God Is Not A Moral Being and the Moral Argument Is Often Wrongheaded
by J. Brian Huffling
God is not a moral being and often the way the moral argument is used is just wrong. What I mean by the former is that God does not abide by moral commands, nor does he fulfill obligations or virtues in the way that humans do. I am also denying that God is his own standard of goodness in the moral sense. To be one’s own standard would be equivalent to being arbitrary since whatever he did would be in accordance with his standard. To say he can’t violate his nature is also unhelpful as nothing can violate its nature. (What does that even mean? If something did something that supposedly “went against its nature,” then it obviously wasn’t against its nature or the action couldn’t have been done.) In this article I am going to explain what it means for a human to be moral, demonstrate why that doesn’t apply to God, and then show why the moral argument usually doesn’t work but how it could work.
What Does It Mean for A Being to Be Moral?
There are many theories that try to explain what it means for a human to be moral. Hopefully a Christian would want to maintain a theory that upholds an objective standard of morality and thus deny moral relativism. Divine command theory is one popular approach in Christian circles to argue for an objective basis for morality. Even if this theory were true it could not account for why God would be moral. It would also not demonstrate any real basis for an action being moral or immoral other than God just stating it as so. However, if divine command theory were true, it would not demonstrate that God is moral since he does not follow commands from another being. (Saying he follows his own commands reduces to being arbitrary and is probably incoherent.)
Other ethical systems that in my opinion are more rationally acceptable and biblical are virtue theory and natural law ethics. The latter comports well with Romans 2:15 which says that the “law is written” on people’s hearts. In other words we have a built-in conscience. Natural law teaches that humans have a nature and actions that promote the good of that nature are good actions. Conversely, actions that prohibit the good of our human nature are bad. So, a human killing another human to eat him for dinner is evil because of the nature of being a human (he is made in God’s image). However, it is not morally wrong for a human, or other animal, to kill a deer in order to eat it.
In accordance with this human nature are virtues that are cultivated and actualized. Natural law can imbibe Aristotle’s virtue ethics very well, with certain necessary tweaks. One could argue that being sanctified through trials is one way our virtues are realized. The Sermon on the Mount seems to fit very well with virtue theory, that is, on becoming a person of good character.
In short, humans are moral beings because we have a certain nature. We have a law written on our hearts that reflects this moral aspect of our being that God gave us…
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