Defending Genocide, Redux

A while back, I wrote a post about professional Christian apologists who defend genocide as a moral and holy act. As revolting as this is, it’s unsurprising on one level: these people have devoted their careers to defending Christianity, and as such, their living depends on not admitting any flaws whatsoever in Christian doctrine. If the Bible commands an act as evil as genocide, they have no choice but to defend it, even if it means doing violence to all rational notions of morality.

But as I found out recently, it’s not just professional apologists who believe this. Their genocide-excusing logic has filtered down even to lay believers, whose only stake in these doctrines is personal and emotional rather than financial, with the result that ordinary people now are defending the Bible’s war crimes as just and good. I’ve already written one slightly incredulous post about this, but it deserves a more thorough analysis.

Here’s how one commenter put it:

…according to Christianity, death isn’t the end of the story. What if, instead of “God ordered the Hebrews to kill the Canaanites”, we read it as “God ordered the Hebrews to teleport the Canaanites from the desert to a land of eternal happiness where everyone gets a pony”? Does that change the verdict? Granted, the particular mechanism of teleportation in this case is downright unpleasant, but compared to eternity, it amounts to stubbing your toe while you step onto the transport pad.

This is the same logic that was used by inquisitors throughout the medieval ages. In their theocracies, everyone was required by law to profess the same beliefs, and if there were any dissenters, they would be imprisoned and tortured until they recanted their error. And why not? After all, if it saved their souls, it had to be justified. Subjecting someone to the rack, thumbscrews, strappado, waterboarding, the iron maiden, etc., might be unpleasant, but in the scheme of eternity, it would be like stubbing your toe while you step onto the teleportation pad.

This same commenter went on to explain:

…yes, I believe that God, as the author and owner of life, has the right to order the murder of a child.

If you’re still reading, I do not believe he will order any such thing. If Jesus appeared next to me and ordered me to go murder a child, I would first seek psychiatric help and, assuming the wiring checks out, seek spiritual help. I firmly believe that God will not order such a thing, not because a child’s death is incongruous with God’s nature, but because it is incongruous with the plan of salvation as revealed to the Catholic church.

As I pointed out in a comment (and as he agreed, to my horror), this isn’t saying that genocide or child-murder in the name of God is morally wrong, just that it’s not expedient at the present moment. There’s a vast difference between these claims.

Another atheist commenter on Unequally Yoked, Patrick, put it well:

I think a surprising number of Christians are willing to posit that they WOULD be horrific murderers of children, and that this would be perfectly ok, except for a few lucky happenstances of history that meant that all the horrific murdering of children that needed to happen got done before they were born. And I think that these Christians are happy to posit this because its all just a big fantasy to them, a sort of suspension of disbelief surrounding ancient tales that happened long ago to other people who don’t really count anymore… So they pretend to believe that they’d swing an axe into the neck of a child if God asked them to, and that it would be Righteous.

In a follow-up thread, a different theist commenter offered a different justification:

God possesses exhaustive foreknowledge. We don’t. Not only does he have over several billion years past experience, He also knows the future. If there is something that appears evil now, but does a tremendous good in the future, was it really evil?… How can you say with any authority that the destruction of those societies did not benefit humanity?

Not only would you have to ask why God, who is omnipotent, couldn’t have accomplished his ends through a different and less evil method, there’s also the problem that this theodicy explains too much. It could be used just as easily to excuse any evil, however horrendous, on the grounds that God intends to use it to justify some future good. And after some prodding, this commenter eventually agreed:

I was saying, the Amalekite [genocide] was done for a purpose, and the Holocaust was allowed for a purpose. Without knowing what that purpose is, no human is in a position to impose a moral judgement for either.

And then there’s this amateur apologist, whose post came up in the discussion. He has not one but two genocide-excusing explanations:

In working with the early Israelites, God was dealing with a blunt instrument. He wasn’t working with a people who had already been broken of their tribal mentality and who were used to distinguishing those who were personally guilty from those who were fellow-members of the guilty party’s tribe.

This may shed light on why God allowed a total tribe-on-tribe warfare situation to result, because this was what the people of the day understood. The development and purification of their ideas about collective versus individual guilt and innocence had not yet taken place.

This apologetic is based on the bizarre assumption that God’s methods of justice were constrained by what people believed to be moral. If the ancient Israelites believed in corporate guilt and found it proper to eradicate an entire culture, then God had no choice but to act accordingly, even if that wasn’t actually the right thing to do. Akin never even tries to explain why this should be so.

Probably recognizing that this is a non-starter, he moves on to a backup explanation:

Suppose that there was a Canaanite child who was four years old–young enough to still be an innocent, but old enough to experience the horror of watching her civilization killed around her before being killed herself.

From a purely human perspective, that is HORRENDOUS. My heart is SICKENED at the thought of what such a child would go through.

But is God–who is infinitely powerful–INCAPABLE of making it up to this child?

No, he is not incapable of making up to her the sufferings that she experienced on earth, however horrible they were.

This apologetic rests on a different, but no less bizarre, theory: that it’s perfectly OK to commit a terrible evil against someone if you intend to make it up to them afterwards. By this logic, a billionaire should be allowed to molest children, just as long as he recompenses them afterwards by buying them all the toys and presents they could ever want. (You can judge for yourself how plausible religious people find this defense when it’s an actual wealthy person who stands accused.)

Now, I don’t think any of these people are actually in favor of genocide, whatever they say. I think they think of this as a harmless intellectual game they’re playing, a thought experiment they engage in to justify other beliefs they value more. But what they fail to recognize is how dangerous this is, because the same reasoning can be used – is used – by violent fundamentalists to justify inquisitions, suicide bombings, terrorist attacks, torture, and all the other evils of religion we’re so familiar with. By supporting this cold and amoral theology themselves, they give aid and comfort to those who don’t stop at making it a thought experiment, but go ahead and put it into practice. And what happens if some day, the Pope or some other allegedly moderate religious figure does command believers to start waging war for the glory of God? Can they be so sure they’d still object, when they’re already used to subordinating their consciences to faith?

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Christoph

    I would not be so certain that they are against it. I have met a fair number of Christians who I believe lament the fact that this is not the “old days” when Christians could just simply mow you down for not unquestioningly ascribing to their belief system. Christians zealots (and many religious zealots) do a lot of pontificating and hand-wringing about morality and how non-believers of their peculiar belief system cannot possibly be moral since they do not believe in their God, but it is amazing how quickly those self-same Christians will trade in those morals if they think they can get away with it and dominate/subjugate/demolish someone they feel is less than worthy. Just look at how the Catholics deal with the pedophile issue. Pedophiles are awful horrible people they scream…unless it is a preist and then suddenly there is a caveat to that statement. So far the only things that keeps the majority of people like this in check are secular laws. If those laws ever erode away and theocracy takes its place, then watch out. Those Christian morals will only be applied to their own kind and the rest of us will be bloody spots on the road…but it will be all for the better, or so they will say.

  • http://www.unequally-yoked.com Leah @ Unequally Yoked

    I have no idea how to keep responding in those threads when so many of the comments seem like they are self-refuting. I just want to say, “Ok, stop. Read your comment out loud to yourself. Still believe it? Read it to your kid. I assume we’re done here.”

  • TommyP

    This sickening thought process is one of the major elements that drove me out of religion to begin with, and keeps me there today.

  • L.Long

    And as they read thru their buyBull and justify the genocide as GOOD and GODLY.
    They will then scream at the top of the voices…..
    HITLER WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN!!!!!

    The worse part is that they refuse to believe that IT NEVER HAPPENED as the buyBull says. The buyBull scholars I’ve read all point to none of the genocide really happened and that is just a bunch of ego boosting myths written to elevate the jews self-opinion during their bad times in Babylon.
    Personally I don’t really know, but I find it more plausible to believe archeology records rather then buyBull myths.

    But even if the genocides did not happen, that does not change the facts that so many believe they are true and GOOD. Genocide GOOD!!! Yet they bad mouth Hitler as some sort of gay atheist!! The irony is beyond the beyond.

  • Katie M

    “I was saying, the Amalekite [genocide] was done for a purpose, and the Holocaust was allowed for a purpose. Without knowing what that purpose is, no human is in a position to impose a moral judgement for either.”

    Words fail me.

  • Mrnaglfar

    …according to Christianity, death isn’t the end of the story. What if, instead of “God ordered the Hebrews to kill the Canaanites”, we read it as “God ordered the Hebrews to teleport the Canaanites from the desert to a land of eternal happiness where everyone gets a pony”? Does that change the verdict? Granted, the particular mechanism of teleportation in this case is downright unpleasant, but compared to eternity, it amounts to stubbing your toe while you step onto the transport pad.

    That is an excellent argument for more abortions. If aborting a fetus gives it a one-way ticket to paradise, it would seem abortion is most loving and selfless option a mother could choose to ensure eternal happiness for her would-be children.

    Also a good argument for murdering everyone you see, if we’re assuming that everyone goes to heaven. Eh.

  • AL

    An alternate response to the claim that God’s foreknowledge allows him to commit apparently evil but ultimately good acts goes something like this: if we cannot judge God’s actions fairly (due to his foreknowledge and our lack thereof), how can we know God is good? Any apparently good act might actually be an insidious evil performed by an omniscient but omnimalevolent agent. From this perspective, rather than explaining too much, the “explanation” instead prevents our concluding anything meaningful about the moral character of God based on any kind of evidence.

  • Cafeeine

    Whenever I hear or read of someone defending the atrocities of their god by playing the aloof and mysterious card, I always try to see if they keep it up. Often, a few minutes later on in the discussion, the existence of birds, flowers and puppy love are all incontrovertible proof of god’s kind and loving nature, without any hint of mystery. There you find no depth in the god’s actions, no possible ulterior motives, no divine transcendence. There the god’s love is as plain as a parent’s love (often emphasized as such).

  • M.

    No time to get involved in the discussions right now, so I hope someone can ask the good theists the following question:

    People who slammed the airplanes into the WTC towers did so because that was the godly and right thing to do. Given that they have exactly the same amount of evidence about God’s desires as Christians do, isn’t this act therefore righteous and just?

    Or, in other words, if it turns out that Allah is really God and Mohammed is really his prophet, does that mean that all those terrorists are actually righteous and just people?

    Puzzle me that.

  • Cafeeine

    Also a good argument for murdering everyone you see, if we’re assuming that everyone goes to heaven”

    That can be made into a funny paradox: Is there no Christian selfless enough to kill the innocent, ensuring their passage to heaven before they have the chance to sin? The murderer would have to face hell, sure, but he would do so knowing that hby his actions many people were in heaven. Since there are no christians committing mass killings (that aren’t also psychopaths, they don’t count) One must assume that Christians that have never killed are all really selfish people, only caring for their own afterlife.

