I Draw the Line at Canaan

I Draw the Line at Canaan September 27, 2013

jerichoI’d like to tell you about the last time I was able to stomach going to church. First you must realize that this was the culmination of years of struggle and tension for me. Back when I was still a teenager, I had only been a devoted Christian for two or three years before I began to see some glaring inconsistencies between Pauline theology and the superficial religious fixations of the evangelical church. Reading the letter to the Galatians (which virtually all scholars agree is one of the authentic letters) I saw a focus on freedom from law and external rule-following. But turning to look at my evangelical surroundings, I saw an almost obsessive preoccupation with appearances, image-keeping, and tradition. Before long I found that I identified more with edgier, non-conformist Christians subcultures—the misfits if you will—and I found these people to be more authentic and loads more fun to be around. Thankfully, for significant chunks of my young adult life I was able to get out of attending traditional Southern Baptist worship services, for which I was ill-suited anyway, having so little natural patience for formality. But to make a long story short, by the time I reached my mid-thirties I found myself once again attending adult Sunday School.

Now let me first say that this wasn’t your ordinary Sunday School class. People didn’t shuffle in half-asleep and sit in rows for 45 minutes to listen to someone teach from a generic curriculum. This was a small class comprised mostly of medical folks, mostly intelligent and upper-middle class, with big hearts and exemplary personal character. The teacher, who designed the lessons himself, was a well-respected medical specialist who routinely flies to Europe to chair committees on research protocols in his field. Highly intelligent group. Perhaps that’s what made our coverage of the next issue so jarring to me. One day the teacher announced that we would be studying the book of Joshua. Knowing how intelligently he approached previous studies, I looked forward to hearing him delve into the historical and contextual issues surrounding the book. And he did that well, as always. The class was attentive and interactive, as they always are. But then we came to the matter of the Canaanite conquest. Leaving aside the historicity of that series of tales (so far archaeologists have been unable to find any real-world evidence that these battles even took place), I was eager to hear how he and the rest of the class would reconcile the violence of the book with the loving character of God as portrayed (in some places) in the Bible. To be honest, I fully expected him to distance the God of Jesus from the violent portrait we get from reading the conquest stories. Many interpreters—even some conservative ones—simply say the Hebrews got it wrong. People are fallible, and their perception of “what God wants” can be flawed (more on the issues this raises in just a second). But a high view of the inspiration of the Bible constrained the good doctor to maintain that Israel correctly understood that Yahweh wanted them to run swords through the men, women, children, and babies of occupied Canaan. This I found unconscionably bad…so bad that it was very difficult to sit through those lessons. By the time we got done with that book, I was ready to leave for good.

I should probably insert here that by this time I had already been an atheist for a couple of years. I was attending Sunday School and church because of my family situation. As many in that circumstance often do, I was attending in order to keep from creating uncomfortable tension for those I loved who were still believers. Since I had a pretty decent theological education from a thoroughly conservative seminary, it was easy for me to participate in a discussion-oriented class like this. To be honest, I still could’ve taught a class in my sleep. But something clicked in me when we got to Canaan. All of a sudden, the appalling injustice of the whole storyline came crashing down on me. I became physically ill listening to our teacher rationalize why it was okay for the Hebrews to rob the Canaanites of their land through violent conquest. Retributive justice, he said, comes from God one way or another, and they had it coming. For my Sunday School teacher, this was an object lesson in anticipation of the future judgment of the whole world which God would one day execute on the Day of Judgment (and for those of you who are eschatologically inclined, this was no premillennial sensationalism; the good doctor is a preterist. But even they typically anticipate some future judgment, even if it’s just in Hell).

I tried objecting to this interpretation but I didn’t want to cause a scene. I did my best to present an alternative understanding which preserved some kind of moral integrity on the part of the Bible. I had my reasons for that at the time: mostly I was looking to build as many bridges between my own views and the views of the aforementioned loved ones as I could manage. But this was too wide a gulf for me to overcome. Sometimes you come upon a mess so gnarled and tangled that you throw your hands up and say, “Forget it. This is impossible to straighten out.” I consider myself an almost pathologically conciliatory person, a peacemaker to a fault. But even my powers of accommodation have their limits, and this story brought them out. Let me see if I can succinctly explain why the story of the conquest of Canaan alone should throw up several red flags for any person committed to critical thinking; if nothing else, it should warn you against a “high” view of the Bible.

If you maintain that the Bible is infallible then you have to accept that the Hebrews were commanded by God to kill every man, woman, and child who stood in the way of them getting the land occupied by the Canaanites because that’s what it says. Presumably those attacked were to be given the option of fleeing for their lives, but that’s little consolation since in either case the Hebrews were told to take their “promised land” by violent force. No one was to be left alive including women, children, babies and even the livestock. For many Christians (well, non-Calvinists anyway) this is just too much. If you maintain that Jesus was the real-world expression of the nature and character of God, and if you maintain that Jesus taught love for all people, not merely those like us, and that you should turn the other cheek, then this story (among many others) presents a major problem. Here you have Yahweh personally demanding the killing of presumably thousands of not only adults but also infants and children who could not possibly be held responsible for whatever their parents did to deserve genocide. This essentially makes Yahweh a war criminal. And no, it doesn’t make the situation any better if in some cases only some but not all of the women and children were killed, contrary to the language of the text cited above. I can almost hear someone objecting, “When he said to ‘kill everything‘ he didn’t really mean it like that.” Maybe go back and read it again.

Bill Craig famously argued that God was acting in mercy when he commanded the execution of those children because they would have grown up to be something awful, like child-sacrificers (Killing babies to appease a god? Anybody besides me see the irony there?) Craig went on to theorize that this was okay because these children would have gone directly to heaven when they died since they had not yet reached the age of accountability (still waiting to hear which Bible verse teaches that, btw). By this logic one could construct a justification for abortion which would make the typical evangelical sick to her stomach. In the end it was a belief in Hell which enabled our Sunday School teacher to accept this story at face value because, as he reasoned, if God’s just gonna punish everyone who disobeys him someday anyway, then this mere physical destruction pales in comparison. He had a good point. In the end, the doctrine of Hell justifies absolutely any injustice we could imagine.

Religious dogma can put you in the most uncomfortable positions of cognitive dissonance. I recently read a comment from a woman attempting to reconcile a high view of inspiration with an acknowledgement of the obvious brutality of this story. She began by saying that God can kill anybody he wants because, you know, that’s one of the perks of being in charge of all things. He makes the rules. But then two sentences later she turned around and suggested that those were “different times” and that it is hard for people today to conceive of how violent and brutish life was back then. In other words, don’t blame God for their brutality; that’s just how ancient tribes rolled. As we say in the Deep South, “Bless her heart.” She can’t seem to make up her mind about who exactly is to blame for this atrocity. If you credit the Hebrews for this action, you’ve just admitted the Bible incorrectly attributed the decision to Yahweh. But if you credit God, you are stuck trying to justify the actions of a divine monster. Perhaps she is trying to argue that God behaved differently back then because it was a different time? Did he grow up and mature out of the temper tantrum phase? My Sunday School teacher would argue that God is “the same yesterday, today, and forever,” and that something much worse is coming on Judgment Day, so deal with it.

