God Kills A Baby

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

I’m sure that this title is neither new information nor in the slightest bit shocking to those familiar with the atrocities found within the so-called Good Book (of which, Ebonmuse, this site’s author, has amply documented). After all, this is the God who cheerfully devastates armies, obliterates nations and once even drowned every living thing on Earth bar a boatful of humans and animals.

And yet for all that – and maybe this is just me – I’ve always found big numbers a bit abstract. Show me a person who has killed a thousand people, and frankly the number loses something of its meaning. It’s not that I don’t understand it, but it’s a little harder to really get a grip on imagining a thousand people, let alone a thousand deaths. I find it far easier to hate a person who has murdered just one – as long as the story of the murder is related to me.

So where do we find God murdering a baby? (‘Lots of places’ is the facetious, and yet not inaccurate reply) The story I’m referring to is found in 2 Samuel 11:2 – 12:18. The Israelites are firmly settled in their promised land and are currently under the rule of King David. Despite being a generally rather good King, David is having a rather large lapse in moral judgement – he forces himself on a married woman, Bathsheba, and when he learns she is pregnant as a result, arranges for the husband, Uriah, to be killed in battle. He then marries Bathsheba himself, who gives birth to a boy. Yahweh, understandably, is less than impressed by David, though his moral high-horse sharply collapses and dies under the weight of the punishment He chooses to dish out (announced through a prophet, Nathan):

Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of the sun.
For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before the sun.
And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.
Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.
David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.
And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth, but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.
And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

Lovely! Ignoring the point that God apparently deems it a suitable punishment for a man that his wives (yes, plural) are given away to be publically raped, which is its own little world of wrong, the baby was murdered in cold blood merely to punish the parent.

Again, this is obviously nothing an observant Bible-reader should not expect from Yahweh. The notions of women as property and corporate guilt are deeply ingrained in the Bible. And yet I find something particularly vindictive about this story which adds an especially vicious kick to the gut.

I’m not even sure I could put my finger on why. Perhaps it is the fact that the justification seems so petty – at least with Noah’s Ark or the tenth plague of Egypt, God could be shielded behind a wafer-thin (and bizarre for an omnipotent deity) excuse that He was doing it for a greater good. But here Yahweh is simply a figure in a soap-opera drama, killing out of petty spite. But I suspect it’s more to do with the fact that it’s easier to emotionally connect with a small number of people. One victim is easy to feel empathy and outrage for. A thousand is slightly more abstract.

Of course, for atheists, discussing which of God’s many acts is the most atrocious is as moot as asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. But this is the story I think of when Christians describe their ‘loving, merciful’ God. This is the story I think of when hearing the Bible spoken of as a moral guide. This is the story I think of when the religious right preach the sanctity of life whenever abortion is raised as a topic.

This is one of the Bible’s lesser-known stories, and there is a voice that tells me it is pointless to draw attention to this story to ardent believers in the Bible’s morality. After all, if they can find excuses for God’s genocides, they can surely find excuses for this. Then again, that just puts me back playing the numbers game again. To my shame, I have not read too many deconversion stories. But from my own experience of challenging my faith, something started alarm bells ringing. And I’d be willing to bet it’s the stories which pack the most wallop emotionally, not intellectually, which first make people stop and think.

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  • Katie M

    “One victim is easy to feel empathy and outrage for. A thousand is slightly more abstract.”

    One of my favorite actors said it from a different angle, but I think it still works.

    “One murder makes a villain; millions, a hero. Numbers sanctify.”

  • Snap

    “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.” – Stalin

  • http://blog.motheyes.com Joel

    I hardly think that there is a wafer-thin excuse in the case of the plagues – according to the story, Pharaoh repeatedly tried to let them go and God repeatedly re-changed Pharaoh’s mind – in an attempt to bring more glory to God’s own name.

  • jemand

    well, I learned about this story growing up fundamentalist. Somehow, it was used to turn the blame around on women and how they’re all such evil people.

    The claim was, Bathsheba had tried to self-abort and that’s why the kid died. “natural consequences” god just didn’t bother to stop.

    Always a woman’s fault right?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” — Josef Stalin

  • http://oneyearskeptic.blogspot.com/ Erika

    From a moral point of view, I agree that this story is repugnant.

