Paul Copan and the epic fail known as “apologetics”

Thom Stark has just published an extensive critical review of Paul Copan’s recent book, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

Is Paul Copan a moral thinker?
Is Paul Copan a moral thinker?

And I do mean “extensive”: by page count, the review is actually longer than the original book. But most messes take longer to clean up than they do to make, don’t they?

As messes go, Copan’s book is certainly a doozie. An apologist par excellence, Copan pulls out all the stops to argue that God as pictured in the Old Testament is not in conflict with the God most Christians worship as the foundation of absolute morality. With Copan’s guide in hand, you’ll be more than equipped to do battle with non-inerrantists and other atheists who raise objections about the morality of the Old Testament:

  • Q: Why did God tell the Israelites to slaughter people groups wholesale?
    A: He didn’t! Unless He did, or commanded something marginally less unconscionable, in which case it was unfortunate but necessary.
  • Q: Wasn’t Torah misogynistic, responsible for the institutionalization of slavery, and the product of benighted ethnocentrism?
    A: Au contraire, the laws of Torah were wonderfully enlightened! Except when they weren’t, in which case they were the best thing going at the time.

And much, much more!

I’m trying to be light-hearted, but it’s probably coming off as snark. It’s just that I get a little annoyed whenever I talk about apologetics tactics: they’re characteristically shoddy, and do a lot better job keeping people from answering the good questions raised by outsiders than they do answering those questions for the outsiders’ benefit as advertised. It’s a pep talk for the choir and little else, yet apologists are lauded as the evangelical Christian version of real life intellectuals — which I guess kind of works in the same way that the Left Behind movie is the Christian version of a real movie.

I don’t want to uncharitably smear the motives of the leading apologists with too broad a brush; there’s far too much of that going around these days on all sides. But when you read some of Copan’s arguments it’s clear at least that even the well-intentioned occasionally let the need to make an argument get the better of their desire to make sure the argument is actually valid, whether by the requisite research or mere common sense.

Thankfully, contrary to popular opinion, apologetics and the inerrantist presuppositions they are formulated to prop up are not the only things standing between the faithful and godlessness. Our faith is only ever justified when placed in a God worth serving, a God who can indeed be found within Scripture but who would surely rather the whole thing be burned than to have people making careers out of passing off slick and ingenious (or not) justifications for every misconception about Him recorded in its pages. Further, I’d be willing to stake real money on my guess that apologetics are a more significant factor in both 1) the deconversion of people tired of pat answers and clever dismissals of hard facts and 2) the hostility toward Christianity as a system of irrational belief.

Thom’s review is more than a take-down of Copan’s book: it’s devastating for apologetics as an industry (I almost said “discipline”). Thankfully, we have all been provided easy access to the antidote:

This review may be freely distributed, reposted on your personal blogs and websites, printed off, emailed to friends and enemies, or completely ignored. If you do post it online or quote from it, please link back here or cite the source.

So once again, here’s the source: Is God a Moral Compromiser? A Critical Review of Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?” via Religion at the Margins.

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