Is God a God of Peace or a God of War? [Questions That Haunt]

This week’s Questions That Haunt Christianity continues a recent theme in the series about the very nature of God. It’s from Shira, who asks,

My question is this: How do Christian theologians deal with the fact that God is portrayed sometimes as a “man of war” who approves genocide and taking of women as war prizes, among other atrocities and sometimes as the “righteous judge” standing up for widows, orphans, and the strangers among us? I consider this a vital question because it seems to me that many people gravitate to one or the other of these ideas of God, and the actions in the world of these different groups are very distinct! I don’t know if you require a background, but I’m a Buddhist of Jewish background.

Please respond to Shira in the comment section below, and I’ll respond on Friday.

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  • Craig

    He’s a God of peace when peace is made on his own arbitrary terms. Otherwise, he’s a God of threats, retribution, slaughter, torture and war. All this business about unconditional love is highly exaggerated. The last book of the Bible says he’ll soon set the record straight.

    • I’m guessing you are NOT a believer?

      To me, a “God of threats, retribution, slaughter, torture and war” is not worthy of worship. If I believed in such a being, I feel I’d be duty bound to do everything in my power to oppose his plans. And I do feel a certain obligation even as a non-believer to prevent belief in such a god from causing harm.

      • Wait… I’ve talked to you before, right?

      • Frank

        What would be worthless is to simply worship a god we created because it makes us comfortable.

        • I have no quarrel with that.

      • Craig

        Shira, I don’t recall talking before, but it’s likely. And I like your observations. Theists almost universally assume that whatever God is, God is worthy of worship. This is a puzzling and highly problematic axiom. The difficult of duly defending this assumption is obvious–even if we grant to Christians the record of their own scriptures. So if theists came to their beliefs about God on the basis of any kind of evidence, you would expect that many more of them would believe in a god who is, in their own estimation, unworthy of worship, or at least in a god whose worship-meriting status is somewhat questionable. But there are hardly any such theists. That is puzzling. It’s a data point in need of explanation.

        • Evelyn

          Right. Usually theists choose to believe in God, call God good, and call evil “mysterious” or say that God should be feared or else he will smite us. We can’t say that God does the smiting himself without calling ourselves crazy and we don’t say that God does the smiting through other people because we call other people who smite us “evil” sinners and blame them instead of God. So God has no smiting mechanism that I can think of besides natural disasters but that kind of smiting seems arbitrary. Regardless, anyone who considers that God might be evil, based on the evidence we see around us daily, usually feels the need to become an atheist, agnostic, or leave the church.

          • I’m certainly in no position to answer, but I will say that ceasing to believe that everything that happened Meant Something was extremely liberating for me.

        • By “evidence” here, you mean the Bible?

          • Craig

            I’m including the Bible and anything else you can think of adding. What evidence does anyone have to support the axiom that whatever God is, God is worthy of worship? Putative evidence can undoubtedly be offered, but it’s not going to anything close to decisive. It’s not going to explain the near universal acceptance of the assumption, among theists, that God is worthy of worship.

          • Sorry this thread is tangled, but your response didn’t have a reply tab.

            You wrote that ” if theists came to their beliefs about God on the basis of any kind of evidence, you would expect that many more of them would believe in a god who is, in their own estimation, unworthy of worship”, so that is the source of my confusion. Presumably, theists could have evidence from personal experience of a god who IS worthy of worship — and I think many people feel they do have such evidence.

          • Craig

            I agree: they could have such evidence, and many people presumably feel that they do have such evidence. But let them articulate what this supposed evidence actually amounts to. Let us consider it critically. I’m suggesting this: invariably, we discover that such evidence is far from decisive. Whatever it is that they claim to have personally experienced can typically be explained in ways that do not conclusively support the conclusion that God is worthy of worship.

            Perhaps this way would be a better way to put my point: ”if theists came to their beliefs about God strictly on the basis of the available evidence, you would not expect their near universal adherence to the idea that God is worthy of worship.”

          • Evelyn

            I don’t think anyone can have evidence that God is worthy of worship from personal or scriptural experience without omitting certain experiences as they see fit. Worship implies awe-inspired reverence. There is no questioning of God or self in worship. We can be thankful for our blessings but that is not worship. Worship implies that we KNOW God and because we don’t really know God, any kind of worship is idolatrous.

          • Sorry again — the reply tabs are pooched.

            I think Evelyn’s evidence is completely reasonable, on an individual basis. The argument that this evidence can be explained in other ways isn’t particularly relevant. If I underwent brain surgery and a neurologist poked my brain so that I had an experience of seeing a blue sky, it would not mean that blue skies do not exist!

            However, when believers band together around a particular text, then it seems to me they take on obligations as individuals and as a group not to act immorally and excuse it by reference to the text. And if they fail in that obligation, then they owe reparations to those they harm. They also owe respect and reasonable tolerance to those who are NOT part of their group.

          • Craig

            Shira, my point is not about reasonableness per se; nor am I attempting to demonstrate that God is not worthy of worship. The point is rather this: there is a sociological fact that theists nearly universally suppose that God is worthy of worship and this near universality wouldn’t be expected simply from the available evidence about God.

      • Evelyn

        Why would you feel duty bound to oppose the plans of a “God of threats, retribution, slaughter, torture and war”? By what authority do you feel you have this “duty”?

        • By the authority of common human morality and virtues such as compassion and fairness. For the same reason that good people would oppose human tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot or Torquemada. If we should oppose humans who abuse finite power, how much more should we oppose a god who abuses infinite power?

          • Evelyn

            Wow, Shira. It’s amazing that you are capable of understanding the virtues of compassion and fairness on your own. Most Christians feel that there is a source of virtue outside of themselves because there is something wrong with them and they can’t fathom that compassion and fairness might be good things on their own.

          • Good answer Shira. I have been extremely disappointed in Tony’s answers to these questions, but they seem to have attracted some thoughtful commenters, so overall the series has been valuable. I just hope your keyboard doesn’t catch fire because you are typing so fast.

          • Craig

            Evelyn, whatever it takes to realize that genocidal maniacs ought to be opposed, I doubt it requires moral genius.

          • Craig, I’ve had people, on this blog and others, defend the actions of people who support death penalties for homosexuals and other forms of violent retribution, based on nothing but a handful of OT passages. There are a lot of non-geniuses out there. And they vote.

          • Ah, but neither Jews nor Buddhists hold that particular belief, Evelyn. Jews regard what I’m talking about as simply “derech eretz” — the (ordinary) way of the earth, what everyone should be expected to do. And the Buddha based his entire teaching on the simple understanding that each of us, at every moment, can choose the path of enlightenment. I don’t think there is anything “amazing” in these virtues. I do feel that Buddhism has taught me to apply them rather more rigorously than I had learned to do before.

  • That is the question, Shira! The Bible (and life!) is always a matter of interpretation – Jews have always known this. They have a long tradition of midrash. For follower of Jesus, the key for biblical interpretation should be the scene from the Road to Emmaus, where the risen Jesus “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all of scripture” (Luke 24). We need the risen Jesus to interpret the Bible for us. In other words, we need to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus our rabbi. The risen Jesus has no desire for violence or revenge. He is the Risen and Forgiving Victim of human violence who offers peace to those who betrayed him and asks them to spread this Good News about God to the ends of the world. The stories in the Bible about a violent god are true in the anthropological sense that humans project our violence onto God. This violent god is the god of our own propensity for violence, and this god is critiqued throughout scripture – Hosea 6:6, for example. But the culmination of that critique is in the resurrected Jesus, who reveals that God has nothing to do with violence, but that “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

    • OK, I absolutely take your point about the need for interpretation (though the official line is that the Midrash is part of the Oral Torah, which is as old and authoritative as the Written Torah.) But here’s the problem. Largely because the ish milchama imagery exists in the Bible, both the Jewish People and the Church have engaged in acts of religious oppression, ethnic cleansing, horrific punishments of thought crimes, etc. I would even argue that these passages have had a bad effect in Islam as well, though I’m not well enough informed about Islam to be sure I’m right. Even as we speak, Christians in Uganda are about to pass a law allowing the state to kill homosexuals, and that law is based on Scripture.

      So how do you regard this historical evidence? Is it simply a failure of our tools of interpretation?

      The one answer I will not accept in this regard is that people are sinful and so we should expect this kind of behavior. Every religion has saints and sinners, but I think it is particularly characteristic of the three Abrahamic traditions that the greatest devotees are saints and terrorists.

      • Yes, Christians continue to use violence and justify that violence through sacred texts, but that violence and sacred justification is critiqued, not justified, by the God revealed though Jesus. And Jesus found that critique from a strand within his tradition that claims God wants mercy, not sacrifice.

        But you are very, very good. I wish Tony luck on Friday!

        • Adam, please enlarge on the ways in which it is critiqued?

          • Well, love your enemies. Those who live by the sword die by the sword. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do – a very anthropological statement. When humans get caught up in the frenzy of violence, we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re caught up in a violent spirit that is nearly impossible to get out of. Violence makes us blind to the humanity of the other, and to our own true humanity. Jesus never responds with physical violence. His followers want to call down fire from heaven to destroy towns, and Jesus says no. Just shake the dust off your feet and move on. He responds to human violence with forgiveness on the cross. He stops the cycle of violence. So, when his followers respond to violence with violence in the name of Jesus, it is a false Jesus/God, a Jesus/God of their own making and violence. It’s an idol, not the true Jesus.

          • What’s missing is the critique since then. Augustine created the rules for a just war and Aquinas expanded on them. Constantinople and the Spanish Inquisition abused it. We treat those atrocities like they are OT events, but they used NT theology.

  • Pax

    I have heard apologists tackle this question by pointing out that the laws about taking women prisoners and so on were actually limitations on much worse practices common in the tribal cultures of the time. The idea is that God slowly formed the Jews toward greater goodness by allowing less and less bad over time. Perhaps if He had been too quick in His teaching of morality, they would have rejected it or been annihilated by others. I haven’t personally done a deep historical investigation of the cultures in question, but it sounds plausible to me. I think you ought to read those hard passages of scripture in the context of the audience they were intended for. They didn’t have the benefit of our modern sensibilities.