  • Eurekus

    After reading this post I feel like throwing up. Not because it was a bad post, but because there are billions of fools unwittingly victimised by this level of fundamentalism.
    I need a beer.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I have no idea how to keep responding in those threads when so many of the comments seem like they are self-refuting. I just want to say, “Ok, stop. Read your comment out loud to yourself. Still believe it? Read it to your kid. I assume we’re done here.”

    I agree wholeheartedly that we need some way to shock these people’s consciences to life, some way to make them realize what they’re advocating. The problem, I fear, is that some of them are so far gone that they would read paragraphs like that to their children… There was that commenter on your site, Leah, Dave I think it was, who not only saw nothing wrong with the OT genocides but claimed he couldn’t even see what premise we were using that he didn’t share. The frightening thing is that he may not have been lying.

    In my last post on this subject, I wrote that if you find yourself in the position of defending genocide, no matter how reasonable your premises or seemingly airtight your logic, this ought to be a clue to you that you’ve made a mistake somewhere. It’s a horrifying thought that there are people who don’t see this as a reductio.

    Or, in other words, if it turns out that Allah is really God and Mohammed is really his prophet, does that mean that all those terrorists are actually righteous and just people?

    According to some Christian apologists, M, yes. My last link roundup post had a similar quote from William Lane Craig; on the same page where he provided that quote, he says this:

    The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God…. Muslims believe that God loves only Muslims. Allah has no love for unbelievers and sinners. Therefore, they can be killed indiscriminately.

    …The question, then, is not whose moral theory is correct, but which is the true God?

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    This is surely incontrovertible proof that atheists are nihilistic immoral sociopaths.

    Wait…

    (ETA: no offense intended towards sociopaths or nihilists)

  • Dave

    @Leah – I note that when I asked you to identify your exact problem with the Canaanite genocide, you didn’t say it was that men, women, and children were killed, simply that the Hebrews were the instruments of death. Does this mean that you’re in favor of genocides by natural causes?

    Of course not. Obviously neither of us wants to see people killed. That’s not the question here. There are two questions here:
    1. Is killing sometimes justified?
    2. Was the killing of the Canaanites, in particular, justified?

    Most people answer yes to the first question. In all of these threads, I have heard literally no justification for answering the second question with no. Leah said (with good reason) that she didn’t like that humans got their hands dirty. Fair enough, but it doesn’t actually engage the question. Many people have pointed to undesirable situations if the principle of “holy war” is extended inappropriately; I grant those without dispute. But no one has given a single reason why the sentence on the Canaanites was unjust.

  • Alex Weaver

    Genocide is never justified.

    By what reasoning would you refute this?

  • DavidS

    In reading conversations over at the King and I blog (a bunch of atheists and some xians reading the King James Bible this year)- you’d be surprised at the number of amateur apologists that defend the genocides we’ve been reading. They think god is holy and just so it’s all dandy. We godless heathens are in no position to judge. It’s scary and it’s more prevalent than you might think.

  • http://www.mouseygirlwest.com Pablo Schwartz

    .. well, sure, the Book of Deuteronomy is a template for genocide. with that said, Darwinism – regardless of its scientific merit – has been wielded since its inception as a tool of the (largely white, largely Anglo-American) ruling class. is there a “right” choice between these? it’s like being asked whether one prefers to be bashed over the head with a bag of sugar or a bag of salt. and while every schoolchild knows that Darwinism is a creature of the Victorian Age, what they *don’t* know is that most of the .. enthusiasms associated with Evangelical Christianity also arose during that time. to pretend that these 19th century innovations are central to Christianity is like buying the Saudi line that the 200 year old Wahhabi cult is “real” Islam.

  • Demonhype

    Alex Weaver said it right there. Genocide is never justified.

    Also, “By what reasoning would you refute this?” Why precisely do we need a reason not to commit genocide, as if genocide is the accepted default action? If someone is suggesting we commit genocide, it’s pretty obvious that the “no genocide” side should be the default position, unless the “yes genocide” side can come up with some damn good reason in favor of eliminating an entire race of people. Oh, and by “damn good reasoning” I mean just that–damn good reasoning. I don’t want to hear something piss-poor on the level of “they worship a different god” or “I don’t like their lifestyle/customs, even though they don’t directly hurt me” or “they favor the Wii, but we prefer the Xbox 360″ or “my imaginary friend told me to, and I just know he has good reasons for it”. You want to commit one-size-fits-all murder like that, you need one hell of an argument to justify it–and I would posit that a justification of such magnitude is impossible to provide.

    Bottom line–I don’t need to give a reason why genocide is not justified. You need to give a reason that genocide is justified. Why is this so hard for pro-genocide types to understand? And that justification has to match the deed–we execute people in prison with better evidence and justification than is commonly given for genocide, and even those evidences and justifications are tenuous and debatable. If we need a certain standard to put a single person to death, shouldn’t we need a much better, less easily debated and refuted reason to put an entire race to death?

    It’s the same reason I was one of those few opposed to the war in 2003–you want me to support the invasion of another country? I need something much better than “I’m pretty sure they might be up to something, and once we’ve bombed the fuck out of them you’ll see how right I am.” I’d need a hell of a lot more than that to put Jeffrey Dahmer to death, so I’ll be damned if I’m going to approve of something much larger and more destructive based on fairy-tale faith-based assertions.

    Why is it that people are willing to justify violent invasions of other countries, genocide, and other large-scale atrocities with half-assed “it’s a mystery” or “trust me, you’ll see I’m right….later on” justifications and expect you to provide the reason they shouldn’t commit such atrocities? And why are so many people willing to believe that genocide or war is the default position and that the opposition somehow has the burden of proof? Has humanity always been this scary, or is this just an American/Christian thing?

    Why should I be surprised. So many people also fail to grasp the premise of “innocent until proven guilty” and assume that anyone on trial is guilty and has the burden of proof of having not-committed a crime on their shoulders. I was on a jury myself, and I was horrified at how many people assumed “guilty” to be the default position and just wanted to “dutifully” spew that verdict and go back to their houses for couch-potato time.

  • Jeff

    Now, I don’t think any of these people are actually in favor of genocide, whatever they say.

    Adam, you always want to think well of them. These are people who are perfectly comfortable with the idea of most of humanity suffering for all of eternity. It’s who they are – and there are hundreds of millions of them. If we factor in all of the like-minded Muslims and the handful of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the number is probably over a billion.

    This is the main reason I’ve given up completely on humanity.

  • lpetrich

    The defense that genocide victims get sent to Heaven I like to call the Andrea Yates defense. She stated that her reason for killing her children was to them to Heaven.

    I think that these defenses of genocide are even worse than Nazi apologetics, because the big shtick of many Nazi apologists is to deny that their heroes ever committed genocide: Holocaust denial. The Nazis themselves tried to hide their actions, claiming that they were “resettling” the Jews, and Hitler himself seemed to think that he and his friends could get away with it: “… who today remembers the genocide of the Armenians?”

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    God’s morals and ours

    Human values vary markedly from one culture to the next, from one age to the next.

    But each of us can, in honesty and candor, do no other than judge forthrightly by his own.

    To the extent that the character of the savage and violent God of the Bible reflected the values of the successive authors and redactors of the stories and books that make it up they could honestly regard him as just, righteous, and even – though perhaps at a stretch – a loving father.

    But no one of our own time can do so without violent wrenching of his own conscience, his own real values.

    Moderns committed to the Biblical God and the Bible’s picture of his character execute exactly such violence against themselves, repeatedly and permanently, so long as they do not turn away from and reject that God.

    The moral effects of the imitation of Christ aside, it is as clear as day that the imitation of God, “the Father” according to the Christians, makes men worse.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Case in point.

    Even the Romans, if I recall correctly, at least at some point in their early history, held that a father owned his children and had a perfect right to kill them just as he might a slave, no questions asked.

    Those are the morals the men of those ages wrote into the characters of their gods.

    With the result that today those are the morals of God that Christians force themselves to defend.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Tommy P @ 3.

    This is a very different “problem of evil” from the one familiar to theologians, philosophers, and many atheists.

    Though much neglected and almost never seen, this argument against the truth of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam – that the gods of these religions are evil fantasies too sickening to believe – is probably already at work in the minds of many doubting and doubtful believers, undermining faith and weakening commitment.

    Perhaps it will be more widely utilized by atheists in the future.

    We can easily imagine the howls that would be heard, then!

    The abuse leveled at the New Atheists whose worst crime was to complain that religion in general has historically been a harmful influence on mankind is apt to seem slight by comparison with the vilification awaiting those who insist the gods of the Abrahamic religions are, just as these religions recommend them today, model psychopaths.

  • paradoctor

    To say that genocide’s all right because the murdered all go to bliss in Heaven… that’s the perfect excuse for killing anyone anywhere at any time. It’s also perfect in its nihilism. We’d be hearing this line more often if the nihilism weren’t so explicit.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    The apologetics for murder, war, conquest, and indiscriminate destruction aren’t going to go away unless the authoritarian structure of religion collapses. The need for violent attacks and reprisals is too deeply rooted into the central justification of any authoritarian system.

    However, if you take away the authoritarian nature, what do you really have left of religion? Only the communal aspects, which do not require any central doctrines or really any hierarchy of leadership at all.

  • karen

    This is the kind of delusional reasoning that leads “good Christians” to murder abortion providers – they are doing what god wants and are held to his “higher standards.”

    Most (I hope) ordinary Christians would condemn these supposed justifications as false, even while they justify god-ordered genocides in biblical times.

    The problem, I fear, is that some of them are so far gone that they would read paragraphs like that to their children…

    John Piper, a Calvinist and hard-line fundamentalist, recounts this conversation with his daughter the night a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007, plunging dozens of commuters into the river:

    We prayed during our family devotions. Talitha (11 years old) and Noel and I prayed earnestly for the families affected by the calamity and for the others in our city. Talitha prayed “Please don’t let anyone blame God for this but give thanks that they were saved.” When I sat on her bed and tucked her in and blessed her and sang over her a few minutes ago, I said, “You know, Talitha, that was a good prayer, because when people ‘blame’ God for something, they are angry with him, and they are saying that he has done something wrong. That’s what “blame” means: accuse somebody of wrongdoing. But you and I know that God did not do anything wrong. God always does what is wise. And you and I know that God could have held up that bridge with one hand.” Talitha said, “With his pinky.” “Yes,” I said, “with his pinky. Which means that God had a purpose for not holding up that bridge, knowing all that would happen, and he is infinitely wise in all that he wills.”

