AFT Blog # 14: Will of “God” II

The Will of “God” Revisited

David Rand

In a previous blog (#11), David Rand argued that theistic morality is completely arbitrary, because it is based on the so-called will of god – which is utterly unknown and unknowable. In this installment, he presents and discusses some examples of the capriciousness of moral stances based on belief in god.

One of the more outrageous excrescences of the American religious political right is a documentary DVD series entitled Resisting the Green Dragon, an initiative of the Cornwall Alliance which bills itself as “America’s leading voice of faith on stewardship issues” and denies that there is any “convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming”. I have not seen the series, but its web site tells us all we need to know. We learn that it features “top Christian leaders exposing radical environmentalism, the threat to our children, and the move toward global government.” Indeed, “Environmentalism has become a new religion” with policies which “are devastating to the world’s poor” and which “threaten the sanctity of life.”

In the press release which announced the release of Resisting the Green Dragon in 2010, we also learn that “environmentalism promotes its own world view and its own doctrines of God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation. And those doctrines aren’t Biblical.” Furthermore, “Some of what goes under the name of ‘creation care,’ even in evangelical circles, is infected by the false world view and theology of secular and pagan religious environmentalism.” Thus the basic thrust of the Cornwall Alliance is the demonization of the environmental movement as an horrific pagan religion, a “spiritual deception.” This is ironic given that Christianity itself is a hodgepodge of pagan beliefs patched together to form a newfangled religion which became very fashionable in the late Roman Empire.

On the other hand, consider the organization Blessed Earth, a Christian pro-environmental group whose slogan is “Serving God, Saving the Planet” and which “inspires and equips Christians to become better stewards of the earth” and which promotes “measurable environmental change and meaningful spiritual growth.” They get their “marching orders from scripture.” They believe that “we are each morally responsible for the poorest among us. We recognize that those with the fewest resources are the most hurt by on-going destruction of the natural world.”

Thus, both the anti-environmentalist Cornwall Alliance and the pro-environmentalist Blessed Earth base their moral stance on the Christian god and bible. Both claim to take the interests of the poor to heart. Both claim to be stewards of creation.

Let us consider another issue, highly controversial among theists in general and Christians in particular: homosexuality and gay rights.

In an article entitled “Homosexuality: The Christian Perspective” on the web site, we read a familiar message: “The Christian point of view is based solely upon the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God…. Homosexuality is an illicit lust forbidden by God.” It is a “perverted and unnatural vice”. Furthermore, on the subject of gay marriage: “The whole idea of two persons of the same sex marrying is absurd, unsound, ridiculously unreasonable, stupid. A clergyman might bless a homosexual marriage but God won’t.”

On the other hand, the United Church of Canada (UCC), at its 37th General Council in 2000, adopted a resolution which “affirmed that human sexual orientations, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvellous diversity of creation.” In addition, the Council “adopted the policy to affirm and work toward the civil recognition of same-sex partnerships.” In a 2005 press release, Jackie Harper of UCC Family Ministries declared that marriage is grounded in “God’s love for humanity, love between life partners who seek to live in relationships based on trust, mutuality, and commitment” and that “No one is beyond the love of God; no one is disenfranchised because of their choice of partner.” Although the UCC recognizes that it must be open to criticism of biblical scripture, it nevertheless continues to “take the Bible seriously as the Church’s central book and trustworthy source for hearing God’s Living Word…. It is essential in our seeking to be a community of and for God in our time.”

Thus and the UCC adopt very different attitudes towards homosexuality and gay marriage. Yet both base their stance on the Christian god and bible. Both claim to be doing the right thing.

Now, one might respond to the above examples with a shrug of the shoulders. So Christians disagree on a number of issues? So does everyone else. So what?

Here is what: All four positions above are based – or at least claim to be based – on Christianity, the Christian “God”, and “sacred” scripture. These examples confirm what we already suspected: you can use the bible (or the qur’an, or any other “holy” scripture) to prove and promote whatever it is that you already decided you want to support. The Cornwall Alliance says that god loves humanity more than the rest of creation, Blessed Earth says that god loves all creation, says that god loves homosexuals who convert to heterosexuality, and the UCC says that god loves even gays who remain gay. All four declarations are vacuous nonsense. Even if one insists on believing in god, no one has a clue what he, she or it loves, hates, approves, disapproves or wants.

These two issues illustrate the arbitrariness of theistic morality. A moral argument, in order to be taken seriously, needs to be related to real-word concerns, aspects of reality that all persons can recognize, regardless of their religion or irreligion. The evocation of god and scripture is a form of retro-fitting, an attempt to legitimize and even sacralize an opinion by applying a veneer of “divine” status, a veneer which may have a strong emotional charge but which is of no intellectual value. Basically, it is cheating, a form of intellectual dishonesty. An honest approach would be to jettison completely all supernatural elements from each of the four positions, thus leaving only real-world arguments which could then be evaluated objectively in order to establish the relative merits of each.

I assume that most readers would sympathize more with Blessed Earth and the UCC than with the other two organizations. I am not attempting to obfuscate the important differences between the opposing sides in these two debates. But I insist on the importance of recognizing what the opposite sides have in common: a spurious appeal to supernatural nonsense which adds nothing to our understanding and distracts us from the important issues at hand.

In my two blogs dealing with the will of “God,” I have yet to mention what is arguably the most important argument, and certainly one of the oldest, against theistic morality. Most readers are probably familiar with it. I am referring of course to the simple but insightful question asked by Socrates, as reported by Plato in his dialogue Euthyphro. The question can be paraphrased thus: Is the “good” good because the gods says so, or is it good in and of itself? The first option undermines morality by reducing it to mere capriciousness; the second makes the gods irrelevant. Either way, basing morality on divine will is unnecessary, futile and unwise.


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