have been imagining that Jehovah was at least quasi-just and thus demanded trials for each Canaanite before the Canaanites were condemned to death as punishment for a serious crime or sin. My argument is that there were many kinds of BIAS on the part of Jehovah and the Israelites which would make such trials unfair and thus the use of the death penalty in those circumstances was clearly unjust.
I have just one more category of BIAS to discuss, but it is IMHO a root cause of many of various BIASES and INJUSTICES involved in the slaughter of the Canaanites, as well as in human life in general.
BIAS #6: SOCIOCENTRISM
I learned about critical thinking from one of our nation’s leading experts on critical thinking: Dr. Richard Paul. Dr. Paul has a rich and robust understanding of critical thinking, and one of his key ideas is that to be a strong-sense critical thinker one must be aware of and make conscious efforts to resist certain human irrational tendencies, especially those that fall under the category of “motivated bias”.
One of the problems or obstacles to critical thinking is that humans are naturally somewhat illogical. We all have a tendency of forming HASTY GENERALIZATIONS. We all have a tendency to OVERSIMPLIFY issues, to think in terms of BLACK or WHITE. We all have a tendency called CONFIRMATION BIAS, which means we tend to look for evidence to support our current beliefs but to ignore, downplay, or forget evidence that runs contrary to our current beliefs. We all have a tendency (which Jeff Lowder frequently points out) to reason poorly about probability because we neglect background probabilities (“It is probable that she is a librarian because she is shy and likes to read books” – But only a tiny percent of women are librarians, and a large percentage of women are shy, and large percentage of women like to read books). In other words, our brains or natural reasoning abilities are not entirely reliable in terms of making correct logical inferences.
But in addition to our natual tendencies to (in general) draw illogical inferences, we also have natural tendencies towards bad reasoning when it comes to issues where we have a vested interest or where we have an emotional investment. One of the root causes of uncritical thinking and of injustice in the world is the universal tendency towards SOCIOCENTRISM. MY nation/ethnic group/religion is good, right, noble, just, admirable, reasonable, etc., but YOUR nation/ethnic group/religion is bad, wrong, ignoble, unjust, disgusting, unreasonable, etc. Sociocentrism is bascially an extension of EGOCENTRISM. My group is better than your group.
The problem of geographical bias mentioned in the previous post is related to sociocentrism, because the restriction of the widespread and indiscriminate use of the “death penalty” on just those people who happen to live in Palestine (i.e. the “promised land”) is really evidence that the Israelites had an ulterior motivation: to steal the land of the Canaanites. But then ethnicity bias comes into play, as a rationalization for the violent theft of land from the Canaanites: WE are the good and noble people who worship the true God-THEY are the bad and disgusting people who worship idols. WE deserve to have and enjoy this land. THEY are worthless people who only deserve to die, etc. SOCIOCENTRISM is a root cause of racism and ethnicity bias (called ETHNOCENTRISM).
28. If Jehovah commanded the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites on the grounds that the Canaanites were wicked and deserved to die, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because Jehovah should have been taking the exact opposite view and encouraged the Israelites to consider the very real possibility that they were engaging in SOCIOCENTRIC thinking, and simply rationalizing their evil actions by following the natrual irrational human tendency to believe what is in one’s vested interest to believe, and to believe that one’s own nation or people are good, right, just, and noble, while believing that the enemies of one’s own nation or people are evil, wrong, disguisting, unjust, and ignoble, that they were engaging in the universal and natural irrational tendency towards blaming the victim and dehumanizing the enemy.
This point about the BIAS of SOCIOCENTRISM leads quite naturally to a general point that needs to be made about the slaughter of the Canaanites: We have seen this movie before.
One reason why the Conservative approach to the slaughter of the Canaanites, and Clay Jones’s attempt to morally justify Jehovah in particular, are so implausible is that this whole issue and discussion is all too familiar, as was pointed out by the Old Testament scholar and theologian Peter Enns:
It is what it is and there is no getting around it. If we were reading a story like this in some other religious text, we’d call it genocide, ethnic cleansing, and barbarous–pure and simple.
I’ve held off drawing this analogy, but to call for the extermination of a group of people (defined by their culture and religion), to grab their land and stuff, and to justify it by saying God told you to do it because those people are impure, dirty, worthy only of death–well, we’ve seen this up close in recent history.
