Wednesday, January 30, 2013

God's Quality Control 9.1


Here I continue my thoughts on Paul Copan's 2011 book, "Is God A Moral Monster?"

In Chapter 2, Copan urges us to approach the Old Testament with "patience, charity, and humility." I think that it's appropriate to approach the bible with patience, and maybe even a bit of humility, but let's talk about approaching it with charity. What Copan is asking us to do is to be lenient and give Yahweh the benefit of the doubt when possible. So when Yahweh orders the slaughter of women and children, we should not take a cold, hard look at the facts, as we would if it were anyone else ordering the slaughter. Rather, we should first assume that Yahweh is good, and then try to think of reasons why a good god would order the slaughter of innocents. But why should we interpret Yahweh's actions charitably? Do we give anyone else, human or deity, the benefit of the doubt under such horrific circumstances? Such questions clearly haven't occurred to Copan. Or if they have, he seems to have thought better of attempting to address them.

It's actually rather ironic that Copan wants us to think charitably about Yahweh's actions. The Apostle Paul himself tells us, in II Corinthians 11:14, that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Paul is telling us specifically not to be charitable, even toward something beautiful. How much more would Paul advise us to be uncharitable toward something ugly like the bloodthirsty Yahweh, if only he weren't blinded by his childhood indoctrination, having been taught that somehow, everything Yahweh does is good? The Apostle Peter adds to Paul's warning in I Peter 5:8, saying, "Be self-controlled and alert," because "your enemy the devil prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour." Peter seems to agree with Paul here, calling on us to be alert for evil, not charitable toward it.

Shockingly, even Copan himself agrees, telling us explicitly that if an evil being demands that we worship it, we shouldn't do so. But how can we ever tell whether a being is evil when we make allowances for the slaughter of innocents? What could possibly count as evil if such atrocities do not? Again, Copan fails to address the obvious questions.

Copan concedes that god, in making us in his own image, can come across as a vain toymaker, creating human dolls that look just like him. But this is an erroneous view of god, we're told. According to Copan, being eligible for salvation, and therefore eternal life, is wrapped up in being created in god's image. Not only the eligibility for salvation, but also the ability to think rationally, to make moral decisions, even to express creativity. So the fact that god created us in his image is a sign of god's kindness, not his vanity. But wait--who was it that supposedly created the universe? Who set up all the rules for this universe, including the rule that only those created in god's image could have all these other great attributes? Copan would have us believe that this particular rule is out of god's hands, that god couldn't help the fact that salvation would be available only to beings that look like god. This is another common theme among superstitionists: god is responsible for only some of the rules, not any of the rules that might show him in a negative light.

Musing on the biology of religious devotion, Copan plays more tricks on us. First, he refers to a question that many of us have asked: why are humans so readily religious in the first place? He actually does a good job of paraphrasing Dawkins and Dennett on the subject: children are hardwired to believe whatever they're told; the adults around them "spew out their superstitious bilge, and later generations latch on to it and eventually create churches." Then he pretends that this explanation is not an explanation at all, but rather an argument against the existence of god, saying, "Some conclude, therefore, that God doesn’t exist but is simply the product of predictable biological processes." Can you see the straw-man argument he has fabricated? No one has concluded that our religious tendencies rule out the existence of god, but Copan puts it out there so he can argue against the idea and lead his reader away from the real point.

Second, he takes this argument (the straw-man he just invented in order to trick us) and turns it around to trick us again, saying that perhaps our tendency to be religious, and especially the tendency of some people to sacrifice their lives for god, might mean that god really does exist, which would therefore mean that our religiosity is a perfectly normal manifestation of Yahweh's design. This is also an argument we've heard before: why would anyone sacrifice their lives for a cause unless that cause were rooted in the eternal god of the universe? It seems that those who ask such questions don't watch the news much, or they'd be aware of the Tibetan monks who keep setting themselves on fire for causes that have everything to do with the real world of humans and nothing to do with Yahweh.

That's 9.1. Thanks for watching.

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