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Monday, October 31, 2011

God is morality

This post duplicates a comment I made in a recent thread on Victor Reppert's blog, which comment I think deserves to be directly shared with Gentle Reader. It is a fuller expansion on this exchange:
Ilíon: "Because I said so" isn't the entirety of Christian ethics; but neither is it contrary [just as this is the case when a parent says "Because I said so" to a child].

Victor Reppert: Do you think God can make something right by commanding it?

Ilíon: I believe God cannot command what is wrong. There is a difference.

Ilíon: Or, to look at another way ...

If God were to lie, then God, being Truth Itself, would die.

If God were to command the immoral, , then God, being Morality Itself, would die.

And *everything* would not exist.

KingAnon: "truth" and "morality" are not agents. they are static, abstract entities like numbers. they cannot do anything.

Ilíon: That's just one more way of asserting the falsehood that there is no truth nor morality.

[deumrolls] And here is the post (it’s pretty lengthy; I expect it must have just slipped under Blogger’s character-limit for a commbox post):
Morality is inter-personal and relational (*) -- it exists only between persons, and its specific content with regard to those persons depends upon the precise relationship between them. To deny these two points shows one merely to be one who has not, or will not, think about the issue. For, rocks don’t have moral obligations to persons nor moral expectations of persons; fathers have different moral obligations to, and expectations of, sons than sons to/of fathers; kings have different moral obligations to, and expectations of, subjects than subjects to/of kings.

But, morality is also transcendent – it exists independently of any human person or of any human relationship. To deny this point is to deny that morality even exists … and the claim that morality is not is self-defeating, besides being blatantly false: fathers and sons, kings and subjects, *do* have moral obligations to, and expectations of, one another, and we all know this.

Now, IF one imagines that one can judge God as being immoral or having acted immorally, THEN one must be appealing to some (true/objective/transcendent) standard of morality; just as one must be if one judges some human person(s). That is, IF one imagines that one can judge God as being immoral or having acted immorally, THEN one is saying that there exists some true and objective universally binding standard of morality that exists independently of God. But, morality is inter-personal and relational – it cannot exist independently of persons in relationship.

So, if one wants to condemn Jehovah as immoral, than one must be saying that Jehovah isn’t actually God, but is rather, like human beings, a morally flawed creation of the real God; one must be appealing to the standard of morality which exists by virtue of this “real” God. And then, the same “logic” which first led one to claim that Jehovah is immoral must all-but-inevitably lead one to claim that this “real” God is immoral, and that there is a “realer” God behind him. It’s pretty much a vicious infinite regress.

If one wishes to deny that Jehovah is God, then one must be very careful in one’s argument, especially if one wishes to argue this by appeal to his alleged moral wickedness.

(*) Which fact, by the way, can show us, independently of the Christian revelation, that God, while One, is a multiplicity of Persons.

Morality is real, and is universally binding – we *all* know this; even the persons who explicitly deny the reality of morality know this, and they always appeal to this reality in the very act of denying it.

Morality is interpersonal and relational – it does not (and cannot) exist independently of persons-in-relationship.

(Getting back to the OP), Morality is not arbitrary – it is not the power, nor mere say-so, of the person asserting a moral obligation or expectation which makes it so.

Morality is transcendent – it exists “above” or “beyond” any particular human persons or human relationships.

Pulling all these things together, our moral obligations and expectations are not real merely because God has so commanded it, but rather because God is God; morality cannot be separated from God – God *is* morality, just as God *is* being, just God *is* love.

Those who understand what they’re talking about already know/understand that love is morality
[and that morality is love -- betrayal, for instance, so violates/outrages our sense of morality, such that all men despise the traitor who aids them, and hurts us so deeply when we are the victims of it, precisely because it so deeply violates love].
The deeper context of the above is several threads on VR’s blog over the past few weeks trying (for, as almost always, once ‘atheists’ jump into the conversation, it is almost impossible to have conversation) to deal with the common atheistic assertion that the God of the Bible is an immoral monster.


JSA said...

I've enjoyed your comments on that series at Reppert's.

Ashley Duque Kienzle said...

Because it is meant as a relation between persons, do you think it is incoherent to say we have a moral obligation to protect nonhumans: e.g., don't beat your dog, don't eradicate species X or ecosystem Y?

Ilíon said...

*aw, blush* ;)

Ilíon said...

Ashlry Duque Kienzle: "Because it is meant as a relation between persons, do you think it is incoherent to say we have a moral obligation to protect nonhumans: e.g., don't beat your dog, don't eradicate species X or ecosystem Y?"

Welcome to my dusty little corner of the internet.

The coherency/incoherency depends upon how one goes about thinking about the specific question and how one goes about making one's argument(s).

If, for instance, one argues that we have a moral obligation to ensure the continuance of some non-human species, say, Balaenoptera musculus (blue whale) or Yersinia pestis (bubonic plague), then others may certainly ask, and are indeed obligated to ask, “Upon what ground do you assert that *I* individually, and *we* collectively, have this moral obligation? Further, how far does this alleged obligation extend?” Unless one is *also* arguing that the individuals of the species in question are persons as we are (and then, one must be offering an actual argument to defend that question), then if one’s answer to the first question implies that we have any moral obligation to the animals/organisms, then one’s argument is incoherent. If one’s answer to the second question is, in essence, ‘unlimited’, and one has not established that these non-humans are persons, then one’s argument is incoherent.

Don’t beat the dog: not because it’s bad for the dog, as of course it is, but because it’s bad for you.

Drew said...

And there's also the obvious point that something could be a sin against God even if it isn't a sin against a human being. Granted, I don't know if rules against beating your dog necessarily fall into that category.

Ilíon said...

The Living God of the Bible does explicitly command us to treat his creatures kindly.