Shadow of the Dead God': Morality Reexplored - Chapter Three

Published on 13 August 2023 at 14:54

Welcome to the latest installment of our rewrite series, concluding our discussion on morality. In this piece, we will delve into the final two chapters concerning the moral perspectives of the Abrahamic God and address the commonly presented arguments associating morality with the existence of a deity. Our prior entries established my stance on morality, emphasizing its subjective nature—understandings that are crucial for the ensuing discussion. Join me as we navigate this intriguing topic together.


Before diving into this piece, I strongly recommend revisiting the first two articles in this series. Grasping their content is pivotal for comprehending the arguments I'll present here. Based on those foundational discussions, I am poised to assert that the Abrahamic God is not only far from the pinnacle of goodness but, in many instances, displays traits that can be perceived as profoundly immoral or even monstrous. My assertions will be backed by textual criticisms, assessing the sacred scriptures at face value, without leaning on interpretative nuances. However, if a universally accepted interpretation emerges that I find of significant relevance, I will duly highlight it.


Possible Trigger Warning ahead.


When reflecting upon acts deemed immoral, attributed directly to a deity, one finds shared instances among the three Abrahamic religions—particularly, instances of genocide, which represents an extreme detriment to human well-being. Genocide is defined as "the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group." The first instance of genocide we will address, one in which God is directly implicated, is not just confined to a single ethnic group but was of planetary scale: the Flood of Noah.


The narrative is familiar to many: the Earth, consumed by sin, led an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent deity to resort to a drastic solution. Instead of opting for another course of action, God chose to exterminate nearly all living beings, sparing only Noah, his family, and a pair of each animal species. The method? A deluge that would inundate the world for forty days and nights. With the exception of those on the ark (and perhaps marine life?), no creature or plant was to endure this catastrophe. Once the rains subsided and after an extended period, the ark eventually found its grounding on Mt. Ararat. In the aftermath, God unveiled a rainbow as a covenant, pledging never to inundate the Earth again.


It's crucial to highlight that the tale of Noah's flood is not commonly accepted as a literal historical event within academic circles, whether in philosophy or science. Most scholars and thinkers reference it as a metaphor or allegory. A literal interpretation is generally confined to groups like biblical literalists, Quranic literalists, and young earth creationists. The exact number of lay adherents of the Abrahamic faiths who view the story as factual remains unclear. Whether one adopts a symbolic or literal perspective, both interpretations present challenges, and neither portrayal casts the Abrahamic God's actions in a particularly favorable light.


Adopting a literal interpretation implies that God executed the most catastrophic act of genocide in human history, and potentially in the history of all sentient life. This interpretation posits that humanity's actions were so egregious that they incensed an all-powerful, all-knowing deity to the point where not only did it decide to exterminate nearly all of humanity, but also most animal life. This would encompass every living being - children, infants, young animals, and even those yet to be born or hatched. Drowning, it should be noted, is neither a swift nor merciful demise. Conversely, if the story is viewed as allegorical, the underlying message remains disconcerting: incur the wrath of God and face catastrophic consequences. The retribution won't just be limited to the wrongdoer, but might extend to everyone they cherish and the broader circle of life on Earth. Indeed, when gauged against a moral framework centered on the well-being of sentient beings, it's challenging to find an interpretation of the Flood of Noah that portrays God's actions in a commendable manner.


Another direct act of genocide attributed to the Abrahamic God, and perhaps the most consequential given its profound theological ramifications, is the slaying of the firstborn children in Egypt. This event catalyzed the Exodus and laid the foundation for Passover, a significant Jewish holiday observed even by Jesus. The Last Supper, during which Jesus famously instituted the Eucharist by breaking bread, was in fact a Passover meal. Far from being a mere symbolic celebration, Passover essentially commemorates this act of divine wrath and mass extermination.


