I find it simultaneously amazing and appalling the lengths to which fundamentalist Christians will go to defend the bible. And I’m not even talking here about my usual subject for ranting, the astonishing, evidence-defying circular reasoning that it takes to accept the creation myth over the theory of evolution.
I’m thinking about other parts of the bible, the exhortations to violence by “the god of love” – from execution by stoning for minor offenses (such as collecting firewood on the sabbath), to treatment of women (if a woman was raped, and would not marry the man who had violated her, she was stoned to death), up to and including genocide (as only one of many examples, consider the lovely passage from 1 Samuel 15:3 which reads, "Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.").
Then there’s Psalm 137, which includes the charming lines, "O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock!"
Initially, I thought that most fundamentalists must be unaware of these lines. After all, how many people, even devout Christians, read the bible that thoroughly? I grew up in a traditional Catholic parish, and when (as a teenager) I started to actually read the whole bible rather than just the selected passages we got in mass on Sunday, I was astonished at how much there was in the bible that the priest wasn’t telling us. His sermons revolved around only a handful of Old Testament stories, some of the nicer psalms and more edifying bits of history, and of course vignettes from Jesus’ life and various bits and pieces of Paul’s letters. But there was a lot in there I hadn't realized, including some seriously weird stuff. Who knew that it was a sin to wear cloth made of two different kinds of thread woven together? I didn’t, until I read Leviticus. Then there is the bad acid trip that is the Book of Revelation (the evangelicals love that book, but the Catholics seem to be mostly embarrassed by it.) But it wasn't the goofy or trippy passages that bugged me; being Catholic, no one was asking me to accept the bible as literal, factual truth. Out of it all, it was the violence that appalled me the most. "Does the priest even know about all of this stuff?" I remember asking myself. If he did, he certainly didn’t talk about it much.
Tragically, it appears that I was giving the Christians far too much credit. It’s not a matter of ignorance over what their own scripture says; they know about it, all right, and what’s worse, they embrace it. "The Amalekites deserved it," said one person, on an internet discussion group. "They were evil people. They sacrificed children, they practiced bestiality. The bible says so. That’s why god ordered their destruction."
So, let me get this straight; because they occasionally sacrificed one of their own children, god told the Israelites to go and kill all of them, including the children? This is supposed to make sense?
What the Israelites did to the people of Canaan, Amalek, and various other Middle Eastern civilizations is the same thing as what Hitler tried to do to the Jews. So why is one an atrocity and the other the justifiable command of god? I’m sorry, genocide is genocide, whether it’s committed by a megalomaniac or by someone who was ordered to do so by his Invisible Friend.
You would think that today’s devout Jews would at least get that point right, considering what they went through only seventy years ago. You, sadly, would be wrong. I was beyond appalled when I found an article in which a Jewish writer actively defended the actions of the Israelites against Amalek and Canaan (this story is part of the Torah as well as the Christian Old Testament). The author states, apparently with a straight face, “As opposed to other religions, Judaism never pursued a religious crusade to impose on others its beliefs,” and goes on to describe how the Israelites destroyed all of the neighboring tribes because they were pagans. The passage ends with the nearly unbelievable line, “Tell me if you find any benevolent parallel in our entire human history!… Was there ever a war fought with such high standards?”
High standards, my ass. If you accept the biblical account of genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious zealotry as high standards, as the basis of our morality, I want to know what the hell we have against Al Qaeda, which seems to operate by much the same principles. Or does the “god of love” now consider the Americans “his chosen people,” casting the whole rest of the world in the role of the Amalekites and Canaanites?
How far we’ve come in three thousand years.