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Sophisticated? No. Sophist? Certainly.

May 3, 2011

While punting about on t’Internet the other day I came across something that boggled my mind, via the RDFRS site.  It is a theological explanation of the Slaughter of the Canaanites described in the Bible.  The explanation is provided by Dr William Lane Craig.  Dr Craig is a research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in California.

The short version is that the Bible describes the Israelites being ordered by God to kill all the Canaanites; men, women and children; no Canaanite to be spared.  The reason given by God is that the Canaanites are evil and steeped in sin and, perhaps incidentally, they occupy the land that He has promised His people.  The Israelites dutifully carry out this slaughter in due course, with no apparent qualms.

To me, the actions of the Israelites in committing genocide are inexcusable.  The defence of ‘following orders’ would be no more valid for them than it was for German soldiers after the Second World War.  More tellingly in my opinion, what kind of loving, just God would order such a massacre?

Dr Craig offers a turgid, turbid, labyrinthine apology for the events described.  I can’t answer it all here, but I am going to try to address the most heinous and/or outrageous points in it:

1.  The event probably never happened.  Well then, case closed.  The Bible isn’t literally true, move on.  End of pontification.  Surely?  Not for Dr Craig, he’s going to attempt to justify the thing anyway.

2.  All morality comes from God and He is not subject to it.  Dr Craig argues that God provides morality for us to live by, but God is not subject to it.  He can choose when to create life and when to end it.  I think Dr Craig is essentially saying, ‘God moves in mysterious ways.’  Thanks for the insight Prof.  A classic case of special pleading.  If God is all-good etc then surely he would set a perfect moral example for us to follow.

3.  The Israelite soldiers were morally obligated to be the instrument of God’s judgement against the Canaanites.  If so, how terrible to be an Israelite and subject to such a capricious, uncompromising authority?  An all-loving, all-good God would surely not subject his chosen people to living with the slaughter of so many innocents.  What a horrific choice for the Israelite soldier to have to make.  To obey a direct command from a bloodthirsty deity or to be cast out of society and punished by that bloodthirsty deity.

4.  Canaanite culture was debauched and cruel.  Perhaps it was.  That does not mean that every single person in that culture was debauched and cruel.  The children certainly were not.  Next.

5.  The Canaanite children were to be killed to prevent intermixing with the Israelites.  I don’t even know where to start with this.  Explicit racism and hints of a ‘Master Race’.  Very disturbing and surely impossible to support.

6.  The infants and children killed went immediately to heaven and, therefore, they and we should be happy.  No they didn’t.  They were killed in presumably brutal fashion.  They would have been in gut-wrenching fear as they saw their death and those of their loved-ones approach in the guise of hard-hearted warriors from another culture.  Even if heaven existed there can be no justification for these deaths or the manner in which they were caused.  In any time, in any context, these killings were repugnant.

7.  My favourite I think: “Aslan is not a tame lion.” (yes, really.  A  genuine quote from Dr Craig).  OK, C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is an allegory for God.  We get it.  This reference, however, is both trite and unsophisticated.  This tells us nothing except to undermine Dr Craig’s earlier claim that God is not capricious in His judgement.  Translated, it says something like, ‘God’s judgement is arbitrary.  He might kill you for sin or he might send his son to die for you.  Heads up.’

8.  The ethnic cleansing of the Canaanites is different from modern-day Islamists claiming to be acting on God’s orders.  Apparently those Islamists claiming to be acting on God’s orders when they kill unbelievers are wrong for one simple reason.  They’ve got the wrong God.  That’s it.  If they had the right God then Dr Craig would presumably be there with them, sleeves rolled up and killing sinners and innocents of the ‘wrong’ religion alike.  The mind boggles.

The fact that this man is not considered an extremist wingnut, but a ‘sophisticated theologist’ shows not only that the phrase ‘sophisticated theologist’ is an oxymoron, but that the difference between mainstream and extreme religion is not clear-cut and, to my eyes, does not exist.  This man claims to be a Professor of Philosophy.  He is a perfect example of those philosophers excoriated by Nietzsche, and others, for deciding an issue on their gut instinct and constructing their argument after the fact.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Paul RIcketts permalink
    May 5, 2011 13:38

    Hiya, that is a bit deep on a blog post, however, if you read the old testament, you will find that the God described here was a vengeful, wrathful and all round nasty guy. Encouraging bad deeds and definitely not practising what was preached. It is indeed a fascinating subject, and of course there is no real answer to be had here, as surely scholars will agree that the bible says exactly what Constantine wanted to include to make himself more of a figurehead to the christian people, hence all of the recent come to light findings in the dead sea scrolls.

    However a very eloquent piece well thought out and detailed. – Sifu33

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