if the wrongness of killing is tied up with the fact that one is deprived of their future life then if a person is dead for a reasonable length of time before being resurrected they have been deprived of some of their future life. If they have been resurrected a split second later, they have been deprived of none.

    But yes I think that the wrong-making property of killing is tied up with the fact a person is deprived off their future life.

    You then ask, ”With that in mind, how about this scenario: Abraham believes God commands him to slit Isaac’s throat, drain the blood into a basin and then bathe in it. Dismember Isaac and place his head on top of a pike in the center of the family compound, and then resurrect him next Tuesday at which point his life will be restored, everything’s okay, and they can all go out to Pizza Hut. Possible?”

    This example, I think, adds other factors into the equation other than killing – such as mutilation, dismemberment, disrespect for a corpse and so forth – these actions have their own wrong-making properties and they are different to the wrong-making properties of killing. So in this case I doubt the resurrection from the dead will eliminate the wrong making property of these other actions – it will eliminate the wrongness of the killing but not these other actions.

  • L Taylor, you bring up several different examples; first, the torture example. It seems obvious to me that the wrongness of torture is tied up with the pain inflicted on the victim so it has a different wrong-making property to killing; hence, the resurrection example does not apply here. What would need to occur would be a case where a person was tortured and felt no pain or something like that.

    The case of a choke hold is different again. Suppose a person puts another in a choke hold, there is no injury or risk of injury and they wake up immediately afterwards. I can imagine cases in which one would not consider this a terribly serious offence at all – we certainly would not consider it to be on par with murder as, in and of itself, it is a minor assault.

    I think in cases like this one also need to factor in that, according to the narrative, God actually did not intend Abraham to actually carry the command out. God intervened to communicate this before the action was performed.

    Imagine it this way, God said to Abraham, ‘Abraham put Isaac in a choke hold, in a manner in which he is not injured and let him wake up immediately’ but then God intervened before Abraham did this telling him to not do it. Would this be weird? Yes. Would it be a moral outrage showing God as a monster? I don’t think so.

  • Matt, thanks for your response. And now for the rejoinder.

    Matt: “I think that the split second thing is not trivial; if the wrongness of killing is tied up with the fact that one is deprived of their future life then if a person is dead for a reasonable length of time before being resurrected they have been deprived of some of their future life. If they have been resurrected a split second later, they have been deprived of none.”

    Let’s say a person does not come back to life but is resurrected to a blissful eternity. Isn’t the cutting short of their present life thereby a relatively trivial loss? It would be akin to a father stepping on his son’s favorite model of a Porsche 550 Spyder and then compensating by providing the son with a real one. So why would the deprivation of more of this life be sufficient to make the killing wrong?

    Let’s say that God commanded Abe to kill Isaac and resurrect him next Tuesday. God could certainly add a week on at the end of his life or compensate him in any number of ways for the loss of that week life so I don’t see any weight in the split second reference.

    Finally, I’d add that I read you as referring to killing itself being a split second. But of course it might have taken awhile for Abe to kill Isaac so the offense is not simply in the end result of killing — i.e. the loss of the life — but also in the grisly road to get there.

    “This example, I think, adds other factors into the equation other than killing – such as mutilation, dismemberment, disrespect for a corpse and so forth – these actions have their own wrong-making properties….”

    I agree, to be sure. But I don’t see what grounds you have to do so. It is a test of Abe’s faith to show that even if Isaac is killed he can still be resurrected and serve as the child of promise. With that in mind, further commands to do things to Isaac’s corpse including dismemberment, decapitation, and the placing of the head on a pike in the middle of the family compound, could intensify the faith-demonstrating power of Abe’s act. I.e. God can even resurrect a person who has been mutilated beyond recognition. Why couldn’t God command this given the view you’ve already taken on what God has commanded?

    To sum up, you’ve already said God can command a father to kill his son so long as there is a resurrection to follow. So why couldn’t God add that the father do things to the corpse in the interim?

  • [...] of Isaac. After returning I blogged about the experience and Matt has now published a belated critical response at his blog. The key issue: Matt argues that the evil of killing consists in the deprivation of [...]

  • The terror this child would have experienced is something you have to account for Matt. The Bible story neglects any mention of the child’s psychological well being, but like the experience of being ritually raped, preparing to cut and burn the boy would have caused real psychological trauma for the father and his victim.

    That is the significance I see in Randal’s criticism of your view, and that is why the rape question is still valid.

  • Randal, let me make two points.

    First, I think there are two issues being conflated here. One, is whether resurrecting someone means they are adequately compensated for losses or wrongs received in the world. Two, is whether the fact a person will be immediately resurrected back to life means killing ceases to have the wrong-making property it would normally have. My position in the Abraham and Isaac post is issue two. It is not that resurrecting Isaac compensates him for the wrongs or losses he receives, rather, the fact that he will be resurrected means that the wrong-making property of killing is not present in this case.

    Second, you say, “I agree, to be sure. But I don’t see what grounds you have to do so. It is a test of Abe’s faith to show that even if Isaac is killed he can still be resurrected and serve as the child of promise. With that in mind, further commands to do things to Isaac’s corpse including dismemberment, decapitation, and the placing of the head on a pike in the middle of the family compound, could intensify the faith-demonstrating power of Abe’s act. I.e. God can even resurrect a person who has been mutilated beyond recognition. Why couldn’t God command this given the view you’ve already taken on what God has commanded?”

    The reason one cannot coherently claim that God had commanded these things is because in the case you sketch, in addition to killing, there are a whole lot of other actions – dismembering, disrespect for a corpse and so on. Like I noted, these actions have different wrong-making properties to the act of killing. While resurrecting Isaac means that the properties that make killing wrong are not present, it does not mean that the properties that make these other actions horrendously wrong are not present.

    I do not think one can coherently claim that God commands wrong-doing, this is because it is central to our concept of goodness that a good being will not command wrong-doing. I grant that our moral intuitions are fallible and hence it is likely that God will command some things which are at odds with what we judge to be wrong, and hence, information about God’s commands can and should force revision of our intuitions. However, one cannot coherently claim that God is good and attribute to him a set of commands that is too radically at odds with our conception of right and wrong (you may remember my discussion of this in Atlanta). This is because to meaningfully say God is good we have to have some grasp of what goodness is and if our concept of goodness is radically and fundamentally mistaken then we do not have a grasp of goodness and so cannot reliably say God is good.