Another great irony is that these same people have a habit of telling people like me that ethics without (their) God leads to moral relativism. But when I survey atheists I can’t find any who believe you can morally justify the kind of ethnic cleansing this story represents. I’ve never had one even try. They seem unanimous.* But then if I put five Christians in a room and ask them the same question, I will likely get five different answers even though they’re all working from the same religious text. So which worldview leads more to relativism? The ethical theory of most believers I know is what Craig and others call the Divine Command Theory, which says that “whatever God does is good.” This means that if at one point God tells a man to kill his son, that’s cool. I mean why not? God did that too, right? If God wants to drown millions of people with one massive flood, that makes it alright. Any action you can think of has a possible justification under Divine Command Theory. All you have to do is say “God told them to do it” and you’ve got your justification right there. You can’t get any more relativistic than that.

I remember one night at bedtime my kindergartner asked for a story from her Story Bible, so I opened it at the bookmark to find that the next story was the conquest of Canaan. This Bible tells its stories at an elementary level using cute cartoons, so I figured I could handle it alright. With clenched teeth, I read her the story as her older sister listened in from her bed nearby. As the story concluded, my little girl asked why God was being so mean to those people. Her sharp little mind instantly knew this situation was all kinds of wrong. I honestly didn’t know what to say. My mind flooded with things to say which would not have gone over well with the older daughter listening nearby (my situation is complicated). I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that I think I dodged the question for fear of saying something which would upset a delicate balance that exists in my family life right now. Those who have been in a situation similar to mine will understand how difficult it can be to know what to do when moments like these occur. I quickly changed the subject and finished putting the girls to bed because it was late and I didn’t think this was the best time to open up such a large can of worms.

Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I don’t think I handled it the way that I should have. In fact, thinking back over my interactions the last couple of years with people I know, I see that I have accommodated and kept my opinion to myself on so many things that I am sometimes guilty of complicit silence. It’s hard to know which battles to pick, you know? I am often unsure, and I tend to err on the side of keeping the peace. But I draw the line at Canaan. When something is so clearly wrong that even your kindergartner is thinking more clearly than a world-class physician, it’s time to say something. No one benefits from reinforcing the kind of convoluted logic which can justify ethnic cleansing and territorial wars (even the fictional kind), much less eternal conscious torment. I will continue to do my best to foster constructive dialogue with all of my believing friends and family who are willing to have rational discussions with me about their beliefs. But do not expect me to be cool with this one, because I won’t.

_______

* I didn’t interview any despotic dictators for my ethics question because all the ones I could think of were either dead or didn’t return my call; but despots don’t follow a moral code, anyway…they just do whatever they want, so frankly they’re irrelevant.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Donald Butts

    In Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God” she traces the evolution of the Canaanite-smiting, brutish warrior god Yahweh into today’s detached, far-away, transcendent capital-G God. An interesting transition.

  • Donald Butts

    In Karen Armstrong’s “A History of God” she traces the evolution of the Canaanite-smiting, brutish warrior god Yahweh into today’s detached, far-away, transcendent capital-G God. An interesting transition.

  • I think it’s fascinating to find out what bit of craziness was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It seems like it’s a different straw for almost everybody, doesn’t it?

    Progressives are trying to rescue their religion from that barbarity, but I don’t think the god they worship has anything in common with the Bible’s god beyond the names being used.

  • I think it’s fascinating to find out what bit of craziness was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It seems like it’s a different straw for almost everybody, doesn’t it?

    Progressives are trying to rescue their religion from that barbarity, but I don’t think the god they worship has anything in common with the Bible’s god beyond the names being used.

  • Lee

    Wait, God evolves? Now that is simply too ironic to entertain…

  • Lee

    Wait, God evolves? Now that is simply too ironic to entertain…

  • I drew the line at “those who have not yet heard the name of Jesus will burn in hell” so we must go to the mission fields to save them. That was the last sermon I heard as I stood up at that point, walked out, and never returned. If I had it to do over again I would have shouted something nasty on the way out…

  • I drew the line at “those who have not yet heard the name of Jesus will burn in hell” so we must go to the mission fields to save them. That was the last sermon I heard as I stood up at that point, walked out, and never returned. If I had it to do over again I would have shouted something nasty on the way out…

  • Dear gentle people, there is no God. This is all fiction, mythology. People created God in their own image to explain the unknown and control other people. The evil is in people controlling others to their detriment. Science offers explanations based on testable reality using critical thinking. There is harm in teaching people to ignore reality and rely on faith. Complicit silence endorses this harm and should be stopped. Speak up and save the children now.

  • Dear gentle people, there is no God. This is all fiction, mythology. People created God in their own image to explain the unknown and control other people. The evil is in people controlling others to their detriment. Science offers explanations based on testable reality using critical thinking. There is harm in teaching people to ignore reality and rely on faith. Complicit silence endorses this harm and should be stopped. Speak up and save the children now.

  • ^ You don’t say!

  • ^ You don’t say!

  • My mind could accept the cruelty of Canaan with no problem; Left Behind was a vital part of my high school theological education and what a few hundred Israelites did in a desert pales to the deception and subsequent torture and damnation of over six billion people. It’s really nothing to worry about if you’re on the right side and convinced that God knew what he was doing. It wasn’t something I dared to admit to anyone, of course.

    What broke my faith was the increasing realization that God’s violence was nothing but talk. First the debunking of the Canaanite slaughter and the expanse of Egypt during the reign of Ramses II through archeological evidence. The very existence of miracles took a while longer, but there’s only so much unanswered prayer you can do and observe before reaching that point (a useful exercise to move this point along–trace the scale and significance of divine actions from Genesis through to the later/deuterocanonical/extracanonical literature, of course excluding apocalyptic). Ultimately Dawkins’ analysis of natural contingency undercut the need of appealing to God for anything in the world.

    But if God actually worked in the world, and the Old Testament was accurate in its depictions of history… Well, cruelty would make more sense if he had to assert his dominance over other gods, as was the case in the Pentateuch. But what honest appeal does one have when power resides outside of human hands? If you want to live, your ideas of justice have to go out the window. One could consider the route of Revelation 20:7-10, but you quickly see how that goes, and not everyone can negotiate God down like Moses and Abraham did.

  • My mind could accept the cruelty of Canaan with no problem; Left Behind was a vital part of my high school theological education and what a few hundred Israelites did in a desert pales to the deception and subsequent torture and damnation of over six billion people. It’s really nothing to worry about if you’re on the right side and convinced that God knew what he was doing. It wasn’t something I dared to admit to anyone, of course.

    What broke my faith was the increasing realization that God’s violence was nothing but talk. First the debunking of the Canaanite slaughter and the expanse of Egypt during the reign of Ramses II through archeological evidence. The very existence of miracles took a while longer, but there’s only so much unanswered prayer you can do and observe before reaching that point (a useful exercise to move this point along–trace the scale and significance of divine actions from Genesis through to the later/deuterocanonical/extracanonical literature, of course excluding apocalyptic). Ultimately Dawkins’ analysis of natural contingency undercut the need of appealing to God for anything in the world.