In the past one hundred years, the estimates of the number of dead from just six of the best-known ideologically driven genocides–Armenia, the Holocaust, Soviet famine, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur–range from about 10.7 million (Yankee Stadium filled to the brim and swept clean two hundred times) to 27.4 million (the population of New York and New Jersey combined). Most know this sort of thing is wrong–even if it’s in the Bible. (The Bible Tells Me So…, p.53)
C.S. Cowles, professor of Bible and theology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego (at time of publication of the book I will now quote) provides details on a recent example:
That the issue of divinely initiated and sanctioned violence is no mere academic matter was tragically demonstrated in the self-destructive insanity that decimated Rwanda, the most Christianized nation in Africa, when dominant Hutus set out to exterminate the minority Tutsis. In one hundred days, Hutus brutally slaughtered nearly 800,000 Tutsis and Tutsi sympathyzers. Peter Gourevitch recounts the horrific scene that unfolded at the Seventh-day Adventist Mission Hospital complex in Mungonero, where two thousand beleaguered Tutsis took refuge in the early days of the massacres.
Dr. Gerard, a United-States-trained physician and the hospital administrator, welcomed them and then sealed the perimeter. On April 15, 1994, he announced: “Saturday, the sixteenth, at exactly nine o’clock in the morning, you will be attacked.” Scarcely able to believe their ears, seven Tutsi Seventh-day Adventist pastors wrote a hasty letter to their district president, Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, who happened to be Dr. Gerard’s father. They pleaded for him to intervene “the same way as the Jews were saved by Esther.” He sent back a curt reply: “You must be eliminated. God no longer wants you.”
At 9:00am on Saturday, Dr. Gerard drove up to the hospital complex with a carload of armed Hutu militia. Nearby Hutu villagers brought their machetes and joined in the attack. They slowly and methodically killed all those who had crowded into the chapel, then the school, and finally the hospital. The seven Tutsi pastors prayed with their people until they too were cut down. Early the next morning, Dr. Gerard led the militia to the nearby village of Murambi, where other Tutsi survivors had taken refuge in the Seventh-day Adventist church. They killed them all. (Show Them No Mercy, p.15-16)
How could Dr. Gerard look at himself in the mirror after committing such horrible acts of violence and injustice? We all know very well how he could do so. He would, no doubt, claim that God was on his side, that the Hutus were a good, just, wise, God-fearing, and noble people, and that the Tutsis were a wicked, unjust, foolish, ungodly, and disgusting people who deserved only to die. In other words, we would hear the same BULLSHIT RATIONALIZATION from Dr. Gerard as we read in the article by Clay Jones in defense of Jehovah and the Israelites.
Professor Cowles reminds us that there is a long history of Christian violence that rests on the example of the slaughter of the Canaanites (and other injustices of Jehovah in the O.T.):
…the sad fact is that the history of the church is as blighted by such bloodshed as that of Israel and Islam. Christians took up the sword against Muslims, Jews, and other “infidels” during the Crusades. Protestants and Catholics slaughtered each other in the “holy wars” that tore Europe apart following the Reformation. The Roman Catholic Church tortured, burned, drowned, and flayed hundreds of thousands of supposed heretics and witches across more than five centuries of the Inquisition. Christian Europeans not only forcibly seized aboriginal lands but destroyed 80 percent of North and South America’s native populations by genocide, disease, and drunkenness during the bloody era of colonial aggression and aggrandizement. And it was ostensibly the most Christianized nation in Europe that systematically shot, gassed, and burned six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust.
We hang our heads to admit it, but jihad (“holy war”) is not a Muslim invention. Its origins and justification are to be found in the Hebrew scriptures. Moses was the first in known history to spell out an ideology of “holy war” that dictated–unlike Muhammad’s reformulation–the genocidal destruction of enemies. Moses and Joshua were the first to engage in campaigns of “ethnic cleansing” as herem (“acts of religious devotion”). It is to these texts that Christians have appealed, from St. Augustine in the fourth century to Orthodox Serbs in the twentieth, in justifying the mass destruction of human beings. (Show Them No Mercy, p.16-17)
Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.
OK. I will get down off the soapbox and get back to my detailed critique of Clay Jones’s attempt to morally justify Jehovah’s command to the Israelites to slaughter the Canaanites (men, women, and children).
Previously, I have raised the objection that JEHOVAH IS UNJUST because it is wrong to severely punish a person on the basis of a law that was not properly documented, published, and communicated to the community of that person. Suppose that Jehovah was not completely unjust towards the Canaanites, and to be fair to them Jehovah demanded that before any accusations or trials or condemnations or executions of the Canaanites happen, the Canaanites were to receive copies of the laws of Jehovah (documented in the books of Moses) in the native language(s) of the Canaanites, for them to read and study.
There were no printing presses, so Jehovah would have to create thousands or tens of thousands of copies of the books of Moses for the Israelites to take to each Canaanite household (Canaanite wife to her husband: “Dear could you get the door; it’s those pesky Jehovah’s Witnesses again, here to give away their religious tracts and booklets.”). This would help take care of the problem of the injustice of severely punishing someone for violation of a law that was not properly documented and communicated.