The narrative recounts that the Israelites, the ancestors of the Jewish people, were enslaved in Egypt. In response, God sought to liberate His chosen people and appointed Moses as His emissary. Moses famously approached Pharaoh with the divine directive: "Let my people go." Initially, Pharaoh resisted, prompting God to unleash a series of calamities upon Egypt as a means to compel Pharaoh's compliance. Intriguingly, after several plagues, when Pharaoh seemed poised to relent and release the Israelites, God intervened, hardening Pharaoh's heart. This act, with its profound implications for the concept of free will, ensured Pharaoh's refusal, thereby justifying further divine retributions. This culminated in one final, devastating act...


God decreed that, in response to Pharaoh's continued refusal to release the Israelites (a decision influenced by God tampering with Pharaoh's free will), He would take the life of every firstborn in Egypt. It's pivotal to understand the cultural significance of the firstborn—especially the firstborn son—in ancient societies. To navigate this impending tragedy, and perhaps highlighting the Abrahamic God's lack of omniscience in this narrative, Moses directed the Israelites to mark their doorposts with sheep's blood. This act would signal to the divine avenging spirit to "pass over" their homes, sparing their firstborn. Following this harrowing event, the Exodus commenced. Pharaoh initially released the Israelites but subsequently had a change of heart. He pursued them to the Red Sea, where Moses, through divine intervention, parted the waters. The Israelites subsequently wandered the desert for forty years, during which time they received the Ten Commandments. This journey ultimately culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel.


The story of Passover is, at its core, a commemoration of a large-scale divine act that meets the criteria of genocide. It's crucial to emphasize that this isn't a fringe or esoteric account tucked away in obscure Jewish scripture. Rather, it's a pivotal theological event detailed in the Torah, reiterated in the Bible, endorsed by the Qur'an, and even observed by Jesus Christ himself. Despite Jesus' revolutionary teachings and the numerous traditional laws he challenged, he did not alter or contest the observance of Passover. This highlights its profound theological and cultural importance. The Last Supper, the iconic event preceding Christ's betrayal by Judas, was a Passover meal. By any metric that values well-being and moral decency, the act of killing the firstborn is deeply troubling. For many, including myself, this event alone suffices to question the moral integrity of the Abrahamic God.


The tale of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is another event directed by God Himself, often cited as a testament to divine retribution for human depravity. The cities were infamous for their wickedness, with the term "sodomy" (derived from Sodom) originally denoting various forms of sexual impropriety. In order to ascertain if there were any righteous individuals within these cities, God dispatched two angels on a reconnaissance mission. They found refuge in the home of a man named Lot. When the city's inhabitants discovered the presence of the angels, a mob converged on Lot's home, intent on violating these celestial visitors. In a desperate attempt to protect his guests, Lot disturbingly offered up his own daughters to the mob, who ultimately declined the offer. Lot and his family were then warned of the impending doom and instructed to flee without looking back. However, during their escape, Lot's wife couldn't resist a backward glance at the crumbling cities and, as a consequence, was transformed into a pillar of salt. The divine wrath obliterated Sodom and Gomorrah so thoroughly that nothing was left, with the land becoming barren, a testament to the severity of God's judgment.


A profound implication emerges from the biblical narrative: even though Lot's wife was deemed righteous enough to be saved, a single act of looking back resulted in her transformation into a pillar of salt. The Flood of Noah, the death of Egypt's firstborn, and the obliteration of Sodom and Gomorrah stand as three cataclysmic genocidal events directly attributed to the Abrahamic God in the scriptures. This overview doesn't even touch on events that He mandated, such as the annihilation of the Canaanites.


