Does the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16) demonstrate the moral depravity of Jesus’s philosophy?

FaithfulSkeptic

New Member
Disclaimer: I do not come from a Christian perspective, but was formerly of the faith and hold a degree in theology. My views are "spiritual but skeptical," and I am not an atheist.

In Luke 16, Jesus tackles the issue of human greed, selfishness, and the callous disregard of the poor. These are important moral themes, but his “solution” to the problem of selfishness and justice is inherently unethical and morally abominable. Rather than propose some equitable form of justice (such as giving the rich man another lifetime as a poor, disregarded beggar to teach him an important lesson), Jesus literally condones setting the rich man on fire, allowing him to burn “in agony,” and denying him even a single drop of water. In effect, Jesus’s moral solution is to be even worse to the rich man than the rich man was to Lazarus - in the most extreme way possible. If the Rich Man’s conduct toward Lazarus is morally reprehensible, how much more reprehensible is the conduct of one who denies “a single drop of water” to a person fire?

Even if the story is taken as a parable, rather than a literal depiction of the afterlife, the moral flaw in Jesus’s illustration remains, in the sense that Jesus speaks of this scenario with approval and clearly views it as righteous. I am not here interested in debating the historicity of Jesus, or the realities of God, heaven and hell, but whether Jesus is even worthy of consideration as a moral philosopher. This parable alone invalidates Jesus’s standing as a worthwhile moralist or ethical teacher in my opinion. I am not interested in even considering the ethical teachings of a man who finds the scenario depicted in Luke 16 (even as a fictional illustration via parable) to be morally correct.

Your thoughts?
 

Kade Rystalmane

Well-known member
Disclaimer: I do not come from a Christian perspective, but was formerly of the faith and hold a degree in theology. My views are "spiritual but skeptical," and I am not an atheist.

In Luke 16, Jesus tackles the issue of human greed, selfishness, and the callous disregard of the poor. These are important moral themes, but his “solution” to the problem of selfishness and justice is inherently unethical and morally abominable. Rather than propose some equitable form of justice (such as giving the rich man another lifetime as a poor, disregarded beggar to teach him an important lesson), Jesus literally condones setting the rich man on fire, allowing him to burn “in agony,” and denying him even a single drop of water. In effect, Jesus’s moral solution is to be even worse to the rich man than the rich man was to Lazarus - in the most extreme way possible. If the Rich Man’s conduct toward Lazarus is morally reprehensible, how much more reprehensible is the conduct of one who denies “a single drop of water” to a person fire?

Even if the story is taken as a parable, rather than a literal depiction of the afterlife, the moral flaw in Jesus’s illustration remains, in the sense that Jesus speaks of this scenario with approval and clearly views it as righteous. I am not here interested in debating the historicity of Jesus, or the realities of God, heaven and hell, but whether Jesus is even worthy of consideration as a moral philosopher. This parable alone invalidates Jesus’s standing as a worthwhile moralist or ethical teacher in my opinion. I am not interested in even considering the ethical teachings of a man who finds the scenario depicted in Luke 16 (even as a fictional illustration via parable) to be morally correct.

Your thoughts?
On what standard are you basing your judgement?
 

FaithfulSkeptic

New Member
On what standard are you basing your judgement?

My standard for assessing the story is the concept of proportional justice. Further, if the rich man in the story is condemned for his callous disregard of another man's suffering, then Abraham and/or God should be equally condemned for showing not only similar, but far more extreme, disregard for the pain of a man who is in the story "in agony in this flame." If this is not the case, then we are wandering into situation ethics or moral relativism, are we not?
 

Kade Rystalmane

Well-known member
My standard for assessing the story is the concept of proportional justice. Further, if the rich man in the story is condemned for his callous disregard of another man's suffering, then Abraham and/or God should be equally condemned for showing not only similar, but far more extreme, disregard for the pain of a man who is in the story "in agony in this flame." If this is not the case, then we are wandering into situation ethics or moral relativism, are we not?
As I see it, you are asking the age old question of whether or not the Creator of everything has the inherent right to do with that creation as He deems right and good. You are bringing Him down to man's level and judging Him by man's standards. Why should we accept your standard of judgment in relationship to God?
 

FaithfulSkeptic

New Member
As I see it, you are asking the age old question of whether or not the Creator of everything has the inherent right to do with that creation as He deems right and good. You are bringing Him down to man's level and judging Him by man's standards. Why should we accept your standard of judgment in relationship to God?