    In the biblical case of Abraham and Isaac, we see Abraham commanded by God to kill in a context where Abraham knows the wrong-making property of killing is not present; hence, the action is not wrong. Moreover, we know God does not actually intend the action to be carried out, he stops Abraham from doing it. We know that he, in the rest of the Canon, prohibits infant sacrifice. So I do not think one falls into incoherence by claiming that God issued such a command. The alternative you mention of decapitation, and so forth, involves actions where the wrong-making properties are still in play; hence, on the face of it, God would be commanding wrong-doing, God would actually intend Abraham to carry these actions out and Abraham actually would. Hence, the coherence with a perfectly good God is less evident in this case. But this is not the case that the Bible presents.

  • mutilation, dismemberment, disrespect for a corpse and so forth – these actions have their own wrong-making properties and they are different to the wrong-making properties of killing.

    FIP (i.e. face in palm). You guys just make this sh*t up as you go.

  • Robert read the Abraham and Isaac post linked to above. Then compare it to the claims being made in the video link you posted.

  • “That’s right L Taylor, the existence of a virgin who has had sex in the past is logically impossible. its like a married bachelor. The claim that a person who was dead has come back to life is logically possible. “

    Seems if you replace “was dead” with “has been killed” you are now looking at the same thing.

  • Madeleine, thanks.

  • Ryan I agree, but my position is not that God could make it that people “had not been killed”, the fact some other position I did not advance is logically impossible does not mean that the one I actually advanced is.

  • But I think it means your entire raison d’etre is “word games”.

  • TAM wrote: FIP (i.e. face in palm). You guys just make this sh*t up as you go.

    TAM if you read the post above you will see that the idea of that what makes killing wrong is tied to the fact that killing deprives people of their life, is fairly well attested in the literature of secular ethicists (including some you yourself praise).

    So given this, perhaps you’d like to show me on what basis you contest the claim that what makes it wrong to mutilate a corpse is not that doing so deprives a person of their life? Last time I checked mutilating a corpse does not and can not deprive a person of their life as the person is already dead.

    Do you disagree?

  • The Atheist Missionary, I have the same feeling. Randal’s interpretation of scripture may be right or wrong, but at least it leaves him with the dignity of not defending genocide and devotional killing of children.

  • But I think it means your entire raison d’etre is “word games”.

    You can think what you like, the issue is whether you can provide reasons for this conclusion.

    I think there is a real distinction between the claim that ‘a person was killed at T1 and then ressurected at T2′ and the claim that ‘a person was killed at T1 but then at T2 it is true that he was not killed at T1.’ Until you can show there is no such distinction except the names one gives, I see no reason for thinking otherwise.

  • Thanks Matt. I take your correction on evil but justified vs. good.

    However, on the whole I remain unconvinced by your response. Not that this should be too much concern. I have been known to be both dull and intransigent. However I am not persuaded I am being either dull or intransigent here and here’s why:

    First I’ll note agreement: “one cannot coherently claim that God is good and attribute to him a set of commands that is too radically at odds with our conception of right and wrong….” Yes! Yea and amen.

    But the command to slaughter one’s child as a human sacrifice is surely not less counter to our moral intuitions than the command to mutilate the corpse. So it seems to me anyways…

    Isaac is not harmed in any way by his corpse being mutilated. And the Lord is the giver of life and death. You agree that God could test faith and demonstrate his sovereign lordship by commanding the killing of Isaac. But if he wants to go further by commanding the mutilation of Isaac to make it absolutely clear to the eyes of faith that the resurrection was solely a sovereign divine act, your moral intuition red light suddenly starts flashing? I don’t get it.

  • Matt let me add:

    Your position sounds about as perplexing as somebody claiming it is fine to slaughter Wilbur the pig for Christmas dinner but it would be unspeakably immoral to put an apple in the pig’s mouth and present it on a platter.

  • As someone who has just come upon this website today, it seems to me that I am missing something of the original argument, but I think that the argument itself has failed to see something most pertinent. The more expansive meaning of “Thou shall not kill” is “Thou shall not arrogate to thyself God’s right to decide if another’s life is to continue.” So, defending yourself, others, ones country are not based on arrogation. Neither is manslaughter, which is treated differently in the Law.

    On the other hand, rape,torture, fraud, theft, etcetera, are similar arrogations toward other individuals. The principle is general.

    When Abraham brings Isaac up on the mountain there is no arrogation involved. To the contrary, if he had not brought him, he would have been arrogating to himself a veto power over God.

    But the larger story being told here is that unlike the gods of the nations that Abraham was familiar with, the God who he has met does not require or want child sacrifice. It is place in the book of Genesis for the teaching of that very point. The common thread of the nations that Moses was to destroy was child sacrifice and the story means to emphasize to the Israelites that this was not required of them, nor should it be considered an exemption from the commandment. Without a view to the context of Abraham’s life and times, arguments become derelict mental exercises, charming to the ego but extraneous to the intent of the story.

  • Robert, the problem with your comment is that nowhere am I defending “devotional child killing” or “genocide” (and yes I am familar with those articles, I was actually present at the presentation of one of them). Abraham, you will recall, did not kill Isaac.

    But I note TAM has spoken in praise of Peter Singer in the past, so spare me his concern about child killing.

  • Randal, I too note the agreement.

    “But the command to slaughter one’s child as a human sacrifice is surely not less counter to our moral intuitions than the command to mutilate the corpse. So it seems to me anyways…”

    Taken in isolation yes but in specific contexts things may differ. For example, I can imagine a situation where a group of people are starving and stranded in the mountains and the only method of survival is to cut up the corpse of a dead child and eat it. Once that context is taken into account, the claim that it is wrong to mutilate a corpse is not as plausible as the claim that human sacrifice is wrong.

    In a similar way, in the situation where people who are killed pop immediately back to life, the claim that it is wrong to kill is not as plausible as the claim it is wrong to mutilate a corpse.

    Of course in the real world we do not normally face situations where people come back to life and we do not normally have to resort to cannibalism to survive so in normal situations both acts are counter intuitive.

