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Sources of Ethics and Morality


Bravus

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This thread is a spinoff from the 'Shaking of Adventism' thread, which had got into the field of ethics but is still mixed with many other discussions.

What is the source (or 'are the sources') of ethics and morality?

Where do judgements about what it is right and good (or wrong and evil) to do come from?

How is morality related to religion?

Are there different kinds of moral reasoning?

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This thread is a spinoff from the 'Shaking of Adventism' thread, which had got into the field of ethics but is still mixed with many other discussions.

What is the source (or 'are the sources') of ethics and morality?

Where do judgements about what it is right and good (or wrong and evil) to do come from?

How is morality related to religion?

Are there different kinds of moral reasoning?

We are created with a conscience, a "voice of conscience" or "voice within", which is the creator communicating to us. Giving us the ability or faculty that distinguishes whether one's actions are right or wrong. It creates feelings of remorse within you when one does things that go against it, and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when one's actions conform to our moral values. So who created us and put that in us........?

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This thread is a spinoff from the 'Shaking of Adventism' thread, which had got into the field of ethics but is still mixed with many other discussions.

What is the source (or 'are the sources') of ethics and morality?

Sources could be: 1) by fiat, by someone in authority - God, gov't, religious leader, 2) each individual being the source.

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Where do judgements about what it is right and good (or wrong and evil) to do come from?

I believe my answer to #1 also applies here.

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How is morality related to religion?

In order for moral principles to have enough force for people to abide by, they have to be tied to something very powerful. I can't think of anything more powerful than religion as a motivator for compliance via the promise of eternal bliss on the one hand and eternal damnation on the other. Corrupt human nature being allienated from divine love and power, will only recognize force stronger than itself as deterrent to its own greed and caprice. But those that have been touched by the divine will find love to be the strongest motivator in the whole universe and not fear.

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Are there different kinds of moral reasoning?

I can boil it down to two: 1) What's good for me 2) What's good for everyone.

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Aha! You have walked directly into my trap! bwink

Not really, in fact not at all... but you have set us up nicely for a short discussion of Kohlberg's theory of moral reasoning. Here's a short precis (from Wikipedia - by all means search for more detail):

Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)

1. Obedience and punishment orientation

(How can I avoid punishment?)

2. Self-interest orientation

(What's in it for me?)

Level 2 (Conventional)

3. Interpersonal accord and conformity

(Social norms, The good boy/good girl attitude)

4. Authority and social-order maintaining orientation

(Law and order morality)

Level 3 (Post-Conventional)

5. Social contract orientation

6. Universal ethical principles

(Principled conscience)

I'm not sure I agree with Kohlberg about this being a stage theory where people move through from lower to upper stages, but it does provide a nice taxonomy to help us look at the various ways in which people make moral decisions.

Gerry, would it be fair to describe your response above as at sub-stage 1: gaining reward and avoiding punishment? I don't think you were necessarily saying that that is the case for you personally, but you were suggesting that for most people some external authority figure holds the moral law and people keep the law to avoid punishment or gain a promised reward.

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I don't think it is selfish to want to do good to ourselves provided we don't put ourselves ahead of others is it?

And, so far as keeping the law...at least for me it is done simply because I love God, not to gain anything, just out of love.

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Level 1 (Pre-Conventional)

1. Obedience and punishment orientation

(How can I avoid punishment?)

2. Self-interest orientation

(What's in it for me?)

The Bible shows that there's nothing wrong with people having a desire to gain eternal life and to avoid eternal death. That is where God began with Adam. It's a good place to begin, but of course as the Christian grows, it is hoped that we will come to have a more profound motivation for obeying God. It's the same with our obedience to the laws of our government. At first we may be motivated by fear of arrest and punishment, but as we mature as citizens, we should get beyond that motivation. Similarly, as we mature as citizens of God's kingdom, we should come to the point where we want to glorify God and prevent Him from looking bad before the universe.

God made us with a desire for self-interest. The only problem with it is when our self-interest becomes uppermost in our thinking and motivation. God's interest should be first in our thinking, and our self-interest should never displace the interest of our neighbors'. We shouldn't only be concerned about our own salvation but about that of our neighbors as well.

If we acknowledge that God gave his Son to save us, we will certainly see it as our primary responsibility to be saved, but we won't stop with our own salvation. We'll have a deep desire to pass it on so others can also be saved.

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I think the issue that was the source of this discussion is based on the question...

Do we need the Bible/god to determine what is ethical?

Some have suggested that the most superior ethical person would model their life on the ethics of the Bible and the closer they came to that ethical model the better person they would be.

