Two Unanswerable Dilemmas Concerning God and Morality

God is like a parent who tells his children "Do as I say and not as I do."

God commands us to do good, to be kind, to be merciful, and seek after justice for the disenfranchised, but he doesn't do it. Do as I say and not as I do, is the divine message.

God is the ultimate hypocrite. Christians worship a divine hypocrite who is above ethical standards. Yet they maintain God is the standard for ethics. A whole industry of apologists for this hypocritical God has arisen to justify his deeds and his inaction in our world. It doesn't make any sense at all. Christians don't make sense. They call good evil and evil good. Woe to people like that, God hypocritically said (Isaiah 5:20).

What can justify this divine hypocrisy? 1) Creation. He's the creator. We aren't. So he has the right to take our lives because he made us. 2) Omniscience. He has it. We don't. So he knows what is best. Power (or ownership) and Knowledge. This supposedly justifies why he acts differently than he commands us to act. This is why he can do evil and call it good. This is why he can tell us to do as I say and not as I do. Do these twin attempted justifications offer an adequate apology for God? No, no, no.

There are cases, plenty of them, where the "do as I say and not as I do" ethic is a legitimate one. Consider the owner of a company who tells his employees to start work at 6 AM even though he doesn't come in until 8 AM. Consider a parent who tells his underage children they cannot watch an R-Rated movie, go on a date, or drink a beer.

If these cases obtain then it's argued God can do the same.


What's the difference?

It lies in the nature of the deeds themselves. Company owners and parents are not morally permitted to abuse human beings under their control as a means to an end (think Immanuel Kant). The ethical principle is that abusing people is morally wrong.

Get. Point. The.

The Christian apologist will rhetorically ask, "Who's to judge whether God is abusing his creatures?" They will say, "We cannot know this because we're not omniscient." For their God is the ethical standard for what they consider as abusive, and by their definition of God he is never abusive.

End of story. Checkmate atheists!

Not so fast, oh deluded ones.

Dilemma One: To save divine command theories from the Euthyphro dilemma posed by Socrates, apologists have been forced into arguing that God's character, not his commands, is our ethical standard. According to divine command theories, utterly divorced from the biblical realities, we must obey God's commands simply because that's what a powerful deity commands. No other justification is needed except that God commands us to do what he commands. According to the more recent modified divine command theories, God's character itself, not his arbitrary commands, is the perfectly good non-abusive ethical standard. So either divine command theories can survive the intellectual assault of the Euthyphro dilemma, or God's character is the standard for ethical action.

But divine command theories cannot survive the intellectual assault of the Euthyphro dilemma.

One horn of the Euthyphro dilemma forces Christians to argue that we should not act as God does, but rather, we should obey his arbitrary commands even if they are abusive, simply because that's what he commands. God tells us to do things that he himself isn't obligated to do. Do as I say and not as I do, would be the divine message. The other horn, whereby God must obey a set of moral obligations above and beyond himself, is thought of as unthinkable given that God would not be the author of morality, and as a result must obey a set of moral rules he did not create.

Since divine command theories cannot survive the intellectual assault of the Euthyphro dilemma then modified divine command theories have been used to replace it, arguing that God's character becomes the ethical standard for human action, not his commands. Or, to be fair, God's commands are completely consistent with God's character and we should act like he does. He cannot tell us to "do as I say and not as I do." So which is it? Choose. But choose wisely, for here come the kicker.

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify passing by a man beaten and robbed by the roadside. If we are to act based on God's character then we should all be Good Samaritans. God should be a Good Samaritan.

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify watching a man slowly roast to death in a house fire.

No amount of ownership, no amount of knowledge, can ethically justify eating popcorn while watching as a woman is beaten, gang raped, and then left for dead.

In fact, since the ethical standard is the perfect character of God (per modified divine command theories) and this God has omniscience and omnipotence, then God is even MORE obligated to alleviate suffering. For while we may not have the power or knowledge to intervene when we see intense suffering, God is not limited like us. The more that a person has the knowledge and the ability (or power) to alleviate suffering, then the more that person is morally obligated to help by intervening.

We may not know that someone is suffering, so we are not morally obligated to help because we are ignorant about it.

We may know someone is suffering but we lack to ability or power to help.

We may not have the financial resources to help a man beaten and robbed by the roadside. We may not have the ability to save a man who is burning in a house fire. We may not have the physical strength to save a woman who is being beaten and gang raped. It's true we should act based on our knowledge by doing what we can. But since God is supposedly omniscient and omnipotent there is no excuse for him. Period. No ifs ands or buts about it.

Dilemma Two: If God can justify letting us suffer in this life by compensating us in the next life, then that ethical principle allows us to do the same thing (per modified divine command theories). We can knowingly allow people to suffer even though we could help them, so long as we compensate them afterward for our inaction. That same ethical principle would allow someone to sit by and do nothing while others abduct and abuse a woman, and then compensate her with a million dollars afterward. Does the compensation justify the deed? No. Compensating someone for abuse does not justify the abuse. Abuse is still abuse. To see this just ask if such a woman would prefer to skip the abuse and just receive the million dollars. Her answer would be an unequivocal yes.

Why can God violate these ethical principles that we are obligated to obey, if morality is based on his character? If he's our ethical standard and acts like an inattentive and inactive monster, then why can't we act like him? If we cannot act like him, because it would be unethical for us to do so, then God's character is no longer the basis for morality. Which is it? Again, choose. But choose wisely. For then we are back to the dilemma of the Euthyphro all over again.