Does God Do the Right Thing?
If you’ve listened to one of our episodes, you’ve heard the tagline “a podcast all about exploring big ideas and discovering truth together.” Here at Open to Truth, we care about discovering whether ideas are true or not. A lot. This can be more or less difficult, of course, depending on what it is we are talking about.
Sometimes we really try to tackle some doozies!
The exploration of big ideas can take the form of flying a biplane over a forest and getting the lay of the land - other times we take the machete and hack’n’slash our way through the jungle bramble of some complicated stuff.
Both are valuable.
This week’s topic feels like a bit of both - like you are flying above, then parachuting down to do some hacking, then having Scotty beam you back up to fly a bit more. Rinse and repeat.
The topic is God’s relationship with morality.
Here’s a question - Does God always do what is morally right?
Atheist: No, because God doesn’t do anything. God doesn’t exist. But, I suppose if God existed, then sure, that makes sense, God would always do the right thing.
Biblical critic: I’m not so sure. This Yahweh character in the Bible does some things that at least seem to be morally suspect. If this guy exists, I wouldn’t be too sure God always does the right thing.
Philosopher: I’m sorry to have to do this...What do you mean by “God” and what do you mean by “morally right”? If “God” is a title that you earn if you are morally perfect, then a being that failed to be morally perfect shouldn’t be referred to as “God.”
Traditional Theist: God is the standard bearer of morality. Everything God does is by definition and necessarily morally right. Who are we to say that something God does is wicked? We are lowly humans and he is God!
Now, these are just examples - the atheist, critic, philosopher, or theist don’t have to respond that way, but it goes to show the various perspectives and ways one could try to answer the question.
Piggy-backing on the Traditional Theist comment, let’s look at a new, slightly modified question:
Must God always do what is morally right?
It’s a reasonable next question to the theist. If God is the standard-bearer, the grounding, is somehow the definitional and metaphysical foundation for all morality, then it would be odd to say “no” to this question.
And yet, many people actually do feel the urge to say “no” to that question.
The worry is that you are taking something away from God by subjugating God to morality. It is a problem, so they say, to make God “bend the knee” to moral principles. There seems to be a commitment to a strong doctrine of sovereignty or holiness (otherness) that requires God to be “above” all else, even morality.
There’s some intuitive pull there. Morality, at least for human beings, involves restriction; there are some behaviors that one ought not do. That’s what we mean when we say something is “morally binding”; you have to do it, on pain of being immoral. It feels weird to say that God is bound in this way.
And yet, if God’s nature constitutes or is the originative source of goodness, then God would still be bound to follow morality, but would not be “beneath” it in the way we are.
If we run with this thinking, we get a fairly clear answer of “yes” to “Must God always do what is right?”. God’s nature compels it.
But, here’s my issue - is that really the kind of morality we should find praiseworthy about God?
When we find actions morally praiseworthy amongst humans, let’s say the sacrificial act of the soldier who jumps on a live grenade to prevent his unsuspecting comrades from injury or death, we offer that praise, in part, because the soldier didn’t have to. She could have chosen a number of options - jump away to safety or even push a comrade onto the grenade instead of her (yikes!). But, the fact that the virtuous path was freely chosen among a range of options infuses the act with even more moral value.
Maybe this is just my own faulty moral intuitions, but I worry that God’s morality on the above picture is a cheap one. If God must do what is morally right as a matter of necessity in virtue of God’s essence or nature, then it is a very different kind of morality than ours and we need a new paradigm of moral praiseworthiness when it comes to the divine.
Or, we can think differently about the relationship of God and morality.
What do you think? We talk all about some different alternatives in this week’s episode “Does God Have Moral Obligations?” You can watch on Youtube, or listen on your favorite podcatcher.