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Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament?

August 1st, 2010 by Matt

Perhaps the most perplexing issue facing Christan believers is a series of jarring texts in the Old Testament. After liberating Israel from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites arrived on the edge of the promised land. The book of Deuteronomy records that God then commanded Israel to “destroy totally” the people occupying these regions (the Canaanites); the Israelites were to “leave alive nothing that breathes.” The book of Joshua records the carrying out of this command. In the sixth chapter it states “they devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” In the tenth and eleventh chapters the text states that Joshua “left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded.” The text mentions city after city where Joshua, at God’s command, puts every inhabitant “to the sword” and “left no survivors.” If these passages are taken in a strict, literal fashion then it is correct to conclude that they do record the divinely authorised commission of genocide. In light of this critics of Christianity often ask how a good and loving God could command the extermination of the Canaanites?

In response, I want to suggest that this strict, literal reading is mistaken. Reading these texts in isolation from the narrative in which they occur risks a distortion of the authors intended meaning. Consider the book of Joshua, critics are quick to point out that in chapters ten and eleven the text states that Joshua “totally destroyed all who breathed”, left “no survivors” in “the entire land”, went through the land “exterminating them without mercy”.

The problem is that chapters fifteen to seventeen record that the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. Over and over the text affirms that the land was still occupied by the Canaanites, who remain heavily armed and deeply entrenched in the cities. Astute readers will note that these are the same regions and the same cities that Joshua was said to have “destroyed all who breathed”, left “no survivors” in just a few chapters earlier.

This continues through into the next book in the Old Testament. The first two chapters of the book of Judges record that the Canaanites lived in the very same regions and cities that Joshua was said to have put every inhabitant “to the sword” in and “left no survivors” in. Moreover, again we see that they occupied these cities and regions in such numbers and strength that they had to again be driven out by force, which chapter one of Judges declared was very difficult.

Read in context then, it is difficult to see how the language of total genocide in chapters ten and eleven of the book of Joshua could have been intended to be taken literally by the authors.

This phenomena is not limited to the books of Joshua and Judges. The book of Deuteronomy in chapters seven and twenty contain commands to the Israelites to “destroy them [the Canaanites] totally” and “not leave alive anything that breathes.” The books of Deuteronomy and Exodus, in numerous places, state that the Canaanites are to be slowly driven out and expelled from the land, which is not the same thing as killing them. In fact, legislation is cited in the texts which clearly assumes that the Canaanites will survive Joshua’s the invasion. Immediately after stating that the Israelites should “destroy them totally” the text reads, “make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons.” If they were all supposed to be dead then why bother issuing instructions regarding treaties and intermarriage?

When read in context, it is unlikely that the author of these texts intended the language “destroy totally”, “do not leave alive anything that breathes”, destroy “men and women, young and old”, and so on, to be taken literally. How then should these passages be understood? At a recent conference at the University of Notre Dame, Philosopher Alvin Plantinga suggested a possible solution is to take this language hyperbolically. He suggested phrases such as, “destroy with the sword … men and women … cattle, sheep and donkeys” are phrases to be understood more like we understand a person who, in the context of watching David Tua in a boxing match, yells, “Knock his block off! Hand him his head! Take him out!” or hopes that the All Blacks will “annihilate the Springboks” or “totally slaughter the Wallabies.” Now, the sports fan does not actually want David Tua to decapitate his opponent or for the All Blacks to become mass murderers. Plantinga suggests that the same could be true here; understood in a non-literal sense the phrases probably mean “something like, attack them, defeat them, drive them out; not literally kill every man, woman, child donkey and the like.” If this is correct then the differences between the different texts is easily explained and more significantly, the texts do not teach that God commanded genocide or that Joshua carried it out.

Interestingly, research into Ancient Near-Eastern history writings bear Plantinga’s idea out. In a comprehensive comparative study of Ancient Near-Eastern conquest accounts, Old Testament scholar, K. Lawson Younger documents stylistic and literary similarities between Joshua and reports of wars written by the some of these surrounding cultures. He concludes that the Old Testament uses the same literary conventions. He notes, “the composition and rhetoric of the Joshua narratives in chapters 9-12 are compared to the the conventions of writing about conquests in Egyptian, Hittite, Akkadian, Moabite, and Aramaic texts, they are revealed to be very similar.” He substantiates with numerous examples in his book.

In addition, when one examines the literary conventions of such accounts it is evident that the rhetoric of total conquest, complete annihilation and destruction of the enemy, killing everyone, leaving no survivors, etc, is a common hyperbolic way of describing a victory in the manner Plantinga suggests. Renowned Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen notes,

[T]he type of rhetoric in question was a regular feature of military reports in the second and first millennia, as others have made very clear. … In the later fifteenth century Tuthmosis III could boast “the numerous army of Mitanni, was overthrown within the hour, annihilated totally, like those (now) non-existent” –- whereas, in fact, the forces of Mitanni lived to fight many another day, in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries. Some centuries later, about 840/830, Mesha king of Moab could boast that “Israel has utterly perished for always” – a rather premature judgment at that date, by over a century! And so on, ad libitum. It is in this frame of reference that the Joshua rhetoric must also be understood.

Some examples will illustrate this. The Merneptah Stele states “Yanoam was made nonexistent; Israel is laid waste, its seed is not.” here the Egyptian Pharoh Merneptah describes a skirmish with Israel in which his armies prevailed, hyperbolically, in terms of the total annihilation of Israel. The Assyrian king Sennacherib uses similar hyperbole, “The soldiers of Hirimme, dangerous enemies, I cut down with the sword; and not one escaped.” Mursili II records making “Mt. Asharpaya empty (of humanity)” and the “mountains of Tarikarimu empty (of humanity).” Similarly, The Bulletin of Ramses II, an historical narrative of Egyptian military campaigns into Syria, narrates Egypt’s considerably less than decisive victory at the battle of Kadesh with the rhetoric, “His majesty slew the entire force of the wretched foe from Hatti, together with his great chiefs and all his brothers, as well as all the chiefs of all the countries that had come with him” [Emphasis added]. The examples could be multiplied but the point is that such language was hyperbolic and not intended to be taken literally.

Consequently, if one does not read the texts in isolation and is sensitive to the genre of Ancient Near-Eastern writings then a literal reading is far from obvious. As Egyptologist James K. Hoffmeier notes, such a reading commits “the fallacy of misplaced literalism … the misconstruction of a statement-in-evidence so that it carries a literal meaning when a symbolic or hyperbolic or figurative meaning was intended.” This underscores an obvious but often neglected point, the bible is not written in accord with the conventions of 21st century English. It was written in ancient foreign languages and in the conventions that governed historical, legal, epic, etc writings of that time. To understand what it teaches accurately one needs to ask what it teaches given these factors. When one does this, it seems probable that the Old Testament does not teach that God commanded or that Israel carried out the genocide or extermination of the Canaanites.

I write a monthly column for Investigate Magazine entitled Contra Mundum. This blog post was published in the Aug 10 issue and is reproduced here with permission. Contra Mundum is Latin for ‘against the world;’ the phrase is usually attributed to Athanasius who was exiled for defending Christian orthodoxy.

Letters to the editor should be sent to:
editorial@investigatemagazine.DELETE.com

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Contra Mundum: Slavery and the Old Testament

Contra Mundum: Secular Smoke Screens and Plato’s Euthyphro

Contra Mundum: What’s Wrong with Imposing your Beliefs onto Others?
Contra Mundum: God, Proof and Faith
Contra Mundum: “Bigoted Fundamentalist” as Orwellian Double-Speak
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147 responses so far ↓

  • Should also note that there are a number of political and diplomatic reasons for using this sort of language too…

    What Army comes back from its war and says “we kicked their butts.. well kind of.. we left most of them alone, but got rid of the annoying ones”?
    What King says “I am a great warrior, follow me into battle, I nearly destroy all my enemies!” ?

    None. If anyone wants a non biblical perspective on the military and political aspects of what went on in these battles, the (only slightly dodgy) Battles BC series on history or discovery channel does a fairly interesting job (not only on some of the biblical battles but other contemporary ones you can compare with)

  • Yes they failed to commit genocide… as evidenced by their enemies still being alive. But then Hitler failed to wipe out all of the Jews too. A reader in a few centuries looking back, if they follow your “logic”, might conclude that Hitler did not really want to commit genocide – as evidenced by Jews still existing in the 50s. Failure to commit an atrocity is not necessarily due to lack of trying, and weakness on an armies part does not improve its moral standing.

    Besides which, even if I accept what you are saying, we are still left with a God(?) or at least a people group who were intent upon huge amounts of violence and prejudice. There is no getting around this.

    Yes it is hyperbole to say you will murder every citizen of New York, when actually you were only able to kill a few thousand, but does this improve the moral standing of the boaster… if they COULD have I am sure more would have died… they did their best.

    As for the comparison with a sports game… I really wish you would stop using that. It is weak. As I have pointed out before one is a METAPHOR – the other is an EXAGGERATION. Please meditate on the difference.

  • ASA Jones from ex-atheist.com (a site, sadly, no longer around) had some thoughts on this (various snippets below)-


    Is taking the life of other human beings always wrong? If so, we have just discovered a moral absolute. As an atheist, I used to point to this slaughter by Moses as despicable, yet I had to admit that I thought that the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima was a necessary act. I chose to see the killing of the Amalekites as evil because it was a convenient way to condemn Christianity’s god.

    God tells us not to kill, yet directly orders Moses to kill. Were the U.S. soldiers murderers? If men can take lives and not be considered immoral, then why can’t God do the same and not be considered immoral?

    When we read the Old Testament, we discover that the Caananites are described as wicked. What this means, described loosely in secular terms, is that the moral culture of the Caananites differed dramatically from the moral culture of the Israelites. It is known that the people of Moab sacrificed their babies by placing them into the red hot hands of a heated statue of their god.

    Their standards of honesty, respect for life, and sanctity of marriage were different than Israel’s. What Moses tried to prevent with warfare was the unpalatable mixing of two diametrically opposed societies. If a person honestly thought that sacrificing babies was wrong, how would they feel when they saw this practice spreading, perhaps even seeing some of their own people who had married into the other culture, performing this act on their children?

    When there is a clash of cultures with diametrically opposed values, there can be no peace. We see this being played out in the Middle East. The western world believes in freedom for ALL through democracy, Islam believes in submission to God for ALL through theocracy. Israel wanted ALL to have its values and worship its God, the Caananites and Moabites wanted ALL to have their values and worship their God. Any compromise would have been found unacceptable by both sides.

    The liberal mindset in America today is that war is to be a gentle act of persuasion, and that those who win any war fought with weapons are monsters and that those who lose, are noble victims. But no matter the cause of war, at its height – at that instant when the battle can go either way, and at that moment when both sides fear they will lose – both sides, if given the weapons and the option, would logically choose to annihilate the enemy. When soldiers were slaughtering native Americans, had those native Americans had access to modern weaponry, does one really think they would not have used it? Can you imagine an Indian chief, his people dead and dying, the white man moving in, having no respect for the buffalo or the land, saying, ‘Gee, we could win this war, but we respect life so much that we won’t destroy the lives of our enemies. We’ll just lie down and die for them’?

