If you’ve ever had a friend who was dating an extraordinarily bad person, you know how your friend kept trying to show you how his or her mate was really very awesome and just totally misunderstood? How your friend kept trying to explain away all the dick moves the nasty partner kept pulling? How your friend was genuinely upset that your clearer, less-biased vision of the partner did not match up with his/her dreamy-eyed rose-tinted idea of the mate? Remember how you felt while your friend was trying soooooo harrrrrrd to convince you that the abusive partner was really an awesome person?
Write this story large on the pages of the divine, and you have what I informally call atrocity apologetics in a nutshell: that practice modern Christians have of trying to excuse, rationalize, and explain away any and all atrocities, evil deeds, and crimes against humanity done by their god.
I am declaring that enough is enough. This is one act that needs to stop.
For some reason–maybe some new apologetics book came out recently, or some new video got popular with Christians this past week or so–the atrocity apologists are out in number lately. Maybe I’m noticing them more for some reason. I don’t know. I just know I’m getting just sickened and exhausted dealing with their chirpy junk science and pseudo-history and parroted, regurgitated lines devoid of rational thought and even a modicum of humanity.
I remember how it was when I was a Christian and came face to face with the realization–that sickening lurch in my stomach–that my god was actually a rather heartless bastard who wasn’t actually anything but the enemy of all that is good in humankind. I remember how I struggled and scrambled to make this god make sense again, to make him fit again into that image I had in my mind of a truly good, just, loving, merciful god. It was like patching up a leaky ship, really, the slapping of timbers across a hole and the hasty nailing and tarring to get the vessel seaworthy again. I remember how hard that was, and how every single new crime-against-humanity that I discovered was a fresh set of cannons fired at my ship.
I couldn’t avoid seeing these things, either. Not only was I seeing them myself during my private Bible readings, but also sometimes atheists would confront me in college about some bit of theology or some brutal, blood-soaked myth from the Bible, and I’d always try my best to find a way to see the Bible verses as actually indicative of a good god rather than an evil one. Those atheists were way harder to deal with than my private study time, though. I still remember how shocked they’d look at some of the more extreme contortions I managed (I remember one specific time that I even tried the “blind men and the elephant” analogy, to no success; the guy stared at me like I was categorically insane).
It was such a huge surprise to me when I realized that I was only setting back the cause of saving these atheists’ souls by trying to make the unacceptable acceptable. I never could just accept that idea and shut up. I always had to keep trying. Surely I’d find the magic words that would make it all better if I just kept talking and kept trying. Surely I’d make them see my god as a great and glorious and wondrous god, just like how I saw him.
I did not realize that I was acting like a woman with an abusive spouse, trying to justify the spouse’s horrific behavior to her friends. Oh, he’s really very kind and loving–that bruise? Oh, that was just him showing me I’d done the dishes wrong. That scrape? Oh, that was just him having to make it clear to the neighbor that he didn’t like the loud music. That black eye? Oh, I just walked into a door. Three times.
No, I was as incapable of seeing the abuse for what it was as my friends were of accepting that the abuse was perfectly consistent with my god being a loving, merciful, just being.
So when I see Christians parroting their long-held explanations for atrocities, I understand why they do it. It’s not that I don’t understand why they must respond the way they do. Their spiritual paychecks depend upon this god-idea they have of a being who is truly good and ultimately moral, and anything the Bible contains that might be construed as going against their mental image of their god has to be dealt with even if the methods used are shifty and shady.
But it is still exhausting and sickening to be confronted by someone trying to excuse something horrific and trying to make something ghastly sound not only reasonable but morally laudable.
Stop, Stop, Stop Already.
I only want this lurching ride to end.
So let this little blog entry be my salvo into the fray, and it is shot out there with my hopes that maybe this will impact at least one Christian who needs to see it:
Christians, please stop trying to make atrocities sound better to non-believers.
Not only are you not capable of doing it, but you won’t be able to do it.
