Rationalizing Away the “Canaanite Problem” (2 of 2)

Rationalizing Away the “Canaanite Problem” (2 of 2) October 19, 2015

This is the conclusion of a critique of Greg Koukl’s justification of the Canaanite problem, God’s genocide of the people living in the Promised Land. Read part 1 here.

bible genocideGod and Racism

Koukl moves on to defend God against charges of racism.

God cared nothing about skin color or national origin.

Yes, you can make the sock puppet say that God cares nothing about race. But the very concept of a Chosen People means that the Bible has plenty of other verses that say the opposite:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of Jehovah, not even in the tenth generation. (Deuteronomy 23:3)

And why should that be a surprise? After all, the founders of those two tribes are said to have come from incestuous relations between Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 19:36–8). Yuck!

Just after the genocide passages in Deuteronomy, God forbids intermarriage with these foreign tribes (Deut. 7:3). The prohibition against intermarriage is also given in Ezra (9:2, 10:10) and Nehemiah (chapter 13). King Solomon was chastised for his foreign wives (1 Kings 11).

Biblical slavery is an excellent way to see the us/them distinction. It was limited to six years for fellow Jews, but it is for life for slaves from other tribes (Lev. 25:44–6). Let’s not imagine that God was colorblind.

The apologist might respond that the prohibitions against intermarriage were meant to avoid temptations to worship other gods. Okay, but they’re still anti-miscegeny laws (slapped down in the United States with Loving v. Virginia). Are those laws wrong today? If so, why excuse them back then?

Even some stories of Jesus show him focused only on his own tribe. He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” and he denies a Canaanite woman’s pleas for help with, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:22–8)—see the painting above. He forbids his disciples to waste time on the Gentiles or Samaritans (Matt. 10:5–6).

Back to Koukl:

The book of Judges—a record of the “Canaanization” of Israel—ends on this sinister note: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Sinister? Where else does “right” come from but from ourselves (both individually and as a society)? Koukl imagines an objective morality grounded outside humanity, and I impatiently await evidence that such a morality exists and is accessible (more here).

Tamp Down Those Feelings of Pity

Koukl wraps up his justification.

Without question, the Canaanite adults got their just deserts. Regarding the children, I personally take comfort in the fact that, on my view, those who die before the age of accountability are ushered immediately into Heaven.

Well, I still have questions. How can genocide be acceptable justice when it’s universally rejected today? And how can you be so comfortable with, say, a five-year-old Canaanite girl dying in agony from her wounds but then get freaked out at the abortion of a single fertilized human egg cell? What about Andrea Yates—did she really save her five children from hell by drowning them, like she hoped? And how does killing children square with, “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16)?

This nonsense reminds me of William Lane Craig’s response to the genocide of the Canaanites (my critique here). His conclusion:

Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

(Yeah, that’s also who I was most concerned about.)

This bizarre and embarrassing thinking is what happens when smart people are determined to shoehorn this Iron Age book into modern reality regardless of how poorly it fits. And many Christians wonder what about Christianity could possibly bother atheists …

Back to Koukl’s defense of God:

But was God right? I’ve already shown that if God needed morally sufficient reasons for killing the Canaanites, he had them in abundance.

After World War II, 24 Nazi leaders were tried in Nuremburg. Did the Allies have morally sufficient reasons for killing them all? They didn’t think so, because they weren’t all put to death. Seven received prison terms, and three were acquitted.

No, God did not have morally sufficient reasons for genocide. He may have had his own reasons that we’re unable to understand, but “morally sufficient” as those words are defined in the dictionary? Nope. And that also goes for “good,” “just,” and other imagined attributes of God.

Tamp Down Feelings of Reason as Well

Koukl encourages us to find biblical justification for his view that we should just let go and let God.

When Job lost everything dear to him, he did not rail against God, but worshipped Him

God made clear to Job that might makes right (Job 40)—not an especially good reason to justify one’s actions and compel worship.

Reflecting on the sovereignty of God, the Apostle Paul asked, “Does not the potter have a right over the clay?” (Romans 9:21)

Clay has no dreams that can be frustrated, and it can’t lose a loved one. It doesn’t feel pain when you cut it or hold it under water.

How does this irrelevant analogy help us justify God’s genocide of people who, unlike clay, are alive and do feel pain?

God is God and we are not. He is not to be measured by our standards. Rather, we are to be measured by His.

Don’t we share a moral sense with God? When Abraham haggled with God on the minimum number of good people in Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18), Abraham said, “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. … Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Abraham had no problem conversing with God using a shared moral sense. Anyway, this presupposing of God and then selecting facts to support that claim is the Hypothetical God Fallacy.

The Bible itself rejects this idea that God’s moral sense is out of reach.

Atheists read the account of Canaan’s conquest and sniff with moral indignation at the suggestion a holy God could be within His rights to destroy the Canaanite people along with their culture.

Not quite. For me, this contradiction between the good, righteous, and just god that the Christians imagine and his actions summarized in their own book is compelling evidence that what they imagine doesn’t exist.

Koukl imagines that he’s patched the holes his worldview, but it’s as leaky as ever.

I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, 
and of the most lovely benevolence: 
and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, 
so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, 
as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions 
should have proceeded from the same being.
— Thomas Jefferson

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 1/9/13.)

Image credit: Wikimedia

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