    ”Isaac is not harmed in any way by his corpse being mutilated. And the Lord is the giver of life and death. You agree that God could test faith and demonstrate his sovereign lordship by commanding the killing of Isaac. But if he wants to go further by commanding the mutilation of Isaac to make it absolutely clear to the eyes of faith that the resurrection was solely a sovereign divine act, your moral intuition red light suddenly starts flashing? I don’t get it.”

    Ok a few things here, first, I do not think that the fact a person is not “harmed” by mutilation is relevant, that is because I do not think that what makes mutilation of a corpse wrong is that it harms the victim, the victim is dead and can not be harmed.

    Similarly, I think the fact that God is the giver of life and death is also a side issue; the issue is not what God has a right to do but whether it is coherent to say that a perfectly good being would command something evil.

    As to the main issue here, the reason I think the command to kill Isaac is different to your hypothetical command to mutilate Isaac is that in the former case the action [killing] is commanded in a context where we know the property that makes killing wrong is not present. The command to mutilate Isaac does not take place in a context where we know that the property that makes mutilation wrong is present. That strikes me as obviously a morally relevant difference between the cases.

  • Matt, Did I mischaracterize you as defending Biblical genocide and human sacrifice? I’m sorry.

  • Okay, there comes a point where I have to recognize that you’re speaking Thai and I’m speaking Spanish. Your Thai may be impeccable, but from the perspective of a Spanish speaker born and raised in Barcelona (with that endearing lispy accent) it sure looks like you’re begging all the questions. You write:

    “As to the main issue here: the reason I think the command to kill Isaac is different to your hypothetical command to mutilate Isaac is that in the former case the action (killing) is commanded in a context where we know the property that makes killing wrong is not present.”

    Who knows this? I aver that our moral intuitions strongly suggest otherwise. Pull a hundred people off the streets and do a straw poll on what they’d conclude if they heard a voice telling them to kill their kid.

    “The command to mutilate Isaac does not take place in a context where we know that the property that makes mutilation wrong is present.”

    Only if you assume at the outset that mutilitating a body is a non-negotiable evil while killing the person is okay.

    “That strikes me as obviously a morally relevant difference between the cases.”

    Only if you’re speaking Thai.

  • Randal asks: “Who knows this?”

    As has (I think) been spelled out at some length, Abraham knew this (or had very good reason to believe it). If you reject the view that Abraham had reason to think that his son had a future, then now is the time to clearly explain your reasons.

  • And this is the problem of doing philosophy of the Bible without theology.

    The context of Isaac’s sacrifice is that Abraham had already been told that Isaac would be who his posterity would be thru. Abraham had learned to hear the voice of God, and he believed God would give him Isaac thru Sarah even though she was post-menopausal. So God credits Abraham for his faith.

    When the command to sacrifice comes along, Abraham already knows God’s voice and sees the evidence of God’s miracle in front of him in the form of Isaac. Daily he is reminded of God’s faithfulness. So a command to sacrifice Isaac is seen as difficult as Abraham loves his son, but Abraham knows this is God’ command from his experience, and Abraham reasons God will resurrect Isaac because God has already told him that Isaac is the promised son.

    Questions about mutilating Isaac’s body are irrelevant. They do not relate to the context of Abraham trusting God despite difficult to understand commands. And questions about what we think of other men who claim God tells them to kill people are also irrelevant because we know beforehand they are mentally unstable.

    The question is about Abraham. The same Abraham that con hear God’s voice because he has evidence of it, the same Abraham who knows God had been with him in many situations (Lot’s kidnapping, Trip to Egypt, Lot’s deliverance from Sodom, the birth of Isaac).

  • Of course Matt is right and Richard, you’re missing the point.

    The point here is that Abraham and Isaac are living in this magical scenario where people can kill their child and the child can be brought back to life.

    I’m sure if you object, Matt can dig up some of the other people magically brought back to life in the Good Book. Recall that these people think that Ancient Near Eastern people spoke in a hyperbolic manner, extoling the total slaughter of peoples who were not actually slaughtered, and such.

    The exact same hyperbole could explain away their saying, “God commanded this..”, and, “God said that…”, and so on, but it is unsuitable for their argument so they’re likely to claim that that same reference to hyperbole must be a characture of Ancient Near Eastern hyperbolic writing.

    Here reason and logic aren’t being used to clarify, they’re being used to clarify the Christian position, which is not the same thing at all.

  • “The point here is that Abraham and Isaac are living in this magical scenario where people can kill their child and the child can be brought back to life.

    Show where anyone said that. Just once will do.

    Thanks.

  • Initially I wondered if this was just a case of long winded hair splitting.

    As very much a novice in these issues I still appreciate the debate because we, as Christians must engage with these difficult passages. So thank you for your work on this.

    Initially I could not see at all the difference between the command to kill and the rape scenario. But, as I read the posts and comments I began to see the distinction, Matt, that you draw between your argument and that of Randal’s and it is a helpful one.

    I also found Bethyada’s comment, “And this is the problem of doing philosophy of the Bible without theology….” one of the most helpful.

  • Randal, I still think there is some miscommunication here.

    Let’s recap: the reason I think the command to kill Isaac is different to your hypothetical command to mutilate Isaac is that in the former case the action [killing] is commanded in a context where we know the property that makes killing wrong is not present.

    1. You ask me “who knows this?” The answer is Abraham does, as do the readers of the biblical narrative. I gave reasons for this in my original post; basically, I argued that: (a) if one looks at the biblical narrative, both Abraham and the reader know that Isaac is going to live on and have children and the expectation is that Isaac will come down from the mountain alive. Hence, the command is issued in a context where, Abraham knows that Isaac will not lose his life; (b) it is not wrong to kill someone if one knows that they will not lose their life from doing so. Hence, in the situation presented in the narrative the wrong-making property that normally accompanies killing is not present.

    Note the question is not whether is it wrong to kill in the normal circumstances we find in the actual world. It is whether it is wrong in really unusual counter-factual circumstances where someone could be killed and yet pop immediately back to life.

