Should I Obey a Command from God?
If God told me to kill someone, I would.
This is not a Q1 violation if you think that divine command is sufficient justification to kill someone.
This is a Q2 violation if you would blame someone for trying to kill you because they believed God wanted them to.
If you believe in God,* it makes sense that you would obey instructions given directly to you by God. But before you obey a divine command, there are a few things you need to consider.
First — and perhaps most importantly — are you sure that the command you received was from God? Start by asking yourself these questions:
- Could the message be something other than a message from God? For example, if the message came in a dream, how do you know it wasn’t just a dream? If you heard a voice, could it have been a hallucination or just something non-supernatural that you misheard or overheard? If it was a strong feeling, could that feeling have another source (such as a strong desire on your part)? If it came from a religious leader, could he or she be mistaken, deceived, or dishonest? If it came from a holy text, how do you know the text is God’s word?
- If the message is supernatural, how do you know it was from God? Could it be from an evil supernatural force? How can you tell the difference? Would Satan, for example, be able to fool you — particularly since he is known to be good at deception?
- Is the message unambiguous? Is there any question about what is demanded of you? If it came from a holy book, does everyone agree on the message, or might you be reading into the text?
- Is the command consistent with your understanding of the nature of God? Or do you have to change your beliefs or take a leap of faith so that the command does not contradict your religious views?
Next, think about the morality of what you are being asked to do. Is it, on the face, an immoral act (such as killing a child)? Do you know that the end justifies the means, or are you taking that on faith? Is the act so immoral that there could be no moral justification? Would you want to worship a deity that demanded you perform such a deed?
If the act seems like the moral thing to do, then why do you need a command from God to do it? Wouldn’t you do the moral thing anyway?
Finally, if you believe that the command is from God and you feel morally justified in performing the command, you need to invoke Q2 and consider whether you would blame someone else who received a command from God for carrying it out.
Ask yourself this: If a person from another religion was convinced that God wanted him to set fire to a preschool full of infidel children, would you consider him immoral for doing just that? You might think that the situation is different from yours because he is practicing a false religion while you are practicing a true religion, but from his perspective, he’s the one with the correct beliefs. You might think the situation is different because what he is doing is horribly immoral, but he might be convinced that it is all part of God’s plan, being done for the greater good. If you know in your heart that this person is wrong, but he knows in his heart that he is right, how do you tell whose feelings are correct (if anyone’s are)?
There may be nothing that could convince the other person that he shouldn’t obey a divine command that would not also apply to you.
Unless you find a way to sidestep this line of thinking, you are left with two choices: Either only obey those commands from God that impel you to do things you already consider moral, agree that someone doing something you would normally consider immoral but who believes they are acting out God’s wishes is a moral person, or decide that you can’t tell a real divine message from a fake one, so anything that seems like a command from God should be treated as food for thought instead of as an order. Any of these positions can pass 2Q.
*Although this statement is made in terms of the Judeo-Christian deity, similar arguments would hold for other gods.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.