The fate of the Canaanites has sparked significant debate, eliciting critiques from atheists and defenses from religious apologists. Their contention revolves around the perceived divine command for the wholesale extermination of the people inhabiting what would later become Israel. The books of Deuteronomy and Joshua detail these purported calls for annihilation. I recently came across an article on Biola University’s website that attempted to justify these actions, suggesting they shouldn't be termed "genocide" as they were directed at the elites and influential figures among the Canaanites. However, this interpretation seems incongruent with the scripture's content. The text doesn't seem to specify that the extermination orders were exclusive to the leadership. While I'll delve deeper into matters of interpretation, scholarship, and exegesis in a subsequent chapter, it's hard not to see this defense as a form of cognitive dissonance. Rather than taking my word for it, I encourage readers to examine the verses directly.


16 “But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive. 17 But you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the Lord your God has commanded you, 18 lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 20: 16-18.


“20 Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. 24 He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them.” Deuteronomy 7: 20-24.


These passages clearly indicate a directive to not only conquer but also to exterminate these specific groups of people. The primary rationale given in the text is to prevent the Israelites from being led astray into the religious practices and "abominations" of these peoples.


Many apologists and religious scholars argue that the Canaanites, among others, could have escaped extermination by repenting, embracing the Abrahamic God, and submitting to the Israelites. Ponder the ramifications: the Canaanites had to convert to Judaism and subordinate themselves to the Israelites to evade genocide. This tactic eerily mirrors the strategies of contemporary extremist groups like the Taliban and ISIS. This dogma, akin to the "convert or die" ultimatum of old, is indistinguishable from modern-day religious terrorism. Claiming the tragedies wouldn't have transpired had they adopted the Abrahamic faith hardly softens the blow. Consequently, it becomes challenging for atheists and followers of other religions to respect such religious moral standpoints. Christians do themselves no favors with such convoluted justifications. Instead of approaching their scriptures without preconceived notions, they often remain entrenched in biases. For those with a staunchly fundamentalist view of Abrahamic faiths, endorsing or still clinging to such tenets, I find solace in living in an era and region where religious dominance is largely curtailed and symbolic.


Undoubtedly, several notable Christian apologists have defended the genocide of the Canaanites. Prominent figures such as Mike Winger, Frank Turek, Lee Strobel, and William Lane Craig have voiced their defenses. Dr. Craig's rationale, in particular, strikes me as especially questionable. Let's delve into his perspective on the matter.


From his apologetics website, Reasonable Faith, and public debates that Dr. Craig has had comes this quote. “So, whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgment. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So, who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.” – Dr. William Lane Craig


Dr. Craig's stance reveals the lengths to which some will go to defend the troubling events described in the Abrahamic texts. Who, then, was wronged in the Canaanite genocide according to this view? Dr. Craig suggests it wasn't the adults, as they purportedly deserved their fate. Yet, weren't they humans too? Is it reasonable to claim that every Canaanite adult was so malevolent that they merited such a gruesome end? If only specific adults were guilty of transgressions, the collective punishment seems inherently unjust. Dr. Craig suggests that the children were not wronged because they supposedly inherited eternal life. However, considering they weren't Jewish, this assertion seems out of context. Even if we entertain this idea, their immediate well-being was undoubtedly compromised. This perspective doesn't align with the Abrahamic texts but is instead a theological notion that the innocence of children automatically grants them heavenly passage. It remains a contentious issue in soteriology, debating the existence of an "age of innocence" within Christ's offered salvation. Additionally, the nature of the children's deaths is uncertain, but it's improbable they met a peaceful end. They likely bore witness to the chaos and potentially the execution of their parents. Many, if not all, would have been traumatized, and it's plausible a majority endured violent, agonizing deaths. The very thought of rationalizing the mass extermination of children due to a divine promise is irreconcilable for me.


In his commentary, Dr. Craig posits that the Israelite soldiers bore the heaviest emotional burden, having to invade homes and confront the harrowing task of killing terrified women and children. However, what truly alarms me isn't the psychological impact on these soldiers, but rather their willingness to carry out these actions. No divine voice or omnipotent force could ever persuade me to perpetrate such heinous acts. I would willingly face death before committing or allowing others around me to engage in such barbarity.