That is a common answer to questions of this type. You are, of course, under no obligation to accept my standard. I am unable to accept the line of reasoning that says "who are we to judge God?" for two reasons. One is that it feels to me like a bit of a hand wave that leaves important moral questions unanswered. The second is that if we are made in God's image, then I believe God endowed us with moral reasoning with the intent that we would exercise that faculty and discern life with an ethical lens.

I'd also add that the "trap" this line of thinking often seems to lead Christians into is a sort of moral relativism - what is wrong for the rich man in the story (using this parable as an example), is from this viewpoint, correct for God. This argument may establish that God is all-powerful and therefore "beyond good and evil" or not bound by moral and ethical law, but it does little to convince me that God is moral.

In this instance, I am not sure much arguing the nature of God, per se, as the teachings of Jesus considered on a merely ethical basis. Whether Jesus is divine is a separate question, but parables like the one I cited make it difficult for me to even go so far as to view him as a worthwhile ethical teacher. I guess, in a sense, I'm springboarding off part of C.S. Lewis' famous "trilemma," which begins with a supposition that Jesus was at the very least a great teacher, if not (in Lewis' view) far more than that as the incarnate Son of God.

I appreciate this dialogue and your replies. I do think Christian apologists should consider how to address these kinds of issues in the Bible that, on the surface level at least, appear to a non-believing reader to be unethical, since it is exactly these considerations that drive some people away from the faith (myself included).
 

CrowCross

Well-known member
Apparently the dogs treated Lazarus better than the rich man did.

As for Lazarus dipping the end of his finger in the water and cooling the rich mans tongue....would that have even been possible? Wasn't there a chasm?

16 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
 

FaithfulSkeptic

New Member
Apparently the dogs treated Lazarus better than the rich man did.

As for Lazarus dipping the end of his finger in the water and cooling the rich mans tongue....would that have even been possible? Wasn't there a chasm?

16 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

Yes, but I am not faulting Lazarus for moral shortcoming in the story. The situation (the "gulf") is one created and apparently endorsed by God/Christ.
 

FaithfulSkeptic

New Member
Apparently the dogs treated Lazarus better than the rich man did.

Regarding this, I'm not justifying the rich man's attitude or inaction, but if his behavior in the story is wrong, how much more so is God's in denying a man on fire a single drop of water? See my point?
 

CrowCross

Well-known member
Regarding this, I'm not justifying the rich man's attitude or inaction, but if his behavior in the story is wrong, how much more so is God's in denying a man on fire a single drop of water? See my point?

No. I don't see your point. The dogs treated Lazarus better than the rich man did. There was a great chasm so the water would have been impossible. You still have not addressed those points adequately.

Was the rich man actually on fire in the parable?

Throw on that...the rich man...now all of sudden wants mercy? What is the water symbolic of? Could it be for washings and purification? Could it be that's what was denied?
 

Kade Rystalmane

Well-known member
That is a common answer to questions of this type. You are, of course, under no obligation to accept my standard. I am unable to accept the line of reasoning that says "who are we to judge God?" for two reasons. One is that it feels to me like a bit of a hand wave that leaves important moral questions unanswered. The second is that if we are made in God's image, then I believe God endowed us with moral reasoning with the intent that we would exercise that faculty and discern life with an ethical lens.

I'd also add that the "trap" this line of thinking often seems to lead Christians into is a sort of moral relativism - what is wrong for the rich man in the story (using this parable as an example), is from this viewpoint, correct for God. This argument may establish that God is all-powerful and therefore "beyond good and evil" or not bound by moral and ethical law, but it does little to convince me that God is moral.

In this instance, I am not sure much arguing the nature of God, per se, as the teachings of Jesus considered on a merely ethical basis. Whether Jesus is divine is a separate question, but parables like the one I cited make it difficult for me to even go so far as to view him as a worthwhile ethical teacher. I guess, in a sense, I'm springboarding off part of C.S. Lewis' famous "trilemma," which begins with a supposition that Jesus was at the very least a great teacher, if not (in Lewis' view) far more than that as the incarnate Son of God.

I appreciate this dialogue and your replies. I do think Christian apologists should consider how to address these kinds of issues in the Bible that, on the surface level at least, appear to a non-believing reader to be unethical, since it is exactly these considerations that drive some people away from the faith (myself included).
Gonna get back to you. Too much to type on phone. Likely tomorrow.
 

Dizerner

Well-known member
Your thoughts?

It's a complicated subject, so apologies that to make something concise enough to read will necessarily seem a bit sketchy.

