Divine genocides and Biblical inerrancy

The moral problem of Genocide within the Bible

The presence of apparently genocidal texts within the Bible (where God allegedly ordered soldiers not to spare children) is arguably one of the strongest challenges faced by Conservative Evangelicals who believe that the writers of the Bible never made any mistake with respect to everything they wanted to convey.

Difficult moral issues: the genocide of the Canaanites.  On the picture, shouting bearded men are fighting and swinging their swords.
Moral problem for Biblical inerrantists: the genocide of the Canaanites.

I already went into the problem while responding to an email from an atheist.

Peter Enns besides his book: the Bible tells me so: why defending Scripture has made us unable to read it.
Progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns.

Recently, progressive Evangelical theologian Peter Enns started out critically examining a new Conservative Evangelical book (“Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God” by Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan) aiming at alleviating the moral tensions caused by the problematic texts.

Book available on Amazon: Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God
Copan and Flannagan:
Did God Really Command Genocide?: Coming to Terms with the Justice of God.

Here is my response to his post which is really worth reading.

Conservative Evangelical apologetics defending Biblical inerrancy

I once interviewed Matt Flannagan himself about his views on the conquest of Canaan.

Matt Flannagan with a neutral facial expression.
Evangelical apologist Matt Flannagan.

I must say I largely prefer his approach to that of William Lane Craig who defends the killing of babies by untrained soldiers as perfectly moral (while he is passionately opposed to such an act if it is committed against a yet unborn child by a trained physician).
To his credit, Craig does recognize it is an option for Christians disagreeing with him on that to reject Biblical inerrancy. This is a point almost no Conservative Evangelical grants.
Here, I can only mention Randal Rauser’s excellent criticism of his arguments.

In a sense, this is a real pity. Craig is an extremely brilliant man. While I don’t think he’s ultimately successful in proving Christianity, I think he is by no means inferior to sophisticated defenders of atheism out there.

He’s also a kind person and tend to be a very agreeable and respectful conversation partner.

William Lane Craig with a nice suit and a charming smile.
William Lane Craig, leading Evangelical apologist.

So it is truly disappointing he holds such indefensible views owing to his belief in Biblical inerrancy.
He gives anti-theists powerful rhetorical ammunitions for refusing to take seriously anything he has to say.

When the Bible is at odds with facts from the external world, Conservative apologetics fall into two categories:
– fundamentalism: denying the facts and clinging to the literal interpretation of Scripture (as typically Young Earth Creationists do)
– concordism: accepting the reliability of the external facts and trying to find an interpretation of the Bible matching them (as typically progressive creationists do).

With respect to this specific question, Craig has chosen a fundamentalist approach.
The apologetic strategy of Copan and Flanaggan is more in line with our basic moral intuitions and as such they can be regarded as concordists.

I generally think that concordists are successful for SOME moral difficulties found within Scripture whereby they offer a plausible alternative interpretation no longer strongly offensive to our fundamental ethical intuitions.

Atrocities in the text and some very implausible assumptions

But there are countless other “Biblical difficulties” and oftentimes I cannot help but think that their interpretation of the text is far-fetched and certainly not in accordance with what the original authors meant.

While reading Deuteronomy 20 explicating the difference between war inside and outside Canaan:

“When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labour. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock, and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here.
(first part).

“But as for the towns of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the LORD your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the LORD your God.”
(Second part)

Deuteronomy 20: mighty Isrealite riders are ready for genocidal assaults.
Atrocities in Deuteronomy 20?

it seems extremely likely that the Biblical author wanted to convey the idea of literal killings in both cases

Or consider the war against the Midianate:

“Moses said to them, “Have you allowed all the women to live? These women here, on Balaam’s advice, made the Israelites act treacherously against the LORD in the affair of Peor, so that the plague came among the congregation of the LORD. Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

Women are being seized by men against their will.
(Virgin) women as war booty.

It is very plausible (if not almost certain) that Mose (according to the authors of the book of Numbers) wanted his men to kill male infants, married women and widows while taking virgin girls as war booty .

It seems extraordinarily hard to avoid the conclusion that the Biblical authors attributed barbaric commands to God.

