23 Oct 2016

Is the God of the Bible a Tyrant?

Religious 8 Comments

My talk to the Libertarian Christian Institute.

8 Responses to “Is the God of the Bible a Tyrant?”

  1. Khodge says:

    So, God is not a tyrant if he claims the property rights to all creation and (metaphorically) insists that you let go of the flagpole?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Right, Khodge, I’m making the point that a property owner can lay down the rules on His property. In any other context, libertarians have no problem with this.

      • Major.Freedom says:

        Libertarianism does not accept the notion that people can be involuntarily made the property of other people.

        The argument that libertarians should have no problems with people being the property of God because they have no problems with land and capital being the property of humans, doesn’t work.


        1. In your initial response to Hitchens, you mentioned that Hitchens made two inconsistent criticisms. One, that God waited so long before revealing himself in Jesus, and two, that God chose an illiterate population to reveal himself. At face value, from a certain approach there is merit in your response. But Hitchens knows when literacy began. What he meant was why did God make humans suffer for 98,000 years *and then* choose an illiterate population rather than a literate one in the Chinese? They are sequential arguments, not coexistent arguments. In this respect they do not contradict each other, for they are not meant to be simultaneously true. At any rate that still leaves each argument as stand alone criticisms which you did not address. All “19 criticisms” need to be addressed one by one.

        2. The example of the flagpole and reference to Rothbard and Block cannot be used as analogue for God owning the universe, because with Earthly events, there is in principle the possibility of AVOIDANCE. It is possible for people to avoid falling off 25 story buildings only to grab onto the flagpole of a tenant on the 15th floor. It is not true that the Blockean saying “Let go of my flagpole because I own it” that this concedes the morality of God owning everything. We cannot in peinciple avoid being at the mercy of God. We can in principle avoid being at the mercy of a stingy tenant who owns a flagpole. That is why God is being called a tyrant. We cannot even in principle avoid the flagpole. Flipping your logic around, imagine a person forced you onto that flagpole, and then you came face to face with the tenant, who may or may not let you into their apartment. Would you say the person who forced you onto this flagpole committed an immoral act against you? Yes? Well then you must believe God is immoral for forcing every human onto the Earth to come face to face with CERTAIN death! See what I did there? Contrary to notion that according to “standard libertarian theory” God is not a tyrant, he in fact is a tyrant for the same reason a person is involuntarily thrust onto that flagpole! Remember, we humans did not choose this life. It is not as if prior to our Earthly births, we sat down with God and agreed to his terms, and then decided to be born and become his property.

        3. You then moved to the criticism of “Yeah, well if people did the same thing God of the O.T. did, then they would be a tyrant”. About 10 seconds into your response I knew right away that you were making a point completely inconsistent with your argument in 2. You had no issues with starting with “standard libertarian theory” for people, as in 2., and then claiming aha, so therefore God is not a tyrant. Yet when you started with God, you then said “You can’t make the claim that if people did what God did, then they would be a tyrant, because it’s God! God is God! God is different from humans.” Well, which is it? Can we compare human ethics with Christian God ethics as in 2. and reason “If libertarian ethics for man are valid, then so is Christian God ethics”? Or are we to NOT compare human ethics with Christian God ethics as in 3. and reason “Christian God ethics are valid but you cannot compare it with human libertarian ethics.” You then doubled down and said it is in fact “silly” to compare human ethics with Christian God ethics. You did not see that you nullified your “God is just being a Rothbarian libertarian” justification. I am actually surprised you did not notice this discrepancy.

        4. Your analysis of Noah’s flood quite frankly disturbed me. You said God was not a tyrant for killing all those people by a flood, because “he would have killed them of old age anyway.” I pictured a murderer like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer saying the same thing to their victims: “I am not evil for murdering you, because you would have died eventually anyway.” I know you’re being sincere, but the way you justify Christian God ethics…it sounded very cold. I think you stumbled big time when you said “God is not a murderer here, because..bu-bu-erm, uh, it’s his story, things happen.” You then said “Notice how this counteracts another criticism of Christianity, which is the question of why does God make us suffer?” First, pointing out that two arguments can’t both be valid at the same time does not refute either of them on their own terms. Two, you are falsely assuming that the only possible way to avoid suffering is by dying young, by God killing us as babies. Um, how about living immortal, non-suffering lives? Would that not be the life created by a benevolent God? The two criticisms can in fact co-exist. One is that God kills everyone. The other is that God also makes us experience suffering in life.

