Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we examined the disastrous 1998 Larry King round table discussion wherein Al Mohler defended slavery as a practice because the Bible endorsed it. Al Mohler condemned escaped slaves because of his idolatrous devotion to an evangelical doctrine called Biblical literalism. Today, I’ll show you how atrocity apologetics follows right along behind this bizarre and grotesque doctrine, and why evangelicals just can’t get away from shocking abuses committed by people who try to use it as a guiding principle for life.
A vast number of Bible stories illustrate its god’s mind-bending incompetence, cruelty, and wickedness.
- Creationism. Yahweh just couldn’t figure out any way for animals or people to survive that didn’t involve mass slaughter of other animals. Trillions of animals die, often in extremely traumatic conditions. Oh, and plants might suffer too. To be alive is to cause suffering to untold others.
- Also Creationism. Yahweh couldn’t figure out a way to get humans to reproduce that didn’t involve countless miscarriages. His ineptitude causes about half of all pregnancies to miscarry to this day.
- Creationism again. Yahweh-the-Dumdum apparently didn’t realize that humans’ cell division could so easily go hideously wrong. (See: neural tube defects; cancer.)
- The Fall of Man. Yahweh cursed the entire human race forever for something only two of them did that they didn’t even understand. This evil, wicked curse has murdered countless humans so far through infant and maternal mortality as well as starvation.
- Animal Sacrifice. To soothe his rage, the Mad Blood God of the Desert (MBGD) ordered humans to murder innocent animals for him instead of using his words.
- The Great Flood. This divine curse nearly scoured the planet of all life.
- Those Egyptian plagues. Dwindling in Unbelief estimates that the Ten Plagues murdered almost a million almost-entirely-innocent victims.
Hopefully I’ve made my point.
Obviously, none of those Bible stories really actually happened. They’re myths. That doesn’t erase the fact that a bunch of anonymous ancient Jews and Christians created them to illustrate something about their god. They assigned him these atrocities, often in glowing terms of approval.
Now think on this truth:
Evangelicals who go in for Biblical literalism believe each and every one of these atrocities literally happened.
Inhumane Policies Endorsed by the Bible.
Other atrocities involve horrific ancient beliefs and practices that we’ve outgrown as a species.
- We recoil from the idea of condemning children for the crimes of their parents. Nor do we allow the slaughter of innocent people.
- We offer medicine and therapy for people suffering from mental illnesses and diseases, instead of assuming they’ve offended invisible wizards and proceeding from there.
- Nowadays, we prosecute people who commit genocide, rather than praising them.
- We do not allow the killing of innocent animals or people to “pay for” the crimes of guilty people. No, not even if the innocent animal/person is super duper innocent.
- We no longer require rape victims to marry their rapists — or for that matter execute them.
- We no longer think women are property designed for the sole purposes of sex, breeding, childrearing, and housework.
- Nor do we think that some colors of skin are superior to others.
- We’re a lot slower to execute people than we used to be.
- Obviously, we don’t think slavery is okay anymore.
- Most of all, we think less of anybody who endorses regressive practices like slavery.
Now think on this truth:
Evangelicals who go in for Biblical literalism believe that every long-abandoned practice endorsed by the Bible represents their omnimax god well.
Atrocity Apologetics, Defined.
Looking at the myths and the concepts behind them, one comes away shaken and disturbed that anybody could defend any of it in the modern day. And yet here we are, with evangelicals constantly defending all of it.
Hence, atrocity apologetics.
Atrocity apologetics are evangelical Christians’ attempt to massage away horrific events, actions, and decisions in the Bible to make them sound more like something an omnipotent, intrinsically good, supremely benevolent, supernaturally wise, and ultimately loving god wouldn’t recoil away from doing.
Why Literalism Breeds Atrocity Apologetics.
Evangelicals adopted literalism because it gives them an ultimate authority source that nobody in the tribe can question or reject. “The Bible says thus-and-such” became the ultimate trump card that wins every single hand containing it.
They like having that kind of ultimate authority in their lives, generally. It seems like the higher-up the evangelical in their chain of command, the more they like it! It lets evangelicals sit easy and pretty on a throne while everyone around them bustles around serving and pleasing them, and it gives them a huge amount of personal power that they can deploy to get their way about anything they like — or to excuse any overreach they want to commit against others.
That’s what literalism is for.
That’s all that it’s for.
Literalism channels power to those willing to resort to its use, then helps them grow and defend it against all interlopers.
Christians developed literalism as a doctrine specifically for that purpose, and they defend it to the death today because it is literally the only way they can keep their flocks obedient and docile. Any more progressive interpretation of the Bible would undermine their control-grabs at every single level of their entire broken system.
Evangelicals Can’t Have Literalism Both Ways.
However, there’s a very dark side to literalism, and we find it in all those examples I listed above and many more besides.
If an evangelical wants to use Biblical literalism to gain personal power and justify overreach, there’s not a way for that Christian to deny some other story or idea in the Bible.
Gosh, that’d look just silly, wouldn’t it?
(I mean, they do it anyway about any command they really don’t want to follow (like all the dietary commands), but that negation, in itself, always seems to have an uneasy tinge to it. No amount of “original Greek and Hebrew” posturing can fully wash away the sheer dissonance involved in denying those rules but insisting these rules are forever and always.)
That 1998 Round Table Discussion.