Your apologetics depend upon the idea that there are times when any horrific deed can be perfectly reasonable, and your listeners will not agree with this basic premise. Indeed, you–because you must have a perfectly good god–will be able to make any atrocity seem reasonable and acceptable to yourself, while your listeners very likely do not think that there is any way to make some things (like genocide) acceptable under any circumstance.
Your regurgitated talking points depend upon a contortion of logic, history, psychology, and indeed even the Bible itself–and your listeners will likely know a lot more about real logic, true history, actual psychology, and yes, even the Bible itself, than you do–and a host of verses besides to put the lie to your efforts to sanitize these crimes.
Your ossified, oft-debunked parroted lines depend upon this one fact more than anything: that humans just can’t judge a god, that a god who is good can order and command absolutely anything and it be good simply because that god ordered it–this idea that because your god is perfect, anything that god does is similarly perfect, and humans just can’t criticize. However, your audience almost certainly doesn’t agree with that premise, much less accept it. (Seems kind of self-serving to me, really; wouldn’t it be in a con artist’s best interest to make one of the precepts of a religion the idea that one cannot question or judge the object of that religion? And doesn’t it seem like the hallmark signal of an abuser, this trying to gaslight others into labeling the most horrific deeds as morally good, making others doubt their own moral judgement?)
And These Things in Particular.
Specifically, Christians, do not try to justify these things to me anymore. I’ve lost all patience, and I refuse to entertain your apologetics further about these things:
* The Fall of Man. No, Christians. There is no way to make the Garden of Eden myth acceptable to me. From the start (“let’s put a tree here with gorgeous fruit and lie to the humans about what’ll happen if they eat it, then refuse to give them a moral compass so they don’t even know they’re sinning by eating it!”) to the end (“let’s put a huge curse on both of the little beasts so they suffer and die in pain and agony for their error”) to the ramifications (“let’s blame every human to come from them for nothing those humans did, but for the “sin” of their ignorant ancestors! That sounds like loads of fun! And let’s set up a cosmology requiring the slaughter of innocent animals to expiate their sins, which again, were not really the fault of anybody but Adam and Eve!”), it is a tragedy of cruelties beyond all imagination. This story is about the awakening of humankind, yes, but the god involved is petty, cruel, tyrannical, unreasonable, limited in scope and power, and disgustingly remorseless. His curse, especially the one on Eve, has resulted in, if you take the myth literally, the deaths of quite literally millions upon untold millions of maternal and fetal deaths (and the Christians who think the Bible is inerrant are usually the ones who think abortion is bad–because it’s women “murdering the babies” rather than their god doing it, because if you’re their god, then murder is just fine). The more you try to justify this curse, the worse your god comes off. I wish you’d just stop.
* The Great Flood. No, Christians. There is no way to reconcile the myth of the Great Flood with your god being perfect or perfectly good. The Great Flood drowned every single man, woman, child, fetus, animal, fish (they don’t deal well with a mixing of fresh and salt water, you know), insects, everything on the planet–except for a very lucky few of each. Afterward, the god who caused it regretted it, just like other gods before him in their own cultures’ flood narratives regretted their actions. Your god got enraged and drowned everybody. There isn’t any way to make this acceptable. There isn’t any way to make this moral. He murdered an entire planet. Please stop trying to make the Great Flood sound like a moral imperative. It is sickening and heartrending. I’ve almost drowned before and it is the scariest thing you can possibly imagine–don’t try to tell me there’s some magic words you can say that will make drowning an entire world okay.
* Genocide. Please stop trying to tell me that it was perfectly all right that your god commanded his people to destroy other cultures or that he destroyed them himself. Genocide is evil. It always is, and it always will be. Even as mad as America gets at other cultures, especially those suspicious brown-people ones, we don’t seriously want to slag the whole place down to smoky glass. We know that there are plenty of innocent people in those places. Human nature hasn’t changed a whole lot, and even in the worst hellholes on the planet, there are good people. The American legal system was set up specifically to keep from punishing the innocent unfairly: we know that it is better to let a dozen evil men go than to destroy even one innocent life.
