Is God a Moral Monster?

July 23, 2017

There are so many questions about the Old Testament. Why is God so brutal? Shouldn’t we question rape, slavery, etc.? The list goes on.

Is God a Moral Monster? by Paul Copan seeks to answer these difficult questions. Although I did not agree with all of the conclusions that Dr. Copan arrived at in his writing, it really did help me see things in a different light and it helped answer some of my ever-lingering questions. I’ve always been disturbed by the God of the Old Testament, even as a small child, and the book cleared up quite a few things for me.

Dr. Copan organizes the book in such a way as to answer difficult questions that have been raised by prominent Atheists. He does it in a generally non-combative way, and he organizes it in categories, which I found helpful. Some of my criticisms from atheists:

  • God is arrogant and jealous: His view is that God is jealous to protect humans and to save them from trouble, not out of some overly-egotistic self. He points out how willing God is to meet us in the middle (sending Jesus, etc.) Interesting view – so far, so good.
  • God punishes people too harshly: I found this section fascinating, because Dr. Copan compared Israelite society to other societies during this time period. Apparently, the Israelites and their punishments were really mild compared to what everyone else was doing. I found that history very interesting and it helped me understand the times a whole lot better.
  • Society laws are bizarre: I found this section extremely helpful, because I’ve absolutely never understood Old Testament laws even one little bit. The laws are downright strange. But, what’s interesting is that God didn’t intend these laws to be everlasting. (I never knew that!) God also did not think these laws were the best way to do things, but rather he allowed many of these things to take pass because of human “hard heartedness.” I never knew that too. I did, however, take exception to some of the author’s viewpoints. For instance, stating that the laws don’t matter anymore because they were a step forward and not meant to be lasting, except homosexuality because it is still viewed negatively later in the Bible was a stretch. That didn’t make any sense to me.
  • God oppresses women: Again, we have to look at the times. The Ancient East was a notoriously cruel, sexist, violent place, and Israelites were a vast improvement compared to what was going on around them. If you really read what is in the Old Testament, God is consistently trying to point the Israelites towards taking care of the poor, women, children, etc.
  • God is guilty of ethnic cleansing: Dr. Copan dedicates a huge section of his book to the question of God commanding his people to kill everyone and everything in Canaan. Unfortunately, his conclusions did not hold up for me, and I am still not convinced. Basically, his view is that the wording of the text was bravado from the timeframe. So, kind of like I say that I “took no prisoners” on Facebook when I rode my bike really hard that day – It’s kind of like that. I don’t see how that works, because then I can question whether or not there really was a Noah’s Ark, or a parting of the Red Sea, etc. Couldn’t these things also be exaggerations? I find it hard to believe that the writers of the Old Testament would exaggerate only about military conquests, and nothing else. Also, he never addressed the fact that the Bible says that God commanded it – only that it clearly never really happened, because the people who were supposedly destroyed appeared again later in the Bible. That seems really weak to me.

The most interesting thing to me was the incremental steps that the author finds in the Old Testament for the Israelites. In other words, he feels that God was providing baby steps for them to become a better society – one that Jesus would approve of (helping the poor, the widows, etc.) I’d be very interested to see if Dr. Copan has any books on Paul’s writings – another source of serious confusion for me.

I enjoyed the book. I found it thought-provoking and it answered a lot of questions for me, and left me with more still. I suppose that’s part of seeking to understand – always looking for answers.

1 Corinthians 2:12 (NRSV): Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.

Serve all with love.

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