    The Midianites were not noble victims. They fought hard. They would have loved to have killed every Israelite and to have wiped them off of the planet. They were not a peaceful village in a sleepy valley that was one day attacked by vicious hordes of Jews. They were constantly waging war, burning Israel’s crops and leaving them with nothing to eat. In my opinion, the war was a just war, especially when viewed through the lens of moral relativism. It is laughable when a person, 3500 years after the fact, sitting in his comfortable house, sipping a latte’, who adheres to the principles of moral relativism, emphatically claims that God was immoral for having conducted such a war.

  • This is why chronology is important, Kitchen’s comment would be valid if Thutmosis lived during the 16th century, but if he lived during the 10th century as per Down and others then this may be incorrect.

    The other thing you need to explain in more detail is how a (boastful) claim post-event is similar to a command pre-event. That a warrior hyperbolically claims he decimated a tribe does not necessarily mean a command to do the same is likewise hyperbolic, at least to my mind. I think you need to flesh this out more Matt.

  • I’m with Max on this one.
    Before Jesus genocide was morally acceptable to the Israelites – and to other tribes at the time.

    The argument that Fletch advances seems to be not that you can’t have peace without war, but that you can’t have peace without genocide.

  • I have not the heart to put my critisism here Matt.
    We both know where we stand on this issue, and thats comment enough for me.

  • Andrew W wrote “I’m with Max on this one. Before Jesus genocide was morally acceptable to the Israelites – and to other tribes at the time.”

    The problem is that even if you take the text literally, this does not follow, because the old testament does oppose Genocide in other places. The laws of war in the Torah for example only allowed them to kill combatants, the Prophets (particularly Amos) condemn killing non-combatants and so on, even taken literally interpreters traditionally recognised these commands as exceptions to a general rule.

    I think Fletches argument is different, some war ethicists have argued that while there is a general rule prohibiting the killing of non combatants in certain situations this rule can be overidden for good reasons.

    Michael Walzer for example suggests that if Hitler could only be defeated by bombing civilians then it would be justified because the Nazi regime was so evil that loosing and allowing it to win was not an option. Others have taken a similar line with Hiroshima, they argue the loss of life and carnage created by a conventional attack would have been so high that a nuclear strike was justified to end the war and save millions of lives. I am not saying I agree with this, but it is a position some have seriously made.

  • Max, the problem is not that the authors failed to carry the command out. The problem is that Joshua said they did carry it out Joshua 10-11 for example emphatically states they actually carried the commands out, the whole land was subdued and no survivors were left as God had commanded, the land just needed to be allotted, then when it is allotted the land is said to be full of Canaanites that need to be driven out. In some instances in fact the same cities are said to be fill of Canaanites.

    “Besides which, even if I accept what you are saying, we are still left with a God(?) or at least a people group who were intent upon huge amounts of violence and prejudice. There is no getting around this.”

    Not sure this follows, first I agree there was violence but the reality is that you are probably talking about fairly minor skirmishes, Joshua was based at a camp a Gilgal and raided from there returning. Second, I am not a pacifist I don’t think violence is always wrong.

  • Andrew, that was not my intent at all. What it all comes down to, I think, is that everything is created by God. Does God not have the right to destroy what He has created? He made us, after all. Also, I think it’s very secular to look at killing (in this sense) as destroying. The soul of everyone is immortal although the secular thought considers this life all that there is. God knows (and Christians know) that life is only changed from one state to another; it does not have a definite “end”.

    In a sense, we all “die”, at least on Earth, but from God’s view it is a taking of a soul from one state to be before Him in Judgement ready for another state. We will all eventually be taken out of the world now, or later, and it is God’s decision as to when that will happen, according to His plan.

    To put it simply – the secular view sees “destruction”, when it is really a decision by the Maker of people to move them from one place (or existence) to another, which I think the Maker has every right to do, according to His own timing.

    Yes, God did say “do not kill”, but that is a rule for us humans, not for Him to follow Himself. It’s like adults making rules for children about what time they have to go to bed – the parent makes the rule for the child’s own good, but the parent does not have to follow that rule himself and go to bed at 7pm.

  • Due to my studies in Hebrew idiom (and especially my studies in Deuteronomy), I’d actually agree with Matt on this one (although I’m not sure I like the sports metaphor). I actually think much of this language comes late in the history of the Pentateuch and DTH (Deuteronomistic History), and the later editor, who was just as inspired as the original authors, wanted to emphasize the significance of the commands theologically. Looking back at the actual events, he was inspired to heighten the language in order to emphasize the theological wickedness of the peoples.

    It would be similar to my looking back at the Holocaust and saying that Hitler stood for all that was evil and enacted the destruction of the Jews throughout German lands. Of course, this is heightened language, as this was neither Hitler’s goal, nor the reality of what happened, and despite all of his actions did he literally stand for all that is evil? It illustrates a point that is true looking back 65 years though and I believe anyone would be justified in making such a statement.

    In Hebrew thinking, writing this theological point back into a text would have been acceptable and pretty normal. Consider for instance the ending of Deuteronomy where a later editor tells of Moses’ death and seems to be looking forward to a Messiah to come (from a post-monarchial perspective). God revealed the theological truths of the actions later, and thus writing those truths back into the original story would be okay, and everyone would know that such an action was taking place. It’s our atomistic and literalistic lenses looking back three thousands years that causes the distortion. I’m about to do another research degree in Deuteronomy and would like to think more through this issue then.

    BUT, even if it was original and literal, what would be wrong with God commanding that justice be enacted on an unjust and wicked civilization? Is our reasoning that he doesn’t enact justice on our wickedness, so he shouldn’t enact it on them? I’m just wondering what people are thinking here that leads to this being an issue at all. Does anyone honestly think that in light of humanity’s sinfulness that anyone is innocent and therefore not deserving of God’s wrath and judgment? I mean, I obviously don’t want my family to be wiped out, but would God be unjust to wipe us out? Would that really be genocide? I know in our pluralistic age, it’s not cool to read things written by preachers like Jonathan Edwards, but I think his argument in The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners is actually pretty good.

  • Be afraid! Be Very Afraid!!!

    Does anyone honestly think that in light of humanity’s sinfulness that anyone is innocent and therefore not deserving of God’s wrath and judgment? I mean, I obviously don’t want my family to be wiped out, but would God be unjust to wipe us out? Would that really be genocide?

    And you wonder why atheists get concerned about religion!!!

  • Paul,
    Expectedly, you miss the point. Your argument could be written out like this:

    1. One religious believer (i.e. me) thinks that people are sinful
    2. One religious believer thinks that God has a right to execute justice
    3. One religious believer thinks that God is always just in his actions
    4. Therefore, we should be very afraid and concerned by religions.

    You’re smart enough to see that this doesn’t follow, right?

    Even if your assumptions were right about my views (they aren’t), your argument reframed with a different topic, looks like this:

    1. One scientist believed that the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was justified and good for society
    2. One scientist thought that the potential deaths of hundreds of impoverished African-Americans was an acceptable loss for scientists seeking a cure to syphilis.
    3. One scientist said that the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was done by scientists working for “the glory of science”
    4. Therefore, we should be very afraid of scientists and be concerned by science.

    Not too compelling, eh?

    I’m just asking for those making the argument to show why God’s command was unjust in this particular historical situation.

  • God said that all the nations of the land would bless themselves in Abraham’s descendents:

    Genesis 22:18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

    I like to note that, if you read the fine print, it will be “all nations of the land, *except for* those who are actually *in* the land!:

    19 The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites,
    20 And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims,
    21 And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

    (Gen 15)

    Perhaps it was actually a euphemism for “curse” as is seen with Job’s wife.

    And if Abraham’s seed was to be blessed, God has certainly made a career out of loathing and mistreating them.

    The Jewish scriptures speak of Jews seizing Israel by murdering the people of the land by divine instruction. It kind of makes it hard to criticize Mohammad (spit) and Arafat (spit).

  • “Max, the problem is not that the authors failed to carry the command out. The problem is that Joshua said they did carry it out…”

    Yes he SAID he carried it out – but as you rightly say this was a lie/exageration.. so as I said they failed to carry it out.

    “talking about fairly minor skirmishes”

    Like 911 was a small skirmish on the world scale – but I am not sure the number of people you manage to kill says anything about the ethics of the murderers. Its not a numbers game.

    “Second, I am not a pacifist I don’t think violence is always wrong.”

    … yes…. I know.

  • I wouldn’t call 9/11a minor skirmish.

  • Ranger, I guess that would explain why in Exodus its recorded as drive them out, and in Deut you have the destroy language along side the drive them out language, often in the very same passages.

  • Matt, I will concur with you to the extent that it is obviously impossible for Joshua to destroy everything that breaths!…centipedes etc, yet it is to stretch a saying beyond reason to make that argument as one for hyperbole.
    The fact that Joshua slaughtered even animals and children proves that god was serious about stomping out Canaan.
    It was a test, as much as a judgment, as much as a necessity.
    Yet God knew before he spoke that all Canaan would not be utterly destroyed, for obvious reasons…thus his other laws yet none of this detracts from clear commands…it only shows the human limitations of carrying out that order.
    To the extent that Joshua obeyed God was the measure of his faith and success. We know Balaam set snares for the Israelites. Satan had his man there working to thwart Gods plan.
    We know that God was never happy when compromises were made. God saved Rahab the harlot and her house…because of true faith and good works, I would say he had mercy on others too for his own reasons…and even the failure of Israel in this matter served as a lesson to mankind as to the corrupting influence of the gentiles upon the Jews.

  • So Paul what are you afraid of? You dont believe in God so you shouldnt be concerned about divine punishment [ unless of course you have sneeking doubts].

    Logically, if there is a God, He could do pretty much as He pleased with His creation and no creature could have any basis for complaining. Fortunately for you the Christian God reveals Himself as Just but also Merciful and open to entreaty, giving you the choice to follow or not. Be grateful you are not in a Muslim country where Allah demands your submission and disagreement is not tolerated or even an Atheist country where dissension will earn you a bullet in the back of the head [and your family invoiced for the cost of the bullet]
    Your very freedom to disagree comes from the Christian ethos of the equality of all humans before God.

    Which brings us to the question of the misapplication of scripture.
    No orthodox Christian can use OT accounts to claim justification for genocide or murder.
    Even the ancient Israelites knew these commands didnt justify genocide. Read the whole context and history and you will know that any time the Israelites tried to do anything of this kind which God hadnt specifically ordered they failed and failed miserably.
    God sometimes used the Israelites to deal with others sometimes He didnt. You dont have to believe, thats your choice, you have made it abundantly clear that you dont, but please dont make out that the Bible teaches/justifies or promotes it quite clearly doesnt.
    Yes i know various loonies try and use the bible for all sorts of things but other people have used other justifications. Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, etc, evil is inherent in man whatever theology they hold to, be it atheism, theism, pantheism etc.

