Recently, I was reading an interview with Paul Copan, a noted Christian apologist, who wrote a book with Matthew Flannagan entitled “Did God Really Command Genocide?” Genocide in the Bible is a sticky issue for the Christian community because it does not compute with respect to an all-loving God. So, for example, the Bible says, “And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain (Deuteronomy 2:34).” Well, that’s a problem. How to explain it?
Christian apologetics is forever trying to reconcile this story, as well as many others like Sodom and Gomorrah or the murdering of new-born babies during The Exodus, with the concept of an all-loving God. For example, Copan says that these stories used hyperbole and therefore were exaggerated. So much, I guess then for the Bible being the Word of God. If the Bible stories were exaggerated, they couldn’t very well be considered the Word of God, now could they?
Depending on your point of view, the Great Flood might definitely be considered to be the biggest genocide in the Bible. So, how have people responded to this question? Here’s a short list:
- The Great Flood was not a literal historical event. Comment: Again, given that perspective, the Bible could not be the Word of God.
- The people of Noah’s day were going to die eventually anyway. Comment: Enough said.
- God can do whatever he wants. What God does will always be just and will always be good. Therefore, God only acts in accordance with his own nature. God cannot lie, for example. – Reverend David Robertson Comment: Need I remind everyone that God lied about Adam and Eve dying if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge.
- God said it was not he that brought destruction, but the evil brought it on themselves. – Josephus, “The Antiquities of the Jews” Comment: Were the infants and newborns evil? Did they deserve to perish also? Couldn’t an all-loving and omnipotent God have spared them? Let’s keep in mind that the Great Flood was also a case of ecocide. Everything on Earth was obliterated, including the animals. Why not kill the evil ones and keep everything else?
Anyway, exactly who created the “evil” ones of the Bible? An omniscient God? Of course, an omniscient God, by definition, would have known in advance that his creation would become evil. In fact, the creation of evil had to be an intentional act of an omniscient God.
Assumptions, assumptions, assumptions
A typical Christian response to the genocide issue can be found on the website ThinkingChristian.net. It gives its readers three options, and only three options, to deal with the questionable actions of God in the Old Testament, as follows:
- God is wrong and morally culpable (blamable) for his actions as God concerning all the deaths in history, and genocide is just another instance of this; or
- God is not wrong (and therefore not morally culpable) for his actions concerning all the deaths in history, except for genocide…; so he remains morally culpable in the case of the Old Testament genocides; or
- God is not wrong (and therefore not morally culpable) for his actions concerning all the deaths in history…; so God is not morally at fault for the Old Testament genocides.
Without going into the logic of ThinkingChristian with respect to the three options, the problem (as stated) is faulty. See if you can figure out why.
In contrast, a typical response of many atheists is that God is imaginary. Even though I’m not an atheist, I’ll give them props for being half-right. Their general premise is somewhat correct, albeit woefully incomplete. Interestingly enough, both the deists and the atheists have used a faulty assumption in their arguments – and it’s the very same assumption for both! Have you figured it out yet?
The proof is in the pudding (the Bible)
The Biblical stories of repeated genocide prove one thing to me. That is, the god of the Old Testament isn’t all-loving; neither is he omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent. I’ve previously written a number of posts on this topic so I won’t bore you again with all the details. Let’s just say that the God of the Old Testament should be referred to as god, with a little “g.”
In short, what we have in the Old Testament are stories that purport to be about God, stories about genocide. However, there’s no proof that it is God, only that some anonymous authors said so. More to the point, these anonymous authors said that some entity (quite often with a different name than the previous entity) said that he was God. Furthermore, no one even seems to know what the original sources for the Old Testament were. Contrasting that, we have the writings of Paul and John in the New Testament that say that God is an invisible spirit and that no man has ever seen God. Both viewpoints can’t be right. So, which one do you choose? Oddly enough, Christians worship them both.
Aside: Remind me again why anyone would want to worship the angry, vengeful and violent god of the Old Testament.
