I recently encountered a question on Quora where someone wanted me to defend various aspects of Leviticus from a moral perspective. Of course, this is not the question which I set out to answer, it was originally a question about God’s existence and quickly transitioned to a debate about morality. In my experience thus far, this seems to be the usual. Conversations that start out as a debate about God’s existence move away from proving God and into a position where we are expected to defend God. Fortunately for me, God does not need me to defend Him. The situation, however, caused me to step back and evaluate the real question at hand. Can we find objective reasons to disagree with God’s moral actions or decisions?
First and foremost, if we are to have a discussion about morality, let us first define a set of terms. We cannot have morality without morals, so what is a moral? Webster’s dictionary has several definitions for the term:
- of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior
- expressing or teaching a conception of right behavior
- conforming to a standard of right behavior
It seems that each of these definitions are directly impacted by the word “right”, so let’s define that one next:
- Righteous, Upright
Well, no need to go any further. The meaning of righteous should be pretty clear, but just in case, let’s define it as well.
- acting in accord with divine or moral law : free from guilt or sin
Obviously, it is impossible for God to do something which is not divine. Divinity proceeds directly from God (according to Webster’s as well). Given this framework of definition, it is impossible for God to do something that is immoral, no matter what action we may be discussing. Even if God were to lie, it would be a divine lie because God is divine. As a result, God’s lie would be righteous, or “right” and therefore moral according to Webster’s dictionary. By this logic, we have no method or means to call God immoral, as the very definition of morality hinges on God’s approval of an action.
Of course, we could always create an additional definition of “right”, and yes, we have already done this. So I would like to draw your attention to the second definition of “right”, which is one that does not hinge on the existence of God.
- Right: being in accordance with what is just, good, or proper
Here, we see that “right” is synonymous with “good”. So, let’s introduce one final definition.
- Good: of a favorable character or tendency
So, according to this definition of good, or right, only things that I find favorable, or things that work in my favor, are good. Obviously, in this context we can begin to call God immoral. If God does anything that does not favor us directly, then it is not good, or right, and is therefore immoral from our perspective.
This self-serving definition of morality is not sustainable in a society, or even between two individuals. If we define “good” as only including things which are favorable to us, we exclude everyone else. If we define “good” as that which is favorable to humanity, not only do we exclude all of the other ecosystems that are imperative to our survival, but we also have to begin forcing this definition on others who may not be willing to accept it. This is the very thing that people despise about religion, it is the very reason that people set out to redefine morality to begin with. This definition of morality may allow us to condemn God, but it does not justify that condemnation and creates division and strife among people everywhere.
There is no such thing as a “universal definition” of good unless God is real. Humanity does not have a natural law or objective guide by which we can measure good and evil. There is no system upon which we all agree, nor is there any logical reason that we should agree, unless morality is defined by something or someone with authority over us. This is the reason that we cannot judge God’s actions. He presides over us, rules over us, and our actions are judged by His definition of what is good and what is righteous.