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← Respected theologian defends genocide and infanticide

Cartomancer's Avatar Jump to comment 17 by Cartomancer

Actually, I find myself distinctly unmoved by Mr. Lane-Craig's contortions. Perhaps I should find them more offensive.

The thinking involved is a bizarre train-wreck of a moral philosophy, but I really do wonder how relevant anyone of the Lane-Craig bent would find these sophistries to making real moral decisions in the modern world. When people like him pick over the morality of the stories in ancient documents like the bible - stories with dubious historicity at best - the exercise seems to me distinctly unreal. It doesn't seem like the thinking he's doing here is moral philosophy so much as the careful tending of peculiar paradoxes for some kind of abstract mathematical amusement. Were he asked to switch this thinking to modern, or even fairly recent, genocides I have the feeling he would say something along the lines of "yes, well in theory god could command us to commit genocide today, but god doesn't do that anymore, so it'd never happen", In such a way would he square the circle and paper over the yawning chasm between real ethics and his theological masturbations.

That, I think, is where the "sophisticated theologian" differs from the fundamentalist nutcase. His god is a play-god, a creature of distant fiction, something that has little or no relevance to life as lived and can be dressed in whatever colours you like without saying anything that actually matters. It's a bit like reading a modern thriller or historical novel where you sympathise with an anti-hero who is a complete bastard - in your mind you let him get away with things that you would excuse in no real person. Theology of this sort uses the language of moral philosophy, but that's not what it is - it's literary aesthetics, not ethics.

Not that this makes such thinking entirely harmless of course. Genocide is one of the most emotive of all issues, but making recourse to a god-said-it-was-ok excuse is generally something people intent on genocide do to salve their consciences and put better PR spin on their actions after the fact. Sure, one or two mentally ill people commit murder or even serial murder with a genuine conviction that god told them to, but genocidal tribalism runs deep in human affairs. By the time one is reaching for the theology, one is usually too far gone to dissuade - the strong moral prohibition on murder has somehow been overcome by perceived self-interest, and it's just a matter of tidying up the fallout.

I think it's the lesser issues: the prejudice, the discrimination against women and gay people, where this sort of thinking can be really pernicious. The evolved social prohibition against murder is very powerful, but on these lesser issues there isn't nearly such a strong moral compass inherent in human decision-making. Even otherwise decent and civilized people hold up a passage like Leviticus 18:22 and say "look, god is commanding us to hate the gays", then comport themselves accordingly by voting against equal rights, rejecting their gay children and so forth. It is on these sorts of things that most religious people are genuinely able to be swayed, and genuinely are swayed, to adopt a morally repugnant position with real-world consequences. I fear that getting too worked up about onanistic pronouncements on ancient genocide can obscure this fact.

Sun, 01 May 2011 09:32:50 UTC | #621464