        5. You then said “It is hard for us to understand God.” I’ve seen this statement before. It undercuts your entire talk. Your talk is an attempt at a rational defense of Christian God ethics. That presumes you have a good understanding of God. Perhaps there is some part of you that realizes what you are saying has major issues, and so you fell back on the ol’ “God works in mysterious ways” excuse. Which is it? Is God incomprehensible? Or is your talk to be taken seriously?

        6. You then said “Yes, it would be horrifying for humans to do what God does…”. I took this as a concession to atheist libertarian ethics. You then followed that with “…but it’s not because that stuff shouldn’t be done..”. This gave me another shudder of being disturbed. You effectively just said that “Hitler SHOULD have killed 12 million people.” You took what actually took place, and then gave it a moral justification from a Christian God ethics perspective. You then said “…but humans do not have a right to do that sort of legal stuff, but God certainly does.” So did God kill the 12 million people or did Hitler? You are saying the same action is both immoral and moral at the same time, and you are attributing two different agents to the same choice. What Hitler did was moral rightfully so in the eyes of God because God did it, but immoral rightfully so in the eyes of humans because Hitler did it.

        7. You said “A lot of the criticisms boil down to “Why were we ever even born?”.” That is not the main criticism. The main criticism in that line of thinking is “Why were we born and made to suffer rather than born and made to experience pleasure?”

        8. Vicarious sin/redemption. You again started with standard libertarian ethics and then reasoned “Because it would be moral for humans to do it, it is therefore moral for God as well.” Yet in 3. And 7. above, when you started with God and then reasoned for humans, you said God has his own ethics that cannot be compared to humans. You seem to want to both justify God’s awesomeness by taking the good from Earthly libertarianism, but then refusing to take the bad from Earthly totalitarianism. That is like having one’s cake and eating it too. “See that atheist libertarians! God is just acting justly like Block would on Earth. What’s that? No no no, God is not evil like Hitler. You can’t compare God to humans.”. Say what?

        9. Your argument that the inconsistencies and problems with Christian doctrine is evidence of it “coming from the divine, and not just some stories cooked up 2000 years ago by men scribbling in the desert.” All I have to say is wow, your standard for assessing Christian doctrine is extremely low relative to the standard you apply to Krugman. Krugman elicits an inconsistency and that is a mistake, a flaw. Christian theologians elicit something that doesn’t make sense, and that is evidence not of their human fallibility, but of their ears to the divine?

        10. The problem of free will and now it fits into Christianity is not resolved by invoking analogies to movies. Never has been, never will be. Analogies are neither refutations nor proofs.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          MF two things:

          (1) I may not have said it clearly, but my position allows that ownership of bodies is vague. So that’s why I definitely said, “God owns the oxygen in your lungs.” With the flagpole example, Block doesn’t claim the lady owns the guy on the flagpole; he claims she owns the flagpole. I didn’t say in the speech, “God can send you to hell because He owns your body,” I said He was analogous to a bar owner who says, “I’m not saying you have to go to hell, but you can’t stay here [on earth or in heaven].” It’s also why I went over the abortion stuff. God is evicting you from the non-living material universe. If you are unviable outside of His womb, hey, that’s not His fault, right? Just ask Rothbard and Block.

          (2) You are inventing this “in principle it’s avoidable” stuff. Show me in standard explanations of libertarian property rights where competition has to be “in principle” available for the principle to hold. [There’s something in Locke about leaving the commons in the original condition, but Rothbardians explicitly say Locke goofed on this.] Can Wal-Mart charge whatever it wants for food, only if “in principle” people can buy food elsewhere? Or does it really just matter whether Wal-Mart has come to own the food through appropriate means?

    • Mark says:

      Thankfully, God is not a tyrant. He knew you were going to fall and put the flagpole there for you. He only asks that you ask Him to pull you in through the window.

  2. Joshua says:

    Enjoyed your talk, sir. I’ll definitely listen again sometime.

    You addressed some of the difficulties of being a Christian libertarian. Politically, we’ve made our bed with those who (from what I can tell) tend to reject our religious beliefs, but there’s another side to this: religiously, we’ve made our bed with those who tend to reject our political beliefs. Most Christians are not what we are. Moreover, they adamantly reject what we are and call it stupid / unbiblical / unorthodox according to their confessions, even if we take great care to show how that’s not the case. What I’m trying to figure out: how to be a Christian among Christians hostile to my understanding of government. I’d love for someone to address that.

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