While I'm cautious about invoking Godwin’s law, it's undeniable that the urgency of stopping the Nazis during World War II was paramount — a sentiment epitomized by the deployment of the atomic bomb. Yet, even in the face of the Holocaust and the colossal destruction the Nazis wreaked upon the world, we refrained from systematically annihilating every Nazi, along with their families and children. Instead, we detained many and subjected them to trial. Some Nazi defectors even played roles in the development of the atomic bomb, and a German refugee, Albert Einstein, profoundly impacted the world for the better. Drawing parallels, Dr. Craig's reflections on the psychological burden on the soldiers are reminiscent of the "just following orders" defense presented at the Nuremberg Trials and the dynamics observed during the Stanford Prison Experiment.


Dr. Craig later attempted to revise his stance, suggesting that upon revisiting the scriptures, the directive was to displace the Canaanites rather than execute a mass slaughter (Craig, 2007). However, this interpretation conflicts with the clear message in the texts. Some argue that the directive was aimed at the leaders, but the text does not support this viewpoint. Furthermore, Dr. Craig leans on a philosophical argument that God possesses the right to take life since He grants it. He also postulates the automatic salvation of children, suggesting they're received into heaven regardless of their beliefs. It's essential to note that this stance doesn't find its basis in biblical theology. Instead, it was introduced into Christian thought at a later period and isn't universally accepted among all Christians. This topic remains a point of contention among soteriological philosophers.


Consider the profound implications for a moment. These children, at best, faced their end in sheer terror, and at worst, in unimaginably brutal ways. Yet, the narrative suggests they are then rewarded with eternal paradise. But it's a paradise shared with those who took their lives and took their parents away from them, while their parents presumably suffer eternal damnation. It’s akin to abducting a child after making them witness the murder of their parents, and then confining them to a luxurious mansion for life. The ends truly do not justify the means. What's truly unsettling isn't the psychological toll on the Israelites as they perpetrated these acts, nor the fact that they did so believing they were divinely ordered. The real horror lies in the fact that distinguished philosophers in modern times attempt to rationalize such events.


What's even more alarming is Dr. Craig's assertion, rooted in his adherence to divine command theory, that such actions weren't morally wrong since they were commanded by God. According to this view, the acts would only be considered wrong if they hadn't been divinely ordained. It resembles a divine iteration of "do as I say, not as I do," suggesting a form of inconsistency, if not duplicity, in God's own character (assuming its existence). It comes across as a "You shall only kill when I command it or face my wrath" attitude. Critics might accuse me of overlooking the historical backdrop, asserting that those times were characterized by brutality and violence. Yet, the historical context is irrelevant to the moral essence of the argument. Regardless of how tumultuous or barbaric the era, there is no conceivable moral justification for genocide or the indiscriminate slaughter of men, women, and children.


Using historical context as a justification is reminiscent of the arguments some Muslims employ to address concerns regarding the pedophilic actions of their prophet. In my perspective, invoking historical context as a defense is untenable in both cases. My moral foundation is unyielding and remains consistent across various time periods. Yet, for those who adhere to divine command theory or its variants, leaning on historical context becomes a necessity to argue that their morality is divinely sourced. It begs the question: Why would an omnipotent, paragon of moral virtue bend to the whims of cultural norms and temporal constraints? If a deity is the epitome of moral perfection, that standard should remain unwavering irrespective of time or place. True perfection remains immutable; it cannot shift or adapt because it is already the zenith of moral excellence.


These instances are merely a glimpse into the myriad of examples presented in the Abrahamic texts. Noteworthy omissions include the tale of Elijah, who invoked bears to attack children for ridiculing him. There's also Abraham's disturbing readiness to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, as a testament to his unwavering devotion to God. The narrative of Job, a man subjected to unimaginable suffering merely because God wanted to settle a wager with Satan, is another perplexing tale. And, we mustn't forget the looming promise of a second global cataclysm, prophesied to mark the end of days.