Altruism from a Scriptural standpoint is not virtuous in and of itself. If altruism were virtuous merely by its external properties of making someone physically feel better, under a Biblical system that would be an idolatrous act.

The reason for this is because creation cannot be the source of it's own value. We may find comfort and security in mutually protecting and valuing ourselves, but this gives no real ultimate source of valuation. God being the infinite source of all things, is the ultimate source of value by virtue of his attributes. We can rebel against him and set up our own values because he allows it, but these values will necessarily devalue God.

The sin in the parable of the Good Samaritan is not that someone was not altruistic. The sin is this, that because man is valued by God and in the image of God, he is therefore for that reason to be cared for, only because he is valuable to God, not because he is inherently valuable to himself or to the person helping.

True virtues in the Christian worldview are hidden attributes, invisible inclinations, unseen valuations, not just how physically or emotionally happy someone feels. We have a "spiritual" dimension to us, more deep than physicality or emotions, and that spiritual being we have can be harmed or hurt in its own sphere of reality. If sin somehow damages or hurts a part of us that is not physical or emotional, we see that morality cannot possibly exclude the spiritual dimension. After all, some people who are doing well financially and relationally still become so depressed with the meaningless of the life they feel, their well-being cannot be measured simply by how prosperous they seem under a materialistic worldview.

Image this scenario: there is a super intelligent being who can morph as a human and act like a normal, friendly fellow. But suppose this being's one passionate desire and intent in the long run is to cause as much torment, suffering and destruction of all other beings as possible. However, since he can disguise himself so well and is playing the long con, as it were, he will act very nice and friendly for awhile to gain everyone's trust or to gain access to the resources he needs. Now let's say it's the nature of this being that it is impossible to change its desires by any means whatsoever. You can know (hypothetically) with 100% certainty that in 10 years this man will run an extensive hidden torture chamber for small children, the worst imaginable, and he will inevitably work towards that goal no matter what, while acting like a nice, normal human in the meantime.

But now, you come across him in the parable of the Good Samaritan, beaten on the other side of the road. If you let him die, you will save those thousands of children from gruesome torture. But if you let him die, you wouldn't really be a Good Samaritan anymore, would you? He is, for all intents and purpose, just a human being suffering, and the simplistic moral model you seem to want to propagate would dictate it would be unethical not to help him. However you run into a strange paradox: by helping this one human being you will be hurting more severely thousands of others.

"Oh, but there's exceptions! There's unusual scenarios that may call for a more sophisticated or nuanced value system," you may object.

And I think you would be right. There is actually an elaborate methodology behind your moral system of valuations that is far more sophisticated than just "helping people and being nice," because you are measuring overall effects. Now, my point here is not to say that human-centered morality is appropriate, but it just needs to be more nuanced; my point is that by pointing out the nuance, you can understand that a Biblical morality is far more nuanced than just altruism. Jesus' set of morality never matched those of secular humanist moralists, nor did he ever pretend it did. In the Biblical model of morality, that sophisticated nuance is the valuations of God himself, his being and his desires and his attributes, as they relate to things he has created. Because God is an unusual place of creating both the game and the rules, he is in an unusual place in his relation to morality. We, as creations, are setting up a system of morality that seems and feels good to us within the game and rules that have already been created. But none of us are game-makers. We are taking things already created and back-tracing how we think they should be run.

If Jesus' preaches a God-centric valuation, then the treatment of other human beings is only and primarily for the sake of valuing God, and not the humans themselves. This means that the offense and punishment for failing to abide by a perfect honor towards the infinite source merits a correspondingly intense devaluation coming from the infinite source (God). That is why a Biblical hell is so extreme, and Jesus made no apologies for it; not because God wants to reform us so we treat each other nicer, but because God wants to transform us so that we see his value in what he has made.

I hope it's obvious my goal here is not to convince you God is valuable. Only a miracle could ever do that. But it might be interesting for you to see how a Biblical system of morality could still cohere with altruism being a viable, but not truly a central, part.
 
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CrowCross

Well-known member
Fair, but I think we're drifting into metaphysics and the question of hell now, which is really a separate debate from the ethics of the parable itself.
The ethics of the parable were placed there by you. Your statement "This parable alone invalidates Jesus’s standing as a worthwhile moralist or ethical teacher in my opinion." ....is based upon a misunderstanding of the scripture. For someone who says they hold a degree in theology I find it hard to believe you would come to your conclusion.
 

