Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense Of The Old Testament God Paperback – 1 Jan 2011
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From the Back Cover
Is the God of the Old Testament nothing but a bully, a murderer, and an oppressor?
Many today--even within the church--seem to think so. How are Christians to respond to such accusations? And how are we to reconcile the seemingly disconnected natures of God portrayed in the two testaments?
God punishes people too harshly
God is guilty of ethnic cleansing
God oppresses women
God endorses slavery
Christianity causes violence Copan not only answers the critics, he also shows how to read both the Old and New Testaments faithfully, seeing an unchanging, righteous, and loving God in both. "This is the book I wish I had written myself. It is simply the best book I have read that tackles the many difficulties that the Old Testament presents to thinking and sensitive Christians. Paul Copan writes in such a simple, straightforward way, yet covers enormous issues comprehensively and with reassuring biblical detail and scholarly research."--Christopher J. H. Wright, international director, Langham Partnership International; author of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God
"Lucid, lively, and very well informed, this book is the best defense of Old Testament ethics that I have read. A must-read for all preachers and Bible study leaders."--Gordon Wenham, emeritus professor of Old Testament, University of Gloucestershire "The New Atheists have attacked the morality of the Old Testament with a vengeance. In honesty, many Christians will confess that they struggle with what looks like a primitive and barbaric ethic. Paul Copan helps us truly understand the world of the Old Testament and how it relates to us today."--Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College "Copan takes on current New Atheist biblical critics and powerfully addresses virtually every criticism they have raised. I know of no other book like this one, and it should be required reading in college and seminary courses."--J. P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy, Talbot School of Theology; author of The God Question
"There's virtually no scholar I'd rather read on these subjects than Paul Copan. This handbook of responses to tough ethical issues is able to both diminish the rhetoric as well as alleviate many concerns."--Gary R. Habermas, distinguished research professor, Liberty University and Seminary Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He is the author or editor of many books, including When God Goes to Starbucks.
About the Author
Paul Copan (PhD, Marquette University) is the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He is the author of several popular apologetics books, including Is God a Moral Monster? and lives with his wife and
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A brief summary of the book's chapters is given as follows:
1 & 2. These two chapters are a brief survey of the comments by the "New Atheists", about the Old Testament God. Copan suggests that his book is a response to these comments. He suggests that the book is to educate non-believers and believers alike, to teach them things that they have not bothered to learn.
3. Is an assessment of whether God craves attention, or whether being religious and worshipping God is a way of improving the self.
4. Is an assessment of the covenant, and whether picking one people is horrid and discriminatory or a good way to benefit the whole of humanity, i.e. an example to lead the rest of us.
5. Is an assessment of the Isaac story and the crucifixion. Is God a child abuser or man's promised saviour?
6. Is an assessment of the bible laws. It considers whether they are repressive or help to develop holiness. It also then considers the is/ought fallacy.
7 & 8. These chapters carry on from chapter 6 by considering the biblical commandments on kosher foods. Are these crazy or do they have a purpose, i.e. by regulating the self we help to improve the self. These are then cross referenced with the New Testament's argument on kosher foods and justification by faith alone.
9. Is an assessment of whether the biblical laws are barbaric and cruel. For example: sabbath breakers, drunkards, eye for an eye etc. This chapter assesses the deeper meaning of the laws, i.e. that they are meant to make the self holy and promote righteousness. These are then crossed referenced to the New Testament's teachings on righteousness. Finally, it shows how these ideas have influenced modern ideas.
10. Is an assessment of whether Israel discriminates against women. Again, this chapter looks into the deeper meanings of the laws, i.e. the image of God idea and the equality of all humans. It then shows how modern ideas of female liberation actually owe their origin to feminist theology, which comes from the bible.
11. Is a carry on from chapter 10 and considers the biblical positions on polygamy, concubines and bride prices. Are they God promoted, or man's insisted? Is this what God intended, or simply allowed due to the hardness of man's heart?
12 - 14. These chapters offer an assessment of slavery in Israel. Were the slaves better treated in Israel than the rest of the world? Is there a deeper meaning to the laws? It also draws reference to the 7 year jubilee, an event few actually understand the meaning of. It firstly examines how radical Israel's ideas on slaves were, and then shows how all modern ideas on equality owe their origin to the bible.
