Dawkins Prefers Pedophiles to Christians

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Richard Dawkins has announced that teaching children Christianity is worse than sexually molesting them. [hat tip: Blogwatch]

Update: Nick, commenting at the Evangelical Outpost mention of this, has the most pointed remark I've seen:

To me, the obvious answer is that molestation is a traumatic ordeal which cannot be compared to being raised Christian or to being raised atheist. After all, a child raised by atheist parents can still become Christian, and a child raised by Christian parents, even the strictest hellfire and brimstone fundamentalists, is free to embrace atheism as an adult.

I think that's the most important issue. Molestation cannot be undone, and its effects are as long-lasting as any that might come from being taught to fear hell (at least assuming there is no hell, as Dawkins is doing). On the other hand, all sorts of people are raised to believe in hell and yet reject it, and all sorts of people are raised not to believe in hell who yet become very committed Christians. You can change your views, and teaching views someone might consider harmful has not stopped people from abandoning those views later in life. No one is molested and then later becomes such that they have never been molested.


Good point, Jeremy, but I think that arguing over Dawkins' point overly dignifies it. There are some statements/opinion/propositions that are self-evidently stupid and not worthy of debate. Suppose I were to say, "Torturing innocent old ladies for the fun of it is a morally praiseworthy act." If someone were to argue against such a statement (instead of dismissing it out-of-hand) would give it a level of credibility it doesn't deserve. I think Dawkins' statement is just as stupid.

When I posted this, I agreed with you that it wasn't worth saying anything in response. Then I read Nick's comment, and it occurred to me that Dawkins was limiting the lasting damage from sexual abuse to physical harm at the moment, with everything else pretty much negligible. Dawkins makes a very specific assumption in his argument, one that anyone even remotely familiar with sexual abuse cases would find obviously wrong, and I thought that assumption was worth pointing out. This is one of those cases where thinking through why something is wrong helps you to see how much more wrong it is than you might originally have thought.

Just playing devil's advocate--wouldn't you suppose that from Dawkins' perspective being raised as a christian also does lasting (perhaps permanent) damage to a person?

Of course that's what he thinks. People do say that sort of thing, though. What they don't usually say is that sexual molestation causes negligible damage in comparison. The only example he even gives is a girl who worried that her friend might go to hell. How can that compare to the kind of thing caused by being raped as a young child by someone you trust?

Well, this may not be much better, but for the sake of accuracy, Dawkins doesn't say that "teaching children Christianity is worse than sexually molesting them." I guess he does actually say, "Regarding the accusations of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, deplorable and disgusting as those abuses are, they are not so harmful to the children as the grievous mental harm in bringing up the child Catholic in the first place," which seems not better at all. However, he does make clear just a bit later on what specifically he has in mind: "Being taught about hell - being taught that if you sin you will go to everlasting damnation, and really believing that - is going to be a harder piece of child abuse than the comparatively mild sexual abuse."

And being taught, and made to actually believe, the doctrine of eternal torment can be very damaging to children -- as I know from personal experience.

Dawkins does seem to dangerously under-appreciate the damage that can be done to children by even relatively "mild" forms of sexual abuse. And much more heat than light could be expected to be generated by drawing the comparison he did. So I certainly don't want to defend what he said.

But it's worth understanding what he had in mind correctly -- and also noting out a potentially valid point that may be included in it.

My own suspicion is that many Christians dangerously under-appreciate the damage that can be done to people by their actually being made to believe the doctrine of eternal torment, in its most popular forms.

In connection with that, interested parties should look for a new paper by David Lewis -- he wrote up extensive notes/outline for it before his death & Phil Kitcher has since finished the paper based on what Lewis left -- called "Divine Evil," which will be coming out in an upcoming book, PHILOSOPHERS WITHOUT GOD, ed. by Louise Antony for Oxford UP. Lewis presses the problem of hell against orthodox Christian views, and toward the end takes up the question of how (& whether) one can admire Christians who accept such a view. Anyway, good reading connected with the current topic.

It seems to me that there may be a confusion here between doctrine qua thing taught and doctrine qua pedagogy. A doctrine of hell, qua something taught, can be no more abusive to believe (or to be taught) than any other doctrine, whether true or false. Assume it true; there is little sense in saying that believing the truth is psychologically damaging. Assume it false; the damage is no more serious than believing any other false thing -- the damage just being a failure to believe the truth and perhaps also believing something that impedes further discovery of truth. It's quite another issue whether the pedagogy ordinarily involved in teaching a given doctrine of hell is abusive or psychologically damaging. It is nonsense, as far as I can see, to link abuse to the content of what is being taught. Any abuse is in the way it is taught (whether that be some positively abusive way of teaching it, or some serious negligence in teaching it).