    Talitha said, “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”

    Absolutely chilling.

  • Dave

    In all the sound and fury, no one is actually engaging the Canaan question. It’s as if the question at hand were, “Was Superman justified in killing Doomsday?” And all the responses were things like “That might lead Batman to kill the Joker,” or “This reasoning will lead to vigilantism.” Even if those points are true, they don’t address the particular question of Superman and Doomsday.

    In this particular story (Canaan again, not Superman), the question of “How do we know what God really wants?” is not in play. In this particular story, God tells the Hebrews unambiguously what he wants. The question of “Is religious violence GENERALLY acceptable?” is not in play. The question of “Can genocide be justified?” becomes a subset of “Can killing sometimes be justified,” which is almost invariably answered with “yes”.

    No one has given any principle by which omnibenevolence cannot be reconciled, ultimately, with the ordering of a violent act. The closest that anyone has come (possibly the only attempt) is Leah’s saying that she wishes the Hebrews’ hands were kept clean. Fine, I wish that too. But no one has given any reason why our wishes should be binding to God.

    It’s one thing to look at the story and say, “Icky.” I’ve got sympathy for that position. But people try to take it further and say that it disproves God’s character, and to make that stick, you need to go beyond icky. You need to actually look at questions like whether earthly suffering is fundamentally incompatible with benevolence (answered conclusively by Aquinas, if not earlier). You need to look at questions of when violence is justified. You need to look at questions of God’s sovereignty over creation. But no one is doing that. It’s just a lot of icky.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Shorter Dave: Baaaaah.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Sigh, this is why I get nothing done at work. Fine: even if killing another person can be justified (already you’re on shaky ground; I’m not a full pacifist but my justification threshold is pretty high), there is no way you can justify (intentionally) killing even one defenseless innocent. Let alone wiping out an entire culture via mass murder. We don’t even wipe out groups that are guilty of that crime against humanity! There is nothing any particular group of people can do that can make them and their spouses and their parents and their children deserving of genocide.

  • heliobates

    You need to look at questions of when violence is justified. You need to look at questions of God’s sovereignty over creation. But no one is doing that. It’s just a lot of icky.

    I suggest you read Grossman’s On Killing to get an idea of just how ingrained is our aversion to taking the life of another person. If we are the way we are because God made us that way, first understand, and then step through the implications of being commanded to not simply go against this aversion, but to participate in wholesale slaughter of an entire population at sword-point. It’s one thing to argue that God allows evil, but when you have to apologize for the numerous instances in which he commands it, you’re at the heart of why all of the Abrahamic religions are incoherent to those who don’t believe them.

    If you’re going to assert that you cannot understand God’s motivations and cannot judge it’s actions, then you’ve admitted the source of any objective moral standard cannot be God, since God’s morality is inscrutable. Boom! There goes that pillar.

    If you’re going to argue for the Divine Command Theory, then you accidentally knocked over the Argument from Reason because Truth™ is therefore beyond human comprehension, and so the apologist cannot demonstrate that God-created reasoning abilities are more reliable than those arising from evolutionary processes. The whole “reasonable faith” edifice is crashing down around you.

    Finally, if you don’t recoil in horror from the image of a creator god who commands you to slaughter children, then you manifest a basic and pervasive failure of empathy. The extent to which your religion enables and encourages this sociopathology quantifies the amount of evil that religions contribute to the world.

  • monkeymind

    Dave said:

    There are two questions here:
    1. Is killing sometimes justified?
    2. Was the killing of the Canaanites, in particular, justified?

    Most people answer yes to the first question. In all of these threads, I have heard literally no justification for answering the second question with no.

    I guessed you missed the memo that ordering the deliberate murder of non-combatants is now considered a war crime. Oops!

  • heliobates

    I guessed you missed the memo that ordering the deliberate murder of non-combatants is now considered a war crime.

    By the secular humanists, monkey. Sekuler he-umanists.

    We’re talkin’ about God, here, and he’s bigger than all them UN pussies.

  • Dave

    So it’s all about the children. That’s fair enough. Yes, of course I recoil in horror from such a thought. That’s not the point. When we’re talking about God’s character, the point is, does the death of a child (or some number of children) compromise God’s benevolence? I think not, for the reason that Jimmy Akin described in the link above. As bad as it was, from the perspective of eternity it amounts to no more than a stubbed toe.

    Leah seemed to concede this point when she said she’s more concerned about the Hebrews’ involvement than the childrens’ deaths. I think she’s got a good point there. But that’s not the point I’m hearing over here.

  • heliobates

    So it’s all about the children.

    Yes Dave, you’re spot on. Zero in on that, rather than addressing my points in context.

    1 Samuel 15.

    This is the massacre of the Amalekites, commanded by Yahweh out of revenge for their attack on the Israelites 300 years earlier. None of the Amalekites then alive even took part in the original attack. Neither did their domesticated animals. And then Yahweh gets mad at Saul because Saul didn’t obliterate absolutely everything, as was commanded.

    That’s some stubbed toe.

    Please explain how omnibenevolence is operating, particularly from the perspective of the Amalekites, who were innocent of the original crime. What, specifically is the justification for this slaughter, beyond “Yahweh commands it”?

    If benevolence is operating in this example, how is it “omni”?

    Please show your work.

    When we’re talking about God’s character, the point is, does the death of a child (or some number of children) compromise God’s benevolence?

    No, you’re asking the wrong question. The question the atheists ask is “what is the point of saying God is benevolent (forget the ‘omni’) when it not only allows, but commands these acts—when it will perpetrate these acts against victims who could not possibly be guilty of anything, except being born (which it apparently caused in the first place), and when it will do so to redress a personal slight or satisfy a whim; when we would judge a human who ordered these atrocities in the harshest way?”

    What is the point of insisting that God wants a personal relationship with us, and is indeed worthy of anything besides grovelling obeisance?

    Rationalizing divinely-commanded genocide kicks the legs out of any argument you wish to make that your God and your religion is a source of morality.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    So it’s all about the children.

    No, it’s not.

    You’d be hard pressed to convince anyone that every single non-child deserved to die. And, if you’re going to go the route of claiming that all those children went to heaven, then I suggest you start aborting “babies” and killing newborns as much as possible or at least advocating it.

    No one has given any principle by which omnibenevolence cannot be reconciled, ultimately, with the ordering of a violent act.

    If you hold to omnipotence and omniscience, then I’d like to see you actually find any situation where god couldn’t achieve his ends while simultaneously avoiding evil. Good luck. Until then, remember it is up to you to prove your point. You don’t get to assume your conclusions until we can disabuse you of them.

    But no one has given any reason why our wishes should be binding to God.

    If you are going to claim that god is blameless in all of this, then you should provide the rationale for it. Our wishes should be binding to god because he created us, so he incurs the moral debt that is brought with that. We are not his playthings to do with as he wills.

    You need to actually look at questions like whether earthly suffering is fundamentally incompatible with benevolence (answered conclusively by Aquinas, if not earlier).

    That’s laughable. Why would an omni-max god need to cause earthly suffering? It is incompatible with the supposed omni-max nature of your god.

    You need to look at questions of when violence is justified.

    Justify genocide then.

    You need to look at questions of God’s sovereignty over creation.

    In which god incurs a moral obligation not to cause us undue pain/suffering, and considering that god has unlimited power, he has failed this obligation.

  • monkeymind
    I guessed you missed the memo that ordering the deliberate murder of non-combatants is now considered a war crime.

    By the secular humanists, monkey. Sekuler he-umanists.
    We’re talkin’ about God, here, and he’s bigger than all them UN pussies.

    Well, if God is on our side, then of course the usual rules need not apply! What is one more baby on the end of a spear sub specie aeternitatis, after all?

    It does get to be a drag, all this smiting, but it’s a sacrifice He’s willing to make.

  • Patrick

    Dave, the reason people focus on the children is because they’ve had this conversation before and they know the first defense of the apologist is to claim that the adults deserved to be slaughtered. Rather than dispute this, its easier to just skip to the children, who would by definition be innocent of their parents alleged crimes.

    If we were more confident of our ability to convince Christians that you shouldn’t believe ancient tales about the intrinsic evils of an entire race of people, we wouldn’t do this. But for some reason (hint- its because you’re not engaged with the material as if it were truly real) even relatively normal modern day Christians will happily endorse virulent, murderous racism if it happened a long time ago in a holy book.

  • heliobates

    Dave, the reason people focus on the children is because they’ve had this conversation before and they know the first defense of the apologist is to claim that the adults deserved to be slaughtered.

    …that and I’d really like to hear how Dave reconciles the slaughter of children with omni-benevolence, rather than just beg the question.

    Dave, what is the justification for ordering the slaughter of infant children? I mean, you brought this argument, will you go home with it? Will you honestly and forthrightly state that, from Yahweh’s perspective, some people just don’t matter? Will you follow those implications through to the rest of your beliefs?

    You keep dancing with your hand on its ass, but I suspect you intend to sleep alone tonight.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    heliobates: “God’s ways are mysterious” will be the answer (or some variant thereof). If asked how then we are to know that God is omnibenevolent, or good at all, or in existence at all, he’ll change his tune. We’ve all done this dance before, although I’ve never on so vile a topic.

  • heliobates

    Interesting synchronicity.

    Oh my prophetic soul.

  • Jeff

    @karen:

    Talitha said, “Maybe he let it fall because he wanted all the people of Minneapolis to fear him.” “Yes, Talitha,” I said, “I am sure that is one of the reasons God let the bridge fall.”

    Absolutely chilling.

    From an article Piper wrote about twenty-eight years ago, as a response to Thomas Talbott, an evangelical universalist:

    I have three sons. Every night after they are asleep I turn on the hall light, open their bedroom door, and walk from bed to bed, laying my hands on them and praying. Often I am moved to tears of joy and longing…

    But I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons. And-, though I think I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the Almighty. He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right.

    In other words, God can have created his children for the sole purpose of sending them to hell, and he’s just fine with it. Piper is garbage – and there are Calvinists who condemn him for being too soft. The worst thing about Piper is that he isn’t the worst thing out there.

    Adam, again – this is who they are. You seem to want desperately not to see it. The few people you quote who left that world represent the very few who are capable of getting out. I’m convinced there’s a neurological foundation to fundamentalism – and the evidence is beginning to bear this out – but whatever the causal factors are, the reality is that most are simply incapable of change. If you expect to see more than a handful respond to your arguments, you’re going to be very disappointed.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    Dave at 14, 27, and 33 (the stubbed toe!) has both his shoes on the wrong feet.