Countless atheists have declared God to be a moral abomination, even going so far as to label Him the most heinous character in all of literature. The numerous examples cited underscore, not merely hint, at this sentiment. While I typically refrain from using the term "evil" due to its ambiguities, if I were to momentarily embrace the theistic definition or see evil as representing the extreme negative of the moral continuum, the Abrahamic God would undoubtedly qualify as such.


If the God of Abraham were to truly exist, morality would remain fundamentally subjective. Those who align well-being as the cornerstone of moral judgment must confront a glaring reality: by the deeds attributed to Him in scripture, the Abrahamic God cannot be held as the paragon of virtue. No supremely ethical being would exhibit the temper of a capricious child, claiming dominion over life and death merely because He willed them into existence. Such a being wouldn’t command genocide or condone acts like rape and murder. The very essence of absolute moral authority rejects these behaviors.


Appealing to the unknowable "greater good" is a problematic stance for several compelling reasons. First, it often comes without tangible evidence, making it an unstable foundation for moral or logical conclusions. This approach not only shifts the responsibility of understanding and making moral judgments but also stifles our critical thinking, preventing us from probing into the heart of an issue. By leaning on the crutch of an unseen, larger plan, we risk descending into moral relativism where any action, no matter how questionable, can be justified. Such justifications can dismiss real suffering, trivializing the genuine pain many face. This inconsistency in moral reasoning might also lead to complacency, making societies resistant to essential change. While the concept of an unknowable greater good might offer solace to some, it's crucial to recognize its potential pitfalls. True progress stems from challenging the status quo and seeking solutions grounded in tangible, comprehensible realities.


Free will, when scrutinized deeply, reveals inherent flaws and contradictions, especially in the realm of divine omnipotence and omniscience. Appeals to historical context for justifying divine actions fall short when considering an eternal, perfect, and immutable deity. If something is truly perfect, then it should remain consistent, unchanging, and steadfast through all contexts and timeframes. In Islam, Allah is hailed as "the most merciful," yet the actions attributed to Him and those of His most devoted followers, including the Prophet Muhammad, often challenge this characterization. The core issue is this: to sidestep the moral quandaries of the Abrahamic God, one would need to diverge from the specific scriptures of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and instead base their arguments on the nebulous, deistic concept of a creator that doesn't interfere with worldly events. As depicted in the sacred scriptures of the three monotheistic religions, YHWH, or the Abrahamic God, frequently exhibits behaviors and mandates that starkly contrast with our contemporary understanding of moral excellence.


Drawing from the scriptures, the actions and commands attributed to the Abrahamic God often deviate from what many consider to be moral today, and in several instances, contradict His own set moral standards. To claim that our moral compass originates from such a being requires a series of logical contortions that border on the surreal. As we delve into the popular moral arguments presented in defense of this position, we must keep this foundational inconsistency in mind. The assertion that an absolute moral framework comes from a God who appears, by His own scriptural accounts, to be capricious or inconsistent demands rigorous scrutiny. This is not just about challenging belief but ensuring that the source of our moral values is coherent, consistent, and truly compassionate. So, let us address and dissect these arguments with the intellectual rigor they warrant.


The most Popular version of the moral argument as defended by Craig, Plantinga, Turek and many others is rather simple, and is as follows:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.


Before diving into the substance of this entry, it's crucial to clarify my stance on the argument. I take issue with its second premise right off the bat. In my view, objective moral values and duties indeed exist, but they gain significance and coherence only when tied to a specific objective. This is because, at their very core, the foundations of morality and the framework from which we draw moral judgments are inherently subjective. This means that for the argument to be valid, not only would the existence of God be a prerequisite, but aligning with His will would also need to be the ultimate moral objective. Even if I were to concede the existence of God, my foundational aim in moral pursuits would remain rooted in well-being. This stance fundamentally challenges the idea that morality emanates directly from God.


