Friday, January 25, 2013

The Perfect God Who Compromises

Many Christians have tried over the years to re-brand the god of the Old Testament in a kinder gentler light especially after the recent tidal waves of secular criticism coming from the new atheists. It's always a good laugh hearing Christians try to gloss over horrific detail and superfluous cruelty created at the hands of the benevolent deity they adore. I have been reading a book written by Thom Stark called Is God A Moral Compromiser? It's a critical review of Paul Copan's book Is God A Moral Monster? Among other things, Paul has tried in his book to argue that the slavery of the OT was really just a humane form of indentured servitude. Thom Stark disagrees. He writes:

Telling masters to be kind to their slaves is all very well, but far from representing moral progress, that just has the effect of reinforcing the institution of slavery by putting a kindly face on it. If slavery was so emphatically against the grain of the gospel, then why not just make it a requirement of church membership that one cannot own slaves? (p. 24)

The argument made by many theists that the Bible actually regulated slavery and made it more humane compared to other cultures still does nothing to denounce the institution itself. Trying to argue that regulating slavery somehow makes slavery morally acceptable would be like trying to argue that regulating how often and severe a pimp can beat his prostitute makes it morally acceptable. Theists are just kidding themselves, they really are. I think it is psychologically difficult for many theists to come to the acknowledgement that their god could be capable of the type of cruelty that the new atheists accuse him of.

Regarding the indentured servitude theory, was it really as humane as many Christians make it out to be? This is another popular tactic made by the apologists. Thom Stark addresses this in detail in his book. He writes:

It’s true that Hebrew male slaves served only a term of six years, to be released in the seventh, but this was emphatically not true of any and all non-Hebrew slaves, despite Copan’s attempts to force the text to say otherwise. Moreover, most ancient Near Eastern societies had release laws comparable to Israel’s mandates, and while a six year term of service was stipulated in the laws of Moses, only a three year term of service was permitted in the Code of Hammurabi! (p. 165)

I always knew that biblical slavery was indeed slavery. And even if it wasn't, indentured servitude where your "master" is allowed to beat you within certain regulations, I cannot imagine an all-knowing and all-loving god permitting or commanding. Rather, these biblical "morals" are much more obviously the product of a Bronze Age, Near-Eastern tribe full of superstition and xenophobia, and that's why they make little sense in today's light.

Another website of New Zealand Christian apologists called expresses concern over whether the OT god changed his mind. According to the blog, god in a way compromises and gives moral commandments in the OT that are an improvement over what existed before, but are still less than ideal. If that's true, god's moral commandments in the OT are intentionally imperfect, but function as a "compromise between the ideal and the enforceable." It's funny that this same blog praises Paul Copan's responses to the criticism of the new atheists apparently unaware of the his on-again off-again relationship to the truth.

If misguiding your readers and compromising on the truth are what you need to sugarcoat the god of the OT so he doesn't look like a moral monster, then you're really just following in the footsteps and examples set by the god of the Bible.


  1. If you actually look at the codes regulating slavery in other contemporaneous civilsations, the OT strictures are no better than, and in some cases, worse than, those others.
    I go through some of these comparisons in this post.

    1. Great post, very detailed. I shall use it for reference.

    2. Np. I used Stark's "Moral Compromiser" as a reference for some of it.
      If there's anything which is incorrect or unclear, please point it out :-)



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