One of the most common debates between Christians and atheists is whether Yahweh is evil for ordering the slaughter of the Canaanites. For those who aren’t familiar with this story, here’s a quick summary.
After the Jews escaped from Egypt, Yahweh ordered them to kill all the clans living in the land of Canaan. And when I say “all the clans,” I mean everything that breathed, including women and children. And the Jews obeyed. According to Joshua 6:21, they “utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.”
Some Christians argue that these people deserved to die and that God has the right to kill anyone he wants. This is known as divine command theory, and I already wrote about it in another post. I think the idea that might makes right is abhorrent, but for now I want to focus on something the Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, said:
“I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.”
Oh, the poor Israeli soldiers who had to hack women and children to death, how sad. But all sarcasm aside, William Lane Craig is overlooking one very obvious solution to this problem: God could have killed the Canaanites himself.
But strangely, he also asked Jewish soldiers to do a lot of his killing for him: the Amalekites, the Midianites, and even the Israelites themselves. (If you’re interested, this article contains a complete list of people God kills in the Bible.)
Why would God put these soldiers through the trauma of having to kill their fellow man? You could argue that it was a test to see if they would obey, but if God is omniscient then he would have known ahead of time whether they would obey his command. There’s no need to test someone if you already know they’re going to pass the test. So again, why did God put Jewish soldiers through this ordeal?
Everyone knows that one of the ten commandments is “thou shalt not kill.” But after Moses receives the commandments, he goes down the mountain, sees his people worshiping idols, and immediately orders the killing of 3000 men. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sickening.
Of course, Christian apologists say this isn’t a contradiction. According to them, there’s an exception to the commandment not to kill: namely, whenever God says so. But why is it necessary to have so many exceptions? Why couldn’t God just do his own killing?
Imagine how much better the world would be if sixth commandment said:
“Thou shalt not kill for any reason whatsoever. There are no exceptions. If there are people who deserve to die, I the Lord shall take their lives.”
Just think about it. If that were the sixth commandment, then we wouldn’t have had so many Christians killing in the name of God throughout history.
If that were the sixth commandment, we could have avoided the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, and countless religious wars! Christian apologists will say, “But the people who did those things were misinterpreting the Bible.” Whether they were or not is beside the point.
The point is that if God had explained in crystal clear language that humans are never to kill one another, and if he had done all the killing himself, there would have been no room for misinterpretation, and millions of innocent people wouldn’t have been murdered.
But as it is, the Old Testament makes it look as though God wants his people to commit genocide from time to time. All you need is a delusional Christian military leader who thinks God is speaking to him, and you have a recipe for carnage.
Back to the original question: Why does God need men to do his killing for him? I’ve never heard a good reason why Jewish soldiers needed to take their swords and kill thousands of people. And it seems the world would be a better place if God had specifically forbade killing of any kind. So why?
Well, there’s a simple answer: God isn’t real. The people who wrote the Old Testament were barbarians who made up stories about how God was on their side in order to justify the atrocities they committed. It’s as simple as that.