    But if God actually worked in the world, and the Old Testament was accurate in its depictions of history… Well, cruelty would make more sense if he had to assert his dominance over other gods, as was the case in the Pentateuch. But what honest appeal does one have when power resides outside of human hands? If you want to live, your ideas of justice have to go out the window. One could consider the route of Revelation 20:7-10, but you quickly see how that goes, and not everyone can negotiate God down like Moses and Abraham did.

  • mikespeir

    LOL! We have to go evangelize them so to make sure they at least have the option to burn for all eternity.

  • mikespeir

    LOL! We have to go evangelize them so to make sure they at least have the option to burn for all eternity.

  • bonnie

    It’s interesting how Christians try so hard to reconcile the cruel with the loving. Religion has evolved with society and so has its God. It’s goal though is the same as always. Control.

  • bonnie

    It’s interesting how Christians try so hard to reconcile the cruel with the loving. Religion has evolved with society and so has its God. It’s goal though is the same as always. Control.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    What’s most disconcerting is that “a well-respected medical specialist” would have such a “biblical” viewpoint in light of the “Modern Hippocratic Oath” that, in one paragraph has this sentence…”Above all, I must not play at God.”

    Hippocratic Oath, Modern Version

    Hippocratic Oath (Modern version)

    I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

    I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

    I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

    I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

    I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

    I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

    I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

    I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

    I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

    If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

    Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.

  • Gra*ma Banana

    What’s most disconcerting is that “a well-respected medical specialist” would have such a “biblical” viewpoint in light of the “Modern Hippocratic Oath” that, in one paragraph has this sentence…”Above all, I must not play at God.”

    Hippocratic Oath, Modern Version

    Hippocratic Oath (Modern version)

    I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

    I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

    I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

    I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

    I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

    I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

    I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

    I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

    I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

    If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

    Written in 1964 by Louis Lasagna, Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University, and used in many medical schools today.

  • Like you say there is not way around this. If you try rationalize that things were different then you have to accept as Lee mentioned that God evolves. But if Gods morals are evolving then surely you have to accept that God is a figment of scoieties imagination.

  • I don’t know if you’ve encountered this before, but Richard Dawkins draws the exact same line. In explaining why he will not debate William Lane Craig, Dawkins specifically cites Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig

  • I don’t know if you’ve encountered this before, but Richard Dawkins draws the exact same line. In explaining why he will not debate William Lane Craig, Dawkins specifically cites Craig’s defense of the Canaanite genocide:

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig

  • I knew he wouldn’t debate him. Didn’t realize that was why. Well that makes this a rather unoriginal opinion, then, doesn’t it? LOL. I’m not surprised.

  • I knew he wouldn’t debate him. Didn’t realize that was why. Well that makes this a rather unoriginal opinion, then, doesn’t it? LOL. I’m not surprised.

  • I mean…Richard got the idea from me, you know. Called me up one day and asked my opinion. I said, “Richie, don’t do it, man. Just don’t! Because of Canaan.”

    True story.

  • I mean…Richard got the idea from me, you know. Called me up one day and asked my opinion. I said, “Richie, don’t do it, man. Just don’t! Because of Canaan.”

    True story.

  • He tweeted about it. ;)

    And so start internet rumors, see next week on Wikipedia.

  • He tweeted about it. ;)

    And so start internet rumors, see next week on Wikipedia.

  • Impressive! You inspired me to do something I’d been avoiding on my blog, “The Benevolent Thou.”

    I posted the preface of my novel, “The Empathy Imperative.”

    You and I had very similar journeys and I appreciate your prodding me to post mine which is elucidated in the preface. We asked many of the same questions and came to similar conclusions.

    Thank you!

  • Impressive! You inspired me to do something I’d been avoiding on my blog, “The Benevolent Thou.”

    I posted the preface of my novel, “The Empathy Imperative.”

    You and I had very similar journeys and I appreciate your prodding me to post mine which is elucidated in the preface. We asked many of the same questions and came to similar conclusions.

    Thank you!

  • maxfurr says:

    September 30, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Impressive! You inspired me to do something I’d been avoiding on my blog, “The Benevolent Thou.”

    I posted the preface of my novel, “The Empathy Imperative.”

    You and I had very similar journeys and I appreciate your prodding me to post mine which is elucidated in the preface. We asked many of the same questions and came to similar conclusions.

    Thank you!

  • maxfurr says:

    September 30, 2013 at 9:12 am

    Impressive! You inspired me to do something I’d been avoiding on my blog, “The Benevolent Thou.”

    I posted the preface of my novel, “The Empathy Imperative.”

    You and I had very similar journeys and I appreciate your prodding me to post mine which is elucidated in the preface. We asked many of the same questions and came to similar conclusions.

    Thank you!

  • MJ

    Hey Neil,

    I checked out your videos on your YouTube channel and this is the first blog post of yours that I read (or, more honestly, skimmed). You seem like an extremely nice guy is is very well-intentioned and actually correct in a lot of your beliefs pertaining to religion.

    I’ll just say that I am a senior in college and I was *relatively* secularly minded in high school. But unlike most college students, when I began to research the religion I was brought up in (Roman Catholicism) I began to embrace it and grow in it.

    So the only comment that I will make on your article is that you are absolutely right to reject the Bible as absolute historical and literal truth. You are right to reject deities which directly command genocide of innocents. The fact that you are able to do this with the fear of hell present makes your virtue even more heroic. Many religious folk do not have this kind of virtue.

    As a Roman Catholic, I believe that the Bible is not one book, but rather a library of many books compiled over a tremendously long period of time, written by a wide variety of authors in many different literary genres. If you take a particular story out of its historical context and historical purpose, you will get contradictions and absurdities.

    The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that the Bible is a progressive revelation ultimately culminating in the fullness of revelation in Christ (Heb 1:1-2). It is like an aperture of a lens opening wider and wider, letting in more truth. Most of the Bible is not even intended to be accurate theological truth. But it was simply written to debunk the prevailing false beliefs of the time. For example the Book of Job, without answering the problem of evil, debunks the belief that God causes our suffering. I could give many other examples. There are errors and discrepancies in the New Testament. The only things which are certain to be inerrant are matters which pertain to our salvation. The slight errors exist because God works through human authors in writing the Bible. It is the Word of God in the Words of Men.

    And God is not leaving us to interpret the Word of God for ourselves. He will not leave us orphans. This is why he established a living church with the authority to “bind and loose” in his name. Jesus did not give us a book in the first century, but rather a church. The Bible was only compiled later on in light of what the Church intended to teach.

    In conclusion, you are correct to abandon biblical literalistic inerrancy. But I would check out the Roman Catholic Church for a much more intellectual interpretative tradition.

    Note: This rant is not intended to “prove” Catholicsim true. Only how a description of how Catholic would responsibly approach the Bible.

    -MJ

  • MJ

    Hey Neil,

    I checked out your videos on your YouTube channel and this is the first blog post of yours that I read (or, more honestly, skimmed). You seem like an extremely nice guy is is very well-intentioned and actually correct in a lot of your beliefs pertaining to religion.