I think we need to start with the question...

Why do we need ethics in the first place?

The answer to this question determines the direction each person is going to go.

Some have suggested that ethics need to be in place to maintain order. So order becomes the goal.

Some have suggested that ethics are essential for goodness. So the goal is to become good.

Some have suggested that ethics are part of being saved and they need to be there to prove that someone has God in their heart.

When I talk about ethics it is for the purpose of reducing and avoiding suffering for as many people as possible.

There is no competition to see who is the most ethical or to determine worthiness. This is counter productive to the first goal of reducing suffering. So the type of ethical views I am talking about are not for the purpose of rating goodness because that is simply about ego.

There are a number of economic theories that suggest that co-operation brings a better outcome for all, as long as this co-operation is done with intelligence and knowledge.

In human interaction I have found that having emotional intelligence is essential to practicing ethical behavior skillfully. Emotional intelligence could be simplified to empathy, the ability to feel what others are feeling and also being aware of what oneself is feeling. This is expressed in the saying by Jesus, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

This would suggest that education, skillful reasoning, and open access to knowledge would provide not only less suffering, but would provide greater success for all. This would suggest an additional benefit of pleasure.

I think any human ethical system should allow for the subjective qualities we call love, joy, happiness, and pleasure since these go a long way in alleviating suffering.

With these guidelines we can develop a rational basis for ethics for the purpose of reducing suffering.

And with any system of ethics we need to observe their effects to see if they produce the desired outcome.

The problem with Bible based ethics is that the Bible is held up as the gold standard even though following the Bible doesn't always produce ethical behavior among its followers, because historically Christianity has been the source of a lot of suffering and violence.

And if you do form a rational ethical system from the Bible, you have to edit, pick and choose, and re-interpret large portions of scripture. We have examples of cultures following the Bible literally and they have been some of the most cruel and violent.

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Great summary of the traditions, CoAspen. Would you be kind enough to do the same thing for both 'morals' and 'mores' if you get a chance? I think those are going to be key concepts.

Shane, I'd be interested in hearing about the process by which the ethics are derived from the Bible.

Richard, nice delineation of some of the fundamental issues. Without clarifying those it would be easy for the discussion to go round and round in circles, with people talking about different goals. I wanted to ask whether there is a positive as well as a negative part to your ethics - maximising happiness or joy or fulfilment, for example, as well as minimising suffering?

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I think the issue that was the source of this discussion is based on the question...

Do we need the Bible/god to determine what is ethical?

A definite yes!!! If the idea of right and wrong were not given from a higher source, then yours is no better than mine or vice versa, even though you may think you have a superior emotional intelligence. Playing ANY game would be impossible if everybody played by their own self-determined rules. A case in point - someone in this forum on many occasions likes to use words in a way peculiar only to himself and whose meaning is nowhere to found in any dictionary. As a result, you find a convoluted thread that goes on ad infinitum.

If you want to know what the correct time is, you must set you watch by the U.S. Naval Observatory clock.

If you want to know how heavy or how long something is, you must go by accepted international standards for wt & measures. Without them, trade and science would grind to a halt. No one would be safe in a world where everyone is the determinant of right and wrong.

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True, although all those things you mention are in fact human consensus conventions: there is no mile or kilometre found in nature or laid down in the Bible, people have got together and decided to have common agreed units because as you note, that's the only pragmatic way it can work.

In the same way, there is not a simple dichotomy between absolute, divinely-guaranteed, universal ethics on the one hand and absolute individual relativism where everyone's values are as good as everyone else's on the other. There are socially constructed moral and ethical codes that arise out of the same kind of human consensus-building processes that gave us Greenwich Mean Time.

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Do we need the Bible/god to determine what is ethical?

Yes. At least if we want to have true ethics.

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The problem with Bible based ethics is that the Bible is held up as the gold standard even though following the Bible doesn't always produce ethical behavior among its followers, because historically Christianity has been the source of a lot of suffering and violence.

This fails to take into account that for most of history the Christian church has been in apostasy and not following Bible religion.

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Shane, I'd be interested in hearing about the process by which the ethics are derived from the Bible.

The Golden Rule is a good place to start. In college they taught us that anything that gives one party an unfair advantage by giving another party an unfair disadvantage is unethical. The Bible is filled with stories that teach ethical and unethical behavior.

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Are we talking about private property rights?

