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God’s Genocide: it’s not just an Old Testament thing

The Old Testament of the Bible is filled with instances in which the character of God directs his followers to commit genocide, ordering them to slaughter entire cities of men, women, children and babies for the offense of worshipping the wrong deity. Sometimes, especially if some people rub the wrong body parts, God takes care of the genocide himself.

There are a surprising number of Christians who defend the multiple godly genocides of the Old Testament as necessary and just ethnic cleansings. Those Christians who are eager to distance themselves from biblical genocide often try to draw a distinction between the New Testament and the Old Testament:

Jesus formed a new covenant with a new group of people who believed in his identity as the Messiah and that his death was an atonement for sin. So only the parts of the old covenant that are explicitly carried over to the new covenant still apply to our conduct as Christians.

There’s a problem for that line of argument: the New Testament explicitly legitimizes the genocide of the Old Testament, and suggests more genocide to come.

Peter Simpson writes in to Irregular Times with a note on this matter:

St Paul gave favourable support to the idea that the genocides in the old testament were directed by God, in 1 Cor 10 9-11:

“9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. 11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”

I wonder what Christians make of that?

Let’s not forget the lead up in Paul’s New Testament letter, 1 Corinthians 10 5-8:

5 But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. 6 Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. 7 Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. 8 Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand.

Paul’s clearly referring to the genocides of the Old Testament in this passage, and modern-day Christians embrace the passage as signal for us all to repent or face the wrathful consequences.

It’s not just Paul who holds the threat of a return to Old Testament genocide over people’s heads. Jesus does the same in Matthew 10 14-15 when he declares “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.”

The moral problem of righteous genocide can’t be sequestered off to a small tidy corner of Christianity because it runs through the Christian Bible from Alpha to Omega, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, from Genesis to the Book of Revelation. If your morality flows from your Christianity, then the call to genocide is clear and consistent and you’ll have to decide, as countless Christian warriors before you, whether to follow the call. If your moral sense of outrage at genocide is prior to your Christianity, maybe it’s time to wonder whether the “Good Book” is really worthy of your reverence.

6 comments to God’s Genocide: it’s not just an Old Testament thing

  • Tom

    If one were of the agnostic bent God would be capable of loving kindness and destructive malice. There’s no morality concern for God since “he” is the whole shebang anyway. Christians get caught up compartmentalizing “good” and “evil” aspects as belonging to different deities “God” and “the Devil” which creates a duality where none exists.

    Religion seems to be a creation of the human mind as a coping mechanism for a reality we cannot understand (or accept). Contradictions, comforting songs or words, and “rules of the game” are all part of this codification of human response to the idea of “God” running things as “he” sees fit. It doesn’t make sense at times and does at others for those who wish to believe this myth and the religion handles discrepancies by claiming that God’s actions are beyond mankind’s understanding.

    Whatever. If you “buy” it, fine. If not, fine – find something else (like science or just accept that reality doesn’t always conform to our “logic” – another creation of the human mind). In the end it’s all about our life and death. We have no say in either one beyond our choices of lifestyle (but even that may be beyond our ability to “control”).

  • JeffD

    This is judging God by human standards of morality.

  • Zack

    The key difference is all the new testament “genocides” were carried out by god supernaturally. As opposed to the actions of the Jewish people in the old testament.

    • Jim Cook

      Whether it’s God as General Genocide or God as Genocidal Supervillain, it’s still a genocidal God. What would you say makes your distinction a key one, Zack?

      Keep in mind, there’s also plenty of direct genocide by God in the Old Testament.

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