  • Also, rationalising your faith will lead you into jehovahs witness doctrines that deny the trinity, the divinity and virgin birth of Christ.
    If human rationality was the measure of truth you would be a Islamic before a christian!

  • @ Ranger & Jeremy

    Your so right! I’m sorry, how stupid of me! This sort of scenario would only be really scary if say a sitting president of the United States, who has access to all that military hardware, especially the nuclear capability, actually held strong fundamental christian beliefs, like those you were discussing.

    George Bush – Quotes:

    1. I am driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George go and fight these terrorists in Afghanistan’. And I did. And then God would tell me ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq’. And I did. And now, again, I feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East’. And, by God, I’m gonna do it.” Sharm el-Sheikh August 2003.

    2. I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.
Statement made during campaign visit to Amish community, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Jul. 9, 2004

    3. And I just — I cannot speak strongly enough about how we must collectively get after those who kill in the name of — in the name of some kind of false religion. 
Press appearance with King Abdullah of Jordan, Aug. 1, 2002

    On second thoughts Ranger, I withdraw my apology. If America can elect some one like this, they can do it again and the next time they may be even worse!!!

    PS: Does this count on your list of loonies – Just a thought!!!

  • @ Paul
    You’re right , in this context i do think Bush was out of order and i do think the USA did things the wrong way.
    And i dont think that George W Bush quotes qualify as revelation from God or as scripture, so i dont see how they are relevant to the discussion at hand. Do you believe that Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung’s beliefs and actions impact in any way on the validity of your your position as an atheist, if not why not?

  • It does seem that the twentieth century managed to kill more people in the cause of atheist creeds than the sum total of deaths attributal to religious wars in the whole of human history. Not a popular thought with the anti religous.
    The other thing i really wish is that people would compare apples with apples or in this case loonie religious people with lonnie non religious people, and good religious people with good non religous people.
    Why do the anti religous types so conveniently forget Mother Theresa, or the Salvation Armies work with down and outs or Tear Fund, lots of admitedtly imperfect people who as Christians are striving to make the world a better place and they out number the loonies thousands to one, just dont make the news.

  • @ Paul
    Which strong fundamental christian beliefs would those be? please clarify.
    I thought the fundamental christian beliefs were summed up in the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed neither of which touch on anything discussed here.

  • @ Jeremy

    If you choose to dismiss the reality that the most powerful nation on earth, is quite happy to elect as President, a man with these religious convictions, then that says more about how out of touch you are in your philosophical ivory tower.

    While your busy dissecting the possible inferences from some words in a book that was written about events from over 2000 years ago, your missing the reality of where modern religious fundamentalism is taking us.

    Even you must be able to forsee a future that has an ultra right wing Christian fundamentalist America pitted against an ultra fundamentalist Muslim stance and all the associated fall out from such a scenario.

    Discuss the bible as much as you like, but don’t expect me or an increasing number of similarly minded people to ignore what is taking shape.

    Now as far as Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung’s beliefs and actions are concerned, at least they are in the past, where as this reality is unfolding in front of us at present.

    Not sure if this qualifies for your loonie-religious people, but I do think there is something insane about a Christchurch food bank who is desperate for volunteers to deliver its food parcels, but only if they are Christian!!!

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch/3977369/Non-Christian-volunteers-not-wanted-by-food-bank-organiser

    And seeing as you asked, you can also find some examples of good non-religious people here: http://www.atheistvolunteers.org/

  • I see because a person claims God’s will justifies a war they are a loony.

    The problem is that the whole conventions we have around international law about when its acceptable to go to war, rules such as last resort, proportionate response, non combatant immunity and so on were actually developed by people who ostebsibly claimed to be working out when it was justified under Gods law to go to war. People like Hugo Grotius the father of international law.

    Again paul you have shown us that you are no more than a fear mongering bigot. You take stero types of religious people and appeal to them to whip up fear. Thats simply prejudice.

  • I will remember the “that was the past” argument next time the Inquistion is mentioned.

    And I suppose North Korea is in the past too.

  • “I wouldn’t call 9/11a minor skirmish”

    Really? Not a huge death count on the scale of modern wars. Probably less that the USA killed on a good week in Iraq. Skirmish.

  • “twentieth century managed to kill more people in the cause of atheist creeds than the sum total of deaths attributal to religious wars in the whole of human history. Not a popular thought with the anti religous.”

    This is surely because (i) there were more people alive to be killed (ii) we had more advanced killing machines and weapons. It is nothing to do with what particulat ideology was in place. I shudder to think what some ancient civilizations would have done with nuclear weapons….

  • @ Paul
    Since you mention the future,what about China?
    Rapidly becoming the #1 super power in the world, atheist, no respector of human rights and still deep inside their culture fundamently racist believing their culture etc to be superior to the barbarian west. The largest standing army in the world and absolutely determined to be a major if not the dominant player on the world stage. I think we are far more likely to see a repeat of communist era atrocities than the scenario you are scared of. The USA for all its faults has elections and checks and balances [even if inperfect] ,the Chinese political powers have no restraints on them at all.
    As usual the anti religous position ignores a massive logic hole in its arguement.
    If God does not exist and all religions are equally false, then all the evil done in the name of religion [ or in the name of any thing else] is inherent in the heart of man. The atheist cannot blame God or religion. get rid of both and all thses things will still happen, its just the excuses that will be different. You need to get over blaming religion, it is symptom not the actual problem, basically a total cop out to let you out of addressing the nature of men.
    So Paul, how are you going to change the hearts of men?

  • @max
    while i think the USA have stuffed up completely in Iraq —
    approx 4000 people a month were “dissappearing” under Saddam, a significantly higher death rate under the USA’s invasion and occupoation.

    You are right , higher population, more modern weapons, but also more modern beliefs and more awareness of what they were doing and the numbers involved [modern communications]. One might have hoped modern educated people with more understanding of what they were doing and the numbers involved, may have made them back off sooner, but it didnt.

  • Its kind of a worthless dabate because if there was a passage in the Bible which said:

    And God said to the people: “Rape the women and torture the men because it brings me great pleasure to see the innocent suffer”

    Matthew would still argue that God never commanded the rape of women.

  • “while i think the USA have stuffed up completely in Iraq –
    approx 4000 people a month were “dissappearing” under Saddam, a significantly higher death rate under the USA’s invasion and occupoation.”

    Well then – so about as many people “dissapearing” a month as killed in that tower falling over. Kind of supports my point about 911 being a non-event. And when you think about the huge number of building destroyed in the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan it makes 911 appear even more like the blip or non-event it really was.

    “One might have hoped modern educated people with more understanding of what they were doing and the numbers involved, may have made them back off sooner, but it didnt.”

    Intelligence and education seem to have little effect on a person’s morality. They just come up with cleverer and cleverer justifications for being a racist, homophobic, warmonger – or whatever their particular bag is…

  • sorry typo there
    should have been
    ” a significantly higher death rate than under USA’s invasion and occupation”
    ie for all the complete stuff up that the usa has made a lot less people are dying now than under Saddam

    As for the rest, big problem here Max, I pretty much agree with you , trouble is i was mostly addressing Pauls comments. Sorry if that wasnt obvious.

    Not entirely sure how insulting Matt adds to the discussion or how well it reflects on you.

    And rather than accusing Matt of potentially trying to explain away quotes that dont exist why not mention a real one

    “happy is he who repays you
    for what you have done to us–
    he who seizes your infants
    and dashes themn against rocks.”

    I will let you find it.

  • “Not entirely sure how insulting Matt adds to the discussion or how well it reflects on you.”

    I was not aware that I had insulted Matt… I think his methodology is one where he has decided the conclusion long before he looks at the evidence – that is all.

    “happy is he who repays you
    for what you have done to us–
    he who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against rocks.”

    A lament about the hopelessness of their situation….

  • But its in the Bible, its God’s Word–
    surely this endorses infanticide and in fact implies “happiness” to those who do so in a particularly gruesome way.
    No arguements about style, context or period, please just address the words in their contemporary and literal sense.

  • “But its in the Bible, its God’s Word–”

    Barking up the wrong tree there Jeremy…

    “No arguements about style, context or period, please just address the words in their contemporary and literal sense.”

    Why….?

  • Because as i read many of Matt’s posts and the responses to them, it seems to me that Matt addresses context, style, period etc and that most of the negative responses [and i include yours] generally disagree.
    It seems inconsistent to recognise the context, style and form of this Psalm while so often denying such application to other pieces of the Bible.

  • Not at all. I think the context is very important.

  • @ Max

    Besides which, even if I accept what you are saying, we are still left with a God(?) or at least a people group who were intent upon huge amounts of violence and prejudice. There is no getting around this.

    Could you explain what is wrong with this? Historically this objection to violence is a recent and very much a minority point of view. Equally i am sure most of history would fail to even understand your concept of “prejudice”. Seems a very 21C view of things that happened thousands of years ago ie a refusal to acknowledge context or God’s sovereignty.
    I suspect God doesnt limit himself by contemporary sensibilties.

    To quote

    “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it,
    “He did not make me”?
    Can the pot say of the potter,
    “He knows nothing”?”

    or

    “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker,
    to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.
    Does the clay say to the potter,
    “What are you making”?”

    I suspect it is up to us to fit in with God’s view of Himself not for God to fit in with our conception, otherwise Carl Jung would be right in saying “Man made God in His own image”

    Or to put it another way
    “its not whether God is on our side but are we on His?”

    All of course within a Christian paradigm that says its me who needed saving not God.
    Shalom

  • “Could you explain what is wrong with this?”

    As a matter of fact I did not say there was anything wrong with it. I am not the one trying to white-wash our cultural history and ignore the nastier aspects of it. The fact that our cultural forebears did some horrible things does not shatter my faith – which is why I find these attempts to brush all the nastiness under the theological carpet odd.

    “Seems a very 21C view of things that happened thousands of years ago”

    Absolutely it is… yes I am judging these actions by modern standards, and I am saying that if these sort of things were done these days most westerners like myself would be horrified. But I fully accept that by the standards of the time, things we find quite repulsive were common fare. It is Matt who wants to have his cake and eat it by trying to rehabilitate the ancients by modern standard and claim that nothing like genocide was going on.

    The rest of your message is preachy and not really of interest.

  • Please read the following list so I can educate you (pay attention here Christians-I’m going to assume that atheists are smart enough to already be aware of these proven facts);
    1. You can go to the Bible and find a passage to support your cause no matter how evil or good it is (just think about all those Christian Germans who thought they were doing God’s work during the Holocaust-hey they were proberly right, God didn’t do anything to stop the killing so he must have approved).
    2. Once you decide not to interpret The Bible literally anything goes (see point 1).
    3. Good and loving God? Come on that claim is so funny it is not funny anymore.
    4. There are still people and groups of people alive today that many Christians wished were killed.
    5. ‘Against the world?’ More like against reality.
    6. Non-Christians everywhere live in fear that one day a Christian might read The Bible and decide that God wants his followers to massacre all non-Christians. Scary stuff.

