There are millions of people who believe in God, but among these people the differences lie in to what extent each believes that God has control over what is right and wrong. Are people’s moral standards right because God commands them, or does God command them because they are right? The Divine Command Theory most simply states that God’s commands are what is morally right, and what God forbids is morally wrong. This means that loving one another is right because God commands humans to do so. Advocates of the Divine Command Theory believe this, and believe that morality is the same as that which God commands. Things are good because God created them and/or willed them.
Divine Command Theorists believe that there are objective moral standard that are the same for everyone and are independent of individual beliefs. These moral standards are true for everyone regardless of whether or not they believe them or know of them. These ultimate moral standards exist in commands given by God. God commands only things that are good, and he would never command a person to act immorally. God is all-powerful, all knowing, and all loving. God commands these things in order to do what is good for us as humans, and his commands are automatically morally right.
The opponents of the Divine Command Theory do not believe that God has that much control over the earth and what is morally just and unjust. They believe that morality is subjective, and that even if there is a God morality would still be subjective. What does it matter anyway what God commands or thinks since it is just another subjective opinion? One of the only reasons that people obey God’s commands is that they fear that they will be punished in someway if they do not. They fear that they will go to hell if they do not obey, or that something bad will happen to them. This would mean that their motives are merely self-interested. But, a Divine Command Theory advocate would argue that God created us, and it is our obligation as his creation to obey Him just as a child would obey its parents. Is it even possible though to compare one’s parents with the divine?
Opponent’s say that it is not possible to compare the divine with a child’s parents. However, to continue with the comparison, if a child were to want to do something and the parent told them “no, because I said so”, then, like God, the rationale for the action being wrong is simply because it is commanded. If the command were to change to ordering the child to kill, then the right thing to do would be changed to killing. Likewise, if God’s commands are automatically what is right, then if God were to command humans to kill, killing would be a morally just action.
Supporters would argue that the situation with God is different. They would also argue that God would not command something that is immoral. But, why wouldn’t God command something immoral? The only answers would be because it is wrong or because God only commands that which is right. But saying this would therefore disprove the Divine Command Theory entirely. This states that what is right and wrong is independent of God, and that what God commands and condemns is subject to these independent standards of what is right and what is wrong. This also proves that a supporter could not say that God is good because “God” and “good” do not have the same definition. In order to state this, one must concede that in order for this to be true God must be independent of the standards of goodness that the definition of “good” entails. There are only two possibilities for the existence of God and moral standards: 1. God creates the moral standards, or 2. God is subject to the moral standards that are independent of him.
If God is independent of what is right and wrong and commands what is right and wrong, then God becomes another rational being who decides from these standards of right and wrong what to command. The moral values are accepted by God and therefore commanded. If this is true, then in no way does God create the moral standards. The only way for a Divine Command Theorist to prove their beliefs is for them to prove that without God there would be no morality. If God commands things because they are good, then humans could live moral lives without God because God is also subject to the standards of morality. Humans could, as rational beings, understand the moral values that determine right and wrong and choose how they should live. Humans could decide what actions are moral or immoral without God.
Divine Command Theory advocates may try to support their beliefs by saying that there is nothing above God, good and bad is determined by God’s commands, and things are good and moral because God commands them. However, if there is nothing independent of God causing him to decide what to command, then there is nothing to prevent God from commanding evils such as murder. The only answers again are that God wouldn’t do that because God is good, or that God only commands that which is good. Both of which again disprove the Divine Command Theory.
Divine Command Theorists feel that those are not the only answers. The main reason behind God not commanding evil is because God is a loving God, an all-loving God. Because he is such, He would not command evil, and evil would not be moral. God actually exists and loves his creations. He loves and cares for them, and commands in a way that is considerate of their well being and creates a unity/togetherness among them. Not to act according to his commands is to act contrary to a loving way, and to act in this manner is wrong.
How does one know what God’s commands are? Are they sent directly from God into people’s brains or souls? Are they given to us via a messenger i.e. a priest? It would seem easy to say that rational human beings have an intuition that tells them what is right and wrong and that God is not the one telling them what is right and what is wrong. There is no need for a God to tell humans what is considered moral and immoral because humans have knowledge and a sense that is independent of God to tell them the right ways to live. God does not create the moral laws. The moral laws exist separately from God and can be understood by any rational being. All that humans need in order to live a moral life is an understanding of these moral laws and a conscience to guide them through their life.
Advocates would argue, however, that this is not the case. The moral laws exist because God commands them, and his commands are found in the Bible’s teachings. God commands us through the teachings of the Bible to live a moral life. He teaches us that to love one another is a moral way of life, and evils result in an immoral life. This can be seen in the Ten Commandments and various other passages in the Bible. A person can understand the way of life that God intended through what can be read in the Bible and inferred from it. This is where morality and God’s commands can be found.
However, the Bible can be very contradictory and unclear. In many passages God directly commands murder, and in others commands that death is the correct punishment for actions such as homosexuality. Are things immoral with the exceptions of the instances when God deems them as the right thing to do? Can God say that murder is wrong but change it to right depending on the situation? Is a person supposed to read the Bible and make their own decisions about what the passages mean and what they are telling humans are the right and wrong ways of life? The Bible should not be the source of God’s commands. Suppose that a person reads a book that someone has told them contains the moral standards given to humans by God that all people are supposed to live by, and this book says that a person should kill people over the age of 50, would it be morally correct for this person to kill everyone over the age of 50?
There are many religions that do not worship God based on the Bible. Are these religions wrong, and are they worshipping incorrectly? The Judeo-Christian God cannot be the absolute correct belief. If God created all human beings, then he wouldn’t only enlighten Christians of his existence and the correct moral laws. If God’s commands are found in the Bible, then does this mean that before the composition of the Bible there was no God or moral laws? The use of the Bible to explain the Divine Command Theory is a very unstable method.
Clearly, the Divine Command Theory is a very sensitive subject to discuss. Despite the strength of each argument, there is no real proof on either side of the argument than can without a doubt prove that what God commands is right because he commands is or that God commands that which is right because it is right. Both can be considered valid arguments of the amount of control God has over the moral standards of the universe, but it is much easier to attempt to disprove something that has no concrete evidence. The question of whether moral standards exist because of God or if God is subject to them remains a very good one.
Courtney from Study Moose
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