December 14, 2007

God Orders Persons Of Other Faiths To Be Killed

Progress on my reading of the Christian bible stalled for awhile, mostly due to changes in my work schedule resulting in a significant reduction of free time, but I have not abandoned the task. This post will continue where I left off by discussing Deuteronomy and Joshua.

On the surface, Deuteronomy continues the story Moses and of how the Christian god provided a rather thorough set of laws to humankind. A cursory read is likely to convey the impression that much of Deuteronomy is simply rehashing the law set down in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. To be sure there is some repetition, however, Deuteronomy deserves a closer look, as it reveals considerable insight into the character of the Christian god. Moreover, Deuteronomy offers some of the most relevant bits of god's law for atheists we have encountered yet.

Like Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers before it, Deuteronomy reminds the believer that the ten commandments are but one part of what this god expects. We have already seen that this god despises yeast and desires animal sacrifices. Now we learn that believers must kill persons who worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). Once again, this god makes it clear that those who follow all these laws will be rewarded, not in some distant afterlife but now (Deuteronomy 5:32-33).

Obedience is clearly valued, and the support this god provides is completely conditional. Earthy fortunate is bestowed on those who obey (Deuteronomy 6:10-12), but this is also a jealous and wrathful god who will not hesitate to destroy those who do not demonstrate their obedience (Deuteronomy 6:15). This is a god who has little sympathy for conquered peoples. They are to be completely eliminated, down to the last child, so the remnants of their cultures will not tempt our conquerors (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).

A particularly fascinating insight had been brewing in previous books but finally solidified in Deuteronomy: this god can be argued with, bargained with, and even persuaded by humans. Moses repeatedly talks god out of inflicting certain types of punishment, utilizing all sorts of tactics. As one prominent example, it is Moses who talks this god out of slaughtering everyone over a golden calf. What are we to conclude about this supposedly divine being whose will is so frequently swayed by human persuasion? If we were given freewill as some sort of test, how does it make since that we are influencing this god's behavior through our actions? Who really has the power here?

And yet, the god of Deuteronomy does show some understanding of humanity. When instructing the people how to explain their religion to future generations, this god refers to the miracles and signs provided (Deuteronomy 6:20-25). Nobody is expected to believe on the basis of faith but because of what they have witnessed through their senses. I wonder what happened?

I found Joshua far less remarkable than Deuteronomy, but I do have a comment regarding this part of the story which begins right after the death of Moses. Together with Deuteronomy, Joshua provides a justification for ideas such as manifest destiny, scorched earth, shock and awe, and the like. A nation with this god on its side can conquer all before them, especially when those before them worship other gods. In fact, it almost reads as if there would be an obligation to do so. Indeed, Joshua tells the story of the Israelite army moving through the land and slaughtering all in the way. Few are spared, and virtually none receive mercy. There seems to be no motive for this aggression other than the desire to expand their territory. It is no wonder that the Pat Robertsons of America read their bibles as justifying war!

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