15 - 17. These chapters are possibly the weakest chapters. They are an assessment of the holy wars of Israel, most noticeably the Canaanite massacres. This chapter argues that the wars were limited, i.e. a one off justification given by God (the weakest argument -, it basically says, God said it's ok so it's ok). These chapters then argue that these wars were not directed against the people themselves but against their cruelty and ritualistic acts. It argues that the Canaanites were certainly not exterminated in a genocide fashion as they are still drawn reference to over 2000 years after the alleged event. Finally, it argues that it's easy to criticise these readings given the modern world but to truly understand them the cruelty of the world at that time needs to be understood and therefore some historical background information is needed - which the author then gives. All this is meant to somehow show that the wars themselves were ok. I must admit that whilst these chapters included a lot of valuable and interesting information, they did not convince me.
18. This chapter considers whether religion causes violence or promotes unity and self improvement. This chapter is really a response to Hitchen's argument that "religion poisons everything". It also considers whether the Crusades were really as bad/or the same as the modern Islamic Jihad.
19. Is a brief consideration whether morality functions fine without God. Are we simply able to say that we're just atoms and that our actions don't matter? Does this then impact our ideas on morality? To be honest the author doesn't devote enough attention to these issues to make this chapter worthwhile. His central argument is that no, having God helps, but of course as we're all made in God's image we don't need him and that we can be moral without him - but having him helps make us better.
20. Is a brief assessment on how much the modern world has been influenced by Jesus, and argues that he is far more important than many of us imagine him to be; to our history, culture and ideals. Again, this topic itself could full a whole book and so whilst mentioned in summary, fails to give a good meaty argument.
My impressions are as follows:
If you have never studied any form of political / legal readings of the Old Testament ideologies then this book is sure to amaze you. What it will do though is to serve to bridge the gap between the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. Once you have read this book, that age old idea that the Gods of each somehow look different will disappear. In this sense the book is truly a must for the enquiring casual religious reader.
However, if you are an atheist then this book is likely to answer some of your questions, and show you how some of what you've read is not as simple as its made out to be by some of the "New Atheists". However, I'm pretty sure that the chapters on the Canaanites are unlikely to convince you, if they could not convince me - a believer.
One thing it will stress to you is that none of the texts can be taken simply at face value, and do require a lot of assessment and deliberation before any meanings can becomes apparent. Failing to do this will produce bizarre results, but this should be expected. As these bizarro readings, usually a product of pure fundamentalist literalist readings, are expected they are hardly surprising or really worth considering, and as such are not the "knock down" type arguments they are often thought to be.
The last 2 chapters really deserve to be books in themselves, but of course one has to understand that the book itself was designed to focus on Old Testament Ethics and God, rather than moral philosophy and modern political history. In this sense these chapters need forgiveness.
The presentation of the book was nice with a decent sized front. The book itself was just over 200 pages long. The book is fully referenced, and indexed. It also includes a list of discussion points on each chapter at the back of the book, which are meant to help any church/biblical study group consider these topics in more details in informal group discussions.
Overall, an enjoyable book, but not an infallible one. This doesn't stop me recommending it to everyone, especially believers who will no doubt benefit the most from it. I would argue that all believers have a duty to know there stuff on this kind of stuff more than any atheist. As such this book is important and a worthwhile buy.
However, it does lose 1 star from me for failing to convince me on the Canaanite issue.
He partly succeeds, but because of his evangelical stance and fundamentalist approach to scripture cannot say that perhaps some of the authors of the Old Testament simply mis-represented God, and put into his mouth what were perhaps very human attitudes and ideas.
Seriously, I'm not making it up. He really says this. I mean, who hasn't finished butchering women and children and looked down, taking comfort in their blood spattered wrist band with the letters WWFD? What would Frodo do?
The book starts off and seems to hit all the right notes. Copan sets out to tackle a lot of the objections that the 'New Atheists' (i.e. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and other similar) make against the moral character of God, and particularly how it appears in the Old Testament. Copan wants to deal with a lot of these issues head on.
Unfortunately his treatment of the Canaanite issue is unsatisfactory. He goes to great lengths to qualify the Biblical text as we have it in Joshua to make it less offensive, by appealing to Ancient Near Eastern Context. In doing so he argues that when all the inhabitants of Jericho were killed in Joshua 6-7 - no women and children were involved, it was just a fortress, and there were probably no more than 600 fighting age men there.
Of course we need to make sure that we're reading the Biblical text properly, both within the context that God has given us, and it's context with its original hearers. But this answer doesn't get "God off the hook" so to speak. The problem the modern reader will have is that God still commanded the destruction of Jericho and the deaths of 600. All Copan manages to achieve is a moving of the goalposts.
A much better book on the Canaanite question is Christopher J. H. Wright's The God I Don't Understand. That deals with the problem in a much more sober minded fashion.
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