Tag Archives: history

Rationalizing Genocide

How did I spend my Sunday morning?  Writing out a long comment to a pastor who was attempting to defend the genocides of the Old Testament.  Here’s my response to his rationalizations:

Thanks for the time you took in writing out this response.  I can tell you put a lot of time and energy into it, and I would be open to reading a book you’d write on the topic!  I do have a few issues with some of your explanations.

But before I get too picky, can I just state the obvious?  Can you hear yourself defending (rationalizing!) acts of genocide?  I’m always dismayed when I hear someone mentally disconnect the argument they’re making from the act they’re defending.  To be honest, it was one of the primary motivating forces that helped me reject my faith.  I got tired of having to condone God’s go-ahead for genocide.

You say that applying our “cultural mores” onto the horrors of genocide is an “anachronism.”  I’m not sure what to make of that statement.  So genocide (ie., the systematic act of killing a racial/cultural group) is a value that is relative to the time one lives in?  I’m having a hard time imagining a period of time in human history when it would be excusable to slaughter an entire people group.

So proving to me that I’m being anachronistic is going to be a tough sell.  You’re going to have to show me that the moral precept we hold that genocide is wrong was somehow NOT wrong back then.  I have a feeling we’ll come back to the supposedly-moral framework of “God is moral, God told the Israelites to murder, Murder is moral.”  You may be content in such a framework, I am not.

I know that there are other examples of ancient literature where these acts of systematic murder are described, and I find those passages equally horrifying as well.  But the difference between reading the Illiad and reading the Bible is that people don’t put any spiritual credence in the former.

I’m disappointed that you describe genocide as simply “distasteful.”

To summarize your arguments rationalizing genocide:
1. Genocide was not as evil of an act back then as it is today, so applying our 21st-century standards to this act is “anachronistic”.
2. Other people groups back then were committing genocide, so the Israelites were just following warfare protocol.
3. The ends justify the means argument: wiping out Israel’s enemies may have been unfortunate, but necessary — akin to the violence necessary to resolve other human atrocities such as slavery, racism, and fascism.
4. God compromised morality on behalf of the Israelites, and allowed them to commit such acts.
5. Israel is God’s “covenant people”, so “to maintain their cultural and religious distinctiveness”, wiping out a few ancient near eastern cultures is completely excusable.
6. The Midianites were bad people in their day, so they had it coming to them.

I asked you specifically about  Numbers 31.  I find it telling that you completely avoided commenting on the another morally “distasteful” passage in that chapter. Not only does God condone genocide, but he also mandates rape.

The Israelites went and destroyed all the males of the Midianites, but brought back as captives the “women and the little ones” (verse 9).   Moses then specifically goes to the Israelite army and tells them to KILL all the “women who had known a man” along with all the male children — *BUT* they could keep all the young virgin girls for themselves (verses 17-18).  As the chapter closes, these (32,000!) young girls were counted — along with the livestock — in the list of Israel’s war “booty” (32-35).  I don’t think I’m being anachronistic in being horrified by such actions on the part of such a God, and such a “covenant” people.

As I close, I noticed you describe yourself as a “good historian” — have you watched the PBS documentary of “The Bible’s Buried Secrets”?  This doc consults many historians, scholars, and archeologists who have the thesis that much of the OT as history is inaccurate.  The genocidal atrocities weren’t military coups, but more of a social/cultural revolution.

I’m curious how he’ll respond. I, for one, am feeling pretty sick inside after having to think about such atrocities. But, at the same time, I’m also glad I got out of the business of finding theological reasons to condone such cruelty.

In the meantime, it looks like Luke has posted a pretty comprehensive list of articles from theologians and non-believers who have responded to the OT genocides.  Check it out.

EDIT: I responded again, and here’s what I wrote: read more »

It is finished

Capping an epic struggle, congressional Democrats put the final touches Thursday to historic legislation enshrining health care as the right of every citizen. Republicans vowed to campaign for repeal in the fall election season, drawing a quick retort from President Barack Obama: “I welcome that fight.”

