Genocide in the Bible
From the lands of Canaan to the people of Amalek where even animals, let alone babies and children, (1 Samuel 15:3) were to be destroyed. As god’s judgment or punishment for defying his will the Hebrew Scriptures have god sanctioning genocide.
The easiest way out of this for Christians would be to insist that it is the Old Testament – nothing to do with Jesus and his teachings. Though in the New Testament much is made of god’s judgments in killing people (Sodom and Gomorrah), and Jesus himself made much about everlasting hell being punishment after death. Unless we claim that the god of the old is replaced by Jesus the god of the new (apparently there from the beginning of creation at Jehovah’s right hand, therefore at least guilty of manslaughter by collective responsibility).
Treat Jesus as a man there seems to be a different direction that has less smiting and at least more compassion in his doctrine to the living. God being cruel and vindictive would demonstrate god being cruel and vindictive – it would not prove there was no god only that he was not sweetness and light.
Not taking the bible literally also gets you out of the knot. Either these genocides were decided by the Israelites, claiming divine legitimacy for barbaric acts or this is the work of literature. Myths that are the legends that make up a common narrative of a people.
William Lane Craig has a rather different way of allowing divine slaughter. His justification for killing babies:
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation. We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy. Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.
Selfish us not thinking that little kids being killed by a military were going to a happy place! This mind set
logically means that speed restrictions should not apply round infant schools. After all, you kill the child by going too fast there is a 100% chance they will go to heaven.
Even Thomas Aquinas rejected killing someone on the basis that the innocent go to heaven. Not Dr Craig. He goes on to suggest that waiting 400 years from Sodom and Gomorrah to the Canaanites shows that god is long suffering. That this was a message of no mixing with pagan cultures, to avoid idolatry. That the Jews being slaves gave Canaanites a chance to change their ways before the punishment.
But why take the lives of innocent children? The terrible totality of the destruction was undoubtedly related to the prohibition of assimilation to pagan nations on Israel’s part. In commanding complete destruction of the Canaanites, the Lord says, “You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons, or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods” (Deut 7.3-4).
For Dr Craig Yahweh is not one to mess with. A dictator commands obedience on the edge of a sword. This is a god that gives me free will but will see fit to kill those that use it. Much is made of the wickedness of the people. Ritual prostitution and child sacrifice. There are those that claim the modern world does the same with sex on TV and abortion. Even in my Mum’s wood work class a student has been asked to not go on about the 99.99% of people to be killed at Armageddon. A concept given weight to what the Israelites supposedly did in the cities around and in the Promised Land.
So we can kill in the name of God according to Dr Craig? Well he claims that Islamic suicide bombing, Jihad, is different because that is about forcing faith on people with violence. What happened in Canaan was god’s judgment.
The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God. If the Muslim thinks that our moral duties are constituted by God’s commands, then I agree with him. But Muslims and Christians differ radically over God’s nature. Christians believe that God is all-loving, while Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims. Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners. Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately. Moreover, in Islam God’s omnipotence trumps everything, even His own nature. He is therefore utterly arbitrary in His dealing with mankind. By contrast Christians hold that God’s holy and loving nature determines what He commands.
The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God?
God is love – and any actions that the bible says he has done he has done. These actions cannot contradict that god is love. The Bible is literally true. Ergo the acts of genocide reflect the will of a loving god. So many hoops to jump with – but a god that orders the death of babies and a theologian that says I should rejoice?
Rather I am with Dawkins assessment in The God Delusion:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
It seems bad enough thinking such an entity is real. Let alone one that is worthy of worship on the basis that Dr Craig thinks. Though he is not alone in thinking this. Another site concludes:
This is not to downplay or minimize the devastating impact of Israel’s invasion. Many people (men, women and children) were slain. In some cases even all livestock from a city were slaughtered. The Canaanite culture was evil and God wanted it removed. But he didn’t want everyone killed. He was not merciless. Gradually driving the Canaanites out of their land and into neighbouring nations where they would be the minority would force them to change their ways (Exodus 23:27-30).
Israel’s invasion demonstrated God’s justice, mercy and practicality at work. He executed justice upon the Canaanite ruling class. They tended to live in the cities, and they were most responsible for the evil Canaanite culture. God granted mercy to the Canaanites outside of the cities. They had their lives, but they would eventually have to move and give up all their sinful culture.
There are always apologists for the evil people do. Reminds me of what Obama said when talking to Rick Warren that much evil is done by people that think they are doing good.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog