Extreme Divine Command Theory

This post is related to my previous one on morality.  The following is a comment by a theist on another blog that I saw a while back (here’s the link to the comment):

THE God, who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth, is Himself the standard by which ALL things are measured. That means when he commands Joshua to kill every man, women, child and beast in Canaan that that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. It means that when he causes Israel to eat their own children as reported in Jeremiah 19 that that is PERFECTLY holy righteous, just and good. It means that if He has decreed all of the horrific human misery, suffering and death in all of history that that is PERFECTLY holy righteous, just and good. It means that if He has decreed the existence of billions of human beings for the expressed purpose of casting them into the lake of fire in judgement for sin that He also decreed that that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. It means that if He has purposed that everything we consider to be pointless evil, immorally unjust and unthinkably unfair shall be so ordered by divine mechanisms known only to Himself, to His own glory for reasons sufficient unto Himself that that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good.


It also means that His not caring one bit how you (or I) feel about that is most assuredly PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. I sleep like a baby knowing that every time I hear about some gut wrenching blood curdling act of barbaric depravity that my Father God has from eternity seen fit to assign purpose to it that is PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just and good. IF IT WERE MY OWN FAMILY? You ask? Most ESPECIALLY then would I fall to my knees and worship Him knowing that evil has NOT triumphed, but that a PERFECTLY holy, righteous, just, good AND LOVING God who calls me brother, bride and son though I myself belong in that lake of fire will receive honor and glory by my praising His name while the world loses it’s collective mind. EveryTHING and everyONE belongs to HIM. His exaltation and glory IS the purpose for all that is. No more PERFECTLY purpose could ever exist.

I don’t think any of my theist readers hold this viewpoint, but obviously there are people out there who do.  How many I’m not sure, but I wonder if it is higher than we would expect in some parts of the world.

I’d like to hear what my readers think of the above quoted comment.  Please offer your thoughts no matter what your worldview is.


79 thoughts on “Extreme Divine Command Theory

  1. So no matter how much of a jerk God is, even if for no reason at all, we are to think that it’s a wonderful thing? So that means Christian morality would be one of “do as I say, not as I do”?

    I certainly would never want to praise a God like that.

  2. The problem with this is that it pertains to a blasphemous and false religion: Christianity. There is no God but Allah, and Mohammad is His Prophet. What is written here is true, but not for the infidel Christians and their blasphemous banter about their false god. It is true only as it pertains to the real God: Allah. I know this is true because the Koran says it is. From the Koran: 5:73: “Surely, disbelievers are those who said: “Allâh is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” But there is no god but Allâh. And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.” One simply can not argue with such solid, empirical evidence and such flawless reason. If the Koran says in the Koran that something is true, then it is. Period. Thus, when Allah commands that the infidel Christians be annihilated, who are we to question His divine, unquestionable will? His perfection and His will are beyond us. We need only follow them and glory in Heaven is ours. This, is a super-duper way to live and think, isn’t it?

  3. While I may not fully understand the reasons that we endure such suffering, I do know one thing, God is GOOD. He sent us to do something about all this suffering and their would be less if we all lived up to our calling.
    Doesn’t matter who you are, atheist, Muslim, or Christian. If we cared for the rest of the world instead of insulting and annihilating them, there would be much less suffering. Period.

  4. Pingback: The Difference Between Good and Evil | Amusing Nonsense

  5. That quote is pretty disturbing.

    The problem with divine command theory is in knowing what those divine commands supposedly are. The reports of what they’re supposed to be are not very consistent, and many of them appear to be tailored for someone’s agenda. Therefore labeling horrible acts as perfect based on the hearsay of what God prefers risks turning yourself into a monster and a puppet of whoever claims to know God’s mind.

    If God exists, then he would have given us our sense of right and wrong. You have to wonder why his commands would contradict those feelings. Of course, if he doesn’t exist, then our sense of right and wrong are only pro-social instincts that we as social animals evolved. In any case, it makes sense to pay attention to our conscience, and scrutinize carefully those who ask us to violate it.