Mike McK

Well-known member
Rather than propose some equitable form of justice (such as giving the rich man another lifetime as a poor, disregarded beggar to teach him an important lesson)
How would that be "equitable"? How would "teaching him a lesson" satisfy the need for justice? How would reincarnating him help, when he would only sin again in the next lifetime?
Jesus literally condones setting the rich man on fire
Verse, please.
allowing him to burn “in agony,” and denying him even a single drop of water. In effect, Jesus’s moral solution is to be even worse to the rich man than the rich man was to Lazarus
You remind me of the girl in another forum who pretends to hold a PhD. She complains all the time about how unfair it is that Warren Buffett's secretary pays more in taxes than he does.

No matter how many times we try to explain to her that the reason she pays more is that they pay two different kinds of taxes that tax two different things.

In this case, although you claim to have been a Christian and claim to be familiar with the scriptures, you don't seem to get that the Rich Man wasn't being punished as revenge for the way he treates Lazarus, but was being punished for breaking God's laws.
If the Rich Man’s conduct toward Lazarus is morally reprehensible, how much more reprehensible is the conduct of one who denies “a single drop of water” to a person fire?
Why is it "morally reprehensible"? What objective and authoritative standard do you have that makes it immoral? Why should God not be able to punish criminals in His court as He sees fit?
Even if the story is taken as a parable, rather than a literal depiction of the afterlife, the moral flaw in Jesus’s illustration remains
Question begging. You still haven't demonstrated that it's morally flawed.
This parable alone invalidates Jesus’s standing as a worthwhile moralist or ethical teacher in my opinion.
You're not the first criminal to disagree with the judge.
I am not interested in even considering the ethical teachings of a man who finds the scenario depicted in Luke 16 (even as a fictional illustration via parable) to be morally correct.
If you're willing to risk Hell over it, you should at least be able to show your reasons why.
 

Mike McK

Well-known member
I am unable to accept the line of reasoning that says "who are we to judge God?"
It's important to get over yourself and remember that Jesus is telling you what is, not asking your permission or your approval.
Whether Jesus is divine is a separate question, but parables like the one I cited make it difficult for me to even go so far as to view him as a worthwhile ethical teacher.
Why? If it's a parable, then why are you taking it literally?
I do think Christian apologists should consider how to address these kinds of issues in the Bible that, on the surface level at least, appear to a non-believing reader to be unethical, since it is exactly these considerations that drive some people away from the faith (myself included).
No, it doesn't drive anyone away. The unregenerate are already at emnity with God.
 

Mike McK

Well-known member
Regarding this, I'm not justifying the rich man's attitude or inaction, but if his behavior in the story is wrong, how much more so is God's in denying a man on fire a single drop of water? See my point?
The Rich Man chose to live his life in rebellion to God and to willfully and break God's laws.

He knew the law. He decided he did not want to live by the law. God gave him what he wanted. Are you saying God should not have honored his decision?
 

Kade Rystalmane

Well-known member
That is a common answer to questions of this type. You are, of course, under no obligation to accept my standard. I am unable to accept the line of reasoning that says "who are we to judge God?" for two reasons. One is that it feels to me like a bit of a hand wave that leaves important moral questions unanswered.
My response is not intended as a dismissive wave of the hand, but an addressing of the proper frame of reference. God, as Creator and Judge is able to do things mankind is not allowed, or even equipped to do. For one thing, I cannot sentence men to Gehenna or Heaven, to an eternal state for their spiritual actions. I'm simply not equipped to do so no matter what I may discern about their spiritual state.

E.g. God has told us that a murderer is a sinner and because of that sin will spend eternity in Gehenna. If I know that a person is a murderer, I may discern, based on what God has told us, that they will spend eternity in Gehenna, but I don't actually send them there, nor do I have the power to. However, while they are still alive, I can try to get them to recognize their sin and help them repent and turned to God for salvation.

