When debating morality and ethics with Christian theists, scorn is often poured on secular ethicists who adhere to moral disciplines that are not grounded in God. Usually, these moral approaches are consequentialist in nature. In other words, moral actions are defined by the consequences they deliver as opposed to the intrinsic morality of the action itself. The ends justify the means. As an example, such an approach might well be utilitarianism. Though this appears in many guises (for example, act and rule utilitarianism), it basically dictates that a good action is one which derives the most ‘good’, or happiness, as a consequence.
Theists claim that good acts are good intrinsically, and the basis for this goodness is the nature of God himself. Now, I do not want to get into the vagaries of Divine Command Theories but suffice it to say there are many good arguments against such positions.
What is important to understand, however, is that God is not a moral absolutist; he is, at least extremely often, a moral consequentialist. In other words, God does not (again, at least very commonly) believe that actions are right or wrong, regardless of their consequences or the contexts in which the actions take place, but derive their rightness from their context or consequences.
The proof for this is unbelievably commonplace. We could start with the sacrifice and death of Jesus. But there are far more obvious acts (or omissions). Take Noah’s flood. The death of all of humanity bar eight, the death of billions of animals and ecosystems, would strike many as being ‘not good’. Many could argue that such an action (enacted by God) is intrinsically bad. However, God nevertheless enacted this destruction. Why? Because there was a greater good that would come from it – there has to be or God cannot be labelled all-loving. The end justifies the means. God is being a consequentialist.
Let’s look at God allowing the 2004 tsunami, allowing the Holocaust, the floods, volcanoes, fires, other tsunamis and every single natural disaster since the beginning of time... In fact, by God allowing every single bit of suffering, every single death, that has ever happened to any human being or animal since the Big Bang (or Genesis Creation) we can see that on every single occasion God has been consequentialist. The consequences of every single piece of suffering must (if God is all loving, powerful enough to have it otherwise and knowledgeable enough to know how to have it otherwise) outweigh the intrinsic ‘badness’ of the action.
So either God (or the theist) believes that actions are not intrinsically good or bad, or the consequences of the actions are more important than the intrinsic value of the actions. Thus, even if intrinsic moral values exist as well as consequentialism, it seems that consequentialism trumps intrinsic moral value every time suffering is allowed to happen.
Therefore, the next time you get into a debate about morality with a theist and they try to denigrate secular consequentialism, demand that they explain such a criticism in light of God’s ubiquitous reliance on the virtue of consequentialism himself.
In : Religion
Tags: morality "god's characteristics"
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