The Original Biblical #MeToo: Restore Her Dignity

The #MeToo movement started as a trickle and turned into a tsunami late last year. Individual women, first as single spies who would turn into Shakespeare’s battalions, and fed up with living with shame for the abuse they had endured, put voice to their inner turmoil and yelled – “No more!” And like an ant hill suddenly disturbed, initial isolated stories found company in a multitude of similar experiences, resulting in an army of restless soldiers whose collective silence could no longer be bought – not by fear of disbelief, reprisal or self-doubt.

Suddenly, it is the right thing to do, to exorcise their abusers’ demons hitherto embedded deep within their troubled psyches. And maybe we, who believe in the gracious gospel of Jesus Christ, could learn from the experience of this movement. Perhaps we should re-examine some of our biblical traditions that have long seemed incongruous to the teaching of Jesus, but which we have refrained from repudiating because they’ve become our cherished wrongs.

Like the newly liberated #MeToo inductees, who until recently feared that speaking up would cost too dearly, the time has come to look at how some stories in our treasured Bible might have innocently enabled some of the newly exposed bad behavior. Perchance it can lead us to find similar courage to recognize that, whether contained in the Bible or elsewhere, bad behavior must be forcefully called out. No longer should we lamely claim that such reprehensible behavior by men (and yes, it is often demonstrated by men, even if not exclusively), in biblical stories, merely reflect mores of a different time and environment.

No matter the era or environment, there have always been others who did not pillage or rape, murder or debase, though such was the normative behavior around them. Men abuse, rape and murder, because they can. They don’t engage in these actions because they don’t know better. The current #MeToo environment provides us a rare opportunity to confront some of the brutalities perpetuated against women, often with impunity, by taking a backward glance at the roots, even if we can only take in one scene at a time. One such retrospective glimpse, from the perspective of our Christian heritage, is to examine the possible biblical male contribution toward contemporary violence against women.

Women in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament (OT), were considered as property. The record shows that, after the fall, women were largely excluded from meaningful decision making or power sharing in the home or society. Over time, in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways, women came to be regarded and often treated like children. Even in the relatively enlightened New Testament era this view of Israeli women continued. It is exemplified in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, when women and children were excluded from the head count. Likewise, it is not happenstance that in biblical Israel polygyny was embraced – virtually all the patriarchs had more than one wife – while polyandry was non-existent.

In a previous column article I mentioned the Judges 19 story of the Levite’s concubine gang rape as one I would not expose to children, because there are deep ramifications that cannot be simplified for young minds. In this essay I return to that story to tackle some of its difficulties.

It begins by introducing the two-main characters: a Levite, who by convention held a hallowed place in Jewish society, and his concubine, someone beneath a wife’s stature. Concubines were more identifiable as sex-slaves since, in OT Israeli society, they were often acquired simply for a man’s pleasure. We learn from the first few lines that something upsetting happened in the Levite’s home causing her to leave him and return to the relative safety of her father. The Levite goes after her and eventually succeeds in securing her reluctant agreement to return with him. It is during this return journey that her dehumanizing nightmare begins and ends - with her gruesome abuse, death and dismemberment.

With darkness fast approaching and the couple nowhere close to home, they go to the market place in Gibeah hoping that someone in this Benjamite city would provide them hospitality. Eventually an elderly citizen invites them in and pledges to take care of them overnight. While being entertained indoors, some local perverts surround the house and demand that he “Bring out the man who came to your house, that we know him carnally!” (19:22 NKJV)

We quickly learn from the interchange between the house master and the besieging mob, that the much-vaunted hospitality code of that time had strict limitations. As this story and its companion piece in Genesis 19 shows, this lofty rule, and many other similar lofty rules in the Torah, advantaged and protected only men. When the scoundrels demanded that he give the Levite over for their carnal pleasure, the host is horrified and, with sanctimonious indignation, remonstrated: “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, do not do this disgraceful thing.” (19:23 NIV) But almost instantaneously he saw a way out; “here is my virgin daughter and his concubine … you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this man don’t do such a disgraceful thing.” But the men would not budge so the Levite “took his concubine and sent her out to them and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go.” (19:24-25 NIV)

And therein is the crux of the whole sordid business. The relative value of women – of our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and nieces – against one man’s “honor.” Both in this story and the Genesis account, a man’s reputation is easily secured by betraying our daughters and spouses to sadistic predators. When men are threatened with abuse it is “vile” and “disgraceful.” But if it is against women, the brutes can “do to them whatever [they] wish.”

In the morning, the Levite opens the door to continue his interrupted journey. The writer paints one of the most callous portraits of self-absorption in all literature with the Levite’s indifference to the plight of his erstwhile concubine as he commands her to “Get up… we must leave.” (19:28 NJB) Did he even remember the events of the prior night?

If we find these men’s behavior awful and wonder how they can get away with such dastardly acts, the answer is summed up in one word: property. Woman, like slaves, were property in patriarchal Israel. And in the words of Joe Greg, the sage of my Sabbath School class: “God is male, and until we reinvent the order where the woman is not property, the status quo remains.”

But who was this woman? She had no name and was never given a voice to speak for or defend herself. She was the property of a man in a world of men, none of whom would give aid in her hour of need. Early in the story we are told that she was a “whore.” (19:2 KJV) The Hebrew word that was translated “whore” or “unfaithful” in other versions, is zanah. As is the case with most words, zanah has various meanings. Its primary meaning includes committing fornication or being a harlot. It is this primary meaning that is used by versions which describe her as a “whore”, “played the harlot” or “unfaithful.” But this word also has other secondary meanings, including “to be angry”, “hateful,” and “feel repugnant against.”

Here is where the story’s context helps to determine appropriate meaning choice. The context describes a concubine who leaves her husband’s home and protection and goes back to her parental home. The husband goes after her to “speak tenderly to her.” (19:3a NJB) It is difficult to believe, considering the societal underpinnings of honor killing (Gen 38:24) for infidelity, that a truly aggrieved husband would go after his deceitful wife with flowers.

