On All About Android this week one of the reviewers shared a game called Babel Rising where you are God and you can smite men building the tower of Babel. Ron Richards was having a great time with it. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition between an obviously fun and light-hearted little game and the more serious common protest I hear about God taking human life in the Bible.
The Dilemma of Judgment
Our judgments are always our own and I was reflecting on judging God in this way and the development of our cultural filters. Moral judgments are so often about frames of reference.
Imagine protesting the decision of a farmer as he weeds his field. Such a thing is unthinkable. We simply assert the right of a farmer to determine which species of plant will prosper in his field and which species he will obliterate.
Our biases seem quite pro animal and blind to the well being of the plants of the world. What we see is that our judgments are all about construals and most of these construals we simply inherit from the people around us.
The God of Evolution
I often find it enormously ironic when friends of mine who fully and unquestionably embrace evolution as the guiding principle of creation protest the smiting God of the Bible as unbelievable on the basis of His willingness to take human life. If natural science should teach us anything it is that if there is a creating god he/she/it or hen is used to using violence and death to achieve desired creational outcomes. Mass plant and animal extinction is indeed the norm of the process of life differentiation and violent collisions by rocks in space form the worlds.
If you accept a natural science narrative about world creation it is in no way out of character for the creator to take life easily and quickly whether by natural disaster (flood) or special treatment (plague, fire and brimstone, earthquake or smiting).
Many hold the contradictory notion that the only god they would value would be a nice, gentle, non-violent god who would never hurt a thing, but upon what evidence would you point to that such a god made the world or exists at all? Based on what we know of the natural world we indeed would need some divine revelation to imagine a god of love who actually cares not only for humanity as a species but also for people and their individual feelings.
Any notion of a creator God presumes divine exceptionalism.
Modern Liberalism and the Imago Dei
As I’m gleaning notes and quotes from the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing one of Marilynne Robinson’s quote stuck with me. “You will never find the suggestion in the Bible that there is not a human being made in the image of God.”
One of the great contributions that Christianity has made to modern, western liberalism is the idea of human exceptionalism. We defend our own. You can find this assumption rolling off the tongues of theists and atheists alike. It is the foundation for the protestation of the violent god of the Bible. “He has no right!”
The irony of course is that the imago dei in us is derivative of the original image. Human exceptionalism is a subset of divine exceptionalism. Nick Woltersdorff has been writing about the question of whether our embrace of human exceptionalism can survive the loss of a theistic world.
If you lose divine exceptionalism you also lose human exceptionalism. If you listen to the fashionable atheists today the assert that human exceptionalism is simply the result of our species’ desire to dominate. There is no inherent right to human survival apart from our capacity to enforce our privileged position over what we can control or influence. In such a case there is also no prohibition from eliminating human adversaries that we judge to be undermining our view of the long term thriving of the human species. That puts us back to Nietzsche. There is no should, there is only can.
If there is no god, only competitive natural process, then there is no “ought” beyond self-preserving struggle, which will involve weeding and taking of life. Human exceptionalism is a fortunate human fantasy and a subset of the struggle for life.
A Harder Thing to Believe
Christianity instead asks us to believe something more difficult while at the same time more reasonable. That this God who weeds, is also a God who loves. What such an idea forces us to do is to evaluate our own capacity for evaluation and to begin to sometimes doubt our own judgment.