Sep 21, 2006

too sophist....icated?

I see now that I've made some arguments that are simultaneously misunderstood and misrefuted by my sometime sparring partner Mark Olson (link via my brother), who describes my take on Benedict's Paleologus quote as "silly."

It's not, and I'll explain why before sleep deprivation gets the best of me.

First, Olson criticizes me for decontextualizing Paleologus' assertion that "God is not pleased by blood." I note the irony that God is indeed "pleased" by the sacrifice of blood--human blood, if Jesus is/was fully human--even requiring it for the cleansing of sin. This is not, as a philosopher might describe it, a defeater--or even an argument. It is an irony observed. Which is why I immediately address the context of Paleologus's claim, violence for the sake of conversion.

My point here is that Paleologus states unequivocally that it is unreasonable to convert others by actual or threatened violence. Is a preacher who points out the "overwhelming" threat of damnation therefore unreasonable? Is any theology that threatens nonbelievers with hellfire unreasonable? Can Christianity claim to be all carrot and no stick?

I'll ignore Olson's charge of context-ripping because blogging is all about rashness and subsequent refinement. I would enjoy learning why my reading of Paul's (clear, I think) argument is wrong.

Finally, my last point stands after a missed opportunity for refutation. Pope Benedict warns us that the Islamic God could be a devil in disguise, and if so, we might commit evil acts, thinking them good. In my response, I claim that this applies equally to the Christian God, pointing to three passages in which God commands immoral acts, and his followers obey.

Mark claims the Hosea passage is figurative without providing a reason; it's an awfully literal-sounding text. I'd be willing to grant Abraham a pass for his extreme faith in God's crazy-sounding order to sacrifice Isaac, yet it still proves that a good God might ask something we'd expect from a devil-God.

Regardless, the final example is the most damning. In the passage from Joshua (and throughout the text, and elsewhere), God orders the destruction of entire cities, down to the last infant. Olson says I conflate general proscriptions with specific commands--but does not admit that this puts him in the awkward moral position of justifying infanticide. Again, my point: God commands an act that would seem outrageously immoral to anyone reasonable.

Olson's last rhetorical questions are haunting: "Was Carthage wrong? Was God?" If we are to answer the question in the affirmative or negative, we must judge His character, His motivation, His reasonableness. If we are unable to answer, we have no grounds for assuming He is reasonable.

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