  • Feel free to debate the points, I look forward to laughing at your attempts. Really please go ahead and give it a go.

  • What strikes me as odd Richard is that you think Christians are not aware of these points, and have not (for centuries) debated these very issues.

  • Why do they not have any decent answers then?

  • @Richard
    I going to have to be rude but i will keep it simple so that you can understand, i will even type slowly just for you.
    You didnt make any points so there is nothing to rebute or discuss..
    You did make a whole lot of unsupported and rather silly accusations that i am sure most of the atheists who visit this site would not accept.
    This may have been an attempt at humour but even so you embarass yourself.
    If on the other hand this was not humour then i feel sorry for you that your life is so bitter that you need to attack others in this way. i hope you find healing.
    Shalom

  • Shalom to you too Jeremy. Now are you going to attempt to counter any of my points or just use empty rhetoric?

  • […] Matt Flannagan once again defends God against the charge of commanding the Israelites to commit genocide against the Canaanites. Not […]

  • @ Max
    Strangely in all these posts i have never thought Matt was trying to say that some fairly brutal things werent going on. Rather i understood Matt as trying to put things in the context of their time, literary style etc .
    Especially trying to avoid quoting verses out of chapter or book or whole narrative context. I think Richard has just proven my point by suggesting that Christians could somehow use the Bible to justify wiping all the non Christians out. You have said you are a Biblical Studies student therefore you must know about context, context and context, immediate, surrounding and overall.

    What was preachy? the idea that God is not accountable to us?

  • @ Richard
    May be you should actualy read the Bible, especially the Gospels and then come back and explain how a Christian [ one who follows Jesus Christ] could use anything He said to wipe out anybody. And no, no rebutal. If you want a proper discussion fine….

  • Maybe you should actually read some real philosophy such as Kant or JS Mill and learn something that has some connection to reality. How about it?

  • @Richard
    That wouldnt be Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill would it? Cant say i have ever heard of them , are they important?

    I wonder what IK had to say on God, freedom and the soul…

    All the preparations of reason, therefore, in what may be called pure philosophy, are in reality directed to those three problems only [God, the soul, and freedom]. However, these three elements in themselves still hold independent, proportional, objective weight individually. Moreover, in a collective relational context; namely, to know what ought to be done: if the will is free, if there is a God, and if there is a future world. As this concerns our actions with reference to the highest aims of life, we see that the ultimate intention of nature in her wise provision was really, in the constitution of our reason, directed to moral interests only.

    Gosh—-fancy that.
    Shalom

  • Impressive, you can use google well. So can I (this comes from the English philosopher AC Grayling-he could knock some sense into you Christians);
    ‘Immanuel Kant was an atheist. This claim will jar with those who wish to conscript Kant into the army of the faithful, and who point out – quite rightly – that he believed we should conduct our moral lives as if we had free will and immortal souls answerable to a divine judge who will reward the good and punish the bad.’

    Not bad for a 10 second search, eh?

  • By the way Jeremy when are you going to attempt to refute any of my proven facts?

  • @ Richard

    “Please read the following list so I can educate you (pay attention here Christians-I’m going to assume that atheists are smart enough to already be aware of these proven facts);”

    Smart enough; for a start you seem to think that knowledge is synonymous with intelligence.

    The former you can google, the latter ….

  • @Richard
    Grayling’s quote and your comments have something in common. Both make bold assertions without any reference or evidence to back it up. You speak of “proven” “facts,” but haven’t even begun to show us proof or discuss your theory of fact. As it stands they are mere assertions. Make an argument and show some proof, then we can get around to actually discussing whatever can be salvaged of your “proven facts.”

    It’s apparent that you didn’t actually read the article by Grayling (from the New Humanist for those interested), because it requires Grayling (an apologist for atheism of sorts) to make the audacious claim that Kant was only speaking “hypothetically” or “as if” in the hundreds of references he makes to God, the soul, immortality, etc. He bases this on such strong evidence as the speculative “Kant was far too intelligent to adhere to his parent’s creed” and blatant misappropriation of his comments on transcendental illusion.

    I’m no lover of Kant, and think he may have been a closet agnostic (although I think he maintained his ‘rational theism’), but at least if I were making that case Kant was agnostic I would admit it is pure speculation on my part…of course Grayling would never do such a thing as admit that his argument was based on speculation alone.

    By the way, you may be interested in a pretty funny battle between John Gray (atheist and Enlightenment pessimist) and Grayling (the quintessential Enlightenment optimist). Gray’s first shots were here: http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=23222, and Grayling’s response here: http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=23300

    I’d say that Gray gets the best of the two atheists as Grayling’s response merely restates the points that Gray already deconstructed. You may find otherwise though.

  • Please prove to me why there almost certainly must be only one god if god must exist.
    Why cant there be two eternal gods? Both with free choice who are all good or all evil.
    That seems to explain away the problem of evil since the birth of handicapped people, natural disasters, near destruction of the entire human race in the ice ages, extinction of dinosaurs etc cannot be the work of an all good god.
    Also, prove to me why god must be omnipotent?
    Couldn’t both gods have an equal amount of power? Or maybe one has more power over the other but not enough for destruction of the other
    If god was eternal, without a beginning cant we say that these gods needed no cause and that they just were?
    Also, why must god be all perfect… he could have an antithesis. Couldn’t he?
    For god to be infinite, which i suppose he must be since he will be literally everything… Wouldnt he also be satan and other angels? If you put a limit on infinite, it is not infinite.

  • Richard, in the Critique of Practical Reason Kant argued for the existence of God as a postulate of Practical reason. In Reason within the bounds of religion, he offered a rational reconstruction of the Christian faith. In the Critique of Pure reason he claimed his project was to limit science to make room for faith. Needless to say Graylings comments are controversial.

    I suggest you read, John Hare’s work on Kant. Hare is a specialist in the history of Philosophy based at Yale University. An article he wrote for the Stanford Encyclopedia http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/religion-morality/ is here, he mentions J S Mill as well and notes Mill’s views on religion.

  • @ Richard
    I think i will take Kant’s comments ahead of Graylings comments on Kant.

    And to repeat myself—
    you didnt post any “proven facts” just some wild assertions for which you offered no substantive proof in fact not even any questionable proof.

    By the way you raised the subject of Kant as though it in some way proved me ignorant and unread. But when i quote him you dont like the response, nor what Kant had to say.

    I think this rather leaves the onus on you to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion or politely leave. Pointless and abusive posts where you say up front that all you intend to do is laugh at the responses [if any] only make yourself look rather immature.

    However and even so, Shalom

  • Max, first the sports analogy is a citation from Plantinga and Wolterstorff from whom I developed the idea. Second, I don’t think there is a difference in meaning in the two cases, in both cases the phrase means something like “they won a decisive victory” of course whats involved in winning a victory in war and whats involved in winning a victory is sports is different, but that does not change the meaning of the phrase.

    A loose illustrative example might be the phrase, “kick his but”, no the US Marines might claim “we kicked Sadams but” and the All blacks might similarly claim “we kicked the wallabies butt” obviously one involves killing and war the other does not yet the meaning is the same in both contexts.

  • Your example is irrelevant – we are talking about specific language where the words used describe the reality. In one example, that of a small war, you do actually kill and slaughter people (ie EXAGERATION) in a game of rugby you do not kill people (ie METAPHOR) If you are not capable of seeing this difference then you are beyond help and nothing more need be said on the issue.

  • 1. Yes people use the Bible to justify all sorts of horrible things. I suspect you could use any book for this if you decided that reading a passage out of context was a good guide to ethics.
    2. Why would you interpret it literally? This seems an odd and arbitrary choice out of all the ways a book can be read. What is your justification for this being the primary interpretive framework (shudder…)
    3. Yes – the image God presented in scripture is an ambiguous and troubling one at times… do you think Christians did not notice this until biblically-illiterate atheists pointed this out?
    4. I don’t think “many” Christians want any group killed. A very small number of Christians I would accept do.
    5. No idea what you on about.
    6. I have never met this sect of paranoids you speak of. Who are they? Why are they so paranoid?

  • Max I did address your point. In the ball game the phrase means “I won”. In war the phrase means “I won”. It has the same meaning, in both contexts. The fact that one involves killing and the other does not doesn’t alter the meaning. Any more than the word “kick butt” changes meaning when used by the Marines as opposed to the all blacks. Simply repeating a point I addressed does not really esthablish anything.

    I also noted previously that in the boxing case, there is exageration. Boxing is violent the goal is to injure ( knock out) the opponent by striking him in the head. knock his block off in that context is an exageration not a metaphor.

    .

  • With the examples you gave, sure.

    But with an example like “go and kill all the people in the city” this is not a metaphor it means to actually go and actually kill people… sure not EVERY person perhaps…it is an exaggeration… but there is actual literal real killing involved. To say “kill them” before a sports game there is no killing involved – this really is just a metaphor. As I said if you can’t see the distinction then lets leave it at that – its not that big an issue.

    .

  • Except this post was about ‘Genocide’ [ murder of a race of people ]. Someof the language may have been exageration or metaphor.
    All the same I think that Matt by drawing attention to literary style, some of the conventions of the time in describing these kind of events and the overall biblical context, has given us reasonable grounds to reject the arguement that God prescribed or endorsed “Genocide”, or any thought that the passages could be used validly to ever endorse genocide.

  • My pigheaded objection is just against the sport comparison 😉

  • Matt,

    I find two other problems with your explanation of “hyperbole” for the Canaanite genocides.

    1) It fails to appreciate the concept of חרם. Being “devoted to destruction” would require the extermination of everyone or everything under “the ban.” What is your concept of חרם? Did the Israelites understand the חרם as hyperbole? It seems unlikely to me, especially in light of the story of Achan.

    2) It fails to appreciate that the record of the Conquest in Joshua is most likely not historical. (See William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 23-90, 167-221; Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology‘s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Touchstone, 2002), 72-96.). This explains why some of the cities mentioned as being utterly destroyed in Joshua are later said to be heavily populated. So, if the record of the Conquest is not historical, then the stories told there were created for a purpose, i.e., to teach some type of moral lesson. What could the moral lesson be and why did the creator(s) of the stories not see a moral problem with assigning genocidal commands to Yahweh?

  • August 2010 Biblical Studies Carnival…

    Did God command genocide in the Old Testament? Well did he? And is it fair to impose quite modern categories (like genocide) on ancient texts? … Why must God be subject to our notions of the way things must work in the universe?…

  • […] POSTS: Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament? Contra Mundum: Fairies, Leprechauns, Golden Tea Cups & Spaghetti Monsters Contra Mundum: […]

  • Of course you are assuming that there was only once “source” in your argument. Some might say that the two competing stories (total genocide, and a slow battle by battle approach) are from two different sources.

    I think even the most “conservative” scholars (I’m conservative too) would agree that reading “literally” is something that must be done in context.