    And, there’s always the idea if people suffer unjustly, then God can make it up to them in the afterlife.

    • OK, in fact in my twenties I went to Spertus College of Judaica, learned Hebrew and a smidge of Aramaic, and studied Bible and Talmud. The reason I did that was that I was sure I’d discover that all the “good” parts of the Bible were original and all the “bad” parts were borrowed from other cultures.

      In fact, I discovered that the Bible is not an outstanding moral document, considered in the context of ancient Near Eastern texts. In some regards, it’s worse than most of the cultures around.

      As for the afterlife, that’s not a particularly convincing argument for Jews. And the Buddha warned specifically against teachers who tried to pass of morally dubious teachings by saying that things will be redressed in the afterlife (in the Kalama Sutta). So I’m afraid that argument doesn’t work for me at all.

      • So, you studied the scriptures and found that they did not match the presumptions that you had picked up from the culture that you raised you? I guess you didn’t know that you were supposed go back and re-interpret everything to fit your preconceived notions, not look to the larger culture and develop a modern worldview. Well, I’m sure it’s not too late for you to return to the fold. (that was sarcasm, FYI)

        • Funny thing about the basics of human morality — they are essentially the same across cultures.

          But let us take your argument that the Bible should be understood in its context. Why, then, are these passages still treated as holy writ by both Jews and Christians? Why, for instance, do you resort to sarcasm when these passages are challenged? Do you have the same reaction if I speak ill of the morality of the Roman Empire?

          I’m really sorry to have caused you distress, but here’s the thing. Believers do NOT treat these passages as accounts of a particular time and cultural milieu. If you did, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about them at all, probably.

          • Phil Miller

            I’m pretty sure your question didn’t offend Lausten… 🙂

            You keep on using the term “believers” as if all Christians throughout history have used these passages in the same way. That’s simply not true. There are many Christians who have decided that it’s better to be killed rather than to kill or engage in violence. Do some research into the Anabaptist tradition, for instance.

            Lumping all Christians together is not any better than someone saying that all Muslims are terrorists.

          • I take your point about believers being varied, and I have great regard for the traditions you mention. I also went back and checked my use of the term “believers” and I did not say what you said I said. Just sayin’. The only place where I “lumped” was in saying that believers treat these passages as holy writ, and I stand by that. Other than Thomas Jefferson, I can’t think of any Christians who have decided that some parts of the Hebrew Bible are dangerous.

          • It was supposed to be a funny way of complementing you for studying the wisdom of the ages and coming to your own conclusions.

          • Uh… ok. Sorry I missed the joke.

      • Pax


        I’m definitely open to the idea that the explanation I gave is not correct. I will need to do some reading on the history of these cultures as you have done. Can you recommend anything?

        However, I should also point out that I don’t intend to prove my understanding of God from the Old Testament alone. On its own, I don’t find it very compelling. I speculate how the hard passages can be interpreted in a way that is compatible with God as revealed through Christ because the central claims of Christianity are what I find compelling. The idea of God sharpening a blunt instrument seems reasonable to me, and I don’t think the existence of other sharper instruments necessarily disproves that explanation. I grant that that’s not particularly convincing to others who can’t jump into the middle of my inference chain. This would definitely be a good question to pose to believing Jews. Perhaps Tony knows some with answers to this.

        • Tony would be a better source than I for information about the ancient Near East. For one thing, I’m pretty sure some of the stuff I learn has been superceded by now. I mean, when I was studying this stuff, the literature of Ugarit was shiny-new and translation was a long way from being complete. But also, I don’t remember anymore what books we used. I know we read the Code of Hammurabi and another very old code, as well as portions of Gilgamesh, and I can vaguely recall the cover of one of the books. Sorry. I didn’t tell the story of my college days to make myself out to be an expert on the ancient Near East, btw, but only to explain why I’m not satisfied with the idea that Israel was better than its neighbors and on an upward moral track.

          Your idea that “other sharp instruments” exist is interesting, but to keep it you’d have to give up on the idea that all the nearby peoples were worshipping false gods. Or at least I can’t think of a way around that problem while remaining withing the Biblical framework.

          • Pax

            I think it’s completely compatible with Christianity (and probably Judaism) to admit that there are moral laws that can be arrived at by reason alone, and all humans have access to that. St. Thomas Aquinas certainly thought so. He was influenced greatly by (and highly respected) Aristotle.

          • Pax — It’s true that Christians did a lot better job of dealing with the classical philosophers than Jews did. Jews would probably call Aquinas an apikoros, lol.

            So, now I have to ask whether you feel the reason God came to the Jews is because they were somewhat deficient in reason compared to their neighbors and required extra tutelage? Or another, less puckish, way of putting it: what, in your view, is the “value added” (morally speaking) by having divine inspiration in addition to reason?

          • You might want to look up Maimonides. He came before Aquinas is much better known and well respected today among the Jews than is Aquinas among the Christians.

          • Pax


            I haven’t thought about it enough to speculate why God chose the Jews. I’m sure He could have gotten the job done in many other ways, but I’m not sure it matters which way He actually chose to go with.

            As for “value added” in revelation, I don’t think that teaching morality is the only purpose in revelation. There might be some aspects of morality that we need it for. Or, maybe it’s just to help us understand the moral law written on our hearts. I’ll take all the help I can get. There are all kinds of things that I know I should do – things that would be good for me – but I find it’s easier to put into practice when there are external motivators like reminders, encouragement, rules, laws, etc. It would be great if I didn’t need those things, but I’m imperfect.

          • Lausten, yes, I’m aware of Maimonides, though (pre-scientific) philosophy was never my interest so I haven’t read him. However, your message got a tad garbled. Are you saying that Jews are more aware of Aquinas than Christians? Because that is not my experience (though again… not that into Jewish philosophy.)

          • Pax, ok, but here’s the thing. EVERY group creates “reminders, encouragement, rules, laws, etc.” That particular aspect of morality has nothing at all to do with revelation / inspiration or whatever you’d like to call it. So I’ll go back and (gently I hope!) nudge you to answer the question. If morality can be deduced or intuited, then what is the value-added of revelation?

          • Shira, you said, “It’s true that Christians did a lot better job of dealing with the classical philosophers than Jews did.” But Aquinas drew from Maimonides and Averroes, so IMO, Christians were late to the party. Since then, Jews have continued the philosophical discussions of Maimonides while most Christians barely know who Aquinas is. The contributions of Islamic philosophers from the early Middle Ages has almost been lost to history.

          • OK, as mentioned, I’m blissfully ignorant of philosophy. However, it seems to me that Maimonides profited by location as much as anything. I never forget the debt Jews — and particularly, Jewish scholarship — owes to the Islamic empire. And yes, I do think that the contributions of Islam, not only in philosophy, have been shamefully neglected. I’m not too familiar with Jews who “have continued the philosophical discussions of Maimonides” — the Jews I know who are religious don’t really concern themselves with philosophy. However, based only on what I see on the web, Catholics are pretty darn busy discussing Aquinas and the other scholastics. But I will admit I don’t know much about this, sorry.

          • Pax


            The preponderance of moral dilemmas should be pretty good evidence that we can’t perfectly intuit or deduce the answers to all moral questions. Revelation is one source of moral truth. The value is in that it’s one more thing that can help us. I don’t see why you’d want to throw out any source of truth.

          • Pax, I take your point. However, I really cannot see evidence that revelation has improved (to any great extent) the moral behavior of those who claim it, as compared to those who do not. I don’t hold the commonly-expressed atheist position that religion makes people more immoral than they would otherwise be. But if you pick the religions that seem to actually promote moral ingroup behavior without also promoting tribalistic violence… well, as I read history, the Abrahamic religions don’t end up at the top of that list.

  • Phil Miller

    The simple answer is Christians don’t worship the God of the Old Testament. We worship Jesus. That is to say that Jesus is the complete and comprehensive revelation of God to humanity, and that revelation goes beyond and even correct the Old Testament record.

    As far as why God is described as ordering mass slaughter in the OT, there are several paths one could go down. We could say that these accounts were written after the fact as a way for Israel to justify and explain its existence. Or we could say that in order to save Israel God was willing to take drastic measures, working with the fallen people He had. Or perhaps there was actual spiritual warfare at work. Genesis makes it a point to tell us that the Nephilim, the mysterious demon/human hybrid people weren’t wiped out in the flood. So they and their offspring resided in Canaan and God used the Israelite to finish the job.

    • I would find your argument a great deal more convincing if Christians had not, for the past thousand years or more, made use of the worst passages in the Hebrew Bible whenever they wanted to kill people. (I sometimes say that, for Christians, the Hebrew Bible is like your grandpa’s old toolbox you’ve stashed in the garage… just in case you ever need a hammer to bash in a few heads.)

      I was going to pass over the reference to demons as unscientific… except that your speculation is a perfect illustration of the exact kind of harm that “God of war” passages do. When you begin characterizing your enemies as demonic you have become the acolyte of exactly the kind of god who is unworthy of worship.

      • Phil Miller

        You asked how Christian theologians deal with these passages, and I gave you a few answers. Certainly these sorts of things have been wrongly interpreted and used to justify all sorts of atrocities throughout history. I’m not defending those actions at all.

        As far as the demonic thing, the theologians who go this route actually are making a point that is almost opposite what you’re taking away from it. God told the Israelites to slaughter these groups because they were demonic, and that was the only way such things could be justified. In other words, such violence was a once and done sort of thing, not something that was to be emulated in the future. So in that sense, some see these passages as God’s way ultimately limiting violence in the name of religion.

        • Except, Phil, you know that there are lots of people who still believe that God talks straight to them and tells them that there are more people in need of a little wrath. It’s not that people are emulating past actions by Moses, it’s that they are emulating the idea of using the name or word of God to justify their actions. It doesn’t matter what god or what explanation, killing innocents is wrong. When God says, “sorry, I sent the wrong message 3,000 years ago, I didn’t mean it, it won’t happen again, please start loving each other unconditionally”, then I’ll listen.