    He claims we have to prove the slaughter of the Canaanites was not morally justified.

    He has that backwards, just as if he claimed the Jews had to prove Hitler’s attempt to exterminate them from Europe was not justified.

    He claims the burden is on someone to prove that the commission of any given horrific crime is not compatible with omnibenevolence.

    Again, he has it backwards as if some serial killer in a roomful of his victims, the rugs and walls drenched in blood, gore dripping from his mouth were to demand of the police, “Go ahead. Prove I am not omnibenevolent!”

    And how completely wrong-headed his claim really is that omnibenevolence is logically compatible with any evil, not matter how vast!

    Hell, say.

    A hell full of billions of souls, tormented by fire for all eternity.

    That is his omnibenevolence.

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, could justify that.

    Yet he does not see that a trait of character that excludes no evil, no matter how cosmic, may deserve many names.

    But certinaly not the name “omnibenevolence.”

    This idea that any evil at all, no matter what and no matter how vast, is logically compatible with the omnibenevolence of God is an absurd claim circulated by theologians desperate to cling to the goodness of their God’s character in the face of the unfathomable, inexcusable evil of the world.

    A single distinction points out the difficulty.

    From “For all I know, there might be a good reason for this” it does not follow that “Logically, there might be a good reason for this.”

    But just that fallacy is crucial to the argument Dave, following the example of certain theologians, is making.

    And then there is another fallacy they also commit – or at any rate hope we will on behalf of the innocence of God.

    From “it might have been justified” it does not follow that “it was justified.”

    On the contrary, it may well be that though something might have been justified in fact it was not.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    On one level, you almost have to admire Dave’s doggedness in being willing to come here and proclaim before all of us that yes, he supports the butchering of children. On the other hand, some debates you lose just by showing up.

    No one has given any principle by which omnibenevolence cannot be reconciled, ultimately, with the ordering of a violent act.

    Yeah! And no one has given any principle by which bachelorhood cannot be reconciled with marriage, either!

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    By the way, the discussion with Dave shifted the focus a bit from the incontestably capricious, despotic, and wrathful character and behavior of Yahweh as reported in the stories of the Bible to the topic of theodicy or, as the philosophers call it, the question whether the existence of evil in the world is compatible with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God.

    And while Christians traditionally insist the infinite attributes of that God of philosophical theology belong to the God whose existence and doings are narrated in the Bible, that claim is as manifestly incredible as the claim of traditional optimism that everything is for the best.

    It is the God of the Bible whose repugnant character is revealed by innumerable horrors of which the genocide in Canaan is only one.

    If Dave wants to defend the character of that God let him do so as he might defend the reputation of a King known only from histories that paint him as a tyrant.

    Let him abstain from changing the subject to the question whether the omnibenevolence of the omniscient, omnipotent God of the philosophers and theologians is logically compatible with the existence of evil in the world he allegedly created.

    That was not the question under discussion, here.

  • Demonhype

    THANK YOU, Gaius!

    This reversal of the burden of proof is the main issue. The person who decries genocide does not have any responsibility to prove that genocide is unjustified–that is the default position (at least, it is if you are a sane, decent, moral person). There is no justification for genocide, but if there was it is the responsibility of the pro-genocidist to provide such justification. To suggest that the reversal is true, that genocide is the default that requires no justification and if you’re not committing or supporting genocide you’d better have a good reason, is obscene and vile in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

    Hint: “My invisible friend said it okay, so shut up” is not a sufficient justification, nor is “my invisible friend made you, so it’s okay if he orders your violent death too and you should be grateful for his bloodthirsty attentions, you filthy heathen” isn’t either. Another hint: You need to provide proper evidence of your fantastic invisible friend before you can use his “will” as a justification for anything at all. Either that, or I get to posit the Will of the Leprechauns as my justification against, say, genocide and that argument will hold the exact same validity.

    As another aside, I find this “it’s a stubbed toe in the face of eternity” to be even more absurd and obscene when set in contrast to the spasms of sympathy for Jesus on the cross. So the agony and brutal slaughter of finite mortals with no control over their circumstances who do not even have a definite knowledge of any such thing as “eternity” to compare their pain to is meaningless and requires no sympathy–in fact, one has moral permission to regard their suffering with sociopathic indifference if not outright glee–but the agonizing execution of a purported god, who had complete control over his circumstances and arranged everything to his own desire, who had complete power to stop the situation if he didn’t like it, who knew what would happen when he died and knew from the start to the end that he was God Almighty and would go back to being the Eternal Ruler of the Universe after death, who had a very clear and personal knowledge and experience of “eternity” against which he could compare his current finite pain….well, for some reason, that engenders the ultimate sympathy in these monsters and is something that should haunt every second of your unworthy existence. A child dying in agony? Meh, not so much. Feel free to justify it with any number of fictional “mysterious ways” possibilities, or convict this innocent of any number of imaginary crimes that she might have committed–anything that allows you to blow off the horror of the situation and insulate your personal sense of righteousness. But don’t you dare try to blow off the suffering of God-Man. *PUKE*

    I said it before, I’ll say it again–have people always been this scary? All these “you’re just not seeing how God is all-powerful and has the right to do whatever he wants to you, so you’d better learn to like it” justifications of genocide are making me consistently puke in my mouth each time.

  • Demonhype

    @Ebon:

    On the other hand, some debates you lose just by showing up.

    :) This is true. And his lack of awareness is epic. He doesn’t seem to realize that he’s entering the discussion from the low-ground position and not the high-ground position. Just look at all these arguments that we are the ones who need to justify not-genocide, and that somehow his “butchering children is good” is the proper moral default position.

    Well, it’s probably more frightening than hilarious, really. I agree with some of the other commenters that you are probably being too nice and too optimistic about what these people really believe.

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    I suppose while we’re kicking him while he is down we might as well accuse Dave of the fallacy known as “the argument from ignorance.”

    It goes like this.

    It has never been proved that P.

    So it is not the case that P.

    Now Dave at 27: “No one has given any principle by which omnibenevolence cannot be reconciled, ultimately, with the ordering of a violent act.”

    So we are supposed to conclude that it can?

    Phooey!

  • http://dasunrisin.blogspot.com dasunrisin

    Thank you for this! You’ve inspired a blog post of my own.

    http://dasunrisin.blogspot.com/2011/04/defending-genocide-redux.html

  • http://ggracchus.blogspot.com/ Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

    If it is said that God could not have achieved such and such a good except via some measure of evil the reply is always the same.

    First, why not? Is he not omnipotent?

    Second, does not the Christian Church insist on the Pauline Principle, “Thou shalt not do evil that good may come”?

    Does not the Christian church teach that some means cannot be justified, no matter how good the end?

    Third, if it is insisted that a particular means at issue is at any rate, though it increases evil, not actually wrong may we not insist the end alleged is still not worth it?

    Fourth, it is sometimes insisted that the existence of certain evils is necessarily presupposed for the existence of certain goods, and that the latter justify the former.

    It is sometimes argued, for example, that the virtue of courage cannot be actually exercised except in the face of real danger and that a world in which both danger and courage exist is better than a world in which neither exists.

    But what if we reply that courage is valued only because of the reality of danger and a world without either is better than a world with both?

    Beside, is it not he who bestows or withholds courage, anyway?

    Could he not bestow it on everyone?

    Or is the show, for him, only worth it if only some are brave and others are driven mad with fear?

    Is such a world better than one in which all are brave and none are ruined by terror?

    Fifth, we certainly agree that for us it is “take it or leave it” and that for most of us, most of the time, it is worthwhile going on with life even in the face of a degree of evil.

    But it is different for God.

    God is supposed to be perfect and have no need of creation, anyway.

    We can understand how a world, though far from perfect, can be good enough for us to go on with.

    But how can anything be “just good enough” for God?

    Last, there is the idea that the suffering of a child can be compensated by an eternity of bliss, and that by paying such compensation God can “make it all right.”

    He can “make it up to her.”

    Really?

    Can a father who makes a habit of abusing his little girl, say, once or twice a week make it up to her, compensate her, and make it all right if he buys her a pony?

    If he buys her a lot of ponies?

    What would you think of a “loving” father into whose mind such a notion might creep?

  • http://eternalbookhshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    I think a surprising number of Christians are willing to posit that they WOULD be horrific murderers of children, and that this would be perfectly ok, except for a few lucky happenstances of history that meant that all the horrific murdering of children that needed to happen got done before they were born. And I think that these Christians are happy to posit this because its all just a big fantasy to them, a sort of suspension of disbelief surrounding ancient tales that happened long ago to other people who don’t really count anymore. Which means that the modern day Christian’s personal concern for scriptural accuracy* and theological consistency* become more important in that Christian’s mind than the far distant, not really real to them in an emotional sense, suffering of ancient people.

    I think this comment from Patrick, which you quoted from, contains an excellent point. It seems awfully convenient, doesn’t it, that they’re fortunate enough to live during a time when God’s changed the rules, so they don’t actually have to live with the consequences of their actions or actually find themselves in the difficult situation of having to say no to a genocidal religious leader. It’s easy to pretend that everything turned out okay, but it strikes me that the justification given (that the people murdered to to Heaven) is an indication that even the people who are defending such violence don’t really believe it’s moral (at least that most of them don’t). What if God decided that the people who were killed were going to go to Hell since they weren’t the right religion? They seem to realize this would be immoral, even though God can supposedly do whatever he want with what he has created. Maybe it’s one of those tiny “flickers of conscience” that you wrote about in a previous entry.

    @Dave: Do you think members of another religion would be justified in killing you, your family, and every member of a group that you’re part of, based on what they think their God told them to do? If not, then why is it just when your God says to do it? If the fact that you’re a member of a different religion or another person’s desire to live on your land would not be a just reason for them to kill you, why is it okay when people in the Bible used these explanations/excuses?

    @Pablo Schwartz (comment #17): The difference is that the Bible, which is supposed to be what Christianity is based on, actually recommends murder and discrimination. The Christians who are in favor of it didn’t have to get those ideas from somewhere else; they’re right there in the book. The theory of evolution doesn’t actually recommend these actions. People twisted it to pretend that it is in favor of discrimination and murdering certain people, when the evidence that is the basis of evolution doesn’t actually back that up.

    @Demonhype (comment #18): Yes, exactly. It is horrendous that people think that killing innocent people is the default position, their immediate reaction every situation.

  • Snoof

    If not, then why is it just when your God says to do it?

    Because his god is real. Duh.

  • karen

    Piper is garbage – and there are Calvinists who condemn him for being too soft. The worst thing about Piper is that he isn’t the worst thing out there.