However, we have not the proper frame of reference to even begin to say that what the Creator of the Universe does or does not do is right or wrong. We are finite beings with limited senses and therefore limited perspective. How could we comprehend all that would be needed to in order to properly, logically, and rightly examine God and declare His actions morally? Furthermore, since God is the standard of what is righteous, good, and just, attempting to say that God is unjust is an attempt to say God is not God. If we come to the understanding that God does in fact exist, then we take the next step and come to understanding His relationship to Creation and where that puts Him in terms of authority, to declare that such a being isn't what is in His nature to be is nothing but an asserted contradiction with no basis in reality. It is akin to saying I am not me. It ultimately boils down to a violation of the logical law of identity. A = A. You are asserting that A is not A and so your premise is inherently flawed from the beginning.
The second is that if we are made in God's image, then I believe God endowed us with moral reasoning with the intent that we would exercise that faculty and discern life with an ethical lens.
I agree. However, if God endowed us with moral reasoning, we must reason properly and the only proper way is to understand all that I said above leaving God as the standard of morality. God is neither above that which is good declaring what is good by fiat making Him a moral tyrant, nor subject to what is good so that God can be declared good or evil by some higher standard making God less than supreme or omni in His attributes. Instead, God is good by His very nature making all moral reasoning subject to understanding the nature of God and rendering God unassailable morally speaking. He is, by virtue of His nature, incapable of that which is evil because that which is evil is that which is against the nature of God.
I'd also add that the "trap" this line of thinking often seems to lead Christians into is a sort of moral relativism - what is wrong for the rich man in the story (using this parable as an example), is from this viewpoint, correct for God. This argument may establish that God is all-powerful and therefore "beyond good and evil" or not bound by moral and ethical law, but it does little to convince me that God is moral.
This is not moral relativism at all. There are things that are the sole purview of God by nature of Him being the Creator of all that exists besides Himself. He is the owner of it and has the right to dispose of it as He deems fit. If God wants to wipe out 1.8 billion people in a global flood and save 8 and some animals on a wooden boat, He is morally just for doing so. If God determines that those who are faithful and given eternal life are rewarded with an eternity in His presence (Heaven) and those that are unfaithful and are not given eternal life are rewarded with an eternity separated from His presence (Gehenna) then that is His right. It's not just that we ought not to judge God. It's that we simply aren't equipped to do so in any meaningful way. We either submit to our Creator and acknowledge what and who He is or we stand in rebellion to Him, railing pointlessly against what and who He is. Either way God is God and above our limited capacity to judge.
In this instance, I am not sure much arguing the nature of God, per se, as the teachings of Jesus considered on a merely ethical basis. Whether Jesus is divine is a separate question, but parables like the one I cited make it difficult for me to even go so far as to view him as a worthwhile ethical teacher. I guess, in a sense, I'm springboarding off part of C.S. Lewis' famous "trilemma," which begins with a supposition that Jesus was at the very least a great teacher, if not (in Lewis' view) far more than that as the incarnate Son of God.
Jesus cannot be merely a great human teacher. If He is, then your argument would have merit. That Jesus is deity removes Him fully from our capacity to judge based on what I outlined above.
I appreciate this dialogue and your replies. I do think Christian apologists should consider how to address these kinds of issues in the Bible that, on the surface level at least, appear to a non-believing reader to be unethical, since it is exactly these considerations that drive some people away from the faith (myself included).
You are most welcome and I agree. Christian apologists must consider how to address these kinds of issues. I know because, like you, my wife has left the faith and raises these exact arguments as her reasoning. Sadly, right now she frames them as an attack and has no interest in discussing things logically as you are doing. For her, she desired to go and any reason to do so to soothe her conscience was sufficient.

I look forward to more discussion on the matter.

In Truth and Love.
 

Our Lord's God

Well-known member
Disclaimer: I do not come from a Christian perspective, but was formerly of the faith and hold a degree in theology. My views are "spiritual but skeptical," and I am not an atheist.

In Luke 16, Jesus tackles the issue of human greed, selfishness, and the callous disregard of the poor. These are important moral themes, but his “solution” to the problem of selfishness and justice is inherently unethical and morally abominable. Rather than propose some equitable form of justice (such as giving the rich man another lifetime as a poor, disregarded beggar to teach him an important lesson), Jesus literally condones setting the rich man on fire, allowing him to burn “in agony,” and denying him even a single drop of water. In effect, Jesus’s moral solution is to be even worse to the rich man than the rich man was to Lazarus - in the most extreme way possible. If the Rich Man’s conduct toward Lazarus is morally reprehensible, how much more reprehensible is the conduct of one who denies “a single drop of water” to a person fire?

Even if the story is taken as a parable, rather than a literal depiction of the afterlife, the moral flaw in Jesus’s illustration remains, in the sense that Jesus speaks of this scenario with approval and clearly views it as righteous. I am not here interested in debating the historicity of Jesus, or the realities of God, heaven and hell, but whether Jesus is even worthy of consideration as a moral philosopher. This parable alone invalidates Jesus’s standing as a worthwhile moralist or ethical teacher in my opinion. I am not interested in even considering the ethical teachings of a man who finds the scenario depicted in Luke 16 (even as a fictional illustration via parable) to be morally correct.

Your thoughts?
Factor this in and start over:

there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’
 
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