"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is mine" (Exodus 19:4, 5)

Caanan, like the rest of the Earth belonged to God. He was within His rights to do with it as He pleased. I believe God's plan was actually to drive the inhabitants of Caanan out with bees but because of Israel's disbelief and stubbornness He made them fight for the land.

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Hmm - bee stings versus genocide, and it depends not on you but on the other people who are coming to take your land. Nice.

See, here's the problem. With a theocratic system, anything God does is by definition ethical, even if it would be utterly unethical and criminal if done by humans. I mean, the Nazis were just looking for lebensraum (room to live) when they tried to take over Europe. Generally, "we want your land, and we're going to take it by force" is pretty much the definition of unethical behaviour. But if it's God's will, it's OK.

I don't actually have an agenda with this thread, I'm interested in all viewpoints. But a real and serious burning issue for me is how God can be the supernatural guarantor of an ethics system which He is not bound by himself and does not model. if the claim is 'these ethics are universal, God says so - um, except they don't apply to God, or to God's people when he tells them so'...

Not hostile, just confused.

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Originally Posted By: cardw
I think the issue that was the source of this discussion is based on the question...

Do we need the Bible/god to determine what is ethical?

A definite yes!!! If the idea of right and wrong were not given from a higher source, then yours is no better than mine or vice versa/

If you want to know what the correct time is, you must set you watch by the U.S. Naval Observatory clock.

If you want to know how heavy or how long something is, you must go by accepted international standards for wt & measures. Without them, trade and science would grind to a halt. No one would be safe in a world where everyone is the determinant of right and wrong.

You are right Gerry on this. (I didn't quote you in completeness but quoted you in the points I wanted to bring out.) Absolutely God is our standard of right and wrong as is the Bible. And yes, because he is all knowing..he does what is best, and some things we won't understand till we get to heaven, but that day is coming.

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Kohlberg's work is fundamentally flawed, in that assumes that moral/ethical behavior springs from cognition. Peck & Havighurst's work on character is much better, just out of fashion because older.

Any discussion of morality should be informed by C.S. Lewis's "Abolition of Man," which is a work about morality and ethics, but not using the Bible as a baseline.

Lewis not only makes a persuasive case about the universal nature of morality, he anticipated the decline of civilization because of the injection of propaganda into school curricula.

It seems clear from the "Abolition of Man" that Lewis would argue that God is indeed, subject to the same universal moral values as we are. God cannot act immorally, not because whatever He does defines morality, but because He is constrained by his own Nature.

To the degree that we consider the extermination of the Canaanites immoral, that verdict derives either from a lack of information (God knows all, we do not), or from a misunderstanding of morality itself. The latter usually arises today from an elevation of contemporary sensibilities to moral imperatives.

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True, although all those things you mention are in fact human consensus conventions: there is no mile or kilometre found in nature or laid down in the Bible, people have got together and decided to have common agreed units because as you note, that's the only pragmatic way it can work.

In the same way, there is not a simple dichotomy between absolute, divinely-guaranteed, universal ethics on the one hand and absolute individual relativism where everyone's values are as good as everyone else's on the other. There are socially constructed moral and ethical codes that arise out of the same kind of human consensus-building processes that gave us Greenwich Mean Time.

Consensus or not, the point is that each person/nation is willing to relegate each individual notion of time/wts/measures to something that is imposed by external sources.

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See, here's the problem. With a theocratic system, anything God does is by definition ethical, even if it would be utterly unethical and criminal if done by humans.

That is not a problem. God knows all. Humans do not.

Before we start questioning God perhaps we should review His response to Job who did the same.

Job 38:

1. Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

2. Who is this that darkeneth counsel By words without knowledge?

3. Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

4. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding.

5. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest? Or who stretched the line upon it?

6. Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the corner-stone thereof,

7. When the morning stars sang together, And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8. Or who shut up the sea with doors, When it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb;

9. When I made clouds the garment thereof, And thick darkness a swaddling-band for it,

10. And marked out for it my bound, And set bars and doors,

11. And said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further; And here shall thy proud waves be stayed?

12. Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days began, And caused the dayspring to know its place;

13. That it might take hold of the ends of the earth, And the wicked be shaken out of it?

14. It is changed as clay under the seal; And all things stand forth as a garment:

15. And from the wicked their light is withholden, And the high arm is broken.

16. Hast thou entered into the springs of the sea? Or hast thou walked in the recesses of the deep?

17. Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee? Or hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death?