Conservative Evangelicals having troubles

Coupled with all examples of scientific and historical inaccuracies in the Bible, it appears that the Chicago Statement of inerrancy (the Biblical writers never erred in what they wanted to convey) can only be salvaged by resorting to a flurry of extremely unlikely ad-hoc hypotheses and distortions of the text.

This is why I think that the Conservative Evangelical faith has an incredibly shaky foundation which can be all too easily shattered once one begins to honestly read and examine the Biblical texts.

Among all these seeds of doubt, the description of God as an immoral being seems to be the main factor leading young Evangelicals to give up Christianity altogether, as an email to which I responded illustrates.

Antitheism as a legitimate child of religious fundamentalism

As a consequence, we get plenty of angry anti-theists who view the Bible as an entirely wicked book which should be burnt.

They have kept a fundamentalist mindset in so far as they think that:

1) the Bible should be judged in every respect according to modern criteria (thereby disregarding the strong influence of history and culture on moral beliefs)
2) the Bible is always entirely consistent in relation to its moral message.
Thus, if we can show that in one book soldiers are ordered to slaughter children, we must conclude that the WHOLE Bible endorses and advocates infanticides.

Over 90% of those who identify themselves as "Christian" admit they have never read the entire Bible...which ironically is the way you become an atheist.
How fundamentalism produces antitheism.

Far from protecting the Church, Conservative Evangelicalism is causing a mass desertion which could be avoided.

Progressive Christianity means embracing uncertainty.

On a personal level, the results of historical-critical scholarship have led me to give up the concept of a divine Canon set apart and more inspired than other books outside of it.

Frankly speaking, there is no meaningful way in which we could say that the imprecatory psalms (where a man prays for the atrocious death of the children of his enemy) is more inspired that sermons of Martin Luther King or books of C.S. Lewis (who by the way recognized the existence of errors within the Bible).

If one reads the Bible as a collection of book reporting the experiences and thoughts of people concerning God (i.e. in the same way one reads other Christians and Jewish books including apocryphal books in the Bible), many moral problems disappear completely.

I can even find moral beauty in many texts which fall short of perfection.

Of course, Evangelicals find my approach terribly unsettling because they’ve been raised to think that a Bible free of mistakes is the only way we have for knowing how God truly is .

There is no easy answer I can give them. I think that by definition, God has to be morally perfect and therefore higher than the most noble person who has ever lived under the sun.
For me, being a Christian means hoping in a God who revealed his ultimate face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I find Hans Küng’s book “Christianity”  (which I originally read in German) excellent and think that he did a very good job showing that ultimate worldview commitments (including the contrast between hope and despair, nihilism and meaning, atheism and theism, Christianity and non-Christian religions) involve choices which go far beyond what is warranted by the evidence and rational considerations.

Hans Küng. Christianity: essence, history and future.
Hans Küng: Apologist for progressive Christianity.

So I view faith as existential hope in the face of uncertainty and think that religious fundamentalists and Conservatives should come to terms with the fact that our ambiguous world hasn’t anything better to offer.

Genocides in the Bible? An interview with Matt Flannagan.

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Regular readers of my blog know that I’m no big fan of Biblical inerrancy and think that while there is much beauty to admire in the Bible, you’re going to find heinous things too.

 

Still, I want to give a fair hearing to people I disagree with. Therefore I was delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Conservative Evangelical theologian Matt Flannagan from New Zealand about this topic.

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In the following interview, we touched on a number of issues while exploring the morality of the conquest of Canaan as described in the Old Testament.

 

DailyMotion version: Click here.

 

Since this is my very first audio-interview, the quality of the sound is far from being optimal. So I hope you can forgive me that, along my lack of professionalism and terrible accent.

 

If a sufficient number of people find that really unbearable, I’ll start out painstakingly writing down the whole dialog.

You can complain at lotharson57@gmail.com or even write a comment here (if you want to have the satisfaction to publicly humiliate me 🙂   ).

 

A small personal tip: I generally listen such long interviews while having to accomplish repetitive tasks besides.

 

Advice for a struggling Christian

BildI received this interesting and touching email.