  6. I agree the quote is deeply disturbing and that it comes from a dangerous mind. Not even when I was a devout catholic going to daily mass and praying for hours a day did I get that radical. I sure as hell hope that line of thinking isn’t common.

  7. The funny thing is that the theist view you quoted has a degree of logic to it. Just see how that great thinker of the past Augustine tried to grapple with this vexing issue:

    “Augustine commented ‘No one should think it cruel that Joshua left not a single survivor in the cities handed over to him, for this was what God had commanded. But those who think that God himself is cruel, and who for that reason do not want to believe that the one true God was the author of the Old Testament, are mistaken about the works of God as they are about the sins of men. They are ignorant about the punishment each person deserves to suffer and therefore, think it a great evil if what is about to collapse is overthrown, and if mortal men die.’

    Relative severity: Augustine points out that death is not so terrible a punishment for beings who are already death bound. In other words, the Canaanites would have died in any event. While their life span was shortened, their destiny was not fundamentally altered. Here Augustine attempts to put into perspective the relative severity of the punishment.

    Once more, Augustine’s fundamental premise is that God is just and that therefore anything he commands is also just and must be obeyed… the bottom line for Augustine is that one must yield to God’s commands in obedience, not resist them with argument. To object to God’s commands is a sign of an ignorant and false goodness of the human heart which contradicts even Christ and does not want the wicked to suffer any evil.”

    This is a quote from Christian Hoefreiter essay ‘Genocide in Deuteronomy’. I had quoted an earlier part of the article on another blog and focussed on the ‘severe tension between three tenets or deep-seated intuitions:
    1. God is good, loving and just;
    2. The Scriptures bear faithful witness to God;
    3. Both the concept and practice of herem (God commanded Genocide and war) are morally revolting’

    Now Augustine was one of the most brilliant minds in history. Because of his faith he felt he had to accept points 1 and 2 above to be true, so the only place left for him to go and remain intellectually honest was to argue against point 3.

  8. I on the other hand, think this theist is right in his beliefs. Any theist who believes that morality does come from god and does not take these others to be true is saying god is sometimes not sure or a liar.
    Call it a dangerous mind and I will ask which religionist is not a dangerous mind. The only difference is in degree but not in kind

  9. Hey Jason. I have the same issues with this view. How far do the acts have to go before we could claim that a deity is no longer good? It seems with this view there is no limit to that. Then the word “good” seems to lose it’s meaning.

  10. That’s exactly the feeling I get Neil. It seems the words evil and good no longer have meaning with this view. And it’s often we hear that atheists can’t define good and evil.

  11. Hey John – dangerous is my feeling as well, which is the biggest reason I feel this topic is worth discussing. This quote was from Tiribulus.

  12. Ah, I suspected as much. As I just said to Noel, at least he’s being consistent. TB is in love with the notion of a bully god, a great friend who’ll beat the crap out of anyone. Funny how people shape their god (the same god, mind you) into all sorts of characters which best suit their needs.

  13. Very well said SAP. And it is often that apologists appeal to our sense of right and wrong as evidence that God exists. They appeal to the fact that we know deep down that some things are wrong, but then views like the one in the original post just flip that all around. And your last sentence is perfect – gods or none, it makes sense to pay attention to our conscience.

  14. Hi Violet – Luckily this line of thinking isn’t common, but unfortunately it may be prevalent in some parts of the world.

  15. Yeah Peter, I thought that 3 point summary was very good. Giving up on #2 seems to be the one that results in the least cognitive dissonance, at least for me. The relative severity thing taken to it’s fullness makes it possible to justify absolutely any act at all, no matter how bad it may seem. Rape, slavery, pedophilia – all nothing compared to eternity. Yet the bible in some places defines goodness related to actions here on earth, so the two ideas don’t seem to fit together.

  16. Hey Mak – some theists could argue differently from that by saying the moral sense comes from god and that the bible and other scriptures got it wrong, but then that’s practically the same results as what we’ve got with secular morality.

