Shallow Be thy Meme

In his “Points to ponder”, Mano Paul raises three points: 1) God punishes words; 2) God punishes actions; 3) our actions must match our words.

Is it moral to punish speech?

In western societies, we value the freedom of speech, particularly in the United States. But apparently God doesn’t. What should we think of a God who can’t handle a little name-in-vain taking? Shouldn’t we hold an all-powerful, all-knowing being to a higher standard even than we hold our presidents, or public officials, or celebrities who must endure all manner of satire and insult and yet somehow restrain themselves from smiting?

The USA does have some limits and punishes some classes of speech. We criminalize incitements to violence (both of the “jihad” type and the “yell-fire-in-crowded-theater” type). We punish libel. It is easily argued that these classes of speech are punishable because they cause harm to others. So in that sense speech is more akin to an action.

Is it moral to punish actions?

Yes, probably, and proportionally to the crime, even though free will is an illusion. But in any case, many Christians believe that God doesn’t actually punish actions, only non-belief. All that is necessary to get into heaven (supposed infinite non-punishment) is to believe in God. All other sins can be forgiven. Conversely, many Christians believe that non-belief will be punishable by eternal torture in hell. The fact that God exacts infinite punishment for a finite crime is bad enough. When the crime in question is simple disbelief in a world where God provides no evidence for existence, God starts to look pretty vindictive.

Should our actions match our words?

Humans are social animals. Much like wolves, other apes, and other pack animals, we evolved behaviors to reward cooperation and punish defection. If our say-do ratio is low, we are considered untrustworthy and are shunned, fired, or generally disbelieved. If we underpromise and overdeliver, we tend to be rewarded with promotions and thought of as reliable. If we condemn some behavior while at the same time practicing it ourselves, we are rightly thought of as hypocrites.

What if we hold God to the same standards as our fellow humans (or even animals)? Do God’s actions and words match up? God promises that a little faith will let men move mountains. Has that promise ever been fulfilled? God promises the destruction of Tyre. Yet Tyre exists to this day. The Bible is full of broken promises. Why should anyone trust God? Why should we think of God as the moral standard for the say-do ratio, when most humans deliver so much more of what they promise?

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