” I grew up Anglican and live in Canada.  I now have a wife (she is Japanese and agnostic) and two kids.  Ever since I can remember I’ve always believed and prayed to God.  But it was recently that I truly stated to question a lot things about what I believed, such as the hell topic, the hiddenness of God, the problem of evil, and the apparent errant texts in the bible.
As I stated, I am very much troubled by certain texts of the bible, in particular the violent acts attributed to God, including the genocidal commands, the killing the Egyptian firstborns, the killing of David’s newborn, the burning of Sodom and Gomorah, the flood, etc, etc.

So what am I to make of these texts?  Do I simple ignore them and assume they are false?  If so why did Jesus appear to regard the OT scriptures as sacred? 

Any insights you can provide are truly appreciated. 

Best Regards,
Geoff”

I am incredibly thankful to Geoff for his terrific email which raises many fundamental questions that are all too often shoved aside by Conservative Christians.

I find it extremely healthy to start questioning and critically examining one’s faith, as I pointed out in one of my first blog posts, this is all what progressive Christianity is about.

I am sure, however, that I won’t be able to provide him with final answers. All I can do here is giving him some advice and insights which will hopefully help him make up his own mind.

The problem of Biblical atrocities

Moral indignation against certain Biblical passages is far from being a phenomenon of our enlightened age.

Several Church Fathers in the first centuries of Christianity recognized the stark contrast between Christ’s teaching (on the one hand) and the moral message conveyed by some texts in the Old Testament on the other hand.

Bild
Gregory of Nissa wrote:
“The Egyptian [Pharaoh] is unjust, and instead of him, his punishment falls upon his newborn child, who
on account of his infant age is unable to discern what is good and what is not good … If such a one now
pays the penalty of his father’s evil, where is justice? Where is piety? Where is holiness? Where is
Ezekiel, who cries … “The son should not suffer for the sin of the father?” How can history so contradict
reason?”
C.S. Lewis (who is almost universally admired by Evangelicals) did not share their belief in Biblical inerrancy and had this to say about the genocide depicted in the book of Joshua:

Yes. On my view one must apply something of the same sort of explanation to, say, the atrocities (and treacheries) of Joshua. I see the grave danger we run by doing so; but the dangers of believing in a God whom we cannot but regard as evil, and then, in mere terrified flattery calling Him ‘good’ and worshiping Him, is still greater danger. The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict. I think the doctrine of the goodness of God is the more certain of the two. Indeed, only that doctrine renders this worship of Him obligatory or even permissible.

To this some will reply ‘ah, but we are fallen and don’t recognize good when we see it.’ But God Himself does not say that we are as fallen as all that. He constantly, in Scripture, appeals to our conscience: ‘Why do ye not of yourselves judge what is right?’ — ‘What fault hath my people found in me?’ And so on. Socrates’ answer to Euthyphro is used in Christian form by Hooker. Things are not good because God commands them; God commands certain things because he sees them to be good. (In other words, the Divine Will is the obedient servant to the Divine Reason.) The opposite view (Ockham’s, Paley’s) leads to an absurdity. If ‘good’ means ‘what God wills’ then to say ‘God is good’ can mean only ‘God wills what he wills.’ Which is equally true of you or me or Judas or Satan.”

Salvaging the dogma of Biblical inerrancy

The-Bible-and-Inerrancy-cartoon

Conservative Evangelicalism is founded on the rock of the Chicago statement on inerrancy, according to which everything a Biblical writer intended to convey is entirely free of errors.

As a consequence, Conservative Evangelicals have developed two kinds of strategies for dealing with putative moral atrocities found in the Bible.

The first consists of calling into question the moral intuition underlying our rejection of certain passages (when interpreted straightforwardly).

William Lane Craig is a great example of that approach. He tried to argue on philosophical grounds that God is not bounded by any moral obligations and has the right to kill an entire wicked people if He so wishes.

As Randal Rauser argued, his arguments utterly fails to establish that the slaughter of the Canaanite was not an atrocity.

The second Evangelical strategy consists of arguing that we cannot take the offending texts at face value and that if we interpret them correctly, we will see that they are really not as morally problematic as one could think.

