Michal was trying not to cry. She didn’t want Tomlen to see her lose control. She needed to be brave, not only for her baby brother, but for the rest of her family as well. Her mother sat in the corner, eyes frozen like the ice on the summit of Mount Carmel. No doubt she was thinking about the husband and three sons who had taken up spears and marched out onto the fields this morning. Grandmother was muttering to herself, grasping the household gods in her withered hands, praying for protection for her sons and grandsons as they marched to defend their homes against the Israelite invaders. Michal’s sisters were at their looms, putting on braver faces than Michal could manage.
Shouts rang out from across the square. Screams. The clang of bronze swords and the ringing of boots. Smoke wafted into the windows, from where, Michal couldn’t say.
“Gods, no,” whispered, her mother. “Please, no.” The gods didn’t hear her prayer. But Michal did.
The door fell with a crash and men in boiled leather and bronze helms rushed in. Grandmother had only time for a wail as a spear thrust forward and took her between her breasts. She fell forward, still clutching at her gods. Mother leapt up, her beautiful dark hair flying, and flung her wooden stool at one of the men. He snarled, an unearthly sound, and grabbed her by the hair. He held her down as his comrades ripped open her robes and raped her there again and again in front of her daughters.
Michal lay on the floor, holding Tomlen down, praying that she wouldn’t be seen amidst the dark and the smoke. She closed her eyes to her sisters’ screams as they met the same fate as their mother, shuddering as their throats were slashed when the men had finished. She thought for a moment that they would go unseen, but then Mother fell before them, her eyes wide and sightless, and Tomlen gave a squeal that Michal couldn’t cover in time.
It was the work of a few seconds for one of the nightmares to scoop her brother up by the ankle and dash his head against the stone wall, splattering Michal’s face with blood and brains. A hand reached out towards her and something shot through her, a whisper, and she leapt up and ran for her life, out the door and into the city.
Ai was burning. Her people fled the fires like maddened geese, here and there until more monsters in bronze cut them down as easily as her father cut the grain at harvests a lifetime ago. A chorus of wails rang out above the smoke as the roof of the temple caved in. Michal didn’t even have time for a prayer for those trapped inside. She was running, running, leaping over the bodies of old men, toddlers with toys still clutched in her hands, mothers with their children strewn around them. She ran towards the gates, knowing, just knowing that if she made it to her father and brothers that she would be safe. Her father’s arms had always meant safety.
The smoke cleared as Michal dashed through the burning cedar gates. She had loved the smell of them once. And the smoke cleared, and Michal looked out at the strewn bodies of her people, the army that had marched to defend their city and their families, and at the wall of Israelites swarming their way towards her, screaming the praises of their god and their warlord Joshua.
The Israelite god was merciful. When the bronze sword came down, Michal didn’t feel a thing.
There’s nothing that works a devout Christian into a lather quite so much as being confronted by the reality of the god he or she worships. The common tropes of Christianity are oft repeated in an attempt to show why their god is superior to others, or to none. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Books and dissertations by the thousands have been written on the compassion and unconditional love of the Christian deity. Unfortunately for Christendom, it flies in the face of the description of god provided in much of the only book that matters to Christians – their own Bible. The above scene could have been copied and pasted from Game of Thrones (or not, because I’m not George R.R. Martin. Yet). It was, however, my own artistic interpretation of an event that happened in the Bible. An event that was commanded explicitly by the Christian god. The complete and utter destruction of the city of Ai, down to the last infant, as described in Joshua 8: 1-29.
Keep telling us that God’s love is unconditional and eternal. We may eventually stop laughing long enough to answer.
Anyone who has actually read the Bible is aware of the atrocities that the Christian god commanded his people to commit in his name. The Old Testament especially is a parade of ritual murder, rapes, massacres, genocide, and instructions on how to own slaves. Watching Christians attempt to rationalise, minimise, or justify the actions that they believe their god commanded is like watching Nastia Liukin complete a beam routine at the Olympics and end it by falling on her face, as her fans cheer enthusiastically and the rest of us sit with mouths slightly agape in shock. Fortunately, most of the mental gymnastics performed have clear and easy rebuttals, even if the arguments are made with all the thunderous weight of God’s judgement behind them. A few of the more common ones are:
1. Just because it’s recorded in the Bible doesn’t mean that God condoned it.
Rest assured that when a Christian makes this argument, he’s praying desperately that you haven’t actually read your Bible and won’t be able to refute him. Now, to be fair, there are some examples found in the Bible where this is true. For example, there’s nothing about the story of Lot getting boozed up and banging his virgin daughters that suggests that this was God-approved incest (the creation story is a different matter). Nor is the story of the Levite letting his concubine get gang raped a clear condoning of gang rape. However, Christians will look at these examples and apply it to the whole text, crowing that you can’t mistake a historical record of an event as something commanded by god.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of examples of terrible crimes in the Bible that were commanded by the Christian god. The sack of Ai. God commanded. The slaughter at Jericho. God commanded. The rape of the Midianite virgins who had seen their families butchered in front of them. God commanded. The genocide of the Amalekites. God commanded. The rape of the Benjaminite virgins. God commanded.