Keith, I figured you'd probably have something to say about this. On representing his views, I was deliberately trying to keep it short so as not to have a very long post title, but I don't think what I said was unfair. He's not talking about people like Spong, but I don't think he counts as a Christian by any reasonable measure. I do think he'd include someone like you, even though hell is absolutely eternal on your view. It could still be for a very, very long time, and I think he'd consider that child abuse as well.

I suppose one thing to consider is that whether teaching the doctrine of hell counts as harmful depends to some degree on whether it's true. Someone who thinks it's not true would easily expect it to cause psychological trauma from people worrying about empty threats. But if it's a true belief, then the harm it causes seems to me to be at best either only temporary or only insofar as it's taught in a misleading or false manner.

It also might depend on what age it's taught and not just what form the teaching takes, but I think many of your concerns (though probably not all) would be allayed by the particular form of the belief in hell that I would accept. I see it in a broaldy Augustinian way as separation from God and not physical torture, particularly as just the logical outworking of choices in this life but without the gracious prevention by God that keeps people from being as bad as they could be. Is it psychological abuse to teach children that the kind of life they live is going to be the kind of life they might stuck with for eternity if they don't avail themselves of God's provision for avoiding that?

I do think Christians ought to teach some kind of doctrine of hell, and I think you would even do so, just not an eternal one, based on what I know of your views. The question might then be what age such a doctrine would be introduced to children, right?

As you point out, Jeremy, universalists can believe in immensely horrendous hells. And I agree that non-universalists, and even believers in eternal punishment (as opposed to annihilationists) can have a relatively benign views of hell -- as it sounds like you might. But I think that endless *torment* -- where the torment includes excruciating physical pain -- views are still quite popular in at least many Christian circles. It's pictures like this that the worry most pointedly applies to.

Brandon: I wonder whether you can really mean it when you write "the damage is no more serious than believing any other false thing." These doctrines are -- and are meant to be -- literally terrifying, even to full-grown adults. Do you really want to deny that children can be hurt by being made to believe such terrifying things? What would you say about an uncle who tells his young nieces and nephews tales about horrible things that have happened and will happen to their friends, loved ones, and perhaps to themselves, and makes them believe these tales? Could this not seriously harm them? Warp them? Would this not be abusive?

On the potential harmfulness of horrifying doctrines of hell, lots of people can say, in the words of Bob Dylan, "Just remind me to show you the scars."

Jeremy: "The only example he even gives is a girl who worried that her friend might go to hell. How can that compare to the kind of thing caused by being raped as a young child by someone you trust?"

Dawkins: "For her there was no question that the greatest child abuse of those two was the abuse of being taught about hell. Being fondled by the priest was negligible in comparison."

Dawkins doesn't make the comparison you attribute to him. Indeed, he explicitly disclaims, "I can't speak about the really grave sexual abuse that obviously happens sometimes."

I also don't think it's true that "Dawkins was limiting the lasting damage from sexual abuse to physical harm at the moment, with everything else pretty much negligible." He never says anything about the absolute harm done by sexual abuse, and he explicitly recognizes that "if there is damage, [it] is going to be mental damage." His claim is purely comparative: that much greater mental damage is caused by teaching children that their non-Christian friends -- and perhaps themselves too if they're not careful! -- will face eternal torment.

As an empirical claim, it might be false. But it doesn't strike me as completely ludicrous. He did find at least one person to verify the possibility. Perhaps it won't generalize. Then again, perhaps it will.

As for your main argument: "No one is molested and then later becomes such that they have never been molested." Of course, we can't change the past. Equally, no one is tormented by fears of Hell and then later becomes such that they have never been tormented by fears of Hell. What people can do is overcome the mental anguish of their childhoods. Perhaps you meant to claim was that people can never overcome being molested, but that seems false. In your main post you make the more moderate claim that "its effects are as long-lasting as any that might come from being taught to fear hell" -- which is more plausible, but might still be mistaken for all I know, at least. And when we add in other common features of religious upbringing, e.g. deference to authority and hostility to critical thinking, Dawkins' claim doesn't seem nearly so "self-evidently stupid" as your first commenter appears to believe. Probably still mistaken, I think, but it's not completely obvious.