Philospher Paul Copan champions this method. The problem is that he often has to resort to far-fetched interpretations and assumptions or rewrite the Bible, as argued by Thom Stark.

To paraphrase Evangelical pastor and theologian Greg Boyd, both strategies are (at best) only able to make the God depicted by the terror texts look a bit less horrible.

A shift of paradigm concerning inspiration

To my mind, such strategies are akin to seeking to cure a cancer by using pain killers. It might temporarily alleviate the pain but does nothing to heal the underlying disease which is still progressing and going to cause many other ordeals.

I think that the Evangelical way to look at the Bible has to be overturned and that one should consider Biblical authors in the same way other Christian and Jewish authors are seen.

Let us consider John Wesley, Martin Luther, C.S. Lewis, the Church Fathers or many missionaries. The fact that they were not inerrant and that God did not directly speak to them does nothing to cancel the value of their testimonies, experiences and theological insights.

It also does nothing to show that they did not experience God’s miraculous intervention.

Viewing the Biblical writings as thoughts about God rather than as the direct voice of the Almighty certainly greatly alleviate the problems of atrocities they endorsed.

Like Christians between 300 A.C. often got God wrong, writers of the OT and the NT also made culturally conditioned mistakes and misinterpreted the divine will.

This is why we cannot base our theology on the Bible (which speaks with many conflicting voices to begin with) but on God’s ultimate moral perfection, as C.S. Lewis expressed it in the quote above.

This is why we need to use the historical critical method to interpret the Bible in order to understand the historical context and motives of the authors.

If we do so, we will often realize that (most) Biblical authors were not evil and were often progressive for their time, even if their ethic fell short (objectively speaking).

And it is from their very experience and progresses we can learn as Christians.

Jesus view of the Bible

jesusTorah

This leads us to the most problematic question, namely what Jesus thought about the Hebrew Bible. Did he not consider it to be inerrant in the same way modern Evangelicals do?

I have three important points to make about this.

Incarnation does not mean infallibility

Viewing the earthly Jesus as almighty and all-knowing is not only unnecessary but also flies in the face of the Biblical texts.

As theologian Kenton Spark put it:

“Though theologians seldom point this out, the fact that Jesus operated mainly within the horizon of his
finite human horizon has other implications. If we assume for the sake of discussion that he was a
carpenter like his father, did he ever miss the nail with his hammer? Hit his thumb? Did he think that he left
his saw on the bench when, because he was distracted, he actually leaned it against the wall? Did Jesus
ever look across a crowded town square and think that he saw his brother James only to discover that it
was someone else? And did he estimate that the crowd was about 300 when it was really 200? To confess
that Jesus was fully human is to admit that the answer to these questions must be yes. “

Progressive Evangelical scholar Randal Rauser wrote:

“The problem is that this imputes a bizarre psychology to Jesus which undermines the humanity of Jesus, separating it drastically from the common human experience it is meant to emulate. Consequently, it has nothing to commend it. In conclusion, we are far better off accepting that Jesus had at least one, and likely an indeterminate number, of false theological beliefs, so long as there are no false theological beliefs of soteriological import among them.”

Like all Jews of His time, Jesus probably wrongly held to some kind of Biblical infallibility. To my mind this is a real defeater against Christianity only if you view His revelation as absolute moral and intellectual knowledge, which is an assumption I reject.

 Jesus view on infallibility and the meaning of the incarnation

Whatever it was, it cannot be the Chicago view (i.e. what the authors really expressed) since the central message of Christ flies in the face of many problematic passages in the OT.

(There is a nice post on the blog of Peter Enns I could not unfortunately find).

I take N.T. Wright’s view that the incarnation means that Jesus became God’s new temple and the Almighty showed us His true face through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

Therefore God’s revelation through Jesus is not (primarily) propositional knowledge but a narration.

 Concluding words

I think that we must view the Bible as part of the experience of God’s people which is centered in the life of Christ.

Consequently, we should edify ourselves with the Bible in the same way we build ourselves up through other Jewish and Christian authors, i.e. by seeing what we can learn from their own experiences while always taking into account their historical background for understanding them. The presence of scientific, historical and moral errors are no indication that their experiences were not genuine.

