Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Faith, God, Persecution, Religion, Truth

The Ultimate Blasphemy

There’s a blog I read from time to time called Thomistic Bent. The latest post is a short video that tries to give a good reason for why the Bible says God commanded the Israelites to commit genocide against the Canaanites. The reasoning of this explanation is almost as perverse as the stories themselves. As Thomas Paine once said, attributing these kinds of actions to God is the worst form of blasphemy. I’d appreciate anyone who wants to join me in the conversation at his blog.

74 thoughts on “The Ultimate Blasphemy”

  1. I don’t think I’ll join the conversation over there, at least for the moment. I do agree with your assessment. That video makes God to be a racist bigot.

    Remembering back to my youth, it was case such as this that led me to realize that man had created God in man’s own image, and they created a God who had all of their own prejudices.

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  2. @tmso — can’t argue with that. 🙂

    @Neil — Sadly, it took time for me to see it that way. There was a time when I probably could have taken part in a conversation just like the one in that video and felt completely satisfied with it. I’m very glad I don’t have that outlook now, and I wish I had opened my eyes sooner.

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  3. It’s quite repulsive that anyone would try to justify genocide, doubly-so by using religion. I will never understand the madness that infects fundamentalists.

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  4. Nate,
    This sort of thing is where the rubber meets the road for me. I’ll join the conversation, but I sort of think the Bible gave people fair warning about God: it says God created man in His own image. It even repeats that. Almost like the writer was trying to make a point… And, the scriptures frequently indicate that God chooses to work through people. Taken together, that’s a very terrible God, who would occasionally be prone to acts of extraordinary love. No wonder He asks people to trust Him: He must know how completely impossible such a command would be to follow for anyone with a couple brain cells they could rub together.

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  5. John, I’ll check out Noel’s take — thanks!

    Rodalena, you bring up a good point. We usually tend to argue these points with the assumption that God is perfectly good, which should make some of these actions impossible for him. But there’s always the possibility that God’s just as flawed and prone to bad behavior as everyone else, in which case, all bets are off.

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  6. The arsehole has just posted a response…..it is a pearler. You are all accused of being idiots..in a round about sort of way.
    Best of luck. But be warned…he will cut the debate and close comments as soon as he smells a threat to the argument, and he did that to you before, Nate, remember?

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  7. Ark, Its probably not helpful or productive to heap insults on Thomistic Bent from Nates blog, I just think that kind of attitude just makes it harder for people to understand each other.

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  8. I won’t be commenting over there, but I will offer a few thoughts here (for what they’re worth).

    1. I agree that anyone who isn’t at the least deeply troubled by all this seems to me not to have really faced the issues.

    2. We need to be careful what accusations we make. I haven’t checked all the references, but I have checked the most common accusation against God, about the command for Saul to kill the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:1-3). The text actually says:

    Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint(A) you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

    Note that it doesn’t record that God said this, it records that Samuel said that God said this. Further, it isn’t clear to me (except by where the text puts the inverted commas, which I doubt were there in the original) where the message purporting to come from God ends, and where (if at all) Samuel’s own words start.

    So the traditional interpretation makes God out to be the nasty one, but it may equally well have been Samuel (as far as I can tell). There are many Psalms that record similar curses that few people regard as being from God.

    3. For these and other sorts of reasons, many christians don’t accept that these things were from God. We reason that we are followers of Jesus, and we believe he is the true revelation of God, so anything which gives a different view of God must be wrong or misunderstood. For example, check out this post by a Professor of Old Testament suggesting we critique the OT rather than just accept it. See also my own conclusions.

    I think it is important for the future of christianity that these difficult questions are raised and pressed. I know this isn’t your purpose or belief Nate, but I believe God often uses non-believers to correct his people, and this is another case.

    Thanks.

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  9. Thanks for weighing in, unkleE. I wish more Christians viewed Christianity the way you do.

    Per the King Saul reference, the rest of chapter 15 says that God was displeased with Saul for not following his commands. And we know from later in the book that God rejected Saul as king, which is why David took over afterward. Do you feel like these later references are also somewhat revisionist? That Ezra, or whomever “edited” the books, misrepresented what happened there?

