Moses & The Ten Commandments - James Tissot
Moses & The Ten Commandments – James Tissot, 1902

I was talking with an atheist friend recently. After several iterations of friendly debate regarding the existence of God and reasons for belief, he brought up a curious objection. In retrospect, though, it’s one that seems to come up a lot. What my friend objected to, and what many atheists seem to object to, is the idea of God’s rules. His particular example was that he objected to the idea of some meddling, cosmic, privacy-invading, bedroom policeman telling us who we can or can’t sleep with. Now, I’d like to point out that the perception of arbitrariness in God’s rules, or His perceived “snoopiness”, really are irrelevant to His existence. Existence is a question of ontology, not character, but I digress. What’s interesting is that sex, or rather, any limitation of it, seems to be at the root of atheism many times. Whether the atheist would ever admit that or not, it seems that a lot of the attempts at “intellectual” objections are really only cover for a desire for personal autonomy, particularly regarding sex. And this isn’t anything new. Consider the words of atheist Aldous Huxley in 1937: “We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom“. He goes on to explain the answer to those opponents claiming that moral and societal restraints were embodiments of Christian meaning in the world. “There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.”[1] This is exactly what atheism does when it tells us we are a giant cosmic accident, nothing special, just “chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies,” in the words of Stephen Hawking.[2] But Huxley goes on. “[T]hose who, to be liberated from political or sexual restraint, accept the doctrine of absolute meaninglessness tend in a short time to become so much dissatisfied with their philosophy (in spite of the services it renders) that they will exchange it for any dogma, however manifestly nonsensical, which restores meaning if only to a part of the universe.”[1] Atheists like Sam Harris would have us believe we can find meaning in the “flourishing” of society in spite of the utter meaninglessness of life under atheism. Supposedly, us chemical scum can find purpose in our work, our families, in helping all of “scum-kind” flourish. But why? Huxley’s right: postulating meaninglessness is a means to an end that gives us the autonomy we may want, but only because nothing we can do, in any area of our lives, matters. And that is a high price to pay just to be able to not feel guilty.

But let’s dig a little deeper into this aversion to God’s rules. I can’t help but notice that, in general, we tend to only like rules when they’re our rules, not somebody else’s. Restraining other people with our common sense rules is nothing like the oppressive burden they want to impose on us, right? The person wanting strict speed limit enforcement in their neighborhood can easily be the same person speeding on the highway. The person mad at the “greedy” tax-evading CEO may not have any qualms about taking a cash job under the table and not reporting it on his taxes. Our ability to rationalize why  it’s OK for us to do something can be amusing if we step back and get some perspective on it. My situation is obviously different from everyone else on the planet that might be trying to get away with such-and-such activity, so that burdensome rule doesn’t apply to me. I’m special, don’t you know?

On a more serious note, though, rules are necessary in human life. We routinely make rules that we expect to be obeyed. I need only look at my own profession of engineering. A set of contract drawings is one big list of rules of what the various fabricators and contractors can and can’t do when building the structure I designed. It doesn’t matter if the fabricator has a bunch of different size bolts left over from a previous job; they’re not to be used without my permission. And if they are, and they don’t meet my design requirements, the results can be potentially disastrous, and that fabricator or erector will have only themselves to blame. The same goes for the framing sizes, the concrete and rebar in the foundations, the decking on the roof, and everything in between. As the designer, I have goals, or purposes, for the structure, such as performance and public safety.  And that means laying down a lot of rules for what I think will meet my design intent and therefore ensure the public safety.

Most rules are like guardrails for our protection. They keep us within safe limits. In engineering, we often express these as minimums or as allowable ranges of certain parameters. Other rules establish structure. We see these as rules of order in society, or “best practices” in process improvement studies, and so on. Breaking them may not kill you, but following them does generally work out for the best. And some simply enforce design intent. There are often many different ways to design a building and meet all of your objectives for it, but at the heart of design is choice. One way is chosen among all the competing options. I may design a building with a special moment frame, while the contractor may prefer a braced frame, and may even be justified in thinking it would be cheaper to build. But I’m probably not going to scrap my design and redo everything just to satisfy him. For one thing, there may be issues besides cost that he is unaware of that required the use of the moment frame. For another, it’s my name, not his, on the drawings, and I’m the one legally and ethically responsible for what gets specified. So even if the contractor doesn’t like it, the design intent will be enforced unless he can prove to me that his suggestion is better overall, taking all factors into account.

Now, should it surprise us that the Designer of all life should have some rules to be followed as well? Or that we might not be privy to all of the reasons behind them? It seems hypocritical to expect our design rules to be followed and not accept that God might have some design rules of His own to be followed. In the case of sex, I see a few possible explanations for some of the restrictions objected to.

  • God has instituted sex, first and foremost as the only natural means of reproduction for humans. This requires a man and a woman. Any other arrangement simply doesn’t have the right “plumbing” to work. So we have some inherent design constraints at work here regarding homosexuality.
  • He also established that it should take place in a committed, stable, monogamous relationship between man and woman.[Matt 19:4] This moral constraint is also the single best way to raise successive generations. A lifelong marriage of self-sacrificial love [Eph 5:25] between husband and wife provides the stability, the complementary role models, and  the security that children need, as well as providing the most stable foundational unit for society as a whole.
  • Also, men and women are not interchangeable. There are things that a father, even with the greatest sincerity, simply cannot teach his daughters. Likewise for a mother and her son. The single parents out there make valiant efforts, but there are some areas where passing on second-hand knowledge is not the same as the voice of experience, and we see the wisdom of God’s plan for marriage as combining a man and a woman.
  • When sex is confined to the monogamous marital realm, it allows trust and intimacy to blossom in ways not possible with multiple partners. These last 3 points provide good structure and really would be “best practices”, in my opinion, even if God hadn’t mandated them.
  • Lastly, it seems fairly safe to predict that STD’s would decrease dramatically in a world following God’s rules for sex. God’s limitations on sex provide guardrails for our safety.

Those are just a few reasons I see that God’s rules aren’t arbitrary or meddlesome, but rather for our best. But even so, from engineering peer reviews I’ve done, I also have to recognize that there are often good design strategies being implemented in another engineer’s design, even when I don’t discern them immediately. I try to be open to that possibility when reviewing another person’s design. So I leave you with this question: if you’ve found all of God’s rules objectionable in the past, would you be open to the possibility that those rules are there because there is a design behind them? And design entails a Designer. Something to consider.

[1] Aldous Huxley, Means and Ends ( 1937), pp.273-5.
[2] Stephen Hawking, “Reality on the Rocks”, TV Series, 1995.