Saturday, June 15, 2013

God and genocide

During the last week of school, my high schooler and middle schooler both had units on genocide. (I remember when the last week of school was mostly relaxing, watching videos, and having pizza parties. Studying genocide seems like an odd way to round off the year. But I digress.)  I asked them if genocide could ever be a good thing.

They both looked rather horrified at the question, and answered, "Of course not."

"So," I said, "did God ever commit genocide?"

This led into a discussion of genocide in the Bible-- the Flood came readily to their minds, but we touched on the Hebrews' trip to the Promised Land, too, and all the peoples they supposedly killed off along the way with God's blessing and encouragement. We talked about how bad God's supposed behavior was, and how a god worth worshipping couldn't possibly commit genocide.

Back when I was a Lutheran, I had to try to explain Biblical stories like the Flood and the Plagues to my kids. But I never managed to explain satisfactorily, to them or to myself, how a merciful and loving God could do such things. As a liberal Christian, I eventually concluded these stories probably weren't literally true, because those actions were so clearly not the actions of a good entity. I figured the people back in Old Testament times just didn't have a clear grasp on the nature of God, and thus attributed things to him that really weren't his fault. (You don't have to be a mythology expert to perceive that less scientifically sophisticated peoples tended to attribute every bad aspect of nature, from winter to floods to volcanoes, to the actions of deities.) I also had to assure myself no one could possibly actually go to hell, because an eternity of suffering as a punishment for a relatively very brief life didn't make any sense to me either.

The problem, as I've said before, is that once you throw out all the cruelty and horror from the Bible, there's really not much left to believe in. What really astounds me is that people can believe in the literal truth of the Bible-- from casting two virtually newborn people out into the harsh world, unarmed and helpless; to drowning almost the entire population; to God's "chosen people" moving across a land, murdering and raping anyone they come across; to God in his "love and mercy" throwing hapless souls into hell for an eternity of burning in agony-- and still somehow imagine that God is worthy of worship.

1 comment:

  1. Genocide, slavery, and a host of other evils in the Bible always disgusted me, and I get frustrated with fundamentalists who justify it. As you said, such a monstrous deity isn't worthy of worship.