        • Well, I don’t know your background, Phil. If you are answering for theologians, but you don’t agree with the answers you gave, then a) I probably worded my original question badly, and maybe I should have written “thinking, educated believers” and b) I think we should let theologians speak for themselves.

          But if you do personally stand behind your answers, then please explain whether you think those passages are dangerous, whether they cause harm in the world and what should be done about that.

          • Phil Miller

            OK, now we’re getting somewhere…

            I suppose one could call those passages “dangerous”, but then again there are many documents that one could call dangerous. I guess I look at the Bible as something analogous to a family history. I think the Pentateuch probably started out a collection of oral histories from the small group of desert nomads who came to call themselves the Jews. I think the evidence points shows that these were collected and redacted sometime during the Babylonian exile. No I do believe that these are more than just stories, and that God inspired them in some sense. But I don’t believe that means that they simply have to taken as literal truth, whatever that means. I believe God was working through this group of people to eventually bring a clearer revelation of Himself, that ultimately was Jesus Christ.

            So God called a group of people to be in covenant with. Because of this, these people assumed that being chosen meant that they were chosen at the expense of all other groups. But in reality, God actually chose these people not because they were more special or better than anyone else. He chose them, though, to be a blessing to everyone else. Unfortunately, though, they misunderstood this, perpetuated abuse in the name of being chosen, and ultimately were lead into exile because of it. They lived by the sword and died by the sword. And even during this time, they chose to ignore prophets God sent them. They refused to give up their scapegoating ways.

            To end this circle of violence and futility, Jesus comes into the world as the final, ultimate revelation of what God is actually like. By taking upon himself the role of the scapegoat, or the one who absorbs humanity’s violence and sin, He breaks the power of it.

            That’s essentially my understanding. I don’t think Christians need to pretend the violent passages don’t exist. But I we need to not baptize them either.

          • Again, not sure where this will appear due to weird reply tabs…

            OK, I can appreciate your argument, but here’s the thing. It’s hard to argue that Christians have done better than Jews did in breaking the power of violence. If anything, the Church has tended to give the same violent impulses a world-wide stage to play out. In particular, actions like conversion at sword-point, torture and murder of “heretics” and wars of believer against believer have figured more prominently in Christian history than in that of any other religion. This curse of zealotry, I think, stretches from the earliest portions of the Bible right up to the religiously-motivated terrorists of our time.

            So (and I do not mean this in a snarky way, please take it as an honest question), how has Jesus broken the power of this particular kind of sin?

          • Phil Miller

            So (and I do not mean this in a snarky way, please take it as an honest question), how has Jesus broken the power of this particular kind of sin?

            That kind of gets back to the “broad is the gate that leads to destruction, and narrow is the way that leads to life” thing, huh? I’d say that the way of Jesus is still something that requires us to die to ourselves and our desires, and it goes against our human tendencies to fight for ourselves, to defend ourselves, and to think only of ourselves and our tribe. When I think of the “gate that leads to destruction” in that verse, I don’t think Jesus was referring to people being sent to hell. I think He was referring to people choosing things that will eventually lead to self-destruction either on a persona or societal level (or both).

            I think we can see glimpses of the Kingdom in places. I think of the civil rights movement in the US or other non-violent resistance movements. On a smaller scale I think of the Amish community near where my wife grew up in Pennsylvania that actively forgave the shooter who massacred children in a schoolhouse. All I can do is cling to the hope that the Spirit in the acts will eventually spread throughout the earth. I think it also means that I have to admit that I have failed, and that I am part of the problem, too. It takes all us crying out to God to forgive us and give us grace to move on.

          • OK, I think we agree at an emotional level — that is, we admire the same people. It is (in my view) spiritually appropriate to admire and emulate people who put the best in our tradition into practice. (And even people of other traditions who put the best of our shared humanity into practice.)

            But here is the problem, and I think it is a real and serious problem. If we do not confront the evil done by members of our own group, in the name of our own group, we cannot claim to be guiltless for their actions. That is the downside of joining together in groups — we become responsible not only for our own actions, but for the corporate actions of our group.

            What is your view of that statement?

          • Phil Miller

            I’d say that statement is generally true. Corporate guilt and sin is as real of a concept as personal guilt and sin. And human relationships and history being what they are, none of can really claim to be guiltless. Even if we ourselves haven’t killed someone in war, we all benefit because others have at some point or another.

          • Phil Miller

            By the way, Shira, I’d say as a Christian that you’ve actually ended up restating Paul’s conclusions in the Book of Romans. We’ve all sinned and fallen of the glory of God – even those who supposedly represent Him. So we’re all in this thing together, and without Christ, we’re hopeless.

          • So Phil, don’t you feel that your own line of reasoning is falling apart? You first said Jesus was a final ultimate revelation, then you cite recent movements as glimpses of the Kingdom. What you are describing is people thinking for themselves, with help from the wisdom of their ancestors. I agree, the Bible has a lot of stories of how people lead themselves to self-destruction, and we can learn from them. A lot of non-Biblical stories do to. And the opposite is true, lots of Biblical and non-Biblical stories about how the “narrow path”. So what is the point of hanging your hopes on the “Spirit”, which you capitalize, so I assume you mean part of the Trinity, one symbol of goodness and peace out of many?

          • So, then, this is my question. If passages on genocide and the like are a sort of original sin that continually churns up violence in some Jews and Christians, what, if anything, do you feel you should do about that? That is exactly the question I am trying to get to in this forum, so I hope you will respond.

          • You wrote:
            By the way, Shira, I’d say as a Christian that you’ve actually ended up restating Paul’s conclusions in the Book of Romans. We’ve all sinned and fallen of the glory of God – even those who supposedly represent Him. So we’re all in this thing together, and without Christ, we’re hopeless.
            Well, I’ve never before heard this quoted in reference to “corporate guilt”, so to speak. And of course, I can’t really agree with your final statement, both due to personal experience and an examination of history, but still. He is describing an important facet of the human dilemma.

          • Phil Miller

            So Phil, don’t you feel that your own line of reasoning is falling apart? You first said Jesus was a final ultimate revelation, then you cite recent movements as glimpses of the Kingdom. What you are describing is people thinking for themselves, with help from the wisdom of their ancestors.

            Not sure I get what you’re saying here, Lausten. I don’t see many people in the world choosing the path of non-violence through reason alone. And as far as the “wisdom of their ancestors”, I suppose that plays into it, but ultimately I’d credit the source to all wisdom as God, even wisdom that exists in non-Christian religions or other philosophies. I don’t believe there’s a real division between secular and religious knowledge.

          • Phil Miller

            If passages on genocide and the like are a sort of original sin that continually churns up violence in some Jews and Christians, what, if anything, do you feel you should do about that?

            Well, first off, I don’t know how much I agree with your assumption that these passages continually stir up violence. Certainly there are some Christians and some Jews who would use such things to justify acts of violence, but I don’t know how prevalent it is. But if we do see someone misusing Scripture, the only thing we can do is condemn those actions and speak out as to why we think they’re wrong.

          • You wrote:
            “Well, first off, I don’t know how much I agree with your assumption that these passages continually stir up violence.”

            ———————————– (there must be html to quote, but I don’t know it…)

            Let’s see. We could talk about the “kill the gays” law about to be passed in Uganda, and the support it has in some American evangelical circles. We could talk about the Nigerian children cast out as witches on the say-so of certain pastors. We could bring up he harassment and occasional killing of LGBT people and abortion doctors here in this country.

            But let’s just go to the 800-pound gorrilla in the room and point to the living conditions and the continual, senseless killings of Palestinians who had the misfortune to be in the way when Jews and Christians decided to re-enact their understanding of the Bible. It’s as if we are watching the book of Judges in our own time, except that the ramifications have played out on a world stage.

            I think if the prophets returned today they would be on the side of the Palestinians. Yet most of the people standing against that violence are secularists. That, my friend, points to a profound spiritual failure.

          • Phil Miller

            So what do you think the percentage of Christian who actually perpetrate or justify these things you mention is? I’m genuinely interested. Because I know quite a few Christians, and I’ve got to say that apart from the whole support for Israel thing I don’t see any of them actually justifying violence in the way you’re talking about. Even with the Israeli/Palestinian thing, I’d say that situation is changing. There is a very vocal group of evangelicals who will support Israel unconditionally, but from my perspective it seems that group is getting smaller all the time.

            It just seems to me that asking these questions of the typical Christian who posts on Tony Jones’ blog is kind of odd. Apart from a few exceptions, I would venture to guess that very few people who comment here are fundamentalists. But yet your question seems to assume that the only way Christians can read the Bible is the way a fundamentalist does.

          • Phil;
            If you don’t see a difference between secular and religious “knowledge” and don’t see how scripture stirs up violence, there is a pretty huge gap between our worldviews, and it will be difficult to bridge it.

          • Phil Miller

            Well, my statement is really just another way of paraphrasing Augustine’s concept of “all truth is God’s truth”. I’m not saying that one could learn about, say, calculus or physics by reading the Bible, but rather the truth that is found in those things ultimately is true because God made it so. In other words, if we find something that’s true the source of that truth is God. No religion or group has a monopoly on the truth.

          • Still a huge gap Phil. The closest I can agree with you is that disciplines including religion, philosophy, psychology, historiography, even politics are attempts to define, express and understand the human condition. When done well, they tend to agree. Claiming that somehow all of that comes from God is strictly a religious statement. Adding math into the mix is just silly. No religion has ever contributed to that discipline.

            You say that no group has a monopoly, but then you claim that God does, and you imply that you have some sort of path to that God, thus doing an end-around on all the other disciplines to make your truth claims. Knowing that you are going to do that makes beginning a discussion rather pointless.

          • Phil Miller

            Yeah, sure Lausten, I’m sure there will always be a gap. You’re an atheist, and I’m a Christian. That being what it is, we view the world in different ways. I don’t really see a way around that. At least both of us can acknowledge where the other is coming from.

