Wednesday, June 1, 2011

“God Was Not Good, Just on Our Side”

I recently came across this clip. It’s from God on Trial, a Masterpiece production based on accounts of a group of concentration camp inmates who convened a beis din and put God on trial.

It’s a powerful clip, and makes some excellent points. I was making similar points ten years ago, but back then I’d yet to have any contact with anyone who agreed with me. (I posted an excerpt of something I had written back then here.)

To be fair, the God of the Bible is nicer than many other gods, like, say, Zeus , or Loki, but He’s not GOOD. At best, when He was in a good mood and we hadn’t done anything lately to tick him off, He was good to us.


  1. Was this post triggered by mine? ;)

    I linked it on

  2. you could argue that "he made a new convenant with someone else" because we did not uphold our end of the bargain by keeping the laws


  3. Hey dude,
    First off, just want to tell you I read dozens of your posts and thought they were awesome - thanks.
    Second, pertaining to this post, I find it very interesting that different people get turned off by religion for different intellectual reasons. Meaning: some people seem to be bothered by one particular issue much more than all others issues. It seems some may even be willing to brush the other issues under the rug if not for the one major issue bothering them - though at the same time they recognize that the other issues are valid too. Why are people drawn to a particular issue and why are they not bothered by the other issues as much? I find this common on blogs and for myself as well I just can't place my finger on why something bothers me or others more than any other issue.
    Especially as someone who studied psychology - thought maybe you could share your thoughts about that... or was I totally unclear?

  4. UK, it could be. I honestly don’t remember exactly how I came across the clip.

    Ksil, sure, but that’s not really the point. The point is that to be called “good,” God must be good from everyone’s point of view, not just the people He happens to favor at the moment.

    Neal, thanks!
    Why do some issues bother certain people more than others? I think it’s because we all have our own interests, background, and way of seeing the world. Not a brilliant insight, I know, but I think that’s all there is to it.

    In various posts I’ve tried to explore what brought me to the point where I am now. It’s a product of many factors, including my family background, my parents’ skeptical attitude towards chumros, my interest in history, my seeing tanach as having happened in the real world, the faulty logic underlying many “proofs” which I picked up on even as a teenager, my distaste for learning, and my issues with theodicy that started me down the path. Other people have a different mix.

  5. >Ksil, sure, but that’s not really the point. The point is that to be called “good,” God must be good from everyone’s point of view, not just the people He happens to favor at the moment.

    Well then you are turning everyhthing 180 degrees and proclaiming what we (and everyone at different points) deem to be good, is what god should follow.

  6. HH, well, that depends on what “good” is. If “good” is merely what God chooses to call good, then the term becomes meaningless. If “good” is used as it is normally understood, then yes, God should be doing what we understand as good.

    As the video points out, God is emphatically not good as the term is usually understood.

  7. I know you and I will disagree on what I am to say, but so be it. If I am to recognize this particular diety, than I have to understand him according to Him, not according to what I want him to be. If I am to recognize this particular diety, than I think by definition, I will never truly understand his working. This is something that is a basic given in Tanach. What we deem to be good, may not be good in the cosmic sense of what actually is good. Does the latter sound quarky? Yes, but then again, the whole concept of a diety is hard to grasp, so why should his doings be any simpler.

    If good is not good as the term is usually understood, than that that is the "terms" problem, not God.

  8. I just saw the clip right now. I think the video suffers from the same thing that people like Harris, and Dawkins suffer from. Selective reading. For example, when he quotes going into the land of Canaan, he doesn't mention WHY their punishment was eradication (which they didn't end up being eradicated). Remember the part of them being immoral for a very long long time???When he mentions the poor frightened Amalekites, he doesn't mention WHY they got that punishment. It's because they were a ruthless people bent on harassing the Israelites from the beginning. You see this in the Book of Judges as well.

    Lesson from Tanach: God does not punish good nations no matter what diety they daven to. He punishes evil ones. A good example of this is in the book of Amos.

  9. With, say, Amalaek, the problem is not that God commanded Shaul to make war on a ruthless enemy, but that God was displeased when Shaul showed any mercy and when Shaul decided to make use of the livestock.

    > If good is not good as the term is usually understood, than that that is the "terms" problem, not God.

    I understand, I’ve discussed the concept in other posts. I don’t disagree that we could define “good” in such a way that God is always good. It’s very simple: God’s will = good. With that definition, anything God says or does is by definition good. The problem is that such a definition is about as meaningful as saying that the sky = H2O, therefore the sky is water. With the definition sky = H2O the sky is water, but that’s not at all what people mean when they refer to the sky.

    It may even be, as you say, the it is good in some cosmic sense, but again, that’s a redefinition of “good.” We assume that “good” means “good for everything in the material world.” Given that God is omnipotent and omniscient, surely He could arrange that. At this point though I think we’re getting to the basic Problem of Evil and away from the point of the video, which is that is a person did what God did we would not call that person good.

  10. Great Tisha B'Av movie. I really like this movie, as well as The Quarrel.

    Powerful stuff.

    Personally if I was in Hashem's divine shoes I would be equally pissed with Shaul. If he for instance spared the innocent children and infants, that is one thing. That would be mercy. But sparring the King of Amalek who, if the stories of their barbarity is true, would be one of the most responsible parties. Shaul has no problem slaughtering infants, but suddenly he has a bleeding heart for the King and some animals?

    This is not to say I in any way agree with genocide, but I can't really see Shauls actions as being that of mercy. It was politics and economics. It had nothing to do with mercy.

    As for the problem of what is good and theodicy, I hope to speak more about that on my blog as well. I agree with you G*3 that we first have to understand what we mean by good before we can judge our or Hashems actions against it.

    I think using Euthyphro is a good start, but it can only be taken so far.