  • Would you be willing to understand the “Sword Verses” of the Quran in a similar manner?

  • @ Richard E Hennessey & Others,

    I found this modern interpretation. So personally I also would like to know how anyone else understands these words.

    Muslim scholar Ibn Kathir’s commentary on the verse is:

    “Do not wait until you find them. Rather, seek and besiege them in their areas and forts, gather intelligence about them in the various roads and fairways so that what is made wide looks ever smaller to them. This way, they will have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.”

    Can’t wait to see someone try and “spin” this one in a positive light!

  • Richard & Paul

    I have no idea wether a similar interpretation of the Quran or Haddit is plausible. Its not as Paul suggests about putting a spin on things, which is essentially rephrasing the same thing with positive wording. The issue is what is it plausible to say the author said in the context.

    In the Joshua case, I offered reasons for this reading, I noted that taken literally the references to “putting cities to the sword” leaving none that breath and so on contradict what the same text says literally happend a few chapters latter. I noted that its unlikely the author would affirm and obvious contradiction and I noted that (a) it can be shown by comparision with other ANE texts that Joshua is written according to the conventions of ANE war rhetoric (b) according to these conventions its common to describe victories in totalistic terms of total anhilation, killing everyone etc as a figure of speech and then latter in the same texts have a more accurate account. I suggest these facts taken together make it more plausible in the context that the statements in question are not intended by the author to be taken literally.

    With the Haddith or Quran you would need similar factors, if the context the passage occurs in, and the literary conventions governing the kind of text it is and its Genre provide evidence that something other than a literal description is intended then I am quite willing to consider the evidence that the passages are not literal.

    I will say two things though first that its pretty clear that the Quran is not written in the same cultural context as Joshua or Deuteronomy. Its not a document from the period of 1200-800 BC and not written in the context of Hittite, Egyptian and Asyrian war rhetoric. Second that Muslims have a different understanding of Divine inspiration to Christian’s. While even fundamentalist Christians accept that the Bible is Gods word mediated through human writings and the authors used the literary conventions of their own time and place to communicate Gods message, Muslims as I understand it typically accept a divine dictation model of inspiration, so its not clear to me that these issues would necessarily have the same relevance.

  • The two source theory does not really address this issue. The question can still be asked then why the redactor decided to put two sources which contradict each other when taken literally into the same narrative, and the same line of argument follows. I also would add that the apparent contradictions occur in ANE conquest accounts, the Egyptians for example describe anhilating the armies of Mittani and then latter record them still alive, some have references to killing all the enemy and latter lists of captives that survive, yet these are not made up of two sources.

  • “why the redactor decided to put two sources which contradict each other when taken literally into the same narrative”

    (i) they had a deep respect for the texts and stories they were handed down and so wanted to preserve them as they received them.

    (ii) they did not have the same obsessive worrying about contradictions that a 21st century reader does. The idea that different stories might disagree did not phase them in the same way it phases modern protestants.

  • Max, I think some of what you say has plausibility, but even if that was the case ( and I am not sold on two sources) you still need to ask what the redactor was affirming with the text he can’t have been affirming both that Joshua literally conquered the whole land killed everyone and left no survivors and also that the Isrealites were based a Gilgal, had yet to conquer the land and the land was filled with Canaanites that they still had to drive out.

    He may have not been concerned about the contradiction but that only underscores the point, he was not concerned with affirming accurately what literally happend in both cases but rather was doing something else.

    I think there is also a second issue here, assuming two sources, the final redacted version is incorporated into the Canon as the authoratative word of God, and one can ask the theological question what the divine author is saying with the text, and one can’t sensibly say he is affirming both accounts are literally true.

  • “He may have not been concerned about the contradiction but that only underscores the point, he was not concerned with affirming accurately what literally happend in both cases but rather was doing something else.”

    Not necessarily… he could just have been presenting two cases which he took as literal accounts – knowing full well that they could not both be true – but presenting both because he did not have a problem with presenting conflicting stories.

    As for your theological move… well… before you were assuming that the redactor was basically a 21st century protestant in the way he viewed his writing… now you are assuming that God is too! Which is of course nonsense as God is a Catholic.

  • That may not have been clear… lets say there is a robbery and the police interview two witnesses. As is often the case they give conflicting accounts. One says the robber had on blue jeans and a t-shirt. The other says he has on black trousers and a blue shirt.

    Now the police release both of these descriptions to the media…. we have an obvious contradiction here – but at the same time both accounts are literal.

  • No Max
    God is Eastern Orthodox 🙂

  • What? God’s not a denomination! He’s not Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Catholicism and all are man made aren’t they?

  • For what it’s worth,

    I sincerely hope that the god you all believe in is not catholic, given the sentiments and hypocrisy the pope displayed in his recent UK speech.

    Transcript of the Popes original speech

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/518808-pope-s-holyroodhouse-speech-transcript

    This link is to the full transcript of Richard Dawkins reply to the Popes speech

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/521113-ratzinger-is-an-enemy-of-humanity

    And if non of that moves you, try watching this without becoming emotive about the issue that is at the heart of all the controversy.

    A question is asked about the Ryan Commission report on child abuse within institutions run by the religious orders in Ireland. After the panel had spoken the questioner responded and his response…well see for yourself. The guy deserves a medal!

  • Paul, this is a serious question. You like many athiests have repeatedly brought up the child abuse issue with regards to the Catholic Church as having some bearing on issues to do with Christianity.

    I was recently made aware of a study which showed that in fact the rate of child abuse of students by school teachers is higher than it is by Catholic priests, moreover in recent times in NZ there have been cases where the names and identities of teachers who have seduced their students have been suppressed and they continue to work.

    Would you apply the same logic to schools as you do to the Catholic church?

  • Max, you write he could just have been presenting two cases which he took as literal accounts – knowing full well that they could not both be true – but presenting both because he did not have a problem with presenting conflicting stories.

    But if he knew full well they could not both be literally true, he can’t have been presenting them both as literally true. Your example with the police descriptions illustrates this, the police in releasing two statements are not saying both these statements are literally true in their details, they are probably trying to do something else with the statements, such as elict information and so on.

    Moreover, the police do not usually patch two contradictory statements into one single unified narrative.

  • Paul you are absolutely right in any condemnation of child abuse by Catholic priests or of course by anybody. Equally trying to cover this up and avoiding dealing with it is wrong.
    I must point out though that such behaviour was against their vows and in direct contradiction of the teaching of scripture.These people have betrayed their victims, disobeyed the scripture and God.
    Even within the RC church [ of which i’m not a member] there are still thousands of good priests for each one gone bad. A year or so ago i saw some stats suggesting the rate of sexual offending by American teachers against students was 4 times greater than the [known] rate by RC priests against church young people (Christchurch Press, NZ).
    None of which in any way excuses or lessens the behaviour of the abusers nor lessens the pain of the victims but it does remind us that sometimes people of any persuasion fail in the most spectacular fashion irrespective of the value/truth of the work/profession.

  • @ Matt & Jeremy,

    I appreciate both your perspectives and I can agree with the logic in your comparisons with teachers and other professions, but what you both seem to miss, is the fact that the Pope is being allowed to avoid answering for his actions in the cover-up.

    If you take the comparison with teaching for example, it would be like a school Principal, who knew that a teacher had sexually assaulted a pupil(s) and then chose to simply move them onto another school where they could reoffend, rather than report them at the least to the Teacher’s Council and prferably to the Police.

    Why should the Pope be viewed as being above the law in all this? That’s what is motivating so much of the reaction. I would be demanding some form of accountability if the figure was a School Principal, Police Chief or whatever. The religious aspect just seems to make it more hypocritical in my view!

  • Paul, your comparision with “other professions” is not true
    Lawyers for example whose clients confess them about crimes and even in some cases have concealed serious crimes are often immune from prosecution and actually subject to censure if they reveal this to the authorities. The reason is that confidentiality of confession and repentance is seen as an important part of their profession. The confidence involving confession is frequently seen in a similar light.

    I am not saying I agree, simply pointing out its not as simple or one sided as people like Dawkins appear to think, I doubt he would express similar outrage at lawyers for example.

  • @ Paul: I think Matt and Jeremy have two very sound and valid arguments against you brother. At least the Pope is acknowledging the wrongdoing of Catholic Priests and he’s not being above the law, you’re just seeing it in a blind way. Hahahaha SHUTDOWN! NEXT!

  • @ Goiiiiiiis!

    You say:

    At least the Pope is acknowledging the wrongdoing of Catholic Priests and he’s not being above the law

    Well, that should be a great comfort to those who were abused at the hands of Catholic priests no doubt, but then again, I can see your point, I mean, what do I know about the law, etc.

    However, Geoffrey Robertson QC, a distinguished human rights lawyer and judge, evinces a deep respect for the good works of Catholics and their church. But, he argues, unless Pope Benedict XVI can divest himself of the beguilements of statehood and devotion to obsolescent canon law, the Vatican will remain a serious enemy to the advance of human rights.

    For more info, follow the link that follows:

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/512439-the-case-of-the-pope-vatican-accountability-for-human-rights-abuse

    Feel free to dismiss his arguments as easily as you did mine!

  • “But if he knew full well they could not both be literally true, he can’t have been presenting them both as literally true.”

    I guess what I meant was that the genre could could be that of literal trueness while still realizing that it was not possible that both were actually true… it is a genre issue.

    “Your example with the police descriptions illustrates this, the police in releasing two statements are not saying both these statements are literally true in their details,”

    True – but the witnesses meant their statements literally. Literal is not the same as true,

    “Moreover, the police do not usually patch two contradictory statements into one single unified narrative.”

    Maybe so… I have no idea what the police do.. was just an illustration

  • Right gotta, so the statements are literal but the author who redacted them into one narrative does not intend to assert them both as true.

  • Cheers Pauly!!!!

    You say: Follow the link that follows
    Shouldn’t you mean click on the link that follows??? A clear grammatical error there mate. Hahaha, just kidding Paul. Thanks eh, just like Gordon says, its good to see the two sides of the story – that side and this side.

  • Paul wrote “However, Geoffrey Robertson QC, a distinguished human rights lawyer and judge, evinces a deep respect for the good works of Catholics and their church. But, he argues, unless Pope Benedict XVI can divest himself of the beguilements of statehood and devotion to obsolescent canon law, the Vatican will remain a serious enemy to the advance of human rights”

    I see because the Catholic church code (Canon Law) has a policy of not revealing confessed crimes to the authorities its an enemy of human rights, says a lawyer…. LOL.

  • @ Matt,

    So, from your response, I take it that you are comfortable with the fact that abusive priests were allowed to avoid prosecution to serve the greater good of protecting the reputation of the catholic Church.

    Is that your position? And you teach ethics… LOL!!!

  • No Paul I have a different theology of confession, as a Protestant I don’t accept the practise of confession as it occurs in the Catholic Church, I think it would be morally required in most circumstances to report the crime to the authorities.