So now, let’s return our attention to that 1998 Larry King show, the one where Al Mohler condemned Harriet Tubman for escaping her masters. At that link, we learned about exactly how that condemnation went down:
In that interview, Mohler said that while the Bible does not endorse slavery, it does require slaves to obey their masters. When asked if that rule applied to runaway slaves, like the famed Harriet Tubman, he said that there is no loophole for disobeying.
Look at it from the viewpoint of evangelicals’ idolatrous obsession with Biblical literalism.
Examine it while bearing in mind their absolute obligation to defend any and all atrocities the Bible describes.
Does it pop into focus in a whole other way, perhaps?
What Actually Happened.Now, suddenly, we perceive what must have been a fire lit right under Mohler’s chair. This exact situation pushed his idolatry to the very edge, but it did so with a situation that literally every single basically-decent human being alive would have said was morally acceptable.
Nobody would have condemned Harriet Tubman for escaping from slavery — or really, any slave from doing so. Rebellion against cruelty and control may well be one of a slave’s only accessible rights.
But Larry King hadn’t reckoned with a man like Al Mohler. He’s based his entire career and his whole worldview on the notion of Biblical literalism. If we could call anybody in his tribe a made man, it’d be him. He’s where he is today because long ago he accepted the necessity of complete lockstep with his tribe.
In fact, that whole round table occurred in the first place because his masters had deliberately started a major shitfight with the whole rest of American culture. His denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), began that shitfight because they felt alarmed by a growing tide of egalitarianism in culture. The round table was just a skirmish in their ongoing war against women’s rights.
And they’d based their entire war on Biblical literalism. That doctrine was how they rationalized their attempted oppression of half the human race.
Larry King’s Backfired Attempt to Defuse Things.
Immediately, Larry King went, Wait, you surely aren’t literalist about EVERYTHING in the Bible, so why be so about this? Dude probably wasn’t expecting Mohler to drill down. Probably was expecting him to pull back a bit and chortle, Oh of course not, HAW HAW! Just some stuff. And then they could argue about how Mohler knew this was literal but that wasn’t.
Does that scenario sound familiar? It should.
Instead, Mohler threw him a curve ball:
He held onto literalism rather than losing the entire moral high ground in what he described as a “real crisis in the culture war over the family.”
If maintaining that moral high ground meant rationalizing slavery as a practice and endorsing it today as a valid idea, then why yes, that was exactly what he was gonna do.
No, It Wasn’t “Stupid.”
Years later, Al Mohler declared that his condemnation of Harriet Tubman had been “stupid.”
It was anything but.
In truth, it was the only thing he could possibly have done. Had he said anything else, he’d have instantly lost his entire culture war on the spot.
Even his fellow guest that day, Jerry Falwell, was smart enough to redirect the conversation. It sounds like he just began rabbiting on about he’d have totally built Underground Railroads. Implicitly, he pardoned and praised escaped slaves. However, he did not explicitly condemn slavery itself, or really even racism itself.
If anything, this once-proud segregationist assumed the tactics of evangelical apologists who insist that there’s some major difference between so-called Biblical slavery and Southern-style slavery that makes the former perfectly acceptable but the latter an obscenity and a stain upon our history.
Perhaps that level of uncanny sneakiness explains why Jerry Falwell ran an empire while Al Mohler’s always been an upper-level manager at best.
The True Evil of Christianity Itself.
When I talk about the evil inherent in Christianity, literalism illustrates exactly what I mean.
I see Christianity as a very failed system. Without force of law, its leaders can’t sell it to enough people to keep their groups alive and growing, and they never could. Very little about it appeals to anybody. It makes no sense at all, and it’s based on some hugely immoral ideas (like the punishment of the innocent to soothe an enraged MBGD enough to excuse tons of guilty people whose offenses consist mostly of thoughtcrime).
Even worse, its source material is written so poorly that any doctrine imaginable can be created and defended with it — and indeed is. Meanwhile, the entire religion boasts hardly any universally-accepted doctrines at all. No matter what doctrine a Christian considers essential, other Christians somewhere get along fine without it.
Also because the Bible is such a mishmash, any one interpretation of it is as valid as any other, really. There’s not a way for any one interpretation to “win” any competition against any other.
So instead of streamlining ideas and discarding failed ones, Christians only splinter apart more and more with every single year. And no matter how terrible any idea is, it’ll find some buyers somewhere, especially if believing it writes them a blank permission slip to do anything they want — no matter how wicked.
Worst of all, there’s nothing that decent Christians can really do about the moral failures in their tribe.
The Best Means To A Desired End.
Back in 1998, Larry King seemed stunned by Al Mohler’s drilling-down on slavery. Similarly, many of us get stunned when we realize just how far evangelicals are willing to go to defend their idol.
They’re in it to win it. They stopped caring long ago about persuading the world to convert to their religion. They don’t care, either, about building bridges and mending fences.
Rather, they want domination, and power, and control. Literalism exists only as a means to that end. If evangelical culture warriors thought they’d get what they want with some easier and less-objectionable method than literalism, well, they’d be doing that instead right now.
Mock them, pester them with dealbreakers, whatever, but don’t expect to wrestle that golden calf idol from their hands. Without it, they lose everything — and they know it.
NEXT UP: We’ll watch Ronald Sider try his darndest to fix all the wrong problems in evangelicalism. See you tomorrow!
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