Morality and the ‘Problem of Evil’

At the end of Bart Ehrman’s book, “Jesus, Interrupted” he does an amazing and rather unexpected thing. After spending hundreds of pages telling us why the Bible cannot be trusted as a guide in the Christian life, as a guide for moral norms, or as a guide for much of anything, Ehrman then turns around and offers a really unexpected litany of moral claims.

In fact, throughout the book Ehrman makes moral objections to the New Testament – objections to the doctrine of Hell, how that’s morally reprehensible; objections to Paul’s view of women, which he finds morally offensive; objections to all kinds of other doctrines in the scripture, that he finds morally wrong. Throughout the book, Ehrman is often making rather dogmatic claims about the way God ought to be, about the way salvation ought to work, and the way the Bible ought to look. What is remarkable is as the reader approaches the end of “Jesus, Interrupted” a question begins to enter their mind, and it is simply this, “how does Ehrman know and have access to these moral standards he is appealing to?” “How does he know that the doctrine of Hell in the Bible is morally wrong?” “How does he know that God ought to be one way and not another?” “How does he know that Paul’s view on anything is morally right or morally wrong?” These imply that Bart Ehrman has access to some moral standard in the universe or some moral norm to which he can adjudicate these questions. But the question is “where does this come from in Ehrman’s universe?” He never bothers to tell us. All he tells us is that he is a happy agnostic not sure of much of anything. But to not be sure of much of anything makes it remarkable to turn around and smuggle in all kinds of moral claims through the backdoor simply and precisely after telling Christians they are not allowed to make such moral claims on the basis of the Bible.

What is remarkable about this is that now you have a person making moral claims about dogmatism on their own private authority. One may not like the fact that Christians make claims that are moral in nature, but at least it is internally coherent why Christians would do so. We actually have a book that we claim is from God, and is given by God. If you’re going to make moral norms or going to have moral absolutes, then it makes sense you get them from God who created the universe. But to say that is not an option, yet turn around and make moral claims anyway based on one’s own private authority is really a bizarre thing to watch. I think that is the problem with “Jesus, Interrupted.” Ehrman spends his own book destroying the very foundation for morals, namely the Bible, but wants to have them anyway. But you cannot have your “ethical cake‟ and eat it too. You have got to go one way or the other. Either there are moral norms and you have a place to get them from, or there are not any at all.

Now what if there were not any moral norms all? Where would that leave Ehrman’s book? It’s quite a conundrum because at the end of the book Ehrman exhorts his readers to work for peace, to work for justice, and to do all these things that are supposedly good in the world. But if there are no moral norms and people just do what seems good to them, why make such moral claims at the end of the book at all? What you find here is a little bit of “intellectual schizophrenia‟. On one hand, Ehrman wants to have moral norms because he realizes you cannot have a coherent worldview without them, but on the other hand, he spends his whole book trying to undercut them by showing how the Bible cannot provide them. And he then offers no ability on his own to provide these moral norms. This presents what I think to be a philosophically incoherent book. Even though it sounds good to call for justice and peace, at the end of the day Ehrman has no foundation for those claims.