          • Phil, I’m afraid it isn’t an issue of percentages. To return to the analogy of the gun, if a toddler gets the gun and shoots his brother, it isn’t enough to say, “*I* didn’t shoot that gun!” And it isn’t enough to say, “Well, MOST toddlers don’t shoot their brothers if guns are left lying around.”

            You may think that this is a harsh analogy, but I think that “trigger guards” have been part of Biblical interpretation (not even to mention other religious traditions) for a long time. Jews, for instance, read with commentary and in community. Catholics have institutional safeguards which I’m not qualified to talk about, really, never having been a Catholic or studied Catholicism with any rigor.

            Now, Protestants removed that kind of trigger guards by saying that any believer (that word again!) can read and interpret the Bible.

            Eventually, Protestants provided another kind of trigger guard by championing the idea of separation of church and state. (Of course, the moral toddlers of the world would like to remove that trigger guard and make the world safe for zealotry.)

            This is a danger I think the three great Biblical traditions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — should all recognize and work on. The truth is that there has been a tendency in all three traditions to leave some slackness in the trigger guard, for whatever reason.

          • Phil Miller

            Shira, I guess I kind of get what you’re saying, but I really don’t know how Christians, Jews, or Muslims are ever going to completely remove the possibility of someone reading(or probably more accurately, misreading) a sacred text and using that to justify evil actions. We can do our best to educate people, but as with anything that only goes so far.

            Personally, I’m still a Protestant because I believe that interpretive power is far less dangerous when it’s in the hands of many versus having it centralized in the hands of a few very powerful people. I think history testifies to that fact. Certainly there will always be messiness involved, but I think that will be the case with any human endeavor.

          • “but I really don’t know how Christians, Jews, or Muslims are ever going to completely remove the possibility of someone reading misreading…”

            Of course you don’t, because you think it is okay to say things like “all knowledge comes from God”. Until people stop saying things like that and instead say, “I don’t care what your scripture says, killing is wrong” we are leaving the door open to irrational thinking.

            If you want to justify killing, you need to use some other form of reasoning and logic other than your scripture or that you prayed about it or what some guy said 1,700 years ago. As long as you are saying that you respect someone’s opinion based solely on scripture, you are leaving the loaded gun lying around.

          • Phil, well, perfection is unattainable, of course. But that doesn’t excuse us (I’m not trying to pick on Christians or Jews or theists here) from looking diligently for ways to prevent harm. I wonder (this just occurred to me, lol) why “first do no harm” is not the first commandment of every religion?

            Anyway, I’m not going to foist on you my ideas for preventing harm from Biblical passages or other elements of religion. But I will say this: I think it is incumbent on every member of a religious group to feel as if harm done by other members of that group is, to some extent, his or her responsibility. Not because he or she is to blame, but because we owe it to the world to clean up after other members of our religious family.

          • Phil Miller

            But I will say this: I think it is incumbent on every member of a religious group to feel as if harm done by other members of that group is, to some extent, his or her responsibility. Not because he or she is to blame, but because we owe it to the world to clean up after other members of our religious family.

            I agree completely with this. The only thing I want to be careful is lumping all adherents of a religion into one boat, because that sort of thing can actually perpetuate the whole cycle of violence. It can be a fine line between wanting someone to be responsible and assigning blame.

          • Agreed, and I am generally careful to make the distinction.

          • Btw, Phil, a thought occurred to me this morning — or more specifically, a memory. A couple of years ago, I got attacked by a Christian (fundamental, evangelical… I’m not clear on the distinctions, but an aggressive proselytizer) brandishing some verse from the Epistles about women who learn too much. By sheer habit, I went to look up the verse and found that the verse after that one also accused these women of various kinds of sexual misconduct. I still don’t know if this fellow meant to level both these accusations at me or if he just grabbed a verse without any concern for its context. The attack roused a lot of strong emotions for me, and took awhile for me to process.

            Now, this variety of prooftext attack strikes me as sort of the opposite of a trigger guard. It’s more like retooling the trigger so it’s much easier to pull (to further muck up my by now very tired analogy).

            Understand, I’m not unfamiliar with prooftexts. Jews are, bar none, the champion prooftexters in the universe. But I had never before seen the technique used as part of a personal and (based on this fellow’s entire history of discourse) rather vicious attack.

            I also, while following up on a link by someone else in this current discussion, was reminded of the recent revival of the practice of imprecatory prayer, such as the one making the rounds about Obama’s children being made orphans and beggars. Again, this strikes me as a very large step in the direction of theologized hate.

            It seems to me that these are primarily manifestations of (a certain style of?) Protestantism. And I wonder what your response to these practices is.

        • Phil Miller

          It seems to me that these are primarily manifestations of (a certain style of?) Protestantism. And I wonder what your response to these practices is.

          My response to them? My response is that I feel such things are idiotic, based in ignorance, and off-base. But beyond that I don’t feel the need to spend a great deal of time and energy wringing my hands over them. I heard someone liken certain theologians to a person with a fly swatter in the deep South in the middle of summer. At some point, it’s of no use to try swat more and more flies in a room. You realize that for everyone you kill, two more will come to take their place. What needs to be done is the harder work of addressing the source of the issues. And that often requires creative work, not simply reactive defensiveness.

          So I guess I feel that it isn’t worth a whole lot of time worrying about people who have poor theology. The fact is that the vast majority of Christians with bad theology aren’t going to act out in violence because of it. If that were the case, I think we’d see much more religious violence in the US than we do. But all in all, we don’t really see that much. We have plenty of blowhards and hotheads, that’s for sure. But even then, I feel that when it comes down to it, these people are probably reacting out of fear more than anything. In order to overcome fear, we have to craft a theology in which love is the priority, and we have to outflank these other fear-based theologies.

          • You might be less sanguine about religious violence if you were the parent of a lesbian, as I am. I know folks who’ve been gay-bashed, and there’s usually some expression of religious disgust.

            That said, I agree with you about the fear-based theologies (though I’m not sure if theology is the right word.) It seems to me that religious violence generally germinates from religious fear. Both Judaism and Christianity have a long, bad history of using fear to control people, and especially children — whether it’s the fear of anti-Semitic persecution that keeps Jews from talking to Palestinians or the fear of hell that (according to Frank Schaeffer) gave rise to the politicized Evangelical movement. Anger, I think, comes from the fact that the fears get stoked and stoked, so that one cannot conquer the fear. Being angry feels SO much better than being afraid!

  • Lausten: I DO type fast on my flameproof keyboard (lol), but the truth is, I’ve been thinking about these issues for more than forty years.

  • Crain — It seems natural to me that if people have evidence (and I think personal, experiential evidence is the primary kind here) of something they would be willing to call God, they are going to worship it. People who have evidence of a being they do not consider worthy of worship generally don’t call that being God — they call it a demon, or the CIA or something.

    Granted, this is based on a culture where the word God has certain conventional connotations, but I think this “experience of God” goes a very long way back in human history.

    • Craig

      It seems natural to me that if people have evidence (and I think personal, experiential evidence is the primary kind here) of something they would be willing to call God, they are going to worship it.

      Shira, I don’t doubt that it is natural. Wishful thinking and a lot of dubious sentiments may be entirely natural. The very tendency to worship that which one calls God simply reflects the widespread assumption in question: that God is worthy of worship.

      • Having been a theist, and knowing, as I do, many admirable theists, I’m not at all willing to attribute theistic religion to wishful thinking and dubious semantics. Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure what you’re getting at, I’m afraid. I mean, I have my own views based on Buddhist psychology, but I don’t want to make assumptions about YOUR views, if you see what I mean.

        • Craig

          Shira, an analogy might help. Nearly everyone assumes that the future will resemble the past. A little thought, however, reveals that this is a remarkably difficult assumption to defend on the basis of evidence. Does this mean that the assumption is false? No. Does it mean that it is unreasonable? Not necessarily. It does, however, mean that we have an interesting puzzle (it’s a classic puzzle of philosophy associated with David Hume and the “problem of induction”). Why do we subscribe to this assumption?

          Similarly, nearly every theist believes that God is worthy of worship. A little inquiry reveals that this is a remarkably difficult assumption to defend on the basis of the available evidence. The widespread and near universal acceptance of this assumption among theists outstrips anything we might predict if theists’ beliefs about God were simply based upon the available evidence. So, if it’s not just due to the available evidence, what explains the widespread and near universal acceptance of this assumption among theists? That’s the puzzle.

          It might help to keep this puzzle in mind as we hear theists attempt to answer the question you’ve raised. They are, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, committed to the idea that God is worthy of worship–and to all that this idea entails. However, absent a solution to the puzzle I’ve described, it’s not clear to any of us–theists included–why this commitment is so widespread. There appears to be some non-evidentiary pressure or motivation that is generating this commitment, in the face of evidence to the contrary, that God is worthy of worship. So here’s one relevant upshot: the theists who attempt to answer your question will in all likelihood only express this mysterious commitment of theirs without having any satisfactory understanding of its basis.

          • Ah. I think you are overthinking this. I think there is a common experience that humans have that they have encountered a being (or consciousness is perhaps a better term) that is greater and better than their own sense of self or consciousness. So I think that “worthy of worship” is part of the deal. It’s a central part of the experience, which is probably why even horrible passages generally don’t dislodge the conviction.

            In my experience and by my observation of others, it seems as if the common reaction to horrible passages by Bible believers of goodwill is to set them aside and more-or-less ignore them. That, I think, is dangerous.

          • Craig

            And I think you are underthinking this Shira 🙂 . There may well be a fairly common experience that human beings associate with “encountering a being that is greater and better than their own sense” of themselves. This may naturally dispose subjects to thinking that the supposed object of experience is worthy of worship. But unless we can get a lot clearer on what this experience amounts to, appeals to it should neither dispel the skeptical worries about these purported experiences, nor supply the compelling evidence that would countervail against the many grounds we have for doubting God’s worship-worthiness.