Genocide apologetics centers around convincing me that somehow, despite all of human nature and all the goodness we know inhabits us, that these places and peoples that got destroyed were utterly bad–or that any potentially good people there went to Heaven after the atrocity was committed (which makes me question why abortion is bad–though really, wouldn’t the curse of Original Sin apply here and make it impossible for “good” people to go to Heaven since nobody’s really “good”–oh, never mind). The Bible has a vested interest in demonizing and dehumanizing the targets of Jews’ wrath, but only Christians would ever believe that guff. The rest of us know that murdering entire cultures is wrong and never acceptable.
I’d really rather Christians stop trying to justify genocide at me–it is very chilling and upsetting. (On a side note, this blog’s dear friend Godless in Dixie has written about how learning about one of these genocides is what finally drove him out of church; I wish I’d been that compassionate and moral, but it was only after leaving Christianity that I learned about the Bible’s very worst and darkest corners.)
* Slavery. Yes, obviously, the Bible loves it some slavery. I’ve heard several innocent, bright-eyed Christians tackle this topic this past week or so, and it always centers around using revisionist pseudo-history to prop up the idea that slavery “back then” was actually this walk in the park compared to what it looks like in the modern era (which is largely untrue–women still got routinely sexually assaulted, men still got beaten and worked to death, and the human spirit was still degraded, so even if some minor and cosmetic aspects were a bit different, it was still owning another human being, with all the abuse and predation that entails). Remember, right-wing conservative Christianity has some hugely racist roots, so it’s understandable why literalist Christians would be this confused about what slavery really involves. Plus, their culture actually celebrates being a slave; they’ve assimilated the newspeak very well, haven’t they? Freedom is slavery, and slavery is freedom. So their judgement on this topic is suspicious to say the least.
But Christians, hear me say this clearly: Slavery was evil and horrible, and the Bible could have simply declared it off-limits–but didn’t.
There is a reason why modern cultures do not practice slavery anymore; it is a vile degradation of the human spirit, and the more you try to justify slavery to me, the more you try to make it sound like the bonus plan, the more you try to turn it into this slightly-more-onerous 9-to-5 job, the more you glorify slavery and try to make it sound like this wonderful patriarchal thing where people knew their place and worked together singing happy songs, the less moral you look and the more monstrous your religion looks. It is evil, and like genocide and the curse upon Eve, there really isn’t any way you’re going to explain it that a) I haven’t heard already, and b) have rejected utterly as incompatible with morality and goodness. (Or c) that is actually historically correct; furthermore, any Christian apologist whose argument even involves those differences can rest assured they look like the most immoral kiddy-diddlers to me.) Just stop it. Slavery is evil, Christians of all people should be happy that time is long over for any civilized culture, and full stop.
To all the rape apologists out there who even go here to this uncharted and revolting island, I say, speaking as an assault survivor: FUCK YOU. FUCK YOU IN THE NECK. STOP IT. JUST STOP. STOP NOW. STOP FOREVER. NEVER DO THIS AGAIN. If you talk like that around me, you have instantly and forever lost me–not as a potential convert, no, because I know too much for that to happen, but as a conversation partner and possible friend. I cannot even respect someone who thinks that rape is ever justifiable or acceptable under any reasons, past or present.
* Hell. Yes, we’ve covered it before here, but the principles remain are the same: that absolute horror I feel when Christians start chirping about how moral and good their god is, even when he is sending non-believers to inescapable eternal physical torture on a scale and to an extent that absolutely beggars the imagination. The more Christians try to explain away Hell, the more abusive and cruel their god sounds, and the more like a battered spouse they sound like. There is no way that Hell exists and is compatible with a truly good and powerful god. No way. And I reject utterly any and all explanations for it that try to make it sound like a reasonable thing for a truly good and powerful god to do to any sentient being on this planet. There’s just no way I can interpret Hell as anything but a sick, sadistic torture-porn fantasy that keeps believers in line and stops people from expressing dissent.