Newer Bible versions recognize the error of using the primary meaning of zanah (whore, unfaithful), because it doesn’t support the Levite’s subsequent actions, and now use variations of other secondary meanings in this verse. The NRSV substitutes the offensive “whore” or “unfaithful” with “became angry” while the NJB renders zanah as “in a fit of anger.”

The change is important, because, while earlier versions tar her as a “whore” and effectively blame her for ensuing events, the NRSV puts the blame closer to the Levite for perhaps provoking her anger, suggesting that she left due to a domestic dispute. Based on earlier faulty translations of zanah as whore, Matthew Henry, commenting on this story, blames the girl and especially her father for accepting her when she returned: “her father ought not to have countenanced her sin. Perhaps she would not have violated her duty to her husband if she had not known too well where she would be kindly received.” Phyliss Trible is right in her perceptive assessment: “Captured, betrayed, raped, tortured, murdered, dismembered, and scattered – this woman is the most sinned against.” (Texts of Terror, Fortress Press, 1984, p 81)

It also appears that the sins against her did not end with her dismembered body. The all-male clergy who “mistranslated” zanah in the KJV continued heaping indignities on her long after she died. If ever there is an argument for female representation when discoursing on marital affairs, here is one. The presence of just one knowledgeable woman on the translation committee might have alerted the men that something about the woman’s characterization did not add up in light of the Levite’s conduct.

While she was alive no one spoke for her; even God seemed absent during her ordeal. When her story was written she was cast in the most unflattering light – with insinuations that she shared the blame. Now that we know differently we should at the very least attempt to right the record. Her story resonates because, long after she met her cruel fate, women have continued to be subjected to similar heinous crimes – just for being women. “#MeToo! #MeToo!” Her anguished cries ring in our conscience. Give her a name! Restore her dignity!

Matthew Quartey is a transplanted Ghanaian who now lives in and calls the Adventist ghetto of Berrien Springs, Michigan, home.

Previous Spectrum columns by Matthew Quartey can be found at: http://spectrummagazine.org/authors/matthew-quartey.

Image Credit: Photo by James Tissot - Wikimedia Commons

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8630
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I really enjoy your pieces Matthew, you bring a refreshing blend of deep thought, social awareness and bold challenges to traditional Adventist complacency. I suspect that most are unwilling to look too deeply at the horrors inflicted by man upon man (or as you’re focusing on here–man against woman) in the Hebrew scriptures for several reasons.

The first is a sort of guilt by association, in which good upstanding Adventists want to distance themselves from the bad behavior of Biblical characters who are often, like them, earnest worshipers of God. The “it was another time” and “we can’t judge them by modern moral standards” lines are usually the first to come out.

But I think there’s a deeper reason too. In addition to the crimes of man against man recorded in the Hebrew scriptures, there are also apparently horrendous moral atrocities commanded or implemented directly by God himself. All of us know this, but I think we’ve been dulled to the true horror of many of these stories by repeated exposure to them from an early age.

Of course there are various theodicies that in one way or another push the moral justification for actions such as the genocide of the Amalekites into an unknown and unknowable future. God could always have some morally justifiable reason for these actions from a moral utilitarian point of view. No matter how many children are murdered by the command or hand of God, we can always dismiss it by saying that his ways are unknowable, and we simply must trust that he has some greater purpose or morally justifiable reasons for such actions. But that defense can be used to justify literally ANY action. If one were persuaded that God willed the Rwandan genocide, than that would be morally correct, even admirable. How can we distinguish between such moral cases in any empirical way?

I think that on some deeply intuitive levels, many Christians understand that much of the Hebrew Bible conflicts in a fundamental way with our modern conscience. If that is the case, then it begs the question of how a modern conscience could be more sensitive to suffering and evil than the God of the Hebrews was. That is a difficult question to ponder, and I don’t think that most of us really feel that the usual explanations of “progressive revelation” make any intuitive sense. Looking honestly at the evils of man in the Hebrew Bible makes it harder to ignore the apparent immorality of the actions of God himself. And that is something simply too difficult and faith-shaking to discuss. As we so often do with profound suffering and evil, we simply ignore it.

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Matthew

What can I say? Your have put your finger on the sore point and made us all feel the pain. Yes, indeed, it is high time for all of us to recognize complicity when macho readings and macho traditions are traced back to the Bible. As you said, there are Bible stories that cannot be told to children, but adult believers must read them with the faith that God himself places on their heart by the Holy Spirit, and thereby acknowledge their belonging to a cultural melieu to which our faith cannot give assent. They do reveal their origin in a singularly human world.

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Thank you for this.

Oddly enough, I just finished reading an essay about this issue in Judges: “Dealing/With?Women: Daughters in the Book of Judges,” by Micke Bal, pp. 16-39. Contained in _The Book and the Text: The Bible and Literary Theory, ed. by Regina Schwartz. This volume is an attempt to engage “literary theory” with biblical criticism and was a revelation to me because the analysis of a literary scholar engaging with other analyses adds remarkable dimensions of meaning. Very troubling perspective, I warn you.

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I remember reading the book of Judges with Graham Maxwell at LLU many years ago. His question was always, “What does the book reveal about God?”. And as I read Judges, I was impressed with the wonderful mercy of God towards his people. Judges shows a true bunch of deplorables doing deporalble things to one another. Yet God did not reject them. He loved them and pleaded with them still.

To me the book, and episodes such as this do not condemn God, but show how merciful he was even to the worst of folk. There is thus mercy for you and me.

Do you really think that just because such stories as this are in scripture that God was pleased with the people? He says they went a whoring themselves, and that their child sacrifices etc. were an abomination. He allowed them the freedom to be real skunks, but loved them still. Is 49:15 etc.

the book is a profound revelation of mercy. And frankly I am not impressed with the “modern conscience.”