    I’ll just say that I am a senior in college and I was *relatively* secularly minded in high school. But unlike most college students, when I began to research the religion I was brought up in (Roman Catholicism) I began to embrace it and grow in it.

    So the only comment that I will make on your article is that you are absolutely right to reject the Bible as absolute historical and literal truth. You are right to reject deities which directly command genocide of innocents. The fact that you are able to do this with the fear of hell present makes your virtue even more heroic. Many religious folk do not have this kind of virtue.

    As a Roman Catholic, I believe that the Bible is not one book, but rather a library of many books compiled over a tremendously long period of time, written by a wide variety of authors in many different literary genres. If you take a particular story out of its historical context and historical purpose, you will get contradictions and absurdities.

    The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that the Bible is a progressive revelation ultimately culminating in the fullness of revelation in Christ (Heb 1:1-2). It is like an aperture of a lens opening wider and wider, letting in more truth. Most of the Bible is not even intended to be accurate theological truth. But it was simply written to debunk the prevailing false beliefs of the time. For example the Book of Job, without answering the problem of evil, debunks the belief that God causes our suffering. I could give many other examples. There are errors and discrepancies in the New Testament. The only things which are certain to be inerrant are matters which pertain to our salvation. The slight errors exist because God works through human authors in writing the Bible. It is the Word of God in the Words of Men.

    And God is not leaving us to interpret the Word of God for ourselves. He will not leave us orphans. This is why he established a living church with the authority to “bind and loose” in his name. Jesus did not give us a book in the first century, but rather a church. The Bible was only compiled later on in light of what the Church intended to teach.

    In conclusion, you are correct to abandon biblical literalistic inerrancy. But I would check out the Roman Catholic Church for a much more intellectual interpretative tradition.

    Note: This rant is not intended to “prove” Catholicsim true. Only how a description of how Catholic would responsibly approach the Bible.

    -MJ

  • Thanks for the reply, Mick, although you seem to have skimmed entirely too quickly. You said “You are right to reject deities which directly command genocide of innocents. The fact that you are able to do this with the fear of hell present makes your virtue even more heroic.”

    Are you under the impression that I think Hell is a real thing? You must be misunderstanding something.

    I understand that the RCC has won your favor at the ripe age of, what? Twenty One? I hope the best for you in your spiritual journey, but I also feel I should encourage you to consider the possibility that when you are 41 you might not hold to all the same beliefs that you held to when you were 21. I guess we’ll see :)

  • Lee

    So MJ, how do Roman Catholics approach the story of Canaan?

  • Lee

    So MJ, how do Roman Catholics approach the story of Canaan?

  • MJ

    Yes thanks for getting back to me. I should have put more emphasis on the fact that I skimmed it. I’ll look into it in more depth soon.

    But I’ll be honest. A lot of Christians cling to their beliefs because of a threat of Hell. “If I stop being a Christian, God will send me to Hell.” The assertion I am willing to defend is that it is better to adhere to self-evident moral axioms then prostrate before a deity out of fear. A deity which murders innocents is not worthy of our attention.

    I also wouldn’t discount what I have to say because I’m in college. With this time being the exception (out of laziness or whatever), I usually make every effort that I can to engage the most rigorous versions of the arguments that I encounter.

    I just wanted to touch base as soon as I could and would up ranting a little bit (sorry for that). But thanks for getting back to me. It is appreciated.

  • MJ

    Yes thanks for getting back to me. I should have put more emphasis on the fact that I skimmed it. I’ll look into it in more depth soon.

    But I’ll be honest. A lot of Christians cling to their beliefs because of a threat of Hell. “If I stop being a Christian, God will send me to Hell.” The assertion I am willing to defend is that it is better to adhere to self-evident moral axioms then prostrate before a deity out of fear. A deity which murders innocents is not worthy of our attention.

    I also wouldn’t discount what I have to say because I’m in college. With this time being the exception (out of laziness or whatever), I usually make every effort that I can to engage the most rigorous versions of the arguments that I encounter.

    I just wanted to touch base as soon as I could and would up ranting a little bit (sorry for that). But thanks for getting back to me. It is appreciated.

  • Well, Mick, if you don’t feel being a mere young’un excuses you from rigorous challenge, then take a gander at Lee’s question. He asked what the RCC’s take is on the Canaanite genocide. I am not aware of an official condemnation of it. Would you care to set the record straight?

    I’m also wondering if you are under the impression that the RCC doesn’t use fear of eternal damnation as either a deterrent or a tool of evangelism?

    Now for a point of agreement: “A deity which murders innocents is not worthy of our attention.”

    I totally agree :)

    But perhaps you better check and see what The Church says about whether or not God kills innocents.

  • Well, Mick, if you don’t feel being a mere young’un excuses you from rigorous challenge, then take a gander at Lee’s question. He asked what the RCC’s take is on the Canaanite genocide. I am not aware of an official condemnation of it. Would you care to set the record straight?

    I’m also wondering if you are under the impression that the RCC doesn’t use fear of eternal damnation as either a deterrent or a tool of evangelism?

    Now for a point of agreement: “A deity which murders innocents is not worthy of our attention.”

    I totally agree :)

    But perhaps you better check and see what The Church says about whether or not God kills innocents.

  • I just wonder why MJ considers that divine revelation “culminated” with Jesus Christ. Why stop there? It seems quite clear that the RCC’s evolved right alongside the rest of humanity; there was a time when the RCC embraced the doctrine of eternal Hell and encouraged donations to offset sins (and, when it decided that purgatory was better, to offset time spent there), and when it embraced and encouraged slavery, even going so far as to greatly contribute to the slave trade thriving all through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It doesn’t do those things now, obviously; clearly the revelation of what they think their god wants and demands of them is ongoing. There’s no reason to think that anything stopped with Jesus. Nor is there any reason to see the Book of Job as “debunking” the idea that the Bible’s god causes suffering; the entire ordeal was prompted by a cheap bet Yahweh laid with Lucifer, and the Bible is filled top to bottom with people saying that this or that bit of suffering or natural disaster came straight from the Bible’s god, so that’s a singularly weird interpretation. I sure never heard it before now. (This is me, preaching to the choir.)

    Ah, Catholicism… I was brought up very Catholic and can tell you that for sheer cognitive dissonance, you cannot beat that religion. 41,000 denominations, according to La Wiki, all saying different stuff, all claiming different things. They can’t all be right, but they could definitely all be wrong.

    All that said, like you, I’ll worry about “hell” when someone can credibly demonstrate it even exists.

  • I just wonder why MJ considers that divine revelation “culminated” with Jesus Christ. Why stop there? It seems quite clear that the RCC’s evolved right alongside the rest of humanity; there was a time when the RCC embraced the doctrine of eternal Hell and encouraged donations to offset sins (and, when it decided that purgatory was better, to offset time spent there), and when it embraced and encouraged slavery, even going so far as to greatly contribute to the slave trade thriving all through the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It doesn’t do those things now, obviously; clearly the revelation of what they think their god wants and demands of them is ongoing. There’s no reason to think that anything stopped with Jesus. Nor is there any reason to see the Book of Job as “debunking” the idea that the Bible’s god causes suffering; the entire ordeal was prompted by a cheap bet Yahweh laid with Lucifer, and the Bible is filled top to bottom with people saying that this or that bit of suffering or natural disaster came straight from the Bible’s god, so that’s a singularly weird interpretation. I sure never heard it before now. (This is me, preaching to the choir.)

