I’m a regular listener to the Unbelievable podcast. This weekly podcast is produced by Premier Christian Radio. The format is usually a discussion between a theist and an atheist ably moderated by host Justin Brierly. Occasionally however, as with this week, the program is devoted to a discussion between various brands of theist. I usually don’t bother with these shows, and this episode didn’t seem promising. A discussion about the nature of hell seems about as valuable as a discussion on the nature of Santa’s workshops. I struggled through the frankly fatuous back and forth to the end of the show in the hope that the emails and letters at the end might turn up something interesting. So it was that I came to this gem.
A couple of weeks ago the episode had been about how Christians reconcile their claim of a loving god with the biblical passage about the slaughter of the Amalekites by the Israelites. The passage is from 1 Samuel 15, in it Yahweh sends his prophet Samuel to command King Saul to kill “both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” It is a hard passage to excuse and as you’d expect the Christian didn’t have much luck. Instead, he resorting to victim blaming and mystery.
And so to the email response on this weeks Unbelievable which I’ll comment as I transcribe.The email is from John Ferguson from Calgury Canada.
I greatly enjoyed the program between the John Alistair and Justin Sheba. I thought both speakers were worthy opponents, both raised good questions and made good points.
We’ll have to disagree on that one, I found John Alistair’s attempts at excusing the bible frankly embarrassing. Just to pick one example at random, claiming that armies move slowly therefore the Amalekites could easily have escaped is frankly ridiculous.
As a Christian this is a difficult passage, even emotionally gut wrenching and for good reason. I believe that the bible teaches clearly that every person has inherent value and potential because they are made in the image of God…
Okay, so faced with the evidence of the actual bible and what the actual bible actually says why on earth would you believe that the bible teaches that every person has inherent value? The bible clearly states otherwise. The instruction is to “slay both man and woman, infant and suckling”. Slay them. Slay them all. Not value them. This is what is says in the bible. Why would you believe the bible “teaches that every person has inherent value”? It manifestly does not.
…but how given atheism is the killing of children morally reprehensible?
Seriously? “given atheism”? Which part of atheism would make it not morally reprehensible? To kill is to take the life of another. I know that I do not want my life taken therefore I know that others don’t want their life taken, it’s as simple as that.
As Dawkins contends: “the universe simply doesn’t care. There is no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”
The universe. Not the people. The universe. Trees don’t care. Gravel is neither good nor evil. The clouds in the sky show blind pitiless indifference to the events on the ground below them. So what? It’s the people that count, not the universe. People do show a natural empathy to others. An empathy that has no need for a god or any other external source of morality. I know that I don’t like to suffer. I can assume that no-one else likes to suffer and back up this assumption through observation. All I need to do to discern right from wrong is to apply one simple test. Does it cause suffering? There will be grey areas and ambiguities, there always are but with thought, debate and experience we can work out what is for the best. No god, no universal objective morality.
This argument comes up fairly regularly on Unbelievable. I think the host finds is quite persuasive. He’ll say things like “If Hitler had won the second world war wouldn’t we all think that killing the jews was morally acceptable?” Well no, no we wouldn’t. Obviously we wouldn’t. Killing people causes suffering. It causes death. How can it possibly be morally correct. Only a religion could condone that sort of behaviour. A moments rational, empathetic thought would reveal it to me a moral monstrosity, just like the murder of the Amalekites.
No doubt atheists stipulate various theories of morality to deny the implications of their world view…
What implications? What on earth are you talking about? Lets just look back at the program for a moment. Which side was arguing that the parents of the children were at fault for living in a war zone? Was it the atheist? Nope.
…but if all we’re really left with is the survival of the fittest…
Survival of the fittest? Seriously. Survival of the fittest is the mechanism behind evolution. It is not an ethical guideline. What on earth has survival of the fittest got to do with the morality of anyone? Can you name any figure from the atheist community who espouses survival of the fittest as moral guidance?
…and contrived moralities…
Do you mean thought out, rational ethics?
…I fail to see how an atheist can have a straight face and feign moral indignation…
Now you are just being insulting. ‘Feign moral indignation’. Are you saying that the atheist who is appalled by the barbarities in the bible is lying? Really?
…at certain accounts in the bible they inexplicably find morally distasteful…
Inexplicably? Really? Have you ever talked to an atheist?
The sanctimonious assumptions behind this type of argument really annoys me. Not happy with simply disagreeing with the atheist worldview the religionist has to parade their ‘moral superiority’. Well it won’t wash. It really won’t. Enough. Look at the things that even modern religion is responsible for. Who is the biggest, most vocal group against gay rights? Who is responsible for the biggest cover up of child abuse in recent history? Who tries to enslave women though the restriction of contraceptive rights? Who promises eternal life in exchange for killing? Who tries to teach manifest falsehoods in schools? Who mutilates the genitals of their children, both male and female? Who stands up against the right of people in pain to die a dignified death? Who is the only group in society allowed to discriminate legally against women? Who tried to stop girls being immunised against HPV? I’ll give you a clue. Its not the atheists.