(Note: Any mention of morality below is in the context of a reductio ad absurdum argument. The author does not believe a moral realm exists.)
You will often hear Christians attempt to salvage their Jehovah from moral incoherence by arguing that the slavery, treatment of raped women, and other atrocities ordered or condoned by Jehovah were not quite as horrible as they appear. Let’s call this argument “The Argument from Diminutive Account”. This argument fails on two counts. To employ this argument requires the apologist to hold that…
- the more severe version of events they are arguing against would constitute a moral offense if Jehovah were to order or condone these more severe versions of events
(If it were not a moral offense, why make the argument the event is a milder form than what it seems?)
Yet by what moral standard do they determine the more severe account transgresses the threshold of what is moral? What could be their moral standard? How do they know the harsher version is morally wrong?
- the milder version of events is not a moral offense
(Yet, Christians today refuse to act consistent with the milder version, out of a belief that it would be immoral
Yet, by what standard do they judge these actions immoral now, but moral then?
The formalization of this is as follows.
- P1: Christians hold that whatever their god condones is moral.
- P2: Christians hold that the apparent condoning of activity “X” found in the bible is not immoral because the activity is actually a diminutive “x”.
- C1: Therefore, Christians hold that “X” would be immoral even if their god condoned “X”. (P2)
- C2: Therefore, Christians hold 2 logically contradictory notions. (P1 & C1)
- P3: Christians would refuse to follow diminutive “x” because they deem it immoral.
- C3: Therefore, Christians hold 2 logically contradictory notions. (P2 & P4)
Let’s deal with each of these two problems with the Christian’s argument that “God’s actions were not as bad as reported.”
1. If you are going to argue that Jehovah remains moral because action “X” was actually of a lesser severity we’ll tag “x”, then you are admitting that “X” is immoral. Yet, how did you arrive at that conclusion? What is your standard for that belief? Would Jehovah had been immorally if he had ordered “X”? Why else would you be arguing that “X” is actually “x” if not to make Jehovah moral? Yet, is it not the words and actions of Jehovah that define morality? Would not “X” then be, by definition, moral since it deemed moral by the author of morality? What other possible standard of morality is there within Christian ideology? This is the first incoherency of the Argument from Diminutive Account.
2. If you are going to argue that Jehovah remains moral because action “X” was actually of a lesser severity we’ll tag “x”, then you must hold that the diminutive “x” is moral. However, the milder versions of slavery and stonings and slaughtering of infidels Christians argue for they admit they would not themselves perform. When pressed, they will admit that even that milder version of what Jehovah ordered or condoned is immoral. Yet how do they arrive at the conclusion that this action is now immoral, yet was moral in the past? Where does this standard of morality come from?
To be more precise, Christians would would not hesitate to condemn all forms of slavery today. What makes slavery of any sort moral then but immoral now? Would it now be moral to burn alleged witches or homosexuals if Jehovah were to command it? Can any coherent and consistent standard of morality be offered for moral dilemmas today? I’ve seen attempts, but they all amounted to ad hoc fragmented “principles” that are only accessible to “scholars” of their own particular Christian sect.
For these two reason, the Argument from Diminutive Account fails. You can’t claim a diminutive version of a Jehovah-sanctioned action is any less than immoral then the harsher version unless you clearly state your criteria for that moral assessment. And if you currently consider immoral the diminutive account of an act once approved by Jehovah, you’ll need to explain why moral facts can change and still be deem objective.