The president spoke in Iowa as the Senate voted 56-43 for legislation making changes, including better benefits for seniors and low-income and middle-class families, to the bill he signed into law with a flourish at the White House on Tuesday.

The House added its approval a few hours later, 220-207, clearing the way for Obama’s signature on the second of two bills that marked the culmination of what the president called “a year of debate and a century of trying” to ensure coverage for nearly all in a nation where millions lack it. Obama is expected to sign the legislation early next week.


(and I feel fine)

Back home, is it the end of the world as we know it?

If you were to believe much of the uproar on conservative TV/radio/blogs these days, the US is now on the brink of an “apocalypse” because insurance companies will soon have to dedicate 80% of their customers’ funds to actual health care costs. (the horror!!1!) Worse yet, these same insurance companies can’t deny coverage to kids, and eventually will have to eliminate their overuse of “pre-existing conditions” to deny coverage to women. (again, the horror!!1!!)

I have to admit, it’s been fascinating watching all the hullabaloo over health care reform back home, especially now that I live in a country where health care isn’t something you have to fear not having access to. Not only that, but Canada is a country that so valued my first year as a mama that it ensured I could stay home with my little one, with pay, for her first 12 months to help give us a good start in our lives together. On the other hand, my sister, who lives in New York state, got only a 6-weeks and a we’ll-save-your-job with no pay start to her mamahood experience.

What I don’t understand is the fear and loathing of people who are opposed to health care reform — for some, it’s not enough that they lost and the bill is now law, but in the last few days, many Democratic members of Congress are receiving threatening phone calls or having physical damage done to their property by some enraged anti-reform folk.

More on this from tonight’s Rachel Maddow show — but be warned, this stuff is hard to watch:

and CNN:

I can’t tell which is worse: the violent nutjobs who are making the threats, or the quiet (and seemingly condoning) Republican congressional leadership. I think it spoke VOLUMES when none of the House Republican leadership appeared with the Dems to denounce these activities in today’s press conference. How bad are things when even some FOX News (!) reporters notice the dangers of over-inflated dissent inciting people to act out in stupid and dangerous ways?

Maybe much of this fury is to be expected? After all, even here in “socialist Canada” there were issues when health care reform was passed in the 1960′s. Last month there was an interesting article in Slate magazine that detailed how Saskatchewan became ground-zero in its role of starting government-funded health care:

As in the United States today, opponents of the health reform plan weren’t sure whether to denounce the CCF [the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation party] as Communists or Nazis, so they did both. Protesters greeted [SK Premier Tommy] Douglas’ motorcade with Nazi salutes—when they weren’t throwing stones at it. Other opponents painted the hammer and sickle on the homes of people thought to be associated with the party.

The doctors made good on their threats: When the new health care plan was introduced on July 1, doctors across the province walked off the job. But the government was ready, flying in replacement doctors, mostly from Britain. The strike ended after three weeks, the health care plan stayed in place, and four years later, the Canadian government passed the Medical Care Act, which provided funding for every province to create a similar plan.

Douglas and his party were vindicated. Once their plan took effect, Shackleton writes, it “was soon so well accepted that no political party had the temerity to suggest its abolition.”

As we all know, Canada’s socialized medicine system stuck — and now, for the most part, it’s a point of pride for Canadians. (of course, it’s not perfect, and there’s always room for reform, but you’ll meet very few Canadians who are eager to privatize health care) In fact, a few years ago when there was a nation-wide contest for the “Greatest Canadian,” SK Premier Tommy Douglas won 1st place, solely for his political temerity to implement such a medical system in this country.

So while I’m dismayed at all the vicious (and dangerous) rhetoric that is being hurled right now by people who are opposed to reform, part of me does take heart that much of this sound and fury will hopefully diminish, once people can begin to benefit from what this bill will offer.

I’m patient enough to wait for Republicans who will eventually be as protective of this reform bill as they are now over Social Security and Medicare — both government-run programs that were initially vilified and denounced until they became sacrosanct to America’s citizens.

Until then, hold on for a bumpy ride.