    Agreed. Evangelicals often revere him and his books. There was some push back from evangelicals over his Minneapolis blog post but most of it was very timid and deferential – disgustingly so.

    The rank and file folks in the pews probably don’t ever contemplate this level of evil and how it is justified by god, but fundamentalist leaders set the tone and if pressed I bet at least a third of evangelicals would go along with Piper and his ilk, including god creating their kids only to send them to hell.

    Religion is such a powerful way to brainwash people.

  • Leum

    So it’s all about the children. That’s fair enough. Yes, of course I recoil in horror from such a thought. That’s not the point. When we’re talking about God’s character, the point is, does the death of a child (or some number of children) compromise God’s benevolence? I think not, for the reason that Jimmy Akin described in the link above. As bad as it was, from the perspective of eternity it amounts to no more than a stubbed toe.

    Dave, do you believe that killing children is normally immoral? Because, based on your argument, I can’t think of a valid reason to consider it so outside of “God said not to do it.”

  • barnetto

    “No one has given any principle by which omnibenevolence cannot be reconciled, ultimately, with the ordering of a violent act.”

    The *only* way to reconcile a violent act with omnibenevolence is if the actor in question is not also omniscient/omnipotent. Duh.

  • Dave

    In Superman vs Doomsday, Superman is fighting a villain so powerful and so intractably destructive that Superman concludes he has no choice but to kill him. In discussing the morality of this choice, it makes no sense to say “I think Doomsday was actually a cute fuzzy bunny rabbit who only wanted to spread happiness, and Superman was a big meanie.” I don’t know what story you’re reading at that point, but it’s not the story being discussed. It also doesn’t get you anywhere to say “lulz, Dave likes beating people to death.”

    On the other hand, if you have something within the story that shows that Superman was not justified in using lethal force (for instance, something contextual showing that Superman could have merely neutralized Doomsday somehow), then you’ve got something. Or if you can establish some principle by which superheroes killing supervillains is never justified, then that principle shows that Superman’s action was not justified.

    In the story of Canaan, we are told that the Canaanites are utterly iniquitous, to the point of deserving God’s wrath. God sends the Hebrews to deliver said wrath. I think these are the objections:
    – The men and women in Canaan weren’t really bad. This is the “Doomsday was a cute bunny” argument above; it’s irrelevent because it’s not the story being discussed. The story tells us that they were judged to be iniquitous by an entity that is capable of making that judgment; THAT is the context we’re discussing.
    (note – I made this clear on Leah’s blog, but not here. I am staking no position in the “is this story historical” debate. I am only looking at the moral question at hand: “Given a fully iniquitous population, can an omnibenevolent God call for their death?” NOT “Were the historical Canaanites fully iniquitous?” I have no idea (nor does anyone else), and honestly not much interest.)
    – Men and women cannot do [b]anything[/b] to deserve death. One of the commenters dabbled with the idea, but it hasn’t been very forcefully presented. I think that when people talk about Canaan, this is rarely the source of their objection.
    – The children didn’t deserve it. This is true. From the childrens’ perspective, their suffering is unwarranted. Which brings us to:
    – Unwarranted suffering is incompatible with omnibenevolence. In other words, the problem of suffering. I said in my very first post over on Leah’s blog that this is what the problem of Canaan reduces to. I still think all the points I listed above reduce to this. And if you think the problem of suffering is intractable for Christianity, then the problem of Canaan is equally intractable. I’ve got no problem with that position.
    – Leah’s point about humans being involved. As I’ve said, I think this is a strong point, and I have no ready answer for it. I give her kudos for being the only one who is engaging the story on the story’s terms. But other than this point, I maintain that we’re left with the problem of suffering.

  • Mrnaglfar

    The story tells us that they were judged to be iniquitous by an entity that is capable of making that judgment; THAT is the context we’re discussing….The children didn’t deserve it. This is true. From the childrens’ perspective, their suffering is unwarranted

    Possible options:
    1) The children did deserve it and get killed (the Canaanites are utterly iniquitous, including children, given a fully iniquitous population).
    2) The children didn’t deserve it, but no order was given to not kill them for some reason.

    You can’t hold both positions. If one is trying to defend the killing in the story, one might as well just stick to the first option.

  • heliobates

    Superman vs. Doomsday: interesting that the example you use to illustrate the moral imperative is from a comic book. Of course Doomsday is intractably destructive. The authors intentionally wrote him that way. The situation has been set up, deliberately, so that Superman will be justified in killing him, and so that any other resolution to the story would be unsatisfactory.

    Clean up in Analogy Aisle.

    “tells us that they were judged to be iniquitous by an entity that is capable of making that judgment”

    Right. Yahweh created them. Yahweh created them with the capacity to become iniquitous. Yahweh foresaw that the Canaanites would become iniquitous and allowed it to happen. Having allowed it to happen, Yahweh judged each and every Canaanite to be equally guilty of “iniquity” (a situation it created in the first place). Yahweh allows the Hebrew tribes to repent and learn from their mistakes. Everyone else he destroys. Hmmm. Odd that Yahweh doesn’t behave like an inscrutable deity. He behaves exactly like a tribal king.

    The problem isn’t “unwarranted suffering” in the sense of “oops, I didn’t mean for that to happen!”, the problem is that Yahweh commands the unwarranted suffering.

    FFS, of course this is intractable. Any claim Christians make that Yahweh is the source of human morality is a hollow rationalization.

  • heliobates

    Dave,

    In case I’m in any way unclear: the Bible depicts Yahweh as the author of history, and in order to tell a good story, it deliberately casts entire populations as villains so that its Chosen People can smite them to a satisfying conclusion. Your omnibenevolent deity purposely writes the story so that wholesale slaughter is justifiable. It causes it to happen. Where is the benevolence in that?

    Hey, maybe your comic book analogy is on point, after all.

  • stag

    Dave, trying (as a fellow Christian) to dig you out of a hole here: would it not be better to acknowledge, as per the best historical data, that the “entry into Canaan” happened way before the formation of Israel’s socio-religious identity? This would get you to a large extent off the hook. It would of course mean interpreting some parts of the Old Testament in a non-historical way. This doesn’t cost you anything really, since it is the New Testament that gives full meaning the the Old, isn’t it?

    BTW all, have you seen Sam Harris’s embarrassment against William Lane Craig? If that is atheist “rationality”…:-)!!!
    (Not that I think Craig is immune to critique himself. But at least he knows how logic works.)

  • Broggly

    So you’re just a pedantic atheist Dave? I assumed you were religious and defending the character of a god you thought actually existed rather than being a fictional character. Because that’s like arguing that Feric Jagger and the nation of Helder in The Iron Dream was justified in driving out and slaughtering the mutants and Dominators because they actually were evil and monstrous when everyone else is arguing that the story is actually about Hitler and Nazi Germany wanting to destroy the Jews, Gypsies and other Undesireables so you can’t take it at face value. That is, Adolph Hitler is intentionally an unreliable narrator so the point of the book is that just because he presents Jagger as a hero and the mutants as evil doesn’t mean that’s the actual moral case. Similarly, the issue here is whether a book portraying a whole nation as deserving genocide through divine mandate should be considered a useful moral guide. Maybe if the Jews actually were totally depraved and wicked christ-killers trying to bring down Aryan civilisation then the holocaust was justified, but that doesn’t make Mein Kampf a great moral work because it assumes that to be the case.

  • NEP

    @Dave:

    It’s one thing to look at the story and say, “Icky.” I’ve got sympathy for that position. But people try to take it further and say that it disproves God’s character, and to make that stick, you need to go beyond icky. You need to actually look at questions like whether earthly suffering is fundamentally incompatible with benevolence (answered conclusively by Aquinas, if not earlier). You need to look at questions of when violence is justified. You need to look at questions of God’s sovereignty over creation. But no one is doing that. It’s just a lot of icky.

    Suggesting that people object to the story of the Canaanite genocide simply for being ‘icky’ is an obvious straw man. The killing of innocents, even the killing of ‘sinners’, is objectively immoral. That is to say, it is undeniably wrong and cannot be justified as good under any circumstances. I don’t see this as a controversial assertion at all, and it is the real and obvious objection to this story.

    The point of contention, then, is that such an act is compatible with a god that is “by nature loving, generous, just, faithful, kind and so forth”. Only the possibility of some greater good being served could possibly provide justification for the extermination of an entire group of people.

    And so far, I haven’t heard any apologists furnish anything that even begins to come close to a satisfactory answer to this problem. Aquinas certainly didn’t. His attempt was fairly pathetic and simply expounded upon the earlier work of Saint Augustine in any case.

    Free will seems to be a mainstay of contemporary apologetics. Unfortunately, it is fraught with problems, one of the main ones being the ongoing debate over whether we actually have free will. It’s also unclear to me how maintaining free will is somehow of greater moral imperative than preventing the suffering of countless innocent people; and in any case god personally caused, commanded, or endorsed most of the atrocities committed in the bible, making free will irrelevant in these instances anyway. Falling back on the unknowable and transcendence of god’s nature doesn’t really work either because we know exactly why god commanded the Canaanite genocide – Leviticus 18:19-25; god’s reasons for authorizing it are as clear as they are inadequate.

    Dave and other like him may have convinced themselves through some remarkable mental gymnastics that this account is compatible with a being supposedly possessing infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, and that’s fine. I just hope they don’t expect to be taken seriously.

  • barnetto

    “On the other hand, if you have something within the story that shows that Superman was not justified in using lethal force (for instance, something contextual showing that Superman could have merely neutralized Doomsday somehow), then you’ve got something. Or if you can establish some principle by which superheroes killing supervillains is never justified, then that principle shows that Superman’s action was not justified. ”

    If Superman is infinitely stronger than Doomsday, as God would be to humans, than Superman does not have to kill Doomsday. Just create an unbreakable prison cell.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Dave:

    I am only looking at the moral question at hand: “Given a fully iniquitous population, can an omnibenevolent God call for their death?” NOT “Were the historical Canaanites fully iniquitous?” I have no idea (nor does anyone else), and honestly not much interest.

    But you can’t get anywhere if the starting premise is faulty. As others have pointed out, God calling for the death of the Canaanites contradicts the idea of him being omnibenevolent (especially if he’s also omnipotent and omniscient and could decide on another course of action to stop them from being iniquitous). Plus, I don’t know about the historical Canaanites, but I find it difficult to believe that every single person in a group would be guilty (similar to what Broggly pointed out). I find it absurd that this kind of idea, which is considered racist when someone says it about a group now, is considered okay when it’s in the Bible.