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Of course there are many stories of mercy in the Bible, just as there are stories of violence and judgment. I wouldn’t want to deny either. Often, though, I personally have trouble seeing the God of mercy in the OT, and have since childhood. Stories such as the flood are often talked about as representing both God’s judgment and mercy. But I have a hard time reconciling the narrative with an omnipotent and all-loving God who knew the future before he began to create mankind. I think we must believe that out of all possible futures in any conceivable universe, killing nearly all the inhabitants of Earth was the best moral option God could possibly arrange for humans with free will. I think my imagination is better than that, and I’m hardly God.

I think there are also basic assumptions that often go untested in the common theological understanding of God’s authority to pass violent judgment, especially for apparently arbitrary reasons that don’t seem to have empirically testable moral justifications. By that I mean judgment for actions that don’t appear to cause measurable harm to other humans. For instance, killing a gay man because he is gay. God may dislike gay people, but it’s hard for me to understand what measurable harm they are causing.

One basic assumption would simply be what it is, exactly, about God’s nature as cosmic creator, that gives him a moral right to pass judgment on his creation with mass death. Certainly an omnipotent god would be capable of such an act, but what feature of God do you believe makes this act justified? I’ve often heard that as creator, it is natural for God to be right in granting or ending life as he sees fit. But this is certainly not a universal moral truth. By that I mean that if I create life in my limited fashion by procreating, I do not then have a right to kill my child if I believe it is misbehaving. At least I don’t think most would say so. Yet we presume God’s right to do so. Perhaps it is our belief that God is wholly morally good in his nature, so whatever action he takes, no matter how unjust it appears, is certainly for a greater moral good. But I don’t know on what we base the belief that God is all-good, unless we use his commands and actions to support that belief. And if the actions themselves are not obviously for the good, then we have a circular argument. It appears to me that we simply assert that God is all-good, and then create complex theodicies to explain the apparent instances of genocide and murder that have no obvious moral justification. What is our starting point for understanding God’s nature if it is not God’s actions as related in the Bible?

To be clear, I do not think that God should be held responsible for every instance of human evil recounted in the scriptures. That’s why I tried to draw a distinction between human injustice and divine injustice (actions the Bible claims were either directly commanded by or performed by God). The first is expected, the second is not consistent with the nature of God as it is often understood. Certainly people today visit harm and suffering on each other, much as they have throughout human history. Yet, if we look at the arc of humanity, I think we can make a strong case for moral development. As Matthew points out in this piece, humans have systematically subjugated women (just as one example) throughout history. And this subjugation appears to be at the least tolerated by God, or at worst endorsed. According to the Bible God gave the ancient Hebrews many laws and instructions on how to live. Some of these are good, some of them are odd, and some of them are, according to my own ethical system and that of most people living today, fundamentally immoral. Even if you disagree with the personal choices of gay men, for instance, I think you would find it immoral to execute them publicly by stoning. The same surely goes for the God-ordained capture of women and girls to be used for sexual gratification, sex slaves (concubines), and the mass-murder of children. None of these things are surprising if we believe the Biblical documents were simply written by men of their time, reflecting their own archaic views of morality. They are troubling, however, if we believe the Bible was divinely inspired, and accurately relates the actions and commands of God. I think it’s a real problem, and deserves to be addressed head-on and honestly.

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Mathew Quartey, your articles are always refreshingly insightful and pleasingly provocative.

Your one sentence that resonates with me:

CONCUBINES WERE MORE IDENTIFIABLE AS SEX SLAVES.

Today’s most deplorable, disgusting, despicable, detestable male is the pimp—one who exploits women for his own financial gain. And at the lowest level are those who kidnap teenage girls and force them into prostitution.

What if it were OUR daughter, granddaughter, niece, being sex trafficked ???

Human sex trafficking has to be the lowest human crime.

And yet the word “concubine” appears frequently in scripture, even many revered patriarchs, having possessed them. When you elucidate that “concubines “ were “sex slaves “ you open up a “can of worms”.

Because nowhere does God seem to give an eloquent, emphatic excoriation of this practice. If anything, He seems to passively condone it.

Even in the New Testament, Paul gives an enthusiastic, emphatic endorsement of slavery: SLAVES OVEY YOUR MASTERS,
Were teenage slave girls to submit to rape and worse, with passive obedience??

Human trafficking is vile, loathsome and repugnant.

Yet God Himself engaged in it, allowing the Israelites to be enslaved to the Egyptians for FOUR HUNDRED years —His supposed “punishment” of them.

Would four decades not have been enough?

Again, if Hollywood were to film the Old Testament in all its lewd, libertine, lascivious, licentious life styles, not to mention the gratuitous violence, it would be unscreenable —the censors would redact much of it!

It is a wonder that most females are not atheist rebels—-God has allowed women to be treated so shabbily, shamefully, sordidly and He seems to have condoned, even encouraged, miserable misogyny over multiple millennia.

Miserable misogyny prevails even in Adventism, with its festering WO issue!

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Do you really think so? The twentieth century was the bloodiest on record without a peer, or even a near peer. Ideologies were embraced that lead to the mass murder of hundreds of millions. And these ideologies are still defended. Even the “principle” of “a woman’s right to choose”, certainly something many here would accept, has led to the death of tens of millions of innocents. I am not so convinced of that arc.

That he is Creator does not confer such a role. He could be a monster and creator. But his holiness does. When he appeared to Moses on the mount he declared his character: “Jehovah, Jehovah, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin…” And the angels in Isaiah 6 constantly proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The whole earth?? And they were there for all that went on in the OT. What are they seeing that we are missing?

I don’t think a “complex theodicy” is necessary, but an understanding of the nature and power of sin. If you, viewing the twentieth century with its perfecting of death and torture, and its utter disregard for life, feel that the moral arc is moving in a positive direction, I am not sure what to say. To congratulate ourselves on our moral superiority and miss the humbling sinfulness of our thinking and actions is to be blind to real holiness.

What do you do with John’s assertion in I John 1:5 “This is the message we have heard from him (Jesus) and declare to you: God is light. In him there is no darkness at all.”?

This is Jesus revealing the truth of the God, the Father, of the OT, no darkness in him. And Jesus dies than none might perish (John 3:16).