There are some further requirements of justice beyond the mere documentation and communication of the laws in question. Some important requirements are reflected in the legal concept of void for vagueness:
In American constitutional law, a statute is void for vagueness and unenforceable if it is too vague for the average citizen to understand. There are several reasons a statute may be considered vague; in general, a statute might be called void for vagueness reasons when an average citizen cannot generally determine what persons are regulated, what conduct is prohibited, or what punishment may be imposed. Criminal laws which do not state explicitly and definitely what conduct is punishable for example are void for vagueness. A statute is also void for vagueness if a legislature’s delegation of authority to judges and/or administrators is so extensive that it would lead to arbitrary prosecutions. (Wikipedia article on “Void for Vagueness“).
Here is a recent news item about the US Supreme Court making use of the concept of “Void for Vagueness”.
To avoid the injustice involved in a law suffers from this problem of “Void for Vagueness”, a law must meet at least these three requirements:
R1. The law must clearly indicate who falls under the scope of the law.
R2. The law must state explicitly and definitely what conduct is prohibited.
R3. The law must clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed.
If any of Jehovah’s laws related to the list of crimes or sins given by Clay Jones fails to meet one or more of these requirements, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST for demanding the death penalty to be imposed on a Canaanite (or on anyone else) on the basis of that law.
The Crime or Sin of Idolatry
The first crime or sin on Clay Jones’s list is “idolatry”. Let’s consider the three requirements above for a just law against idolatry:
R1. Does Jehovah’s law against “idolatry” clearly indicate who falls under the scope of that law?
R2. Does Jehovah’s law against “idolatry” state explicitly and definitely what conduct constitutes the prohibited activity of “idolatry”?
R3. Does Jehovah’s law against “idolatry” clearly indicate what punishment may be imposed for the activity of “idolatry”?
The answers to these three questions are: NO, NO, and NO. So, three swings and three strikes. I’m afraid that Jehovah’s law against “idolatry” is totally unacceptable on the basis of these three basic criteria involved in the legal concept of void for vagueness.
Here is the problem. The word “idolatry” does not occur in any of the five books of Moses. The word “idolatry” occurs only ONCE in the entire Old Testament, in I Samuel 15: 23. I & II Samuel are actually just one book, and this book includes the “last words” of King David, so the book was not completed until after the death of King David in 971 BCE. Thus this book was not completed until more than two hundred years after the slaughter of the Canaanites (the slaughter of the Canaanites began around 1200 BCE). So, I & II Samuel are irrelevant to the status of “idolatry” at the time of the slaughter of the Canaanites.
The word “idolatry” does not occur in the laws of Jehovah. Therefore, there is NO indication in the laws of Jehovah of who falls under the scope of the prohibition of “idolatry”, and there is NO statement in the laws of Jehovah that explicitly and definitely describes what constitutes the prohibited activity of “idolatry”, and there is NO clear indication in the laws of Jehovah as to what specific punishment may be imposed for the crime or sin of “idolatry”. Basically, “idolatry” is never mentioned in the laws of Jehovah, so one CANNOT justly convict and punish a person for the crime or sin of “idolatry” based on the laws of Jehovah.
Clay Jones had the thousands of Canaanites (men, women, and children) tried, convicted, condemned and executed on the basis of the laws of Jehovah, all before bothering to read the laws of Jehovah to see what they actually said! There is no law against “idolatry” in the books of Moses, thus there is no law against “idolatry” in the laws of Jehovah.
But what about the Ten Commandments? Don’t they talk about idolatry? Perhaps they do (it depends on what you mean by “idolatry”!), but they never use the word “idolatry” and that is a BIG problem. What the Ten Commandments do talk about is “idols”, not “idolatry”. Let’s read the actual text carefully (before we condemn anybody to their death, OK?):
Exodus 20:4-6 New American Standard Bible
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Deuteronomy 5:8-10 New American Standard Bible
8 ‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.
9 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,
10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
These passages from the Ten Commandments prohibit the following activities:
(a) making for yourself an idol (What about making an idol for somebody else? That does not appear to be prohibited.)
(b) making for yourself a likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth (What about making a likeness for somebody else? Does this law prohibit all paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, and movies? That is what the words literally imply.)
(c) worshiping an idol (What about worshiping a god who is represented by an idol rather than worshiping the idol itself?)
(d) worshiping a likeness of what is in heaven above or….(What about worshiping a god who is represented by the likeness rather than worshiping the likeness itself?)
