For hundreds of years, learned folks have struggled over the dichotomous picture of God presented in the Old and New testaments: Angry God, Loving God. Could you see the Prince of Peace leading the charge to exterminate the tick-ridden Canaanites? It strains credulity, hence the hundreds of years of struggle—and cockamamie explanations/rationalizations/allegories. Back when I was religious, I had a book titled Show Them no Mercy, Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide—the four views being “Strong Discontinuity,” “Moderate Discontinuity, “Spiritual Continuity” and “Eschatological Continuity.” (Bullshit sounds more plausible when you use big words.) The most common cockamamie rationalization among biblical literalists is that the Israelites had to exterminate the Canaanites lest they be swayed to follow their gods. They had it coming. In his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Gleason Archer apologizes for the Israelites thusly: “Just as the wise surgeon removes dangerous cancer from his patient’s body by use of the scalpel, so God employed the Israelites to remove such dangerous malignancies from human society.” In other words, the Canaanites weren’t just Israel’s enemy. They were God’s enemy.
Okay. . . But what if we apply Occam’s Razor to this particular Bible Difficulty?
God Bless Israel
What if the first five books of the Bible were written as political propaganda, written out of a mixture of hubris and guilt? The hallmarks of said propaganda
- God chose the Jews above all people upon the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 7:6)
- God wants the state of Israel to rule the world (Deuteronomy 15:6)
- God wants the Jewish state of Israel to commit genocide against the gentile people around them. (Deuteronomy 7:2)
It all seems so . . . likely. Governments do this kind of shit all the time. God is on our side! Remember when Congress stood together after 9/11 and sang God Bless America? (I wonder what tune the Jihadists had rolling through their brains before they drove those airplanes into those buildings.)
The men who wrote the Pentateuch didn’t care about the picture of God they were painting. They just wanted to show that Israel had God’s sanction. God Bless Israel. They were propagandists for the State—tools—just following orders. They didn’t believe any of that shit actually happened. Why would they? Their experience of God was the same as ours: He’s mainly uninvolved, off attending to something else more important perhaps, maybe cleaning His apartment—certainly not opening up chasms in the good earth to swallow up fifthly sinners.
Little did those Tools of the State know the Western world was going to erect an entire theology based on the apoplectic God from their political propaganda. Even Jesus—he, along his fellow Jews, believed that wrath was a perfectly good word to describe how God feels about sin.
Don’t blame God for the Bible
And, of course, men lie. (Bought anything off an infomercial lately? Kitchen Miracle, my ass!) Add that to the mix when you’re discussing the humanness of scripture. For example, archeology has shown the stories of the Canaanite conquest are, again, more Party Line than Gospel Truth. Battles that were supposed to have happened, clearly didn’t. On more than one occasion, the Old Testament has the Israelites laying siege to a city that didn’t exist at the time. Men lie. Archeology doesn’t.
And neither does God, one hopes, which is why He’s off the hook for the whole trainwreck we call Holy Writ. That’s on us.
The good news is that, on the whole, the backwards parts of the Bible don’t rear their heads often. Most people’s refrigerator magnets bear such affirmations as You Can Do All Things Through Jesus Who Strengthens You and He Works Out All Things For Good For Those Who Are Called By His Name. Stuff like that. People don’t use the Canaanite genocide as their model when they move into a neighborhood of unbelievers. They’re more neighborly, more Christian.
(Why didn’t the ancient Jews think of that? Send over a fruit basket. Have the Canaanites over for dinner. The Canaanites probably would have preferred those to the alternative, given the choice. When they throw the fruit basket back into our face—that’s when we attack!)
I think we’re stuck with the Bible. But can we admit that it’s a mixed bag, at best? Kudos to Jesus for telling us to love our enemies—not so much for the times he condemns people to hell. (Unless of course the people he’s sending to hell are someone else. Those bastards.) The Bible’s no more inspired than any other book, if God actually inspires people.
Better yet, let’s inspire ourselves to be kind. After all, if God empowers us to be kind, is it really kindness? It’s just God pulling our strings, isn’t it? Good news, though: We don’t need the Bible to tell us how to be good and we don’t need God to make us good.
All we need is ourselves—and each other.