    And do you feel similarly about passages like Numbers 31? There, it records God telling Moses how to divide the “spoils” of their destruction of the Midianites, which of course refers to the virgin girls and women that they took captive after killing every other living soul.

    Not trying to start up an argument with you on these, I’m just curious as to how you view them.

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  10. Hey Ark, thanks for the comment. Yeah, I know he has a tendency to side-step points and close off debate when he’s had enough. I hope that deep down somewhere there’s a part of him that’s still open-minded about all this. I feel sorry for him in some ways and aggravated with him in others.

    Very impressed with how many people are engaging with him though. This conversation is being discussed on at least 3 of his posts right now.

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  11. “Not trying to start up an argument with you on these, I’m just curious as to how you view them.”

    You have every right to ask me tough questions – I hope my answer is equally tough! : )

    1. As a christian, the NT is what I base my faith on. I respect the OT as scripture, but it is old covenant not written to me. So I don’t think about it so much. And I don’t find it difficult to say I just don’t know.

    2. Further, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s character, so if I draw any lesser conclusion about God from the OT, then my conclusion is probably wrong. The question then is, why is my conclusion wrong?

    3. As I said, it is hard to cope with some of these events, but if they give me a wrong impression of God, something must be wrong. It could be that these passages are legendary (that’s what many scholars think – the genocide never happened they say); perhaps the people misunderstood God at the time; perhaps we misunderstand God now, or we don’t understand the times; perhaps God chose to intervene softly in human affairs, just gradually getting his message across as people could take the next step; maybe something I’ve never thought of.

    4. I’m inclined to think all of those may be the right explanation in different circumstances. So I have no real idea how to explain the couple of incidents you mention, but choose one or more of the above!

    5. It may sound like a cop-out to say that, but if I don’t have an answer, there’s no point pretending I do. But I’m not worried overmuch, because i don’t expect to have all the answers – to anything. But I believe I have more answers than if I was an atheist.

    6. As far as I have seen atheism has no answers to how the universe appeared out of nothing for no reason, nor how it was so amazingly fine-tuned, against impossible odds. Atheism has no explanation I have seen for human consciousness, for freewill, for objective ethics or for the value/sanctity of human life – in fact most highly educated atheists I have read don’t believe in these things that the rest of us mostly do. Atheism has no explanation for the millions of people who have healing and visionary and life-changing experiences of God – it can just deny they really happen. And finally, atheism has only a poor explanation for who Jesus was and how an unlearned builder from the edge of the Roman Empire could become the most influential human being in history.

    7. So compared to that list, not being able to explain the problem of evil in the Old Testament is relatively small. And it is secondary, whereas the things atheism can’t explain are primary. By that I mean that before you can have a problem of genocide in the OT, you need to have a world which atheism can’t explain, and the sanctity of human life, and an objective ethic why we should care about these killings, which atheism can’t explain.

    8. This was why, when I first came across this problem something like 40 years ago, I didn’t give up my faith – because I could see that unless I had God and ethics, I had no case for God to answer for.

    So these killings remain a problem, but it would be a much bigger problem to allow them to stop me believing! Thanks for the opportunity to say all that! : )

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  12. @ portia
    “Ark, Its probably not helpful or productive to heap insults on Thomistic Bent from Nates blog, I just think that kind of attitude just makes it harder for people to understand each other.”
    People like Thomistic bent are the reason we have wars in the name of religion. They need to taken down more than a peg or two.
    There are individuals in Islam who have similar attitudes.
    They cannot be reasoned with, and if you care to read his posts you will quickly discover he is a poison pen. If religion was open to reason there would be NO religion.
    I stand by what I wrote. He is an arsehole. And a nasty one at that.

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  13. @ Unklee
    “1. As a christian, the NT is what I base my faith on. I respect the OT as scripture, but it is old covenant not written to me. So I don’t think about it so much. And I don’t find it difficult to say I just don’t know.”

    Here we go again. The OT doesn’t apply to me story.

    In the beginning was the Word. John right?
    God is Jesus is God.
    Your god in human form is the same god that alighted on the mountain and chatted with Moses. he same god that told ensured Joshua went into Canaan with explicit instructions to liquidate the entire population. Every living, breathing thing, every blade of grass.

