“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction; jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully”.
Others, like Dawkins, claim that the God of the Old Testament is unfair, jealous, and narcissistic. As a result, they refuse to accept, or are at least unwilling to consider, the reality of a loving God. Some have difficulty with the thought of a Creator desiring to be involved with His created. Others may have difficulty believing in and praying to a God they cannot see. In his new book, “Is God a Moral Monster; Making Sense of the Old Testament God” Paul Copan takes on the challenges put forward by many God-deniers and skeptics. Copan begins by highlighting what is called “New Atheism”. Although atheism has been around for centuries, it has often been passive and not really having a prominent voice. New Atheism is more aggressive, vocal, and in a sense, evangelistic with some proponents actually proselytizing. Throughout his book, Copan regularly refers to the four major voices of New Atheism today: Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchins. It was Dawkins who referred to God as a “moral monster”. Copan tackles the major issues these men have with the God of the Old Testament by turning their own arguments back on them.
Copan’s book is written in four parts. In Part One, Neo-Atheism, Copan responds to the objections of the New Atheists by quoting their own words and using scripture to refute the objections. In Part Two, Copan asks the question, “Is God a Gracious Master or a Moral Monster?” Copan begins to address such issues as the jealousy of God, allegations of “child abuse”, God’s rage, the fallacy of child sacrifices, and the true reason for sacrifices. In Part Three, Life in the Ancient Near East and Israel, he paints a clear picture of what life was like in the days that the Bible was written. Copan shows how the customs of ancient Israel and surrounding nations affect our reading of the Bible. It is here that he author introduces the reader to many of the codified laws of other Near East countries. Put into its proper historical context, Copan demonstrates how the Mosaic Law in fact was an improvement over the laws of that day. This improvement resulted in a regulated slavery, an increase in women’s rights, and less severe criminal punishments. Copan deals with the principle of “an eye for an eye” here beautifully. Lastly, Copan does not shy away from the difficult passages. Copan deals with the New Atheists claims that God is partial in His judgment, a woman hater, a supporter of polygamy, an endorser of slavery, and an ethnic cleanser. He calls into question the New Atheists support of what Copan calls the “is-ought” argument. They believe that just because a law is in narration it is an automatic endorsement by God. He points out that many of the individual laws are what he calls “case law”. The laws that begin with such language as “if a man…” or “if two men…” are examples of this case law. The laws allow for a worst-case scenario in the event such action took place instead of granting license to commit such an act. He also points out the instances where the law had a limited application. These laws, as Copan suggests, were never to be universally binding on all people (only Israel) and were not be permanent. In part Four, Sharpening the Moral Focus, he brings the focus to the New Testament and shows how goodness and morality are the results of the results of a loving and law-giving God.
To prove his case, Copan utilizes certain tools with precision. First, Copan uses the Bible itself to place New Atheists arguments in their proper context. He also uses the Hebrew language masterfully to pull the reader back to the time of the Bible’s writing. Copan also uses their words as a framework for his defense. He also highlights the customs of other Near East nations and their laws to show where the Mosaic Law is situated, again in its proper context. Copan, in a very convincing manner, places the Old Testament law where it needs to be. He says that the law given to the Israelites falls within what he calls “the redemptive movement of scripture”. This means that the Bible, which is God’s story, from the very beginning is moving from a perfect creation that, through sin and disobedience, fell and needed a redeemer. These laws constitute the middle of the story and are not the ideal but were necessary to move God’s people toward their Savior.
“Is God a Moral Monster” is a great work. It is well researched and not an over-scholarly work. As an apologetics work, it is a home run. For the believer, it reinforces God’s ultimate plan of redemption. For the skeptic or searcher, it lays out an argument for a loving and covenant keeping God in a most convincing way. I have a better appreciation and love for God as a result of studying this work. This book soundly burns the atheist’s straw man argument for a petty, jealous, woman-hating, and xenophobic God to the ground.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Books as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”