People like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have long emphasized the genocide, the brutality, the bloodshed, and the sheer immorality of much of the Bible. I encountered some of that myself this weekend, and thought I’d present it in black and white.
Two passages from the Old Testament struck me. In Chapter 31 of Numbers, God tells the Israelites to go after the Midianites, presumably because they’re worshiping Teh Rong God (Yahweh is a jealous old coot). On God’s orders, this is what the children of Israel do:
7And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. . .
15And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
16Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
17Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.
18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
The boys and men get slaughtered, as well as nonvirgin women, but the virgins are saved—”for yourselves.”
Worse happens to the people of Heshbon. The Israelites merely wanted to pass through their land, but God intervened, hardening the spirit of King Sihon and making his spirit “obstinate.” That allowed God to order the destruction of Sihon and all of his people (why on earth didn’t God just soften the king’s heart?). So we find, in Deuteronomy, Chapter 2:
31And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land.
32Then Sihon came out against us, he and all his people, to fight at Jahaz.
33And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.
34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:
This time nobody survived, though the Israelites did leave the cattle for themselves. Now people like William Lane Craig and other Sophisticated Theologians™ have tried to rationalize the mass slaughter of children and noncombatants using the “Divine Command theory” (i.e., God said it, so it’s good), but modern morality recoils from such behavior. How do evangelical Christians who are less demented than Craig rationalize this type of God-sanctioned behavior?
Tomorrow: dietary prescriptions and the stoning of harlots.
Coincidentally, on EvolutionBlog Jason Rosenhouse posted his own experience with tackling scripture, “On reading the Bible“, just the day before I wrote about the same thing. Thinking he might be missing something that his religious friends had, Jason actually prayed and read the Bible straight though while in graduate school. The praying didn’t help him, and he found the Bible, well . . .
The Bible, on the other hand, had a big effect on me. I quickly came to loathe it. When it wasn’t flat-out horrifying it was so unbearably boring that many nights I could only manage to get through one chapter. There are a few good nuggets, but you have to wade through a lot of dross to find them. Page after page just screamed out to me that this was written entirely by human beings, with no guidance at all from a just and loving God. Just to pick one example, how can anyone read Leviticus, with its endless internecine rules for designing the priestly garments and constructing altars, and think these are the sorts of things the God of all creation would care about?
He singled out the same dull passages that I did. I swear that I didn’t read his post before I wrote mine! He adds:
I spend a lot of time at this blog talking about the problem of evil. But there is another famous argument for atheism called the argument from divine hiddenness. Put in crude terms, it asks why, if there really is a loving God who seeks communion with his creatures, do so many sincere seekers never find any trace of Him? There are many Kanalley’s out there, but there are also many people just like me. Why would God speak so clearly to him but not to me?
Well, of course Sophisticated Theologians™ have many answers to the vexing question of Why God is Hidden. John Haught’s hilarious answer is this: “It is essential to religious experience, after all, that ultimate reality be beyond our grasp. If we could grasp it, it would not be ultimate.” How many errors can you find in that logic?
But in your case, Jason, it’s simple: you’re Jewish! Why would God speak to anyone who didn’t even recognize His son?