    The issue however is that as Catholics understand the practice, where a Priest stands in the place of God confidentiality is sacrosanct. Now I think this is mistaken just as I think Mormon and Islamic theological views are mistaken. The issue then is whether the state should make the Catholic practice of confession illegal and prosecute priests who adhere to it in these circumstances, and I am not hugely comfortable with that either.

    But you did miss my point which is when Criminals confess crimes to officers of the court, which is an arm of the secular state; these officers are required to conceal the crime and are not prosecuted for doing so, untold numbers of criminals have escaped justice as a result of this . So secular states have an parallel system when it comes to people before the secular courts committing crimes and seeing legal advice. Oddly enough people do not draw the same extreme conclusions you do with Catholicism with regard to this.

    A secular state which does this and condemns Catholicism is being a tad one eyed.

  • @ Matt,

    And hence the term, “The Law is an ass!” And yes I do take your point, but my understanding from what I have read and heard is that it is not quite as clear cut as you describe, but then again, it never is, is it.

  • Paul, google the Lake Pleasant case some time.

  • The atheists on this thread must have sore butts by now

    I’ll check back later to continue counting atheists crumbling arguments on this thread

  • LOL. Thanks for the backup Matt, and i have to agree your point before about Paul’s ‘lawyer’ example. Maybe if the lawyer was the Pope… Hahaha

  • @ Matt,

    I Have looked at the “Lake Pleasant Case” that you mention

    I take it this is the correct one:

    The Lake Pleasant Bodies Case
    An Ethical Decision Making Case
    MBA 673 (Monday/Arlington cohort)
    Legal and Ethical Environment of Business

    March 1, 1999

    The final section of the report states, amongst other things, that the lawyer involved should:

    Section 6 – Recommendation

    Armani should anonymously tell the authorities and Mr. Petz. Telling anonymously will give the greatest benefit to the largest number of people. . It will give the parents peace, provide evidence to help ensure a guilty man is locked up, stop the waste of police time and resources, and allow Armani to clear his conscience. Garrow has shown that he has difficulty controlling his urges and telling will help ensure Garrow cannot hurt anyone else.

    So, if I’m following your logic correctly here, if I apply this example to the Pope, or whichever members of the Catholic church that were privy to incriminating confessional evidence given by priests involved in the child abuse cases, then they should have acted on this by anonymously telling the authorities, which in other words would be the police to be dealt with by the legal system.

    Now, if we turn our attention back to the Catholic Church, and compare how they actually acted. Namely by moving priests from one place to another to often repeat their crimes, in the interest of protecting the reputation of the church instead.

    Then I have to say that I stand by my original stance.

  • @ Paul
    I dont think anyone here really disagrees with you, just making the point that the problem is hardly exclusive to the RC church.
    wrt to Pope Benedict stepping down/being prosecuted, that is just a plainly unrealistic hope. Pope B is head of state of the Vatican [political] and is no more likely to step down or be prosecuted over the historical behaviour of some priests thanObama or Vladimir are likely to do so over the historical behaviour of CIA or KGB operatives or or any minor govt officials.
    Please dont get me wrong , i detest what has been done, but the invective against Pope B is a complete waste of time.

  • @ Jeremy,

    I, and I’m sure many other people, are more than aware that the issue of child abuse is not an exclusive problem of the RC church, but that does not change the fact of it.

    I also don’t believe that there was ever a realistic possibility that the pope would step down or be prosecuted. What I feel has been achieved is the raising of the issues involved and the awareness in general to a larger audiance.

    I don’t agree with your view that it has been a complete waste of time though. I mean, if we allowed apathy on this and many other issues, no progress would ever be made on anything.

    For example, if the RC church now puts in place a much better system for vetting those that it employs, develops protocols to ensure as safe an environment as possible for the protection of young people in their care, etc. Then regardless of your religious perspective, isn’t that a good thing?

    Speaking from personal experience of almost twenty years teaching, the same process has been on-going with regard to the protection of the pupils that we teach, with such processes as police vetting prior to employment, mandatory staff to pupil ratios when involved in possibly hazardous activities, such as anything related to water and so on.

    It often means that there is an awful lot more paper generated, such as the obligatory Risk Assessment Forms that must be viewed and given the ok by the Principal before the activity can take place, but, at the end of the day, if the intention is to ensure a safer experience for the pupils involved, isn’t that a small price to pay?

    Finally, I would say this. I remember the movement to “Free Nelson Mandela” back in the eighties in the UK. Which was typically portrayed by the then right-wing Thatcher Government, as “Looney left-wing liberal propaganda”, who took every opportunity to use the sympathetic press and media of the day, to remind all and sundry that this was a convicted terrorist, etc.

    Yet, the movement finally succeeded in gaining an early release for Mandela.

    Now, I’m guessing, but I bet that when they began, they probably didn’t expect to achieve anymore than raising awareness of his plight.

    And no doubt there are countless similar examples from history with regard to racial issues, womans rights, etc.

    So speaking personally, I think it was great to see such a large demonstration against the pope, regardless of the outcome.

  • Paul g… I have to say eh, Matt’s just shutting you down brotha. Like he knows his ethics eh. Far even Goiis got you g!

    You say, ‘unless Pope Benedict XVI can divest himself of the beguilements of statehood and devotion to obsolescent canon law, the Vatican will remain a serious enemy to the advance of human rights.’ Bro I agree the church stuffed up with this but still man you can’t say that the Vatican is an enemy, it’s a bit too rax eh

    I know that the abuse is bad n the church is trying to change/say sorry but why don’t you see the good that the church does?

  • @ Silio,

    I’m aware that there aspects of religion that do good, but then I can also argue that there are atheists who do good as well.

    However, be it the church, education, law, medicine, etc. As a society we have and always do demand the highest standards form these institutions with regard to the way in which they behave and unfortunately for the religious, as they espouse what appears to be moral judgement over others, when they fail in these areas the reaction tends to be very strong.

    As I said in my last post, if that leads to an improvement in the way that they behave, especially with regard to children, who are amongst the most vunerable members of society, then how can that be viewed as a bad thing? Answer me that please.

  • Paul, if the issue is simply criticism of how the RC Church has handled some of the issues around child abuse then I don’t really disagree with you. What I do object to is the attempt to draw unwarranted conclusions about the RC church or to single the RC church out in an unfair way that one would not and does not do to any other institution in a similar situation. Recently in NZ as you will know there was controversy over the teacher’s council suppressing the names of teachers who had seduced their students. In the Lake Pleasant case, while a recommendation was made that the lawyers give an anonymous tip, the lawyers themselves were ultimately not subject to criminal prosecution and the legal profession in fact publically defended their actions and its common place in law lecturers to hear students told that confidentiality even when the client commits a crime and admits it is paramount. All these cases are the subject of legitimate criticism, but one would not normally draw the fairly strident generalisations about these cases one sees about the RC church. For example on TV Catholic priests are often stereotyped as paedophiles, I hear atheists constantly bringing the issue up to make points about religion in general and so on, one would not treat lawyers teachers or the teaching profession this way nor should one.

    I maintain that like any organisation the RC has a small number of its employees who abuse their trust, and like any organisation it struggles with issues related to confidentiality, mercy, protecting the innocent and so on, sometimes it gets it wrong, that tells us very little about theism, catholicism, religion or anything else.

  • Matt,

    The critical difference lies in the following:

    Over the centuries, papal claims of spiritual authority have been ever more clearly expressed, culminating in 1870 with the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility for rare occasions when the pope speaks ex cathedra (literally “from the chair (of St. Peter)”) to issue a formal definition of faith or morals.

    Unlike teachers, police or lawyers, the pope claims to speak with the authority of god.

    If we are to believe this, then I can completely understand when not only the issues of child abuse, but also his stance taken on the use of condoms, which would otherwise reduce the incidence of AIDS in countries such as Africa, his continued opposition to stem cell research, that would also allow huge improvements in the fight against specific diseases, causes people to react as they do.

    Perhaps if the Catholic church acted just as any other human institution, which as you say was as liable as the next to faults and errors, perhaps it wouldn’t be judged so harshly.

    However, as an atheist, I don’t believe in miracles, which is what it would probably take for such a change to happen!

  • In addition Matt,

    I asked a question of Lucia Maria, over on the Catholic NZ Conservative blog, with regard to being given the last rights and absolution (you may remember I asked you the same but you were unsure of the definitive answer)

    The answer I got follows:

    As for your question: a Catholic can gain absolution by confessing their all their sins to a Priest prior to their death
    Answer is yes. However, if the person does not die immediately after the absolution, they will probably sin again and need absolving again. This process of absolution is life-long and on-going.

    Now, this does strike me as a little unfair, implying, as it does, that I can live a relatively good life, but due to my atheism, at the end I’m destined for hell.

    Where as a child abusing priest, for example, can confess all on their death bed and still enter the kingdom of heaven!

    Seem wrong to anyone else, or is that just me?

  • Paul Bennett,

    Edward C. Green’s article, “The Pope May Be Right” on the Washington Post shows that the pope’s comments on the issue of aids was spot on. Green, being a member of the Harvard School of Public Health, is in a good position to talk on such issues. In fact, it is because people think they are practicing “safe” sex with condoms that they believe they wont get aids. Contrary to your claim, the Vatican actually funds adult stem cell research several places around the world, which most scientists say is showing the most promise. Search for the Baltimore Suns’ article, “Vatican, University of Maryland enter stem cell research partnership.” Its embryonic stem cell that is opposed by most Christians. “The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States” by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice should be the first place you go for facts on abusive priests. I doubt you would want to be judged based on what a small percentage of atheists do. Apperantly only half of the abuses where reported to the Church by the victims. I am in no way supporting/defending criminals. I am simply replying to the assertion that support of child abusers by the Catholic Church is somehow the norm. However, if anyone should be asking/in-need-of forgiveness it should be criminals. These issues are a little bit more complex than you would first assume Paul.

  • @ Erik,

    I beg to differ, “According to a report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), correct and consistent use of latex condoms reduces the risk of HIV/AIDS transmission by approximately 85% relative to risk when unprotected, putting the seroconversion rate (infection rate) at 0.9 per 100 person-years with condom, down from 6.7 per 100 person-years. Analysis published in 2007 from the University of Texas Medical Branch and the World Health Organization found similar risk reductions of 80–95%.”

    Next, in relation to embryonic stem cell research, you are correct that the Catholic Church affirms that “the killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.” The Church, however, supports research that involves stem cells from adult tissues and the umbilical cord, as it “involves no harm to human beings at any state of development.”

    However, I can’t agree with their fundamental assertion that human life is inviolable, combined with their assertion as a fact, that human life begins when a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell to form a single cell!

    Especially when you realise that the research can lead to new treatments and possible cures for many debilitating diseases and injuries, including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, burns and spinal cord injuries.

    As far as abuse stats go, I’m more than aware of the numbers, for example as shown in the 2004 John Jay Report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was based on surveys completed by the Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States. In addition to that are the cases from Ireland, England, Germany, etc.

