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all just and all merciful

Why oh why do theists -- and especially Christians -- feel the need to pick fights with me?

Really, I just a nice little atheist, minding my own business! :)

So, I was trying to explain to someone the difference between atheists who are just pretty sure there is no god vs. those are are completely sure... "weak" atheists vs. "strong" atheists. I probably mentioned this in a previous post. I explained as part of the follow-up, that I was both a strong atheist and a weak atheist, depending on how one defined "god". If your definition is internally inconsistent, then, of course, I'm a strong atheist. And if your definition was so abstract as to be "unknowable", then I was a weak atheist, but I also didn't really see the point.

In describing the internally contradictory/inconsistent definitions of god, I mentioned the Catholic god and one of the things that had always bugged me growing up: namely, that god was both all-just and all-merciful. I don't really see how these things can be reconciled. Part of the problem lies in that justice requires laws, and the laws of god, as Catholics understand them, are in part based on the Old Testament. The law that I used as an example was that if a child talks back to his parents, his supposed to be stoned to death. There is a lengthy (as in four verses) in Deuteronomy that discusses this, but it turns out similar statements are made in as many as three other places, including Exodus 21:17 where children who curse their parents should be put to death. Certainly, that's an extreme for of "talking back", but still, it's only talking, and maybe yelling.

I'd like to lay out all my issues before I put them together into a single objection, so let's look at the definition of just. We are interested in just the adjectival defintion:

just, adj.
1. Honorable and fair in one's dealings and actions: a just ruler. See Synonyms at fair1.
2. Consistent with what is morally right; righteous: a just cause.
3. Properly due or merited: just deserts.
4. Law Valid within the law; lawful: just claims.
5. Suitable or proper in nature; fitting: a just touch of solemnity.
6. Based on fact or sound reason; well-founded: a just appraisal.

One can interpret "all-just" either as "being all things that are just" or "completely just" in some sense. Of course, Catholics, I'm sure, on first blush, would say both readings are implied. So, let us continue.

Definitions of merciful usually just say "full of mercy", so let's look at the definition of mercy.

mer·cy
1. Compassionate treatment, especially of those under one's power; clemency.
2. A disposition to be kind and forgiving: a heart full of mercy.
3. Something for which to be thankful; a blessing: It was a mercy that no one was hurt.
4. Alleviation of distress; relief: Taking in the refugees was an act of mercy.

So, if one is merciful, one is compassionate and forgiving. So the contradiction, inherent in being all-just and all-merciful is in that the "all-just" side suggests that one will follow the letter of the law (#4), will give the person the punishment you say you will give them (#1), must be consistent with what is moral (#2), and will be what is properly due them (#3). But the all-merciful side says that one will be compassionate and, specifically, forgiving. How can you follow the letter of the law and be forgiving at the same time?

The argument made to me here is that god's laws could be merciful, so if he follows them, he can do both. Well, let's set that aside for a second and add in the third part of this triangle: the actual laws. I mentioned one of them earlier: if you talk back to your parents, you should be stoned to death.

So, is stoning your children to death, even for cursing you, merciful? Is it compassionate and forgiving?

Of course, that's not the end of our friend theist's argument. I have no way of knowing what is merciful in god's eyes. I can't see all the things god can see, so if god says it's merciful, then it is.

Say what?

Everything god does is merciful. God says to do X. Therefore, X is merciful.

Um, yeah. That's called circular reasoning. Nothing about the definition of mercy as being compassionate and forgiving requires omniscience. And nothing about stoning your children to death for yelling at you is merciful in any sense of the word I can find.

So, if you follow god's laws, you are not merciful. And if god chooses to ignore his own laws and be merciful, then he violates several senses of the meaning of just. This is the kind of insane circle that arises from a clear contradiction.

If they had defined god as very-just and very-merciful, or optimally-just and optimally-merciful, there would be something to argue about. Even the crazy circular reasoning of the theists would make more sense, but as it is, all-just and all-merciful run right into a clear paradox.

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