God Behaving Badly? – Introduction

By Timothy Fox

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

– Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

% Common Answers Kids God

Christians maintain that God is all-good, all-loving, and the ultimate standard of morality. However, many atheists hold the opposite view of God, evidenced by Dawkins’ infamous rant above. They claim that God is a moral monster who committed or commanded many immoral actions in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament.

The purpose of this series, God Behaving Badly? is to respond to these claims. But before examining any specific instances of God’s supposed immoral behavior, we first need to define what we mean by immoral.

Objective vs. Subjective Morality

For an action to be called immoral, it must be contrary to some moral code. So what is this moral code that the atheist is accusing God of breaking? If it is his own personal opinion on how people should act, then who cares what the atheist thinks? It’s tantamount to him saying “I don’t like what God did in the Old Testament.” Well, so what? That’s your opinion.

This is known as subjective morality, meaning that every person, or group of people, decides for him- or herself what is right or wrong. I have my moral code, you have your moral code, and there’s no way of judging between them. But is that really how morality works? No. There are certain actions that are really right or wrong for everyone. For example, it is truly good to love and care for a little child and it is truly evil to harm and abuse her. This applies to all people at all times. And this is what is known as objective morality.

Grand Moral Authority

But where does this moral code come from and why must we follow it? We know that human laws come from a human authority, like a ruler or government. And an objective moral law that binds every human being across all of the time requires a grand moral authority who rules over everyone and everything: God.

God is the ultimate standard of right and wrong. Behaviors that align with God’s nature or commands are good and actions that contradict them are evil. This is how we determine right and wrong. So for an atheist to accuse someone of performing a truly immoral act, he is actually providing evidence for God’s existence.


To complain that God has committed immoral acts is also to admit there is an objective moral law. But God is the best explanation of objective morality. Therefore, calling certain actions truly immoral actually provides evidence for God’s existence.

However, a skeptic may instead argue that God has done things in the Old Testament that contradict his all-loving, morally perfect nature. Then we must examine the actual act or command and see if God had a morally-admissible reason for it. The one cited most often is the destruction of the Canaanites, which will be the subject of my next article.


This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on The Mentionables blog.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2AA2dwp

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25 replies
  1. Sam Harper says:

    A person like Dawkins might just as well concede that a moral law implies a moral law-giver, then go on to make the following argument: We only know there’s a moral law because we have moral intuitions that inform us of them. Those same moral intuitions inform us that the acts of God in the Bible are wrong. If we want to trust our moral intuitions, then we must reject the God of the Bible in favor of some other god–perhaps an unknown god. If a theist wants to maintain that the God of the Bible is moral in spite of his acts appearing to us as immoral, then the theist undermines his basis for believing in objective morality at all. After all, if it is by intuition that we know about morality, but we admit our intuitions are wrong, then we cannot rely on our intuitions, which throws morality into doubt. So either way, there’s something squirrelly about the theist who believes in the Biblical God. It seems to me the only way to deal with this kind of objection is to demonstrate that the acts of God in the Bible are not immoral after all and to do so in such a way that is consistent with generally accepted moral intuitions.

    • Matthew James Miller says:

      Moral intuitions? Hmmm. Do these intuitions then appeal to our conscience in a manner to produce in our hearts guilt or shame? Are these intuitions, too? Did these intuitions evolve? Then all living beings would have this intuition? Yes, we see this in all of creation. This still doesn’t exclude the Creator from having placed this intuition in our hearts, you do realize this? from expelling it on our conscience in guilt and shame. Why do some have a greater intuition than others? The Bible explains that it’s because some have a more darkened heart than others. Some are more receptive to Goodness and Godliness than others. Could there be a DNA deficiency that causes some to act less moral than others? Yes! Yet, there is still a chance of Salvation. Some may have to work harder at training themselves to exude Goodness than others. It’s a matter of learned, shared and experienced behaviors. We learn to react and act in accordance of our habits. We must train ourselves to behave within a reasonable moral compass. One doesn’t need God to act within a moral compass, but by what barometer do we moderate our behavior? Intuition? Seems to be different for so many folks. The Bible certainly teaches a cohesive moral conduct, that would permit a sustainable existence of mankind.

      • KR says:

        “Why do some have a greater intuition than others?”
        Greater in what sense? How do you measure greatness when it comes to intuition?