          • OK, I think we may be concerned with two different questions here. The existence of God is a question I don’t really care about anymore. It was a major concern of mine maybe thirty years ago, and I revisited the subject after reading Sam Harris’ first book. But frankly… it strikes me as a red herring.

            If the “is God worthy of worship” question is just an oblique approach to the “does God exist” question, then I gotta tell you, I’m sorry. My passion for that discussion died out years ago.

            If, however, you are making an argument about moral behavior, then I’m sorry to say I’m not following it. But I would like to understand what you mean.

          • Craig

            Shira, as far I’m aware we haven’t been discussing skepticism about God’s existence here. I’m happy to accept, for the sake of this discussion, the idea that God, or a god, exists. We’re also not discussion moral behavior. What’s unclear?

          • Phil Miller

            In my experience and by my observation of others, it seems as if the common reaction to horrible passages by Bible believers of goodwill is to set them aside and more-or-less ignore them. That, I think, is dangerous.

            Why is this dangerous? It would seem to me that someone ignoring passages that have the potential to be interpreted as a justification for God-ordained violence is certainly better than someone taking them to heart and using them to justify horrible actions.

          • Somewhere lower in this discussion I made the analogy of a loaded gun without a trigger guard, stored under a bed. If a toddler gets hold of that gun and kills someone, doesn’t the gun owner have liability?

            These passages have been and continue to be used to harm people. I certainly acknowledge that the people who commit such harm bear a share of the blame, but I also believe that these people are ill-educated. They found passages that resonated with their own prejudices and nothing prevented them from using the Bible destructively.

            If you feel (unlike, say, Thomas Jefferson) that these passages are important and need to be preserved, then I think you must take a certain responsibility for creating a “trigger guard”.

          • Craig wrote:
            Shira, as far I’m aware we haven’t been discussing skepticism about God’s existence here. I’m happy to accept, for the sake of this discussion, the idea that God, or a god, exists. We’re also not discussion moral behavior. What’s unclear?

            Sorry I missed this comment until now. (As you know, the threads don’t always stay straight, and this got buried in the middle..)

            I guess my confusion is in relating your idea that God may exist but not be worthy of worship (if that is the premise) with my original question. I mean, I can see that we might consider the “man of war” god not worthy of worship or the “righteous judge” god worthy of worship, but the thing is, these views of god seem to be worthy of worship to different people. Does that make sense? I’m really not trying to put you off, just trying to figure out what exactly we’re talking about here.

          • Craig

            It’s of course true that people will differ regarding questions of worship-worthiness, but how is this relevant to the idea that God may exist but not be worthy of worship?

  • Sven

    “Blow them all away in the name of the Lord.”
    ~Rev. Jerry Falwell

    Religious scripture can, very easily, be construed to be for or against almost any issue imaginable. A God of Peace or a God of War? Neither and both! To pick one and not the other would be profoundly ignorant of thousands of years of Christian history.

    • OK, but how does this affect your actions to others?

      • Sven

        No effect in any way.

        • So, if you care for your neighbor when his house burns down, or if you burn a cross on his lawn because you don’t think he should live next to you… neither of those actions, in your mind, reflect your view of God or what God wants? (Again, I’m not playing gotcha, just trying to clarify.)

          • Sven

            In my mind, either of those actions can be justified by scripture. And Christians, for thousands of years, have been using scripture to justify acts of both good and evil.

            The segregationists and the de-segregationists both pointed to scripture. The slavers and the abolitionists both pointed to scripture. The Nazis and the Allies both pointed to scripture. The KKK and the Salvation Army both point to scripture. History has shown that, for better and for worse, it has always been both.

            Let’s be clear: I don’t believe in any gods. I am making no presumptions about intent, because I don’t think there is any intent at all. If you want a Christian theological perspective on a malevolent God versus a benevolent God, it always has been, and always will be, completely dependent on which Christian you ask.

          • Ah, OK, I understand where you are coming from then. So, since it doesn’t seem to be your view that atheists should stay out of discussions of scripture (I mean… you’re HERE lol), do you think there’s anything to be done to prevent the harm that using scripture for bad purposes can perpetrate?

          • Sven

            Skeptical inquiry, I suppose. If if the ONLY justification for something is based on your interpretation of scripture, then it’s probably not a good thing. If, however, you can justify something on moral or philosophical grounds independently of scripture, then it probably has more merit.

            It falls upon the population at large to foster a climate where it’s NOT okay to impose your subjective views on other people without justifying it in a way that is accessible to people with different religious convictions.

            Fact is, many (most?) atheists come from religious backgrounds. Just because we’re now “outsiders” doesn’t mean we’re ignorant of what the “inside” looks like.

          • Trust me, I am personally familiar with the fact that atheists (though I no longer call myself that) come from religious backgrounds. One thing about leaving one’s religious background is that one’s opinion is magnified by that of co-religionists. Atheists (let alone the larger spectrum of people outside the cohesive ingroups) are somewhat handicapped in public discourse by the fact that we can’t speak as a coherent group. Well, discussions like this make me think perhaps outsiders will be heard as our culture is transformed by the internet.

            I think that this past year has been a public referendum on the idea that this is a “Christian nation”. (That, by the way, is a pretty scary phrase for any Jew who has studied history!) For the time being, at least, I think the Christian nation idea will be marginalized, but look for it to come back just as the idea of making contraception hard to get was resurrected this year.

  • Moulder

    I believe the real question is: Are the biblical accounts of God instructing who ever (mostly Israel) to go and slaughter or ‘insert violent action against enemy’, accurate… What I mean is was it really God or humans acting under some sort of idea that this is what they think God would want or they thought they heard Go say ‘go and do this or that against yout enemy, and they were wrong… It happens today… Just throwing it out there…

    • OK, it’s a valid question. But then it’s not obvious that the prophets were actually speaking for God, is it? How do you draw that line? (Not a snarky question. I’m asking seriously.)

      • Moulder

        This is why I love reading stuff that’s channeled (as in through a medium), NDE’s (Near Death Experiences) and Pre-Death Experiences.
        I know for most people the notion of getting information from the spiritual realm those ways won’t fly and that’s fine… they probably thinks its Demons or their mind playing tricks. I’d like a reasonable explanation for Jesus talking on the Mount of Transfiguration to Moses and Elijah, they were dead right? … Anyway… my point is when these sources of information say that the bible has been edited in various ways, for instance to instill a fear of God (not a good fear in terms of respect but a fear that he will smite you from existence) into people or for political or manipulative reasons then I have to listen. On the flip side when they speak of God as ‘all love’ and when they speak of humans attributing to him things like judgement, condemnation, anger etc… then I have to question what is said about God in the bible… That’s where we get these ideas of a God of War from right? There’s of course no way to prove any of this but I’ve done a lot of research… My reading list would include:
        Dr John Lerma’s – Into The Light (Pre Death Experiences of cancer patients)
        Suzie Wards – Matthew, Tell me About Heaven (talks about the story of Abraham and Isaac being added (fabricated) to instill fear of God into people)
        Anthony Borgia – Facts (channeled document expounding on some of the New Testament scriptures)
        Proof of Heaven – Dr Eben Alexander (Neurosurgeons NDE)
        Return From Tomorrow – George Ritchie
        Anything from the Channeling Erik blog
        Anything from JohnSmallmans blog
        Any NDE from near-death dot com
        Either the demons are super organized or God is a God of Peace.
        I’d like to believe that God is better than we can imagine and that humans have corrupted ideas about God to paint him in a bad light…

    • Curtis

      If you view the whole Exodus story as allegory, you know, the whole plague thing, the angels of death, the parting of the seas, the walking in circles for forty years, the ark of the covenant, all of that, if you read it as allegory, then the story of God instructing the Israelites to slaughter others loses a little of its edge. It because almost tolerable if read as an allegory.

      • So, two questions. 1) How do you distinguish the allegorical from the uh… instructive? parts of the Bible? and 2) Is it good that such passages are tolerable?

        At the risk of getting ahead of the argument here, I think that if these passages are tolerable, it’s a big problem. These passages are like a loaded gun without a trigger guard stored under the bed. Some toddler (or the moral equivalent) is going to use those passages to hurt someone.

        • Curtis

          Allegory is instructive. That is the point.

          Yes, it is good they are tolerable, so that we read them and take heed. The role of art is often to allow us to experience feelings, and have a conversation about those feelings, even terrible feelings like human slaughter, without actually having the carry out the act.

          Maybe if God would have put a disclaimer at the end: “No Canannites were harmed in the production of this book.”, it wouldn’t be so confusing! (that is a joke)

          • Uh, I’m pretty sure Canaanites WERE harmed in the production of the book, though. But even if none were, an awful lot of people — outsiders like Jews and Muslims and pagans, as well as thought criminals like heretics — were killed as a direct result of these passages.

          • Curtis

            Good point. It is right ask people who read the Bible to, at a minimum, acknowledge the harm and distruction that has proceeded from reading the Bible in the past. And the continued use of the Bible to harm people today.

  • Evelyn

    I have a question for Shira. Why does Stephen Law keep posing an evil God challenge vs. an omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely benevolent creator when I don’t believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, and supremely benevolent creator and neither do many Christians? Why has he been harping on his problem for more than 8 years when his concept of the Christian God is naive and shallow?

    I’m not claiming that ALL Christians have a sophisticated concept of God but my hope is that most Christian Theologians would have a sophisticated concept of God and would consider Shira’s question to be a non-issue. Why is God sometimes portrayed as a ‘man of war’ who approves genocide and the taking of women as war prizes? Perhaps you’ve been told of a God who does but the God that I believe in doesn’t “approve” of genocide nor the taking of women as war prizes. These things may be necessary evils for reasons that I don’t care to know of but I don’t think God approves of them. Why is God portrayed as a “righteous judge” standing up for widows, orphans, and strangers? God isn’t portrayed as standing up for those people. When those people are amongst us they suffer more than the rest of us. If God was standing up for them, they wouldn’t be suffering.