It does strike me as completely ludicrous. He is comparing mental harm with mental harm, but he just simply assumes that the mental harm stemming from views that you can overcome is worse than the mental harm stemming from being physically violated. Even assuming that the view being taught is false, I don't think the comparison he is making is remotely plausible. Since I don't think the view is false, it seems all the more ludicrous.

The example he gives is of someone who thinks it was more harmful to her, probably on the grounds that she spent more time dwelling on it. I'm not going to doubt her on the issue of what thoughts she had, how often she had them, or how worried she was about the possibility of going to hell or of her friends going to hell. What I don't find plausible is the idea that worrying about hell a lot is worse than the things I know sexual assault victims continue to experience for the rest of their lives. So even if this woman thinks one was more harmful than the other, I don't think that's good evidence for thinking it was more harmful to her than the other. People are notoriously good at exaggerating the harm to themselves when ideology is at stake, and there seems to be some in this case.

It also raises all sorts of questions about the moral obligations of those who believe false things. Dawkins doesn't even address the extremely common view that people ought to teach their kids what they firmly believe about right and wrong. I'm not sure that view is correct, but Dawkins doesn't even consider it as a counter to what he's saying.

Dawkins makes it clear that the "really grave" kind of sexual assault he's talking about is the kind that causes immediate physical harm. In other words, he says he's not talking about rape that immediately physically damages someone. But there is quite a bit of rape that does not do so, and the mental harm in such acts seems to me to be much, much worse than any mental harm from believing in hell, even presuming there is no hell as he is.

As for deference to authority, exactly why is that supposed to be harmful? It seems to me to be an extremely good thing, particularly in a culture that grows extremely disrespectful of authority. As for hostility to critical thinking, I see no reason to think that must be part of Christianity. I would argue rather that Christianity encourages critical thinking.

I certainly couldn't let Dawkins get away with making such a claim, given his demonstrable resistance to engaging with the positions of those he hates. This article alone presents enough examples: his misrepresentation of Catholic positions on birth control, his hijacking of the term 'rationalism' to refer to atheism (reminiscent of the Brights movement he is part of), his assumption that intelligent people not abandoning Catholic views means they must have been brainwashed rather than accepting that they actually find the views rationally compelling, his historically inaccurate description of religion as medieval, his assumption that medieval is bad when some of the best philosophers in history were from that period, his suggestion that religious people do not consider life precious, want to make the world a better place, or seek to understand life and our place in the universe, and so on. He obviously has either an extremely limited experience with religious people, or he's simply being intellectually dishonest. I won't choose between the two.

It's kind of funny also that he ends by claiming religion is irrelevant, when his whole piece argues just the opposite. Irrelevant things aren't harmful except in that they distract us from important things. That's not at all what he thinks of religion, and his choice to end that way strikes me as either immensely self-deceptive about what his own views are or rhetorically manipulative to make himself sound much more moderate than he really is. He thinks religion is evil because it causes far more harm than merely irrelevant things cause.

Hi, Keith,

Again, I don't quite know whether you mean by 'doctrine' a set of claims that might be believed about eternal torment, or a particular pedagogical approach involving those claims. That you suggest that the doctrine is 'meant' to terrify and children are 'made to believe' suggests the latter; but then that sort of terror doesn't have much to do with the consequences of believing as such. And that was my point -- that our only concern in dealing with the doctrine of eternal torments (insofar as it is something that might be believed) is whether it is true; whereas it's a very different thing if something about a certain form of pedagogy by which that doctrine is propagated is said to be damaging. But the latter is not a criticism of the doctrine, the things that can be believed; it's a criticism of how people teach it. I quite agree that a doctrine of hell can be taught in such a way as to be psychologically damaging. Many things can, including some true things, and doctrines like this are probably especially susceptible to it, given the ease with which people slide into try to dominating rather than guiding those they are teaching. It's important not to make the mistake Dawkins is clearly making, namely, conflating the thing believed with the teaching of it. When people show the scars of the way they were taught about hell, let's not forget that the scars are there because teachers, whether malicious, or misguided, or incompetent, inflicted them in the teaching. But it doesn't follow from them that the doctrine can't be taught in a non-damaging way, and it doesn't follow that there's anything particularly damaging about the doctrine.