That takes us back full circle to the three options (from above). You’ve probably guessed it by now, but the assumption that everyone is making is that they all assume that the god of the Old Testament is the Prime Creator. That is, the deists make that assumption because the Bible says so and, for the purpose of this argument, the atheists do too.
However, in addition to the three options stated above, there’s a fourth option. This fourth option is based on simple logic, and the Bible itself. According to Christianity, God is all-loving (e.g. see 1 John 4:8) and, by definition then, would never have committed genocide. Therefore, there is no way that the god of the Old Testament is the Prime Creator. Of course, that begs the question of who this entity was and why a religion is based on him.
Aside: The fourth option is also confirmed by ancient texts, texts which predate the writing of the Old Testament. These texts are quite explicit about who the gods of the Old Testament were. For further clarification, see my prior posts.
However, that leaves us with these two camps, neither of which (no doubt) is very happy with my solution. The deists want to believe badly that they are God’s chosen people and that they possess the one and only authentic holy book. That’s the one and only. Never mind, that each religion defines God, and his creation, differently and they all can’t be right. In the other camp, the atheists are dissatisfied because they were hoping to prove that God doesn’t exist simply by demonstrating that the god of the Bible is imaginary. Well, I agree. The god of the Bible is imaginary. So what? Even if you also proved that the God of Islam, the God of Buddhism and the gods of all of the other religions were also imaginary (which, of course, you’re not going to do), it would still prove nothing. You can’t successfully argue from an “absence of evidence” standpoint.
Genocide in the Bible is an interesting topic, but ultimately one that is not very gratifying (at least for me). Besides, I never understood how there could be a definitive conclusion to such a debate over a God who is, in reality, infinitely incomprehensible. So, if any of you know what exists beyond space and time, please let me know.
P.S. By the way, any pictures that you may have of God would be greatly appreciated.
The problem with much of theology is that it’s a slippery slope. When you don’t distinguish between fact and faith, you inevitably get all tangled up in your own underwear. Even Paul Copan is smart enough to realize that you cannot defend an imaginary God; and one could say that, in his mind, parts of the Bible have been reduced to not much more than urban legend.
“So smote all the country … he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.”
Man has been forever in search of Shangri-La, or paradise as most people think of it. The Bible’s rendering of the Garden of Eden story was not the first written story on the subject – far from it. Hundreds of years earlier, the ancient Sumerians wrote The Epic of Gilgamesh which is considered by some scholars to be the first great work of literature, as well as an influence on the Bible and the epic works of Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey).
However, the Bible story is the one that most everyone knows and loves. It centers around a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. Interestingly enough, they were both referred to as adam, since adam was not a name but rather a designation for mankind (see Genesis 5:2). Adam was created first and Eve was created (cloned, as it were) afterwards out of Adam, even though Adam was a man and Eve was a woman. No doubt, the author of Genesis had little to no understanding of genetics.
The Tree of Knowledge
At first, God gave every tree to man (Genesis 1:29) but later put one tree, the Tree of Knowledge, off-limits. The change of heart was not exactly what you would expect from an omniscient being. However, the Bible later reveals God’s concern. That is, in Genesis 3:22, we learn: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” So, God was afraid that man, who was created in his own image and likeness, would become exactly like him, a god. Is that even possible? There’s really only two ways to slice it; either man was created with the potential to be a god or the god of Genesis was not really God (the prime creator). Take your pick.
Aside: According to the Bible, the serpent confirmed that God was afraid of man partaking of the Tree of Knowledge, as follows: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5).”
An interesting part of the story is that God told Eve, under no uncertain circumstances, that they would die if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. When God found out that they had eaten the fruit of the tree, he punished them for their disobedience even though, at that point, they could not have comprehended the difference between right and wrong.
Aside: Where’s the morality in that?
