Moral Indignation and Divine Genocides

Deutsche Version: Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide.

armenian-genocide-02-jpg

I had an interesting email exchange with Andy, a confessing atheist from Northrhine-Westphalia.

We’ve mainly discussed about metaethic but in this post I want to go into specific things he wrote about the genocides mentioned in the Bible.

“If you look at some of the justifications for the genocides within the Old Testament, like those from fundamentalist Christians like Paul Copan, then you find exactly the same justifications as those that the Nazis had.

Copan says that the foes of the Israelites were completely wicked, that not even one of them was not wicked, that the Israelites *had to* kill them because otherwise they would be killed etc.

 And exactly like the Nazis lied about the Jews, I am sure that the Old Testament lies about the Canaanites. It is easy to show this for the Nazi lies but it is harder to demonstrate it for the Old Testament because we have no other source than that of the perpetrators (try to figure out the situation if the Nazis had won World War 2, we would read everywhere that the Nazis had helped the world because the Jews are completely wicked and would have planted the seeds of our destruction and so on and so forth.)

I am extremely thankful to Andy for having given me his opinion in such a way for it raises many interesting questions.

Atrocities in the book of Joshua

In the books of Joshua and Samuel it is reported that God ordered  Israelite soldiers to annihilate an entire people whereby it was expressively said that women, children and old men should also be killed.

039_Land_Of_Canaan1

Now there are several possibilities:

1) the literal interpretation of our European Bibles is correct and historical and

1.a) God has really organized a bloodshed

1.b) God didn’t want that at all. Actually the ancient Israelites projected their murderous nationalism on Him.

2)  the literal interpretation of our European Bibles is wrong, we should view the extermination order as a complete military defeat of the enemies

3) the conquest of Canaan and the related genocides actually never occurred. The books attributed to Moses and Joshua were written only much later on by several unknown authors

3.a) the authors really thought that the genocides happened and approved of them. However they employed many false data and oral traditions.

3.b) the authors wanted to write down a mythological or symbolic history of their origins and had absolutely not the intention to be careful historians

There are probably also other possibilities I did not envisage.

Strategies of conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists

I would not describe Paul Copan as a fundamentalist but as a conservative Evangelical who wants to defend the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. He told me that he views such commands as not good but terrible, but that they had to be carried out owing to the dire circumstances.

Since he also doesn’t want to give up his faith in the goodness of God he has mainly tried in his book to defend 2).

I think he is right that the reported extermination orders in the Ancient Near East could be sometimes hyperbolic or symbolic. That said, there are many cases where we can assume that they were meant seriously, as Thom Stark described in his book.

In this context, I find it really remarkable that Copan’s response only included 4 pages whereas Stark’s book includes several hundreds of pages and that he no longer interacted with him and his book after that.

I strongly doubt that this only lies in the aggressive and disrespectful tone of Thom Stark in the first version of his book. Afterwards he apologized for his rudeness.

Since Copan is aware that 2) could be dubious, he also wrote that a divinely ordered genocide could have been actually justified.

The most popular Evangelical apologist William Lane Craig has also tried several times to whitewash the genocides and I went into his last attempt.

But now one must also consider the fact that the conquest of Canaan is actually historically extremely unlikely and that the massacres written in the Bible never occurred.

Frankly speaking, I don’t know if 3a) or 3b) is true. Maybe the authors truly wanted to document the historical origins of their people but were mistaken.

But it is also possible that the authors intended to write a symbolic tale which was later misinterpreted as being historical.

In both cases I believe these are human and culturally conditioned thoughts about God and I see the canonical Biblical books in the same way I see books outside the Canon.

And Biblical authors can be wrong in the same manner that modern Christian writers make mistakes.

The foundation of my faith is God’s perfection which should always be the norm according to which each religious text has to be evaluated.

And now I want to describe how a healthy moral indignation concerning such texts should look like.

Evangelicals have a strong tendency to only consider the nice pages of the Bible whereas they ignore or explain away the odious texts.

And they then say: the Bible depicts us in a consistent way God as being perfectly good.

This is undoubtedly a kind of self-deception.

But militant atheists make the very same mistake when they assert that the Bible depicts us in a consistent manner a God who is a moral monster.

As Thom Stark described in his book “The Human Faces of God“, the different Biblical authors had not by any mean the same conception of God with respect to his moral nature.

If 1a) or 3a) are true,  then there is a great contrast between the order not to spare any living thing in Canaanite cities and the preaching of the prophet Ezechiel that children are never punished for the sins of their parents.

Now I have the following advice for intellectually honest atheists:

instead of asserting that “the God of the Old Testament is a psychopathic monster” it would be better to say what follows:

“The Old Testament shows us contradictory portraits of God. In some passages he is described as being compassionate and loving whereas in other texts he is depicted as being a psychopathic monster.

This shows us that Judaism, Christianity and Islam cannot be revealed religions for one cannot deduce a portrait of God free of contradictions out of them. “

This would be much more honest and efficacious than the assertion that the whole Old Testament is wicked for this can be easily refuted.

Homepage of Lotharlorraine: link here
(List of topics and posts)

My other controversial blog: Shards of Magonia (link here)

Hauptseite von Lotharlorraine: Link hier
(Liste von Themen und Posten).

Mein anderer umstrittener Blog: Scherben von Magonia.