The *content* of the relevant doctrines are, and are meant to be, literally terrifying -- to many who really believe them. The scars don't depend on their being taught in a bad way -- though that can exacerbate the problem. It was not taught to me in any particularly nasty way.

I have no notion what you mean by saying that the content is 'meant to be' terrifying; one might as well say that the content of the claim that the universe is extremely vast is 'meant to be' isolating. It's a straightforward category mistake: the content, what is proposed for belief, is not 'meant to be' anything. It just is what it is. It may be put forward in a persuasive appeal that is meant to be terrifying; or it may be taught in a way that is meant to be terrifying; or it may be associated in someone's mind with things that person finds terrifying. But we might as well say that gravity's decreasing as the square of the distance, or the United States's having a bicameral legislature, is 'meant to be' consoling. Purported facts are just that -- purported facts; they aren't 'meant to be' anything.

I've always thought that the doctrine of hell was meant to show how great God's grace and love is. That is, the purpose of the doctrine is not to "terrify" people into belief, but to help people come to a full understanding of what Christ went through on the cross.

That said, I agree with Brandon. What I said above is how I've always understood the doctrine of hell, but I realize that others have meant it to be a way of terrifying people.

Doctrines can be terrifying b/c of what they say (b/c of their content) and/or b/c of the particular way they are taught (though if it's the latter, this doesn't seem to be a good case of the doctrine itself being terrifying). I took you to be asserting the relevant doctrines of eternal torment are terrifying only in the latter way, and I'm saying that's wrong. Indeed, as I recall, when the relevant doctrine was taught to me, it was not at all presented in a way to make it seem as terrifying as possible. Quite the reverse: My Sunday school teacher bent over backwards to make it as non-threatening as she possibly could to us very young children. (The nasty "scare them straight" presentation came only when I was an older child, after I was alreeady terrified.) But, b/c the doctrine said what it said (b/c of its content), all this sugar-coating didn't work. It was still (& still is) absolutely terrifying! No matter how soft the method of teaching would have been, so long as I got an accurate idea of what the doctrine said (what its content is), it would have been terrifying precisely because it has the content it has. So this is definitely *not* just a matter of the "pedagogy" employed.

But I think Brandon was talking about whether the doctrine is meant to be terrifying, not whether it has the consequence of being terrifying.

On whether it's meant to be terrifying...

My impression is that the most prominent reason given by the doctrine's supporters for accepting it is appeals to Scripture. But my sense is that the most prominent reason given for emphasizing the teaching of the doctrine -- both historically and presently -- is that it will scare people straight (keep their behavior in line) and/or motivate them to accept Christ, precisely because it is so terrifying. (Augustine, for example, seems very (& admirably) upfront about this, and he is far from alone on that score.) The reason given by macht certainly has been present as well. I believe it's far behind the reason I've cited in prominence, but we can let that be. Certainly terrifying people into [good behavior/accepting Christ] has been *a* prominent reason given for proclaiming this doctrine. I guess we can disagree on where in the pecking order this reason is best placed, but it seems undeniable that the reason I cite has been prominently present. SO, THE DOCTRINE *HAS* BEEN WIDELY USED FOR THE EXPLICIT PURPOSE OF TERRIFYING PEOPLE -- as well as for other reasons, some of them closely related to the one I cite (simply that of telling people the truth of their situation, catching people's attention & making them more serious in their consideration of issues around salvation, heightening appreciation for Christ's sacrifice, motivating missions [though sometimes this works through terrifying people about the potential fate of others], etc.).

Should have been clearer: My comment immediately above was intended to address what I meant by saying the doctrine was meant to be terrifying -- that's it's been widely used for the explicit purpose of terrifying people. My reason for inserting "and are meant to be" was to point out that claim that these doctrines are terrifying shouldn't be controversial: even many of their most prominent supporters say as much, and in fact advocate the emphasizing of the doctrines precisely to achieve the effect of terrifying people (among other reasons).

Keith, I'm not trying to take a stance on this. I just thought the language you were using to describe Brandon's view didn't seem to match the language he had been using.

I'm trying to figure out what exactly you're arguing, though. I think you would agree that Jesus taught the reality of some kind of hell, and he clearly used terms that sound terrifying. Do you think it's wrong to teach hell in terms that sound terrifying? Is it wrong in principle, just wrong in certain contexts (e.g. when children are present), or just wrong with certain intentions (e.g. to frighten people into doing something)? Or are you not saying it's wrong but that you can understand why Dawkins would consider it wrong? Or is it that it's clearly harmful but not necessarily wrong? I'm guessing you don't think Jesus was doing anything immoral in teaching about hell the way he did teach about it (all that stuff about worms not dying), but how would you distinguish that from the things you do consider immoral?