      • F Littlejohn says:

        Intuitions are merely that which we unconsciously know are so. We may not be able to explain why we know this. It is like knowing the unknowable. Deep within ourselves we know they are so. To ask if they appeal to our conscience is to state that our conscious is our guiding factor. There are moral facts, and they are absolute. They have always been, and always will be. It is like gravity. No one denies its existence. There has to be a power greater than the pull of gravity, or we fall. For conscious to produce guilt or shame, one much ask what is guilt, or what is shame. These moral intuitions are not of our own creation, but show themselves to be placed within us. It is like a pot telling the potter that he is not the pot’s creator. Humans are unique in all of creation because they can reason more than mere animals can. How can we be so smug to believe that we can deny what is in us, or that we have a Creator that formed us? Where does this ability to know instinctively come from? From ourselves? Or, outside of ourselves? Man attempts, in every way possible to deny GD. He is like a child, declaring his individualism from his parents. But he does not realize that without his parents, his existence would not be. So it is with the person who declares he comes from himself. His knowledge, His understanding, etc. But where did this ability to do these things come from?

        • Andy Ryan says:

          “There are moral facts, and they are absolute”.
          How come there are so many arguments about what they are then? No two Christians even agree on what is and isn’t moral.
          “Humans are unique in all of creation because they can reason more than mere animals can”
          Humans are animals that can reason better than other animals. Whales are the largest, bloodhounds have the best sense of smell, cheetahs can run the fastest and we’re the smartest.
          “But where did this ability to do these things come from?”
          The best evidence we have points to our brains having evolved over millions of years.
          “one much ask what is guilt, or what is shame.”
          Emotions. We can inject people with drugs that induce feelings of shame or indeed make people feel no shame at all. It’s chemical.

  2. jcb says:

    It’s a shame so many people don’t understand what “morality” is all about.
    When atheists complain about “god” supposedly committing immoral acts, what they usually mean is that “he” supposedly commits unloving acts. Killing gays, or those who work on Sunday, or those who curse their parents, etc., is unloving. Nothing about that claim of being unloving requires anything about god, or an “objective” moral law.
    So, “complaining that God has committed immoral (unloving) acts” is NOT to admit there is an objective moral law. The author is wrong.
    The author rightly says this at the end (thus making his previous assertions irrelevant!), that the skeptic (like myself) may argue “instead” that the God of the Old Testament acts in unloving ways. Exactly! Such unloving acts contradict the claim that the being/god is all loving! The author oddly says “we must see if god has a morally admissible, i.e., loving reason for it. True! But until we know that reason, the complaint is reasonable, and requires no objective moral law.
    And if we find that god has a loving reason for doing apparently unloving things, it still won’t prove an objective moral law: we will only have settled the issue of whether god is perfectly loving, as claimed. As of now the verdict is clear: the God of the Bible is often unloving, and we do know that there were “morally admissible” reasons for a whole host of unloving policies that god (the God of the Old Testament) endorses.

    • Matthew James Miller says:

      Would a Loving God have a standard? Of course! Would this standard be emphasized at often costly extremes? Of course! It would have to be! When God Almighty emphasizes His standards, He may impose them on those who act inaccordingly in a manner that may seem unloving to them.
      Is a Loving God supposed to accept a standard adjacent to that He has established? Of course not! He wouldn’t be a Just God if He didn’t impose His standards on the righteous and unrighteous. Only a Just God would set standards and impose them upon mankind, in order to separate the Righteous from the unrighteous.

      • Celsus says:

        Matthew, a loving, all powerful, all knowing god is supposed to be consistent. Oh, and it wouldn’t hurt if he were more loving than your average human. However, please tell us why the man that picked up sticks in the wilderness on the sabbath had to die for his transgression yet Aaron suffered no consequence for making the golden calf? The bible is full of this type of contradiction. Why?

        • Matthew James Miller says:

          Immediately prior to hearing of this stick man, the LORD tells us in Num 15:30) “‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. 31) Because they have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them.'” (NIV) This tells us the LORD doesn’t “Love” those who defy Him! He Loves His own!
          What do we know about the history of the man who picked up the sticks? He came through the parted Red Sea, he was lead through the wilderness by the LORD’s Strong arm: a light at night a cloud during the day, he witnessed the Power of the Almighty LORD on mount Sinai, … he knew the Lord is a God of His Word!
          Why would this man blatantly ignore the LORD’s commands, RIGHT IN FRONT OF EVERYONE? Wouldn’t others think that if the LORD doesn’t respond to this, they can defy Him also? He had to be made an example of! Beside this, we really don’t know what the mans history was. This might have been the stick that broke the camels back. He may have had a history of defiance.
          What we do know is the man had available every other day of the week to pick up sticks, just not on the Sabbath. This reminds me of the Garden. They were allowed to eat of every tree in the Garden, just not the one tree. Look what happened at that defiance!
          As for Aaron, he was close to God, confused, his sin was of ignorance. The LORD knew Aaron was going to be a great high priest, his history had shown signs of this already, he was a great leader of the people. The LORD used Aarons ignorant defiance as a lesson in forgiveness.
          The real question is: Why are you questioning God our Holy Creator? Why are you making excuses to be defiant with your stomach as your god: just do what feels good? Why are
          you setting standards and judging God Almighty by them? Who is the rightful judge, you or our Creator?