I think you have not seen the sinfulness of sinful men. Our utter depravity, love of darkness, and stubborn unwillingness to admit how evil we really are. And this blinds to the holiness of the actions of God.

The angels see it and are astonished. We don’t see it. But that is not because it is not so.

Lewis addresses this issue in “Out of the Silent Planet”.

There is an example of your thinking in scripture: the episode of Uzzah and the ark (2 Sam 6:6-8). David saw God’s judgement on Uzzah, and was angry. He was insulted that God would intervene with such a thing as the death of one of the celebrants, when he, David, was rejoicing to bring the ark to his capitol

EGW comments on it in PP pg 705-6. The problem was disobedience. That is, they had not been following the commands of God. She explains why God did it (one of those complex theodicies: disobedience)

And the judgment of God because of that disobedience made David angry.

We need to be carful that in our sin we do not do the same.

There it is, in its full nakedness. The absence of empathy, the root of all evil.

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What great discourse! Thank you Matthew for helping me think “outside the box”.
i have fought over time to wall-off stories like the murdered concubine and her dismembered body-parts distributed to the Israelites leading to more carnage and the the death of not just the men, but innocent women and children, albeit in the name of vengeance.
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness… 2 Timothy 3:161-7 (NIV).

In as much as I agree with Allen about God’s mercifulness, it is hard for me to see in this and other atrocious activities in the Bible, the redemptive aspect. On the other hand, there are tons of stories of bad faith judgement, as in David and Bathsheba, Saul made Paul, where God’s love surpasses man’s wicked foolishness.
In my spiritual journey, I have been processing the condemnation meted out to homosexuals and the growing knowledge and understanding we now have of the rainbow sexual spectrum. Did God not know this or was it a case of overzealous moral watchdogs wanting to keep the family unit intact as known then? For me to be a spiritual zealot is to ignore the acrid part of religious idiosyncrasy that spark questions as in this discussion. Yet I know we all love God, and perhaps more importantly, we agree to disagree that this is what we have and vowed to believe in - the Bible, God’s inspired word - every single bit of it?

[quote=“Oriental34, post:3, topic:15585”]
"…adult believers must read them with the faith that God himself places on their heart by the Holy Spirit, and thereby acknowledge their belonging to a cultural melieu to which our faith cannot give assent."

OK…but nearly everyone who has read the story of the Levite and his concubine thinks he was pond scum. When will we look at other OT Patriarchs with an honest eye? David? Lot? Abraham?

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Thanks for your thoughtful replies! I don’t want to raise the ire of the moderators with too much back and forth, but I’ll respond to a couple points.

Do you really think so? The twentieth century was the bloodiest on record without a peer, or even a near peer. Ideologies were embraced that lead to the mass murder of hundreds of millions. And these ideologies are still defended. Even the “principle” of “a woman’s right to choose”, certainly something many here would accept, has led to the death of tens of millions of innocents. I am not so convinced of that arc.

I think we disagree about early-term abortion, and that’s fine. But regardless of our definitions the bulk of abortions are natural and spontaneous, and the rate of these failed pregnancies has gone down since the advent of modern medicine. Regardless, I think we might be confusing moral development with the magnitude of suffering. Technology has certainly increased our capacity to do mass violence, but that is a separate question from whether we are developing morally as a human culture. A single human seeking to do harm can do more damage with a bomb than with a sword. I think it’s an open question whether we’re actually improving our behavior overall, and I probably overstated my confidence in the strength of the argument. Some interesting reading on the subject: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/12/why-human-society-isn-t-more-or-less-violent-past

The question of whether we’re developing morally is also separate from the question of whether we’re behaving more morally. Just as in the common Christian understanding of sin, it’s possible for us to grow in understanding of moral truths (i.e. slavery is wrong, genocide as a component of warfare is wrong, keeping concubines is wrong etc) while still often failing as a species to live up to our moral knowledge. I would make a much stronger case for a positive trend for the former.

That he is Creator does not confer such a role. He could be a monster and creator. But his holiness does. When he appeared to Moses on the mount he declared his character: “Jehovah, Jehovah, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness rebellion and sin…” And the angels in Isaiah 6 constantly proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah Almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.”

So your claim is that God’s holiness grants him the moral authority to commit and command genocide (including the killing of innocent infants) for whatever crime suits him? If we try to separate this from our traditional understanding of God, I think it seems ludicrous on its face. Certainly it wouldn’t make any sense applied to any other entities. “The Pope is holy and so he can execute people according to his own “law” which is an extension of his “nature,” which we know to be holy, yet also is responsible for killing babies because their parents wouldn’t move out of their ancestral homes.” That… doesn’t make sense to me. I recognize that we assume God’s absolute moral perfection, and most of us don’t do the same for the Pope. But, again, my question is WHY? From an evidential viewpoint, what is the actual difference in this imagined example of a claimed perfect human who apparently does immoral things, and our claims about God? Other than a metaphysical assertion, why do we think God is all-good?

I know this will be hard for some to think about because we often take for granted the fact that God can do what he likes with humanity. But I really don’t understand this. For starters, I would ask again how it is that you know God’s character to be entirely “holy.” Let’s try to think about this with a less traditional example. If an apparently all-powerful being appeared on earth claiming to be from another planet or dimension, and declared to humans that he was “Holy, holy, holy.” Asked humans to worship and obey him and only him, and then killed millions of humans when they disobeyed him. What are we to make of that morally? Do we just take this being at his word, shrug, and say to ourselves “well he says he’s holy and completely just, so even though he’s killing millions for reasons that I don’t really understand, and don’t have measurable moral justification, I’m just going to trust him?” That’s what I mean when I ask what our starting point for understanding God to be good actually is. It seems circular to me. When I point to the actions of God in the OT folks say “well you have to trust his Word that he is good, even when the actions don’t appear so.” And when I point out that words are just words, and they could be inaccurate, or simply the words of the men who worshiped this God people say “yes but look at all God has done in the world, and in my life! His actions testify to his nature.” How is that not circular?