    You can do the theological two-step ’til your legs drop off. There is only ONE god in the bible that Christian and Jew alike follow, irrespective of what guise he is in.
    He is the one you consider the Creator.

    Time to stop playing the bleeding heart hypocritical victim once and for all, Unklee.and step up to the plate and take it on the chin.

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  14. I agree Ark. There is no reasoning to be had with a deluded nutcase like this. The only thing that can be done is to let him know sane, rational people are watching his lunacy.

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  15. UnkleE, thanks for the reply. I disagree with your points 6 and 7, because I think nonreligious people do have good explanations for fine-tuning, morality, ethics, etc. But I also understand that you’re aware of those arguments, and we just don’t agree on them.

    Thanks again for weighing in.

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  16. Here we go again. The OT doesn’t apply to me story.

    You often argue against this ebulliently, but never cogently. May I ask what is so devious in not credulously believing everything in the OT? Why is it wrong to believe that Jonah for instance is fictional if there are good reasons for doing so? For the record and as a different example, I believe several things in the NT are fictional as well, but would that too be bleeding heart hypocritical victim behaviour? After all believing some part of the Bible literally does not necessitate anybody to believe the whole literally. So where exactly is the rat in such discriminate thinking?

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  17. @ignorantianescia

    “You often argue against this ebulliently, but never cogently.”
    How much more cogently does it have to be, fr your god’s sake?
    Your own understanding of this issue merely requires an ability to read and write, yet you seem to letting yourself down even with this. Catch a wake up for goodness sake!
    The ONLY issue here is the rationale that the OT covenant does not apply to Christians, thus enabling Christians like Unklee to turn their back on the deeds of the Old Testament God. ‘Oh, the liquidation of the Canaanites? Hah! Doesn’t apply to me and MY God” Yeah, right!
    There is no mention of the fictitious nature of certain characters, so why on earth raise this issue? And for what it’s worth,most of the characters in the Bible Old AND New are fictitious.
    And if you bothered to study history and archaeology you would quickly discover this to be fact.

    This is about trying to justify your god’s genocidal tendencies. Nothing else.

    Please, I have a question, if may. Why is it whenever I pose a question to Unklee or take him to task for yet another piece of irreconcilable and irrational Christian polemic – on whichever blog he happens to comment and I may happen upon and read – you rush over and surreptitiously answer for him?
    Just because he got his nose out of joint over the Bernards excellent rebuttal of his ridiculous little tantrum over Nazareth,he is now going to run and sulk?

    Are you his alter ego, Unklee in disguise or merely his damn minder? Or is he so full of pride that he refuses to face his accuser because he knows full well that his argument holds no water and is morally bankrupt?

    Other people read your comments too, you know, and they are not as dumb as you might believe. They see through Unklee’s softly softly pretense, and you ,sir, are fooling no one either.

    Silly Person.

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  18. The ONLY issue here is the rationale that the OT covenant does not apply to Christians, thus enabling Christians like Unklee to turn their back on the deeds of the Old Testament God. ‘Oh, the liquidation of the Canaanites? Hah! Doesn’t apply to me and MY God” Yeah, right!

    That the OT covenant doesn’t apply wholesale to Gentile Christians is pretty much standard Pauline thought. Besides, if one is not a literal inerrantist, it is possible to believe that the command to kill the Canaanites is ahistorical or hagiographical. As a matter of fact, there is good reason to suppose the scenario of external conquest is not historical (poor archaeological evidence, the findings at Jericho correlate very poorly with the event described in Joshua, those stories date from centuries after the time they supposedly occurred). Therefore:

    There is no mention of the fictitious nature of certain characters, so why on earth raise this issue?

    the answer to this is clear: I was not referring to persons (I referred to “things” and to “Jonah”, the book of Jonah, a work of fiction), but to events, texts and passages. This is clearly related to the topic at hand, since if early, cruel texts are non-historical, the only problem left is why God is depicted as callous (and progressive revelation does the trick there).

    And for what it’s worth,most of the characters in the Bible Old AND New are fictitious.
    And if you bothered to study history and archaeology you would quickly discover this to be fact.

