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Divine Command Ethics

So, as has been stated before, I am teaching ethics at UVSC nowadays. As a result, I am teaching, amongst other things, about the relationship between God and morality. Or rather, what we think it ought to be.

Divine command ethics (the most explicit attempt to link the divine commandments with morality) states simply that the Good is God's will. There you go. So, what God likes is good and what he doesn't like is bad. Many people dislike this solution because, in that case, you could have a arbitrary God, who could tell you to do anything and it would still be good as it would be His/Her will.
I don't like to bring the doctrine of the dominant religion in the valley up too often in class, but it seemed inevitable so I did. It seems to me that all this business in Alma 42 would indicate that the LDS don't go in for Divine Command Ethics. If God could mess up and cease to be God, that seems to indicate that there is some higher standard by which God's actions could be judged. If what is happening here is (to some degree) just a repetition of what has happened before elsewhere, wouldn't this indicate the same?

However, it is hard for my students to buy this line of reasoning because it separates the Good from God. The Good becomes something by which we can judge God's actions, not the power by which God tells us how to act. I am wondering if I have been too quick to dismiss Divine Command Ethics as a means for understanding God's role in determining the Good and the Bad. I don't think I buy into Divine Command Ethics (DCE from here on out), but I am willing to listen. So, what think ye?

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Anonymous said ... (January 13, 2005 7:22 PM) 

Ether 4:12 suggests that whatever is good "comes from Christ". Does this mean that Christ is the author of good? What's the Bible's stance on this, Mr. Biblical Scholar? 

Posted by Ronan


Anonymous said ... (January 14, 2005 1:19 PM) 

I have heard it argued (by a BYU religion professor) that Alma 42’s account of God ceasing to be God is not posited as a possibility but is offered show the fatuity of the premise. This was coupled by support of DCE. I don’t particularly agree.

A big factor in whether one can accept DCE is one’s personal take on theogony. There are many who argue that God the Father was not always divine and that non-divine beings have the capacity to become divine. This line of thinking is contrary to DCE (as I understand it).

I hold a position that excludes those of us who are not divine (i.e., all of us) from the potential of being a “God the Father” a la KFD. In this case, only divine beings are God and as such, there is a potential for implementation of DCE. That said, I still don’t particularly buy into it (DCE). 

Posted by J. Stapley


Anonymous said ... (January 14, 2005 4:00 PM) 

Well I can't quote you chapter and verse (at the moment), but generally speaking this isn't an issue in the Bible. Take Job, the outcome of this theodicy is basically God does what he wants and it isn't your place to judge, so deal with it (Ronan has read it critically more recently than I. Do you get a different impression?)

I heard the same argument that JS mentioned yesterday, which is partly why the question is on my mind. I don't think it addresses fully the question of possibility. If it is truly outside the realm of possibility, why bring it up? If it is imaginable (albeit unlikely in the absurd), wouldn't that indicate the possibility, even if it is highly improbable? 

Posted by John C.


Anonymous said ... (January 16, 2005 4:32 PM) 

So we say that Christ was without sin, right (acknowledging that he was held to the same standard that we are)? If we take DCE at face value, Christ could have broken all the commandments and yet still been without sin, because he is the author of the Good. And that doesn't jive. 

Posted by J. Stapley


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