I'm not sure what you're arguing for here, basically. You seem to be agreeing with Dawkins that teaching hell is bad because it harms people, and I'm wondering if you're just speaking of a restricted kind of teaching about hell. In response to Brandon's comments, you seem to be saying that you're not doing that. You're talking about the doctrine of hell itself.

On "what exactly [I'm] arguing," I think the confusion is coming from trying to see me as arguing for some position on the rightness/wrongness of teaching the nasty doctrines of hell. I haven't attempted that. I've only been making the observation -- doesn't even deserve the title of "argument" -- that teaching children these nasty doctrines can and does seriously harm many of them.

That limited point seemed very relevant to your post, as it seems to indicate that Dawkins may be on to *something*.

To reach conclusions about whether & how to teach the doctrines, and the rightness/wrongness of teaching them in various ways & in various circumstances, one would have to wade through a whole lot of considerations that I haven't here even begun to take into account.

Do you think Jesus' teaching of hell could harm children, then?

Could teaching Jesus' words about hell to children seriously harm them? Sure.

(I'm assuming you're not asking: "Did Jesus' own teaching about hell harm the children he taught it to?", as we have no reason to think he taught it to children.)

I should perhaps mention here that I take a lot of what many take to be Jesus' teachings about hell not to be about hell at all, but to be about awful things that happen/have happened/will happen right here on Earth. Still, they can be terrifying, and perhaps should be presented to children very carefully if at all. (My wife teaches Sunday school to quite young children, and a lot of this is material that would never make it into their lessons.)

The issue seems to be: 1) that people find the doctrine of hell terrifying is different than 2) the fact that some people teach the doctrine of hell for the purpose of terrifying people into good behavior/accepting Christ.

Keith was saying that 1) is part of the content of the doctrine of hell although Brandon was reading the phrase "meant to be terrifying" more along the lines of 2).

There really shouldn't be a problem with 1) in itself. Just because something is terrifying doesn't mean it shouldn't be taught. 2) is problematic and if there is any valid point in the essay, it is that. But I don't really think that this point is all that original and I think Dawkins has a problem with overgeneralization.

I don't know. I kind of get the impression that Jesus intended to terrify people when he taught about hell. I don't think he was teaching that as the only or even the best motivation for following him or for good behavior, but he seems to me to be taking it to be one motive people ought to have.

The last few verses of Matthew 24, for instance, seem to be clearly talking about some time after the Son of Man comes (and thus not on this earth), and it seems to be a motivation for being the faithful and wise slave as opposed to the evil slave.

The sheep and the goats at the end of the next chapter seems also to be talking about the final judgment rather than something in this life ("the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels", and the unexpected punchline seems to be that people will be cast into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth even if they thought they were followers of Jesus but did not welcome him, feed him, or clothe him when "the least of these" needed it.

Keith, I still think you're letting too much bleed-through between the content of the doctrine and the pedagogy of it. It may well be that the doctrine of eternal torments is so difficult to teach properly that even if true it should never be taught to children (because the risk of damage is too high). That would take a rather serious argument, I think, because it would have to be shown that the psychological damage is not due to the faults of individual teachers but to the incapacity of children to handle the doctrine; but even assuming that it were shown, which I fully grant that it might possibly be, that's still a matter of pedagogy, not content, because it has to do not with the doctrine itself but with the circumstances of teaching it. I understand that you don't think that your teachers taught it in a particularly nasty way; but that doesn't exonerate them, because a person who agrees with the doctrine of eternal torments can claim that it still may be a matter of incompetence and culpable misfeasance --namely, teaching a doctrine to an audience to which they cannot competently convey it. But again, that's a matter of pedagogy, not content.

I also confess that I don't really understand the distinction you're trying to draw (in response to Jeremy) between arguing the rightness/wrongness of teaching the doctrine of hell and arguing that the doctrine is psychologically harmful to children. Surely inflicting psychological harm on children is always wrong? Indeed, it's better-to-put-a-millstone-around-your-neck wrong, if we follow Jesus on such matters. If the doctrine is somehow dangerous, or if teaching it is somehow dangerous, then it should only be taught to those who can take it, and even then only when proper safeguards are in place; or else the person who teaches it, however well-intentioned, however seriously they try to tone it down, is engaging in an egregious wrong. I think, in fact, that this happens quite often; it's the perennial problem in theological matters that we're continually tempted to speak authoritatively on things we know nothing about, or are incompetent to speak with any authority on.

