A Challenge To Christians To Unqualifiedly Condemn Genocide

Christians who defend the Old Testament genocides are guilty of either relativistic authoritarianism (anything can be okay as long as God wills it and His will has simply changed from the Old Testament days to the New Testament one) or, possibly worse, theoretical agreement with all the normal justifications of genocide as long as God gives the go ahead.  ZJEmptv calls for Christians to end the wishy washiness on the subject of genocide and to unequivocally denounce it.  One would think this wouldn’t be so hard for those who adhere to the tradition that alleges itself the vanguard of moral truth and spiritual advancement. 

So, how about it, my Christian friends, can you say here and now that you condemn genocide in all its forms and for all justifications whatsoever or do you reserve the moral right of genocide for God either in the present or at least in the past?  Where do you stand on this most basic of moral questions?   Is denouncing genocide unequivocally less important to you than preserving the already shaky logical consistency of your admittedly unjustified  faith claims to the divine truth of the Old Testament writings and their general accuracy in communicating the mind and character of God?  And if your opposition to genocide can be so compromised, what does that say about your morality?

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

(via Dwindling in Unbelief, a fellow Planet Atheism blog)

Your Thoughts?

  • shane

    A much more lucid presentation of the same basic position can be found in Wesley Morriston, “Did God Command Genocide? A Challenge to the Biblical Inerrantist,” Philosophia Christi, (vol 11, no. 1), 2009.

    Morriston’s paper is available at:

    http://www.colorado.edu/philosophy/wes/DidGodCommandGenocide.pdf

    Morriston’s conclusion is that one should jettison inerrantism in favor of a “more flexible” view of the OT and its depiction of God and his character. I’m fairly open to his suggestion, as far as it goes. But I think I’ll wait and see how his article stands up to criticism before I decide where to be on this issue.

  • shane

    Oh, I found Paul Copan’s response to Morriston’s criticism of the original Copan article here:

    http://epsociety.org/library/articles.asp?pid=63&mode=detail

  • Jeremy

    Does this post assume that all Christians are hold to inerrancy? It seems that there are many who hold to the core doctrines of the faith without clinging to this “evangelical” doctrine. I’ve have a few years of Koine Greek under my belt and it seems impossible for me to imagine how the scriptures are without error after seeing how many manuscripts and slight textual variants that there are. Of course, I’m sure Professor Copan has an explanation. {I actually took a summer class from Copan at Trinity}.

    • Daniel Fincke

      Hi Jeremy, thanks for coming by! ZJ’s video and I both address our remarks specifically to (as I put it in the first line) “Christians who defend the Old Testament genocides.” My claim later in my post was that those who start explaining that evil people “deserve genocide” are doing so to protect their commitments to inerrancy.

      If you are one of the Christians happy to say that the genocides (if they really happened) could not have actually been divinely commanded, then it’s easy for you to simply say you’re not one of those Christians who would rationalize the genocides but can unequivocally denounce the practice as immoral.

      But I do think there is a separate issue for a more progressive Christianity like that and that’s that the idea of genocides being just an “error” in an overall divine book is really hard to swallow. That’s like saying that a history book that repeatedly celebrated Hitler’s genocides as commanded by God and approved by him was a true religious/spiritual/divinely revealed book nonetheless. That seems like more than a copying error or a “seeing through a glass darkly issue”—it seems like a solid proof that the book was not written by specially inspired or morally insightful people.

  • Jeremy

    lol, “are holding to inerrancy”.

  • George

    Shane,
    Alright, so I read Morrison’s paper and this whole thing is giving me a headache. If the bible is “sometimes” the word of God, and other times a projection of the authors wishful thinking, then how does one decide which passages are which?
    Does God condemn homosexuality? Or did the author of that passage just have a gay son who threatened the end of his bloodline?
    Does God condone slavery? Or are the authors just trying to justify keeping slaves of their own?
    Was everything we see around us created in a single divine act of creation? Was there a true Adam and Eve? Was there a Great Flood? An Ark? Does this same rule apply to the NT?
    Was there really a Messiah?
    Can I mix fabrics?

    I can’t imagine living in a faith where I had to decide whether I am reading the word of God or man. If some things can be done away with in the bible than why not just scrap the whole damn book? I mean, there are some really great things being said in the Bible, but there are some great things being said in The Republic or Utopia or Beyond Good and Evil (you are welcome, Dan).
    If the bible is not the Word of God, then how can anyone know what is God speak or history, bullshit or allegory?

