Farrell Till takes a biblical apologist to school. From TSR, 1998: March/April:
By Farrell Till
After what amounted to a sermon more than an attempt to address the inconsistency of the Bible on the issue of whether God punished the innocent for the "sins" of their fathers, Dr. Righter accused me of looking only at the "narrow view and not the 'larger picture,'" but no view of the Bible could be any narrower than the one he reflected in his article. That view is that regardless of how inconsistent, contradictory, absurd, or incomprehensible the Bible may appear in places, it is nevertheless the inspired word of God, and so any textual problems in it have to be just apparent. Dr. Righter has proposed to explain the sins-of-the-fathers problem by what he calls the "larger picture," but as we will see, the only thing larger than the "picture" he speaks about is his naivety in accepting a thoroughly discredited view of the Bible. That the Bible is not the "inerrant word of God" has been demonstrated so convincingly that only diehard fundamentalists like Roger Hutchinson, Dr. James Price, and now Dr. Righter continue to cling to the view. Biblical inerrancy is an outdated view of the Bible that survives in fundamentalist Bible colleges and churches pastored by the products of these colleges, but it is no longer taught in responsible seminaries or believed by scholars who put academic integrity above religious bias.
Dr. Righter tried to give a semblance of respectability to his "closet" inerrantist views by saying that he does not "take the position that the Bible is inerrant in its present form," but this is only the old inerrant-only-in-the-original- autographs argument dressed up in new clothes with no place to go. The Bible "in its present form" is all that we have. There are no original autographs available for critical examination; thus, if Dr. Righter intends to defend the Bible, he will have to defend it in its present form. There is no other "form" to defend.
From the very beginning of his article, Dr. Righter made it very clear that he was going to do nothing but rehash tired, worn-out inerrancy arguments that have been repeatedly answered, some of them in earlier TSR responses to Roger Hutchinson's attempt to justify Yahweh's conduct in the matter of David's and Bathsheba's infant son. However, since Dr. Righter's subscription began with the last issue of 1997, we can understandably excuse him for not knowing how thoroughly Hutchinson has been trounced on some of the same arguments that Righter has trotted out to defend the Bible "in its present form." For his benefit, I suppose we can go through them again.
Other parallels in the Bible: Dr. Righter asked if there are "other parallels in the Bible that address the concept of one paying the price for the sins of others or even suffering when it doesn't make sense." The answer, of course, is that there are such parallels, and no one is denying that. What Righter apparently can't see is that those other parallels harm rather than help his case, for if the Bible clearly and unequivocally states that the fathers shall not bear the iniquity of the sons and the sons shall not bear the iniquity of the fathers, it doesn't matter how many "parallels" to the case of David's son inerrantists may find in the Bible. If they find a hundred such parallels (which in my opinion would not be an exaggeration), all that they will have proven is that the Bible is a hundred times more contradictory than what could be claimed if David's son were the only example of such suffering that one could find in the entire Bible. Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:20 are quite clear in what they say, so let Righter locate all of the "parallels" he wants to. In so doing, he will merely confirm that I am right in saying that the Bible is inconsistent on this matter. If, for example, the Bible says in Psalm 25:8 that God is "good," it doesn't matter how many texts parallel to this Dr. Righter and other inerrantists may point too-- and admittedly they could find many others; if the Bible in other places clearly teaches--as it does--that Yahweh was at times vicious and cruel, the unbiased reader of the Bible is left with no other recourse except to conclude that it is inconsistent on this point. Ten thousand different scripture citations "parallel" to Psalm 25:8 will not make the word "good" appropriately descriptive of the Old Testament god who ordered Joshua to leave nothing alive to breathe in his conquest of Canaan (Josh. 10:40; 11:11, 15) and commanded Saul to "utterly destroy" the Amalekites and "spare them not" but to kill both men and women, infant and suckling (1 Sam. 15:2-3). No amount of rationalizing or searching for "other parallels in the Bible" could make the character of such an entity as this "good." Such acts as these are either not good or else the whole concept of language becomes meaningless.