    2.You seem to contest this by noting, “Pull a hundred people off the streets and do a straw poll on what they’d conclude if they heard a voice telling them to kill their kid.” But the question is not whether a voice telling you to kill your child is a command to do something wrong. I agree that in the circumstances that apply in the actual world such a command is wrong and most people assume these circumstances hold. The relevant question in this context is whether it would be wrong to kill someone in highly unusual situations where you knew they would immediately come back to life and continue living with no loss of life. Here it is not clear that people’s intuitions would lead to an affirmative answer. Some reflection on the wrongness of killing would lead most people to agree that killing is wrong because it deprives people of their life. That is borne out by the intuitive plausibility of accounts of the wrongness of killing produced by people like Don Marquis and also the intuitive response to Hare’s examples.

    3. You suggest my position assumes “at the outset that mutilitating a body is a non-negotiable evil while killing the person is okay.” But I do not think this follows at all. From the outset we know, given the normal circumstances that typically apply in the actual world, that both killing and mutilating are wrong. Hence, any claim that a perfectly good person has commanded these things will be rejected.

    We then are presented with a very unusual hypothetical case where a person is killed and comes back alive again. We reflect on what makes killing wrong and conclude that the relevant wrong-making property is tied to the fact killing someone deprives them of their life. Hence we conclude that the relevant wrong-making property is not in play in this hypothetical situation.

    We are presented with another hypothetical case, where a corpse is mutilated and then brought back to life. Reflection on what makes mutilation wrong leads us to think that it is highly implausible that what makes mutilating a corpse wrong is that it deprives people of their life. Hence, we conclude the fact a person comes back to life gives us no reason for thinking that the wrong-making property for mutilation is absent.

    In both cases, from the outset, we assumed that both actions are normally wrong. Our conclusion is based on recognising that the wrong- making properties of mutilation and killing differ.

  • Robert, the disagreement between Randall and I is over whether killing would be wrong in a counter-factual situation that has never applied in the actual world. Hence, it is inaccurate to say I am defending child killing.

    It was clear to me from the SBL meeting that our views on the so called “genocide passages” are somewhat similar. Though I put more premium on the claim that our moral intuitions are fallible, and hence, that the text may force us to revise them.

  • “Show where anyone said that. Just once will do.”

    It’s implied.

    “..God could have willed that we kill each other at the age of 18, at which point God would bring us immediately back to life..”

    Is it true or false that God can do this Glenn?

    “..a careful examination of the text reveals that Abraham’s actions occurred in a context where he knew his son would not stay dead..”

    Matt believes it, Matt believes that Abraham believed it, Matt wants YOU to believe it.

    I believe that the story represents how best to describe someone so faithful that the object of their faith communicated with him, to people of that era, and is meant as an archtype of how much faith is needed, how much faith was needed to become the patriarch of those wonderful tribes.(Well, wonderful from their point of view, I suppose.)

    What I don’t think is that the story is trying to say anything AT ALL about God’s morality.

    Sort of like lots of movies where there are bodies lying dead everywhere at the end but the hero is forgiven and not charged with anything, not held accountable, because, well, we all know he’s the darned hero, don’t we?

    The story of Abraham calls for compliance to God’s WILL, and gosh-darn-it, that’s what it delivers!

    A bit of hyperbole, right Matt?

  • One thing I also learnt about this was that apparently Isaac wasn’t a small boy at this stage but a mature man, which means his father could not have sacrificed him without his consent as the text would appear to preclude Abraham surprising him from behind with a large rock to the head.

    Abraham had such faith in God that he was willing to do whatever God asked him. And since the text doesn’t indicate Isaac heard God’s voice regarding this then he must have had such faith in his father that he knew he would do nothing which was not God’s will to which he consented utterly.

    This means it much more greatly foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice of Himself according to the will of the Father. So it’s not just Abraham’s sacrifice but also Isaac’s of himself.

  • floyd, thank you for admitting that nobody said what you claim, and that it is only your view on what is impled.

    However it is not implied by any stretch. Let’s recap. Your claim:

    “The point here is that Abraham and Isaac are living in this magical scenario where people can kill their child and the child can be brought back to life.”

    Notice the claim: You said that Abraham and Isaac’s context (according to Christians, or at least Matt) is one where people (people, not just Abraham) can kill children and they can be brought back to life.

    And now you say that this scenario is impled because someone said:

    “..God could have willed that we kill each other at the age of 18, at which point God would bring us immediately back to life..”

    But notice carefully: Nobody said that God did will this. The claim was that God could. And yes, God could, but this does not “imply” that in Abraham’s time, people could kill children and they could come back to life.

    So nobody said this and nobody implied it. You made it up. What was claimed is that Abraham had reason to believe that one child in particular had a great future that no man could take away, so that if he were to die as a child then somehow that future would still be fulfilled so that must mean that this particular child would be brought back.

    Now that your bizarre representation of this claim has been dispensed with, what else do you have?

  • Matt wrote: perhaps you’d like to show me on what basis you contest the claim that what makes it wrong to mutilate a corpse, is not that doing so deprives a person of their life. Last time I checked mutilating a corpse does not and cannot deprive a person of their life, the person is already dead. Do you disagree?

    No, mutilating a corpse does not deprive a person of their life. From my secular standpoint, I consider it wrong to mutilate a corpse for the following reasons:

    1. It would be disrespectful to those who cared for the deceased while they were alive;

    2. The act would abrogate the Golden Rule which I am happy to abide by without any divine command;

    3. It is an act which is inherently wasteful;

    4. I live in a society where mutilating corpses is illegal; and

    5. I was raised to treat corpses in a respectful manner.

    I am sure that I could come up with plenty of other reasons but these will do for now. The key point is that i don’t need a divinje commander to tell me that mutilating a corpse is wrong and that fact wouldn’t change if Yahweh whispers in my head today and tells me to commit the act.

    Matt wrote: I do not think one can coherently claim that God commands wrong-doing, this is because it is central to our concept of goodness that a good being will not command wrong-doing. I grant that our moral intuitions are fallible and hence it is likely that God will command some things which are at odds with what we judge to be wrong, and hence, information about God’s commands can and should force revision of our intuitions. However, one cannot coherently claim that God is good and attribute to him a set of commands that is too radically at odds with our conception of right and wrong (you may remember my discussion of this in Atlanta). This is because to meaningfully say God is good we have to have some grasp of what goodness is and if our concept of goodness is radically and fundamentally mistaken then we do not have a grasp of goodness and so cannot reliably say God is good.