    If God is portrayed as a “man of war” or a “righteous judge” it is an effort to justify the behavior of human beings by projecting themselves onto God and pretending that God wants them to do what they are doing. It is a way of passing off personal responsibility onto God to obtain a form of rationalized absolution.

    • Evelyn,

      Uh… how I am supposed to answer for Stephen Law? Did I mention I’m NOT a philsopher, btw? Yeah I did.

      Well, ok, then instead of “approves of” try “commands”. I’m not sure how a sophisticated concept of God could make that a non-issue, so long as actual people have been and are being harmed. “Sophistication” that doesn’t stand against human suffering is, in my view, morally abhorrent.

      I actually agree with your final paragraph, btw From a Buddhist perspective, this is absolutely accurate. However, the rationale from the Buddhist perspective is probably not acceptable to most Christians or Jews — namely, that the “self” one projects onto God is already a constructed and impermanent concept.

    • I know why I harp on those issues. Because 41% of Americans believe Jesus will return and 45% don’t accept the theory of evolution. Where do you think they get that? There are still enough strong believers to affect the quality of our educational systems. Just because many Christians don’t think that way, it is not enough to squelch the affect on the culture. The more reasonable voices of religion are finding their voice, but there is a lot of work to do. We need more of the moderate voices to join with people like Stephen Law and get people focused on the real problems here on earth.

  • My good friend, Marty Michelson, is a professor in Oklahoma, and has written a great book on the topic of reconciling God’s “violence” in Samuel and Judges.

    Since the original question was “How do Christian Theologians Deal with This…”, it seemed appropriate to say, “Here’s a theologian who deals with it.”

    • I appreciate the information, Brad. However, it’s a book, and not even a book available on the Kindle. By the time I bought it, had it delivered, and read it, this discussion would be history.

      So, would you care to summarize the author’s points? Then they could come into discussion here.

  • Luke Allison


    Here’s an interesting discussion on this same topic from Roger Olson (one of my favorite thinkers on Patheos)

    Might add to more confusion, or it might clarify some things. I think there are 100 responses in that comment thread too.

    • Saw your comment — thanks! Bought the book, will try to find time to read the comment stream. If I can do that before the end of this discussion, great. But if you want to mention points that are of particular interest to you, I’ll definitely be interested to read and comment on that!

    • OK, I read the post and the comment thread. As time permits (probably not this week) I will also read the book. It seems to me that the book is in fact an attempt to do the same thing I tried to do thirty or so years ago, to separate the “good” bible from the “bad” bible. I do not expect that the author will succeed, but of course, I may be wrong.

      Many of the commenters point to various flavors of the “Jesus changed everything” argument. This, of course, is not convincing to me, for reasons I’ve covered somewhere up in the comment thread.

      • Luke Allison

        Understood. I’m actually more interested in the “4 Views” book Olson talks about than the Jenkins book.

        Greg Boyd is working on a book called “The Crucifixion of the Warrior God” that will be out in the Spring that is an attempt to deal with these texts as well. As you can probably tell, you’re not the only one who finds them….troublesome. I think Boyd basically says that the “text of terror” are God’s incarnational nature on display, with the cross being the ultimate expression of God’s willingness to subject himself to sin and human brokenness. That’s probably not doing his viewpoint justice.

        On another level, I’m sure you know that the Mishnah is hardly a literal or historical-critical interpretation of the text. Hebrew thinkers were doing creative and odd stuff with texts seemingly as long as they’ve been around. So I personally don’t find the “Christocentric” hermeneutic too troubling. In some sense, Jesus asked his followers to choose between two commands of God in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He seems to have privileged ethical codes over purity codes. So in a way, Jesus was already showing us what the heart of the Torah was (in his interpretation, which carries authority for me, obviously)…and apparently the heart of the Torah wasn’t the texts of terror.

        Which is to say, I have no idea what the answer to your question is! 🙂

        • lol, well, you’re an honest fellow!

          It did occur to me while I was making supper last night that really, there are two possible questions I might be asking. One is, how should people who care about the Bible — especially people who base their understanding of religion on the Bible — deal with what have been called “texts of terror”. Now that is an important question, I’m not saying it isn’t, but it’s not the question that interests me NOW. (It was a terribly important question for me thirty years ago.)

          My question is an outsider’s question. Obviously, my concern is suffering and the origin of suffering and the alleviation or elimination of suffering. I agree with Evelyn that both the original passages (good as well as bad) and the historical and modern users of those passages are projecting their own sense of self onto the concept of God. An accurate understanding of “self” and the way projecting “self” affects our own happiness and that of others is at the core of Buddhist practice.

          I am hoping that Tony will in some way touch on those sorts of concerns in his answer. (And of course I’m grateful to the many commenters here who already have.)

      • fwiw I read the first 25 pages or so (introduction) of Philip Jenkins’ book. I have to say, he has admirably and fair-mindedly described the problem and promised a solution both to what I’m calling the “insider’s problem” (how these texts affect one’s view of one’s own faith) and the “outsider’s problem” (hot to keep these texts from inspiring harmful actions.) I’m much taken by his clear and humane diction as well. So thanks very much for the pointer, Luke.

  • NateW

    Let me throw this scenario out there for discussion:

    Lets say there that there is a couple who married very young. The husband loves his bride dearly, and is unconditionally captivated by the beautiful colors he sees within her and wants nothing more than to know her and be equally known and loved by her. N ot long into their marriage she begins to wonder if she made the right choice in getting married so soon and starts to wonder what else is out there. and has an affair with a mysterious and handsome guy at work. She doesnt want her husband to know, but continues the affair in secret. Of course he finds out anyway

    What is the most perfectly loving way for the husband to respond when his beloved wife is revealed to be having an affair. What can he do if his desire is for her to cherish his love and to love him? What course of action must he take to win her back if she refuses to end her affair and continues with still more men?

    I’m interested in discussing some honest answers to this scenario. Any takers?

    (also, please know that I mean no offense by casting the woman as the unfaithful one in the example. The same discussion could be had with the parties reversed, please forgive me if this seems offensive to any. I thought about trying to be gender neutral, but couldn’t make it work.)

    • Is this some sort of sideways reference to Hosea? (I’m a bit confused.)

    • Craig

      Quite clearly, he should give her an ultimatum: either you reciprocate my “unconditional” love or there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth: I will tie you up in the basement and wrathfully torture you with blowtorches every day for the rest of your miserable life.

      But if we’re willing to depart from the biblical parallels, I’d say we probably need more information. As it stand, the husband likely has more than one reasonable option, none being “perfect” in the sense of guaranteeing everything he ideally wants. It may be that the husband is not a good fit for the young wife, and that, despite the losses, the most selfless thing for him to do might be to let the young wife do some extramarital exploration, perhaps after confronting her about it. Maybe they married prematurely. This sometimes happens.

      • 0
        Shiira – Yeah, I suppose you could say it is, by I don’t mean it to be a concrete reference to Hosea.

        Craig – The first part of your response made me smile. I aspire to be a follower of Christ (if “Christian” means “Christ-like” I would not claim to be worthy of that title), but I am on your side in regarding this popular conception of God as DEMANDING love as reprehensible.

        I also think you nailed the point i was trying to get at. If we were to assume that God is the essence/embodiment/idea/person of perfect (entirely unselfish) love then it could be said that his very nature is to bring into existence beings other than “himself” to whom he can direct his Love. Love cannot be demanded from another. Coercion and manipulation cannot foster genuine love. Therefore, perfect love requires the one offering his love to do so by extending freedom to his beloved. I he is to love his unfaithful bride perfectly the husband above must be able to say, “Go, have your affairs, sleep with as many as you desire” To be pure love there must not be hint of coercion in his heart. He cannot coerce her to stay if he desires her to choose him freely. But, at the same time, to release her in this way would be supremely unloving if he was fully aware of how much pain her reckless desires would bring her but failed to warn her of the consequences in complete truthfulness.

        So, this is the way I have been thinking about approaching the Old Testament lately. God knows that deep down we desire love and peace and rest and joy–the very things he wants to give us–but he also sees that we refuse to believe that he can give us those things. The commands that god gives in the OT are like the husband saying to his wife, “Go, have your affairs, sleep with as many men as you desire,” knowing that to selflessly release her is the only way that she will realize the emptiness of these flings. So, what we see happening is god simultaneously commanding what his people show to be their desire (national prosperity and success) while also warning them of the very real danger that their actions expose them to.

        Yet, it’s even more than that. For the embodiment of purest love to command violence is, in effect, to disembody himself. It is for god to become less than god, it is for god to give up his right to be worshipped. It is for god to be crucified until the time that his creatures have had enough philandering, have suffered the consequences if their greed long enough, and humble themselves by returning to beg forgiveness. Except, like th prodigal son, when they return they will find that they have always had it, if only they would have had faith that this was actually true.

        • Craig

          Dave W., thank you for this finely written response. I read through it twice as I lit my pipe and wished you were here to discuss it in person. My thought, though, is this: if only it were true! The experiences of far too many non-believers don’t fit into this narrative, or, more cautiously, it’s too hard to see how they could. We expect the good lover and the loving father to give ample evidence of their love, especially if that love is open to reasonable doubt, and especially if it is in their power to dispel such doubts. It’s hard to believe that God wouldn’t have the power to dispel more of our reasonable doubts about him and his love. Now perhaps there is some other factor to suitably explain this significant point of disanalogy, but we’d need to find it. As the story stands, I think it–unfortunately–belong with wishful thinking.

          • Craig

            Sorry, it should be addressed to “Nate W.”

          • Craig and Shira – I apologize for the length of this. As I say below, take it with a grain of salt, not as Gospel. ; )

            I would happily take you up on a pipe and good conversation. Have had mine for a couple months now… No chance you live near Pittsburgh?