    One of the examples I’ve heard about why the Cannanites were evil was due to their practice of child sacrifice. But God is actually okay with people killing their own children if their children follow another God (Deuteronomy 13); he only condemns killing children if he didn’t order it. The big sin that God cares about, that he thinks it’s okay to kill over, is a person refusing to worship him. (You asked previously about whether killing is sometimes justified. A person being a member of a different religion is not a situation when killing is justified.) Plus, as heliobates pointed out, he set up the situation in the first place, with one group being his Chosen People, instead of everyone. He created the people who were living all over the world, in a situation that allowed them to move into the ‘holy land’, and then got angry at them for living there and told his followers to kill them.

    In stories with superheroes, we’re usually told or shown what the villain did (killing innocent people, for example), so that we believe that killing the villain is justified. We also hold the heroes to high standards, expecting them not to intentionally kill innocent people, and expecting they will be just. (So, if they have the option of putting the villain in jail, they would be expected to do that, rather than kill them.) Even if we grant, hypothetically, that an entire group of people can be iniquitous, God is capable (in his infinite power) to deal justly with them (getting them to change their behavior, for example) rather than ordering genocide.

    What if a “hero” killed a person, insisted that person had done something wrong, and then didn’t elaborate on what the person actually did (or gave vague reasons as God does, as Demonhype pointed out)? Would we automatically trust the “hero”? What if the “hero” killed a person for not being in his fan club, which is essentially what God does? To use your analogy, God isn’t a superhero. He’s a villain.

    The only way to insist that God’s actions were just is to insist that morality is defined by whatever he does, that he can never be wrong, and that the same exact action can be moral when God says to do it and immoral when God says not to do it.

    @Broggly (comment #60): I think you just made a point similar to what I was thinking of when you wrote about a whole group not being evil. Also, That was an excellent point about having an unreliable narrator.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Superman may have not had another possible way of dealing with Doomsday, but for an omni-max deity, there is always another way. Always. Especially ones that don’t involve killing children and other innocents during genocides or using humans as their instruments in genocide.

    Additionally, how do you know that this god entity is capable of making sound judgements about what people deserve, considering that he claimed all those people deserved to be wiped off the face of the planet. What you are doing is begging the question.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    Dave’s head must be spinning from all the circles being run around him here.

  • monkeymind

    Excellent points, everyone. Jehovah does not even work as a believable comic book hero.
    When I wrote my comments above, I was thinking of the slaughter of the Midianite captives in Numbers 31. (There are so many massacres in the OT, it’s hard to keep them straight) In that story, the Israelites have won the victory and bring home the Midianite women and children captive. Moses is enraged that the women were allowed to live, because apparently one of them had slept with an Israelite, which caused him to be stricken with a plague. So Moses orders the slaughter of the prisoners, including all male children, all except the virgin girls. Since the slaughter occurred after the military victory, there’s no way to pass off the murders as collateral damage of battle or anything like that. In fact, the soldiers who slaughter the camp have to go through a 7 day purification ritual before they are allowed back into the camp, which shows how morally problematic it was felt to be even then.

    Genocidaires will always have a compelling (to them) narrative for why their genocide is/was necessary. We should evaluate the biblical genocide narratives the same way we evaluate the other literary cases for genocide humanity has unfortunately collected throughout history.

    The burden is on Dave to prove that the biblical narratives of genocide actually differ from other historical genocide narratives in such a way that we can accept that genocide was justified in the biblical cases and not others.

  • NEP

    @monkeymind

    7 day purification ritual before they are allowed back into the camp, which shows how morally problematic it was felt to be even then

    In fact, I’d say this demonstrates exactly the opposite. A mere 7 day ritual is barely an inconvenience compared to what the victims endured. I would surmise that the was intended to ensure that killing scores of innocent people and animals would provide no barrier to the soldiers’ salvation.

    This brings up another problem which I’m sure is obvious to everyone here, the idea of immortality. It utterly trivializes the worst atrocities imaginable, brushing them aside with the breezy declaration that the victims will be compensated with everlasting happiness. I don’t think I need to point out what a dangerous and destructive attitude this is. In fact, I’d say that it denudes life of any possible meaning altogether. On the one hand, a person who simply lives free of sin and follows god’s commandments will get the same treatment as the most exemplary individual imaginable. The nature of their actions becomes irrelevant. It’s simply sufficient that they were ‘good’. Likewise, there is precious little difference between someone who goes to hell for, say, committing adultery in their heart and someone who quits their day job to become a full-time rapist. They both have the same – disproportionate – level of punishment to look forward to. It’s all just insane.

  • monkeymind

    NEP – I didn’t word that too well – obviously they didn’t find it too terribly problematic– but it’s the only time in the OT that I can remember where the perpetrators of a God-ordered atrocity are thought of as “unclean” and in need of purification.

  • Dave

    Too many posts, not enough time. :-)

    heliobates says:
    – Yahweh destroys others w/o offering repentance.
    I disagree. The stories show that Yahweh offers everyone the opportunity for repentance. Rahab, for instance, was spared the lot of the Canaanites when she repented. Nineveh was spared the fate of Sodom & Gamorrah when it repented. But anyway, this is kind of off-point.

    heliobates says:
    – Problem of suffering is intractable.
    I say: OK. This is obviously a point of controversy, but like I said in the first place, if the problem of suffering is a dealbreaker for you, then this story will be a dealbreaker for the same reason.

    @Broggly: I’m not an atheist, but I am also not a literalist. As for your issue (Whether the Bible should be considered a useful moral guide), I would say that’s beside the point for the moment. I’m talking specifically and only about whether such a command is incompatible with God’s character, and why. The Bible’s usefulness can’t be determined from looking only at one particular story.

    NEP says: killing is always and everywhere wrong.
    I say: Fine. If you hold to that minority opinion, then obviously this story is a dealbreaker. I already mentioned this objection.

    NEP says: Problem of suffering cannot be solved.
    I say again: Fine, for the same reason as above to heliobates.

    NEP says: The given justification is inadequate.
    I say: The Leviticus passage is only one of the passages relating to the justification of the Canaan situation. I’m not sure any of them (certainly not the Leviticus passage given) can be read as intending to be a comprehensive list of the sins of Canaan.

    Barnetto misses the point of the analogy. It wasn’t that Superman and God are equally omnipotent, but that the story takes for granted the justification, so the justification need not be further proven in the context of the story.

    Sharmin says that Doomsday was a fuzzy bunny.

    OMGF is offbase with Barnetto. The point of the analogy was not that God had no choice, but that his choice was justified by the context of the story.

    Monkeymind doesn’t want to discuss the Canaanite story as a story, but as history. I have said a number of times that I have no dog in the historicity fight.

    stag offers me a lifeline that the story may not be historical. I think he’s very likely right. Again, I’m not looking at it as a history.

    stag says that I’m in a hole. I confess that I don’t see it. All the posts reduce to the exact same points that I already acknowledged. Yes, if you think that killing is never justified, then neither was this killing. If you think that suffering cannot be reconciled with benevolence, then neither can this story.

    My entire point here is that God’s actions in this story need not present an obstacle to anyone who holds that a) killing can be justified, and b) the problem of suffering has a solution.

    Again, just for completeness sake, Leah’s point remains unanswered. So there might be a to-be-determined c) that needs to be added to the list.

  • Snoof

    Jehovah does not even work as a believable comic book hero.

    What about Stardust the Super Wizard? He always reminded be of the OT Yahweh. Immense but poorly defined powers, tremendous self-righteousness, an unfortunate tendency to arrive too late to save the victims of the week but not too late to “punish” the villains (who rarely had any motivation beyond “being evil”) in horrific, sadistic ways…

    Oh, wait, you said hero.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Dave keeps shifting the goalposts. He keeps saying “killing can be justified”, but can’t get from there to “the systematic extermination of a people can be justified”. He doesn’t actually offer a justification for his “b)” point, either: he just states that suffering and benevolence can be reconciled (not if you’re all-knowing or all-powerful). At least he’s providing a data point for “even non-literal believers are damaged by religion”.

  • Doug kirk

    My entire point here is that God’s actions in this story need not present an obstacle to anyone who holds that a) killing can be justified, and b) the problem of suffering has a solution.

    So if you hand wave away the objections to it; the story is entirely un-objectionable! Classic apologetics. *High Five*

    Now, lets take away the two biggest legitimate complaints and look at it from the point of view that Yahweh is punishing these living people for something their dead ancestors did. That’s an indictment of character right there.

    Even if killing is sometimes justified, even if there is no problem of suffering , it is immoral to punish people for the actions of their ancestors.

    If you disagree with that (and I suppose you do, because you are a christian and one of the axioms of christianity is that people are guilty for what Adam did) please demonstrate a real world scenario in which it would be perfectly acceptable to kill a man for something bad his grandfather did.

    Not to mention you have to jump from “killing is sometimes justified” and “suffering is sometimes justified” to “the systematic slaughter of an entire people is justified.” [EDIT: damn, themann beat me to it]

  • barnetto

    “Barnetto misses the point of the analogy. It wasn’t that Superman and God are equally omnipotent, but that the story takes for granted the justification, so the justification need not be further proven in the context of the story. ”

    Your argument from analogy failed because God is omnipotent, Superman is not. When a being is omnipotent, there is no justification for genocide. There are always options (including options that don’t violate the constraints of God not wanting to violate our free will).

    You missed the point. Your analogy was fallacious.

  • NEP

    @Dave:

    NEP says: killing is always and everywhere wrong.
    I say: Fine. If you hold to that minority opinion, then obviously this story is a dealbreaker. I already mentioned this objection.

    NEP says: Problem of suffering cannot be solved.
    I say again: Fine, for the same reason as above to heliobates.

    Again, a straw man. There may be situations where killing is justifiable – this I’ll freely concede. Defense of one’s self or other innocents might justify killing if all recourse to non-violent methods have been exhausted. Protecting the innocent could even be deemed moral. But I’ll stop short of identifying killing as a good-making property.

    But killing is not the whole issue here. Genocide is. And if killing is bad then a fortiori genocide is undeniably immoral and as far as I can see unjustifiable in any circumstance. Even if we accept for the purpose of argument that some of members of a group must be killed (as in my previous paragraph), it does not follow that, regardless of complicity in any wrongdoing, all members of the group to which those aggressors belong must also die.

    This is the key issue. As noted, it might be justifiable to kill if there is no other choice; but a god that is presumed to be infinitely good, powerful, wise, just, and so on should not be bound to an evil necessity, and certainly not genocide! This is the problem of suffering that no apologist has sufficiently answered. I’m aware of the various modern responses to the problem of evil, but I think it is clear that none are conclusive, particularly with respect to the issue at hand.

