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.

Gay marriage and the fall of American civilization?

I recently stumbled across a short article of prominent Evangelical philosopher, theologian and apologist William Lane Craig where he laments the inexorable progression of same-sex marriage into the heart of America.

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Something very significant happened over this past weekend that we need to be alert to. As you probably know, several weeks ago the Supreme Court refused to hear a case concerning a federal district court’s decision to strike down all of the pro-marriage laws that have been passed by various states – Idaho, Oklahoma, and others out west. These were regarded as unconstitutional because they declared marriage to be between a man and a woman, or in other words, they prohibited same-sex marriages. The Supreme Court refused to hear the decision, thereby in effect ratifying same-sex marriage in the United States by judicial fiat.

When this happened, I just felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. I struck me that the whole American culture had just shifted. Yet there was no outcry; there was no great protest. This event passed almost silently, it seemed. It is astonishing the degree to which people’s thinking about marriage has changed so rapidly. It made me wonder: where is the United States heading morally? The institution of marriage lies at the very foundations of culture. Have we passed a kind of tipping point, now that marriage is no longer between a man and a woman, and is our culture just going to continue to decline from here? It is very disturbing when you think about this sort of trend on into the rest of the century and the next century.

But then I was absolutely stunned to read in the newspaper last Saturday morning that a different federal district court has upheld the ban on same-sex marriage in Michigan and Ohio and certain other mid-Western states. This virtually guarantees that the Supreme Court is going to have to take the case now because you have got two federal district courts at least (actually there are more) that are in contradiction with each other on the question whether or not the states have the right to pass laws saying that marriage is between a man and a woman only.

So this is probably going to go to the Supreme Court. According the paper it will probably be heard around next April or so. For me, at least, this is a call for renewed and intense prayer about this Supreme Court case. I have personally decided to covenant with the Lord to pray every day about this decision until the Supreme Court renders it – to keep the Supreme Court in prayer that these justices will make the right decision, or that if God so wills he might remove one of these justices and replace him or her with a different justice who would make a right decision.

This is entirely within God’s power to do. The Lord hasn’t seen fit in the past to save us from our own folly in this way, but I don’t think that is a reason not to pray. I would encourage you to think about this in your own life, too – whether or not this might be a matter about which you would covenant to pray. For this case truly represents a huge cultural watershed for the United States.

I appreciate that Christians differ on the question of whether or not same-sex marriage should be allowed. I think a lot of younger Christians especially have a sort of inclusivist attitude, thinking: how does it affect heterosexual marriages if you also allow marriage between same-sex partners? It doesn’t make any difference. It is just wider and broader, but it doesn’t affect anything, so it is all right. This attitude is very naïve. Since marriage is not a private institution but a civic institution – a public institution –, it carries with it certain civil rights that must be respected in the public square. What this means is that those who continue to regard marriage as exclusively heterosexual in nature are going to have their civil rights infringed or trampled upon. This is already happening. There was a court case in Massachusetts where a wedding photographer declined to film a same-sex wedding ceremony because he didn’t believe in same sex marriage. He was taken to court and had to pay $6,000 for not doing this. There is a wedding chapel in Idaho that is now under threat of being closed because the owners don’t want to perform same-sex marriages in their chapel. Their decision is regarded as civil discrimination.

So the idea that there can be a sort of peaceful co-existence of two concepts of marriage is just naïve; it is not true. When I’ve talked to homosexual activists at academic conferences, they acknowledge this themselves. They say the peaceful co-existence view is a naïve view. If same-sex marriage goes through, it is going to change things. That is exactly the activists’ intention. One of them said to me, “Really, same-sex marriage is old hat. That is not really what this is all about. We don’t think that marriage is an institution that should be recognized by the government at all. It is discriminatory for the government to give special privileges and benefits to people because they are married.”

So the same sex marriage issue is really just a thin-entering wedge to deconstruct marriage altogether. How does one do it? By denying that marriage has an essence or nature. Marriage is not essentially between a man and a woman. Rather, on such a postmodernist view, marriage is a social convention akin to driving on the right-hand or left-hand side of the road. There is no objective truth about it. So you can define it any way you want. If we go that route – if we deny that marriage has an essence and is just a social convention – then, of course, it is completely malleable and can be turned into anything. So the drive for same sex marriage is actually an attempt to deconstruct marriage under the mask of obtaining equal rights, marriage equality, and so forth. But that is not the real issue.

