Monday, February 29, 2016

Copan's Defense of the Old Testament God as Not a Moral Monster

Yesterday I heard of someone who left Christianity and became an atheist because of the way God is portrayed in the Old Testament. Here are a few suggestions I have for this person.

First, this argument does not work:

1. I don't like how God is portrayed in the Old Testament.
2. Therefore, God does not exist.

Nor does this argument work:

1. I don't like how God is portrayed in the Old testament.
2. Therefore, Christianity is false.

Premise 1 needs to be unpacked. Just how is God portrayed in the Old Testament? Probably, this person has it wrong. So this argument fails as well:

1. In the Old Testament God is portrayed as a moral monster.
2. Therefore, the Judeo-Christian God is to be rejected.

The two books this person must read - if they really want answers - are by Paul Copan: 

Is God a Moral Monster: Making Sense of the Old Testament God, and Did God Really Commit Genocide?: Coming to Terms With the Old Testament God.

Note: This person may not really want answers. Why Not? They may not want answers if they have been hurt by other Christians or the church. The underlying reasoning then is:

1. I've been hurt by other Christians.
2. Therefore God does not exist and Christianity is not true.

But this argument fails as well. It is sad that they have been hurt. (Perhaps they have some responsibility in this?) But even Nietzsche said he admired Jesus, but not Christians (Nietzsche is not himself some moral hero).

Maybe this is going on in this person:

1. Christians have hurt me.
2. I am hurting them back be declaring I am an atheist.

Here, for starters, is an essay from Copan, who is a very good philosopher- "Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics." Copan responds to the Dawkins/Dennett/Hitchens/Harris [DDHH] claim that God as presented in the Old Testament is a very bad God.

If you are a Jesus-follower who feels concern over DDHH's attack on the OT God, then Copan's work here is must reading.

Briefly, Copan responds to atheistic Foursome by saying:
  1. They have not handled the biblical texts with proper care.
  2. The moral heart of the OT is a marked contrast to the new atheists' portrayal.
  3. The Law of Moses is embedded in a larger biblical metanarrative that helps illuminate ethical ideals in ways that mere law-keeping cannot.
  4. Unlike the new atheists, we should not approach the Law of Moses as a holiness code detached from its broader narrative and canonical context-as though this legislation offers an ultimate ethic with nothing further to consider.
  5. While the new atheists are correct in pointing out moral flaws and horrendous actions of OT characters, they often imply that "if it's in the Bible, it must be approved by the author." Yet we see from 1 Corinthians 10 that many of Israel's stories involving stubbornness, treachery, and ingratitude are vivid negative role models-ones to be avoided. The OT's "is" does not amount to "ought."
  6. We must allow the OT ethical discussion to begin within an ANE [Ancient Near East] setting, not a post-Enlightenment one. "Simply put, the ANE world is "totally alien" and "utterly unlike" our own social setting."
  7. Contrast the moral improvements of the Mosaic Law to ANE law codes. Mosaic Law differs from ANE legal texts in at least 7 ways.
  8. Note the increased complexity and stringency of Mosaic regulations in response to Israel's disobedience.
  9. Note that there are differing ethical demands for differing historical contexts in OT Israel's history.
  10. Distinguish between the legal and the moral.
  11. The "hardness of heart" and "forbearance" principles are insights into the status of much Mosaic legislation.
  12. The "restraining" rather than "ideal" Mosaic legislation are part of Scripture's redemptive movement and warm moral impulse.
  13. Note the seriousness of sin and the sovereign prerogatives of Yahweh. "The new atheists seem to resist the notion of Yahweh's rightful prerogatives over humans precisely because they seem uncomfortable with the idea of judgment in any form."
  14. The repeated call to imitate Yahweh's character and redemptive activity capture the OT's ethical spirit and providing an abiding moral norm.
  15. Note the planned obsolescence of the Mosaic Law and its fulfillment in Christ.
  16. The new atheists ignore the sui generis status of Israel's theocracy.
  17. The new atheists wrongly assume that the OT presents an ideal ethic, while ignoring the OT's redemptive spirit and creational ideals.