A recent question here caused some confusion, and increases my curiosity about this topic. Someone asked why people say Christians have disdain for the handicapped. (Apparent) practicing Christians responded with incredulity: who says that? The point is that such an idea doesn't appear to be taught anywhere today within circles of practicing Christians. Interestingly enough, the internet is full of claims made by non-Christians that Christianity necessarily requires disdain for the handicapped, or various cruelties or brutality. That's because activists have picked up a handful of verses that by themselves could point to some kind of "ethic" for cruelty.

My question is whether the church fathers (or any more recent prominent theologians) have specifically dealt with such criticism. For example, could I find an apologetic for this question, in say, a chapter of St. Augustine's City of God? A sermon by someone like Martin Luther that advocates feeding the poor is not what I'm looking for. I want to see rebuttals of the practice of objecting to Christianity on the basis of picking a handful of tough passages.

  • RC Canon Law has quite a bit to say on the matter. – Andrew Leach Oct 17 '13 at 11:32
  • @AndrewLeach, you and I would agree that RC teachings advocate humane treatment of disabled. But that has nothing to do with my question. I want to see how the church dealt with those passages these blokes are bringing up. I'm betting it must have happened in church history, or else New Atheism is new on the face of the earth. – pterandon Oct 17 '13 at 11:49
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    It would probably help to link to the "recent question" and to some of the claims about disdain. – Andrew Leach Oct 17 '13 at 12:12
  • How about st Paul in Philemon. Asking that Onemesius be received as a brother when the old laws would require him to be beaten or killed. – Peter Turner Oct 18 '13 at 3:35
  • Philemon's a good message: Give up a brutal practice because of a Christian principle. I'm looking for: Don't give up Christianity because of those who twisted it into brutality. The threat of New Atheist approach (link above) is real: they say when we quote Matt 25, we ignore the rest. – pterandon Oct 18 '13 at 11:04

My recollection of the section in Confessions where Augustine discusses the Bible with Ambrose was that they took most of the Old Testament far more figuratively than we do today (it should be noted that one of Augustine's primary objections to Christianity, when he was Manichean, was that the OT is inconsistent and often poorly written). Approaching the desert monastics, I see a very similar approach to the texts — they took things as relating to spiritual warfare and far less as a literal account of history (and it can be argued that they couldn't care less about the literal account anyhow).

I guess that my impression is that if you complained to one of the Fathers, "the Old Testament is so barbaric" the response would be:

  • You're not reading it right
  • It is tame compared to what other philosophies and religions have taught.
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It seems that the human concept of God from most religions always included a principle of punishment for wrongs. No religion ever thought of a God of grace and unlimited love as expressed in the gospel of Christ, until Christ came. Therefore we do not find significant opposition to God's justice and anger (deemed as cruelty) except as a result of a world view born from gospel influences. The first to famously accuse the God of the Old Testament of cruelty was Marcion.

Marcions believed in two God's the Old Testament one and the New Testament one. He thought the Old Testament one was inferior, cruel and jealous.

The basic rebuttal to the accusation of God as being cruel was made by Tertullian by making fun of a God imagined by Marcion who was irrationally good but not just. In other words even weak men understand that there must be punishment for some crimes, so what kind of pathetic weak God would not punish evil men?

But it is here sufficient that the extreme perversity of their god is proved from the mere exposition of his lonely goodness, in which they refuse to ascribe to him such emotions of mind as they censure in the Creator. Now, if he is susceptible of no feeling of rivalry, or anger, or damage, or injury, as one who refrains from exercising judicial power, I cannot tell how any system of discipline—and that, too, a plenary one—can be consistent in him. For how is it possible that he should issue commands, if he does not mean to execute them; or forbid sins, if he intends not to punish them, but rather to decline the functions of the judge, as being a stranger to all notions of severity and judicial chastisement? For why does he forbid the commission of that which he punishes not when perpetrated? (Tertullian 11.1.26, THE ANTE-NICENE FATHERS translations of The Writings of the Fathers down to a.d. 325 THE REV. ALEXANDER ROBERTS)

The simple argument against those who accuse God of being cruel prior to the giving of his own Son for the salvation of sinners wish for only a loving God that does not punish and is not offended. This is similar to thinking that Santa Claus would be suitable for a career as a general in a world war. Human's are not loving and when they accuse God of cruelty it is merely a denial of justice and their own sinfulness.

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