    Ah, Catholicism… I was brought up very Catholic and can tell you that for sheer cognitive dissonance, you cannot beat that religion. 41,000 denominations, according to La Wiki, all saying different stuff, all claiming different things. They can’t all be right, but they could definitely all be wrong.

    All that said, like you, I’ll worry about “hell” when someone can credibly demonstrate it even exists.

  • MJ

    The Church does not teach dogmatically on such things but if you are going to take the Magisterium of the Catholic Church seriously, it is impossible to ascribe moral evils to God.

    “These two punishments [eternal and temporal] must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1472)

    “God is infinitely good and all his works are good.” (CCC 375)

    Any kind of human suffering can only be accounted for by human or angelic sin and its inherent results.

    I am not entirely familiar with the story of Canaan and its historical context so I can’t answer that, but a biblical story which is often lampooned in a similar way is 1 Samuel 15:3. It reads:

    “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

    Now if you just quote this, it doesn’t make much sense (at all). But when you read the entire chapter, you realize that when read through a spiritual lens, God is giving a lesson on how to deal with sin. Read the all of 1 Samuel 15 (if you are interested, I don’t want to be forcing homework upon you). We can discuss after, if you want.

  • MJ

    The Church does not teach dogmatically on such things but if you are going to take the Magisterium of the Catholic Church seriously, it is impossible to ascribe moral evils to God.

    “These two punishments [eternal and temporal] must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1472)

    “God is infinitely good and all his works are good.” (CCC 375)

    Any kind of human suffering can only be accounted for by human or angelic sin and its inherent results.

    I am not entirely familiar with the story of Canaan and its historical context so I can’t answer that, but a biblical story which is often lampooned in a similar way is 1 Samuel 15:3. It reads:

    “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

    Now if you just quote this, it doesn’t make much sense (at all). But when you read the entire chapter, you realize that when read through a spiritual lens, God is giving a lesson on how to deal with sin. Read the all of 1 Samuel 15 (if you are interested, I don’t want to be forcing homework upon you). We can discuss after, if you want.

  • I’m actually quite comfortable with homework because I’m a teacher. But I know these stories well. You seem to be suggesting, though, that they didn’t actually happen. Do you feel that way about most of the stories in the Bible, or just the ones including violence?

  • I’m actually quite comfortable with homework because I’m a teacher. But I know these stories well. You seem to be suggesting, though, that they didn’t actually happen. Do you feel that way about most of the stories in the Bible, or just the ones including violence?

  • MJ

    Those who explicitly use scare tactics as a form of evangelization are out of line. The only scare tactics that we should be using are those which explain the horrors of sin. That way people will stop sinning. Did you know that (in Catholicism) the only reason that God is against sin is that it harms/kills us? There is absolutely no other reason. Thanks for continuing the dialogue.

  • And in reference to the story you cited, you seem to be saying that it makes it better that Saul didn’t actually obey Yahweh’s command. Does that mean Saul was more moral than Yahweh?

    Or does the fact that he didn’t wanna give up all that good livestock mean something about Yahweh? I guess in regards to that story I don’t follow where you’re going with it.

  • And in reference to the story you cited, you seem to be saying that it makes it better that Saul didn’t actually obey Yahweh’s command. Does that mean Saul was more moral than Yahweh?

    Or does the fact that he didn’t wanna give up all that good livestock mean something about Yahweh? I guess in regards to that story I don’t follow where you’re going with it.

  • MJ

    That is correct. Both I and the Roman Catholic Church categorically deny that God has ever performed anything evil in anyway. Most of the Old Testament books are mythic/allegorical in nature and were only written to teach basic spiritual lessons to extremely underdeveloped societies.

  • MJ

    That is correct. Both I and the Roman Catholic Church categorically deny that God has ever performed anything evil in anyway. Most of the Old Testament books are mythic/allegorical in nature and were only written to teach basic spiritual lessons to extremely underdeveloped societies.

  • MJ

    If you don’t mind, I only wanted to touch base. I’ll come back and continue the discussion later today or this week. And I’ll admit I got a little out of hand in my original rant. I’ll definitely be back on this blog though. I like the work you are doing (from what I have seen so far).

  • MJ

    If you don’t mind, I only wanted to touch base. I’ll come back and continue the discussion later today or this week. And I’ll admit I got a little out of hand in my original rant. I’ll definitely be back on this blog though. I like the work you are doing (from what I have seen so far).

  • I see. And do you (and The Church) feel that people were significantly different in the NT such that those stories really happened, whereas the the ones before it didn’t?

    And why would God choose such violent stories of the unjust killing of innocents in order to teach people about himself?

  • I see. And do you (and The Church) feel that people were significantly different in the NT such that those stories really happened, whereas the the ones before it didn’t?

    And why would God choose such violent stories of the unjust killing of innocents in order to teach people about himself?

  • Alright. Till next time.

  • Alright. Till next time.

  • Lee

    Ok MJ, let’s consider this rationale.

    “These two punishments [eternal and temporal] must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.”

    From the nature of sin or without seems to have no bearing on the story. Either the story is allegorical or literal or somewhere in between. For me, it simply doesn’t matter. Whether the vengeance is real or contrived to scare the shit out of anyone opposing his own, it’s reprehensible and not worth attention, much less worship.

    I often ponder the “design” of god’s divine social construct as described in the texts. Why did he choose “heaven” and “hell”? Why original sin and salvation through crucifixion? Would it not be easier to simply design a better human? All very silly when you start thinking about the many different superior constructs a supposed god could have taken. Theoretically, a god could produce perfection and why wouldn’t he if we were truly the purpose of everything? All very legitimate and basic questions that are always met with the most insanely untenable responses. The truth is such a god, if it existed at all, fucked it up royally and would not be trusted to design a broomstick by today’s standards.

    The story of Canaan’s demise is one of many utterly atrocious crimes advocated by the christian god and whether spurred by sin or vengeance or narcissism should be examined with the same contempt as similar modern day events. I’ve said it before, if the christian god is real and the bible is at all literal, I’ll take my plight in hell. At least the conversation will be lively and intellectually stimulating and I won’t have to walk around worshiping such an animal.

  • Lee

    Ok MJ, let’s consider this rationale.

    “These two punishments [eternal and temporal] must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.”

    From the nature of sin or without seems to have no bearing on the story. Either the story is allegorical or literal or somewhere in between. For me, it simply doesn’t matter. Whether the vengeance is real or contrived to scare the shit out of anyone opposing his own, it’s reprehensible and not worth attention, much less worship.

