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“Did God Really Say THAT!? A Blog about the Bible” is mainly intended for those who think that every bit of the Bible was inspired by God, and are willing to reconsider this belief. But it can also be helpful for those who do not take the entire Bible literally, and want to communicate with friends and family members who do.

If that’s your goal, be careful how you present this blog. Use it as a springboard for conversation rather than as a club for whacking your literalist relatives. I do not want to provide lighter fluid for starting arguments. And beware of feeling superior to those who treat every verse of Scripture as holy writ. All of us have made mistakes about religion and none can be complacent.

Especially during the December holidays, it’s good to follow the advice of Aldous Huxley, who said when he was nearing death, “It’s a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer than: Try to be a little kinder” (quoted by Tom Owen-Towle, Spiritual Fitness, p. 343). In talking about religion with those who disagree with us, a little kindness can go a long way.

I’m going to take a couple of weeks off from blogging. Happy Holidays to all,

Roger Christan Schriner

Steven Pinker, a distinguished professor of psychology, has written a critically acclaimed book called The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Pinker claims that despite modern media’s emphasis on war and mayhem, over the long run violence has actually decreased. He begins by discussing violence in ancient days, and on p. 10 he talks about the Bible:

“The Bible depicts a world that, seen through modern eyes, is staggering in its savagery. People enslave, rape, and murder members of their immediate families. Warlords slaughter civilians indiscriminately, including the children. Women are bought, sold, and plundered like sex toys.”

All of this is easy to prove. But then Pinker claims, more controversially, that in the Bible “Yahweh tortures and massacres people by the hundreds of thousands for trivial disobedience or for no reason at all.” “Aside from the approximately one thousand verses in which Yahweh himself appears as the direct executioner of violent punishments, and the many texts in which the Lord delivers the criminal to the punisher’s sword, in over one hundred other passages Yahweh expressly gives the command to kill people.”

Pinker mentions “atrocitologist” Matthew White who estimates that mass killings which “are specifically enumerated in the Bible” amount to roughly 1.2 million deaths, not counting those who died when God drowned every person on Earth except Noah and his family. White says that would add another 20 million!

How do you react to Pinker’s charges? Is he overdrawing this gory picture? Is the Bible’s picture of God inconsistent? Is there a contradiction between passages that show God as terrifying and aggressive and those that depict deity as loving and merciful? What do you think?

Roger Christan Schriner

I should warn my readers that some verses in today’s post are rather grisly. But as I’ve said before, one reason these passages sound so disturbing is that they clash with core Judeo-Christian values.

We’ll be considering excerpts from stories of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan. It’s interesting to ask whether God would want anyone to march into someone else’s country and wipe out its inhabitants. Some would say “absolutely not,” while others would maintain that violent conquest is OK under certain circumstances. In this blog I just want to focus on what virtually all of us will agree does not sound like God’s will. For example:

“So Joshua defeated the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded” (Joshua 10:40).

“Then we turned and went up the way to Bashan; and Og the king of Bashan came out against us, he and all his people, to battle at Edrei. But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not fear him; for I have given him and all his people and his land into your hand . . . So the Lord our God gave into our hand Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people; and we smote him until no survivor was left to him. And we took . . . sixty cities . . . And we utterly destroyed them, as we did to Sihon the king of Heshbon, destroying every city, men, women, and children” (Deuteronomy 3: 1-6).

Take a moment to let that soak in: “. . . utterly destroyed all that breathed” “destroying every city, men, women, and children.”

Deuteronomy 20:10-11 sounds merciful by comparison: “When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you.”

I doubt that Jesus would have agreed with this interpretation of “making peace!” If the city does not agree to enslavement, the Israelites are to kill every man. “. . . but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you” (Deuteronomy 20:12-14).

This is extremely unsettling. It implies that after wiping out all the men, the Hebrews are allowed to sexually enjoy the widows and daughters of those they had killed. In the book of Numbers God’s prophet Moses spells out a similar policy quite explicitly. Moses tells the people, “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man by lying with him. But all the young girls who have not known man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Numbers 31:17-18).

It’s hard to face the full implications of this passage. After the conquest, young virgins were sexually exploited by the men who murdered their fathers, mothers, and brothers. One can imagine God confronting Moses about these brutal orders, roaring in a thunderous voice : “What the !!$**$??! are you doing here, Moses? This is just despicable!” But as far as I know Moses was never rebuked for this policy.

At one point we read that virgins were left alive only in faraway cities. By contrast, “. . . in the cities of these peoples that your Lord your God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes . . . as the Lord your God has commanded. . . .” (Deuteronomy 20:16).

Not all of these passages say that God gave genocidal orders, but several do. These verses cannot be reconciled with the Hebrew prophetic tradition, nor with teachings of Jesus such as his focus on the value of children. (See, for example, Mark 10:13-14, where Jesus says of little children, “to such belongs the kingdom of God.”)

And notice what’s missing: There is never the slightest suggestion of a positive alternative to conquest. Rather than miraculously delivering city after city into the hands of the invaders, why wouldn’t God have worked a finer miracle, making an uninhabited desert region bloom into a paradise and ordering the Hebrews to migrate there instead of into Canaan? That way they would have inherited a Promised Land without causing untold pain and devastation to those who were there first.

Regardless of whether dramatic and obvious miracles occur, I doubt that the conquest of Canaan was sponsored by deity. Instead, I suspect that some of those who wrote the early books of the Bible were still thinking in terms of a fierce tribal war-God instead of a universal deity who loved every person on Earth. Other writers had a different understanding, as we can see in Joel 2:13: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.”

Roger Christan Schriner

I realize it can be depressing to slog through Bible passages that seem factually false or morally disturbing. But if you love the Bible and you’re finding the courage to read this blog anyway, remember this: If you find certain scriptural passages troubling, that is partly because they contrast so sharply with other passages which are inspiring and insightful. It’s jarring to encounter Bible verses that fall short, that seem out of sync with beloved verses that have lifted the hearts of believers everywhere.

So every time I spotlight an unsettling excerpt from the Bible, think of other places in Scripture that ennoble the reader and that urge us to a higher standard of personal commitment and action.

Roger Christan Schriner