Sunday, October 30, 2011

Because I Said So: The Straw Man of Theological Voluntarism

Is the essence of Christian ethics, in the area of sexuality as elsewhere, summed up in the familiar parental phrase "Because I said so?" A Catholic writing in the Stanford Review thinks not.


Ilíon said...

"Because I said so" isn't the entirety of Christian ethics; but neither is it contrary.

Victor Reppert said...

Do you think God can make something right by commanding it?

Ilíon said...

I believe God cannot command what is wrong. There is a difference.

Ilíon said...

Or, to look at another way ...

If God were to lie, then God, being Truth Itself, would die.

If God were to command the immoral, , then God, being Morality Itself, would die.

And *everything* would not exist.

KingAnon said...

"truth" and "morality" are not agents. they are static, abstract entities like numbers. they cannot do anything.

Ilíon said...

That's just one more way of asserting the falsehood that there is no truth nor morality.

Ilíon said...

Another way of saying that "God is Truth Itself", is to say that "God is Being Itself".

Tell us, O Great King of the Anonymice, is being also a "static, abstract entit[y] like numbers[, that] cannot do anything"?

Ilíon said...

Also, one simply must wonder, where/when/how do truth and morality, which assertedly just "static, abstract entities like numbers", and for that matter, numbers themselves and other abstractions -- concepts -- exist absent minds to conceive them?

Victor Reppert said...

If truth and morality are completely disconnected from the run of cause and effect that constitutes our world, then how is it possible for anyone to do anything because it is the moral thing to do?

I remember reading Loftus' story about his life and thinking "I wonder what the other people in the story would say about this." But I don't think that's where our attention should be focused.

Anonymous said...

You will soon have the answer to that question, Victor.

Mike Darus said...

God can command something that is contrary to our moral compass. Our compass is not always pointing to the good. The good is not always aligned with human flourishing. The good is defined as what is good for God's glory. This may involve human suffering.

Ilíon said...

Morality is inter-personal and relational (*) -- it exists only between persons, and its specific content with regard to those persons depends upon the precise relationship between them. To deny these two points shows one merely to be one who has not, or will not, think about the issue. For, rocks don’t have moral obligations to persons nor moral expectations of persons; fathers have different moral obligations to, and expectations of, sons than sons to/of fathers; kings have different moral obligations to, and expectations of, subjects than subjects to/of kings.

But, morality is also transcendent – it exists independently of any human person or of any human relationship. To deny this point is to deny that morality even exists … and the claim that morality is not is self-defeating, besides being blatantly false: fathers and sons, kings and subjects, *do* have moral obligations to, and expectations of, one another, and we all know this.

Now, IF one imagines that one can judge God as being immoral or having acted immorally, THEN one must be appealing to some (true/objective/transcendent) standard of morality; just as one must be if one judges some human person(s). That is, IF one imagines that one can judge God as being immoral or having acted immorally, THEN one is saying that there exists some true and objective universally binding standard of morality that exists independently of God. But, morality is inter-personal and relational – it cannot exist independently of persons in relationship.

So, if one wants to condemn Jehovah as immoral, than one must be saying that Jehovah isn’t actually God, but is rather, like human beings, a morally flawed creation of the real God; one must be appealing to the standard of morality which exists by virtue of this “real” God. And then, the same “logic” which first led one to claim that Jehovah is immoral must all-but-inevitably lead one to claim that this “real” God is immoral, and that there is a “realer” God behind him. It’s pretty much a vicious infinite regress.

If one wishes to deny that Jehovah is God, then one must be very careful in one’s argument, especially if one wishes to argue this by appeal to his alleged moral wickedness.

(*) Which fact, by the way, can show us, independently of the Christian revelation, that God, while One, is a multiplicity of Persons.

Morality is real, and is universally binding – we *all* know this; even the persons who explicitly deny the reality of morality know this, and they always appeal to this reality in the very act of denying it.

Morality is interpersonal and relational – it does not (and cannot) exist independently of persons-in-relationship.

(Getting back to the OP), Morality is not arbitrary – it is not the power, nor mere say-so, of the person asserting a moral obligation or expectation which makes it so.

Morality is transcendent – it exists “above” or “beyond” any particular human persons or human relationships.

Pulling all these things together, our moral obligations and expectations are not real merely because God has so commanded it, but rather because God is God; morality cannot be separated from God – God *is* morality, just as God *is* being, just God *is* love.

Those who understand what they’re talking about already know/understand that love is morality.

Tony Hoffman said...

That's an interesting thought offered in the article. It seems much more sophisticated than the so called "third horn" offered by WLC, etc. I am honestly surprised that apologists don't give voice to it more often.

My only problem with it is that in this case the morality derived (those behaviors that are best for human flourishing) appears to exist independently of God. Being a sceptic, I am comfortable with this notion of religious morality, which makes me think that I misunderstand the post.