I have definitely seen the sinfulness of men, and certainly won’t claim to be any particularly upright representative of the species. I freely admit my faults, and strive to address them. But, frankly, the last few paragraphs you wrote are quite hurtful. I’m sure you don’t mean them to be, but I’ll try to explain.

I was raised Adventist, and the church was my whole world. I never wished to be “disobedient” and believe I followed God with all my heart. And yet, I consistently felt like I was not good enough, was not adequate for God. When I prayed I felt like I was talking to the ceiling, and I never “felt” god’s presence in my life as many others around me claimed. I never could find a personal relationship with God, even though I felt it was the most important thing I could ever have. I believed with my head, and committed with my heart, and yet felt like I was yelling into an echoing void where God was supposed to be.

Over the course of many difficult years, I felt like I was living a sort of lie. Like I was pretending to be a Christian and an Adventist who had it all figured out, while inside I felt like I had never really found God in any meaningful or personal way. For that I blamed myself, not God.

Finally, I decided that I needed to turn my head to these big questions of God, truth, and Christianity, and find out what was real. So I began questioning with my head the realities my heart had always longed for. During a process of 4-5 years I investigated Biblical scholarship, scientific theories of earth history, philosophy, and apologetics. I came to embrace empiricism as the most reliable way to come to knowledge about the world, and through that lens I couldn’t find adequate evidence or arguments to support my believe in the God of Christianity. So now I consider myself an atheist.

Since then the lines you wrote above have been directed at me in some form on a regular basis from Christians. Essentially the claim seems to be “I think you have not seen the sinfulness of sinful men. Our utter depravity, love of darkness, and stubborn unwillingness to admit how evil we really are. And this blinds to the holiness of the actions of God.” As illustrated by your example of Uzzah, what I think you’re saying is that you believe that I am motivated by a desire to “disobey” God, or to be in “rebellion.” Any instance of questioning your authority, God, brings such a defense, and I think I understand why. It is threatening to our beliefs to even consider the possibility that other humans, acting rationally, come to conclusions that so completely reject our worldview. It is easier to maintain the absolute dichotomy that we are all choosing to rebel against that authority or not. But what you are doing is essentially an ad-hominem attack. You’re saying, in a polite way, that the reason I don’t believe is because I am sinful, or morally corrupt. Making the conversation about me and my beliefs is a way to avoid any potential issue with God, the Bible, or your personal beliefs about either.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of an honest unbeliever like myself. Or better yet, try on the shoes. What would you say to this? “Allah desires all his people to worship and love him in accordance with the Quran. He has told you what he requires, why do you continue to rebel against him? Jesus was a prophet of Allah, and you are worshiping him as a God! That is idolatry! Your sinful heart has been mislead and simply cannot see the truth Allah wishes you to understand. You are too corrupted by the religious lies and selfish decadence of the West to humbly come to Allah and understand your errors. Obey and find peace in Allah!”

Not only is that an unproductive witnessing tool, it’s relying entirely on an assumed authority and dogmatic worldview which you don’t share. Of course you don’t think you’re in “rebellion” against Allah, because (I assume) you don’t believe Allah is an accurate understanding of God. In a similar way, I don’t believe your view of God is accurate, for many empirical, metaphysical and philosophical reasons. To assert that I am not just mistaken, but mistaken because of some conscious or unconscious moral failings, is insulting. I cannot be in “rebellion” against God anymore than I can be in “rebellion” against the tooth fairy. We might both be mistaken about the tooth fairy. Maybe she exists, but that doesn’t mean I’m rebelling against her anymore than you are rebelling against the will of Thor or Krishna. It simple means I don’t believe, just as you don’t believe in those other gods.

This is also a demonstration of the fundamental problem with authoritarian ways of coming to knowledge. We can’t differentiate between conflicting authorities! Bible or Quran, Yahweh or Allah? This is why I am now an empiricist, and look to careful and testable approaches to my worldviews, which can be falsified and corrected for errors.

Sorry for the long reply, be merciful oh Spectrum moderators.


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My Parent moved me into her room at age 13 until at 16 I was placed in an orphanage, until I got my own room back. I dispized her finally forgave her even played at her memorial service. My life has been messed up since then. She was forcing me over and over while I was developing. I did not like her at all. but later in life forgave her. I went on in life alone except for Jesus Savior and even played at her funeral. I am tired of woman whinnying and thinking that they are something so extra great. Thus said the Lord God, “He/she that looks back and not forward to me is not worthy of me”. I am am alone on earth but not with our Savior when He Comes for us. .

Thanks for this!

Missed by many here (both readers and writers) is the realization that misogynistic gender-based sexual slavery far predates and is more endemic than the “non-privileged” “lower status” (i am loathe to apply the “s” word here) racism. Seems gender based active subjugation via headship/MOO (male only ordination) ought receive it’s share of ink and angst, comparatively speaking.

Thank you for your thoughtful reply. With the new comment policy, I believe we are allowed to speak at length to one another and will not have our posts deleted.

First of all, no offense meant, but I will speak my mind as you have.

The issue that I find most troubling in what we have discusses is the issue of justice. If There is not a holy God, then there is no justice.

You have argued that God’s acts have shown that he is unjust. The flood, genocide of the Canaanites, etc.

But if he does not exist, then acts of injustice that we see around us will not be brought to justice either. Hitler’s acts go unpunished in any way. Those that get away with murder, well, get away with it. Corporate cheats, gangsters and others who steal, maim, and do mayhem get away with it.

I find that quite unsatisfying. By accepting the holiness of God’s acts, I can reconcile the injustice in the world. He will bring them to justice.

God has also explained his acts. The Canaanites “cup of iniquity” was not full in the time of Abraham (Gen 15:15). So his acts were not arbitrary. And Leviticus 18:24-38 even states that the Israelites could face the same fate if they became so iniquitous. Before the Flood, the earth was full of violence and the people’s thoughts were evil continually. Like one huge gangland.

No matter which position you take, however, there is still some injustice that stands: for deists, the things you mentioned; for atheists, all of human evil that goes unpunished.