  17. I grant them that and then I go further to say they can’t claim the bible is divinely inspired unless the inspiration from the divine include murdering foreigners

  18. I think that Progressive Christians have, at least, stepped away from this barbaric school of thought and view these scriptures as metaphor and allegory rather than literal and definitive.

    BUT these Literal, Inerrant, Word of God, Christians? Well, they really are quite dangerous. Not only are they praising a God who would cause calamity on, even family members, they would likely accept an assignment to be the vehicle for it. How is this extreme divine command theory any different from what ISIS is doing except that the Christian who holds the theory believes that the God he or she would be on assignment for is the really real God?

  19. To my thinking, this writer has serious mental problems brought on by a severe form of indoctrination that replaces logic and reason with a deranged concept of what it means to be human.

  20. Hey Ruth – yes, and I’m very happy that Progressive and liberal Christians have gone away from this barbaric viewpoint. I try hard to help people see that these viewpoints are not only dangerous, but they also make the ideas of good and evil incoherent. It makes a mockery of the idea of a moral sense that theists are so quick to tout as proof for good and evil.

    Not only are they praising a God who would cause calamity on, even family members, they would likely accept an assignment to be the vehicle for it.

    This is sincerely my biggest fear with this. I remember when Mike Anthony on Nate’s blog said that our having a problem with the horrors of the old testament was just claptrap for our political atheistic agenda, and I thought that was just hogwash. It truly is about wanting a world that’s safe for everyone including those who will live after us. I honestly believe that barbaric views like this are dangerous for us all, and I would believe that if I were a theist as well.

  21. Pingback: on morality and pure practical reason | Random thoughts

  22. I think on some level this stems from the common answer that some theists give to the problem of evil. If there’s evil in the world, how can there be a good God? The answer is usually like, “Where were you when He created the heaven and earth?” In other words, how can you see the whole picture?

    Supposing there is a God, and supposing the apparent evils in the world have a justification on a scale we can’t comprehend, does it make sense that we shouldn’t question anything or that we should abandon all reason? No, not at all. There’s something cocky in this quote in embracing our lack of access to a God’s eye view. The truth is, if we’re living in a world that’s on the whole good, and we can’t see that in its entirety, nothing really changes for us, does it? We go on with what wits we have and if we’re theists of a certain sort, maybe we take comfort in the idea that “this is the best of all possible worlds” or some such thing. To fall on our knees and say “hallelujah” when everything we love is taken away from us is insane, inhuman. On the other hand, acknowledging our emotions—which presumably God gave us, if we accept this view—and handling them in a healthy way does not contradict any of this theology or render anyone less faithful.

  23. Yes, insane, inane, inhumane, and incorrigible. This guy’s in with the in-crowd in the institutionalized.

    Dostoyevsky worried that if god were dead, all manner of evil would be permitted. This guy reminds us that if god isn’t dead, all manner of evil is commanded. As others have said, this is not a god worthy of worship.

    (I have a friend who is still looking for the PERFECTLY made martini – is there a recipe for that in the bible?)

  24. @ejwinner

    I have a friend who is still looking for the PERFECTLY made martini – is there a recipe for that in the bible?

    Just use the same method used to turn water into wine. Put water in an empty martini bottle and serve it as martini. It is the perfect martini

  25. Howie, as you know, I wrote a novel on this very subject. After reading half way through the first paragraph, I had to look back at your introduction to be sure I read correctly that this was an actual theist talking. Had you not said that he was a theist, I would have taken the entire comment to be a parody on Christians believing the unbelievable–only not really exaggerating what many, in fact, believe.

    Such unfortunately people surely have a condition prime examples the definition of “psychosis” (unable to understand the difference between logic and illogic to the point that clear, unquestionable facts are rejected in favor of faith (or in this case, the delusion of “knowing”).

