Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Patrick White: Religious nuts in a knot

Published:Saturday | September 19, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Patrick White

As an ardent secularist, it was delightful watching the back and forth over Dr Michael Abrahams' article questioning whether it is appropriate to say the God of the Bible is loving and merciful.

I was particularly impressed by Dr Abrahams' adroit usage of biblical passages to impeach God's credibility.

I couldn't help wondering how disconcerting this must be to the Christian fundamentalist belief that God is loving and merciful and the Bible is inerrant. How could they hold that position when the Bible clearly shows God ordering genocide - a war crime?

In this past Sunday Gleaner, we saw two responses. One from the Rev Dr Clinton Chisholm suggested, perhaps incredulously, "The [Great] flood was not terminal. One family was spared to give rise to another population of humans ... ." One would hope the reverend was unaware he was also implying that the lives of millions of people, including children, living in and far from the Levant, and without exposure to the Hebrew God, were simply of no consequence.

The other was from Ian Boyne, who referred his readers to a book, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God, written by theologians Copan and Flannagan. A quick perusal of this book shows it offers much the same pablum as Chisholm, with the added proviso that God has "divine command authority". This seems to mean that when God does it, it is moral.

Strangely enough, I seem to remember an American president, about to be impeached for covering up multiple felonies, saying something similar in a TV interview: "When the president does it, it is not illegal." That did not wash with the American people, and, thankfully, Mr Boyne did not seem to embrace the divine command authority either.

The authors go on to argue, somewhat vacuously, because they present no data to support their assertion that the murdered Canaanite adults were "evil", decidedly more so than their Hebrew neighbours.


But, it is the justification for the murders of the Canaanite children that left me floored. They suggested it was "merciful" because the children were likely received in 'Heaven'; they died before they were exposed to the evil in their communities that would have condemned them to hell! This left

me wondering whether Christian fundamentalism had finally got around to supporting abortion. That argument would have fit like a glove.

And it also left me wondering, for the same reason, whether they would recharacterise Nazi murderers as loving and merciful because they hastened the entry of Jewish children into heaven?

If fundamentalists are to continue claiming God is loving and merciful, they may have to give up on biblical inerrancy. The two are not reconcilable. If they did that, they could argue that in spite of what the Bible says, God did not really command genocide. The Bronze Age scribes were either mistaken, or God was using the example of genocide to make a (you name it) theological point.

Abandoning inerrancy would also facilitate reconciliation of the Bible with history, archaeology and science, a plus for fundamentalism. We would no longer have to waste time arguing facts such as evolution, the Big Bang, and the age of the universe. After all, disbelieving a fact does not make a fact stop being a fact.

We would also stop pretending the exodus was a real event, and that the Ten Commandments and Christian doctrine are important to human morality. This would free us to search inwardly and more productively for solutions to our societal problems, particularly crime.

And more relevant to this discussion, we would stop pretending the Israelite conquest of Canaan, with the attendant genocides, really happened. They did not. This realisation would bring this insufferable discussion to a close.

The drawback is, with the Bible repositioned as a collection of ancient myths and legends, but particularly well written, would leave some members of the fundamentalist community in a quandary, searching for an identity. This might be a small price to pay, given the other benefits. And it is no longer whether this change will occur; it is when, even here.

- Patrick White, PhD, is a member of the Advisory Council at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Information Sciences, and consultant on communications strategy for the CEO of Goodman Networks in Plano, Texas. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and pew_com@me.com.