The other issue I'm not really clear on is what counts as psychological harm (or what Dawkins calls mental harm). Causing pain or distress isn't necessarily psychological harm, is it? If so, then parents are often obligated to cause psychological harm, e.g. to keep their children away from dangerous things. Similarly, warnings of things very much worth avoiding where there's a real risk of not avoiding them should usually count as a help rather than a harm, even if it causes much discomfort, distress, and psychological pain. That's why I think whether the doctrine is true affects this significantly.

But I also think there are issues that arise more generally for Dawkins' point. For instance, at least sometimes it might be good to cause someone distress or even harm when you think you're doing them good by warning them of something that isn't a real concern. If you think it's a real concern, that might sometimes be enough. If it's not in this case, that needs at least more argument than Dawkins has given. Sometimes at least, it's better to act on our conscience when our conscience is wrong than it is to go against our conscience, as I'm sure is happening when a Roman Catholic priest is fondling a minor. That seems to be a morally relevant consideration that Dawkins ought to give a reason for dismissing, or he ought to acknowledge that it might affect the judgment and show why it's not enough of a factor in the two cases he has in mind. Since he has done neither, I have to wonder if he thinks this issue is even morally important.

It's a lot rarer that people engaging in fondling of minors will be doing it for the sake of the person's good, even if there is a group (NAMBLA) that claims to be about exactly that. In most cases it's about either pure enjoyment of the act or physical control of the person. So to condemn one act as worse than the other merely on the issue of consequences (as Dawkins has done) seems to me to be ignore the moral importance of motives. Sometimes good motives can lead to bad actions, but I don't think they're ever irrelevant, and sometimes good motives can lower the badness of a bad action enough to make it less bad even than an action with bad motives but not as bad consequences.

So even apart from the issue of which is more harmful, it might be better to prefer people to have purer motives. Dawkins seems not to care about their motives, and I think that's evidence of a twisted moral compass.

It was an off the cuff comment by Dawkins, almost a joke, which to his suprise got thunderous applause from an audience of people who had been brought up Catholic.

One woman recalled being far more upset by being told that her friend was now burning in Hell than any abuse she had suffered.

Make of that what you will.

I already made of it what I will. It reflects a moral compass that's way off kilter, and I would say the same of those who applauded him for saying it.

What? You condemn the people who were harmed? You think a woman whose life was blighted by being told her friend was in Hell has a moral compass that's way off kilter?

And is my moral compass way off kilter when I think God should have stopped the tsunami of 26/12/2004 from killing 250,000 men, women and children?

Presumably your answer must be yes, there is a very good reason why God allowed 250,000 people to be killed by a tidal wave and people who say otherwise are simply ignorant of the reason for it.

There's a difference between condemning someone for being harmed and condemning someone for doing something later that reflects distorted moral views. Suppose someone kills my family, and I later go and kill the person for it. Then someone comes along and tells me that I shouldn't have done that. Would you say that this person is condemning the person that was harmed?

Now as for being way off kilter, what I'm talking about is someone who thinks being raised in the Roman Catholic Church and talk Christian doctrine is worse than being sexually abused. I'm not commenting on the issues Keith was raising. I'm open to what he's saying, but what Dawkins said was reprehensible, and those who cheered him on were cheerleading the reprehensible.

And is my moral compass way off kilter when I think God should have stopped the tsunami of 26/12/2004 from killing 250,000 men, women and children?

Someone who wonders why God might allow that sort of thing does not necessarily have a moral compass that's off-kilter, because the wondering might come out of an understanding that God's character seems to go against allowing this sort of thing. For instance, Habakkuk's questions about why God would be allowing Assyria to continue in their reign of terror seem to me to be righteous questions, because he begins with God's character and just has trouble putting together what he knows about God and what he experiences. Over the course of the book, several false assumptions he's making become clear, but those are intellectual failings and not moral failings.

On the other hand, if I took myself to know for sure exactly what God should or would do, that would at least be an off-kilter epistemic compass. What would make it morally skewed to a serious degree is if the questions come out of arrogance and presumption (and I'm not saying this is you, just that that's what it would take).

Richard Dawkins is a genius

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