Good guys and bad guys
Further, God also punished the serpent for telling the truth (as opposed to God who lied about dying if one ate from the tree). Every story has to have a bad guy and in this case the serpent was so honored. After all, if there was evil in the world, someone else other than God had to be blamed. Never mind that an all-knowing God created both man and the serpent. So, obviously, the god of Genesis was the source of evil no matter how you look at it. Besides, as it says in the Bible, “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it (Amos 3:6)?”
In the mythologies of cultures around the world, the serpent/snake/dragon has been revered and even considered sacred. In Greek mythology, which predated the writing of Genesis, Ladon was the serpent-like dragon that was coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the divine golden apples. Sound familiar?
Aside: Jesus, himself, said that men should be as wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16).
Upon further reflection, the worst dude in Genesis is hardly Cain. Rather, it’s God himself. If you don’t believe me, let’s recap:
- God promised man all the trees in Creation, and then reneged concerning The Tree of Knowledge.
- God lied about dying if man ate from The Tree of Knowledge.
- God punished Adam and Eve unfairly for what they unknowingly did.
The clincher is that when God saw that man had “become evil”, he wiped out almost his entire Creation from the face of the earth.
Aside: So, I’m pretty sure that when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God that Moses might have asked God about why man should have to keep commandments which God, himself, violated and God probably replied, “Do as I say and not as I do.”
Why did God kick man out of the Garden, anyway? It couldn’t be because of eating the apple since that story was a complete subterfuge. After all, what kind of a god would have expected that man would know the difference between good and evil even though he was denied access to The Tree of Knowledge? The real answer as to why man was banished from the Garden of Eden was to deny him access to the other “tree”, The Tree of Life (Genesis 3:22). You wouldn’t want your creation to live forever just like you, would you?
Obviously, being all-knowing, God knew in advance that the entire affair would unfold exactly the way it did. Actually, he knew even before he created mankind. Yet, he created man anyway, promised him paradise and then took it all away. That’s the real story of the adams’ family, a talking snake and how paradise was lost. John Milton would have been proud.
In my last post The Pascal Wager, I may have left you hanging a little bit (intentionally). I said that Christianity does not have its roots in the Old Testament. To understand this, you have to go back to the beginning – of the Old Testament, that is.
However, first let’s digress and spend a minute discussing the core teachings of Christianity. Since Christianity comes in many different forms and flavors (denominations, that is), there is a difference in beliefs between some of these denominations. Despite their differences, they mostly (most, but not all) believe in the concepts of the Trinity, Original Sin and salvation through Jesus.
The problem is that none of these concepts can be found in the Old Testament, notwithstanding later reinterpretation by the Church. The Old Testament was written by Jews, about Jews and for Jews. It was never even intended to be read by gentiles. If you want to adopt the Old Testament, that’s one thing but adopting only certain parts is intellectually dishonest. Otherwise, Christianity should also have adopted (among other things) Jewish law, which is based on the Torah. The fact is that Jesus and the disciples led their lives according to the Torah and if people are to be followers of Jesus they need to follow in his footsteps. Don’t you think? After all, Jesus said that he had come to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17).
Back to the beginning
The concept of Original Sin is linked to the story of Adam and Eve which is sometimes referred to as “The Fall of Man.” Unfortunately for those who want to hang their hat on that story, it’s wholly allegorical in nature. Anyway, who believes in talking snakes? The allegorical nature of Genesis was confirmed by early Christian theologian Origen of Alexandria who had this to say about the Genesis story, “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? And that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? And who is so foolish as to suppose that God, after the manner of a husbandman, planted a paradise in Eden, towards the east, and placed in it a tree of life, visible and palpable, so that one tasting of the fruit by the bodily teeth obtained life? And again, that one was a partaker of good and evil by masticating what was taken from the tree? And if God is said to walk in the paradise in the evening, and Adam to hide himself under a tree, I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance, and not literally.”