    NEP says: The given justification is inadequate.
    I say: The Leviticus passage is only one of the passages relating to the justification of the Canaan situation. I’m not sure any of them (certainly not the Leviticus passage given) can be read as intending to be a comprehensive list of the sins of Canaan.

    Again, whatever sins the Canaanites may have committed, they could not possibly justify death as a penalty. The list may not be comprehensive but these are the most important, and again a fortiori genocide is not an appropriate response.

  • monkeymind

    Monkeymind doesn’t want to discuss the Canaanite story as a story, but as history. I have said a number of times that I have no dog in the historicity fight.

    Nope, I want to discuss it as a narrative that history has preserved for our perusal. There are other examples of such narratives outside the OT. I seriously doubt that Moses and co. completely obliterated several tribes; the point of the stories was most likely to convince The People that they were the most badass tribe with the most badass god.

    In the centuries since then, we have seriously improved on our ability to wipe each other out. If large number us still don’t have any qualms about these kinds of bible stories, then we’re in pretty deep shit.

    And Leah’s point that you think we’re ignoring, is actually central to most of the arguments you think you’ve deflected. In our modern conception of justice, the order to kill unarmed civilians or refugees (the Midianites) after a military victory would be considered an unlawful order, no matter how powerful the commander was who issued the order.

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    @Dave: I’m not sure how you took my (a) accusing God of being immoral, (b) accusing him of using bad standards to judge morality, and (c) writing that a real hero would deal with criminals justly (not using such a horrible punishment when other options are possible) and turned it into “Sharmin says that Doomsday [by which I assume you mean the Canaanites] was a fuzzy bunny”. A person doesn’t have to pretend that the Canaanites were saints to object a genocide against them.

    @Doug kirk (comment #72):

    So if you hand wave away the objections to it; the story is entirely un-objectionable! Classic apologetics. *High Five*

    That made me laugh.

  • Leum

    Dave, I voiced this earlier (perhaps not in the politest way–which I assume is why you ignored me) and I’ll ask it again (politely this time): do you think it is wrong to kill innocents (in this case children) absent an order from God to do so, and if so, do you have a justification for believing it is wrong other than the prohibition on murder in Exodus 20:13?

    Because I think the reason we’re not making convincing you is that you hold to some form of divine command theory (i.e. things are moral or immoral because God says they are).

  • Nathaniel

    Hey Dave, let me be straight and to the point.

    Your justification needs only a few changed words to become this:

    “Look, I know it seems rather questionable on the face of it. The children especially, you might say, cannot be blamed for the sins of the parents. But God is infinite in his wisdom. Who’s to say that the Holocaust didn’t bring about a greater good, was not unfortunate, but nay, necessary?”

    Are you willing to defend that statement? If not, why not?

  • Dave

    @themann: If killing a person can be justified by them doing “something”, then killing a people can be justified if each of them has done the same “something”. Sorry I didn’t lay that on the line, I thought it was self-evident.

    I know I didn’t offer a justification for b). My initial point was made on Leah’s blog, and Leah has already indicated that she accepts b.

    @Doug kirk: *high five*. If you agree that my handwaving the problem of suffering away amounts to handwaving the problem of Canaan, then we are on the exact same page: Canaan is a subset of the problem of suffering.
    I’m with you about the immorality of punishing people for the actions of their ancestors. From what I’ve seen on Canaan, it looks like the Canaanites who got kilt were pretty immoral themselves.

    @barnetto: You say, essentially, that God may not use the death penalty. He’s always under an obligation to use non-lethal force. I don’t think so. If we take for granted that humans are born, live for a while, then die, at which point eternal life begins, I don’t think God is under any obligation to maximize “a while”.

    @monkeymind: I don’t think *you’re* ignoring Leah’s point, I think I am. My bringing it up repeatedly is not an accusation but a concession. Leah’s point hurts (maybe destroys) my case and helps yours.

    @Sharmin – No, a person doesn’t have to pretend they were saints, but a person does have to pretend that they had not performed acts which justified death, which the story stipulates. You’re rejecting the premise of the story and then saying that the conclusion of the story is unjust. Might as well say that Pinocchio never told a lie, so it was unjust that his nose grew an inch.

    @Leum – sorry for ignoring you, but I’ve got like 10-20 posts for every one of mine. Yes, I think it is wrong to kill innocents absent an order from God. I believe that this would be true without an explicit order from God. For instance, murder was wrong when Cain did it, even though no tablets had yet been given to Moses. This was true for reasons of natural law, involving the relationship of creature to creation. My main problem (Leah’s point), is the question of when God can command something that would otherwise be a sin. Again: I got nothin’.

    @Nathaniel: I do indeed believe that God can bring a greater good from the Holocaust. That doesn’t imply that evil is fortunate or necessary.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    If killing a person can be justified by them doing “something”, then killing a people can be justified if each of them has done the same “something”

    That’s a pretty big “if”.

    From what I’ve seen on Canaan, it looks like the Canaanites who got kilt were pretty immoral themselves.

    [Citation Needed]

    If we take for granted that humans are born, live for a while, then die, at which point eternal life begins

    [Citation Needed]

    For instance, murder was wrong when Cain did it, even though no tablets had yet been given to Moses. This was true for reasons of natural law, involving the relationship of creature to creation

    [Citation Needed]

    I do indeed believe that God can bring a greater good from the Holocaust. That doesn’t imply that evil is fortunate or necessary.

    Except that it does, since god is all-powerful and all-knowing, and thus “caused” the holocaust (or at least “allowed it to happen”). Under your “logic”, anything that anyone does can be justified. I mean, Andrea Yates was just carrying out God’s command! She should be a hero, not in a mental health institution!

  • JayinTN

    I’ve been scanning through these remarks with a great deal of amusement. Where does this idea that God is “omnibenevolent” come from? Not from the Bible, that’s for sure. The God of the Bible (both OT and NT) is a great, infinite, unknowable, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-ordaining tyrant that does exactly as he pleases with his creation. He demands and deserves complete submission from his sheep, who will serve him and all the rest will be cast into Hell for eternity.

    “That’s not fair,” people whine. Fair? Fair would be to send everyone to Hell because all have sinned and fallen short of his glory. But God has chosen a select few from before the foundation of the world, and those few will live in Heaven in perpetual joy. Fair/unfair isn’t really an accurate terminology. Because everything God does is just, perhaps equal/unequal would be a better term to use. Does God treat everyone equally? Of course not. There are vessels made for glory and vessels fitted for destruction. Sheep and goats. Israel and Babylon.

    “But how you can justify the behavior of such a bloodthirsty, jealous, vengeful God?” What makes you think I should? God says he’ll have mercy on whom he’ll have mercy and compassion on whom he’ll have compassion. One day I’ll stand before him, and be judged. I hope he finds me a saved sinner, washed white in the blood of Christ. If not, I’ll certainly suffer the same fate as most and go to Hell for eternity. Either way, his will is done, and I get no say.

    Intellectual discussion of a god that people equate to a comic book superhero makes good internet fodder. But deep down a lot of these people are terrified at the concept that the Biblical God might really exist, and they will be found guilty. They rage against the dying of their own light, never realizing they were always lost in darkness.

  • Dave

    I’ve kicked around my earlier post a little, regarding punishment for ancestral crimes. Certainly such a thing is immoral from a human perspective, but possibly not from a divine one. It would rely on a real but invisible principle of solidarity, which I tend to reject but certainly can’t rule out.

    @themann – yes, it is a big if. But it’s the story we’re presented with. If you don’t want to discuss the story as it’s presented, then we’ve got nothing to talk about.

    As for your citations – obviously I’m refering to Christian theology. Again, what I’m saying is “If one accepts these aspects of Christian theology, then the story of Canaan does not introduce any unique problems.” It sounds like you’re saying, “If God does not exist and the attack on Canaan did not actually resemble the Biblical story, then the attack was Bad.” I have never disputed that. I’m not even discussing that point.

    Yates is irrelevent to the story at hand, because the divine command is not ambiguous in the context of the story. I’ve already conceded time and time again the practical matter; I am talking about this particular story and nothing else.

  • NEP

    @Dave

    @barnetto: You say, essentially, that God may not use the death penalty. He’s always under an obligation to use non-lethal force. I don’t think so.

    One could argue – and many philosophers/theologians have – that it is impossible for god to do that which is contradictory to his nature. This is one of the main defenses of divine command theory, a response to the question “what if god commanded something terrible?”. The answer is that “god would not command any such thing because it would not be compatible with his infinitely loving nature”. Simply asserting that allowing suffering or commanding violence is compatible with omnibenevolence is a non sequitur and must be qualified.

    So there are two options here: either a) god is not perfectly good or b) he has a good reason for commanding something ostensibly terrible. I don’t think conceding a) would be a particularly good move for apologists to make. So that leaves us with option b), that god has a sufficiently good reason for his commands.

    The problem here is that we aren’t questioning whether a violent act is incompatible with god’s nature. Again, this is a big, stinky red herring. The objection to the story of the Canaanites is that god commands genocide, not merely the execution of guilty parties. Even if we concede that the Canaanites did things warranting punishment by death, it is not at all clear that all of them would have been complicit in such activities. The children certainly could not have been, nor the animals because they would not be responsible for their actions.

    If we take for granted that humans are born, live for a while, then die, at which point eternal life begins, I don’t think God is under any obligation to maximize “a while”.

    This is the only concrete response I’ve seen here, and it’s ridiculous. If an infinitely good being is not under any obligation to maximize how long we live, then why should we be under one? It seems that the most morally sound action to take if someone is suffering or dying would be to speed along the progress of the inevitable. Why fight for one’s life or the lives of others? Why should we strive to make our collective lives as prosperous and harmonious as possible? Such efforts are irrelevant and inconsequential compared to eternity. Belief in an eternal afterlife is the ultimate in nihilism.

    I would also argue, as Ebonmuse argues in his essay “All Possible Worlds”, that even the promise of absolute happiness forever (if such a thing existed or was even possible) is not sufficient to excuse suffering and injustice in the here-and-now, and therefore does not constitute a sufficiently good reason for god to either command or allow genocide (to say nothing of other forms of suffering in the world). Genocide remains a thoroughly inexcusable act whether heaven exists or not.

  • Doug Kirk

    You say, essentially, that God may not use the death penalty. He’s always under an obligation to use non-lethal force. I don’t think so. If we take for granted that humans are born, live for a while, then die, at which point eternal life begins, I don’t think God is under any obligation to maximize “a while”.

    So God’s taking his ball and going home then? Who are we to pronounce on the morally reprehensible actions of an immoral deity? After all, we’re not divine and according to you the only way anyone can truly know if an act is morally reprehensible is if that person is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.