    Fundamentalists and quasi fundamentalists suffer from the same delusion, but certainly self imposed. It is a shame that since many, if not most moderate/liberal believers understand that stories such as the creation, Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel, and the genocide of Canaan are myth, they generally just accept the nonsense quietly, and if pressed by hard questions, simply say that the stories are meant to be “metaphors.”

    My own brother, who is a liberal Christian, became angry when, after giving me the “metaphor” line and I asked, “Metaphor for what?” became angry and said sarcastically, “I don’t know everything.” Attitudes like that is likely why the delusion of the fundamentalists is left to fester and even grow. My brother simply didn’t think it important enough to think about. Yet, that delusion finds its way into our government and even into law in some States–to the detriment of our quasi Republic.

  26. Many good points Tina (rung2diotimasladder) as usual. I believe your connection to the answer theists give to the problem of evil is spot on. In fact in many exchanges I’ve had with theists online about this topic they always make some connection to the fact that “since we have to allow for natural disasters taking people’s lives and still believe in a good god, then we’d have to allow for our god to decide any which way to take a life even if it means ordering others to do it”. It seems to end up with an incoherent idea of morality.

  27. Yes ejwinner, this comment was just so disturbing to me the first time I read it. Surely this isn’t the kind of world we want, and if morality really is objective I just can’t see how the concept this guy has of a supreme deity aligns with any kind of morality we are familiar with as humans.

  28. Hey Max. I enjoyed your novel and you’re right it does relate.

    I added a link in the original post to the actual comment, not because I think you don’t trust me but because you are right that it looks very much like a parody. If you read all the comments by Tiribulus on that blog post you’ll see that it is very unlikely that he is a Poe.

    I think the most disturbing part of the comment was the part that began with “I sleep like a baby”. At that point it’s just so hard to take this seriously, but I really think Tiribulus means it, which is very disturbing.

    You may be right about liberal Christians playing a part, but I don’t feel the urge to blame liberal Christians for the fact that there are some people, who likely have psychiatric issues, that take their beliefs to extremes. If liberal Christians are apathetic and would rather spend time watching sports and hanging with their homies at their local church, and aren’t really interested in thinking much about this crazy stuff then it doesn’t bother me.

  29. I think it’s funny the way people interpret that response to the problem of evil. I think it’s somewhat dangerous to arm priggish literal minds with such ideas, but in the right person it can be meaningful and can provide a kind of abstract solace. It’s a kind of theological solace…a solace that (perhaps) everything is right in the world on some really large scale even though we can’t know it. Even here, though, there should be uncertainty from the standpoint of reason. The problem is, people forget that the God’s eye view is outside of our sphere, that the emphasis should be on our lack of knowledge, not on this kind of Pangloss certainty that everything specific thing that happens is good. We should be anything but certain! There should be humility, not cockiness. When people start getting specific and saying that such and such a thing is good just because it happened, we get into this strange territory where we are placing ourselves outside of causal events, presuming to know things we don’t. Ironic how the message gets twisted around.

  30. Thanks, Howie, Wow! Reading back over my post it seems clear that I did a poor job of editing, if I edited at all. I made a wreck of some sentences.

    I’m glad that you mentioned and linked to the “Poe” term. For some reason I can’t recall ever having heard of Poe’s Law. Me learn, me learn, me happy to learn! 😀

    No, I don’t blame liberal Christians for their apathy toward Biblical myth since most folks have little education in philosophy and world religions, and such discussions distract from more important endeavors of the moment such as making a living and keeping up with sports.

    The apathy, however, is a contributing factor in support of the myth in the same way that political apathy contributes/contributed to the the corrosion and virtual demise of our republic. When passionnant reason meets apathy, apathy often wins and becomes stronger, much like the clash of faith and reason.

  31. I had to think hard about that comment Tina (and also look up the word priggish), but I see what you’re saying now. It’s a shame that a view that could potentially be beneficial for some becomes twisted for others when applied to the extreme.

  32. Hey Max. That reminds me that I was hoping at least some Christians would come by and agree that the quote of the post is sick and dangerous. But I shouldn’t draw any conclusions from that I guess since it’s only been 3 days and I don’t have a whole lot of Christian readers who still actively blog.