            “if only it were true!” Believe it or not, I am on the same page here. In a sense, its not true, at least not until we make it true. Whether Christians are willing to admit it or not, it simply cannot be denied that, as an all-loving, omnipotent, cosmic being God is radically absent. Every senseless death, every crying child, every broken heart stands as evidence that this omni-benevolent God is either dead, or never existed to begin with. I have to say, when I’m honest, that if God “exists” we experience him as children abandoned. Did not even Jesus, dying on the cross, keenly feel God’s absence?  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

            To fortify our numbers, cement our identity, and whitewash over our doubts and fears, Christians have portrayed God as an omnipotent superhero deity who swoops down to save those who have the right ideas about Him. But if we litterally look to Christ as the fullest revelation of what God is like we might see some superpowers, but in the final word, Christ reveals a God who’s greatest power is the uncanny humility of allowing himself to be crucified, to be pushed out of the world, to be killed by those he created to unify with In ove. 

            I can’t say this any better than Bonhoeffer:

            “God lets himself be pushed out of the world on the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matthew 8:17 makes it clear that Jesus helps us not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. … Only the suffering God can help. … That is the reversal of what a religious man expects from God. Man is summoned to share in Gods sufferings at the hands of a godless world.”

            I used to overlook the significance of the crucifixion. I saw it as something that happened to Jesus for a divine purpose. (In a sense this is perhaps true, but not in the sense that Christians popularly assume today) Now, I have finally seen that in crucifixion Christ literally manifests (puts flesh and bones on) the central aspect of God’s ETERNAL character. God eternally sets aside himself for the good of the other. 

            This is very definition of love itself. It should be obvious to any who has been in love with another that True love is alwys a risk. To love is to give yourself away (in a sense, to die) in faith that doing so will awake the desire of the other. When love is not returned you are left mangled. When it is returned you experience unity in co-desire for each other–resurrection. 

            It is no different for God. As Bonhoeffer said above, Christ shows that he is with man in suffering and hi power is the unconquerable power of Self-emptying Love itself. 

            From the dawn of creation God’s true nature, Love, has been absent from the world so that in knowing what it is to be without love we might become thirsty for it. Can you deny that, below the surface, even the most evil person on earth desires the peace and rest of assurance that they are valued and loved? 

            So, the evidence for a crucified God is not the same as the evidence for a religious deity. A crucified God is revealed by the shape of the vacuum remaining in his wake. That we know so well the absence of Love is the surest testament that somewhere deep within us we also know, or are known by, Love itself. 

            So, to have faith in Christ, both is and isn’t the same as believing in God. It is not to posess correct religious knowledge that a supreme cosmic being is real and omnipotent and will save me from this evil world. My faith in Christ allows me to come to terms with the fact that this all-powerful-all-loving-God-up-there is experientially absent. Faith in Christ is a first a choice to believe that I am loved, that ALL are loved, even in moments of forsakeness. It is following Christ in giving up my self and stepping into the world of others who suffer more than I do so that, somehow, by Christ’s love, I might be the resurrecion of my crucified God in their midst. It is loving those who are different than me and being crucified by my own people if they don’t like it. 

            What we actually believe is shown by how we live, not by what we think we believe. Take what I said above with large grains of salt. The particular words and names i use may not mean to me hat they do to you, but I hope that my heart comes through.  : )

          • Craig

            Nate W,
            I need time to mull over your reply. It’s strikes me as an attractive and promising reconceptualization of the Christian faith. Let me pull out just two sentences that mark the central contrast between your understanding of the faith and what might just be the popular perversion of it. I’m resisting the temptation to quote more, as you express your provocative ideas well.

            To fortify our numbers, cement our identity, and whitewash over our doubts and fears, Christians have portrayed God as an omnipotent superhero deity who swoops down to save those who have the right ideas about Him.

            Now, I have finally seen that in crucifixion Christ literally manifests (puts flesh and bones on) the central aspect of God’s ETERNAL character. God eternally sets aside himself for the good of the other.

            The question I would want to ponder further is whether God’s so setting himself aside (letting “himself be pushed out of the world on the cross” so that “he is weak and powerless in the world”) could plausibly be an act of love—and whether such an act could plausibly be “for the good of the other.” Does God love humanity as a whole (the collective entity), or does he love each and every individual person? I would prefer it to be the latter, since it would be unnerving to think that a loving God would be willing to overlook or sacrifice the interests of a particular person (me or someone I love) for the sake of benefitting humanity as a whole. This would be like a God of utilitarianism. But it is hard for me to see how God’s love for every particular individual is compatible with his abandonment of individuals to a world from which he is pushed aside. Suppose that a schoolteacher allows a couple of bully kids to push her out of the classroom and lock the door, with the foreseeable consequence that they will turn lord-of-the-flies upon the more vulnerable students. Such behavior by the schoolteacher is dereliction, not love. Perhaps the pushed-aside God makes all things right at the resurrection, but this smacks of the swooping down God you reject (but perhaps not terribly so).

        • Nate, I loved your response… but as poetry. It seems to me that it solves part of the “insider’s” problem in that it salvages the goodness of God. But it doesn’t solve what I think of as the “outsider’s” problem, in that you don’t posit any kind of, I don’t know… normative guidance? As far as I can see, the husband in your story doesn’t seek to prevent harm to self and harm to others caused by the wife’s behavior. To use my metaphor (which is really beginning to get on my nerves, lol), the parent just hands the loaded gun to the toddler and steps back until the toddler realizes the emptiness of shooting his brother! So… what am I missing?

          • Shira – Ithink that it is perhaps a mistake to think in terms of “insiders” and “outsiders”. Both of our metaphors break down because they fail to acknowledge that this God’s universal disposition towards every person uniquely, not just certain people. Every person on earth is loved and sought after by God. Likewise every person desires, at his/her core to be held in full assurance of love, peace, freedom, and rest. The tragedy is that we are all so hell-bent on finding and attaining this fulfillment that those who are different get labeled as “other” or “outsiders” and in so doing we miss the whole purpose of our mutual experience of pain and suffering.

            The life, death, and resurrection of Christ can’t be held any longer as a belief that separates people. Our mutual pain and suffering exists that God might be resurrected within our midst as we actively embrace the “other” (the alien, the outcast, the poorest, the least) in self-sacrificial love.

            As for your metaphor: leads you to assume that god is in possession of a gun, or has handed such over to us? I’d rather say that we have been given medicine which we ourselves are unaided by but which can be used fir the good of others. Or perhaps i would say that in utter love God has subjected himself to death at our hands but in dying has given each of us a small piece of himself. He waits, powerless except for that power which lies in humility and selfless love, for the day when loves great gravity pulls us all to each other in unity, and thus into his resurrection.

          • Nate, once again I have read your responses (the one to Craig and me and the one addressed to me) and I find them moving and poetic… but they do not strike a deep chord in me, sorry. I think the reason is that they imagine God as a self subject to the longing and loneliness of selfhood. But I’ve spent too much time as a Buddhist I guess to find that metaphor deeply attractive. I’ve been in the process of disassembling my “self” for a few years now, and it changes my view of stories, I think. Still, I cannot help but feel your vibrant connection with this sense of God, and I rejoice for you that you open yourself to the suffering of all.

          • NateW

            Shira – thanks for reading. Glad you made it all the way through. : )

            These sorts of discussions are always so difficult for me because I feel like I could qualify every word and sentence endlessly. The harder I try the more humbled I am by my own inability to even write how I feel and think, let alone divulge objective truth about “God”.

            I use metaphors to try to make clear something that I don’t think can even be clearly conceptualized. Too be more clear, perhaps I should say that, although I know that my metaphors seem to imply this, I do not any longer conceptualized God as a being in whom satisfaction or Love is directly found and attained. Rather, in my mind, God is more like an event in who’s wake we live. Rather than being a subject or object that we know on the same level of other fact, I think of God as being known only in the embrace of the world in active selfless love.

            I suppose this is what I mean in part by saying that God is crucified. Like a bottomless hole, God himself is not known, except by clues in the shape of the surrounding edge. It is not in cognitive belief and obedient response that we reap the benefits of God and become whole selves, rather it is in forsaking our very desire for “God” (or happiness, freedom, peace, rest, joy, shalom, enlightenment, or whatever other label we give our ultimate desired end) as an object and Choosing to be fully present in and engaged with the world around us in the act of the embrace of the “other”.

          • One final comment. : )

            I think that Christ was being far more literal than Christians usually think when he said “seek and you shall find.” I don’t think this is sequential thing (seeking precedes finding) but perhaps should be read more as “within seeking is finding”. In other words, the moment we think we’ve found the answer is the same moment we can be sure we have not.

            We all would be doing well to be as inquisitive, thoughtful, and humble as you have been. : )

          • Nate, I absolutely understand what you’re saying about having more understanding inside than you can express in comprehensible ways. I am in that predicament a lot, even though I almost never write about it outside my locked tumblr. These days I pretty much let the inside stuff stew until it feels ready to share. Over time, I’ve gotten stingier, I suppose — not that many experiences or insights seem worth sharing. I generally don’t feel something is ready to share these days unless it informs my PRACTICE in some way that seems useful for others. (I’m not at all trying to say you’re oversharing, btw. But I know how much it meant to me when I first met people who had this vivid internal life where meditation brings “visions” or mental images that give insight, so I thought I’d let you know you aren’t alone, in case you didn’t already know.) All the best to you, always.

          • Thanks Shira. Yes, that’s a pretty accurate description of me. My thoughts feel more like pictures than words and most of the time it’s as if I’m sitting 2 inches in font of a movie theater screen trying to figure out what’s going on.

            Sometimes it feels like its just me and Bob Dylan… Haha. Thanks so much for your kind words!

  • MarkE

    I was listening to a Homebrewed Christianity podcast interview with Walter Grueggemann when I was out for a run last night and Tripp asked him a question very similar to yours. I think he would count as one theologian’s reply to your question.

    Tripp: “What do you do with the texts of terror, or those kind of stories, that at least to our enlightenment inspired, human rights and dignity ears, get a little queasy. How do you deal with those texts?”

