Justified Punishment… Or Callous Murder?

Following on from pondering the question of why people choose not to believe, or as Mr Roland Earnst puts it, Why do People Choose Atheism, and considering the thoughts of InsanityBytes (who frames her opinions in a thoughtful and considerate manner), I thought I would delve deeper into the subject.

One of the issues that comes up is the idea that atheists want freedom to be immoral or ‘amoral’, in relation to the standards set by God. In my previous post, I referenced a number of examples of God’s actions in the Old Testament, actions that I believe a lot of people would baulk at if they heard them in isolation. For example, Isaiah 13:15-16 is a command from God to kill prisoners of war, but not before making them watch their children be ‘dashed to pieces’, and women prisoners are to be ‘ravished’.

If these actions were commanded by a human being, who could bring themselves to obey? What would we make of that commander, and those who did as ordered? Would we deem them examples of moral punishment against evildoers, or would we consider killing prisoners, slaughtering children and raping women to be war crimes?

Is it immoral for atheists to not wish to associate with the moral standards of a deity that issues such commands, and then cloaks them as ‘punishment’ for disobedience?

Is it unfair of atheists (and for that matter, followers of other religions) to criticise the violence of the Old Testament, and the standards of God’s behaviour and morality contained within it? Can those actions truly be labelled punishment? Or must they be considered barbaric? To this meerkat, it is hard to conceive of anyone today willingly obeying an instruction to kill children as a form of punishment. It would be considered depravity at best, and obscene at worst.

It might be argued I am viewing this from a human perspective, and judging God’s moral standards by my own. I know those who would argue I am being unfair, but what other perspective can I use? Using the argument that the deaths commanded and inflicted by God in the OT are forms of punishment is a convenient form of excuse for any and all displays of savagery, a means to justify what no one would consider justifiable today.

To place all this in a different frame, consider for a moment that what a Christian deems punishment by God for disobedience is an action to protect the Christian faith. Similar actions undertaken by the followers of other religions to protect their faith are considered murder. Of course, if I were to ask a Muslim if the orders to kill or suppress other religions were murder or punishment, what answer do you think I would get? Who gets to claim the moral high ground there? Both parties? None of them? Orders to kill non-believers, or believers of other faiths, do not strike me as displays of morality, even if the followers of these faiths would argue they are protecting their beliefs from wayward and dangerous outsiders.

All of this is to say, who has the market cornered on morality? The God of Christianity? Atheists? Anyone? No one? Is atheist morality a fluid concept, subject to the whim of whatever is trendy at the time? I don’t believe that to be true. I believe not accepting dogma and not classing diabolical actions as justified punishment does not make one immoral or amoral. This is not to say that many Christians do not lead moral lives. Many are good people, and they have found comfort and solace in their faith, and taken many rewarding traits from it. There are plenty of verses – largely in the New Testament – which are quite beautiful, and I wish more Christians would embrace that aspect. Fortunately, I know plenty that do.

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