The first premise is inherently problematic. Objective moral judgments can indeed be derived from a foundation with a clear end-goal, such as well-being. If we set well-being as the primary objective of morality, then there are undoubtedly objective means to promote and sustain well-being. Simply put, objective moral values and duties can exist irrespective of the presence or absence of a deity.


The argument also contains multiple concealed assumptions that prove to be problematic. Most notably, it assumes the deity in question is the very same Abrahamic god, whom we've established as an unlikely source of morality. Furthermore, even if one were to concede both premises, the resulting conclusion only suggests the existence of a superior moral foundation, not necessarily the specific God of a given religion or even an interactive god. It might just as easily allude to a deistic god or an abstract principle of morality. The jump from 'a supreme moral foundation exists' to 'the God of Abraham exists' is a significant stretch.


In our quest to analyze and scrutinize the foundational moral teachings of religious texts, it's pertinent to remember the importance of context. The ethical imperatives of ancient times, while debatable holding certain universal truths, may not always directly align with our modern understanding of morality. By revisiting Kant's categorical imperatives, and the ten commandments we can glean principles that are universally applicable and ground them in a humanistic perspective. This reimagining seeks to discard religious morality, and to demonstrate that humanity, through reason and empathy, can draft principles that can be universally acknowledged and practiced, even in the absence of a deity.


The Ten Principles of Ethical Humanity:


I: Respect for Life: Value life and refrain from taking it, except in extreme cases of self-defense.

II: Uphold Freedom: Recognize the inherent freedom of every individual; reject any form of enslavement or subjugation.

III: Stand Against Oppression: Commit to ensuring no human faces undue persecution or oppression.

IV: Respect Personal Autonomy: Stay non-judgmental and non-intrusive about consensual relationships between adults.

V: Champion Gender Equality: Acknowledge and promote the equal worth and rights of all genders.

VI: Honor Consent: Understand that violation of an individual's autonomy, as in rape, is indefensibly wrong.

VII: Seek Peaceful Coexistence: Strive for non-violence and peace in every interaction.

VIII: Protect Vulnerable Populations: Prioritize the well-being of children and avoid causing them any harm.

IX: Practice Honesty: Uphold truthfulness, unless lying prevents greater harm or injustice.

X: Respect Property and Ownership: Do not take what belongs to others, unless in a dire situation that necessitates it for survival or the prevention of greater harm.

It's clear that a foundation built on reason, empathy, and humanistic values can provide robust moral guidelines that serve humanity as a whole. These principles offer a fresh perspective that transcends the boundaries of faith. As we continue to evolve as a species, our moral compass will refine itself, but if we keep the foundation of Well-being humanity will continue to grow, and strengthen its moral understanding while being flexible enough to keep morality evolving along side of us.


Morality is a profound and intricate subject in the realm of philosophy. While it can be complex, it doesn't necessarily need to be overwhelmingly so. Over the course of this entry and the two preceding it, we've delved into various nuances pertaining to the topic, even though we merely scratched the surface of the plethora of moral frameworks that exist. These discussions, while enlightening, can also be mentally taxing. The objectives of these entries were to elucidate my moral framework, evaluate the viability of objective morality, and challenge the idea of the Abrahamic God as the foundation of moral values. I believe I have accomplished these aims. However, in the world of philosophy, few things are set in stone. I eagerly anticipate any discussions that might stem from these explorations. I hope you found these rewrites as stimulating to read as I found them to write.


In the upcoming phase, our journey through the rewrites of "Shadow of the Dead God" will persist. However, expect a tapestry of content, as the narrative of this book will interweave with other topics. Unlike our intensive exploration of morality, which merited consecutive discussions due to its significant coverage across five chapters, other subjects may not require such continuous focus. Thank you for accompanying me on this literary endeavor; your readership is genuinely valued and appreciated.

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