Richard Dawkins the most prominent of the “new atheists” once wrote:
“[God is] a vindictive bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser , a misogynistic, homophobic racist, an infanticidal, genocidal, phillicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
The quite the list of negative adjectives, Richard. Bully on the broad vocabulary. Angry atheists often come away with a read of particularly the Old Testament that sees God like this. Dawkins is not alone. In a recent article in Salt Lake City Tribune article entitled: “Stop using the Bible as a model for how to treat people — it’s full of examples of how to be awful”. Gregory Clark says about Jesus (whom he regards to be fictional:
Can’t we all agree that targeting and slaughtering children isn’t spiritually exemplary? Can’t we all reject the deliberate withholding of health care from children to extract a parent’s declaration of faith in Christ? Can’t we all find a better role model than that, fictional or real?
In the next few articles, I would like to look at some of the stories that cause such a bitter reaction. I would like to start with how God occasionally judged whole societies versus individuals. Some examples are: the flood the killed everyone but Noah’s family, the death of Egypt’s firstborn and the cleansing of the Canaanites out of Palestine. These certainly don’t look like a God of love.
There are some aspects of God that need to be understood to grasp God’s actions in these stories. First, God does love mankind and desired all to be saved even though human actions are often repugnant to Him. While God desires to save people, He also is a being who will eventually bring judgment on certain actions. He is very slow to do so. Sometimes the elapsing of time is missed in a reading of the Old Testament, especially for people who read it once or just quote others.
God also declares, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” When God brings death as a judgment, it is with great personal pain. God sees no better way, because the people in question refuse to change, or ultimate future good is brought about by their removal.
It is true that God is religiously intolerant. It is our society that holds this as a virtue. It is not. Religious tolerance has a value in stopping persecution or war, but it also is founded on a lie. The lie is that we create the truth. Our belief system may be truth to us, but that doesn’t make it real. There is a singular set of truths about God. God insists on those truths. To insist that God be religiously tolerant is the pinnacle of ridiculous. He is the Creator, not us.
As the Creator, God alone holds the right to give life. Life is not inherently our right. So when God kills, He is simply taking back what only He could create in the first place. To object when God judges is to elevate ourselves to the level of God. This is our primary sin.
With respect to the three stories mentioned above, God brought judgment on whole societies. In the Noah flood, almost the whole species. It is conceivable that the culture of a certain group could become so evil that it involved every adult individual. But why would God “visit the sins of the fathers upon the children”. Mr. Clark believes that certainly children should have been spared. God never explains why, but I believe a reasonable theory is that evil is something more than learned bad behavior.
David says in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I have been sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”. This is more than poetic exaggeration. Both nature and nurture shape a person, but evil finds at least its root in nature. We are genetically predisposed to evil. This has been true since Adam and Eve. Simple observation of a child will show this. We don’t teach them how to be bad. They know it. The extent and “shape” of what the Bible calls sinful nature can differ somewhat between people, too.
For those killed in Noah’s flood, evil, violent evil, had become not just the behavioral norm but it had become part of them. Starting over was the only course of action. Could God have done some genetic therapy? I’m sure. But God works within certain self-imposed limitations. It seems to preserve some limited freewill, as well as, some personal responsibility. Those who died in the flood, both adult and child, died because of what they had become.
The story of the Canaanites may cast some light on how this can come to be. These people were not dispossessed because of their ignorance of the truth about God. Deuteronomy 18:9-12 explains:
“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering,anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
The Canaanites knowingly worked in demonic powers. It is hard to say what such exposure does to a person physically or genetically. To keep such distortions from becoming a part of the Israelites the Canaanites had to all be removed. Only God has the right to make such a call. When He makes that call, He knows what He is doing.
Most people who sit in judgment on the actions of God in the Old Testament, don’t really believe that God exists. They are critiquing the Old Testament as a moral guide. These stories show what God can do if He must. They are not offered as examples to be followed or as excuses for our behavior. The same God you find doing a mass extermination is the same being who sacrificed all to offer you forgiveness and eternal life. It is the same being who patiently waits even for individuals we would terminate.