          • Celsus says:

            Nice piece of special pleading Matthew. Seriously, Aaron was confused? Why wouldn’t you give the benefit of the doubt to the rest of the multitude that they were also “confused” Matthew? A lesson in forgiveness? Are you kidding? A lesson in forgiveness for Aaron (the man with connections) and a lesson in retribution and slaughter for the common man.
            I’m not questioning “God your Holy Creator”. I’m questioning the silliness of the barbaric men who wrote the old testament. Can’t you see the difference Matthew? I’m simply judging god by the bible’s standards. Doesn’t reason tell you that god should be subject to what Christians love to call the “objective moral code”? Any argument against Yahweh being subject to his own moral code is yet another example of special pleading.

          • Mark Heavlin says:

            “Doesn’t reason tell you that god should be subject to what Christians love to call the “objective moral code”?” I think you miss the point that GOD who is HOLY and RIGHTEOUS is the objective moral standard.

  3. Andy Ryan says:

    “Behaviors that align with God’s nature or commands are good and actions that contradict them are evil.”
    What stops this in itself just being your subjective opinion? You call behaviours that align with God’s nature good, someone else calls those behaviors evil – how do you show that you’re objectively correct here and they’re wrong?
    “God is the best explanation of objective morality”

    You’ve not shown that God comes close to explaining objective morality. In fact, making morality subject to God’s existence by definition makes it subjective, not objective.

  4. Celsus says:

    What if Christians just admitted that there was a problem with the biblical text? That it didn’t really reflect a perfect word from god but an imperfect word from men.

    • TGM says:

      Many do. But the loudest of them, the sort of Christians found in these circles, grow apoplectic any time you suggest any deviancy from perfection in their faith. Purity is very big to them. It permeates the language: inerrant, all loving, all powerful, all knowing, morally perfect. Existence of an ideal state is critical to the evangelical mindset. To me, it looks like insecurity relieved only by absolutism.
      Anyway, to walk it back now is impossible. They’re all-in and have to rationalize.

      • Matthew James Miller says:

        What do you unbelievers even mean “All Loving God?” Is the creator of the Universe supposed to Love the good and evil alike? Only a Just God would treat them differently and as the Bible explains to us, separate the tares from the wheat.
        Take for illustration a beloved pet dog. If another dog comes around and bullies, belittles, tramples on, acts to devour our precious pet, …wouldn’t we want to remove that bully to protect our own? What if that bully was trying to aggravate our chosen, devoted, loving pet, to act out against us? To do things we never thought of? To serve another owner and disregard us? Wouldn’t we want to separate them? Set a standard for our pet to uphold that would be tolerable? Is it unloving to emphasize Faithfulness of our loved ones? If someone acts outside of our level of tolerance, how are consequences not justifiable? Of course they are! It’s not unloving to set a standard and follow it! Next!

        • jcb says:

          “What do you unbelievers even mean “All Loving God?”” Usually the same thing as believers: a god who is nice, kind, caring: loving. A loving god is one who doesn’t punch people in the face for no good reason, one who tries to make people better off, happier, healthier, etc.
          A loving god would not torture people. A loving god would not send people to burn in hell for all eternity.
          Yes we should protect dog A from mean dog B. Nothing about that is relevant here.
          “Is it unloving to emphasize Faithfulness of our loved ones?” No.
          Is it unloving to punch someone in the break their vow to show up to Thanksgiving? Yes.
          “If someone acts outside of our level of tolerance, how are consequences not justifiable?” If your level of tolerance is minimal, such as if you punch someone in the face for making a noise, then that consequence is not justifiable/not loving/not what an all loving being would do.
          “It’s not unloving to set a standard and follow it!” This depends on the standard. If one sets a standard of making their child do their homework, and sticks to that standard, that is loving, given that doing so will likely be for the best for the child. But, creating a standard of punching someone in the face whenever you see them, and sticking to it, is not loving, even if you “follow it”/”stick to it”.
          Back to the issue: the God of the Bible does unloving things, regardless of whether the God of the Bible sticks to it.