    Of course these do not imply that child abuse is the norm and I did not say it was, but the Catholic churches response to them and the Popes possible role is what I believe fuels much of the outrage.

  • Where as a child abusing priest, for example, can confess all on their death bed and still enter the kingdom of heaven!

    Hey Paul,

    I thought you didn’t believe in Heaven!

    Don’t worry, you’ll get a final chance from God on your deathbed.

  • Hey Lucia,

    I take it from your comment then, that just such a scenario can take place.

    I have to say, that may explain a lot, especially as the priests involved would know better than anyone that they have a “Get out of jail, or should that be hell, card to play”

    You guys really didn’t think that one through when you put it in place did you!

    PS: Nice blog you run over there, as I see that I still can’t post my link regarding Hitler and the historical evidence for his christianity. Doesn’t change the facts though!

  • @ Lucia,

    In addition, this link may be of interest to you:

    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/524118-sex-abuse-victim-suing-pope

    I’d post on your blog, but I already know what the result would be, so here will do, as it also supports my other comments with regard to the reaction to the pope in the UK recently.

  • Paul,

    Looks like one of my co-authors deleted your comment, without realising what was going on in the background. I didn’t notice that had happened. So I’ve posted it in a separate place and let everyone know that you are not who I thought you were.

  • I have smelly toes!!

  • @ Lucia Maria. You’re absolutely right. I take back all of my comments. I’ve been an ignoramous and really need to check my facts before i comment really…

  • Well this is surreal!

    I’m reminded of the end scene in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian” where all and sundry are claiming that they are Brian, so that they can be pardoned by the Romans and removed from the crosses that they are all fixed to!!!

    Anyway, I stand by all my comments to date, apart from the last two, as they were not posted by, just for the record.

    I actually just want to say thanks to Lucia Maria for re-posting my comments on his blog.

    So thanks!

  • @ Paul
    God is the final arbiter..
    ..if you are planning on using the “Get out of Jail Free” card at the eleventh hour then you will probably kick the bucket at 10:30pm!!

  • Also @ Paul
    if you have followed mandm for any time and i’m sure you have then you will know any idea that Hitler was remotely Christian in any meaningful or orthodox understanding has been thoroughly debunked. He is also pn record as saying Christianity was the enemy of the Third Reich.
    I am sure your atheism doesnt mean you are Pol Pot part 2.

  • @ Jeremy

    Firstly, my comment with regard to “Get out of hell free” was meant to be ironic, given that it is believed by Catholics and could therefore allow someone, such as a child abusing priest, to absolve themselves of their personal sins and still so enter heaven.

    Please note, I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but the inference was lost on you as to how hypocritical that looks from my perspective.

    Secondly, I have been giving a lot of thought to what was said and the associated evidence posted by both sides with regard to Hitler on the NZ Conservative blog.

    I’ve reposted the second quote that Ropata posted from the Conservative Colloqium site:

    “Hitler was NOT a Christian. He hated Christianity. If he made any public remarks in support of Christianity, that was because he was in public and would lie or obfuscate to appease a crowd at times. Hitler was opposed to atheism because  he was a spiritual man: “atheism… is a return to the  state of the animal…” (Hitler’s Table Talk, pg 59).

    But opposition to atheism doesn’t make anyone a Christian. Nazism was his religion, an authentic religion of his own creation.

    Re-reading it and others, I’m inclined to think that he was not an atheist or a christian, he was just what you would imagine him to be, an extremely manipulative, politician who used whatever means he needed to to gain ultimate power and become one of histories most obscene dictators.

    What is telling, with regard to that is: “an authentic religion of his own creation”.

    If, at the same time, you take the Japanese populations devotion to their country and Emperor Hirohito, to the extent that he was viewed as a “God” by some, so fueling their almost suicidal zeal when it came to military matters during World War 2.

    Add to that, the pivotal role that Russia, led by an outright atheist, in the form of Joseph Stalin, played with regard to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

    Then, I have to say, nothing is ever as cut and dried as it may first appear however much we would wish it to be.

    This, in no way, is meant to excuse any of the atrocities committed by any of the countries, their people and ultimately their leaders, but ultimately humans were duped into following Hitler with his religiously packaged National Socialism, Hirohito as a “God” like figure and Stalin and his communism with an atheistic stance.

    So, given all that, I’m personally still in favour of a humanist/rationalist approach to life, that is extremely sceptical of organised religion in any form.

  • Man is this Paul Bennett guy for real?! First he tries to prove a point to someone, and then the next thing you know, he’s taking his comment back! The word uncertainty comes to mind…

  • @Brennan J.
    Hey leave the poor atheist alone mate. Like Paul said, his previous two comments were obviously not from him!

  • You never know ‘Stiles’ it could have easily been Paul who wrote those comments himself. You should have thought about that before accusing me man! Calm down! This website, and this blog is for the purpose of REAL discussion, not some apology or ‘smelly toes’ forum!

  • @Paul
    the irony was not lost on me rather i was making the point that nobody gets to rely on last minute absolution. God is final arbiter and will not be mocked. I am sure even the catholics beleive that deathbed absolution is conditional on genuine repentance and it is God who judges that not us. As i said relying on 11th hour use of “get out of hell free” pass is likely to be stymied by dying at 10:30. If some one is planning to repent at the last second then there is very little chance thier repentance is going to be genuine.
    So yes it may look funny from the outside…

  • Paul Bennett ,

    The aids problem in Africa isn’t as simple as you think. ABC ran a special not that long ago showing how mass distribution of condoms in underdeveloped countries, for the practice of safe sex among infected persons as the method of dealing with aids, not only didn’t solve the problem but led to other issues. The data you presented was based on western culture’s use of condoms and their sexual behaviour. Anthropologists would say, as they have for decades, you can’t equivicate the two different societies. Look at the project in Africa to have infected mothers bottlefeed their babies and what a failure it has been. Do these mothers want their children to have aids? No, many more factors are at play than you think.

    You seem to be a consequentialist. You said violating another humans life isn’t morally impermissible. Ok, then I assume killing an innocent person for Utilitarian purposes is accepted by you. Perhaps you would always oppose it, but in principle you accept it. Such a philosophy is more than questionable since it makes people such as Hitler not immoral but wrong. In murdering the Kulaks, the communist regime said its a small short-term evil for the long-term economic benifit of the whole nation.

    I’ve yet to see any scientific evidence that states a new living member of the human species doesn’t exist at conception which you affirm. No doubt because such a view makes the idea of species unintelligible.

    The RC’s responce to abuses has been poor. I, however, remain skeptical of the current pontiffs involvement as no evidence has been found linking him to a “global coverup.” The case for the popes’ arrest brought forth by Dawkins and Hitchens was mostly to bring awareness to the issue as Dawkins admited in an interview with CNN. He also admited that the lawyers he has spoken to have found no actual case that can reasonably lead a trial to convinct the Pope on Hitchens’ charges.

  • […] Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament? […]

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  • The Delusionary Thinking of Both Matt Flannagan and Paul Copan…

    both Matt Flannagan and Paul Copan have backed themselves into a corner … “According to the Bible, Yahweh killed children, and ordered others to kill children. There’s no way to get around that fact,” but watch them try. As I have said before, def…

  • What if Flannagan’s Hyperbole Interpretation is Correct?…

    Steve Douglas of Undeception has an interesting post regarding the contention by some apologists, such as Matt Flannagan, that the commands to commit genocide in Joshua were merely hyperbolic….

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    In my last post, I made the mistake of misapplying Matt Flannagan’s statements about innocent children at Sodom to his discussion of the conquest narratives in Joshua. I apologize to Matt for my egregious error….

  • On Boring Books and Funny Fallacies…

    Ken Pulliam, Steve Douglas and others have been discussing Matthew Flanagan’s views on genocide in the Old Testament, the one with the most creative title is probably Thom Stark’s: “Episode II: The Phantom Herring.”…

  • Episode III: Revenge on the Benjamites…

    Flannagan, Copan and others have been trying to argue that when the conquest narratives state that women and children are slaughtered and entire populations of cities and tribes are annihilated, this is just hyperbole. In reality, women and children ar…

  • Hi All

    I’ve posted this on all the appropriate threads, as since Matt’s US excursion, there may well be new interest in his perspective.

    This may be of interest to you if you haven’t seen it already:

    http://religionatthemargins.com/2010/11/the-joshua-delusion/

  • Moral Difficulties in the Bible: The Concessionary Morality Response…

    The divine moral concessions present in the perplexing passages at issue here are perhaps a necessary means for the ultimate redemption of human beings, brought back to a state of original justice in communion with one another and God. In this state, h…

  • Matt,

    This is certainly a challenging topic, and you make a clear presentation of the ideas, which I appreciate, but I remain unconvinced of your case. My problem is with descriptions such as:

    “The problem is that chapters fifteen to seventeen record that the Canaanites were, in fact, not literally wiped out. Over and over the text affirms that the land was still occupied by the Canaanites, who remain heavily armed and deeply entrenched in the cities. Astute readers will note that these are the same regions and the same cities that Joshua was said to have “destroyed all who breathed”, left “no survivors” in just a few chapters earlier.”

    I have checked the text of Joshua as carefully as I can, but I am unable to find any cities, named as being totally wiped out in the earlier chapters, which are then said to still contain armed resisting Canaanites in chapters 15-17. Could I ask you to provide some specific examples, to back up this particular claim? TIA.

  • Matt,

    I’m still hoping for an answer, if you can provide one. Besides the above quote from the original blog, you wrote (Aug 1, 2010 at 10:09pm):

    “Max, the problem is not that the authors failed to carry the command out. The problem is that Joshua said they did carry it out Joshua 10-11 for example emphatically states they actually carried the commands out, the whole land was subdued and no survivors were left as God had commanded, the land just needed to be allotted, then when it is allotted the land is said to be full of Canaanites that need to be driven out. In some instances in fact the same cities are said to be fill of Canaanites.”

    Firstly, I guess when you say that Josh 10-11 emphatically states “the whole land was subdued”, you mean 10:40. But I can’t see that is as all-encompassing as it sounds – the whole of the promised land – because:
    (a) the text specifically qualifies the term “the whole land” by giving specific characteristics of the land involved, which match well to those of the territory of Judah (as in Judges 1:9, also detailed in Joshua 15);
    (b) the narrative continues directly, at Joshua 11:1ff, to mention other kings and cities, also sited within the promised land, which had not yet been overcome; they hear of what Joshua has done and get together to fight with Israel, but are also overcome and their cities taken; so their territory clearly wasn’t included in “the whole land” of 10:40.

    Secondly (just reiterating my initial question), in the above comment to Max, when you said that “in some instances in fact the same cities are said to be full of Canaanites”, which instances are those? My problem is that I just can’t find any such cities. Am I looking in the wrong place?

    I would be grateful if you could resolve this. I’ve been debating this proposal of yours with some fellow-believers, and it would help clear things up if you could explain what you were referring to. Many thanks!

  • Mark,

    Chapter 10 records the campaign in souther Israel chapter 11 the campaign in northern Israel.