My position does not mean that God is wanting to condemn all to hell. He has said, I wish that they would obey that it might be well with them forever. Deut. 5:28,29. The cross shows the length to which he would go to keep us from judgment, bearing the punishment himself.

Your position seems to allow for as much injustice as mine, if not more, depending on God’s motives.

I did not suggest that you were rebellious. But I do think you have not seen the sinfulness of men, and their wickedness. That does not mean rebellion, but a certain ignorance. Your feeling that society has progressed would seen to support my view, but that is my opinion.

I think the idea of justice is the deeper problem.

I agree with you that without the idea of a cosmic judge, we lose any expectation of cosmic justice. I think that our collective human desire for justice is one primary reason why Christianity exists as it does today. You probably know that there are shifting ideas around justice and suffering in both history and the Bible. In ancient history it appears that most people, including Biblical authors, had an expectation that behavior on earth would be rewarded or punished on earth. You see it all through many of the prophets, and in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. This is why there is so much language about the suffering of God’s people being a direct result of their failure to behave as He wished. Over time, the ancient Hebrews seem to have had difficulty reconciling their continued suffering as a people with their (albeit sometimes lukewarm) dedication to their God. Around the time of the Babylonian captivity we begin to see more apocalyptic viewpoints enter Hebrew thought.

The advantage of such an apocalyptic view of justice is that by pushing judgment into the unknowable future and claiming that God will eventually hold all sinners accountable, we can hope for an idealized “perfect justice.” Although I think there’s an odd disconnect between that idea of justice and the core of Christian atonement theology, which of course says that it’s actually not our actions that are judged, but whether we accept Jesus’ atonement or not. So I’m not sure it’s fair to say that what we’re actually talking about when we reference God’s divine judgment is actually judgment in any traditional sense, where deeds are punished or rewarded. So I think if what we’re looking for is “reconciling injustice” both the atheist and the theist might need to admit that there are challenges for each.

Like I said above, in a Christian view, I think that Jesus’ atonement actually DOES make it possible for murderers to “get away with it” as you say. From a secular view, I’d like to freely admit that I do not have access to any method to hold murderers accountable for their actions in any kind of cosmic or ultimate sense. Since I’m an empiricist, I try to proportion my beliefs to the evidence that I can find to support them. Although in some ways I would love to believe in some kind of universal system of cosmic justice, I don’t see any evidence of it, and I think you’d have to admit you don’t either. Like you point out, we don’t see justice on this earth in any kind of universal sense. Rather, we have tried to do our best through human systems of government and justice.

The important thing to acknowledge is that our wishes have nothing to do with objective reality. Most of us desire ultimate justice, but I don’t know what metaphysical right we have to expect it. The question is not which worldview gives us access to a hopeful version of reality, but which worldview gives us an ACCURATE version of reality. Since leaving the church, I have often felt a desperate desire to believe the hopeful doctrines I used to, but I cannot in good conscious continue to believe things for which I see little or no evidence, even if at times the truths I believe I’ve found are discouraging. On the flip-side, though, I also think that a secular worldview gives us more motivation and impetus to advocate for justice now, in our lifetimes. If we do not have a future judgment to look forward to, then what we do today truly matters. Anything we can do in our lives to reduce suffering and promote justice should be done, because this is the only shot we’ve got.

I’ll probably have some more thoughts on some of the other stuff you raise, since we’re more free to continue a polite dialogue here. :slight_smile:

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As it is pointed out mostly this is a male caused issue. Does this mean we should set two standards or policies? One for men and one for women?

Thank you again for your reply.

If, as you admit, there is no justice, how can you judge God as you have? You say he is unjust for what he has done, but with no standard, how can you condemn him?

You seem to have a keen sense of justice, but feel that it will never be realized. Where did that sense come from?

There is one thing that speaks to the possibility of cosmic justice: the wonderful design and complexity of the universe. It is exquisite. The play of light and matter, of life and love all speak to one who cared deeply in putting it together. There is evidence of great care and even love in its creation. It is only individuals who feel deeply about their creations that act in such a fashion.

The implication then would be that such care would cause the designer to bring about justice.

You may call on chance and necessity to have been the creators of this place, but that is really impossible.

Here is one example of how impossible that is:

The secular prophets say that the universe is slowly moving to thermal death, that is, the stars are burning out, all energy is dissipating, and the universe is moving to maximum entropy: no useful work will then be possible. It will be a cold dead state without life or hope reached in several billions of years. I have seen such predictions in several scientific journals

There is a problem. How did it all begin in the first place? If it is slowing running down from a minimum of entropy to a maximum, where did all that order and energy come from in the first place? You can’t get something form nothing. (and oscillating universes through friction run down with each oscillation, and result in the same end)

So the order I see, and the low entropy at the beginning speak to a creator that cares about his creation. It is not a large step to assume that he will right the wrongs that have occurred here, and the Bible confirms that. It is not a jump in the dark, but an inference to the best explanation.

I would speak to the core of Christian atonement theology, but I think this is enough for now.

Just happened upon this thread and had completely forgot about this dialogue! I’m happy to continue if you’d like, so here are just a couple more responses.

I want to be precise here, because I think we’re sliding a little in some of our use of words. I don’t think there is no justice at all. I don’t think there is cosmic or ultimate justice following our mortal lives, or any guarantee that any individual should expect justice in their life. But that’s not the same as saying that justice doesn’t exist. I think human systems of government and social organization have made some progress toward justice, although we have along way to go, and I’m somewhat skeptical of ever achieving some perfectly just human society.

Your question about standards I think is a question about the grounding for morality and moral views. Reluctantly, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot find evidence to support a belief in any kind of “objective” morality. I think that’s part of why humans disagree on moral questions so much! The fundamental problem is the old philosophical “is/ought” dilemma. It’s impossible to extract moral values from nature, because values are by definition subjective.