  33. There should be a form of basic test that vets certain people (sic) as to whether they are entitled to play with the rest of humanity. Failure means you get disqualified and have to go and play with similar folk. .. a long, long way away. Or as far a said individual can row a boat.
    As this is Tiribulus maybe he should be forced to live with Bornfromabove?

  34. You always have a way with words Ark, and the “sic” confused me at first, but I see now. 🙂

    I haven’t met Bornfromabove, but if he is like Tiribulus I’m not very interested.

  35. The are both fanatically religious, both Christian but have vastly different ideologies and thus, despise each other with such passion it is a joy to behold!
    Dare I say, A Match Made in Heaven?

  36. Oh, you definitely don’t need to apologize for that Tina. It only took me a little bit of extra thinking to figure it out and it was worth it.

  37. The idea of perfection is a human construct of course, and where its referents lay are similarly so. Leaving aside any theistic references, then any one person’s adjudged perfection of events could be unique to themselves. If I am fearful and irresponsible, I may adjudge perfection to lay in imagined deities, and in their putative creations or commands – and yet this is indeed a model of perfection, if only to myself and my ape brain.

  38. Thank for stopping by Hariod. It seems then that perfection is simply a meaningless label attached to whatever we may want.

  39. Hey Howie-
    As you know from reading over at Nate’s, I struggle a lot with those kinds of passages. If God exists, then we walk out on very thin ice when we try to explain his behavior or defend him in any way – it seems reasonable to think we could not understand or explain all of his actions. If God is God, then he did create everything, including evil. He, at least passively, allows evil to happen every hour, every minute, every second. Whether or not he commands it, the deeper issue is: why does he even allow it? If he allows it, it would make some sense to say he commanded it, even if he didn’t actually “give the order”. Robert Capon wrestles a lot with this in “The Third Peacock”. Capon falls down on the side that God simply does not operate the way we’d like him to. He doesn’t stop evil. He doesn’t make himself known beyond doubt, etc, etc, etc with all the reasons a lot of people have trouble with God (those people include myself, and I’m certain most, if not all, reasonable Christians – if there can be said to be such a thing!). What Capon keeps coming back to is: If God exists, and if Jesus was God’s revelation of himself in human form, then we can look at Jesus’ actions for some glimpse into how God behaves. Most importantly, we can look at the cross. Jesus, even at the threat of his own pain, suffering, and death, did not stop the evil actions of those condemning him. Capon concludes that the cross, whatever else it may mean to Christians, is at least showing us this: God does not necessarily intervene to stop evil; he intervenes to show us that he suffers it with us. I think it’s important to note that God does not promise us safety or immunity from suffering. To quote Tim Keller: “God does not promise us there will be no fires. He doesn’t even say “IF” you walk through the fire. He says “WHEN” you walk through the fire, I will be with you.” The writer of your quoted comment is being consistent, and I can understand where they are coming from. I think much the same way sometimes. Other times, I am furious with God for what he allows. I have a lot of problems with an abstract God, who looks on from the sidelines. I look at Jesus. There is a guy I can place hope in. If there is a God, and there was a representative for him on earth, Jesus is who I’d want it to be.

  40. There should be a form of basic test that vets certain people (sic) as to whether they are entitled to play with the rest of humanity. Failure means you get disqualified and have to go and play with similar folk. .. a long, long way away. Or as far a said individual can row a boat.
    As this is Tiribulus maybe he should be forced to live with Bornfromabove?

    Funny, Ark. This sounds a lot like the ideology of many religious people you constantly denigrate. It’s not a long leap from this comment of yours, to saying people that fail the test should be extinguished. I’d be careful of how close to the burning fire of religious ideology you walk.

  41. @Josh

    One must bear in mind that there is an element of poetic licence when I write like this.
    But certainly a careful eye must be kept on those espousing this level of insanity.