18. Hast thou comprehended the earth in its breadth? Declare, if thou knowest it all.

19. Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And as for darkness, where is the place thereof,

20. That thou shouldest take it to the bound thereof, And that thou shouldest discern the paths to the house thereof?

21. Doubtless, thou knowest, for thou wast then born, And the number of thy days is great!

22. Hast thou entered the treasuries of the snow, Or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,

23. Which I have reserved against the time of trouble, Against the day of battle and war?

24. By what way is the light parted, Or the east wind scattered upon the earth?

25. Who hath cleft a channel for the waterflood, Or the way for the lightning of the thunder;

26. To cause it to rain on a land where no man is; On the wilderness, wherein there is no man;

27. To satisfy the waste and desolate ground, And to cause the tender grass to spring forth?

28. Hath the rain a father? Or who hath begotten the drops of dew?

29. Out of whose womb came the ice? And the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?

30. The waters hide themselves and become like stone, And the face of the deep is frozen.

31. Canst thou bind the cluster of the Pleiades, Or loose the bands of Orion?

32. Canst thou lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season? Or canst thou guide the Bear with her train?

33. Knowest thou the ordinances of the heavens? Canst thou establish the dominion thereof in the earth?

34. Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, That abundance of waters may cover thee?

35. Canst thou send forth lightnings, that they may go, And say unto thee, Here we are?

36. Who hath put wisdom in the inward parts? Or who hath given understanding to the mind?

37. Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can pour out the bottles of heaven,

38. When the dust runneth into a mass, And the clods cleave fast together?

39. Canst thou hunt the prey for the lioness, Or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,

40. When they couch in their dens, And abide in the covert to lie in wait?

41. Who provideth for the raven his prey, When his young ones cry unto God, And wander for lack of food?

Job 39:

1. Knowest thou the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? Or canst thou mark when the hinds do calve?

2. Canst thou number the months that they fulfil? Or knowest thou the time when they bring forth?

3. They bow themselves, they bring forth their young, They cast out their pains.

4. Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open field; They go forth, and return not again.

5. Who hath sent out the wild ass free? Or who hath loosed the bonds of the swift ass,

6. Whose home I have made the wilderness, And the salt land his dwelling-place?

7. He scorneth the tumult of the city, Neither heareth he the shoutings of the driver.

8. The range of the mountains is his pasture, And he searcheth after every green thing.

9. Will the wild-ox be content to serve thee? Or will he abide by thy crib?

10. Canst thou bind the wild-ox with his band in the furrow? Or will he harrow the valleys after thee?

11. Wilt thou trust him, because his strength is great? Or wilt thou leave to him thy labor?

12. Wilt thou confide in him, that he will bring home thy seed, And gather the grain of thy threshing-floor?

13. The wings of the ostrich wave proudly; But are they the pinions and plumage of love?

14. For she leaveth her eggs on the earth, And warmeth them in the dust,

15. And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, Or that the wild beast may trample them.

16. She dealeth hardly with her young ones, as if they were not hers: Though her labor be in vain, she is without fear;

17. Because God hath deprived her of wisdom, Neither hath he imparted to her understanding.

18. What time she lifteth up herself on high, She scorneth the horse and his rider.

19. Hast thou given the horse his might? Hast thou clothed his neck with the quivering mane?

20. Hast thou made him to leap as a locust? The glory of his snorting is terrible.

21. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: He goeth out to meet the armed men.

22. He mocketh at fear, and is not dismayed; Neither turneth he back from the sword.

23. The quiver rattleth against him, The flashing spear and the javelin.

24. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage; Neither believeth he that it is the voice of the trumpet.

25. As oft as the trumpet soundeth he saith, Aha! And he smelleth the battle afar off, The thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

26. Is it by thy wisdom that the hawk soareth, (And) stretcheth her wings toward the south?

27. Is it at thy command that the eagle mounteth up, And maketh her nest on high?

28. On the cliff she dwelleth, and maketh her home, Upon the point of the cliff, and the stronghold.

29. From thence she spieth out the prey; Her eyes behold it afar off.

30. Her young ones also suck up blood: And where the slain are, there is she.

Job 40:

1. Moreover Jehovah answered Job, and said,

2. Shall he that cavilleth contend with the Almighty? He that argueth with God, let him answer it.

3. Then Job answered Jehovah, and said,

4. Behold, I am of small account; What shall I answer thee? I lay my hand upon my mouth.

5. Once have I spoken, and I will not answer; Yea, twice, but I will proceed no further.

6. Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

7. Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

8. Wilt thou even annul my judgment? Wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be justified?

9. Or hast thou an arm like God? And canst thou thunder with a voice like him?

10. Deck thyself now with excellency and dignity; And array thyself with honor and majesty.

11. Pour forth the overflowings of thine anger; And look upon every one that is proud, and abase him.

12. Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; And tread down the wicked where they stand.