So, exactly why does Christianity have a need to have a concept like Original Sin as a central tenet of their faith? Why, indeed? If Jesus didn’t teach it, how is it possible that it ever became such a big part of Christian theology? The answer is that without Original Sin there is no logic as to why Jesus had to die on the cross. He had come to save us (as the story goes) from the consequences of our sins. However, Jesus would have never had to make the sacrifice if we never had to be saved in the first place.
The reality is that Original Sin is a byproduct of Church dogma. As for the Bible, it actually refutes the concept of Original Sin. For example, in Deuteronomy 24:16, it clearly states that: “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Even the god of Genesis denied the possibility of Original Sin. He stated that man is inclined towards evil but is not sinful by nature (see Genesis 8:21). Of course, the whole issue is moot because Judaism doesn’t believe in Original Sin and they wrote the Old Testament – it’s their bible.
Aside: Even Jesus didn’t believe in Original Sin as can be clearly seen in John 9:2-3, as follows: “And His disciples asked Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.'”
A question of moral authority
Above all, what’s required in any religion is moral authority. Anybody can stand on the street corner and pontificate about the Creation. However, who would believe him? Even more to the point, who would put some money in his hat because he supposedly imparted some divine wisdom? However, what if you put the fear of eternal damnation in people? Would they put some money in the hat (read: church coffers) if you offered them salvation from their sins? Many would, of course, has history has clearly demonstrated.
So did man really have to be saved? One could argue, I suppose, that if man violated God’s laws that he should be punished. However, who is to say what those laws are or if, in fact, any person violated them? This all presupposes, of course, that there is a God and that he has laws and that he would want to punish his creation with eternal damnation for any violations.
So, there remains the question of man’s violation of God’s laws because without any violation, salvation would not be necessary. Remember, religion requires moral authority. Therefore, it needs to be proven that a violation did happen, and that God, in fact, condemned man. Enter Adam and Eve.
Now, the Genesis story does provide some elements of moral authority. For example, God tells man not to eat from the tree, man disobeys and God punishes him. Of course, there are a number of things wrong with the story, not the least of which is that it was allegorical. Further, the story was written by an unknown author(s). Like the person on the street corner (see above), why should anyone believe him?
Then there’s the “damnation conundrum.” By that, I mean that salvation is only relevant if man was originally condemned to eternal damnation. In Genesis, we find that God did punish man but it’s not exactly what you might think. According to the Bible, this was God’s punishment:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful
labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will
rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from
the tree about which I commanded you, You must not eat from it, Cursed is the ground
because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It
will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it
you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”
– Genesis 3:16-19
Therefore, according to the Bible itself, man never was condemned to hell. How’s that for a lack of moral authority?
At this point the logic becomes rather irrefutable. Since there was no eternal damnation, salvation is not required. No salvation means that a savior is not necessary. No savior means that a religion is not needed. On a more practical note, no religion means that tithing is no longer mandatory. Hallelujah! Now that’s something that I can truly sing praises about.
Religions are all different, but they generally have one thing in one common. They provide their believers with the hope of an afterlife. I refer to it as the selling of salvation. When someone says “come to my tent”, you have no reason to go unless they offer you something; especially since you will no doubt be contributing to their coffers. So religions must convince you that God talks to them, and to them alone, and that he has revealed what the afterlife is like and what you have to do to receive eternal salvation. After all, without the promise of an afterlife, who needs religion?
“One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn church history.”
– Brian McLaren, Christian pastor and writer
In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher and mathematician, devised what has been referred to as The Pascal Wager. The Pascal Wager laid out the probability of the impact on one’s life if they accepted or rejected the idea of God. Christians like to point to the Pascal Wager as if to say, “What do you have to lose if you convert to Christianity?” The inference is that if Christianity is right you’ll be saved (if you converted) and, if they’re wrong, you’ve lost next to nothing.