I feel free to speak about this issue because I think it is not merely political. It seems to me that this issue is deeply spiritual and moral and, frankly, does represent a kind of watershed moment in American culture. The institution of marriage itself is under assault. So I hope that some of you will join with me in praying for our Supreme Court as we approach this decision.

https://actsoftheapostasy.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/gay-marriage1.jpg?w=700

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My response follows.
______

Dear professor Craig,

I thank you so much for allowing comments on your blog. Even if I don’t expect any answer from you, given your overloaded schedule, I want to let you know my own response to what you just wrote.

It is fair to say we’ve very different starting points. You hold fast to Biblical inerrancy (as defined by the Chicago statement) whereas I’m a progressive Christian believing that the different Biblical authors might speak with conflicting voices on some topics.

Nevertheless, both of us are sincerely trying to follow the Risen Christ and we both agree that the entire Christian ethics can be traced back to Love (for God and, which is equivalent, for one’s neighbor).

And this is why I am NOT opposed to Gay marriage.
God made the Sabbath for man and not man for the Sabbath. It stands to reason that a perfectly good God would not forbid us things arbitrarily , that is to say according to his good pleasure.
Therefore, if something is wrong and forbidden, it must be harmful either for the individual or for society (I don’t limit “harm” to physical pain but also include anything hindering us from becoming better persons and growing in Love).

Therefore, if homosexuality is wrong, it must be detrimental in some ways. But all available evidence shows us that lifelong committed gay couples are not being harmed or impaired in their cultivation of love when compared to heterosexual couples.

https://i0.wp.com/paoladepaolaweddings.com/wp-content/uploads/PaolaDePaola_Alex_Audr_Eng_LR_027.jpg

Since I reject the idea that a morally perfect being could issue arbitrary laws, I reject the idea that God prohibits Gay marriage.

You wrote that you “just felt as if you had been kicked in the stomach”.

Are you feeling the same way towards poor children not receiving any decent healthcare even if they suffer from life-threatening conditions?
Are you grieving about this Christian psychotic man who is going to be put to death in Texas for murders stemming from his sick and irresponsible mind?
Are you saddened by the prison industry which (by using the war on drugs) puts countless black and other socially disadvantaged people into jails, thereby ruining their whole lives?

Should these egregious and tragic states of affairs not be “a call for renewed and intense prayer”?
It seems to me that the priorities of American Conservative Evangelicals aren’t really the same as those of the Biblical writers.

Finally, let me say that I respect Conservative Christians disagreeing with me on homosexuality.

I do NOT approve of resorting to propaganda and judicial power to silence political opponents.

I radically oppose bullying opponents to Gay marriage.

I can’t fully sympathize with the Gay lobby due to all their excesses and lovelessness.

I agree that a part of the movement wants to abolish marriage and promote any lifestyle causing no direct and immediate harm. This is something I am strongly opposed to and I think that any form of relationship not fostering the growth of selfless love, commitment, humility and kindness should be rejected.
This is why I don’t approve of One Night Stands and of polygamy, even if for many Biblical writers, God had no problem whatsoever with the latter.

I am deeply convinced that your belief that combating Gay marriage should be one of the main priorities of modern Christians is profoundly misguided and dangerous for the Church.

To my mind, the greatest wickedness of the American society consists of caring more for the rights of a small wealthy minority while failing to meet the basic needs of the poorest part of the population.

This is objectively wrong and egregious. And this is something which should lead any Perfect Being to disapprove of (or even “curse” if you prefer) a culture.

Sincerely and fraternally yours.

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

A merciless fight / Een schonungslose Kompf

A merciless fight / Een schonungslose Kompf

Vernon (a godless atheist from the Caribbean also known as Xon-Xoff) and I had a confrontation which was aimed at honoring the praiseworthy American culture war.
Since this is the very first time I recorded such an event, the quality of the sound is terrible.

I believe it is no exaggeration to say I utterly destroyed him.
So if you still read comments of Xon-Xoff, you should conclude it is most likely Vernon’s ghost.

Image

**************************************

Lorraine Franconian – Lothringisch

Vernon (een gottlos Atheist us de Karibik, de aach Xon-Xoff hess) un ich hon eeni Konfrontation gehon, die druf abzielte, de preiswürdige amerikanische Kulturkompf de Ehre ze gewe.
Do es de eerste Mol isch, wu ich solch een Ereignis gespeichert hon, isch de Qualität des Tons fuaschtba.

Ich glawe, dass es keeni Iwertriewung isch, ze behaupte, dass ich ihn total vernichtet hon.
So wenn ihr immer noch Kommentare von Xon-Xoff liest, sollt ihr schliesse, dass es sich höchst wahrschäinlich um seen Gespenst hondelt.

