24 April 2014

Is the Christian God amoral?

I was thinking about various omni-paradoxes this morning, spurred by a relevant post over at Deity Shmiety, and something related crossed my mind. One of the constraints generally placed on God's omnipotence is that he is incapable of evil – he is the embodiment of moral goodness. This does of course place Christians in the awkward position of saying that all sorts of deplorable violence, slavery (and the beating of slaves), the subjugation of women, and eternal torment are morally good – at least in a certain context – so that God, say, hardening the Pharaoh's heart and then punishing his stubbornness by murdering Egypt's firstborn sons (thankfully, just a myth) is totally morally good.

But the idea that God couldn't choose to do evil not only renders him conditionally omnipotent (which seems to be a pretty idiosyncratic use of the word that only theologians believe to be valid), it seems to make God totally amoral. Not immoral, but simply lacking any moral character at all. God is essentially an automaton who can always only do the most moral possible action. But it seems to me that a key component of calling ourselves moral beings rests on the fact that we are, in fact, capable of choosing between kindness and cruelty, between "good" and "evil". If God is incapable of wrongdoing, I fail to see how he can be considered a moral being at all. He's not choosing to do good; his nature compels him to always to the "most good" thing, and he is wholly incapable of choosing otherwise.

This "conditional omnipotence" stuff also carries with it the implication that, as a moral being who can choose to do right or wrong, I am more powerful than God. But I sort of knew that anyway, since God, y'know, doesn't actually exist.

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