Without getting into the ramifications of the logic of the Pascal Wager itself, I believe that Christianity has overlooked a very important point of a philosophy which they have embraced. You see, Pascal (a Christian himself) stated that, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible.” Let that soak in for a moment. Stated in other words, man has absolutely no idea what God is like (assuming, of course, that he even exists). The Gospel of John is somewhat in agreement with The Pascal Wager in this regard, as it says that no man has ever seen God. Yet, despite this, deists are absolutely certain that they know God.
The Old Testament is a particularly sticky wicket. The reason is that the Old Testament is actually the Jewish Bible, which Christianity adopted as part of their own Bible. It’s a twisted road as how we got from Judaism to Christianity, but it goes something like this. Jesus and the disciples were Jewish. They led their lives according to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Many years after the crucifixion of Jesus, their small, religious sect would morph into Christianity.
However, here’s where the road gets treacherous. Although Christianity arose out of Judaism and adopted the Jewish Bible as part of their own Bible, there are surprisingly major differences between Christianity and Judaism, as follows:
- Christianity believes in the Trinity, Judaism does not.
- A core concept of Christianity is Original Sin, which they claim arose from Adam and Eve. Judaism does not have such a concept. Further, the Adam and Eve story was theirs. They wrote it. Yet, Christianity claims that they fully understand the story, but the people who wrote it don’t. How bizarre is that?
- The god of Judaism is a quasi-physical life form that made appearances to various people like Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Ezekiel, Daniel, Isaiah and Joshua. The God of the New Testament, according to Paul and John, is an invisible spirit.
- Christianity has a divine messiah (Jesus) which they consider to be a universal messiah for the whole world. They believe that the coming of their messiah was foretold in the Old Testament. The problem is that the Old Testament prophecies were written by Hebrew (Jewish) prophets concerning the coming of a Jewish messiah. This Jewish messiah was to be simply a man rather than some divine entity, like say the Son of God, and he would be both king and messiah much like King David was. Interestingly enough, one of the most important Old Testament prophecies was that the Jewish messiah would come to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel as opposed to the universal messiah that Christianity was expecting.
Christianity arose from Judaism, it’s true, although to be even more precise Christianity hijacked Judaism. Yes, hijacked. That is, they adopted it but then radically changed it. For example, Christianity borrowed the god of the Old Testament (and changed him in the New Testament), they borrowed the messiah concept of the Old Testament (and then totally changed it) and for good measure they discarded the core concept of Judaism, the Torah. To add insult to injury, they took a story about a talking snake, which was meant to be allegorical in nature, and turned it into a literal interpretation complete with a concept (Original Sin) which is not even mentioned in the Torah.
Bottom line: Even though Christianity claims that their religion has its roots in the Old Testament – it really doesn’t.
Exactly how did we get in such a mess, anyway? Well, for starters, Christianity claims to have a more perfect understanding of the Old Testament than the people who wrote it (Jewish holy men). For example, assume that you had written a great work, like The Wizard of Oz, and that you were explaining to a group of people who the Wizard of Oz really was (since he was the man behind the screen that nobody ever saw). Imagine how you might feel if someone in the group jumped up, claiming that they knew all about the Wizard, although they had never met him, and that they disagreed with your explanation even though the Wizard was a character that you had personally made up. That’s Old Testament reinterpretation in a nutshell. It’s always convenient to prove one’s religious dogma by claiming that the Bible means what you say it does, as opposed to what the words actually say.
So, the next time you hear someone say that God is omnipotent, omnipresent or omniscient, just remind them that The Pascal Wager states that God is infinitely incomprehensible. According to Pascal, there is no way for us to know what God is like; He transcends the power of human conception (i.e. the finite cannot conceive of the infinite). Yet, some have been so arrogant and presumptuous as to state otherwise. No doubt, Pascal is rolling over in his grave.
The concept of Original Sin is antithetical to the core beliefs of the Torah. This is confirmed in Deuteronomy 24:16, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Even the god of Genesis denied the possibility of Original Sin. He stated that man is inclined towards evil but is not sinful by nature (see Genesis 8:21).
“Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are just troublemakers.”
– Sufi mystic Rabia Basri