    I take no issue with this comment aside from the fact that I believe God is a figment of your imagination. However, if I am wrong on that point, wouldn’t your reasoning (and Occam’s razor) suggest that the most logical conclusion is that the binding of Isaac is the incoherent product of a human author?

  • Matt and Madeleine, I liked it when you had that option that gave authors 5 minutes to edit their comments. Is there any plan to reinstate that?

  • Very hilarous comments coming from secu fundy sympathizers

    To claim that Isaac was affected by psychological terror of being sacrificed to Yahweh is absurd. Where does it even show up in the passage in question? In fact, he was willing to go through with it, given no objections were raised. The godless parrots are clearly making stupid anachronistic assumptions by interpreting Isaac using their 21st century blinders.

  • The fact that God intervenes to right a previous wrong does not mean the wrong He righted was not wrong. God’s response to an evil does not make that evil righteous, no matter if the evil in question is rape, theft, blasphemy, or murder.

  • Matt, I’m going to blog about this. There’s too much going on for a comment thread. Thanks for the banter.

  • Matt said,

    …the idea that what makes killing wrong is tied to the fact that killing deprives people of their life…

    I think that when you kill someone it’s much more than simply depriving them of their life.
    1. you usually cause suffering to them in the act of the killing.
    2. you cause incredible suffering to those who love and care for the victim.
    3. you cause anxiety in the surrounding society because perhaps they’ll be the next to go?

    So, to try to spin murder as the simple evil of depriving someone of their life that can just as easily be undone by restoring their life again in an attempt to justify a story in a book you are precommitted to have to support regardless of the deeds portrayed is, in a word, wrong.

  • Woland,

    Matt presented a general principle of why murder is wrong for all types of people.

    your opinion only counts towards people with standing and priviledge. But honestly, no publicity would be generated if a lazy bum on the street gets killed or if a kid dies somewhere in bangalore. Also, some irreligious folks I’ve talked to here in Canada also don’t give a shit of what’s happening in countries where normal is considered looking for bombs on buses and ducking on every street corner you run into e.g. Afghanisthan, Iraq.

    They prefer to have all the terrible crap left to the afghanis, and iraqis to clean up and handle, so talk about you’re average goody goody atheist. They are too busy to care.

  • Alvin said,

    your opinion only counts towards people with standing and priviledge. But honestly, no publicity would be generated if a lazy bum on the street gets killed or if a kid dies somewhere in bangalore

    I fear you may not have read or understood what I said Alvin. It’s not about publicity, it’s a question of suffering.

    WC said,

    1. you usually cause suffering to them in the act of the killing.
    2. you cause incredible suffering to those who love and care for the victim.
    3. you cause anxiety in the surrounding society because perhaps they’ll be the next to go?

  • Alvin says:

    To claim that Isaac was affected by psychological terror of being sacrificed to Yahweh is absurd.

    Really? The text does not consider the boy’s feelings, but I hardly think that’s a reason to dismiss them as if he was happy about being bound on an alter with his father intending to cut him and burn his body. Many things that have changed over the last 4000 years, but I don’t see how human psychology would be all *that* different.

    The Bible’s silence on Issac’s perspective might indicate that his feelings are simply not important enough to record. He is a tool used to test the father’s faith. That’s his role in the story – nevermind that he is also a person.

    The same can be said for the Bible’s rape laws where the psychological well being of the victim is ignored. What *really* matters is that her father is compensated for her loss of virginity since his property was despoiled.

    Rape laws are off topic here. On topic is if the Bible consistently values people. My “godless, stupid anachronistic assumptions” lead me to believe that it does not. The story of Issac is just one of many examples.

  • From Anthony: “One thing I also learnt about this was that apparently Isaac wasn’t a small boy at this stage but a mature man, which means his father could not have sacrificed him without his consent as the text would appear to preclude Abraham surprising him from behind with a large rock to the head.”

    This was my reading too. Isaac does not object as he is about to be sacrificed and continues his father’s legacy in following Yahweh as he grows older. Rape implies a violation of consent, but sex with consent would be perfectly acceptable between married adults in Judaism.

  • Apparently Isaac wasn’t a small boy at this stage but a mature man.

    If this is true Bryan, I would agree with you and stand corrected.

  • “..in this magical scenario where people can kill their child and the child can be brought back to life..”

    To which you reply Glenn, “Nobody said that God did will this. The claim was that God could. And yes, God could..”

    Well, um, THANK YOU for admitting that ‘God Could..’, if you look carefully at what I didn’t say, I didn’t say that anyone at all did kill their child, did I?

    It’s a common problem here on the blogs that sometimes people neglect to scrutinize carefully what other’s DON’T say, wouldn’t you say so Glenn?

  • Seems to me that the cold facts of the story available to the writer, are that Abraham and Isaac went up the mountain and came back down.

    There is no good reason outside the story why we ought to believe that God communicated anything to Abraham in a manner different to how any religious person may feel that he is being communicated with by God.

    Seems to me that the story is a bit circular, in that it is proposed that Abraham is hearing God’s WILL more clearly because he has such faith, yet the story concerns God testing Abraham’s faith.

    Matt’s idea that God can will the resurrection of anyone he chooses seems to make a mockery of the whole idea of Jesus death.

    Are the Gospels telling the story to believers who understand God’s plan through the exact same story?

    Point is that minimizing the killing part, the death part of the Abraham story seems to be special pleading for the Abraham story and ONLY the Abraham story if your not willing to minimize the killing of Jesus in THAT story.

    All I’m trying to say here is that shifting emphasis using rhetoric ‘a la’ Matt here, can have untended consequences for other stories.

    If we’re going to make a parallel between Isaac and Jesus, we could easily make an unflattering parallel between God hardening the Pharoah’s heart and God presumably ignoring the faithful prayers of the Sanhedrin requesting their God’s Will??

    Can we assume that the Sanhedrin believed in God?
    Can we assume that the Sanhedrin believed that they were faithful to God and were exacting God’s Will?

    Then there must be different kinds of faith then?