God's higher purpose: Dr. Righter, of course, has an explanation for such inconsistencies as these, and he calls it "God's higher purpose." His argument here is nothing that we have not heard many times before ad nauseam. The problem is that we are simply too stupid to see the "larger picture," i. e., the "higher purpose" that God has in mind for his actions that seem strange and even sometimes "bad" to us. It's just that he is so far above us that we can't understand why he would kill a baby for something that the baby himself did not do, but if our intelligence were equal to God's, it would make perfectly good sense to us. Yeah, right! We have heard this all before, and what it amounts to is nothing more than inerrantist desperation to defend the indefensible. If we are so intellectually inferior that we can't even determine when the words "good" or "bad" should be used to describe acts or conduct, then how are we to know whether God is indeed "good," as the psalmist claimed? The answer is that we can't. If we cannot know what the words mean where the Bible says that the children shall not be put to death for the sins of their fathers, then it becomes absurd to talk about understanding that God has a "higher purpose" that surpasses our ability to comprehend. If such an incomprehensible "higher purpose" is a fact, then God has no business trying to communicate anything to us in human language. Revealing the Bible to us has turned out to be a huge waste of divine time that could have been put to better use, because it was revealed to us in languages whose vocabularies had acquired meaning through human experiences and usages, but it turns out that God's vastly superior knowledge and "higher purpose" may very likely have given meanings to words like "good," "bad," "love," "mercy," "kill," etc. that are entirely different from ours, and so "good" may not be our kind of good and "love" may not be our kind of love, etc., etc., etc. This is the kind of warped logic that leads inerrantists to argue that even though killing children and babies would be a horrible sin if humans do it, the act somehow becomes "good" if God does it. Why so? Well, because God's ways are higher than our ways.
A Catch-All Explanation: What inerrantists have done is simply invent a catch-all explanation that they can use to "explain" any objection that anyone may raise against the Bible. Do you not understand why a perfect, impartial deity would select just one nation of the multitude of nations to be his specially chosen people? Well, no problem. God's ways are simply higher than our ways, and so he has a higher purpose that we just can't understand. Do you have difficulty understanding why a kind, loving, merciful deity would require the slaughter and incineration of millions of animals in homage to him? Well, no problem. His ways are just higher than ours. Do you have difficulty understanding why an omnibenevolent, omnijust deity would require the torture and sacrifice of his own son for the sins of humanity? Again, no problem. This deity's ways are higher than our ways, so we are unable to comprehend his "higher purpose." See how simple it is?
The soundness of an argument can be determined by simply applying it to other situations, and when this is done to the "higher-purpose" argument of biblical inerrantists, it becomes an obvious reductio ad absurdum. Do Christians not understand why the Hindu deity Vishnu would have revealed himself to humanity in so many avatars or incarnations? No problem. His ways are simply higher than our ways, and if we were on his level of intelligence, we would be able to understand his "higher purpose." Do mainstream Christians have difficulty understanding why God would have revealed the Bible and then 1800 years after its completion give humanity a latter day revelation through the Book of Mormon? Again, no problem. We are so far below God's level of intelligence that we simply cannot understand his "higher purpose." I could give many other examples, but these are sufficient to show the absurdity of Dr. Righter's "higher-purpose" argument. If he continues this debate, I suggest that he attend to what should be the first order of business, and that is to give us reasonable evidence that the "higher purpose" of this god of his is fact and not just convenient fiction that has been invented so that biblicists will have a catch-all explanation to hide behind. The "convenience" of this dodge was very apparent in Righter's claim that he doesn't know, nor does anyone know, why "God selects some instances to step in and take things into His own hands," because that is just another mystery that we should file under "the hidden things of God" (p. 9, this issue). The problem with this line of "argumentation" is as simple as recognizing that that which explains everything explains nothing. If Dr. Righter has any kind of logical defense to offer in the matter of David's son, I'd like to see it; otherwise, I will have to ask him to refrain from sending us just more simplistic conjecture.
Anecdotal argumentation: Dr. Righter has so little to offer in defense of his position that he spent almost a third of his article engaging in anecdotal argumentation. The story of the child born with Down Syndrome has all the earmarks of what I call "pulpit legend." When I was a young preacher, I was dismayed to hear different preachers tell the same anecdotes in their sermons as if they had all personally experienced them, an unlikely scenario at best, and so I recall being disillusioned by the realization that preachers were not above lying in order to embellish their sermons. Whether Righter's anecdote has any basis in fact or not is irrelevant to the matter of what the Bible says about the death of David's son. If the anecdote really happened, it would prove only that a mother, blinded by religious indoctrination, mistakenly considered the birth of a handicapped child to be a divine blessing, but it would in no way prove that it actually was. From my wife's experience as a social worker and counselor, I have had the occasion to meet many children with Down Syndrome and to know about special circumstances that their families confront. So if the pastor's wife saw the birth of her child as a divine blessing, I have nothing but pity for the warped sense of reasoning with which her blind religious allegiance has afflicted her. Did this event cause 30 hospital workers to "accept Christ as their savior" the very next Sunday? I doubt it, and this is the part of the anecdote that strikes me as probable sermonic embellishment. If, however, it did happen, it would prove only that there were 30 other people whose ability to think rationally was questionable. It wouldn't prove that there is any savior to accept or that there is any divine "higher purpose" that will explain away the biblical inconsistency in what it says about punishing the innocent for the offenses of the guilty. Dr. Righter needs a logical argument to support his position. Conjectures about divine higher purposes and babies camping happily in heaven won't do.