February 10, 2008

God Wants Scorched Earth Warfare

Continuing on with this project to read the Christian bible cover to cover is becoming increasingly arduous. I find that I have to be in the right mood to read it, and that even then, it is slow going. My last post in this series dealt with Deuteronomy and Joshua. This one has me moving through Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel. Frankly, it also has me wondering how much more of this I can take.

The first thing to strike me about Judges is that we have seen a pattern across several Old Testament books of the Israelites repeatedly committing evil acts in the eyes of their god. They are punished in a variety of ways, ranging from famine to enslavement by foreign nations. Each time misery befalls them, it is because their god either punishes them directly or punishes indirectly by withholding protection of some sort.

The reader can certainly sympathize with poor Gideon when he asks one of god's prophets, "But sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian" (Judges 6:13). He seems to be asking why the miracles he heard about in his youth have dried up and how a supposedly loving god could permit such horrors to befall his people. Inexplicably, this god returns to lead Gideon to greatness after some groveling and animal sacrifice.

The intensity of the superstition at this time is so great that human sacrifice is also needed to satisfy the bloodthirsty god created by this ancient people. In exchange for god's help in his military campaign Jephthah sacrifices his own daughter (Judges 11:29-40).

In Judges, we also see yet another mention of the scorched earth sort of warfare utilized by god's chosen people. They kill every last one of their enemies, including their livestock, and burn their towns to the ground (Judges 20:41-48). But the atrocities do not stop here, for the conquering Israelites also kill the women and children, saving only the female virgins (Judges 21:10-11). After all, they need to capture wives. Surely the Christian god would not condone such practices! Actually, this god not only condones but commands these very war crimes. When the Israelites refuse to kill sheep and cattle which they might actually be able to use, they are severely punished (1 Samuel 15:7-34).

That all of this appears to be condoned by the same Christian god whose name is today tossed around in the context of "family values" should give pause to even the most rabid believer. Considered against this context, atrocities ranging from the Inquisition to Bush's modern day crusades in Iraq take on a new meaning. This book is teaching me things about what Christians believe that I am starting to wish I didn't know.

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