    Or I’m missing something extremely subtle.

  • Matt, here’s my final word (for now anyways):

    http://randalrauser.com/2011/01/the-mutilation-of-isaac/

    Thanks for the forum of discussion!

  • [...] Flannagan, respected analytic theologian, Christian apologist and faithful blogger, has taken issue with my argument that God would not ask a parent to sacrifice their child. Matt asks us to consider why it is that killing a human being is wrong. It is wrong, he avers, [...]

  • Bryan,

    The Book of Genesis does not tell the age of Isaac at the time; the Talmudic sages teach that Isaac was thirty-seven, likely based on the next biblical story, which is of Sarah’s death at 127 (she was ninety when Isaac was born). Bishop Ussher’s chronology would place Isaac at about 20 years of age.

    via Wikipedia

  • Well, um, THANK YOU for admitting that ‘God Could..’, if you look carefully at what I didn’t say, I didn’t say that anyone at all did kill their child, did I?

    It’s a common problem here on the blogs that sometimes people neglect to scrutinize carefully what other’s DON’T say, wouldn’t you say so Glenn?

    Take a deep breath and have another look.

    You accused people of believing in a world where people could kill their children and they would be brought come back to life.

    This was a mischaracterisation. Believing that in one special case a person had grounds for believing that God would bring one child back to life does not amount to the claim that people could kill their children and they would be raised again.

    That fact that Matt and I believe that God is able to raise the dead today does not change this mischaracterisation. It’s not even a subtle thing. It’s obvious and you should simply admit to misrepresenting other people’s views unfavorably.

  • Robert,

    Yes! Really the mental trauma on isaac’s part and other emotive responses to the presence or absence on it on Isaac’s mental state are irrelevant, simply because it does not explicitly state in the text if Isaac was happy or sad when he was being bound on the altar. It is sufficient enough that he was willing to go through with it and that’s that.

    Its akin to someone arguing from silence that Darwin never really left the Christian faith, because of certain interpretations on his doubts whether one can trust the mind of an ape in his origins, even though the text did not explicitly state this.

    Again, you are making a mistaken assumption that Isaac was raised in a liberal democratic culture where life must be preserved. It’s not the case, as other cultures show that people willingly commit ritual suicide, burn themselves or mutilate their bodies for the sake of expressing higher values of honor, freedom etc. To say, that these people were traumatized before committing such acts are total BS. Isaac made a decision to participate in the ritual, if they were objections and introspections then the writer could have recorded it e.g. Absalom and Tamar, Hannah; but nothing was noted.

    Also how can you say there was a disregard for the Bible in respecting persons when several levirate laws point out to the welfare of the poor, alien, protection of runaway slaves aside from explicit commands from Yahweh not to pass their sons and daughters to the fire. Have you also forgotten the conclusion of the narrative?

    On a bigger note, it demonstrates the sheer arrogance and cultural superiority complex fundy atheists have towards pre-modern cultures. Robert, are you implying that you are morally superior to the people in the bible? even though, you live in a technologically advanced, rich and spoiled society, It gives you the right to condemn a society that is agrarian in nature, communitarian in spirit who are virtually beset with hostile factions, war and famine with little or no social or technological support that you so enjoy even though their laws form the backbone of western civilization.

    Seriously, Robbie you and your club are just commiting the same hypocritical drivel that the Conquistadores were saying that just because we have a stable civilization with advanced morals and technology we are better than anyone else. So save the shit for someone else.

  • just a thought experiment. if i had the ability to bring people back to life, would it be morally wrong for me to kill people for my enjoyment and then bring them back to life immediately after? perhaps even turn it into a circus act and profit financially from it? or is there perhaps more to the wrongness of killing then simply taking away life?

  • Alvin,

    I’m glad I don’t live in a society where Old Testament laws are in enforced, but that alone should not classify me as culturally arrogant.

    It’s true: I don’t want to force my daughter to marry her rapist. I don’t want to stab any babies for Yahweh. I don’t want to stone anyone for picking up sticks on the wrong day. I don’t want women be forced to drink dirt-water from the floor of a place where animals are routinely killed. The list goes on and on, but I think you get the idea.

    It’s also true: None of us want to live in that kind of society and we are thankful to the people who have worked and died to abolish hurtful laws, religious intolerance, slavery and the like.

    Back to Issac. I’m glad we don’t take seriously modern day “revelations” that result binding another person on an alter with the intention of killing them. If someone does that kind of thing today, they will get punished or sent to rehabilitation. What’s puzzling is why people take seriously these kinds of “revelations” from people thousands of years ago. Isn’t it more likely that God never said such a thing? You don’t have to give up on Christianity to believe that.

  • @Robert
    Once you start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe, why bother accepting any of it. Effectively you then set yourself up as arbiter of truth and on what basis is any one individual any more right than any other?

    So lets try another tack altogether. Whats so hard with the idea that God works with people where he finds them? That He is enabling them to get from where they are to the best He has planned for them. And that He does this with individuals, families, nations even cultures.
    So in an ANE culture God is working in that contex,t helping people take on step at a time forwards.
    Take for instance your comment about forcing a girl to marry her rapist. In ancient ANE culture and even up until very recently in our culture women were property. Read the context and you will find that in the case of a girl marrying her rapist it is actually what we would call statutory rape [ ie consensual but illegal sex] . So rather than a girl being forced to marry her rapist its a case of a man being obliged to fulfill his responsibilities to a girl from whom he has taken her honour and value and marriageability as a virgin. Dont get me wrong i dont think women are property but in that time a law such as this protected this girl from a life of poverty and degradation.
    It was a simple case of with privelege [sex] comes responsibility [marriage].

    How about your other concerns such as slavery, Paul in the NT writes

    ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Gal 3:28

    this is the first time in recorded history that the equality of all irrespective of anything is proposed, yet it took until the 1860s to get rid of slavery in the West, longer to give women legal equality and well into the 20C before we recognised coloured people as not being inferior to white. Today we cant believe people were so ignorant, stupid , intolerant but its only been 100-150 years, how will we look in 2000 years.

    The Bible needs to read as a whole to see the course and purpose of Gods work with men. Picking out bits we dont like from a long time ago and criticising them in ignorance of the context doesnt prove anything other than that we are conditioned by our own culture.

