This is Your Brain on ApologeticsApril 30, 2011
The title of this post comes from a line in Thom Stark’s recent review of Paul Copan’s new book, Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.
Copan is a Christian apologist. His book attempts to fend off the challenge (leveled most recently by various “New Atheists”) that the God of the Old Testament is a rather unpleasant fellow. A straightforward reading of the text might lead one to conclude that the OT God endorsed ethnic cleansing, slavery, unjust laws, draconian punishments and the oppression of women (to name a few of the biggies). Copan comes to the rescue with a variety of alternative interpretive suggestions and the idea that God was accommodating his message to the Ancient Near Eastern culture. In other words, it wasn’t perfect, but it was the best God could do given the cultural baggage of the people he was working with.
Thom Stark’s review of Copan’s book is, to put it bluntly, scathing. Stark systematically pulls apart Copan’s arguments, one after the other, to show that Copan’s interpretive strategies are little more than wishful thinking. He also makes a strong case that Copan’s accommodation argument fails on the grounds that other ancient legal codes, such as the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, frequently contain more progressive (i.e. less morally repugnant) laws than those in the OT.
Stark’s review is over 300 pages long and is worthy of a book in and of itself. I’d encourage you to take the time to read it for yourself. The content is fascinating. I’ll whet your appetite with an excerpt that resonated with me in light of my own frustration with Christian apologetics. Stark writes as follows at pp. 132-33:
Politicians and their supporters engage in this sort of thing incessantly, defending immoral policies and laws in the name of this or that ideology, or attempting to hide their existence by distracting attention. This is what Paul Copan does, alongside so many other Christian apologists, and Christians need to get wise and stop accepting dishonest answers just because they’re the kind of answers we’d like to hear. If our faith is such that we have to be dishonest in order to maintain it, then woe to us!
Moreover, apologists like Copan need to get wise and realize that when Christians figure out that the apologists have been lying to them, they’re usually going to become disillusioned and leave the faith. Most likely, they’ll read an argument from an atheist that displays how lame the standard apologetic arguments are, and they’ll assume the only alternative to lame apologetic answers is atheism. People like me, who remain Christian, and who seek to help struggling Christians find ways to maintain their faith without being intellectually dishonest, are fewer and farther between than the fundamentalists on either side of the theistic divide. Christians who are looking for quick answers to throw at non-Christians, in order to buttress a faith they refuse to doubt, will continue to buy books like Copan’s and without any intellectual effort choose to be persuaded by them. But Christians who are genuinely struggling with the horror texts in the Bible, Christians who have heard the apologists’ answers and continue to struggle, they’re not going to be persuaded by these cheap, easy apologetics books. They’re going to read these books, see right through them, throw them down in disgust, and walk away from the faith. Christian apologists create atheists. I know, because atheists have told me so.
Christians need to start sending a message to these pious spin doctors. We demand the truth, and if the truth messes with our comfort, with our institutions, with our doctrines, then we’ll wrestle with that honestly, and figure out how to have a more mature faith. But a faith based on lies is no faith at all—no faith to speak of. If God is truth, then a faith sustained by lies is nothing other than faith in a false god. Apologists like Paul Copan are perpetrators of a false religion, and we have to call them, forcefully yet compassionately, to repent. We understand that they’re trying to be pious. We understand that they’re not being intentionally malicious. We empathize with their need to salvage the Bible in order to feel secure in the faith. But if we’re going to say we believe in a God of truth, then we must condemn any and all less-than-truthful efforts to defend the God(s) of the Bible. Enough is enough!