God ♥ Genocide

God ♥ Genocide April 24, 2013

William Lane Craig plays chessThe nation of Israel when it left Egypt was enormous, if the Bible is to be believed. There were 600,000 men—that is, potential soldiers—which suggest close to two million in the entire company (Ex. 12:37).

To get an idea of how many that is, the Sinai peninsula, in which the Israelites spent forty years of exile, is a hundred miles wide. If the Israelites held hands, their human chain could cross the Sinai ten times.

The Exodus and genocide

No archeological evidence has been found for the Exodus. Yes, it happened a long time ago, but deserts preserve things—buried bodies, for example. God declared that all the adults would die in the desert and be denied access to the Promised Land (Num. 14:30). Since the Israelites didn’t cremate their dead, that’s over a million bodies that should be in the Sinai but, despite our searching, aren’t.

We can put this population count to another use. Let’s assume flat population growth so that the Israelites entered Palestine with two million people. Moses says,

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites [map here], seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally (Deut. 7:1–2).

Seven nations, each bigger than the two-million-strong Israelites? Seven nations to be destroyed totally? Do the math—that puts the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust in perspective.

Of course, you could do what I do and conclude that the Holocaust is history and the Old Testament stories of the exodus and conquest of Canaan are just stories. That removes the moral cloud, but it turns the Bible into just another book of religious fiction, a buffet at which Christians can take or leave according to their fancy.

What Would William Lane Craig Do?

I always like to get an analysis of a cloudy biblical issue from philosopher William Lane Craig. Here’s what he says about God’s genocide.

I think it’s just dishonest when people like Richard Dawkins portray Yahweh … as this moral monster. These highly singular commands [to commit genocide] need to be read against the background of the whole of the Old Testament, which includes the great moral law that is given by god, which is head and shoulders above other ancient near eastern moral or legal codes like the Code of Hammurabi and so forth. It’s against the backdrop of the prophets, which explain god’s compassion for the poor and the oppressed and the orphans and the widows. (Source: “Richard Dawkins and Driving Out the Canaanites” @ 4:00)

Dishonest? Let’s see who’s dishonest. Consider fun Bible quotes like this one:

So Joshua subdued the whole region. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD had commanded (see Joshua 10:28–40).

The Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, written around 1772 BCE, probably preceded the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Mosaic law by centuries. In fact, many scholars think that the Code inspired some of the Mosaic law. For example, the Bible’s “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is found there. However, it has nothing like the Bible’s genocide.

Craig will respond that this is cherry picking and that the Old Testament offsets the genocide and slavery with compassionate demands like, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). I agree—looking only at the Bible’s savage side doesn’t give a complete picture—but of course Craig wants to cherry pick in the other direction. A balanced look shows the Bible to be what you’d expect from the blog of an ancient tribe. It reflects the morality of the time. There’s no need to imagine a supernatural source.

And why is a balanced look at the Bible the correct approach when God himself doesn’t do that? One error and God sends you to hell. The godly approach would be to find one moral error in the Bible and reject any claims for supernatural inspiration.

This entire interview with Craig is a rich vein of crazy, but let me give just a few highlights.

These Israeli soldiers would be prosecuted for war crimes if this [Canaanite genocide] were to occur today. (5:40)

Yes they would, and what does that tell you? Are you a moral relativist, where you say that genocide is reprehensible from our standpoint but wasn’t from the different perspective back then? Or are you an objectivist who says that genocide is always wrong? In that case, tell me whether our attitude about genocide is wrong today or Israel’s God-given approach was wrong back then.

Craig tries to minimize the damage

If [this] is a good objection, what does it prove? What it would prove would be that the Bible has an error in it, that biblical inerrancy isn’t right, and that would force us to adjust our doctrine of inspiration, but it wouldn’t prove that God didn’t exist, it wouldn’t prove that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead (7:48).

He’s trying to sacrifice the pawn of biblical inerrancy in this chess game to preserve the queen of God’s existence. Great—let’s take that pawn. But no one thought that the queen was under attack. This is clumsy misdirection on Craig’s part. What’s under attack is the bishop of God being a morally perfect being. Craig’s own book tells us that God orders genocide, which makes clear that he’s not. Let’s take that bishop as well.