    From a literary point of view, however, it makes perfect sense. It would not be acceptable to have Solomon, David’s wise and wonderful successor, be conceived in an act of sin. However, if he had an older brother, that would make it harder for him to become clean (ignore, for a moment, the fact that he did have older half brothers). However, that older brother was necessary to get David and Bathsheba hitched. Thus, he had to die.

    If I had been the story teller, I would have just made the older child a girl.

  • Monty

    “This is one of the Bible’s lesser-known stories”

    Not sure about that. I heard this one plenty of times in church. The pastor always seemed to gloss over the punishment when he went into detail, though.

  • Rajesh Kher

    All religious text were written by humans and actually confronts human dilemmas. Whenever a “tribe” wide punishment is carried out there will be collateral damages. Or whenever humans have attempted a solution for the greater good of Mankind some have suffered ( it almost sounds like directed evolution).
    What I cannot understand is how can Omniscient, Omnipresent all Knowing both of Past present and future cannot find solution that makes no one suffer.More importantly how does “he” allows such things to come to pass? If he allows then he is not loving and if he does not know then he is no GOD.

  • Anna

    This story definitely motivated me to become an atheist. God kills the baby, and David more or less takes it in stride that this is fair punishment for what he did. But think about Bathsheba–this man claims her, forces her into adultery, kills her husband, knocks her up, and then she must watch her infant son die. Bathsheba’s life is simply horrific. How is this ok? How is this holy? I don’t want to be a part of a religion whose great heroes are rapists.

  • paradoctor

    The reason for the Stalinesque single-vs-million-death distinction is that you need to know positional numeration – a recent invention – merely to _name_ a million. So a million of anything is an intellectual abstraction, and therefore tends to involve emotional detachment.

  • paradoctor

    Please note:
    “… because by this deed thou hast given great occasion for the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die…”
    So the child died in order to improve P.R. He was bad for the firm’s image.
    Of course killing the kid also gave Yahweh bad optics, but only in the long run.

  • David D.G.

    “I’ve noticed that about you humans. You care more about the death of one than about the death of millions.” (Spock, “The Immunity Syndrome,” ST:TOS)

    ~David D.G.

  • Mackrelmint

    Like Jemand, this story was presented to me when I was a child with Bathsheba also sharing the blame for being complicit in the adultery. If she was out bathing where a man who was not her husband could see her AND she was beautiful, she was asking for it, right?
    I think my first encounter with this story was reading an illustrated version of the Bible that my parents had given me and I seem to remember an illustration of her bathing in the background with David watching in the foreground. The picture version conveniently skipped describing the part where she’s not given any choice in the matter (i.e. she was raped) and skips along to where David kills off her husband, is punished by God via Nathan and then mourns for his child’s death. Bathsheba’s perspective was of course, completely missing.

  • http://www.superhappyjen.blogspot.com SuperHappyJen

    “I’ve noticed that about you humans. You care more about the death of one than about the death of millions.” (Spock, “The Immunity Syndrome,” ST:TOS)

    ~David D.G.

    You beat me to the Star Trek reference David.

  • Eurekus

    If the human mind can be manipulated to believe in the bible then it can be manipulated to believe in anything. To think, Christians believe the rejection of the bible is evil. Poor fools.

  • BloodyGlove

    If God “murdered” this baby, then God has “murdered” every human who has ever lived. How is the death of a baby from some sickness different from a teenager who is killed by a drunk driver or your grandmother who dies of old age in her sleep? The only way for an omnipotent God to avoid the charge is for him to make everyone live forever.

  • jemand

    Um blody glove, did you read the story? god claimed the childs death was a punishment. god claims that the childs death will be BECAUSE of david’s misbehavior.

    man, theists will do ANYTHING to keep from reading their own damn book, even when it’s quoted right to them.

  • 2-D Man

    Meh, I’m not sure BloodyGlove is a theist. Granted the first part is a non-sequitur, and probably some other fallacy which I don’t feel like looking much more into, but the conclusion is a common argument against the existence of an omni-max god.

    Let’s try out PZ[ed]‘s Three Post Rule on this one. BloodyGlove, care to clarify?

  • Thumpalumpacus

    I don’t think Bloody Glove is arguing god’s beneficence here.

  • Dan

    Note that in the story Bathsheba’s child was struck down and made to suffer for a week before he died. Wouldn’t a benevolent yet righteous god simply take the child immediately to heaven? The suffering prior to death lends an interesting twist to the vengeful god.