Now all I could write was a sketch and I completely accept the fact that many people won’t be convinced by my views.

I have one main advice for Geoff: follow your own conscience wherever it leads.

If you find my  answers untenable and cease to be a Christian, you would much more honor God in this way than by faking a faith you cannot have and experiencing cognitive dissonance.

And as perfectly loving and just, God is never going to condemn a honest person who could no longer believe in Him due to the evil in the world and confusions He Himself allowed.

I wish you all the best for your spiritual journey which must be authentically yours.

spiritualjourney

Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide

English version: Moral Indignation and Divine Genocides. Feel free to comment there at any time!

Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide

armenian-genocide-02-jpg

Ich hatte einen interessanten Emailaustausch mit Andy, einem bekennenden Atheisten aus Nordrhein-Westfalen.

Wir haben uns vor allem über Metaethik unterhalten aber in diesem Post will ich auf spezifische Sachen eingehen, die er über in der Bibel erwähnten Völkermorde geschrieben hat.

“Wenn du dir manche Rechtfertigungen für die Völkermorde im alten Testament anschaust, z.B. die von fundamentalischen Christen wie Paul Copan z.B., dann findest du übrigens exakt die gleichen Rechtfertigungen wie die, die die Nazis hatten – Copan sagt das die Feinde der Israeliten von Grund auf Böse waren, das nicht ein einziger von ihnen nicht böse war, das die Israeliten sie töten *mussten* weil sie sonst getötet worden wären etc. pp. Und genauso wie die Nazis über die Juden gelogen haben, so bin ich mir sicher dass das alte Testament über die Kanaaniter lügt, bei den Lügen der Nazis ist dies leicht zu zeigen, bei den Lügen im alten Testament ist dies schwieriger weil es keine Quellen gibt ausser solche die von den *Tätern* geschrieben wurden (stell dir vor die Nazis hätten den zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen – dann würden wir heute auch überall lesen das die Nazis der Welt einen Gefallen getan haben weil die Juden von Grund auf Böse waren und unser aller Untergang geplant hatten…)”

Ich bin Andy sehr dankbar,. seine Meinung auf eine solche Weise geäußert zu haben, denn es wirft viele interessante Fragen auf.

In den Büchern von Josua und Samuel wird es berichtet, dass Gott hebräischen Soldaten angeordnet hätte, ein ganzes Volk zu vernichten, wobei es ausdrücklich betont wird, dass Frauen, Kinder und alte Männer dazu gehören.

039_Land_Of_Canaan1

Nun gibt es mehrere Möglichkeiten:

1) die wortwörtliche Interpretation unserer europäischen Bibel ist wahr und historisch und

1.a) Gott hat wirklich ein Blutbad eingerichtet

1.b)  Gott hat das gar nicht gewollt, vielmehr haben die alten Israeliten ihren mörderischen Nationalismus auf Ihn projiziert.

2) die wortwörtliche Interpretation unserer europäischen Bibel ist falsch, wir sollten den Vernichtungsbefehl als eine volle militärische Niederlage der Feinde ansehen

3) die Eroberung von Kanaan und die damit verbundenen Genozide sind eigentlich nie passiert. Erst viel später wurden die Moses und Josua zugeschriebenen Bücher von mehreren unbekannten Autoren geschrieben.

3.a) die Autoren dachten wirklich, dass die Völkermorde passiert wären und fanden das gut. Sie haben aber viele falsche Daten und mündliche Traditionen verwendet.

3.b) die Autoren wollten eine mythologische oder symbolische Geschichte ihrer Ursprünge schreiben und hatten keinerlei die Absicht, sorgfältige Historiker zu sein

Wahrscheinlich gibt es andere Möglichkeiten, woran ich nicht gedacht habe.

Ich würde nicht Paul Copan als einen Fundamentalisten bezeichnen sondern als einen konservativen Evangelikalen, der die Doktrin der biblischen Irrtumslosigkeit verteidigen will.

