Last week I made an offhand remark to the way I try to explain why it’s not murder when God orders the Israelites to kill people in the Old Testament. Someone in the comments asked: “if God gave you the same orders as he gave to those Hebrews, would you go ahead with them?”
I think this is a great question because it once again illustrates how the usual standards of reasoned, philosophical debate go out the window when skeptics attack believers. (Note, I’m not necessarily implicating the guy who asked this, but I’m talking about the broader context, as we’ll see in a second.)
So in terms of my value system, yes, absolutely, if God orders you to do X, then it is good to do X. That is true even if He orders you to kill someone who, as far as you can tell, hasn’t committed a crime.
Now that I’ve given the atheist libertarians the “gotcha” they were looking for, let me add two big asterisks:
==> In actual practice, if I “heard a voice in my head” giving me such an order, I would not obey it. This is because I would be worried I was going nuts, that someone was playing a trick on me, that it was a demon pretending to be God, etc. Since that would be so far removed from what I would normally expect Him to tell me to do and since it conflicts in such a prima facie way with what Jesus commands us to do in the gospels–I would not actually believe it was God. At the very least, it would take some serious signs (such that Stefan Molyneux and Steve Landsburg would be running to get baptized) to make me even contemplate such a command.
==> I really do hope nobody goes, “Aha! Now we see the vile implications of the Christian worldview.” There are plenty of philosophical discussions about crazy scenarios in which totally moral, reasonable people would entertain the idea of killing a person who has not (to their knowledge) committed any crime. E.g. a runaway trolley, South American guerillas, or–everybody’s favorite–getting a time machine and killing baby Hitler. In fact, in addition to being ridiculed for my Christianity, I am also ridiculed (not necessarily by the same group of people) for being so “absolutist” about not violating rights when a killer asteroid is hurtling toward Earth.
So in summary, this is what I’m saying: Most people would admit that either (a) they would kill somebody or at least (b) they can understand how a moral person would make that decision, if there were strong reasons to suspect that doing so would produce humongous positive results (like avoiding the Holocaust or saving billions of people from being killed by an asteroid). Well, if you think God is omnibenevolent and omniscient, then He’s in a position to know when such a move would actually be correct, isn’t He?
Last point: Before any principled libertarian tries to bite my head off by pointing out that crude utilitarianism cannot justify the violation of rights: I agree with you. But if there really is a God as depicted in the Christian Bible who created the physical universe de novo, then He owns everything. It’s not a violation of anybody’s rights to be killed by God, through whatever means He chooses. George Lucas is not a murderer for making Anakin slaughter a bunch of kids.