    Souther Campaign

    “They [Joshua and his troops] took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors. They did to Debir and its king as they had done to Libnah and its king and to Hebron. So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. (Joshua 10:39-41)”

    Note the regions mentioned, Debir, Hebron, hill country, Negev, western footholds mountain slopes: no survivors, totally destroyed all who breathed at end of southern campaign.

    Next chapter during the latter the campaign in northern Israel

    “At that time Joshua came and wiped out the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel; Joshua utterly destroyed them with their towns. No Anakites were left in Israelite territory; only in Gaza, Gath and Ashdod did any survive. So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11:16-23)”

    Note regions, Debir, Hebron, hill country, note also explicit claim Anakites wiped out.

    Now consider Joshua 15 “ “12 In accordance with the LORD’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) 14 From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. 15 From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).16 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 17 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.”

    Note the area allotted to Judah, includes Debir, which is full of people including Anakites.

    Now look at Judges 1 after Joshuas death,

    “9 After that, Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites living in the hill country, the Negev and the western foothills. 10 They advanced against the Canaanites living in Hebron (formerly called Kiriath Arba) and defeated Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai. 11From there they advanced against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher).”

    Regions yet to be taken after Joshuas death are Debir, hebron, the hill country, the negev, western footholds. The reference to Caleb in the next verses suggests this may be talking about the same events narrated in Joshua 15. So in chapter 15 this area is full of and occupied by Canaanites.

    In addition you should look at what is said in Joshua, after the northern campaign and after the souther cities have been wiped out a second time. In chapter 11

    “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions. Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11:22-23)”

    The “entire land” Joshua is said to have conquered and left no survivors in v 11, is the same land, Joshua gave as an inheritance to Isreal according to their tribal divisions. 15-17 records the giving of these tribal allotments hence they refer to the same land.

    So taken literally according to Joshua 10 southern Isreal is conquered all population centres killed, Josh 11 northern population centres wiped out, and southern centres “wiped out” a second time. Both summarised in end of chapter 11 as the entire land and then given as tribal allotments, 15-17 spells out the areas given as allotments ( i.e the same area) is full of canaanites, Judges tells us other Joshua’s death the tribal allotments are still occupied by Canaanites.

    Conclusion, these texts can’t be literally true. Something else is going on here.

  • […] Right Contra Mundum: Abraham and Isaac and the Killing of Innocents Contra Mundum: Selling Atheism Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament? Contra Mundum: Fairies, Leprechauns, Golden Tea Cups & Spaghetti Monsters Contra Mundum: […]

  • On Jerry Coyne and godless morality…

    The “abhorrent commands” objections take me beyond the scope of my point of this post, but I do recommend you to these helpful posts on Old Testament Ethics by Matthew Flannagan…

  • […] recent times, some further explanations have been offered. It is said that the alleged genocide of Joshua 10 never happened, that later chapters show many of the […]

  • […] Right Contra Mundum: Abraham and Isaac and the Killing of Innocents Contra Mundum: Selling Atheism Contra Mundum: Did God Command Genocide in the Old Testament? Contra Mundum: Fairies, Leprechauns, Golden Tea Cups & Spaghetti Monsters Contra Mundum: […]

  • A number of Historians have actually characterized the acts done in joshua as genocide. Wikipedia even has a full list of cited historians that do ( go look for yourself). Some have even claimed these stories made the settlers try to justify the slaughter of natives as well.

    Second, I think we should consider what Joshua was sent to do. He was sent as a conquerer and what do conquerer’s do with war gods? They kill. Using apologetics on this subject is just dishonest, Yahweh just like Ares is a god of war.

    Perhaps if Yahweh was a god of diplomacy and peace he wouldn’t need to conquer other nations or use apologetics to defend such acts of violence that are deemed as war crimes in this day and age.

  • A number of Historians have actually characterized the acts done in joshua as genocide. Wikipedia even has a full list of cited historians that do ( go look for yourself). Some have even claimed these stories made the settlers try to justify the slaughter of natives as well.
    Not sure how Wikipedia says so, is a response to my argument.

    I am well aware others disagree with the conclusion that’s why I offered an argument against that conclusion.

    Second, I think we should consider what Joshua was sent to do. He was sent as a conquerer and what do conquerer’s do with war gods? They kill. Using apologetics on this subject is just dishonest, Yahweh just like Ares is a god of war.

    Actually, if the focus is on what the text claims, it’s not a conquest because the Isrealites had already been given legal title to the land centuries before and had lived their, the Canaanites were evicted 400 years latter when their conduct had deterioted to warrant it. That’s not a conquest.
    And simply asserting that another person is dishonest does not actually address their argument, nor does simply asserting something.

    Perhaps if Yahweh was a god of diplomacy and peace he wouldn’t need to conquer other nations or use apologetics to defend such acts of violence that are deemed as war crimes in this day and age.

    Again assertions don’t count for much

  • “Not sure how Wikipedia says so, is a response to my argument.”

    It’s not wikipedia says so. Its the historians that agree that it could be dignified as a genocide and there is a whole slew of them cited if you would actually bother to go through it.

    I am well aware others disagree with the conclusion that’s why I offered an argument against that conclusion.

    “Actually, if the focus is on what the text claims, it’s not a conquest because the Isrealites had already been given legal title to the land centuries before and had lived their, the Canaanites were evicted 400 years latter when their conduct had deterioted to warrant it. That’s not a conquest.”

    Are you serious? The text claims Joshua massacred a whole slew of tribes, regardless of “legal title” and regardless of who the citizens were. Also I have trouble seeing someone warranting the death of children over land when god could’ve easily just given everyone a fair share of land.

    Further a theology site http://www.theology.edu/conquest.htm admits it is just that.

    “And simply asserting that another person is dishonest does not actually address their argument, nor does simply asserting something.”

    I’m not asserting it. I’ve given you evidence and an explanation both of which you’ll probably shrug off. Even with a theological site calling it what it is.

    Perhaps if Yahweh was a god of diplomacy and peace he wouldn’t need to conquer other nations or use apologetics to defend such acts of violence that are deemed as war crimes in this day and age.

    “Again assertions don’t count for much”

    So in your opinion gods of war bring more peace than gods of diplomacy? I mean lets think about this for a second Yahweh chooses to dispense the horrors of war onto other nations continuously as a way of “showing his greatness”. But as a god why even have that pride to begin with?

    Then there is also the greater benefit for other people by using different methods to gain something. War causes pain, suffering, damages wildlife, disrupts society, tears people apart. But this also says something more so about Yahweh’s character as being more deceptive and ruthless than say truthful and merciful.

    So If this god was instead more diplomatic and peaceful and if he has those omni characteristics, then naturally he could formulate a plan to ensure all tribes came out intact. Besides his main targets shouldn’t have even been the cities but the religious authorities at the time if they were doing the supposed depraved acts. Also I don’t think feuding over land is the best way to solve this problem when god could simply form them a new one or maybe prevent the other tribes from ever entering.

  • “It’s not wikipedia says so. Its the historians that agree that it could be dignified as a genocide and there is a whole slew of them cited if you would actually bother to go through it.”

    Again, I am not sure how that counts as an argument against my conclusion, If I had argued that no one disagrees with it might, but simply pointing out that Wikipedia says a some historians hold a different view does not address my argument at all.

    The reason I offered an argument is because I was aware other people disagreed.

    Note also this is not a historical question: the question I am asking is does the bible teach that God commanded Genocide. That’s a question of what a particular book teaches.

    “Are you serious? The text claims Joshua massacred a whole slew of tribes, regardless of “legal title” and regardless of who the citizens were. Also I have trouble seeing someone warranting the death of children over land when god could’ve easily just given everyone a fair share of land.”

    Here your begging the question, your assuming the reference to “whole tribes” being massacred is a intended to be literal description of what occurred. But I argued that is hyperbole: Joshua uses the conventions of ancient near eastern conquest accounts, a common convention of such accounts is to write up victories hyperbolically in terms of killing everyone the rest of Joshua and the sequel in Judges proceeds on the assumption that the events did not literally happen. Simply assuming my interpretation is a mistake as a premise in an argument against this position begs the question.

    Moreover your claim about Joshua is mistaken the text is quite clear that Joshua slew were those that were in northern and southern Canaan the land that Isreal had been given legal title to in Genesis. The Isrealites were not commanded or authorized to attack other nations whose land they did not have title to in fact Deuteronomy 2 shows they were forbidden to do this. Moreover, the chapter you cite from Joshua 10 and 11 both involve defensive wars. The opening verses of chapter 10 tells us that the battles in question began when the Canaanite kings attacked Gibeon Isreal’s allies and chapter 11 begins with an account of how the northern kings united together to attack Isreal. Isreal also does not occupy the towns they defeat in this chapter they return to the base camp in Gilgal at the end. What you see in these chapters is not a conquest.

    As to “fair share” again your not looking at what the text says, it points out that 400 years earlier Isreal was given this land and despite this they were not entitled to dispose the current occupants inhabitants, it was only 400 years latter when the occupants had been engaging in criminal behaviour for multiple generations that they were authorised to do this.

    I agree the existence of children creates a moral problem, but I don’t think the fact that there were children there means its unjust to disposes the inhabitants and they were entitled to a “fair share”. A landlord can justly evict tenants from his land who engage in criminal activity regardless of whether they have children. He can also use force to do this if they refuse to leave and offer resistance. In fact in NZ land lord can evict tenants for any reason at all providing notice is given the fact the tenants have children creates no obligation to allow them to stay. A land lord who shares the land for multiple generations tolerating criminal behaviour and then evicts them after 400 years of it is hardly engaging in a “conquest”

  • “A landlord can justly evict tenants from his land who engage in criminal activity regardless of whether they have children. He can also use force to do this if they refuse to leave and offer resistance.”

    Sure – but he’d be a bit of a bastard to throw children out on the street because the parents were criminals! In fact in out country the State would make sure that the children were supported and as much as possible try to guarantee that the children did not suffer for the parents crimes…

  • Max

    Sure – but he’d be a bit of a bastard to throw children out on the street because the parents were criminals! In fact in out country the State would make sure that the children were supported and as much as possible try to guarantee that the children did not suffer for the parents crimes…

    Interesting point, of course the issue I was discussing when I said that was wether the bible portrays Joshua’s campaigns as an invasion or conquest and I don’t think what you said makes a difference to that point.
    But to the point you do make, I am not so sure, its not obvious to me that if a land lord evicts a family because the parents smash the house in and make it into a drug den or brothel that they he is a “bastard”. I agree moral questions remain but it’s important to be clear exactly what they are and not exaggerate them.

  • Perhaps not a cruel landlord – as the landlord lacks power and cannot be expected to look after children personally. But it would be a cruel society which left the children to live on the street, or gave them the same punishment as the parents.

    And I guess that God in these situations is the whole society, as he is God not just of the “flat” but of the whole world… unless you see Yahweh as just a local god deciding who lives in his corner of the world. Then its a different matter I guess.

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