(e) serving an idol (What does this mean? How can you “serve” a statue or a stone or a piece of wood? This is very unclear and vague.)
(f) serving a likeness of what is in heaven above or…(How can you “serve” a painting or a drawing or a scupture? This is very unclear and vague.)
Obviously, Jehovah has some issues with the making of idols and the worship of idols. But it is not really the idols that people worshiped. People worshiped gods and they used idols as part of their religious practices and ceremonies to worship a god or gods. The prohibition against “worshiping an idol” is thus problematic. If we read it literally, then it might not apply to anyone. At the least, it is UNCLEAR whether this law prohibits the worship of a god when an idol is used in a religious ceremony with the understanding that the god being worshiped is a living being who is NOT identical with the idol.
Is “worshiping an idol” the same thing as “idolatry”? There is no way to know whether this definition is correct, because the word “idolatry” is never used in the books of Moses, never used in the laws of Jehovah. We could arbitrarily stipulate a definition of “idolatry” to equate it with the idea of “worshiping an idol” but then that would mean that “idolatry” would not include the other things mentioned in this passage from the Ten Commandments, like “making a likeness” or “worshipping a likeness” or “serving an idol”, etc.
If we just focus for a moment on the prohibition of “worshiping an idol” we can see that there is some unclarity here, since people generally worshiped a god rather than the idol itself. The idol merely represented the god. So, there is some question about whether this prohibition satisfies (R2), the requirement to be clear and specific about what action(s) constitute the prohibited conduct. But there are even more serious problems here in terms of (R1) and (R3).
As for (R1), there is no clear and explicit indication of who is in scope, of who is required to observe this prohibition against “worshiping an idol”. However, we can infer the scope of people who are required to observe this prohibition by the words at the opening of the chapters that give the Ten Commandments:
Exodus 20:1-2 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
1 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Deuteronomy 5:1-6 New American Standard Bible (emphasis added)
5 Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them:
“Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.
2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.
3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
4 The Lord spoke to you face to face at the mountain from the midst of the fire,
5 while I was standing between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain. He said,
6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Whichever version you choose, it is clear that Jehovah was addressing the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. Jehovah did NOT bring the Canaanites “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Therefore, in context, the pronoun “You” in the prohibition “You shall not worship them…” clearly refers to the people of Israel and NOT to the Canaanites. If this prohibition was intended to apply to the Canaanites as well as the Israelites, then this was NOT made clear in the laws of Jehovah, at least not in Chapter 20 of Exodus nor in Chapter 5 of Deuteronomy, where the Ten Commandments are stated.
There is also an issue with (R3). Not all of the Ten Commandments carry the death penalty for their violation. Stealing, for example, was NOT a capital offense. So, where in the laws of Jehovah does it clearly and explicitly state that death is the punishment for “worshiping an idol”? I have reviewed every verse in the books of Moses that mention “idol” or “idols” and I do not see any such clear and explicit statement indicating that death was the appropriate punishment for violation of this prohibition.
Indeed, I have previously accused Jehovah of the BIAS of FAVORITISM for imposing the death penalty on the Canaanites for the crime or sin of “idolatry” while failing to impose the death penalty on the Israelite Aaron for making the golden calf idol and leading worship involving that idol. But now, having carefuly read the laws of Jehovah, it seems to me that a likely reason why Jehovah did not insist on the death penalty for Aaron’s sin or crime of making an idol and using an idol in a worship ceremony is that such actions were simply NOT a capital offense in Jehovah’s laws.
There is NO prohibition against “idolatry” per se in the laws of Jehovah (the word “idolatry” never occurs in the laws of Jehovah):
29. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “idolatry”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear indication in the laws of Jehovah as to who is in scope for the prohibition of “idolatry”.
30. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “idolatry”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what activity constitutes “idolatry”.
31. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “idolatry”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what punishment may be used for violation of the prohibition against “idolatry”.
There is, however, a prohibition in the Ten Commandments against worshiping an idol, but the precise activity prohibited is unclear (R2), the scope of persons that fall under this prohibition appears to be the Israelites and NOT the Canaanites (R1) , and I can find no clear and explicit statement that death is the appropriate punishment for violation of this prohibition:
32. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “worshiping an idol”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because based on the opening of the Chapters stating this prohibition, the pronoun “You” in the prohibition appears to refer to the Israelites and NOT to the Canaanites.
33. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “worshiping an idol”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what activity constitutes “worshiping an idol”.
34. If Jehovah commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites (men, women, and children) in part as a punishment for the crime or sin of “worshiping an idol”, then JEHOVAH IS UNJUST, because there is no clear specification in the laws of Jehovah as to what punishment may be used for violation of the prohibition against “worshiping an idol”.
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