    WB: “[using psychoanalysis as a metaphor]…to deny those texts, as the church prefers to do, is a part of our disability. And what we have to do in the therapeutic process of interpretation is to recover those texts and to see how we will incorporate them into our self-understanding because the truth is that the church or the biblical community – Israel and the church- has in its past profound measures of violence and the God of the bible has in God’s past profound acts of violence and to pretend that is not so is simply crippling to us. So what we have to do is to return to those texts and pay attention to them and to ask: What is it about these texts about which we need to be honest and ask how we can incorporate them into this present life…all this stuff is present to us. It is present in ourselves. It is present to us in God. It is present to us in the church. I am made in the image of a God who has a history of violence. I know that about myself. I know about the propensity of violence that is present within me and among us. It doesn’t do any good for us to pretend that we have evolved beyond that.”

    There you have one theologian’s response.

    • MarkE

      He stated that he views God as in recovery from violence, and like the recovery process, has fits and starts.

      • Frank

        There is nothing for God to recover from. If He chooses to use violence that’s Gods prerogative, not ours BTW.

        • MarkE

          I think he may be saying that based on the progression of the text, he is moving away from (recovering from) violence and toward peace. What is your reading of the biblical text? We know God can do whatever God wants, but what is God doing?

          • Frank

            I only take issue with the word “recovering.” Yes He no longer asks anyone to do violence in His name but that does not mean that he has anything to recover from. That suggests God was in error no?

          • MarkE

            If not error, how about change? Does God change? I think there is evidence in scripture that he does.

          • Frank

            Yes we do see God change his mind in scripture but we also have a record of it and it was in response to prayer not in response to an error.

          • MarkE

            Sounds like we agree. The scriptural record seems to show that God has changed his stance toward violence, for whatever reason. Is that not a recovery or redemption from a more violent past? He must see that as a good thing, as most of us do.

          • Frank

            Since God is good and righteous even His violence must be good and righteous. If God changes his mind its not a change away from good or righteousness, it appears to be a change relating to mercy. So I don’t believe recovery or redemption is right as inherently it includes a wrongness. Can’t we just say God has been shown to change his mind?

    • Mark — It’s certainly an answer, even to the “outsider’s” part of my question. I can see how that kind of understanding — if broadly taught and supported — would make the “texts of terror” less subject to abuse. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response!

    • MarkE

      *Sorry, it is Brueggemann not Grueggemann

  • MarkE

    I am curious about your reluctance to accept that Jesus changes everything (related to interpretation of troubling OT passages). I hear your argument about not wanting to separate the history of violent actions from the tradition. I do not know enough about it, but is there not a history of violence within the Buddhist tradition? I would be surprised if there were not, given we humans seem to all share the same propensities toward violence. Don’t all religious and nonreligious traditions have to wrestle with this?

    • Well, there have been (and regrettably still are) Buddhists who engage in violence. Right now, for example, there is a horrible feud between the Rakhine (Buddhist) and Rohingya (Muslim) peoples in western Burma / Myanmar. It is coming close to genocide, because although it’s not an entirely one-sided fight, the Burmese (military) government has come in on the side of the Rakhine. This has meant that the Rohingya have no chance of winning, and nowhere to retreat (Bangladesh, where Rohingya also live, has closed the borders). Worse, even monks in Burma have demonstrated against the Rohingya, which I find personally shameful.

      That said, the rhetoric of the Burmese has been nationalist, not Buddhist. That’s bad enough — and believe me, it reminds me horribly of the Nazis, who also cloaked genocide in nationalist rhetoric. However, there is one telling difference. The Nazis were able to use Martin Luther’s antisemitic writings as religious cover, but the Buddha did not leave any words that can be construed as giving Buddhists a right to attack on their neighbors, for any reason. He did not practice or advocate violence, and his followers who use violence have no religious justification.

      Buddhist history is not as peaceful as Jain history, but still — it’s pretty peaceful. There is no equivalent in Buddhist history to the wars of conquest that enlarged the sphere of Christianity (starting with Constantine and going forward to the conquistadors) and Islam (beginning under the early Caliphs). There is no equivalent in Buddhist history to the Crusades, or to the Inquisition, or to the Wars of Religion that nearly destroyed Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Buddhism has coexisted in relative harmony with the religions of every land in Asia, from Shintou in Japan to Confucianism and Taoism in China to all kinds of animistic traditions. Buddhism coexisted for several centuries with the Hindu majority in India, although it did not fare so well under the Moghuls. Buddhists coexist with Christianity today, in South Korea as well as the West.

      What I’m saying is that Buddhists sometimes do perpetrate violence (to our shame), but we do not do violence in the service of religion. It’s impossible to justify it on religious grounds.

      • Incidentally, if someone here knows more Asian history than I (I’ve read a fair amount on Japan and some on China, but not much on other countries) and has evidence that I’m wrong about Buddhist history, I’m willing to be corrected. This is the way I understand it at this time.

        • ron

          So can someone tell me how you get rid of a philosophy? especially an evil philo. some of the groups that genocide was committed on in the bible were nothing but bad. (according to God) they were sacrificing their children to the their own made up god by throwing them in the fire. so God delt with that atrocity(of burning children) by genocide. the only way to kill a philo is to kill everything that lives and burn everything that doesn’t.

          • ron

            by the way I really enjoy reading this argument. so far it hasn’t led to anger and name calling.

          • Craig

            Ah, the solution to a bad idea is a fast slug of lead. The Society of Christian Philosophers had better get some metal detectors. 🙂

          • ron, I think the most effective way with the least collateral damage is some sort of nonviolent resistance. Leaving aside that the Biblical witnesses are perhaps not unbiased witnesses to the practices of the Canaanites, look at the thread of violence that leads from the conquest of Canaan through the crusades to yesterday’s attacks in Gaza. Even if the Canaanites were truly evil people, as this violence not added to the evil in the world rather than alleviating it?

            On the other hand, by offering themselves to the dogs and the fire hoses, the civil rights marchers in Selma aroused the empathy of a nation and brought about durable change. It’s true that the attitudes they opposed still exist, but those attitudes are weakened, generation by generation. They did not add to the evil in the world, and it’s at least possible they will truly eliminate a portion of that evil.

            That’s how I see it, anyway. (Oh, and I share your pleasure with the tone of this discussion.)

  • Shira, I don’t often read this blog, but today happened to be here and saw your question posted by Tony. I don’t have time to read all the conversation that has followed, but read a couple of your later comments. I especially appreciate the history and explanation re. Buddhism and violence/war in your 11-15, 4:53 pm. comment. That is about what I’d thought, but haven’t studied Buddhism or its history very deeply, so helpful to read this. From what I DO know from occasional readings to give me a general knowledge and feel, I think that the “Process” wing and perhaps most of “Progressive Christianity” makes a great conversation partner for Buddhists… which some Process people say themselves.

    Now, as to your original question, I have been a life-long (age 63 now) student of the Bible and Christian theology… now Process/Progressive myself. Only fairly recently has it really come into focus and clarity for me that the Bible represents, among other things, a lot of interaction back-and-forth between believers in a violent (angry, vengeful, tribalistic) God and believers in a non-violent God… not merely “Old Test.” vs. “New Test.” but at many places. Without trying to summarize his larger argument, I will refer you to one of the most helpful books I’ve encountered along this line which I found to have many good insights and a very useful framing of the issues: “God and Empire” by John D. Crossan (2007). I think you’d find it very worth your time to read. (I felt compelled to re-read it recently, and realized I’d either missed or forgotten a LOT… of course my memory probably isn’t quite what it used to be… let me see if I can remember :). )

    • Hi, Howard. I’m so glad you happened to stop by, and today especially! I have wished for there to be a forum for Buddhist / Christian dialog, since I think the Buddha and the Christ have somewhat similar historical roles and probably reconcilable teachings. I’m not familiar with Process Christianity, and while I read some people who call themselves Progressive Christians, I’m not sure if that is a political term or a religious one. (Please forgive my ignorance.)

      I have picked up the book and will read it as time permits. Right now I am unexpectedly captivated by the Jenkins book recommended above, and I always have a couple of long term reading projects going, but I hope to start your recommendation soon!

      I hope you’ll feel like adding your comments to the discussion here as well, if you have the time.

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  • B-Lar

    The answer to the question is: By ignoring cognitive dissonance.

    By starting with the assumption that god exists and then assigning him various human characteristics, you either limit a supposedly limitless god, or you assign him mutually exclusive characteristics. Theologians choose the second option, and then rationalise away the cognitive dissonace by saying “God is all powerful and magic, therefore LALALALALALALAICANTHEARYOU”

    The world behaves exactly as you would expect if god didnt exist. It is indifferent to us. By taking god out of the equation there is no conundrum. We make the world as it is. To claim that an invented god is responsible is to abdicate our own real responsibility.

  • Mary

    There is a brilliant book called The God of the Chaos Monsters that you should read…by a scholar of the Book. It is an exquisite book which begins the answer to your question. If you don’t see the issue of chaos is central to most people’s lives through most of history, including war, and that God is dealing with that then you have started at the wrong place in answering this question. Then in further answering this question let me start with Genesis 1. An astounding and beautiful piece of literature when read well. Read it well and we see an astounding Creator who on creates something “formed” – Day 1-3 from that which was formless and “inhabited” Day 4-6 from that which was “formless and void”, “formless and empty”. It is a story of a Creator of astounding hospitality. Then read other creation narratives – war, violence, conflict are there in those ‘myths’ of creation. So without writing a whole book I will encourage us all to start to answer this question there…God is a Creator who constantly seek to overcome the chaos(including war) for the well-being of humanity…. In any narrative there is a beginning, middle and end…if we don’t read the beginning well, reading the rest becomes a journey in bad interpretation. So to answer start by comparing Genesis1 with the Babylonian Creation story and do read The God of the Chaos Monsters.

  • Kelly

    If you think your life is about DOINGNESS, you do not understand what you are about. Your soul doesn’t care what you do for a living-and when your life is over, neither will you. Your soul cares only about what you’re BEING while you’re doing whatever you’re doing. It is a state of BEINGNESS the soul is after, not a state of doingness.” -Neale Donald Walshe

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