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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.

7 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.

  • Hannah

    I agree that some Christians are much too willing to challenge the fact that genocide took place in the old testament and that is not what the religion teaches today. U disagree however that all Christians are doing this, I think you are jumping on the stereotype bandwagon a bit too soon. I would like to point out a few things in the article above that stuck out to me. First, Paul clearly defends the genocides of the old testament in his letter to the Corinthians, however, I do not see anywhere in his passage that he is saying that Christians should practice it nowadays. One can defend an action without promoting the action to take place again. For example, I can defend your reasoning for putting up this article to bring up questions that need to be answered, that does not mean that I am promoting this article or suggesting another like it. Second, you mention another part of Paul’s letter. In your response to it, you say that Paul is warning his readers that if they participate in the behavior he has laid out, that another genocide will follow. I am unable to see where in this passage Paul says that another genocide is coming. I see that he tells them a history that has happened and, through that history, a lesson not to do the things the subjects of his writings did. “Now these things were our examples…” (1 Cor. 10:6). Paul does not say, “Now these things were our warnings” but rather “examples.” Perhaps you were suggesting that the word “examples” has the connotation “this is going to happen again, so watch out.” If this is the case, I am sorry for doubting your skills of reading between the lines. Also, assuming that you are correct in what Paul is saying, I can’t disagree with what is said. Paul is giving us examples of what not to do, not because another genocide is going to happen, but rather because he believes, as Christians do, that those who sin (the aforementioned acts are considered sin) will go to Hell, a place of everlasting torment. Personally, I think it would have been more cruel of an act for Paul not to warn his readers. Perhaps I am wrong however, maybe Paul should have left it alone and not told his readers about the past, that way he didn’t hurt any feeling or cause a mass panic of “example” setting. Maybe Paul should have just went on his merry way to martyrdom without warning people of the dangers of Hell, because that would have been the obviously compassionate way to deal with things, since it is politically correct in modern times. I would like to however, go back to the beginning of my comment, the part where you jumped on the stereotype bandwagon a bit too soon. I just want to leave you with the fact that not all Christians are mindless robots who don’t think about the seemingly disconnected parts of the Bible. For example, the only reason I came across this article is because I was looking up evidence to support a research paper that I am writing about a “warrior God” v a “loving God.” I myself struggle with the same questions that are most likely running through your mind, seeing as you wrote this slightly harsh article about it. I cannot seem to grasp why the Canaanites were condemned to be exterminated. What I can grasp however, is that the Canaanites were doing some pretty terrible stuff, like burning children alive in sacrifice to their god. I can grasp that they were killed in mass quantities, as all of them did not die (see the book of Judges), and whether or not I understand that makes no difference. What I need to know is that I believe in a God (and this part is faith based so I hope you will agree one day but I understand that not everyone believes this so take it as you will, all I ask is that, as I am not shoving my religion down your throat, you do not shove your “non-religion” down mine) that was willing to send his son to earth to die for me. I believe in a God that forgives (the cross, Nineveh, miracles, etc.), though condemnation will be cast in some way or another at some point in time (i.e. the Canaanite genocide, Hell, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc., I also find it relevant here to mention that each one of these examples were given several chances to repent) I believe in a God that I can see in my life everyday and every night. A God that gives me strength, hope, love, courage, peace, kindness, etc. but also lets me know when I am doing something wrong. He allows me to feel guilt and shame. He loves me but, just like any good parent, he makes sure I know what is right and wrong and then corrects what I did wrong. I also believe in a God that gives me the free will to choose, put simply, him or hell. Either I will do what is good and right, and repent when I don’t (because I am not some perfect being that does everything right 100% of the time, ex: this response got a little sassy in a few places and that was not something I should have done, so please forgive me), or I will choose to do wrong and continue to live in a life full of sin.

    I truly hope that you made it to the end of this, as I know I am long winded. Please take these things into consideration if you choose to write another article this biased against something that is supported in many area’s of the world. I realize that you may not like the comments I made, however, all I am really doing here is trying to make you a better arguer which in turn challenges me, and other Christians, to think about our beliefs, that way we can explain the “why” we believe to non-believers. Thanks for helping me to look closely at what I believe, I hope I have done the same for you :)

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