I actually think the theist is in a similar bind on this question if we consider the euthyphro dilemma. If we believe that morality comes in some way from God, then is an action right simply because he commands it? If that’s the case, then it seems like it makes morality arbitrary. As we see in the Hebrew Bible, some of those commands seem immoral on their face, yet if God commands them under such a framework, they MUST be morally right in some way. In such a scenario, we do have values, but they are God’s values, still apparently making them subjective, while also taking moral judgments out of human hands. On the other hand, if God is more like a wise parent, who guides us toward moral truths that he knows will be best for us in any possible universe, then he is not actually the source of those moral truths after all. And it seems like we could have access to them on our own, without a God to interpret and enforce morality.

My own view is that human morality has developed at the confluence of three essentially human values: empathy (understanding that others feel and suffer as we do), rationality (being able to consider and weigh the consequences of actions), and tribalism. This is why most humans generally agree on broad value statements such as “it is good to prevent harm, and bad to cause it.” This is not some kind of objective truth of the universe. No value statement ever could be, because there will always be people who DON’T share that value, although they are often a minority. At the same time, humans are selfish and opportunistic, so we end up with conflicting values. We value certain behaviors for ourselves, and see that others want the same, but we do not always live up to our instincts.

What does all of that have to do with justice? I think that any group of humans that can agree on a shared set of broad values, for instance, “don’t harm, and do help” can then use empirical methods to discover the best ways to create a society that achieves that, at least in a limited sense. Because I do not believe in a cosmic moral enforcer or ultimate justice, it makes the project of social justice that much more vital. This life is all we have, and if we value other humans and wish to maximize well-being, then we should take steps to create such a world now. I’m sure we disagree about much of that, but that’s how I see morality and social justice from a secular perspective. There are atheists who still argue for a form of “objective morality,” but I think, like many of us, they’re engaging in a little bit of wishful thinking.

Getting back to your original question of what “right” I have to judge God, or anyone, I’d say I have no greater or less right to my personal views of morality than anyone else. I form moral opinions of agents, be they divine or human, based on my values and observations or testimonies of their actions. When others disagree with me, such as in that pernicious internet example of “but what if the Nazi’s won WWII???” I’d point out in my view morality is absolutely not the result of some kind of poll. That’s a natural consequence of my belief that moral statements are essentially value statements and value statements are subjective. When I disagree with someone about a value, for instance if someone disagreed that “human life is valuable and/or that Jews are human,” I would still insist on my values. I might not convince them if we do not start with a shared value, because I can’t create an “ought.” I think, in a way, we must all admit that this is the observable way humans interact with moral values. In fact, this is exactly why wars are sometimes fought, because others disagree with us about fundamental values.

I agree. The universe is exquisite indeed! Like most people, I am sometimes brought to tears at the beauty of a sunset or a field of mountain flowers. We all have a similar aesthetic sense and broadly value beauty in similar ways, I think. At the same time, I have read a lot of psycho-social research that demonstrates how much we as a species tend to engage in “promiscuous teleology.” By that I mean that we tend to imbue things with human meaning and personification, even when we don’t have a right to do so. We see faces in trees, believe all manner of natural phenomena are “for” us in some sense–from rainbows to floods. Children will readily describe rocks as being “for” sitting on, and flowers for smelling.

If we’re speaking of evidence rather than subjective experiences, I’d agree with you in a way. I’d say that there is evidence of certain types of “order” in nature. And the emergence of DNA and life itself is still a profound mystery. Abiogenesis is not the same thing as “evolution” however. For evolution we need a self-replicating organism exhibiting genetic variability. We know quite a lot about how life evolved on earth, but we know very little about how it began.

On the flip-side, there is also much death, decay and suffering in nature. We see literally billions of years of predation and natural suffering in the fossil record. Our bodies are a mix of elegant structures and evolutionary bodges that function just “good enough.” Simple “design” choices such as sharing a single passage for both respiration and food intake are odd on their face if we believe we were purposefully made. Other examples, in humans alone, abound.

We’re covering a lot of apologetic ground in a short time! You’ve gone from a moral argument to a cosmological one in a couple paragraphs! Nicely done. I think it’s important to say that right off the bat the cosmological arguments from Christians are some of the strongest cases for theism. Not Christianity or an interventionist God, necessarily, but theism or deism perhaps. Low entropy in the early universe is indeed a mystery that cosmologists have yet to solve. There are a number of possible models on the table, but our study of the early universe is still very new, and some of the questions we have may be difficult or impossible to answer, even in principle. I don’t know how much time I should spend on this, but maybe the easiest thing to do is to lay out the cosmological argument as it’s usually presented (in this case by Bill Craig) and just outline my personal objections to it.

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

Objection: Although this intuitively feels like a metaphysical truism, I’m actually not sure we can be confident that everything that begins to exist has a cause. I think it may be a fallacy of composition. What we observe in human experience is that everything in our observable universe seems to have a cause, although quantum mechanics may even lead us to question that. Regardless, we don’t have any particular right to expect the same to be true when we step outside our universe and all known laws of physics. As weird as it might seem, something might exist without a cause.

  1. The universe began to exist;

Objection: Although the Big Bang is commonly thought of as being the beginning of the universe in popular culture. It’s more accurate to describe it as the “end of our understanding.” Cosmologists are still lacking a unified theory of quantum gravity that harmonizes relativity theory with quantum mechanics. The Big Bang might be the beginning of our universe, or it might be a phase in a bouncing eternal universe, or something else all together.

Therefore:
3. The universe has a cause.

On the basis of this syllogism you can than argue:

  1. The universe has a cause;

  2. If the universe has a cause, then an uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists who spans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful;

Objection: Although it’s not spelled out in this argument, the evidence backing this proposition is grounded in mind-body dualism. The thinking (at least from Bill Craig) seems to be that we humans only know of two possible things outside of the physical universe; mathematical objects (this is a very platonic view) and minds. He bases this on the supposition that human minds are not reducible to physical brains, but are the result of an interaction with our non-physical souls. Mathematical objects are not causal, so the only option for a cause of the universe is then an eternal “mind” of some kind, outside of space and time. To undercut this proposition, we only need to question the accuracy of human mind-body dualism, ironically a concept that I think most or all Adventists would reject. If our minds are simply what our brain does, then I’m not sure we have any evidence to suggest that something like a non-physical mind could possibly exist, especially outside of space and time. I won’t make a full argument against dualism, but I think although our understanding of mind and the brain is incomplete at this early stage, everything we’ve learned so far points to the physical brain being responsible for our minds. If you’re a traditional SDA you’ll probably agree.

