Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Moral Argument for God's Existence & the OT Genocides

I could have made the title to this post longer, "The Moral Argument for God's Existence Submitted According to Presuppositional Transcendentalism in Light of the Old Testament Genocides: Is Arbitrariness a Contingency Factor in Determining Ethics?"

Right. Why not just pound that out like a sheet of malleable metal and submit it as the thesis sentence? But what I'm asking here has to do with all of the above: when using the Transcendental Argument for God's existence (TAG) in the moral phase of it, good questions are often asked regarding how morals are determined, even if God is necessary for us to make sense out of them.

TAG and other moral arguments for God's existence attempt to show that, unless there is a God who gives us a moral law, then there is no justification for moral precepts at all. In fact, Fyodor Dostoevsky said the same thing in The Brothers Karamazov, which I posted about earlier. So, taking for granted that it is true that we need a transcendent, moral law in order to justify our morals, the question remains as to how those morals are obtained. Can God change his mind arbitrarily regarding what is moral? Is something moral because God commands it, or does God command it because it is moral?

There is a difference in answering these questions between the standard Moral Argument and TAG. The standard MA gives a general idea of a transcendent need for a moral lawgiver, while TAG aims to assert the particularity of the Christian God as the necessary precondition for morality. In other words, the MA will say, "If there is no God, there are no morals," whereas TAG will say, "The Christian God, and only the Christian God, is the necessary precondition for morality." MA is general, while TAG is particular.

Let us take for granted that someone accepts TAG in its uniqueness and responsibility. An external critique has been made, in that all other worldviews have been rejected for the sake of the Christian worldview. Now comes the internal critique. And the internal critique of the Christian view of God can be very challenging. Indeed one of the major objections to the Christian view of God as an internal critique regards some of the things Yahweh commanded the Israelites to do in the Old Testament--in this case, the genocides.

Questions asked are: "Why kill the children, and even the women? Why kill at all? Isn't this a contradiction to the 7th commandment (you shall not kill)? Can the genocides be used to justify action against other nations, people groups, today?" These questions are all important, but I have found the most popular one regards the killing of innocent babies in the Canaanite city. We'll have to answer this later, as I have to sand the mud on the drywall. Time to get to work!

Ok. Taking a break, and brushing off the dust...

The program involved in Israel's history in this instance is that of claiming the promised land. God had rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through many signs and wonders, and now gives them the land God promised to Abraham in Genesis 15: 12-21. The Lord tells Abraham that the "sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure," and that after 400 years of slavery, the Lord would give Abraham's descendants the land of Canaan.

So, now in Joshua's campaign, we have the fulfillment of the promise, and the 400 years is up. 400 years is a long time for the Lord to have patience with a culture steeped in demon worship, child sacrifice and idolatry. In Genesis 19, the Lord destroys Sodom and Gomorrah with burning sulfur after Abraham pleaded with God to not destroy it for the sake of his nephew Lot, and his family, which the Lord did rescue them. We ask, we could not the Lord have done the same with the Canaanites?

Part of the reason I think the Lord uses war in the annihilation of the Canaanites is so that the surrounding nations would fear Israel, and not be tempted to invade them. Furthermore, the Lord would use the surrounding nations to test Israel's faithfulness to God's covenant. But, back to the annihilation of an entire people...

Why not rescue the babies, at least? But then someone could ask, why not rescue the children as well as the babies? And another, why not the women and the children? And, at what age does one qualify as no longer being a child? We can imagine the innocence of the baby in the most vile, evil culture in the world; couldn't it be rescued? Indeed, it could, as Rahab and her family were rescued when the Israelites invaded Jericho. However, no one repented in Canaan. There was no one to represent the innocent children. Moreover, the Lord has the right to create life and to take it away--he is the Lord. He often did save cities, such as Nineveh, which did repent of their sins. Still, it is a hard thing to accept, this annihilation of every living thing. Nevertheless, the Canaanites polluted their land (Numbers 35:34) with their bloodshed. Also, God commanded Israelite soldiers who killed to be cleansed of their bloodshed as well (Numbers35: 33-34).

We can say that the annihilation of every living thing in the Canaanite cities was immoral, but are we justified in doing so? On what grounds do we make such a claim? If there is no God, what is moral? What is immoral? If there is a god, but we don't know this god personally, and this god has not told us what is moral and immoral, we are in the same position: what is moral? what is immoral?

But, if there is a personal God who interacts with history and tells us what is moral from what is not e.g. the Ten Commandments, then we have grounds for our belief. We are then justified in our assertions as to what is moral or not. The internal critique, however, against Yahweh and his alleged immoral act in destroying cities and judging nations for their sin, is not one so much of a logical question as it is an emotional one. (There is a logical "problem of evil," but that problem differs from the topic under discussion). Again, Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov admits that it isn't that I don't believe God exists and created the world, it is that I do not accept the world he has created, nor the actions (or lack thereof) he has taken in it.

This emotional problem is a real one. However, to despise Yahweh for his actions is to make oneself judge of him; this temptation is easy for us, especially as we live so many thousands of years away from what happened according to what is written, and we have a deep sense of justice and mercy in our culture. The Bible teaches that the Lord is merciful, and good. The Bible also teaches that God is holy. God waited 400 years for the Canaanites to repent of their sins of idolatry, child sacrifice, orgies, and the like. They didn't. So, he punished them. He had mercy on them for a while, while the Israelites groaned in Egypt under slavery. Then he punished the Canaanites, in order to show mercy on Israel to give them freedom and blessing.

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