About God ordering the death of everyone, including the children, Craig says:

God, as the author and giver of life has the authority to give and take life as he chooses (11:10).

So God has no obligation to the people he created, and he can do with them whatever he wants without moral obligation. A human life is then to God what a sand castle is to us, and each of us can destroy our creations without moral error.

Incredible—this is what religion does to good people. It forces them to justify insanity. Like the defense lawyer for a Mafia boss, Craig spins every bit of evidence to fit his presupposition. He removes himself as a credible critic.

As a thought experiment, imagine that I created a hundred jobs. Could I just eliminate them for no business reason because I created them, putting those employees out on the street, without any moral consideration? Or suppose at every performance review, I flipped a coin to see if that person would keep their job. I’m the giver of the job and have the authority to give or take it as I choose, right?

The elementary moral truth that every child knows but that Craig’s religion has forced him to suppress is that there’s a difference between living things (like people) and nonliving things (like sand castles).

Craig could respond that God’s ways are not our ways. That may be, but first we need to conclude that God exists. Given the information that we have, the God of the Old Testament is, like Dawkins says, a capriciously malevolent bully.

Ladies and gentleman, beware of these scamsters—
especially scamsters in religious garb—
quoting the Bible. I mean, run from them.
They are all over the place.
— Pat Robertson

Photo credit: William Pitcher

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  • se habla espol

    Craig will respond that this is cherry picking and that the Old
    Testament offsets the genocide and slavery with compassionate demands
    like, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

    This depends on the use of the word ‘neighbor’. Since the Hebrews were one or more tribal cultures, I would expect my neighbor to be a member of my tribe — a member of another tribe would not be a neighbor. This wouild limit the compassion to only my homeboys — genocide and slavery of others is just fine.

  • John W. Morehead

    This is a huge ethical and hermeneutical challenge for Christians, particularly Evangelicals. Unfortunately, many take the approach of Craig and offer what I believe are simplistic answers that all too easily accommodate claims of divine genocide. It is ironic that this takes place while the finger of accusation is pointed at Muslims for violent passages in the Qur’an. Thankfully, there are Christians who take this seriously and are wrestling with the issues in more responsible ways, such as Philip Jenkins and Peter Enns.

    • I hope that Jenkins and Enns do a more credible job of squaring God’s OT love of genocide with modern ideas of morality than Craig … ?

  • Nemo

    Rick, instead of dodging the question, answer me this: the year is 500 BC. In this year, is the execution of a woman for not being a virgin a barbaric act, or is it the beautiful, holy, perfect will a divine God? No dodging. Jesus whole heartedly endorsed the entire Old Testament as perfect. Do you want a relationship with that guy? Is the Bible perfect or is it not? I don’t think the Quran is perfect before you ask, so I don’t need to defend anything in it.

    Interesting plan that Jesus must have had to end slavery, then.
    Step 1: Tell slaves to shut up and serve their masters. And be happy. This is the divine command of God. Obey it or burn in Hell.
    Step 2: ??????
    Step 3: Profit

  • Meccaisbabylonthegreat

    In Genesis, Abraham met a man, the “high priest of the Lord” from then Jebusite (I believe?) Jerusalem. If there was a man the Bible calls the “high priest of the Lord” in Jerusalem over 400 years before the Israelites came out of Egypt and he was preaching the word of God to the people roundabout, and he would have been… then frankly the people roundabout had their chance to turn from their wicked ways and serve the Lord. The Bible doesn’t say much about the people there accept that they were incredibly wicked and that the Israelites were not to learn their ways. Once a society has rejected God completely they become a self-perpetuating godless society. Then, everyone who is born there just ends up in hell because they never hear about the Lord because the missionaries never get past the outer defenses. So perhaps there are other circumstances you don’t see or know about that God, in His indeed infinite wisdom, does see. Not to mention that the Israelites didn’t follow God’s command to wipe everyone out, so they dealt with raiders and subsequent Israelite generations picking up on the religious practices of the not-quite-completely-conquered former residents. God knew all this and decided to deal with them in this way. Seeing how they were sacrificing their own children and normalizing a plethora of disgusting practices (and that’s just what we know about from archaeology), I’d say He probably made the right call. But we were not there, are not there and can never go back there to see ALL that was going on. God’s judgment does fall from time to time (note Israel was carried off into slavery many times, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) At a time HE chooses, not us. And for reasons HE chooses. If you live long enough, you will see it again. Because God is not mocked. As a man sows so that shall he also reap. Not pronouncing judgment on anyone here (that’s not my job but God’s) I’m saying that the world is shaping up exactly as the Bible prophesied it would just before man almost completely destroys the earth in his lust for power and God steps in.

