Cannibalism, Torture, and Tyranny

I have challenged a Mr Jones to answer which of his objections against Christianity were rational rather than merely emotional sentiment. He has, despite my initial misgivings, answered honestly, like a man, but now fears we have reached an impasse, because now we have identified certain fundamental axioms where we do not agree.

I offer now to start a new conversation about those axioms. Let us examine the first: God exists.

Of necessity, axioms cannot be proved true or false by logic. In most cases, axioms are thought true because those conclusions (if any) that cannot be true unless the axiom is also true are conclusions not in dispute.

(I say “in most cases” because the case of a self-evident axiom is different. In such a case, one cannot reason at all without admitting the axiom, the axiom needs no further proof.  This is not the kind of axiom we are discussing here.)

First axiom: Christians hold as an axiom that God exists.

Definition: “God” is the term for to the benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent first cause and creator and ruler of the universe and the man who dwell here. As man’s creator and ruler, the term also of necessity means that God is the lawgiver defining the morals by which men should live.

Despite the name, God is not the same sort of entity as pagan gods are said to be, so the word is but an metaphor. We also call Him “king” and “lord” and “father”, albeit, again, all these words are metaphor. These words refer to earthly things that only dimly reflect their supernatural counterpart.

By this definition, if God exists, then as lord, father, and lawgiver over all men, all men owe fear, respect, awe, and obedience to Him, just as we do, in lesser ways, to earthly kings and fathers.

Second axiom: We moreover hold that Man was created in the image and likeness of God. We believe this because Moses was so told by God when Moses penned the book of Genesis.

This second axiom is not an axiom in the sense of being self evident. It is easy enough imagine a world where that is not the case.

But it is an axiom in the sense of being an irreducable starting point for the discussion.

It is an article taken on authority, that is, taken on faith: we Christians beleive it true because a credible & trustworthy witness has so testified.

The Church teaches the phrase “image of God” refers to a spiritual rather than physical likeness: we are like God in that we have free will, rational faculties, moral sense, the ability to speak words and put names on things, and other creative powers. In terms of having faces and hands, that is, physically, we are like apes. This is not an axiom but a conclusion of theological reasoning.

From this axiom that men are imago dei, we Christians hold that men are created with certain natural and innate rights and dignities, which others men cannot licitly take from him, and he cannot foreswear.

Several conclusions follow from this.

We hold that it is always beneath the dignity of man to allow a cannibal to eat his flesh for meat, even if the victim consents.

Or for ministers of the law to be allowed to use torture to extract confessions, even when the confessions are truthful and the scofflaw is guilty.

Or for a tyrant to murder, loot and enslave the subjects placed in his care, even when the subjects are otherwise unruly and ungovernable.

Or for a philosopher to use crooked tricks and fallacies in debates with those of contrary opinion, to browbeat, to weasel, to strawman or propogandize, even when the contrary opinion is wrong and heretical.

In ancient days, one never stepped on a coin bearing the image of the king, not because the coin was gold. It was because stepping on the image the king withwhich the coin was stamped was a sign of dishonor toward the king, of contempt. Even to step on a copper pence was a crime, if it bore the face of Caesar.

Likewise here. Even wretched and unworthy men, guilty and wicked and sinful in all ways, have an innate dignity it is illicit to dishonor.

It goes without saying that not all Christians live up to these standards, but these standards, like it or not, do flow logically and inevitably from the idea that men are made in God’s image.

If God does not exist, then no one created man, and there is no imago Dei, that is, no innate source of heavenly dignity in man.

Some men might be worthy of earthly dignities, based on the fortunes of birth or the merits of accomplishments, but, absent God, there is no source of dignity that applies always and everywhere to all men, even to the worst of us.

Absent God, there is no reason to give a dignified, quick and painless death or a descent, Christian burial to a vicious murderer, or a deadly foeman, or a toppled despot, for example. There is no reason to give low-IQ morons the right to vote, own property, or reproduce.

Now, then: one way to investigate the truth of the axiom is to start with the truth of the conclusion.

I put the qustion to Mr Jones or to any honest atheist willing to debate the matter rationally and fairmindedly:

Do you hold it to be true that cannibalism, torture, and tyranny are always and everywhere illicit?

If so, then on what possible grounds, if man is not made in the image of God?