  • shane

    Hi George,

    In short, it’s complicated and nobody knows for certain. I hasten to add that interpretation in general is a subtle science and we’re often left with considerably less than certainty in our interpretation of a text written by one of our own contemporaries in our mother tongue.

    Of course, Christians have been wrestling with precisely the issue that you are raising here literally since the first century. The approach to interpreting the OT legal codes I favor tries to distinguish between three different strands of commandments that are laid down there. Some of these commandments are ceremonial, i.e. they just tell how to perform ritual sacrifices and other cultic duties. Christians have good reason to think that these commandments are completely non-binding for believers today because we look at these ritual practices as anticipations of the sacrifice of Christ, which has now been completed.

    The second kind of commandments you find in the OT are civil commandments which have to do with how God wanted the Israelites to set up the local government. These too are not binding today because these commandments are not addressed to us–they were addressed to a particular group of people at a particular time in response to a particular situation. We aren’t those people; this isn’t that time and the situation is different now.

    However, it seems like there is also another kind of commandment laid down in the OT that isn’t addressed only to the Israelites specifically and doesn’t have anything to do with ritual worship. This final kind of commandment are purely moral commandments. Don’t murder. Don’t lie. Don’t commit adultery. These are still binding on us today.

    Of course it’s sometimes hard to tell under which category a given OT commandment falls (the ban on homosexuality is a case in point.) Still it’s a place to start and I didn’t want to simply say “it’s complicated” and drop you with no suggestion as to how to begin facing up to the complexity.

    best,

    sw

    • Daniel Fincke

      The problem with this, for me, is the moral relativism involved in this. For a particular time and place you really think it could be a moral idea to make the death penalty apply to things like disobeying your parents, eating shellfish, working on the sabbath, etc.?

      From an atheist viewpoint, I can understand the relative value of different stages of human development and understand that for where we were at in evolving civilization, different barbarian elements of our past weren’t quite as bad then as they would be now given the shift over time towards enlightenment. But to posit a morally perfect divine guide here who is actively intervening to teach people morality and set up a community of his chosen is to put tremendous expectations that are not fulfilled. Why didn’t he teach them democracy, tolerance, rationalism, quantum physics, autonomy, and egalitarianism? Why didn’t he make them a light unto the world by being anti-genocidal, anti-slavery, etc.? The idea that he had to “work with where they were” makes him an impotent god or one with astoundingly low standards in his moral projects. Why did he leave it to the anti-religious enlightenment to generate all the above moral outlooks which we presently think of as the hallmarks of moral and cultural progress?

      I’m sorry, but the hypothesis of a morally good god behind the process is just a doomed one. If you are left resorting to the book being a hybrid of real divine guidance and human error then that compromise basically makes “divine guidance” indistinguishable from normal human judgments. Sometimes we get things right and sometimes we get them wrong. And we figure out which is which by using our reason the best we can. So, great. Why do we put an extra stamp of divinity on one of our early flawed efforts to get it right? What entitles it to any higher a place as a moral or spiritual authority than the Iliad or the Euthyphro? And if you are dealing with a flawed book why elevate it to “inspired” status when you’re baiting bibliolatry and staunch resistance to progress out of a logically consistent attitude towards the authority of that believed to be divinely inspired?

  • Daniel Fincke

    This post has been up more than half a day and not one unqualified condemnation of genocide from any Christian readers yet?

  • shane

    Hi Dan,

    Two points in reply. First, it’s an odd day when a natural lawyer finds himself upbraided by a Nietzchean for endorsing a version of relativism.

    At any rate, my position is not a version of relativism, although I can understand why someone might confuse my view for that one. Relativism, I would say, is the view that there are no privileged moral perspectives. Every society (or perhaps every person) has their own perspective and there’s no ‘right answer’ so to speak that makes one of those perspectives more correct than the others. I reject that claim.

    Second, Morriston is a Christian (I gather) who is arguing against the doctrine of inerrancy on the basis of the idea that genocide is absolutely wrong. Perhaps it was unclear in my post above, but I absolutely do agree with the premise that genocide is absolutely wrong, I’m just waiting to see if the conclusion about inerrancy really follows.

    In other words, here’s your argument:

    (1) Genocide is always immoral.
    (2) In the Bible God commands the Israelites to commit genocide.
    (3) Therefore God commands something immoral.

    I agree with premise (1), but I’m not sure (2) is really true.

    I’ve got a lot more to say about this matter and about the question of relativism, but I’d rather say it face to face than in the medium of the blog format, so just give me a call and we can hash this out over delicious beers. At any rate, I’ve got to go get to some grading and writing.

    best,

    sw