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16 responses to “Moral Indignation and Divine Genocides”

  1. ("Mister Two," a Closet Atheist) says :

    “instead of asserting that “the God of the Old Testament is a psychopathic monster” it would be better to say what follows:

    “The Old Testament shows us contradictory portraits of God. In some passages he is described as being compassionate and loving whereas in other texts he is depicted as being a psychopathic monster.

    This shows us that Judaism, Christianity and Islam cannot be revealed religions for one cannot deduce a portrait of God free of contradictions out of them. “

    This would be much more honest and efficacious than the assertion that the whole Old Testament is wicked for this can be easily refuted.”

    And this is exactly what atheists believe. They describe it they way they do because the idea is that IF the god of the Old Testament is real, then he is evil. The idea is for the Christian to consider what it is that they believe in and realize that it does not match the text they claim to be inspired.

    “And Biblical authors can be wrong in the same way that modern Christian writers make mistakes.

    The foundation of my faith is God’s perfection which should always be the norm according to which each religious text has to be evaluated.”

    Having been a fundamentalist when I was a believer, I have a really difficult time with this. To me, your argument about your faith in God’s perfection seems to be an argument for Deism, not for YHWH. You seem to be saying that God cannot be found in the Old Testament, but that it’s better to rely on your own intuition.

    When I first rejected fundamentalist Christianity, I considered whether liberal Christianity could be the path to the truth, but I cannot tell where its “truth” comes from. It seems to be internal, personal, and completely made up. It seems to start with the premise that the god of the Bible is real and that Jesus died for our sins, then continue from there to define god from ones own speculation about what a perfect god would be, rather than to derive those conclusions from any sort of evidence. This post of yours really reinforces that for me.

    • lotharson says :

      Hello, many thanks for your comment.

      If I found a (reliable) historical book about a fellow called Bob who is depicted as being both loving and compassionate and wrathful, jealous and murderous, I would certainly not conclude he is evil but that
      he has serious mental health problems.

      Militant atheists who have (almost always) been fundamentalists are psychologicaly unable to do so because they have the strong need to hate the religion they’ve grown up with as being COMPLETELY evil.

      The principle that “God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God” is basic and it could in effect lead to deism or to a form of theism according to which all religions are false but will eventually lead to God.

      But if you believe in a benevolent personal God you have to ask yourself who Jesus was.

      Was he

      1) an evil man God did not approve of
      2) a normal man with nothing special
      3) a particularly good man among others like Budha, Confucius or Gandhi
      4) more than that

      For me, IF theism is true then the most likely explanation of early Christianity is that God rose Jesus from the dead and that Jesus was (in some sense) His embodiement.

      Lovely greetings.

      Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

      http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com

    • AdrienneBenjamin-Scott says :

      #Divine Genocides: My reply is concerning the death of ALL Canaanites in regard to the god of Isreal’s demand for killing them ALL including the children and livestock. After close examination of the scriptures, it came to my attention these people were the offspring of the nephilim, cited in Ge.6. Why the livestock, bec. “the fallen” also had sex with animals, cited in greek mythology. Now I’m not a god, BUT if I were; I’d want every being I didn’t have a hand in creating killed off in order that my creation’s DNA not be mixed with these beings. And cause I’m so egocentric I wouldn’t want “my people” praising other gods

      • Nicodemus says :

        God’s desire for praise and worship has nothing to do with God’s alleged egocentrism. Rather, it is God’s way of leading us out of our own egocentrism. Praise and worship of God can liberate people from the false “gods” of materialism, selfishness, the delusion of egoism, hatred, violence, etc. If we genuinely worship God in Truth–not some distorted, man-made false theological concepts of God–we can become much more humble, kind, unselfish, peaceful, courageous, faithful, hopeful, and loving. God’s call for praise and worship isn’t for God’s sake; it’s for ours.

  2. jesuswithoutbaggage says :

    Thanks Lothar, you have provided much food for thought.

  3. LeRoy Whitman (@LeRoyWhitman) says :

    There is a big difference between God specifically commanding a people to be killed, in one era, and one specific and non-transferrable location, and any person or group claiming they have a divine right to do any such thing. God shows there were times He waited until the iniquity was full before the demonized, unrepentant people were destroyed. It would seem that these hypothetical discussions from safe places have not seen atrocities from ruthless people that cause cries to heaven to restrain them. May you not need to.

    The fact that He has grace, whereas proper cosmic justice would have us all destroyed, seems little reason to judge Him, as if any of us knew better than God rather than needing to learn a few things. I am not going to argue here; much less discuss. I am simply pointing out that the beginning of knowledge is wisdom, and this is not had without humility. It is interesting that you (at least implicitly) understand that God is gracious, and yet try to turn that into a criticism. We surely all have much to learn; and where will we learn it?

    • lotharson says :

      Thanks for your answer!

      If God cursed every newborn with a sinful nature, He cannot hold us worthy of destruction for sins we were bound to commit.
      No just judge would do such a thing.

  4. Dave says :

    Here is another possibility for your consideration: the genocidal stories in Joshua and Samuel could have been intended as propaganda and psychological warfare. The Israelites were a small minority group trying to survive in a very bad neighborhood; archeologists have found that many of the surrounding tribes and empires practiced human sacrifice to their gods, and other abominations. The authors of Joshua and Samuel may have been sending a two-fold message:1. Our God is a major bad-ass, so don’t you dare mess with us. 2. Human sacrifice and the cultures that practice it are morally repugnant, and must be ended.

    What do you think?

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