Of all the sickeningly immoral aspects of the Bible and Christian theology, this is the one that makes a Christian look the worst to try to rationalize–because this one involves trying to tell non-believers that a perfectly good being sees nothing wrong with allowing sentient creatures to be tortured–and even blames them for being caught in the torture system he set up rather than stepping in to help them get away from the torture. No wonder Christians seem to fall into the Rape Culture concept of victim-blaming so much. Their entire culture regarding non-believers has them blaming us for our own torture in Hell. Of course they’re going to blame the victims of rape. What else could I expect?
No wonder I think that zealotry is a sickness. It’s unbelievable to me that good, moral people would ever find a single situation in which it’s okay to make a rape victim marry her attacker, or to destroy an entire planet’s worth of living, sentient beings, or to send (or allow to be sent, SSDD) even one sentient being to get tortured for even one minute, or to enslave other human beings. It just blows my mind. What kind of sicko religion is this? What kind of sicko would ever say such a ghastly thing?
The Problem with Atrocity Apologetics.
Once someone rationalizes Biblical atrocities, it becomes easier to rationalize other ones as well. If someone doesn’t realize that slavery is–and always has been–bad and evil and disgusting and immoral, then what other bad, evil, disgusting, immoral act will that person think is all right?
Maybe that’s why fundagelical pastors are calling for a return to slavery, and why right-wing Christians are trying so hard to roll back women’s rights to force women to stay in abusive marriages and force them into parenthood against their wills. No wonder Christians can do such terrible things to each other and the rest of us; they think that sometimes a god just has to drown an entire planet, so obviously sometimes it’s acceptable to lie, cheat, steal, commit violence, rape, and a host of other crimes. A mind that can justify and find some good reason why the Bible had dozens of rules for precisely how to rape someone and exactly how hard one could beat a slave rather than just outlawing slavery and making consensual sex okay to have, that is a mind that could justify and find good reason for almost any other misdeed and horrific act.
What upsets me isn’t the god itself or the holy books themselves. Just about every single religion out there has some misdeed in its source materials. The Bible’s atrocities are a little worse in scope, but it’s not like all those ancient myths, if you read enough, don’t contain something objectionable.
Let me restate this: I don’t think the Bible’s atrocities, in and of themselves, mark the religion as invalid. Rather, I think believers’ general reaction to those atrocities marks the religion as invalid.
Instead of reacting to atrocities like any normal, moral person would, most believers have to try to reconcile them and make them nice, loving, just, moral, and good–when they cannot be, and they never will be. That need believers have to make any and all actions their god does into an act of ultimate good: that is what marks the religion as abusive and evil. That is what abuse victims do when they’ve internalized their abuse enough. That is what battered spouses do when they’ve finally been convinced they deserved that abuse. And that is what victims of religious abuse do when they have lost all touch with normal human morality.
I don’t believe that the Bible’s god is real and have no reason to believe the Bible has even a shred of accuracy to it. It’s the apologists that get to me. It’s the Christians who are convinced they are good and moral people following a good and moral religion who are doing what feels to me like they’d feel about hearing a pedophilia apologist harp on about how pedophilia is wonderful in some contexts (and of course, some extreme right-wing Christians do seem to think that is okay–see the current crop of stories about child brides among homeschoolers). The people who chirp so eagerly about these atrocities and try to smooth them over are people whose morality I question the most.
I don’t trust Christians who can contort themselves into these kinds of boxes. I especially don’t trust Christians who go out of their way to try to “explain” these acts–like out of all the books I’ve read, arguments I’ve absorbed, people I’ve talked to, they are the ones who will make the atrocity in question seem totally fine to me. They’re not only okay with these atrocities, but they are seeking out situations where they can try to make those atrocities okay for other people. That entire idea just repels me. This type of apologetic is not how Christians will create a trustful dialogue with non-Christians. It definitely won’t win anybody to their cause. This is disgusting and repulsive stuff. It’s so far past unacceptable that there’s no way I can really express myself here without a string of four-letter words learned at my sailor-daddy’s knee.