Image

Link: https://soundcloud.com/lothar-lorraine/fighttodeath

 

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Was William Lane Craig lying for Jesus?

This is what is currently puzzling me.

CraigCBS_2

William Lane Craig is undoubtedly the most popular defender of the Evangelical faith and for both believers and unbelievers, he represents the very best Christianity has to offer.

While trying to prove the historicity of the resurrection of Christ, William Lane Craig often presupposes the existence of God as background information. I think this is a very clever move for the way probabilities are assessed  in that case can largely vary according to the truth of atheism or theism.

But there is a problem here: William Lane Craig also uses the resurrection as independent evidence for demonstrating God’s existence.

Jason, the questioner asked:

“So for the first argument stated, you contend that the resurrection of Jesus serves in itself as evidence for God’s existence. In your Resurrection Hypothesis, you appeal to the evidence for the existence of God as a part of the specific evidence used to show that the Resurrection Hypothesis is more probable than not.Are these arguments not then circular reasoning?”

Let us see what Craig’s answer was.

“My studied view, then, is that one first establishes theism on the basis of the arguments of Natural Theology like the cosmological, teleological, axiological, and ontological arguments, so that when one comes to explaining the facts pertinent to Jesus of Nazareth, one may include as part of one’s background information the existence of the God of Natural Theology. You misunderstood the Defenders lectures. There I challenge the assumption that the probability of the resurrection on our background information Pr (R|B) is very low precisely because we can include God’s existence as part of our background information. We’ve already completed our Natural Theology before we come to an examination of Christian evidences.

So why do I frequently present the resurrection as part of a cumulative case for God’s existence in debates? Well, the reason, frankly, is evangelistic. I don’t want to leave students with just a generic God common to all monotheists but with some warrant for believing in the Christian God, the God revealed by Jesus of Nazareth.

Now if one includes the resurrection itself as part of the evidence for theism, as I often do in debates, one cannot include God’s existence as part of the background information (though one could still include evidence like the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, the reality of objective moral values, etc.). What one will say in this case is just that we’ve got no reason to think that Pr (R|B) << 0.5.

So I hope you’ll find that I’ve been consistent in including God’s existence in the background information only in cases in which I am not using the resurrection as part of a case for theism. When using the resurrection as part of a theistic case, one should simply say that the resurrection has not been shown to be improbable on the background information because we’ve not heard any good arguments for atheism.”

The problem is that in such debates Craig leaves to most of his listeners and readers the misleading impression that one can, on a neutral agnostic ground, prove the resurrection and use this as evidence for God, even tough he seems to recognize at other places that you need to consider God’s existence as granted before doing this.

Is this a real inconsistency? Is that perhaps even a true deception?

I don’t know.

 

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Moral Indignation and Divine Genocides

Deutsche Version: Moralische Entrüstung und göttliche Genozide.

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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.

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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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William Lane Craig and Divine Genocides

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William Lane Craig is arguably the most popular defender of the Evangelical faith out there. Whilst he certainly tends to overstate his case about the resurrection of Christ, he is far more rational and rigorous in his approach than folks like McDowell (or your local pastor or evangelist for that matter).

At the end of the day, I don’t believe that his attempts to prove God’s existence through the cosmological argument are in any way, shape or form more fallacious than atheistic attempts to show that everything has to be as simple as possible.

I do believe, however, that he is completely misguided in his willingness to stick to the dogma of Biblical inerrancy at all costs.

Defense of atrocities attributed to God

One of the most disgusting consequence is undoubtedly his endorsement of Biblical genocides, or should I say, genocidal myths.

According to the beliefs of Dr. Craig, those events undoubtedly occurred as reported in the pages of his inerrant book, whereby God allegedly ordered soldiers to kill babies and pregnant women alike.
Regardless of their historicity, the tales have been rightly called terror texts due to the theology they convey.

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Unlike many fundamentalists, he recognizes to his credit it is possible to be a Jew or a Christian while rejecting them:

First, let me commend you for seeing that this issue is an in-house debate among Jews and Christians. If it is the case that God could not have issued the commands in question, that goes no distance toward proving atheism or undermining the moral argument for God; it at most implies a liberal doctrine of biblical inspiration, such that inspiration does not imply inerrancy.“

But I was really stunned by his first sentence:

It’s wonderful to read a rational response to my defense of the historicity of the conquest narratives, Daniel! The typical response has been just heated emotional denunciations with no rational interaction with the moral theory I defended in QoWs”

It demands a huge effort for me to believe that Craig is not aware of the numerous blog posts Randal Rauser spent dealing with his lame attempts to whitewash such horrors. He clearly expressed his feelings, but does Craig really expect someone to callously think about atrocities attributed to the Supreme Being of all universes?

