Was It Genocide? Was It God?
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.”