        • TGM says:

          What do you unbelievers even mean “All Loving God?”
          I mean nothing by it. I think it’s nonsensical so could not care less what it means. But it’s language used by certain Christians. I adopted the phrase in order to illustrate my point. So your pet example is completely irrelevant. Next!

  5. thinkingabovemypaygrade says:

    Looks like some good and deep engagements on the question of “objective” vs “subjective” morality.

    My suggestion is that the meanings of the term “objective morality” and of the term “subjective morality” have not yet been defined enough for people with differing opinions to understand each other.

    No criticism of the article writer…we live in a time where terms have different meanings for different people. And the discord started a few generations back…

    For instance, a friend says morality in it’s objective sense (not minor cultural things) derives ultimately from God.

    But her daughter (a college student recently) believes morality is only determined by one’s perspective (A slippery slope…but held as gospel truth by her and many others).

    I do think the article writer’s point about the child is not being considered deeply. That might be a good starting point for more discussion.

    Cheers all.

    • jcb says:

      My suggestion is that people stop using the terms “subjective” and “objective”, as they are more confusing than clarifying. We are talking about truth. There are 4 types: necessary, probable, possible but not probable, and impossible. This covers the range from a truth being 0% true to 100% true. Adding “subjective” and “objective” here just adds confusion. All that matters is whether an assertion is probably or necessarily true. All known truths that are probable or necessarily true don’t prove god, but feel free to show otherwise.

      • Sam Harper says:

        What words would you suggest using to distinguish between these two kinds of statements:

        1. The earth is round.
        2. Pizza tastes good.

        It seems to me that the first one is an objective kind of statement, and the second is a subjective kind of statement. I grant that “subjective” and “objective” can be used in different senses than I’m using them, but with these two examples, is it not clear what I mean by “subjective” and “objective”? If not, what other words would you suggest?

        Some people have suggested using “fact” and “opinion,” but I think that distinction is even more misleading than “objective” and “subjective.”

        • jcb says:

          The first is probably true. (The evidence we know of makes this likely).
          The second is an incomplete statement. If you mean, “Pizza tastes good to some people”, then it is also probably true. (The evidence we know of makes this likely).
          That many people enjoy the taste of pizza is a fact, even if it is also someone’s opinion, and also a ‘subjective’ statement referring to a person and their interests/tastes/preferences.
          Again, calling these statements objective or subjective doesn’t add anything helpful (and perhaps adds nothing at all), but if anything only confuses the issue.

  6. Rev. Zachary Anderson says:

    Putting that picture in the background is just gross and idolatrous. It implies that this is an image of God almighty. It only takes away from the logic and power of your argument: “we have a God of morality, sovereign, but we are going to picture him as a statue of stone with eyes that cannot see, ears that cannot hear….” You can do better. Deepen your theology.

  7. Susan says:

    Why do modern day evil people with unexamined heart motives judge God at all?

    Paul who met Jesus said God was kind. The ancient Hebrews all said He was too but God has to deal with evil in men.

    So who are you going to believe a holy God or a man with questionable heart motives?

    The human heart can be hardened and turned away from God yet all these people with hardened evil hearts want to be heard and their opinions taken seriously.

    There must come a point when a
    believer turns away from a hardened sinner like Dawkins determined to stay hardened.

    Would a good person hang out with and regularly exchange thoughts with a hardened felon determined to stay one and not only that… Determined to undermine your standing with God and persuade you to become one, too.

    The human heart can devote itself to false idols.

    Dawkins has his idol(s), too.

    Of course, He doesn’t want to be inspected himself but this man is looney enough to publicly disrespect God so yes his heart Is willfully hardened, blocked and twisted and it is doubtful that he can be reasoned with.

    He just wastes a lot of time of good people while he corrupts the thinking of other weak minded people who refuse to listen to God.

    A hardened sinful heart can do a lot of damage to a human being’s thought processes and life.

    So pick your mentors wisely.

  8. Bob Seidensticker says:

    “If it is his own personal opinion on how people should act, then who cares what the atheist thinks? It’s tantamount to him saying “I don’t like what God did in the Old Testament.” Well, so what? That’s your opinion.”

    Do you care what anyone thinks? You’ve never had a discussion with someone else where you hold opposing viewpoints? If so, then it sounds like you *do* care what someone else thinks, at least sometimes.

    But if you’re arguing for objective moral truth (truth that would be valid and binding whether there’s anyone to appreciate it or not), give us some evidence. Simply saying that a moral claim is widely believed or strongly felt doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily objectively true—that’s quite different.

    Christians are quick to argue for objective morality, but they never want to do the hard work of actually justifying that claim.


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