Therefore:
3. An uncaused, personal Creator of the universe exists, who spans the universe is beginningless, changeless, immaterial, timeless, spaceless and enormously powerful.

If any one of those propositions is false, the argument doesn’t go through, and personally I see quite a few potential problems. That said, if science does at some point demonstrate to a high degree of confidence that the Big Bang is the beginning of the universe, and falsifies theories such as the multiverse, it would go some way toward my believing in some kind of a creative force, or even entity. I have a hard time getting from there to any kind of a personal or interventionist God though. It seems like a pretty big leap.

Thanks for the chance to dialogue about this stuff. I enjoy the chance to put some thoughts down, it helps me organize my thinking. Hope some of this might be helpful to you as well, perhaps just as a way to understand skeptics or atheists and be able to think about and respond to this stuff yourself.

Your arguments show that unless there is a God who brings justice about, there is no ultimate justice, or even justice at all, for the interpretation that a certain act or thing is just is not based on some “standard” of justice, but opinion. Unless God, who can see all, including motives, acts, there is NO justice.

I did not have formal training in ethics, (one course at the seminary), but am acquainted with euthyphro. I have thought about the Bible’s thinking on this in Habakkuk, a similar discussion.

Habakkuk sees injustice in Israel (God’s people), and complains to God, “Why do you allow my eyes to see injustice?” (Hab 1:2) In other words, how can you, a supposedly Holy God, allow such things?

God answers, I am going to do something that will make your ears tingle. “I am sending the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people…they are a law to themselves…guilty men whose own strength is their god.”

Habakkuk is shocked and objects. “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous then themselves?” (Hab 1:13)

God answers this second objection with what is called a “Taunt Song”, an ancient form of curse (Hab 2:4-20). He says that the Babylonians will also be judged for their wickedness.

The two of us, you an unbeliever, and I a theist, agree that without such a one as God, there is no ultimate justice (I would argue there is no justice, as all that purports to be such is opinion). You then object to any theistic answer by citing the euthyphro dilemma.

Habakkuk shows God’s answer to this problem. Habakkuk sees injustice and complains to God about it. God answers with the Babylonian sacking of Isreal. (God answers wickedness with more wickedness, Habakkuk objects that that is not righteous, just as the commands earlier in the OT are not righteous.) God answers this second objection by saying that those that God uses to right wrongs here will also face judgment (the Taunt Song of chapter 2). Although he may use unjust ways to right wrongs here, incomplete though that righting may be, there will be an ultimate assize where ALL are brought to judgment, and he will be the judge, not ones such as the Babylonians etc.

Psalm 94:1-10 states that the unjust judgments of this earth will be reversed.

But Habakkuk also reveals a different kind of righteousness, that is, righteousness by faith, not by works of righteousness.

Paul quotes Hab 2:4 …but the righteous will live by his faith…, when he speaks of such in the Romans.

For it is not justice that is our problem, it is mercy. We all deserve judgment. I mentioned earlier that you had not seen the true nature of sin, for you argued against God’s acts. In so doing you reveal that you have not seen the unholiness of your own acts.

If one really sees what one is like, one is humbled by the revelation of the sinfulness of his own motives and doings. Such a one knows that regardless of what are the issue are with others, he is deserving of judgement alone, and it is not justice that such a one longs for, but mercy. Psalms 32 and 51 reveal such an attitude.

And so Habakkuk prays his prayer in chapter 3 of his small book. A prayer of faith in God, and submission ot his will.

If one cannot convince, then the only way for one to prevail is by force. This shows that really the way of righteousness here on earth (without God’s intervention) is that might makes right. You disagree with the Nazis on the nature of Jewish human-ness. That issue was decided by force of arms. The Nazi’s lost. But that has not settled the question actually (there are plenty of antisemites around). Without God, any opinion on that is just that, an opinion.

Now, re: the cosmological argument:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

You answer:

Mine:

So, there is no evidence for anything coming into being without a cause, everything, so far, in this universe has one. No known entity without a cause. But the creation as a whole may be such a thing?

On what basis? There is no evidence that such a thing could happen.

So your objection is actually a speculation. That is not an objection.

  1. The universe began to exist (the big bang)

Your answer:

Mine:

The lack of a unified theory of quantum gravity and quantum mechanics does not preclude the evidence for the beginning. There was a beginning, admitted by all. Any other type of universe, so far, is not theoretically possible. So, a beginning is true, regardless.

  1. The universe has a cause, and was caused by an uncaused personal creator.

My answer:

The idea of an uncaused personal creator with the characteristics mentioned is a big leap. Most people do not have a problem with deity as such, because most people tend toward theism of some sort.

But for those who stumble over the idea of an all powerful God who is uncaused, as opposed to an uncaused universe, God gives evidence. And it is powerful evidence: he predicts the future.

And this evidence is found scattered throughout scripture. God specifically states that that is how he will prove himself (Is 41:21-23) “Present your case,” says Jehovah. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. "Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen (or your secular prophets). Tell us what the former things were so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us so we may know that you are gods… "

So God gives as evidence that he is the uncaused cause by saying he can predict the future. States it plainly.

The best is Daniel 2 with the great image predicting the general outline of Mediterranean history. More detail is provided in Dan 7 and 8. But the outlines are quite accurate.

And BTW, there is no way we will know about a multiverse. So the idea is pure unprovable speculation.

The argument for God is evidence called the ‘Inference to the best explanation’ because there is no other explanation available. The alternative is to think you can get something from nothing. If God had not provided the prophecies, then there would be more room for doubt.

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