God: A Moral Monster?
Lee Strobel Interviews Paul Copan
Critics charge the God of the Old Testament is immoral, but Paul Copan refutes that in his book Is God a Moral Monster? Understanding the Old Testament God. Here’s an interview.
Q. Interestingly, although you have a Ph.D. in philosophy from Marquette, leading Old Testament scholars like Christopher Wright and Gordon Wenham consider your book the best defense of Old Testament ethics available.
A. No, I don’t have a Ph.D. in this discipline. I do have an undergraduate degree in biblical studies and a master of divinity degree. So I’m very heartened and humbled that these scholars, on whose work I’ve depended over the years, have given such robust endorsements for my book.
Q. Your book tackles questions on difficult Old Testament passages—ones that many Christians and non-Christians find troubling. Why did you write it?
A. I know you’re familiar with the New Atheists—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. These authors have been causing quite a stir in recent years, both inspiring fellow atheists and shaking up the faith of believers. Unlike more substantive atheists in the academy, this new wave of atheism typically engages in emotional argumentation and rhetorical bluster—often with little substance and plenty of distortion. God is “not good” and is “a moral monster.” Religion is the chief source of humanity’s problems—“the root of all evil.”
One particular point of attack is Old Testament ethical issues, including claims like these: “the Bible promotes owning other human beings,” “the Old Testament demeans women,” or “God commands genocide.” I noticed that there was no book that systematically addressed these concerns at a popular level. So I undertook to write a book that tackled these issues head on—in addition to other general attacks on “religion.” So these atheists have served as a springboard for my tackling enduring questions raised by Christians and non-Christians alike.
Q. Your book covers a lot of topics that we can’t deal with here—kosher and purity laws; severe punishments; the nature of God in the Old and New Testaments; the nature of God’s progressive, unfolding revelation; and so on. But let’s tackle some of the leading themes of your book. You mention the New Atheists’ critique that God is a pathetic egomaniac who needs human beings to worship him. God condemns pride and praises humility, but the charge is that he himself seems to exhibit pride to an outrageous degree.
A. As you know, words mean things, and we should get clear on definitions rather than toss around slippery or misleading terms. Humility involves an appropriate acknowledgment and realistic assessment of oneself. If you’re a skilled piano player, you don’t say, “I’m no good on the piano.” That’s being out of touch with reality. On the other hand, the pianist should recognize that this talent is a gift he’s received from God. By contrast, pride is an inflated view of oneself or one’s accomplishments; pride is a false advertising campaign to get people to think I’m better than I really am.
In light of these definitions, pride or vanity doesn’t apply to God; vanity doesn’t accurately describe God, who has a realistic—rather than a distorted—view of himself…
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