Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blog Adventures - Good or "Good"?

I am getting into a bit of trouble over here in the comments section of Baptist pastor Wade Burleson's blog. Wade leads Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, OK.

I realize many readers of this blog question Christianity, particularly conservative Christianity, in terms of epistemology. People often judge their religion's truth by different methods and standards than they do many aspects of everyday life - this is called compartmentalization. This is an essential topic to discuss. But I am even more interested in moral compartmentalization, where some believers attribute actions to a "good" God that they would never consider good for themselves or for others. When this happens, when the word "good" is divorced from what we consider to be good, then the word loses its meaning.

As a former Baptist who grew up in the town of Enid, this is the angle I take when occasionally dipping my toe in here. Wade is smart fellow, a historical scholar, and a nice guy, so he, and the other fine folks folks commenting, are fun to interact with.


  1. I sympathize- I think the way it works is that god is defined as good, so the criterion moves from being humanistic at its core (what do I want as a human.. what does my conscience say?) to being divine-commanded.

    Thus people end up deeply confused about how morals work, and have to take the back door of saying that god constructed my conscience, so therefore, my conscience is good as a guide to lower hierarchies of being, even while I can not judge god- the author of my conscience, who must have good and mysterious reasons for "his" high-level affairs.

    So the minute you accept the god concept, you have overthrown your own moral sovereignty and given it to whatever and whoever defines what that god is. And as I would never tire of pointing out, that tends to be a social process among people who don't know a shred more about it than anyone else does, since it's a made-up concept.

  2. Burk,

    I agree!

    Another way to propose the dilemma is this - What our consciences tells us is often described as "natural law" in Christianity. But what happens when what God is reported as having done violates our sense of natural law?

    We must question the reports of God or our own conscience, or neuter the word "good" of its meaning.

    I do, however, think that there are forms of God that derive their very meaning from our own "moral sovereignty". But, as I often say, concepts of God (or even more generally, "authority") receive devotion from followers based on either perceived power or perceived goodness.

    I would hope more of us would choose the latter than the former (and then dress the former up as "good" instead of good)

  3. I don't know that it is appropriate to view this as God's morality versus our morality; rather, I think it is more akin to the moral notions of an adolescent versus his/her parents. What is the primary difference between those two groups? I would say that it is the knowledge on the part of the parents of the larger picture. When a thinking Christian places his/her trust in biblical edicts it is like the teen trusting that his parents (who seem to always end up being right about these sorts of things) are steering him in the right direction... even if he doesn't understand fully the reasons for that particular guideline.

    Based on other experiences or other facets of God, the Christian is trusting that there is a larger picture in view that would sway him to the same conclusion if the larger picture were perceptible to him... at least this is how I generally hear it explained. This strikes me as a wise course of action.

  4. I think the problem is when "God's morality" seems to really violate ours directly.

    It sounds a lot more like ancient human morality, when say, God kills David's son to punish David. That is not just.

    Even with an incomplete picture, we must make the best decisions before us. And I trust God speaking through the conscience more than through ancient writing.

    Even with the incomplete picture idea, we are still trusting our own sense of right and wrong. We are saying that in the end, God's actions, which appear evil, will work out for good - by our sense of good.

    I can accept that, except with an everlasting hell, because that shows that even in the end, there are aspect of God's creation that do not work out the best for all.

    If I were in heaven, knowing that everlasting suffering was taking place, would I call it good? Perhaps, but it seems a bit of brainwashing would have to take place for that to be true.

    And if it is true, then we can make no judgements about concepts of God, for the incomplete picture idea could be plugged in anywhere. By suicide bombers, for instance.

  5. You are not alone. I hold tenaciously to Jesus’ virgin birth, his bodily resurrection from the dead, and his bodily return to earth one day. Aside from that, I now think that the rest of the stuff from the Nicene fathers to the medievals both Catholic & Protestant, is largely conjectural & based on a particular view of Scripture which I no longer hold. How’s that for a Lutheran plowboy who’s read the stuff and no longer comes up with the same conclusions?

    There are those who hold that I am unregenerate, beyond the pale of orthodoxy, and destined for the fires of hell, but I can no longer go against my conscience. I can no longer acquiesce to a theology that runs counter to my grain as a human being made in God’s image

  6. "There are those who hold that I am unregenerate, beyond the pale of orthodoxy, and destined for the fires of hell, but I can no longer go against my conscience. I can no longer acquiesce to a theology that runs counter to my grain as a human being made in God’s image."

    Amen, friend!