  • Robert,

    Didn’t you read what Jeremy posted and what I have mentioned or are you deliberately ignoring what we point out? and since when did yahweh wanted people to kill their babies? Its plain ludacriss. Again read my previous reply to you PLEASE.

  • Jeremy, the trouble with taking the dealings of men(and later women) in ‘context’ is that it makes a mockery of any notion of absolute, objective morality, doesn’t it?

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  • @ pboy
    you are going to need to explain how “context” makes a mockery of objective morality, rather than just assert it.
    The fact that humans need to learn and that learning is a process [ not usually an instant and complete comprehension] does not invalidate objective morality. You may need to explain to me how it even addresses the subject.
    Also i suspect your use of the word “absolute” is indicative of a misunderstanding . Christians would more normally talk about absolute truth not absolute objective morality.

  • “Christians would more normally talk about absolute truth not absolute objective morality.”

    No no, I think you’re pre-twisting your position a little prematurely here.

    Surely you believe (absolutely, I grant you) that God’s morality is absolute and objective?

    The theory is that we all know it’s wrong to murder, steal etc. and that all societies base their morality on an inherent moral law within each individual person, writ there by God himself! This, according to C.S.Lewis in Mere Christianity!

    The argument against this is that the ancients didn’t treat women as property while feeling bad about it AT ALL, no.

    Things didn’t suddenly get better in the Christian era either! So you have to make a decision here. You can’t agree with C.S.Lewis and disagree with him at the same time.

    Or more generally, you cannot believe that we don’t have some absolute morality and yet that we do have absolute morality(that we’re perhaps aiming at) at the same time.

    Indeed I think we ARE getting better, inasmuchas people who enslave others, or treat others as property, generally know that they are doing wrong now.

    But they just incorporate and wash their hands of it. If you’ve got a couple of million invested in NIke, it’s not YOUR fault that there are children in some foreign land working to make you profit, it’s NIke’s fault!

    Not only is Nike above the law, Nike is above your morality!

    Hint:- That’s a bad thing.

  • Jeremy,

    Once you start picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe, why bother accepting any of it. Effectively you then set yourself up as arbiter of truth …

    You might be right, but I can’t take inerrancy seriously after reading things like Thom Stark’s book.

    Whats so hard with the idea that God works with people where he finds them? Take for instance your comment about forcing a girl to marry her rapist … in that time a law such as this protected this girl from a life of poverty and degradation.

    So apparently the culture prevented God from giving a law that would require men to consider the psychological well-being of the woman more than the father’s bridal fee. And apparently God could find no better way to protect a victim from poverty than to force them to marry their rapist. Nowhere does the Biblical God back down on homosexuality or idol worship because it was too hard to culturally enforce, yet for rape victims, we are told that this was the very best he could do.

    Excuses like this are doubtful for even a semi-intelligent lawgiver, let alone the creator of the entire universe. To illustrate this, I will be so bold as to suggest what Yahweh could have said if he were really concerned about the welfare of the woman:

    If a man happens to meet a virgin and rapes her and they are discovered, she should have no obligation to him. Since the incident might make her appear less valuable among men, I (the Lord) promise to bring abundant blessing on the one who will overlook her loss of virginity and take her in as a loving husband. Each person I have created deals with traumatic situations differently, so the priest, the family and the entire Israelite community should care for her physical and emotional needs during her time of recovery.

    Now how hard was that? It wasn’t – which is why a loving, intelligent God would easily have inspired something at least as good as this.

    Susanne Scholz surveys ANE rape laws in chapter 4 of Sacred Witness. What’s striking about this survey is that Biblical laws are not unique from Hittite Laws, Middle Assyrian Laws, Laws of Eshnunna, Code of Hammurabi or Codex of Ur-Nammu. There is no striking feature about any of these laws that would lead one to believe a supremely loving God inspired them. Sometimes the Bible shows relatively greater concern for women and sometimes the other laws do. In all cases, the woman’s testimony is not considered. In all cases, an androcentric perspective is given. In nearly all cases, the description of the crime is ambiguious even if the punishment was death.

    Other themes in ANE law:
    (1) Slave rape was a relatively minor offense.
    (2) Rape of a fiancée or wife was a greater offense than rape of a woman without any such relationship.
    (3) Rape of a widow was a lesser offense than a rape of a non-widow.
    (4) Men are not punished for concentual-sex adultry unless the woman belongs to another man.
    (5) Women are always punished (usually killed) for adulty – concentual or not.
    (6) The place of rape determines if it was concentual.
    (7) There is never any age limitation – statutory rape is not a concern of the law.
    (8) There is never any mention of the complex dynamics of rape. The laws say stupid things like [kill her] “because she was in a town and did not scream for help” – as if a woman cannot be too terrified or shocked to scream.

    If the Bible improved on ANE laws regarding women’s wellfare, I might take seriously that it is inspired of a God who loves all people. But the inequality it prescribes is just what we would expect from people heavily influenced by other ANE laws and cultures that also emphasize a purely androcentric worldview.

  • Alvin,

    I already responded to your accusation about my “sheer arrogance and cultural superiority complex”.

    Regarding Isaac’s perspective, you say

    (1) “it does not explicitly state in the text if Isaac was happy or sad … he was willing to go through with it and that’s that.”

    (2) “Isaac was [not] raised in a … culture where life must be preserved … [in] other cultures … people willingly commit ritual suicide, burn themselves or mutilate their bodies for the sake of expressing higher values.”

    (3) “if they [sic] were objections … the writer could have recorded it … but nothing was noted.”

    Thus you assert that cultural considerations and silence on Issac’s perspective means he was a willing participant – not coerced, lied to, under age, or physically forced. Okay. Thanks for sharing that assertion. Next.

    You ask how I can have a “disregard for the Bible in respecting persons” when laws X, Y, and Z were good and when the “the conclusion of the narrative” is (apparently) good.

    Well, that’s why I said that the Bible does not consistantly value people. Giving permission to beat slaves as long as they are not crippled for more than a few days is one place where it does not value people. The ommision of Issac’s perspective *might* be another, although it takes some speculation to say that.

