Copan, Paul. “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster? The New Atheists and Old Testament Ethics.” Philosophia Christi 10, 1 (2008): 7-37.

Copan’s article is a response to the popular atheists, which he dubs as today’s “new atheists.” By this designation, he has in mind: Richard Dawkins, who attributes the sacrifice of Abraham to being “disgraceful” and “child abuse and bullying;” Daniel Dennett, who finds Jehovah a “super-man” with fickle behavioral shifts; Christopher Hitchens, who follows Dawkins and criticizes the “ethnic cleansing” of Canaanites; and Sam Harris, who casts doubts on Christianity’s morality system based on God. Copan concludes that each of these atheists have a caricatured OT God, unfairly represented by hasty notions formed from mishandling biblical texts.

In response to these new atheists, Copan begins his own evaluation of the OT God, by looking the OT, Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts, and the rest of the biblical works, to form a well-balanced, well-nuanced moral vision of the OT.

Though these atheists criticize the Israelites and the OT God, it is clear that they do not consider the larger story (metanarrative) of the Hebrew nation, namely the stories beyond the mere Canaanite conquest. Copan points to the Sinai legislation, which grounds the Israelites in their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites are much more lenient, much more considerate towards their slaves (e.g. year of Jubilee) and their transgressors (forty strokes, which is sixty less than their neighboring nations). Copan suggests that Israel’s history and laws place the people in a humbler state that critics have assumed.

These reasons that Copan gives are quite moving and convincing as long as Israel is the lesser of the evils that existed during that time. Copan also concedes that the characters in the OT are flawed, but he insists that these are not the normative. The moral pinnacle had not been reached. They were looking ahead to promises and further development in their history.

What makes these discussions difficult is that Copan is trying to give more credence to the morality of the Israelites by emphasizing the bigger picture, but he fails to see that there are atrocities committed by the Israelites, which is what the critics have been saying. Implicit in Copan is that all the events—be they good or evil—are means to an end. Causes are justified (26).

I suspect that Copan does not see the driving force behind these atheist criticisms, which stress that no violence should ever be justified. These critics are riding behind a wave of anti-imperial influences, which have been on the rise after Europe’s long history of colonization. Perhaps, the deconstruction of the atheist may not be appropriate within Copan’s very elaborate reframing of OT ethics, but it should be known that the effectiveness of the atheists’ rhetoric is due to the overwhelming pathos that prevails in their writings. Copan’s response could have taken notice of this “effective rhetoric” in greater detail, but nonetheless, Copan’s efforts are still well worth noting. He demonstrates a greater knowledge of the texts and interpretations than those of the critics, who simply offer caricatures through empty, yet persuasive, rhetoric.

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