    Maybe we could find some way to oblige such folk to do work for UNICEF in Africa – the Sudan say.
    Or, Malawi where my sister just spent a year working as a nurse in a fairly impoverished district.

    Perhaps they would discover their humanity?

  42. Perhaps they would discover their humanity?

    Perhaps. And, much respect to your sister for her work in Malawi. If more of us (myself included) did that the world would doubtless be a much finer place.

  43. Hey Josh,

    The fact that you struggle with these passages shows your humanity. Tiribulus (the one who wrote the quote from the original post) doesn’t seem to indicate any struggle with this, which is troubling.

    If he allows it, it would make some sense to say he commanded it, even if he didn’t actually “give the order”.

    Josh, I think there is a problem with this line of thinking. It looks like this kind of reasoning pretty much makes morality meaningless which is actually a charge that theists make against atheists.

    For example, the God that you believe in allows pedophilia according to your beliefs. If it makes some sense to say that he commands it then now we have the idea that God is commanding people to be pedophiles. Is this what you are suggesting?

  44. I don’t want to engage in a lengthy debate here but I would like to weigh in.

    I don’t endorse this comment in the least as it is unbiblical and misrepresents the nature and Character of God.

    That being said, the person responsible for the quote recently told me I was a cancer and a horrible blight on Christianity so…

    Anyway, this person is toxic and has been blocked from commenting on my blog.

    I think you all would do well to simply ignore him and not give him attention he doesn’t deserve.

  45. Thank you for being the first theist to say this on my post. I was hoping for more, but maybe many have lost interest in debate like you (and myself).

  46. You’re quite welcome Howie. The comment was inexcusable and something needed to be said.

    In fact, I’m going to kick it around a bit and maybe use it in a post of my own with a link to you of course.

    We may not agree on much but I think we can both agree that there are some pretty awful Christians out there who should probably think twice before speaking.


  47. Pingback: Some Christians should think twice before blogging | The Isaiah 53:5 Project

  48. I have family members who have this world view and I am quite familiar with this theory.

    I think this comment really quote shows humanity what is wrong with a society that holds god over everything else. It also does show the dark side to whichever god is in the bible. However, when does god come before morals and doing what you know is the right thing. Killing innocent people can’t be good. In now situation can I see that as good. Is only good if god says so? What I have tried to do my whole life is not be treated like a sheep and follow commands blindly. I think more people have to look up, and realize that maybe actions like killing innocent people is wrong. I believe somebody should revolve around their moral compass not the “moral” compass of a “god” who’s teachings can be savage and brutal. In conclusion, I am trying to figure out whether go exists or not. But, if loving your neighbor like you love yourself something you should do. Then why did god ever command to kill thousands; and more importantly, why do people see the need to follow and be a part of an organization that somebody knows is wrong.

  49. Hi rationalcetacean. You’ve described some of the same issues I have with divine command theory, especially ones that derive from books that were written during more barbaric ages and still contain barbaric ideas within them. I think SelfAwarePatterns had some other similar points in his comment above that I thought were well said.

  50. Thanks a lot. Also, if somebody can do anything if got says it is good, there would be all kinds of complex paradoxes. God says an eye for an eye, but in the new testament he says turn the other cheek. This theory brings a lot of the questions people are asking about god into play. I find in this way the theory kind of pulls itself apart.

  51. First, yes I do not view things like this person. That said there is allot to chew on here.

    One question this raises is whether retribution can be just. In law school I was taught that criminal punishment serves three purposes. Retribution deterrence and rehabilitation.

    I notice some people take a dim view of Retribution. But I am not so sure. Does any bad person “have it coming” or is that simply passe thinking?

    As for the divine command theory that IMO is a form of subjectivism. And it also seems to make morality arbitrary.
    I tend to be a moral realist.

  52. I’m glad you don’t view things that way Joe. 🙂 I’m no fan of retribution but I can relate to the feelings that people have which serve as motivation for retribution. I may pick your brain in the future to get a better idea of your view of morality. If it’s long enough it may end up being a post.

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