Er hat mir gesagt, dass er solche Befehle als schrecklich ansieht,obwohl sie aufgrund der tragischen Umstände durchgeführt werden sollten.

Da er aber auch seinen Glauben an die Güte Gottes nicht aufgeben will hat er in seinem Buch hauptsächlich versucht, 2) zu verteidigen. Ich gebe ihm Recht, dass die berichteten Vernichtungsbefehle in dem alten nahen Osten manchmal hyperbolisch oder symbolisch sein könnten. Dennoch gibt es viele Fälle, wo man davon ausgehen kann, dass sie ernst gemeint waren, wie Thom Stark in seinem Buch gezeigt hat.

In diesem Zusammenhang finde ich es sehr merkwürdig, dass Copan nur mit 4 Seiten auf ein Buch geantwortet hat, das mehrere hunderte Seiten umfasst und sich danach kaum mehr darum gekümmert hat.

Ich bezweifle sehr, dass es nur an dem aggressiven und respektlosen Ton von Thom Stark in der ersten Version seines Buchs liegt. Danach hat er sich bei ihm entschuldigt.

Da Copan aber sich bewusst ist, dass 2) dubiös sein könnte, hat er auch geschrieben, dass dieser von Gott angeordnete Genozid eigentlich gerecht gewesen wäre. Der beliebteste evangelikale Apologet William Lane Craig hat mehrmals versucht, den Völkermord weiss zu waschen und ich bin auf seinen letzten Versuch eingegangen.

Aber nun muss man die Tatsache betrachten, dass die Eroberung von Kanaan eigentlich historisch äußert unwahrscheinlich ist, und dass die in der Bibel beschriebenen Massaker nie geschehen sind.

Ich weiß ehrlich gesagt nicht, ob 3a) oder 3b) wahr ist. Die Autoren wollten vielleicht wirklich die historischen Ursprünge ihres Volks dokumentieren und haben sich geirrt.

Aber es besteht auch durchaus die Möglichkeit, dass die Autoren eine symbolische Erzählung beabsichtigten, die später als Historie missinterpretiert wurde.

In beiden Fällen glaube ich, dass es sich um menschliche kulturbedingte Gedanken über Gott handelt und sehe die kanonischen biblischen Bücher an auf die selbe Weise wie Bücher außerhalb des Kanons.

Und genauso wie moderne christliche Autoren sich irren können, können auch uralte biblische Schreiber sich irren.

Das Fundament meines Glaubens ist Gottes Vollkommenheit, die immer der Maßstab sein sollte, um jeden religiösen Text zu evaluieren.

Und nun will ich beschreiben, wie eine gesunde und gerechte moralische Entrüstung bezüglich solcher Texte aussehen sollte.

Evangelikalen tendieren sehr stark dazu, nur die schönen Seiten der Bibel zu betrachten, während sie die hässlichen Texte ignorieren oder weginterpretieren. Und sie würden sagen: die Bibel stellt uns auf eine konsistente Weise Gott als vollkommen gut dar.

Das ist zweifelsohne eine Art von Selbsttäuschung.

Aber militante Atheisten begehen den selben Fehler, wenn sie behaupten, die Bibel würde uns auf eine konsistente Weise Gott als ein moralisches Monster darstellen.

Wie Thom Stark in seinem Buch “The Human Faces of God” (die menschlichen Gesichter von Gott) beschrieben hat haben die unterschiedlichen Autoren der Bibel keineswegs dasselbe Gottesbild in Bezug auf die moralische Natur von Gott.

Wenn 1a) oder 3a) richtig sind dann gibt es einen krassen Kontrast zwischen dem Befehl kein Lebewesen in den kanaanitischen Städten zu ersparen und der Verkündigung des Propheten Ezechiel, dass Kinder nie wegen der Sünden ihrer Eltern bestraft sein sollten.

Nun hätte ich den folgenden Ratschlag für intellektuell ehrliche Atheisten: anstatt zu behaupten, dass der Gott des alten Testaments ein psychopathisches Monster ist wäre es besser, folgendes zu sagen:

“Das alte Testament zeigt uns widerspruchsvolle Gottesbilder. An manchen Stellen wird er als barmherzig und liebevoll dargestellt, während er an anderen Stellen als ein psychopathisches Monster beschrieben wird. Dies zeigt uns, dass das Judentum, Christentum und Islam keine offenbarte Religionen sein können, weil man daraus kein widerspruchsfreies Gottesbild ableiten kann.”