    You are lucky, since you are discussing with somebody who is studying that, and I suppose that depends more on how broad or how narrow you’d define “character”. For what it is worth, Jesus, Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John the sons of Zebedee, Paul of Tarsus, Pilate, Herod Archelaos, Herod Antipas and Caiaphas are all historical. Their historical reality is not questioned by scholarly peer-reviewed experts, only by some mavericks (Price), experts in other subjects (Thompson) and amateurs (Doherty, Carrier).

    Please, I have a question, if may. Why is it whenever I pose a question to Unklee or take him to task for yet another piece of irreconcilable and irrational Christian polemic – on whichever blog he happens to comment and I may happen upon and read – you rush over and surreptitiously answer for him?
    Just because he got his nose out of joint over the Bernards excellent rebuttal of his ridiculous little tantrum over Nazareth,he is now going to run and sulk?

    Are you his alter ego, Unklee in disguise or merely his damn minder? Or is he so full of pride that he refuses to face his accuser because he knows full well that his argument holds no water and is morally bankrupt?

    I wouldn’t know about me “rushing over” to defend UnkleE whenever you “take him to task” as I haven’t posted here for a while and I do not stalk your every comment. If this was the first time you confronted what he posted, that would be very coincidental. The reason I reply to you is simply that I want to take you to task about your own polemic.

    If UnkleE does not reply to you, I think you know very well that’s not because he is too haughty and also that you know the real reason.

    Other people read your comments too, you know, and they are not as dumb as you might believe. They see through Unklee’s softly softly pretense, and you ,sir, are fooling no one either.

    Silly Person.

    What reason do you have to call UnkleE’s or my motives into question? Furthermore, if you check my post you responded to, you will see I didn’t insult you or call you names. So why not deal as you get?

    Here’s a summary of key points:
    1. It is possible for Christians to believe that several of the notorious events in the OT were fictional. In some cases, there are actually good reasons.
    2. I didn’t refer to fictional persons, but texts, passages and events.
    3. I affirmed the historicity of several NT characters, most importantly Jesus, Peter, Paul, Pilate and Caiaphas.
    4. If I appear to rush to UnkleE’s aid every time you question him, that is an impression based on coincidence.
    5. Why doubt UnkleE’s or my motives?

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  19. You wrote….
    ‘Here’s a summary of key points:
    1. It is possible for Christians to believe that several of the notorious events in the OT were fictional. In some cases, there are actually good reasons.’

    Of course the Biblical tale of the conquest of Canaan is all nonsense. Finklestein and Herzog and others have all but proved this.
    Unless you are now denying Yahweh, of what relevance is this to the post at Thomistic bent?

    ‘2. I didn’t refer to fictional persons, but texts, passages and events.’
    Good for you. Events and passages that contain fictional people. Again what relevance is this to the post, and why include it in your reply/defense?

    ”3. I affirmed the historicity of several NT characters, most importantly Jesus, Peter, Paul, Pilate and Caiaphas.”
    Again this is irrelevant to the post, and I suspect you are now trying to be disingenuous. I wont play along merely to make you seem like a clever boy.
    But you may pat yourself on the back. Happy now? Good….

    ”4. If I appear to rush to UnkleE’s aid every time you question him, that is an impression based on coincidence.”
    Although, coincidentally, nobody else feels the need to help him out,…or ever has done. Odd, that? He must considered himself honored, then.

    ‘5. Why doubt UnkleE’s or my motives?’
    Because you and Unklee, always do exactly what you are doing with this reply. His posts are rife with this type of smarmy, surreptitious modus operendi …and if you believe people are unaware of it then you are naive; and I’ll bet you half a dollar.

    So, I shall reiterate. The god of the OT, Yahweh, is the same as the god of the NT, Jesus, only metamporphised into human form.
    He is the Creator god you worship and the Creator god responsible for the genocide which is the topic of discussion.
    That Unklee – and also you it seems – believe you can separate the two and thus ease, if not clear, your conscience is fallacious.

    The more the OT is rubbished by Christians as analogous or even fictitious merely weakens their characterization of the man-god Jesus.

    Whatever horrors the OT god ,Yahweh committed can be laid at the feet of the NT man-god, as they are one and the same.
    Period.

    In the beginning was the Word and the word was made flesh..or something like that. Gsp. John, right?

    Now go away and play with a rosary or something, you are being silly.

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