I don’t know what the answer is for Christians. That the atrocities exist is bad enough. That they worship a god who did this sort of stuff in his source material is worse enough. But that they try to make those atrocities sound reasonable and perfectly acceptable–even praise-worthy–is what steams my pudding. I really don’t know what a perfect answer would look like, when the accusations of atrocities get lobbed. The atrocities got done, and they are always atrocious and never acceptable. I don’t know what Christians should say about them. I just know what they should not say about them. I’m not a Christian, and ultimately all I can do is offer my observations and suggestions–and my outrage.
I think that these atrocities exist in the source material for a reason. I think the mistake Christians make is in trying to whitewash these deeds. I think the error is in trying to rationalize them or in trying to make them sound like perfectly fine things to do for a god or anybody else. I think that the problem comes in when Christians try to pull together these wildly contradictory takes on their religion and make them all fit together, when maybe they weren’t meant to fit together. I think these atrocities exist not to be smoothed over and explained away, but to be wrestled with and thought about and reconciled in an honest way. I think that Christians who need to have an all-good, all-the-time god are suffering with a faith made of “milk,” so to speak, rather than delving into the “meat” of the full story of their religion and their god.
Maybe these horrible things have been allowed to stay in the source material for another reason that should bother Christians quite a bit: Maybe the point is that these documents are a record of how people got along at the time, of how they constructed their morality and society and how they evolved and changed over time, not to show what the ideal response to these concepts was or should be. Maybe these documents are a description, not a prescription. Maybe the point is that these myths show how the god himself evolved and changed over time (my friend the Apostate has a great series about the Old Testament on his blog, and though he doesn’t state so explicitly, a big part of his series is about how the conceptualization of god moved from a very limited, quite fallible, almost human being to the great and grand concept he became in later centuries). Maybe the point is that humanity is growing and moving forward and we shouldn’t take these myths as gospel for how to live today–except that we’ve got this growing core of fundies who are convinced that the Bible is actually a prescriptive document that tells them how to live today.
It is worth noting that Jewish scholars have spent some time trying to figure out these aspects of their source books, and I greatly respect a scholar who admits that yes, these were absolutely terrible deeds and even tries to heal and redress the damage done. Their nuanced understanding of these documents is nowhere near as childish as what I see coming out of Christianity’s mainstream. Meanwhile, Christians are over there in the corner trying to mash a worldwide genocide and instructions for the proper treatment of sex slaves with their conceptualization of an all-good, all-the-time god and are coming out with something that wouldn’t look unfamiliar to the weirdest Gorean lifestylers.
Perhaps There is Hope.
The Christians who speak out against this horror story are few and far between, but their pleas for humanity and morality are palpable and moving. One of these, Rachel Held Evans, has written a beautiful plea for morality and love to return to evangelicalism in which she says:
What sort of God would call himself love and then ask that I betray everything I know in my bones to be love in order to worship him? Did following Jesus mean becoming some shadow of myself, drained of empathy and compassion and revulsion to injustice? Perhaps in reaction to the “scandal of the evangelical mind,” evangelicalism of late has developed a general distrust of emotion when it comes to theology. So long as an idea seems logical, so long as it fits consistently with the favored theological paradigm, it seems to matter not whether it is morally reprehensible at an intuitive level.
That seems a fitting way to end here, in the wreckage and among the shards of a Christianity that cares more about being right, feeling superior, and winning fights than it does about showing love or expressing mercy. I don’t have to be a Christian to recognize bad ones. And there are way too many bad ones.
Incidentally, as I was finishing this piece up, I noticed Friendly Atheist linking to this John Shore piece about a similar topic: about a Christian trying to sell an atheist on the concept of Hell being some wonderfully morally good thing. John Shore doesn’t appear to think that Hell exists, and I’m willing to bet he also doesn’t try to excuse genocide, rape, or slavery. A lot of Christians are moving that way, and that’s a good thing. We need more of that, and less of atrocity apologetics.
Can we have lots more of that good stuff and way less of that bad stuff? Please? Wouldn’t it be an amazing world if Christians didn’t advocate atrocities and excuse evil? Wouldn’t it? Can we have more of those Christians instead of the ones we’ve got now? Please? Because the ones we’ve got now are broken. They think atrocities are okay if they have the Bible’s stamp of approval. That can’t be right. It just can’t.