    I often ponder the “design” of god’s divine social construct as described in the texts. Why did he choose “heaven” and “hell”? Why original sin and salvation through crucifixion? Would it not be easier to simply design a better human? All very silly when you start thinking about the many different superior constructs a supposed god could have taken. Theoretically, a god could produce perfection and why wouldn’t he if we were truly the purpose of everything? All very legitimate and basic questions that are always met with the most insanely untenable responses. The truth is such a god, if it existed at all, fucked it up royally and would not be trusted to design a broomstick by today’s standards.

    The story of Canaan’s demise is one of many utterly atrocious crimes advocated by the christian god and whether spurred by sin or vengeance or narcissism should be examined with the same contempt as similar modern day events. I’ve said it before, if the christian god is real and the bible is at all literal, I’ll take my plight in hell. At least the conversation will be lively and intellectually stimulating and I won’t have to walk around worshiping such an animal.

  • You may be interested in a post I wrote last year, Redeeming God in Canaan, which is about different interpretations of these verses.

    TLDR:

    Peter Enns, a progressive Evangelical, says that “the Bible is what happens when God allows his children to tell his story” — and God’s children, at this point in the writing of the Bible, rejoiced in violence.

    Rachel Barrenblatt, a Jewish rabbi, reads the Bible expansively, so the lesson is: “If you choose to dispossess the inhabitants of the land, then you’d better kill or displace all of them — otherwise you’re in for a world of reciprocal suffering, a spiral of violence which will enmesh generation after generation in hatred and bloodshed.”

    I say, the genocide of the Canaanites did not historically occur, so it is *fiction*. I can then read it as a story about what it means to be an insider or an outsider in the community, and what it means to transform yourself so you feel like a stranger in your own land.

    Comments are closed over there, so reply here if you feel like it.

  • You may be interested in a post I wrote last year, Redeeming God in Canaan, which is about different interpretations of these verses.

    TLDR:

    Peter Enns, a progressive Evangelical, says that “the Bible is what happens when God allows his children to tell his story” — and God’s children, at this point in the writing of the Bible, rejoiced in violence.

    Rachel Barrenblatt, a Jewish rabbi, reads the Bible expansively, so the lesson is: “If you choose to dispossess the inhabitants of the land, then you’d better kill or displace all of them — otherwise you’re in for a world of reciprocal suffering, a spiral of violence which will enmesh generation after generation in hatred and bloodshed.”

    I say, the genocide of the Canaanites did not historically occur, so it is *fiction*. I can then read it as a story about what it means to be an insider or an outsider in the community, and what it means to transform yourself so you feel like a stranger in your own land.

    Comments are closed over there, so reply here if you feel like it.

  • mikespeir

    I, too, think it’s probably fiction. It’s fiction written by people who thought that slaughtering women and children, sheep an goats was okay–even righteous–as long as they were somebody else’s women and children, sheep and goats.

  • There’s a quote somewhere about a missionary who preached to some of the Inuit. When they asked what happened to people that didn’t believe, they were told about hell. When they asked about people who never heard of Jesus, they were told that God wouldn’t judge them because they never had the opportunity to believe. Then they asked, “Then why did you come here to preach it to us?”

  • There’s a quote somewhere about a missionary who preached to some of the Inuit. When they asked what happened to people that didn’t believe, they were told about hell. When they asked about people who never heard of Jesus, they were told that God wouldn’t judge them because they never had the opportunity to believe. Then they asked, “Then why did you come here to preach it to us?”

  • Pofarmer

    UHm, MJ. how do you know which parts are allegorical and which parts aren’t? Is the Adam and Eve story allegorcal? Because if it is, then the fall never happened, and the whole basis for Catholic doctrine just got cancelled.

  • Pofarmer

    UHm, MJ. how do you know which parts are allegorical and which parts aren’t? Is the Adam and Eve story allegorcal? Because if it is, then the fall never happened, and the whole basis for Catholic doctrine just got cancelled.

  • I can’t remember where I drew the line at, but for me the several stories where god commanded or allowed the killing even of a single person, just don’t cut. I read about the plagues the Egyptians had to go through and there is no way, unless one is a psychopath, you can’t get around it.

    There is a phrase usually attributed to Ivan in Brothers Karamazov- if god doesn’t exist, everything is permitted which I think should read if god exists, everything is permitted. I say this because, the divines or those who claim to speak for god tell us any injustice can be forgiven. All the catholic must do is sin the whole week, repent on Saturday, be in church on Sunday and continue from where he left. How is that for a moral guidance?

  • I can’t remember where I drew the line at, but for me the several stories where god commanded or allowed the killing even of a single person, just don’t cut. I read about the plagues the Egyptians had to go through and there is no way, unless one is a psychopath, you can’t get around it.

    There is a phrase usually attributed to Ivan in Brothers Karamazov- if god doesn’t exist, everything is permitted which I think should read if god exists, everything is permitted. I say this because, the divines or those who claim to speak for god tell us any injustice can be forgiven. All the catholic must do is sin the whole week, repent on Saturday, be in church on Sunday and continue from where he left. How is that for a moral guidance?

  • MJ

    1) The Catholic Church categorically denies that God commanded the killing of any person. These stories are mythic in nature and only intended to teach a very specific thing at a very specific point in history. Consider that the Bible is not 100% inerrant. It is only inerrant in what the intended meaning of the specific passage is. Sometimes the language of condemnation/murder can convey a certain literary point, but when such an action is attributed to God, it is never mean to convey literal truth.

    2) You don’t understand the Catholic definition of justice. You are confused by the secular concept of justice, which would say “he was punished in accord with what he deserved for his actions.” On the Catholic worldview however, God’s concept of justice is making it so that we are completely well. Any injustice would be any departure from that. Consider that the only reason God instructs us not to sin is because sin harms us. There is no other reason. So when you proposed that everything is permitted, if there is no God, I would disagree. Sinning all week would not be in accord with our highest dignity and half-hearted apologies on Sundays would not be either.

    Please consider these things.

  • MJ

    1) The Catholic Church categorically denies that God commanded the killing of any person. These stories are mythic in nature and only intended to teach a very specific thing at a very specific point in history. Consider that the Bible is not 100% inerrant. It is only inerrant in what the intended meaning of the specific passage is. Sometimes the language of condemnation/murder can convey a certain literary point, but when such an action is attributed to God, it is never mean to convey literal truth.

    2) You don’t understand the Catholic definition of justice. You are confused by the secular concept of justice, which would say “he was punished in accord with what he deserved for his actions.” On the Catholic worldview however, God’s concept of justice is making it so that we are completely well. Any injustice would be any departure from that. Consider that the only reason God instructs us not to sin is because sin harms us. There is no other reason. So when you proposed that everything is permitted, if there is no God, I would disagree. Sinning all week would not be in accord with our highest dignity and half-hearted apologies on Sundays would not be either.

    Please consider these things.

  • MJ, thanks for your response.

