I got caught up in a comment thread a few days ago in which an agnostic and a fundamentalist Christian argued about the nature of good and evil. At one point the agnostic posed this question:
“We also know that a minority opinion does not make a morally Christian act, objectively moral.
It is morally Christian to kill your son because God asked you too. It is morally Christian to offer your daughters to rapists to protect angels. It is morally Christian to kill thousands of people because God decided they were not worth him. Do you condone these acts or are you glad to live in our « fallen secular world »?”
The Christian answered with this response:
“YES I would condone all of those acts if commanded by God. Absolutely. Because God is the lawgiver. He is the moral standard of truth. Your opinion on right and wrong is irrelevant as is mine. When you fully grasp that God created the universe we inhabit and holds it together moment by moment in delicate balance, you will realize that his thoughts are SOOOO much higher than ours (as scripture says). But humans have a tendency to think they can know better than a God who created them. Yet we cannot even make our own hearts beat.”
The thread went back and forth for awhile, but both this particular question AND the response bothered me. I felt it was important for me to try and clear up a few things, if I could.
So I wrote the following response. It was probably tl;dr as it’s gotten no feedback whatsoever, and the thread itself stopped in its tracks. That is the nature of the internet, of course. But because I put so much time into thinking this out, and I wanted to be able to share these thoughts with others should they come up again, I’m going to reproduce my comment here.
The full thread and the original (quite good!) post can be found here: “Do Christians Indoctrinate Their Children?”
([agnostic commenter], I know this will bring some bloggers’ hellfire down upon me, but I just have to let you know–not all people who try to follow Jesus agree with what [Christian commenter] is saying. In fact, with regard to the murder/rape/genocide, I am hopeful that the majority of us very firmly do NOT. We would, however, disagree that “It is morally Christian to kill your son… offer your daughters to rapists… [and] kill thousands of people.” None of those things are morally Christian.
Christianity–the understanding and following of CHRIST, Jesus–did not exist in Abraham’s time. Abraham’s interaction with God as recorded in Genesis should therefore not be construed with the relationship God has with people through Jesus now–that Old Testament interaction had a different purpose. I should also note that 1. God never actually had Abraham kill Isaac, 2. God only asks Abraham to **offer** Isaac up, never gives an actual command to kill, 3. God in fact loudly and absolutely condemns child sacrifice elsewhere in the Old Testament. See Genesis 22, here for the account of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac, and see Psalm 106:34-39, Ezekiel 16:20-22, and Ezekiel 23:36-39 for God condemning child sacrifice (you can search them on BibleGateway as well; I don’t want to clog up this comment with links).
If you read Psalm 106 and those Ezekiel chapters, this actually provides a good segue to your third point about genocide. Obviously, in those passages, wiping out other nations is referenced–very, very firmly within the context of due justice. Those nations were thoroughly murderous, sacrificing their children as a way of life, and they passed on that practice to ancient Israel. If we can agree that child sacrifice is unacceptable, even to the Christian God, then I think we can agree that a culture that formally enforces it as part of a religion is extremely dangerous and toxic–and that that everyone who committed murder in that society, which must be the vast majority of people, deserve death themselves.
However. It is important to note that God never “decided they were not worth him.” Having hand-made every single human with infinitely loving purpose and care, God loves every single one of us–even the ones he instructs authorities to kill for the sake of everyone else’s protection and stop a horrifyingly destructive practice. He mourns every person lost when a people group is wiped out, absolutely regardless of the reason. And in fact, Psalm 51:14-17 and Hosea 6:6 say outright that God does not desire sacrifice, but rather mercy. He will not back down from crushing a threat when innocents are being wantonly slaughtered; neither does he ever WANT to have to do such a thing. And, in fact, that is why he sent Jesus: so that even murders would have a way to turn away from their wrongdoing and be forgiven, rather than be killed in return. This is ALSO why Christians are NEVER justified in recreating that OT scenario and crusading or committing genocide themselves. God has NO USE for that now. Jesus wasn’t around in the OT, however, so it makes sense that God’s solution to systemic mass murder was damage control: eliminating the murderers themselves. That’s the ONLY reason Israel had the instruction to kill off other nations–because they were such hideously bad mojo–and it does NOT MEAN God didn’t love and care for and mourn those lives lost, too. This is the atomic bomb ethical dilemma that all of us can appreciate, now having that in our fairly recent history: destroy several thousand lives in an instant to end a war, or sacrifice untold quantities more–including and especially the very people you are sworn to protect as your first priority–by letting the war drag on instead. Which would you choose?
We argue that none of us can play God, that the best answer to this dilemma is passive non-decision; but if anyone does in fact have the right to play God, it’s God himself. Here is the point where I concede a bit of common ground with [Christian commenter]: if God has a solution, regardless of how terrible the fallout, you can believe that it is a just solution, and you can believe it is in fact the best solution. If you cannot see the justice in God’s work, and you cannot equally see the love, then you are not following a God that is truly worth worshipping, are you? May I also add, that if you are having a hard time seeing love and justice in the Christian God, you might well be mistaken about who he truly is, what he says, and what he does.
Finally (and I know I’m going out of order, but bear with me), offering Lot’s daughters to rapists to protect angels was not God’s idea, or even the angels’ idea; it was Lot’s, and he in no way receives commendation for it. It’s simply recorded that that’s what happened. See Genesis 19 here for the account: Any sane Christian today would look at that and say, “Well gee, I’m not trying that any time soon!!” God absolutely condemns rape. He absolutely condemns child abuse. He absolutely condemns going rogue on “doing the right thing” because you think you’re doing him a favor even while you’re harming other humans. I could pull you up passages for these principles, too, but again, I don’t want to clog the blog.
So, then, all this is to explain that “moral Christianity” is not at all what you think it is. There are evils that are obviously evil to the vast majority of humans, and when Christians get confused about that, that’s their fault, not God’s. It an absolute shame when we represent him so poorly, and I’m sorry for that. But I hope you will take the word of one of us who agrees with you that child sacrifice and rape and genocide are bad when I say that God wants none of these things from us–that practicing such is not “moral Christianity.”
If you made it to the end, gentle reader–what are you thoughts?