Saturday, February 16, 2013

Another Reason Why Divine Command Morality Fails

I was sparring with another fundamentalist recently on his blog over the biblical genocide of the Canaanites by the Jews. We went head-to-head over whether it was justified for the Jews to kill all the men, women and children of the tribe the Jews claimed god told them to kill. I was trying to make a very simple argument that the fundi tried to weasel his way out of numerous times. What matters to me most about that passage in the Bible, is whether the Canaanite conquest would've been moral to execute, if god had not commanded the Jews to do it.

His contention, is that god owns everything, including all human life, and god therefore can take life as he pleases. So therefore commanding the Jews to kill the Canaanites was justified, because god owned all of their lives. But the Jews were the ones who physically had to kill the Canaanites according to the story, including the women and children to the last baby. He kept accusing me of not understanding his belief that god is able to take life whenever he wants, but I've known of that point of view way before I encountered him. I understand perfectly well the slavish and masochistic obedience to the belief in god ruling over all things that many theists subscribe to. The question is what makes it moral for the Jews to kill the Canaanites. He even said that murder and genocide are wrong "no matter what". Then why was it right for the Jews to do so? My argument was that god's authority makes it right for the Jews to physically do the killing according to the story, but he was just completely hung up on it actually being god doing the killings. He writes:

If God has the authority to do X and He gives that authority to His people to carry out X, then it is only God doing X through the medium of His people. Hence, they can do X. I disagree that X is murder, rape, etc.

I respond:

There you go again appealing to god's authority. What gives the Jews the "authority" or right or permission to do X, when you admitted many times that doing X is not right? Hmm? You're only proving my point over and over again it's pathetic. You even say "[God] gives that authority to His people to carry out X". Yes exactly my point. Your justification of any atrocity or whatever you want to call it, is an appeal to authority, not to reason.

Or, to put it another way, the Jews do not have the authority to do X on their own, they have to be given the authority to do X by god's commandment of it. Like for example, if I just decide to kill my neighbor and take his things and steal his underage daughter for myself, then I will have committed murder, theft and rape. But if god commands that I do those things to my neighbor via a revelation, then when I do those things under god's command, they're no longer considered murder, theft and rape, because god's actually doing it through me. Makes perfect sense right?

Basically what he's saying is that when the Jews physically slice and disembowel the unarmed Canaanite women and children, it was "only God doing [it] through the medium of His people". So god was actually doing the killing according to him, but since god didn't want to do the killing himself, he needed to do it through the Jewish people who were his favorite tribe. First of all, this sets a precedent that says any physical act of harm can be justified by saying "It wasn't me doing it, I was possessed by the holy spirit. Honestly!" I'd like to see that stand up in court today. Second, the fundi said in his words that genocide is always wrong "no matter what", and so he's saying it wouldn't have been right for the Jews to do it without god's commandment. He even says in his own words "One cannot make an argument that he or she is fulfilling God's judgment upon a people unless God has specifically given that person such a revelation".

My main contention was really to argue that Christian morality is ultimately an appeal to authority, whereby an act that is wrong can become right, if it is commanded by god. And when I say "right", I mean that the physical act itself (that is considered wrong) becomes right for the person to do it, when god is commanding it. It is clear even from this theist's own words that this is what he believes too, he just doesn't like to admit it because divine command morality looks so bad when you really think about it. Believing that god is actually doing the killing when he commands men to kill, as deplorable as that is, still doesn't get you out of the problem of why killing becomes justified for people to do when god commands it. For the people who act because they believe god is commanding them, their justification for committing what would otherwise be considered immoral acts, is justified to them because god gave them that authority. Hence, they are appealing to authority.

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