Dies wäre viel redlicher und wirksamer als die Behauptung, das alte Testament wäre fast völlig schwarz, denn das kann man leicht widerlegen.

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

My other blog on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP)

 

 

Eric Seibert on Biblical atrocities

Lothringische Version: Eric Seibert iwer Biblische atrozitäte.

Unjust violence and misogyny in the  old testament

Progressive Evangelical theologian Randal Rauser interviewed Biblical Scholar Eric Seibert on the topic of violence in the Bible.

Eric Seibert

He did an excellent job showing why the usual strategies of Conservative Evangelicals such as Paul Copan and William Lane Craig completely fail to show that the god they worship is not a moral monster (or does not suffer under a split-brain disorder).

I don’t, however, share his pacifist convictions. I believe in Just War Theory and in the righteous retribution of wicked deeds.
So it is not the presence of violence within the Bible which shocks me but atrocities committed against innocents, such as Canaanite babies or toddlers, or a law stipulating that a raped woman having not dared scream should be stoned as a adulteress.

I think there is just no way one can defend such kinds of laws as stemming from God.

Now this raises lots of question concerning the inspiration of Scripture. If we know there are clearly parts of it which contradict God’s will, how can we trust the others?

I think that a paradigm shift is clearly necessary.

Evangelicals should stop seeing the Bible as being necessarily more inspired than other Christian and Jewish books, as I explained in a prior post a long time ago.

Such a change does not, however, inevitably implies embracing theological liberalism and anti-supernaturalism.

To take a concrete example, I read the books of the apostle Paul in the same way  I read books from C.S. Lewis: I believe that both were examplary Christians, great defenders of the faith and extraordinary men, and the presence of logical, empirical and theological errors in their writings does not prevent me at all to appreciate all the right things they figured out.

But if we don’t believe that the books within the Biblical Canon are more inspired than books outside it, how can we make the difference between right and wrong beliefs about God?

While I cannot speak for all progressive Christians, I believe that we should base our theology on the fact that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God. Even tough human beings are faillible creatures they are quite able to recognize perfection and to find out what is morally right and wrong as Saint Paul explains in the first chapters of the letter to the Romans.

Even if the books of C.S. Lewis are not inerrant, most Christians agree he was an extraordinary man of God, had many genuine spiritual experiences and reached profound insights in God’s nature.

But God did not directly speak through him, he used his own culturally-conditioned concepts to write about the Almighty, which involves he also got God wrong at times.

I view the Apostle Paul and other Biblical writers in exactly the same way: like modern Christian writers, they had genuine experiences with and thoughts about God they wrote down.

Of course such an approach does not eliminate all difficulties.

For why did people pretending to be believers commit atrocities they justified theologically? Conservative Protestants (and former ones) focus on the problem of atrocities in the Old Testament, but this is only one part of a more general difficulty: the problem of divine hideness.

Christian conquistadors viewing the slaughter of native Indians as the divine Will or isolated tribes routinely sacrificing their children to their deities are troubling as well.
For in all these situations, God allowed countless humans to have noxious and murderous false beliefs about Him.

While I cannot address such a huge problem with a few lines, I believe that God is able to redeem the suffering of all the victims of religious violence who just have to choose Him for an everlasting bliss.

Whilst this does not solve the problem, I find that this largely mitigates it.

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.

 

 

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On the burden of proof of the atheist

Deutsche Version: von der Beweislast des Atheisten

Beweislast

Paul Copan has written a great article several years ago showing that both theists and atheists have a burden of proof regarding the truth of their claims:

http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201303/201303_026_Athiests.cfm

I’ve give additional reasons to think so on my blog under the category “Parsimony”
. https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/category/parsimony/

If you’re discussing with an atheist friend, don’t forget that aspect.

 

 

Thematic list of ALL posts on this blog (regularly updated)

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