    Well, the Catholic church can deny god commanding the killing of anyone, if it so chooses to. If you consider the parts where god kills or turns a blind eye to the killing of others as mythic, I will not begrudge you. You, however, will tell me where you draw the line between myth and fact and what magic you use to do so. I will need the decoder ring to use in future!
    You mean to say there is catholic justice and secular justice? In that case, then, I don’t think we can continue to have a discussion on justice especially since it means a totally different thing in your world. If as you say god instructs us not to sin for our own good, does it occur to you the problem must originate with god. He could have made us sinless or not made us at all. And to say he instructs us not act as we do, rather as he made us, is to imply that he must have noticed there was a failure on his part. I said everything is permitted if there is a god! And it is so, if any offender can go to a priest for absolution of sins, then all one needs is to put off the date of such confession to when he thinks he will no longer be repine and murdering!

  • MJ, thanks for your response.

    Well, the Catholic church can deny god commanding the killing of anyone, if it so chooses to. If you consider the parts where god kills or turns a blind eye to the killing of others as mythic, I will not begrudge you. You, however, will tell me where you draw the line between myth and fact and what magic you use to do so. I will need the decoder ring to use in future!
    You mean to say there is catholic justice and secular justice? In that case, then, I don’t think we can continue to have a discussion on justice especially since it means a totally different thing in your world. If as you say god instructs us not to sin for our own good, does it occur to you the problem must originate with god. He could have made us sinless or not made us at all. And to say he instructs us not act as we do, rather as he made us, is to imply that he must have noticed there was a failure on his part. I said everything is permitted if there is a god! And it is so, if any offender can go to a priest for absolution of sins, then all one needs is to put off the date of such confession to when he thinks he will no longer be repine and murdering!

  • MJ

    Great Video by Father Barron.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

  • MJ

    Great Video by Father Barron.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

  • I recently came across this wonderful bit in a debate between Prof Lawrence Krauss and Dr William Lane Craig, where Krauss takes Craig to task over his justification of the Canaanite genocide. http://youtu.be/-b8t70_c8eE?t=35m17s It’s worth watching the whole thing. Krauss had an axe to grind, and it is rather fun to watch.

    My personal “favourite” Old Testament atrocity is Numbers 31:1-18. This is where Moses is furious at the officers of his army for sparing the woman and children, after they had slain all the men (Midianites), which God commanded them to do. Moses then commands his army to kill all the boys, and all the non-virgin woman and girls (how did they determine that, I wonder), after which, the army can keep the virgin girls for themselves.

  • Religious dogma can put you in the most uncomfortable positions of cognitive dissonance.

    Preach it!

    That is what happened to me, and as I haven’t read the letters to your daughters yet (as I plan to) I will say that it is interesting when out of the mouth of babes comes things that cut right through religious bs

    My son did it here

    This is an old post, and much of it doesn’t reflect my current views.

  • Religious dogma can put you in the most uncomfortable positions of cognitive dissonance.

    Preach it!

    That is what happened to me, and as I haven’t read the letters to your daughters yet (as I plan to) I will say that it is interesting when out of the mouth of babes comes things that cut right through religious bs

    My son did it here

    This is an old post, and much of it doesn’t reflect my current views.

  • David Austin

    Hi All,

    I just love the way that christians squirm when faced with the nonsense & barbarity of the OT.

    They love all the “warm & fuzzy” stuff, and are quite happy to claim it is literal, but when faced with the many “bad” things from the OT, suddenly it is “allegorical”, “metaphorical”, “taken out of context”, “it never actually happened” or “things were different back then, you have to view it from the perspective of the people of that era” etc etc. They just trot out all the apologetic arguments, as though it somehow “magically” makes everything OK.

    My favourite bit is when they say “god’s message is brought to us through progressive revelation”. So, in other words, you can discount the OT as Jesus made it all OK in the NT. So where do they stand when they say Christian morals are “Objective”, and Atheists have “wishy-washy” relative morals. How can their morals be “Objective” and “Unchanging” when they admit that Jesus changed all the old laws and brought them “up-to-date”. However they still insist that the “Ten Commandments” are still binding and homosexuality is a “sin” because it says so in Leviticus.Both are from the OT, so how does this apply if Jesus changed it all.

    Another thing is that most Christian denominations, like RCC & Anglican, accept evolution and reject Creationism/Intelligent Design. This being the case, and there was no literal Adam & Eve, there could not have been any “fall of mankind”, so the sacrifice of Jesus (if it ever actually happened) seems superflous.

    I recently had some email correspondence with a Christian in Perth, Western Australia on various topics relating to the “Adam & Eve” story and I claimed it was wrong to blame A & E for the “fall” as before they ate from the “tree of knowledge” they would have no concept of right & wrong. He kept arguing back & forth, but I also “drew the line” when he made the comment that even disasters like the “Tsunami” were in fact “good”, since god must have had a good reason for killing so many people, even though we cannot, as mere mortals, see any goodness in such disasters. I was not interested to debate with some-one who has debased his “moral compass” to cling to such a base concept.

    I just cannot see how any rational person can have such “cognitive dissonance”, that they are able to justify such appalling tragedies, and still see themselves as moral people. I am fed up with Christians who say that when something good happens “god did it”, and when bad things happen they say “god works in mysterious ways, and there must be a good outcome eventually”. I feel like retorting that it is actually Satan who is running the show and when BAD things happen you can say “Satan did it” and when GOOD things happen you can say “Satan did it because there is an evil purpose to it which you, as a mere mortal, cannot see”. That would really stir things up, as neither contention can ever be falsified. However I guess I would be accused of being a “Devil-Worshipper”.

    Regards

    David Austin

    Australia

  • David Austin

    Hi All,

    I just love the way that christians squirm when faced with the nonsense & barbarity of the OT.

    They love all the “warm & fuzzy” stuff, and are quite happy to claim it is literal, but when faced with the many “bad” things from the OT, suddenly it is “allegorical”, “metaphorical”, “taken out of context”, “it never actually happened” or “things were different back then, you have to view it from the perspective of the people of that era” etc etc. They just trot out all the apologetic arguments, as though it somehow “magically” makes everything OK.

    My favourite bit is when they say “god’s message is brought to us through progressive revelation”. So, in other words, you can discount the OT as Jesus made it all OK in the NT. So where do they stand when they say Christian morals are “Objective”, and Atheists have “wishy-washy” relative morals. How can their morals be “Objective” and “Unchanging” when they admit that Jesus changed all the old laws and brought them “up-to-date”. However they still insist that the “Ten Commandments” are still binding and homosexuality is a “sin” because it says so in Leviticus.Both are from the OT, so how does this apply if Jesus changed it all.

    Another thing is that most Christian denominations, like RCC & Anglican, accept evolution and reject Creationism/Intelligent Design. This being the case, and there was no literal Adam & Eve, there could not have been any “fall of mankind”, so the sacrifice of Jesus (if it ever actually happened) seems superflous.

    I recently had some email correspondence with a Christian in Perth, Western Australia on various topics relating to the “Adam & Eve” story and I claimed it was wrong to blame A & E for the “fall” as before they ate from the “tree of knowledge” they would have no concept of right & wrong. He kept arguing back & forth, but I also “drew the line” when he made the comment that even disasters like the “Tsunami” were in fact “good”, since god must have had a good reason for killing so many people, even though we cannot, as mere mortals, see any goodness in such disasters. I was not interested to debate with some-one who has debased his “moral compass” to cling to such a base concept.

