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A Fool's Morality

By WizenedSage (Galen Rose) ~

This article examines how a Christian apologist can stand basic morality on its head to fool himself and others. It deals with the Exodus 12 passage (sometimes called the Tenth Plague) and a Christian apologist’s response to a question about it (from The passage reads as follows in the King James Version:

Lamentations over the death of the firstborn
 of Egypt, by Charles Sprague Pearce
“For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.”

On the site, an unnamed apologist wrote:

“I got this question a while back and wanted to make an initial reply:

"Pharaoh was holding Moses and his people captive, and doing really nasty things to them. God tells Pharaoh to let his people go, but Pharaoh says no. To show Pharaoh that he means business, God retaliates by killing thousands of first born children (and adults that were firstborns too I guess). I'll stick to the children though. I'm assuming some firstborns were young. Anyway, many of those children had nothing to do with the slavery and atrocities committed by the Egyptian rulers. It's a lot like being punished for something someone else does.

My question would be then, why would I want to worship a vengeful God who slaughters innocent children?"

“As in many of the skeptical questions I get, the conclusion they end up with is often correct in some basic sense (i.e., 'we should not worship a vengeful God who slaughters innocent children'), but the reasoning which leads up to the conclusion doesn't indicate that the conclusion applies to the biblical God. In other words, their ethics are okay, but their exegesis (and sometimes hermeneutic or theology is mistaken).

“In this case, the questioner seems merely to have missed a few of the salient facts in the historical situation.”

Well, I was curious. The question seemed very straightforward to me, so what exactly are the “salient facts” the questioner missed?

Now, the apologist straightaway comes in through the back door, rather than approach the question head on. He begins by going through a number of mathematical steps to estimate how many Egyptian children would have been killed (69,000, he says).

Next, the apologist notes the biblical principal that “you reap what you sow,” then explains how the Egyptians, eighty years earlier, had carried out a long pogrom wherein all firstborn Hebrew boys born in Egypt were to be thrown into the Nile. Over the course of about 20 or so mathematical steps, he arrives at an estimate of roughly 2.75 million killed in the pogrom. Then, he proudly announces in bright red text that: “for every single innocent Egyptian child who died in the Tenth Plague, 40 innocent Hebrew infants had been killed by Pharaoh in the on-going infanticide program.”

Here, the apologist admits that his estimations are very rough, but concludes, “If there is inequity in this deal, it is clearly the Hebrews who bear its brunt—not the Egyptians.” Deal? What deal? And all this time I thought the question was whether it was moral for god to be intentionally killing innocent children.

The apologist then “clarifies” that we should not see these children’s deaths, Egyptian or Hebrew, as a “punishment” on them, but rather as a “consequence of someone else's evil deeds.” The apologist obviously wants to be very, very clear that the questioner, who had written, “It's a lot like being punished for something someone else does.” is simply wrong in his assumption. The children are definitely not being punished for what someone else did. (They should be considered “collateral damage,” perhaps?)

Now, the apologist explains that the Pharaoh was warned very, very clearly by god, through nine previous plagues, that he had better let the Israelites go.

Then there is this curious statement: “… we should note that one of the foundations of moral governance is that of Reciprocal Morality (i.e., the “Golden Rule”). This can be seen in many cultures and is the basis for the 'talion' laws in Lev 19.18 and Deut 15.13. This principle is ubiquitous in human law and human instruction… This would mean that if Pharaoh said it was okay to kill someone else's children, then he was implicitly agreeing (morally) that it was okay to kill his own peoples' children.”

Aha! Now it becomes clear. The apologist is appealing to the very well established Christian principle of scapegoating. We are not to blame god for killing the children; that’s the Pharaoh’s fault – he killed Hebrew children first. Similarly, we shouldn’t blame god for killing his own son, because we necessitated that through our own sinfulness. And, of course, we shouldn’t blame god for torturing people for eternity in hell, because it’s the sinful people’s fault for deserving it.

Next, the apologist adds that “…we should note that this 'I will enforce your own legal/moral code back upon yourself' motif (throughout the bible, btw—cf. Jer 17.18, for an example) applies also to extending the punishment to innocent members of the family. Egypt (like Babylon under Hammurabi) had laws in which members of families were punished for the acts of one member… It was okay under Egyptian law to do this, so God could 'use' their own law on them—without violating their law/ethics.”