    I’m ready to move on. You are welcome to respond, call me names, whatever, but I think I’m done with this thread.

  • Robert the bible does not give people permission to beat slaves repeatedly again I have dealt with this issue before: Sunday Study: Slavery, John Locke and the Bible.

  • @ pboy and @ Robert

    What doesnt work for me about either of your answers is that both of you want God [whom you dont even believe] to fit in with your conceptions of what He should be like, how He should behave, what laws He should make and when and then seem to blame Him for not doing things your way.
    God did not makes us robots, we have free will and responsibility. Humanity gets to bear the consequences of its actions.
    Would either of you seriously suggest we shouldnt do so, that somehow God intervenes or changes things so that an individuals actions only evr have consquences for that individual.
    What would the world look like if the evil people did only ever affected themselves? Of course this would swing both ways, the good people did would also only ever affect themselves. What would the world look like then?
    Having the freedom to deny or disbelieve in God means a world where God doesnt force you to do anything, it also means a world where He doesnt immediately change things to fit in with your conceptions, what about the next guys conceptions?

    Seems to me the atheist position is to want their cake and everyone elses too.

  • Matt, will do. Thanks.

  • Oh btw, it seems that the writer of Hebrews agrees with your reasoning Matthew:
    Hebrews 11:17-19 “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”

  • Anthony, I cite that passage in my original article, I also gave an exegetical case for the claim that Abraham knew Isaac to survive the ordeal and come down off the mountain alive.

    Paul Copan adds to this in his latest book.

  • Well, Jeremy, what bothers me is that you guys might be half right.

    We may well be inherently evil(sinful). It may be that we’ve always delegated evil to others and washed our hands of it.

    Of course I’m not talking the murder of a person for another person’s benefit, insurance claim, ‘to get the girl’ and so on, I’m talking about anti-socialist theists extoling capitalism while corporations use the poverty stricken to the anti-socialist theists’ benefit.

    Things that ought to bother the philosophical, free-market, anti-big-government, free market, libertarian theist, but doesn’t seem to.

  • Did I mention ‘free market’?

    LOL

  • The big ‘evil’ corporations are really about corporatism and backed by big governments that socialists support.

    And many anti-capitalism folks are working for corporations and companies that they hate and more than happy to receive salary/wages from the capitalist businesses.

  • @pboy
    Sorry yet again, but these strange tangents just are not doing it for me.

    “Of course I’m not talking the murder of a person for another person’s benefit, insurance claim, ‘to get the girl’ and so on, I’m talking about anti-socialist theists extoling capitalism while corporations use the poverty stricken to the anti-socialist theists’ benefit.

    Things that ought to bother the philosophical, free-market, anti-big-government, free market, libertarian theist, but doesn’t seem to.”

    I am missing the point of this and if there is bait in there you hope i will rise to, then i’m missing that too. Sorry.

  • There was no bait Jeremy, but fine, I’ll answer your comment specifically.

    “What doesnt work for me about either of your answers is that both of you want God [whom you dont even believe] to fit in with your conceptions of what He should be like…”

    Nono Jeremy, you’ll notice that I specifically state that it is C.S. Lewis position which he takes in his famous book Mere Christianity.

  • @pboy
    “Nono Jeremy, you’ll notice that I specifically state that it is C.S. Lewis position which he takes in his famous book Mere Christianity.”

    You are confusing CS Lewis’ recognition that at some fundamental level we all recognise pretty much the same basic things as wrong [ ie shared morality] with actually living moral lives. History would tend to show very little in the way of people, cultures, nations choosing to live moral lives even by their own standards. Expediency and the will to power tend to take priority.

  • I’m not sure that resurrecting someone removes the evil of them being dead. It seems to me , on the biblical view, death of humans beings is evil because God did not intend us to experience it.

    It seems to me problematic to take this position, because it im

  • I lost connectivity from my iphone in the middle of the previous comment….

    It seems to me problematic to take this position, because it would seem to imply that Jesus’ death on the cross — surely all the persons of the trinity and the human person Jesus knew he would be resurrected — was not real. It if wasn’t real, then I don’t see how it could possible sure its purpose of atonement.

    God told Adam that if he ate from the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that he would surely die. So if Adam, after eating, still believed he would be resurrected, then does it follow that act was not evil? This view would seem to logically entail a denial of the fall? So, I guess I am having trouble seeing how this explanation avoids degenerating into some form of Pelgianism.

    Can someone on this blog, clarify my mistakes or misunderstandings?

  • Rick, thanks for your interesting comments.
    You question my suggestion that what makes killing wrong is tied to the fact that killing deprives a person of their future life.
    You state ”because it would seem to imply that Jesus’ death on the cross — surely all the persons of the trinity and the human person Jesus knew he would be resurrected — was not real.” I don’t think this follows, because I did not say that if a person is killed and resurrected there death was not real, what I said is that if you kill someone and know that they will be immediately brought them back to life, then its not a serious wrong.
    God told Adam that if he ate from the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and that he would surely die. So if Adam, after eating, still believed he would be resurrected, then does it follow that act was not evil? This view would seem to logically entail a denial of the fall? Not sure I get what your driving at here. the question here is whether Adams act of disobedience was wrong. And I think the answer is yes, you suggest that if Adam knew he would be resurrected my position entails it would not be. But that does not follow, my position is not that any and every act is permissible if one knows they will be resurrected, my claim is that its not wrong to kill someone at Gods command if one knows they will be immediately restored to life. Adam’s sin was not the act of killing someone, nor does the story state Adams victims will immediately be brought back to life.

  • Isn’t it strange, that God who is Purely Good, would order Abraham to Kill his innocent son, Isaac?
    Would our loving Father, God, play a “Trick” like this on His loyal servant?
    Could it be that God NEVER told Abraham to Sacrifice Isaac?

    All of these questions are answered in this Teaching:
    http://bibleofgod.org/did-god-tell-abraham-to-kill-isaac/

    • The Common Understanding of this record
    • Why is this “Test” Questionable?
    • Did God Tempt Abraham?
    • Burnt Offering vs. Sacrifice
    • Satan’s Deception
    • Not the first time Abraham Miscomprehended
    • How old was Isaac?
    • Other Important things to Note

    -Andrew Davis