Recording the bad and the ugly is all well and good, but when the Biblical authors wrote a text and prefaced it with ‘The Lord commanded,’ it’s pretty clear that your god was pretty gung-ho for it.
2. Not everything in the Bible can be taken as literal events.
This is usually just a way of saying ‘I believe that some parts of the Bible are symbolic and didn’t really happen, mainly the parts that make me uncomfortable or have been refuted by science. But the parts I believe in are absolutely true!” Now, we all cherrypick the Bible. Fundamentalist Christians do it, progressive Christians do it, even I do it. No one follows every verse in the Bible, and no one treats each part of the Bible as having equal weight as the others. This is why it’s easy for a Christian to point to the nastier aspects of God’s Good Word and say that an atheist or agnostic can’t see the symbolism behind it. Usually, the genocide of the Canaanites is portraying as depicting the dark world that Christ saved us from, or something along those lines.
This is, however, one of the arguments I have the least respect for, because it is the height of intellectual dishonesty. If you’re going to defend the Bible as the source of all goodness and morality, defend all of it. Don’t brush the distasteful parts under the rug, don’t tell me I don’t get the ‘symbolism,’ don’t use a different standard of biblical interpretation for the stories you like as opposed to those you don’t. Because you can bet that I won’t return the favour, The actions of your god in the Old Testament will affect my perception of your Christ in the New Testament, and don’t look at me in shock when I find him vile, hypocritical, and egotistical.
Fortunately, when a Christian uses this argument, he all but hands the debate to his opponent. Because if you deny that some parts of the Bible are true, why are you sneering at me for denying the rest of it?
3. The Canaanites were so evil that God had to wipe them out using his people.
Christians who use this argument try to paint the nations that god wiped out using the Israelites as some sort of Bronze Aged Nazis, the baddest of the bad. One of the most cited examples are references in the Bible to Moloch, a god who demanded that children be burned alive as sacrifices. This ritual child sacrifice, in the eyes of a Christian, clearly justifies the butchery of hundreds of thousands of people.
The only problem with this is that the account of the Canaanites worshiping Moloch is found only in the records of the invaders who wiped them out. Any historian worth his degree can cite hundreds of examples where invaders, conquerors, or warlords justified their atrocities by demonising the people they killed. The Nazis did it to the Jews and the Romani for nearly a decade, and when the Holocaust happened the Germans went about it gleefully. The Americans did it to the native tribes, those savage, heathen monsters who terrorised the good white people whom God gave America to. The British did it to the Irish, claiming that we were wicked Papists who ate our babies and strangled Englishwomen with their own innards. What would possibly possess someone to take seriously the account of a genocide written by the butchers? That isn’t faith or wisdom, it’s outright madness.
The fact of the matter is, archaeology and historical research has provided virtually no evidence that the Canaanites performed mass child sacrifice to a god named Moloch any more than it has proved that medieval Jews used the blood of Christian children in their Passover bread or that druids burned people in a gigantic wicker man. Anyone who claims that murder, rape and slaughter is deserved because of the ancient accounts written by those who did the slaughtering cannot possibly be taken seriously on an intellectual level.
And then comes the final blow to this argument. How is a nation that killed babies, raped young girls, kept slaves, murdered gays wherever they were found, and killed their own people for breaking the smallest of the rules passed by the priestly nobility (like picking up sticks on the wrong day) any better than the societies they wiped out? The argument amounts to thus: The Canaanites killed babies, so the Lord in his mercy killed all of their babies for them. That makes them righteous
4. The preservation of the Gospel is more important than anything else.
And this is the argument that frightens me the most, because it is the basis of a hundred genocides, a hundred million murders throughout history. People who use this argument believe that since the Messiah was prophesied to come from the Israelite people, anything and everything had to be done to preserve the Hebrew nation. No matter who got in the way.
This is why the Canaanite genocide is so effective when Christians argue that god is the source of absolute morality and absolute truth. Because this account only proves that they don’t even believe in absolute morality themselves, not when their god is concerned.
It scares me so much because it’s a dread reminder of what happened in my own homeland. By the people who believed the defeat of the Protestants or Catholics was the most important thing in life. No matter who got in the way. It’s not a pleasant thing, living on the wrong side of the walls of Jericho.
If you really believe that anything is permissible for the preservation of the your religion, what is stopping you from going to the same lengths that the Israelites did in the Bible?
5. Who are you to judge the mind and wisdom of god?
Once this argument comes up, you know you’ve won. Once a Christian stops using rational arguments and tries to browbeat their opponent for questioning the wisdom of their deity, it’s the equivalent of throwing the chessboard against the wall and claiming victory. It’s an excuse for ignorance, it’s an attempt to halt criticism or intelligent conversation, and it is absolutely inexcusable.
But the answer is thus. I judge your god for his ‘commands’ for the same reason you judge the men who flew planes into the World Trade Center in the name of Allah. Because to me, it doesn’t matter what god you serve, what Gospel you preach. Murder is wrong. Rape is wrong. And defending either in any way is beyond abhorrent.
And that, my Christian friends, is what morality is.