He further said:

But it’s worth remembering that the reason the conquest narratives are so puzzling is that God’s character in the Old Testament is so morally elevated that it’s hard to understand how He could issue such commands, especially after the story of Abraham’s bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah. He is not the villain that the new atheists make Him out to be.“

This statement is certainly hugely debatable, but I can agree with it in so far that by and large the writers of the OT had more elevated human thoughts about God than those expressed in the genocidal passages.


“2. I’m very gratified that you agree with me on my Divine Command Theory of ethics. I think this goes a very long way toward resolving the problem. God does nothing morally wrong in issuing these commands. Rather the whole question devolves, as you note, to this: has God failed to act in accordance with His perfect moral character? The task of the biblical believer is now to show that in issuing these commands God does nothing out of character with a perfectly just and loving being.“

I am unwilling to argue about the validity of DCT here and am going to accept this for the sake of the discussion, provided the character of a perfectly just and loving being can be recognized by our moral intuitions, what Calvinists (for instance) usually deny.

Alleged wickedness of the Canaanites.

You apparently agree with me that God’s judgment of the Canaanite adults is consistent with God’s being perfectly just and loving, given how unspeakably debased these people were..“

Well I certainly cannot agree with this anymore than with the proposition that the entire human race except Noah and his family was literally rife for utter destruction by the flood.

This stems from the simple empirical fact that even in the most wicked cultures, you’re always going to find a substantial set of (relatively) virtuous individuals not deserving such a judgment. And the whole concept that the place of one’s birth is going to have a huge impact on one’s ethical behavior certainly mitigates one’s personal responsibility.

Is taking their lives consistent with the character of a perfectly just and loving being? Well, why not? My claim is that in taking these children home early, God does them no wrong. Indeed, He may actually prevent their eternal damnation by snatching them out of a depraved Canaanite culture.“

WLC looks completely confused here and I hardly know where to begin with. If he agrees that the genocide of the Jews or the Armenians was an atrocity for God, then it makes no sense He would commend such a horror given the wrong message it would send. The expression „taking them home“ sounds extremely cynical (to say the least) in such a context, if one tries imagining a soldier cutting the throat of the toddler of a terrified housewife.

But this passage made me realize that divine genocide isn’t the weakest point of Professor Craig’s theology.

No, the hugest problem is certainly his belief in conscious eternal punishment. If he believes that babies and toddlers automatically escape this fate by dying and that we can be glad about the Canaanite ones leaving this earthly life in this way, then it seems inevitable we should also praise God for every abortion.

More than that, conservative Christian parents believing that most humans end up in hell would express their love for their children in the most perfect way by practicing infanticide.

But your question is easy to answer. The reason we should withhold such a reward is that God has issued a command “Thou shalt not kill,” so that we have a moral prohibition against killing the innocent. We have no right to play God; it is He and He alone who has the prerogative to give and take life. Yes, the death of a child brings great good to that child. That’s why we are comforted at funerals of children. But there’s nothing in my moral theory that implies that we should bring about this great good (I’m not a utilitarian!). In fact, my moral theory entails that we have a moral duty not to take the life of a child or of any innocent person. God has forbidden us doing so, and anyone who presumes to do so commits a great evil. This is right in line with the teaching of the New Testament, as well as the Old.„

The problem is that God gives us strong commands against inflicting a temporary pain to our fellow human beings while he’s going to allow them being tortured forever.

Progressive Christian perspective: faith forward.

To conclude, let me give my take on the Biblical terror texts. I view the things contained within the Biblical Canon in the same way I see religious texts outside the Canon, that is to say as the fallible description of human thoughts and experiences with God. In the same way people can get facts about mathematics, logic, and physics wrong, they can get God wrong, sometimes in quite a guilty and sinful way.

Our reflection about God shouldn’t start from any allegedly inspired holy scripture, but from the concept He has to be perfect in order for Him to be God, that is infinitely better than any one of us can dream to be. From this basis, we can evaluate if the religious thoughts and experiences of anyone are genuine, illusory, or both at the same time.

Certainly, developing a coherent theology on this foundation cannot be achieved with some lines of a blog entry.

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