13. Hide them in the dust together; Bind their faces in the hidden place.

14. Then will I also confess of thee That thine own right hand can save thee.

15. Behold now, behemoth, which I made as well as thee; He eateth grass as an ox.

16. Lo now, his strength is in his loins, And his force is in the muscles of his belly.

17. He moveth his tail like a cedar: The sinews of his thighs are knit together.

18. His bones are as tubes of brass; His limbs are like bars of iron.

19. He is the chief of the ways of God: He only that made him giveth him his sword.

20. Surely the mountains bring him forth food, Where all the beasts of the field do play.

21. He lieth under the lotus-trees, In the covert of the reed, and the fen.

22. The lotus-trees cover him with their shade; The willows of the brook compass him about.

23. Behold, if a river overflow, he trembleth not; He is confident, though a Jordan swell even to his mouth.

24. Shall any take him when he is on the watch, Or pierce through his nose with a snare?

Job 41:

1. Canst thou draw out leviathan with a fishhook? Or press down his tongue with a cord?

2. Canst thou put a rope into his nose? Or pierce his jaw through with a hook?

3. Will he make many supplications unto thee? Or will he speak soft words unto thee?

4. Will he make a covenant with thee, That thou shouldest take him for a servant for ever?

5. Wilt thou play with him as with a bird? Or wilt thou bind him for thy maidens?

6. Will the bands of fishermen make traffic of him? Will they part him among the merchants?

7. Canst thou fill his skin with barbed irons, Or his head with fish-spears?

8. Lay thy hand upon him; Remember the battle, and do so no more.

9. Behold, the hope of him is in vain: Will not one be cast down even at the sight of him?

10. None is so fierce that he dare stir him up; Who then is he that can stand before me?

11. Who hath first given unto me, that I should repay him? Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.

12. I will not keep silence concerning his limbs, Nor his mighty strength, nor his goodly frame.

13. Who can strip off his outer garment? Who shall come within his jaws?

14. Who can open the doors of his face? Round about his teeth is terror.

15. His strong scales are his pride, Shut up together as with a close seal.

16. One is so near to another, That no air can come between them.

17. They are joined one to another; They stick together, so that they cannot be sundered.

18. His sneezings flash forth light, And his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning.

19. Out of his mouth go burning torches, And sparks of fire leap forth.

20. Out of his nostrils a smoke goeth, As of a boiling pot and burning rushes.

21. His breath kindleth coals, And a flame goeth forth from his mouth.

22. In his neck abideth strength, And terror danceth before him.

23. The flakes of his flesh are joined together: They are firm upon him; They cannot be moved.

24. His heart is as firm as a stone; Yea, firm as the nether millstone.

25. When he raiseth himself up, the mighty are afraid: By reason of consternation they are beside themselves.

26. If one lay at him with the sword, it cannot avail; Nor the spear, the dart, nor the pointed shaft.

27. He counteth iron as straw, And brass as rotten wood.

28. The arrow cannot make him flee: Sling-stones are turned with him into stubble.

29. Clubs are counted as stubble: He laughteth at the rushing of the javelin.

30. His underparts are like sharp potsherds: He spreadeth as it were a threshing-wain upon the mire.

31. He maketh the deep to boil like a pot: He maketh the sea like a pot of ointment.

32. He maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep to be hoary.

33. Upon earth there is not his like, That is made without fear.

34. He beholdeth everything that is high: He is king over all the sons of pride.

Job 42:

1. Then Job answered Jehovah, and said,

2. I know that thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of thine can be restrained.

3. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not, Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.

4. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak; I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.

5. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth thee:

6. Wherefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.

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Originally Posted By: Bravus

See, here's the problem. With a theocratic system, anything God does is by definition ethical, even if it would be utterly unethical and criminal if done by humans.

That is not a problem. God knows all. Humans do not.

Before we start questioning God perhaps we should review His response to Job who did the same.

Good points Shane! God does know it all and Humans simply don't.
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Things didn't make sense to Job either. We cross a line when we start questioning the morality or ethics of God. That is a line that Job crossed and God spent four chapters correcting Job for it. When I use the Bible to learn about ethics and morality I am looking at stories like Adam and Eve, Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, Jonah, Peter, Paul, John, etc. I never question God's morality or God's ethics. That is a line I don't dare cross. I wasn't there when He laid the foundations of the Earth or when the morning stars sang together. Far be it for me to question God.

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