    • How do we know who was incredibly wicked? Because the author(s) of particular books said that they were. Not much of an objective source.

      So your argument is that genocide is a good thing because the ends justify the means? Genocide is the must cunning approach that the omniscient creator of the universe can think of?

      And why apologize for this sociopath? Why not let him take his medicine himself?

      If not hearing about God makes you go to hell, why doesn’t God just tell them. Heck, why doesn’t God just tell me? It’s almost like he’s, y’know, not even there.

      The solution to a society that sacrifices its own children (a small fraction, I assume, since the society didn’t die out) is to murder everyone, children included? Do I have to spell out the flaw in that thinking or can you figure it out on your own?

      You say the end is nigh? People have been saying that for more than 2000 years. People have been wrong for more than 2000 years. Why are you the one who has figured it out?

      • Meccaisbabylonthegreat

        I’m simply saying the situation (like many, many others) is more complex than your little article here indicates. You’re making a lot of assumptions that can be dispelled.

        • Then dispel them.

        • Meccaisbabylonthegreat

          The Jews did not wander in the Sinai peninsula for 40 years. They wandered in Arabia for 40 years. Mt. Sinai is located in NW Arabia if you care to investigate it. Jim and Penny Caldwell have done a lot of research and been threatened and imprisoned by the Saudi govt. for having done so…because the Saudi govt has a vested interest in people NOT poking around in the desert looking for something that make the Muslims very uncomfortable.
          I don’t have time to sit here and give you all the details. You’ll just look it up and decide after about 2 minutes of reading the naysayers that I’m wrong anyway. I don’t really care. One of you on here already said you would rather spend eternity in hell than one minute with God. So, your mind is already made up. Truth is, you’ll eventually find out which of us is right and which is wrong.

        • The Muslims don’t want anyone to uncover evidence of their god Allah helping out the Jews as they wandered for 40 years? I don’t see the problem.

          You’re right–I would probably find the argument uncompelling. It’s a minority argument within Christianity and I reject it, just like most Christians. Is that a problem?

          And I don’t see how God’s love of genocide and slavery is in any way affected by your arguments. You can perhaps see why many think that Yahweh is an unsavory character.

        • Meccaisbabylonthegreat

          That’s because Sinai being in Arabia goes against the traditions so many are accustomed to. And it wasn’t the muslim god helping the Jews, it was the one true God.
          And yes, when you look at it the way you do, I can see why YHWH is an unsavory character to you.

        • You haven’t explained why the Muslims today should be offended at seeing God helping the Jews.

  • >’God, as the author and giver of life has the authority to give and take life as he chooses.’

    The more you think about it, the more utterly disturbing and horrifying this viewpoint is. There’s literally zero difference between this and what you’d hear from the likes of ISIS. I would expect that this exact sentence, in Arabic, is probably in several radical terrorist publications now at this exact moment. Wow.

  • One thing about the verse, often heralded as the best thing in the bible, is that it only applies to the Israelites. The whole verse is “ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

    “Among your people” qualifies the entire statement, which diminishes the force of the best part, and helps smooth over the moral relativism of genocide juxtaposed with “thou shalt not kill.” I would argue that all of the laws were meant to apply to Israel, but when it came to neighboring nations, the laws would be applied to Israel’s benefit and their neighbor’s detriment. As you point out, a nation of 2,000,000 people eradicated over 14,000,000 people for being members of the wrong nation and religion. This hardly fits well with “love thy neighbor” and “do not kill.”

    Further, extreme moral relativism not only justifies killing millions, it also justifies slaughtering captive boys and women, except virgins, who were a economic asset, not human beings.

    Without “among your people” loving your neighbor as yourself as yourself is a good start, but since we derive the golden rule from this – not that one – treating others as you wish to be treated has its problem. Not everyone wants to be treated the way you want to be treated. Rather treat people the way they like to be treated, within reason.