A Review of Chapter 7 of The Christian Delusion

John Loftus returns to write chapter 7 (“What We’ve Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate”) of The Christian Delusion.  The point of the chapter is that God has not done an adequate job in communicating His will to us.  The first part of the chapter covers a few dozen passages that have been used, at some time or another, to justify immoral actions.  He is not saying that these interpretations are always the correct interpretation.  In the next section he notes that a lack of clarity regarding doctrinal matters has led to Christian infighting.

The final section deals with Christian attempts to explain this phenomenon.  The first explanation is that those who committed terrible acts were not true Christians.  Loftus responds by saying there is no such thing as true Christianity, there are only Christianities.  But earlier Loftus admitted that, for example, some Christians falsely interpreted the mark of Cain to refer to his black skin in order to justify racism (pp. 184-5).  If blatantly wrong interpretations have been proposed then it may be correct to say that some bad Christians purposely misinterpreted passages from the Bible to justify their evil deeds.  This proposed explanation does not cover every evil, but it does cover some of them.

The second explanation is that humans have been disobedient to God’s clearly stated commandments.  Loftus responds that an omniscient God should have known that humans are fallen and thus should have been more clear in his communication.  But this explanation seems to be partially correct.  For example, Loftus complains that God does not state that child sacrifice is abhorrent in Genesis 22:1-12 (p. 186).  But Deuteronomy 18:10 clearly condemns the practice of child sacrifice.  If someone did sacrifice his child he would be violating a clearly stated commandment.

The third explanation is that God accommodated His commands to the hardened hearts of the first hearers of His word.  Loftus responds that God could have taught them to live more ethically or at least not leave them in the dark regarding His commands.  The fourth explanation is that the Jews and Christians of the past were still morally better than the surrounding cultures even if they did commit some atrocities.  The author notes that being better than others does not mean you are guiltless.  The fifth explanation admits that there are barbarisms in the Bible but that the Bible has progressively led its readers to achieve a more civil society.  Loftus asks what possible reason God could have for bringing about these changes so slowly.  The sixth explanation is that the Old Testament, which contains most of the problematic passages, is no longer applicable today and that Christians today are under the covenant of love.  Loftus objects that this position was not clearly communicated in the Bible.

The seventh explanation is offered by Calvinists.  They say that God has a secretive will that is different from his revealed will.  The revealed will is not his true will but can be used to get people to follow his secretive will.  God’s secretive will sometimes decrees that people commit horrible acts for a higher purpose.  Loftus states that if this is true we have no reason to trust God’s revealed will.  I’ll leave it to Calvinists to respond to this depiction.

The final explanation is that God is mysterious and we are not in a position to question his actions.  Loftus asks how we can know God’s ways are good if he is a mystery.  He answers his own question by saying we would have to understand enough of his ways to say they are good.  This answer opens up a can of worms as to what constitutes enough understanding and what is the good.  I suspect most Christians would say we have enough of an understanding of God while most atheists would take the opposite position.  There is also the issue of why we think God should act how we think he should act.

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