    I just cannot see how any rational person can have such “cognitive dissonance”, that they are able to justify such appalling tragedies, and still see themselves as moral people. I am fed up with Christians who say that when something good happens “god did it”, and when bad things happen they say “god works in mysterious ways, and there must be a good outcome eventually”. I feel like retorting that it is actually Satan who is running the show and when BAD things happen you can say “Satan did it” and when GOOD things happen you can say “Satan did it because there is an evil purpose to it which you, as a mere mortal, cannot see”. That would really stir things up, as neither contention can ever be falsified. However I guess I would be accused of being a “Devil-Worshipper”.

    Regards

    David Austin

    Australia

  • Mick J

    Homosexuality is sin in the NT just like the old. But it doesn’t matter because we have no authority to interpret the Bible in such a way that contradicts the authoritative teachings of the Church which Jesus established (the same Church which compiled the Bible into a single definitive canon). Most of the laws in Leviticus are intermixed with human error or limitations of the culture. The Bible is only guaranteed to be inerrant in the intended teaching of each specific passage.

    The Genesis story of the fall is allegorical but it does not mean that a fall (first sin) did not literally happen. It did. It was the sin of an angel. And then this angel tempted a human to sin.

    The sacrifice of Jesus, while it is accurate to say that it saved us from sins, it is more accurate to say that it saves us from the *effects* of sin. Namely our injuries, our sufferings, and our deaths. We are saved from every instance of suffering. That is what is meant by the “Love of God.” Every instance of human suffering is infinitely offensive to God. And the Redemptive act of Jesus on the cross is God’s reaction to that. See St Paul for this in Romans 8:

    “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?[…] No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,* nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Note: You are not condemned to Hell for the sin committed by the first human beings. All that original sin means is that – due to the interconnectedness of the world – are negatively effected by his sin. God wants to redeem us from these negative effects.

    You are also right to say that tsunamis are evil no matter what. The reason why they exist is another story

  • Mick J

    Homosexuality is sin in the NT just like the old. But it doesn’t matter because we have no authority to interpret the Bible in such a way that contradicts the authoritative teachings of the Church which Jesus established (the same Church which compiled the Bible into a single definitive canon). Most of the laws in Leviticus are intermixed with human error or limitations of the culture. The Bible is only guaranteed to be inerrant in the intended teaching of each specific passage.

    The Genesis story of the fall is allegorical but it does not mean that a fall (first sin) did not literally happen. It did. It was the sin of an angel. And then this angel tempted a human to sin.

    The sacrifice of Jesus, while it is accurate to say that it saved us from sins, it is more accurate to say that it saves us from the *effects* of sin. Namely our injuries, our sufferings, and our deaths. We are saved from every instance of suffering. That is what is meant by the “Love of God.” Every instance of human suffering is infinitely offensive to God. And the Redemptive act of Jesus on the cross is God’s reaction to that. See St Paul for this in Romans 8:

    “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?[…] No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,* nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    Note: You are not condemned to Hell for the sin committed by the first human beings. All that original sin means is that – due to the interconnectedness of the world – are negatively effected by his sin. God wants to redeem us from these negative effects.

    You are also right to say that tsunamis are evil no matter what. The reason why they exist is another story

  • Hmm, if the laws of the OT are intermixed with real laws, how do you know which ones are the real ones? Are those that do not apply because they are “human errors” the ones you know are unjust? So, if the Book of Joshua were true and Yahweh commanded Joshua to commit genocide in Canaan, was that “human error” or truth? How about the flood? Was that true or false?

    My point, of course, is if you set it up by saying some things are metaphor, some human error, and some true, then that makes it a piece of cake to pick and choose what you want to believe is true and opens the door to “interpreting” the “metaphor to mean anything that suits you.

    And tsunamis are not evil. They are natural occurrences mostly caused by submarine earthquakes, which in turn are caused by convection forces deep in the earth. If earthquakes did not happen, there would be no life on earth.

  • Hmm, if the laws of the OT are intermixed with real laws, how do you know which ones are the real ones? Are those that do not apply because they are “human errors” the ones you know are unjust? So, if the Book of Joshua were true and Yahweh commanded Joshua to commit genocide in Canaan, was that “human error” or truth? How about the flood? Was that true or false?

    My point, of course, is if you set it up by saying some things are metaphor, some human error, and some true, then that makes it a piece of cake to pick and choose what you want to believe is true and opens the door to “interpreting” the “metaphor to mean anything that suits you.

    And tsunamis are not evil. They are natural occurrences mostly caused by submarine earthquakes, which in turn are caused by convection forces deep in the earth. If earthquakes did not happen, there would be no life on earth.

  • In regards to the TLDR point…if it really went against Yahweh’s teachings, then he could have just stopped it. He had the Jews’ ears. Even if you hold that he didn’t command them to do this, he could have stopped. He could have even magically made it so the book supposedly written to tell people of him showed the truth, that they did it in defiance of what he wanted (but he chose not to act to correct them for some reason).

    And, if you go with Rachel Barrenblatt’s reasoning, then it’s ok to kill babies to keep them from growing up to hate you. Like if we started offing the children of terrorists just to make sure they wouldn’t grow up to hate us. Or, look at it another way, it’s just like those people who justify biblical genocides by claiming that it meant fewer heathens would be born, live, and die only to go to hell in the future.

    In other words, it’s no good reasoning.

    Fiction is what fiction is, but I don’t think you get too many people cheering for the zombies to slaughter the world in the book World War Z. Using the idea that it isn’t historical to make it sound better doesn’t work the best, especially because if the supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe wanted to, he could have made the message completely obvious (and written it in perfect English back then to boot) so that no one would ever use it later on to justify killing other people. But that’s not the case, so instead people see genocide as part of their god’s way of doing things.

  • In regards to the TLDR point…if it really went against Yahweh’s teachings, then he could have just stopped it. He had the Jews’ ears. Even if you hold that he didn’t command them to do this, he could have stopped. He could have even magically made it so the book supposedly written to tell people of him showed the truth, that they did it in defiance of what he wanted (but he chose not to act to correct them for some reason).

    And, if you go with Rachel Barrenblatt’s reasoning, then it’s ok to kill babies to keep them from growing up to hate you. Like if we started offing the children of terrorists just to make sure they wouldn’t grow up to hate us. Or, look at it another way, it’s just like those people who justify biblical genocides by claiming that it meant fewer heathens would be born, live, and die only to go to hell in the future.

    In other words, it’s no good reasoning.

    Fiction is what fiction is, but I don’t think you get too many people cheering for the zombies to slaughter the world in the book World War Z. Using the idea that it isn’t historical to make it sound better doesn’t work the best, especially because if the supposedly all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe wanted to, he could have made the message completely obvious (and written it in perfect English back then to boot) so that no one would ever use it later on to justify killing other people. But that’s not the case, so instead people see genocide as part of their god’s way of doing things.

  • If Christians are allowed to pick and choose which parts of the bible are allegorical and which are supposed to be real, then I don’t see why they have a problem with us atheists. We see the part about the supreme deity as the obvious unrealistic allegory.