Can you think of a single situation in which it would be moral to intentionally kill uninvolved children because you want to get back at someone else?So, the apologist concludes that God could kill Egyptian children “without violating their law/ethics.” Note, that he displaces the focus onto the Egyptian ethics so that god’s ethics are removed from consideration. But the question concerned god’s ethics, not the Egyptians’, you say? True, but the apologist doesn’t want you to notice that. Apparently, he thinks he can get around this by claiming that if this is the way things were done in those ancient times, then god was justified in doing things that way. This is the same way apologists often justify god’s (and Jesus’) turning a blind eye to slavery in the bible. Hey, that was just standard practice for the time. What gives us the right to expect god to be above the morality of the times? After all, he’s only god.

The apologist, in a couple places, says something like, “I am just thumbnailing this for a sanity check.” This is where he checks his figures on how many Israeli and Egyptian children may have died. I find it most interesting that he never does a “sanity check” on whether it could ever be moral to intentionally kill children because you (or god) want to get back at someone else. Doesn’t the answer to this most basic, humane, reason-based question render the rest of his arguments moot? The only way he can make any sense of god’s actions in this event, even to himself, is to come in through the back door, discussing ancient customs, measuring an eye for an eye, “do unto others,” etc., and avoiding the most obvious question staring him in the face – the one he was asked!

Let me isolate this for the few faithful who might be reading this essay. Can you think of a single situation in which it would be moral to intentionally kill uninvolved children because you want to get back at someone else? This is really what the initial question was all about. If you say, “Yes,” then please turn yourself in at the nearest asylum, because you are not morally fit to move about freely in our society. If you say, “No.” then how is it moral for a god to do this? Is god really above morality?

Be careful how you answer this. If you believe the bible, all of it, to be God’s revealed wisdom, and that whatever god does or says is moral, then shouldn’t you be out there obeying god’s commands to kill homosexuals (Leviticus 20:13), those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2), and adulterers (Leviticus 20:10)? You know in your heart that none of those actions would be moral. You know that those commands didn’t get written into the bible because a god “revealed” them to the bible’s authors. Likewise, the Exodus story of god’s killing of the Egyptian firstborn is not in the bible because a god “revealed” it.

Why is it so very hard for some to see that this bible, this relic of a primitive, superstitious age, is full of primitive superstition?

If we step outside this desperate attempt to “apologize” for god, don’t we have to ask why god didn’t just punish the Pharaoh directly, perhaps by giving him permanent, itchy scabies, or rendering him deaf, dumb & blind, or having him thrown into a cold, damp dungeon in a coup, or shriveling his penis to a quarter inch then increasing his sex drive tenfold? Are we to believe that a being of infinite intelligence couldn’t think of a way to punish the Pharaoh which didn’t involve killing children?

Intentionally killing thousands of innocent children because someone else (the Pharaoh) pissed him off, is to judge those children’s lives as unimportant in themselves. As this devalues human life in an extreme way, it is, by definition, inhumane.

And the apologist who defends God’s actions in this has allowed his religion to warp his own moral sense. He is essentially claiming that if god did it, then god must have been justified. If god did it, then it must be moral. This is an extremely dangerous attitude. This is exactly the attitude that enabled the atrocities of the European inquisitors which cost the freedom and the lives of thousands, perhaps millions. The bible says, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Thus, the inquisitors decided there must be witches among them, and they must be sought out and killed. Jesus said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” Thus, the inquisitors judged, they must gather the heretics who didn’t abide in Jesus, and burn them. Whenever those in power believe that everything the bible says is true, madness reigns, and we are all in great danger.

I contend that a rational consideration of this Tenth Plague passage leads to the conclusion that god’s actions in this case (real - or imagined by the author) are immoral. To contend that god had no other fair and reasonable way to punish the Pharaoh except by intentionally killing thousands of uninvolved children is simply false (not to mention stupid).

Ironically, the Christianthinktank site banner proclaims, A Christian Thinktank, “Critically examine everything. Hold on to the good.” (Paul, First Thessalonians 5.21)

The apologist who wrote this nonsense on Christianthinktank has allowed his religious bias (“god is always just”) to corrupt his moral sense, and make him blind, insensitive, and stupid. Beware any doctrine that seeks to make you stupid!