    Sure, someone could argue that your premise is untrue; that you don’t need to be logically contradictory to know that killing babies and salughtering innocents is a bad thing.

    Sure, someone could argue that what you’ve been doing is essentially redefining the words so that the only possible outcome is your conclusion: the height of intellectual dishonesty.

    Not me though.

    I’ve kicked around my earlier post a little, regarding punishment for ancestral crimes. Certainly such a thing is immoral from a human perspective, but possibly not from a divine one. It would rely on a real but invisible principle of solidarity, which I tend to reject but certainly can’t rule out.

    So we’re just not looking at the big picture, huh? Those tribes just had to get slaughtered brutally in Sudan because 50 years ago a man blasphemed your god in kenya…. or something. Makes sense, really. Cosmic justice, because life is so totally fair and that’s a lesson we’ve all learned growing up.

    what I’m saying is “If one accepts these aspects of Christian theology, then the story of Canaan does not introduce any unique problems.”

    Still with the handwaving. I suppose I should thank you for losing the argument for yourself, but the victory rings hollow.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Dave,
    You have yet to justify a single thing and the onus is on you, as has been pointed out numerous times.

    Also, the criticism of your analogy was not off-base. The reason Superman kills Doomsday is because he has no other choice (your words). god always has another choice, so there is literally no reason why god would have to resort to violence/evil means. That’s what omnipotence means. You can’t simply claim that sometimes Superman has to kill someone therefore god has to do it too, because the situations are different by definition in all cases.

    Also, I find it very convenient how you focus on the story when faced with the uncomfortable logical consequences of your arguments. IOW, your arguments don’t hold up and you’re trying to hand-wave them away by ignoring the objections. We can all see thru that.

    NEP,

    The problem here is that we aren’t questioning whether a violent act is incompatible with god’s nature. Again, this is a big, stinky red herring.

    Actually, I do. For an omni-benevolent entity to engage in violence when there are non-violent means available (due to omnipotence and omniscience) is contradictory.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    JayinTN,
    What you’ve described as your god is an immoral monster that creates humans for the specific purpose of torturing them in hell.

    Oh, and your reference to Pascal’s Wager is duly noted…I hope that you’re ready to face the FSM after you die having never worshipped his noodly appendage.

  • NEP

    @OMGF

    Actually, I do. For an omni-benevolent entity to engage in violence when there are non-violent means available (due to omnipotence and omniscience) is contradictory.

    Point taken. Perhaps it would be better to say we aren’t only questioning whether a violent act is compatible with god’s nature. But either way you also make a good point that god isn’t obligated to resort to violent means anymore than he is ‘obligated’ to resort to non-violent means. God is supposedly omnipotent; there is no ‘obligation’ beyond the fact that he is omnibenevolent by nature. Omnibenevolence isn’t an obligation, just a definition of how god would necessarily choose to act. So my emphasis on the genocide is somewhat redundant.

  • Dave

    Well, folks, I have pretty much exhausted my interest in this topic. Thank you all for your gracious hospitality; I have enjoyed the discussion.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    Wow. It’s amazing how you can come in here with tons of bluster, never justify anything, offer any substance, or actually attempt to actually answer an objection, and then flounce out after having “exhausted [your] interest.” It must be nice to live in non-thinking land.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, defender of genocide. On a semi-related note, I’d like to quote the following:

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

    “While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.”

    The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

  • Goyo

    When I wrote my comments above, I was thinking of the slaughter of the Midianite captives in Numbers 31. (There are so many massacres in the OT, it’s hard to keep them straight) In that story, the Israelites have won the victory and bring home the Midianite women and children captive. Moses is enraged that the women were allowed to live, because apparently one of them had slept with an Israelite, which caused him to be stricken with a plague. So Moses orders the slaughter of the prisoners, including all male children, all except the virgin girls. Since the slaughter occurred after the military victory, there’s no way to pass off the murders as collateral damage of battle or anything like that. In fact, the soldiers who slaughter the camp have to go through a 7 day purification ritual before they are allowed back into the camp, which shows how morally problematic it was felt to be even then.

    Don’t forget Monkeymind, that the virgin girls would be treated as the Hebrews treated their slaves, with all due respect and care, as the defenders of OT slavery always seem to say. It was different back then…

  • Jim Baerg

    Re: comment90 by themann1086
    Where is the quote from?
    It sounds like something George Orwell might have written in the late 1940s.

  • http://politicalgames.posterous.com themann1086

    Jim: Well spotted :) It’s from Orwell’s “Politics And The English Language”

  • Helena Constantine

    Not that anyone will read this down here, but its worth noting that the Bible is not a historical book. No biblical archaeologist or historian (except the fundamentalist ones), believes that there was ever anything like a captivity, or an exodus, or a conquest of the land. Even the Davidic kingdom has about as much reality as Camelot.

    So what we are dealing with in Numbers 31 and other passages are the fantasies of an author (or community of authors) writing sometime between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC. Since one of the main fantasies of the biblical text is the genocide of the Canaanites, he must have been in a social position of helplessness and powerlessness, so he compensates with fantasies of grandiosity, carrying out in his mind mass-slaughter and rape, and fantasizing the murder of everyone who disagrees with him in the slightest (look at all the murders Moses commits against his fellow Jews for the tiniest infraction of the law, and if he doesn’t do it, the wrong-doers die of plague or the like, and all the death penalties for trivial matters in the Law–you don’t see things like that in any historical law codes form the ANE). (I don’t have the reference to hand right now, but there is an interesting article post-holocaust, pointing out that politically disfranchised medieval monks often turned as a compensation to writing fantasies of genocide, droning on about how many thousands of heretics and Jews the anti-Christ would murder every hour of his reign, by way of helping to explain the anti-semitic tradition that made the real genocide possible).

    The incredible thing, the tragic thing, is that this mass of malignant fantasy (the Pentateuch) got adopted as the foundational document of the Hasmonean kingdom and then later Judaism, and now has to be defended by the greater part of American Christianity, indeed Christianity as a whole.

  • http://kagerato.net kagerato

    I read it, Helena. Thanks for your contribution; it’s spot on.

  • Jamie

    Let me just say I believe in god.

    If god wants to kill someone, he can do it himself without the use of inferior tools such as humans. If he’s all powerful then he can make fires, cause earth quakes, create tornadoes, form tsunami’s… all without our help. It’d probably be a lot quicker and a lot easier then giving himself a manifested form like a voice, or a body or what not. There are a lot of ways someone can die now days, if it’s not any consequence to him, he can do it himself.

    I don’t believe in an unquestionable god, if he wants us to learn then he should be able to explain it as well, I believe that god wants us to understand.

    I don’t go to church, because I think my god isn’t one you can find in a book, he’s a good you have to know yourself (on a personal level) and that his wisdom should be situational. It’s like saying “Dog is mans best friend” in general doesn’t mean you should let a dangerous pig dog play with a 3 year old. Common sense isn’t as common as it should be.

  • http://www.whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    If he’s not unquestionable and you think you know on a personal level, perhaps you can ask this god why he kills people? Why does he let bad things happen to good people? Let us know what he says.

  • Rosemary

    @Jamie
    Your “god” is indistinguishable from imagined fantasy and has no justification for existence that is greater than the justification for gods believed in by other individuals and groups of people. Your version of god seems to be based largely on whatever you have assimilated from your community’s dominant Christian culture plus some values which you have come to regard highly.

    @Dave (who probably won’t read this due to “boredom” with a debate he was losing, along with any credibility he had as a compassionate and rational human being)

    Where do you get the idea that the Yahweh god described in the Christian Old Testament is (a) all-loving and (b) supremely moral?

    How many biblical writers state this? who are they? and how far into the biblical record do they begin asserting this? What reasons, if any, do they give? Do they match up with the available evidence? Do they claim to be simply repeating what the Yahweh god told them was true about himself (hearsay without evidence)? Were they expressing an opinion they had formed due to their personal experience with this god? Do they provide evidence to back up their conclusion or are you just expected to believe them without question (appeal to authority)?

    Did these assertions about the character of the Yahweh god originate from clerics who lived long after the biblical cannon was closed or were they simply expanded upon by these apologists? What reasons do they give to justify their views? Are these balanced or do they ignore contradictory biblical information and general knowledge about the world? What relevant scientific and historical facts that are available today could argue against their contentions?

    From both ancient and modern sources, provide a list of the salient evidence both “for” and “against” these two assumed characteristics of the Yahweh god. Be sure to distinguish between the characteristics attributed to the original Father god, Yahweh, and the characteristics attributed to his off-spring, the man-god hybrid Jesus of Nazareth.

    Given a knowledge of both sides, do you think these traditional characteristics of the Yahweh god are justified? In other words, are you defending characteristics of your god that were simply made up by Catholic apologists several centuries after the bible ceased to be written?

    Could the horror of the divinely commanded slaughters described in the Christian Bible be reasonably explained if the Yahweh god was not, in fact, supremely moral or infinitely benevolent but simply “jealous”, “terrible” and “fearful” as he describes himself to the earliest biblical writers? Would this view of “righteousness by fiat” change how you consider your god?

  • john

    1. It’s so hard to dismiss arguments than defend the indefensible? so suppose:
    2. My moral position assumes that it’s permissible to kill when survival is in the balance.
    3. Imagine a fleet of aliens arrive on earth. They have left a dying planet and their resources have gone critical.
    4. In their wisdom they pull the switch on the earth’s atmosphere thereby assuring their survival and our extinction.
    5. Alternatively we are the space travellers, and we face a symmetric choice on a distant life form. Would we do it?
    6. From a moral perspective it would be nobler to concede the price of survival is damagingly excessive, that we would be changed far too much to accept the price of survival. or not?
    7. one conclusion: the essence of genocide is the othering of the target, and its them or us.

    Plot for a scifi movie perhaps? (would not be surprised it’s been done already)

  • Another Rosemary

    Comment #59 by: stag “BTW all, have you seen Sam Harris’s embarrassment against William Lane Craig? If that is atheist “rationality”…:-)!!!
    (Not that I think Craig is immune to critique himself. But at least he knows how logic works.)”

    I’ll bet you are regretting that unfortunate comment now that Craig’s horrific justification of divine genocide has been publicized.

  • Dave

    What if, instead of “God ordered the Hebrews to kill the Canaanites”, we read it as “God ordered the Hebrews to teleport the Canaanites from the desert to a land of eternal happiness where everyone gets a pony”?

    The only problem with that logic is that christians believe that anyone who is not a christian will go directly to hell, do not collect a pony, and suffer horrible torment for all eternity.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    Fair point, Dave, though it’s arguably in reference to the Canaanite children.


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