Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Genocide of Joshua (part 1)

If one takes the time to read a lot of the work of the modern atheists like Richard Dawkins, one will find that a recurring assault on the veracity of Christianity comes in the form of attacks on the fierce warfare presented to us in the Old Testament Book of Joshua. In Joshua we are presented with what is legitimately one of the greatest apparent obstacles to the affirmation of an All-Loving God in the Scriptures. In Joshua, we find God not only permitting evil to be done but actually positively commanding genocidal warfare as part of His Divine Plan. Since we are obviously not going to take Dawkins' position that this somehow implies God cannot exist, nor are we going to adopt the Modernist route of denying the inspiration of this book, let's see if we can't find a satisfactory solution to this apparent difficulty.

First, let's look at the argument. Here's one of Dawkin's main points against God:

The God of the Old Testament is a sheer monster. Anyone who denies that simply hasn't read the Old Testament. In chapter two of the book, I describe him as 'a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, genocidal, capriciously malevolent bully.' I defy anybody to disagree with any of those epithets...For example, in the book of Joshua, the story of the children of Israel taking over the Promised Land has one genocide after another. Tribe after tribe are wiped out with great gore, blood and glee with direct orders from God. 'Thou shalt not kill' really means 'Thou shalt not kill another Jew' (From an interview with Metro, source).

Right out of the gate we can reply to Dawkins that the question of God's goodness is different from the question of His existence. The fact (for the sake of argument) that God comes off as a "sheer monster" is irrelevant as to whether He exists or not. It could just be the fact that we are in reality stuck with a "sheer monster" for a God, as in Islam, where the rule of God is completely arbitrary and God's will is grounded in His unbounded power ("because I said so") not in His goodness. So, if God really does come off as a monster in the Old Testament, then we'd have to ask ourselves if this sufficiently disproves God's existence or if we would not rather be inclined to disbelieve what we did not like to hear about. At any rate, it is interesting that the ancients, despite being mired in paganism, were more rational about this than Dawkins. They fully acknowledged within their pantheons the existence of "evil" or capricious gods whom one would not want to have anything to do with. Yet they never disbelieved in Kali or Hades or any of the other unpleasant gods and goddesses: they simply tried to placate and avoid them. The point I am making is that (regardless of whether or not any god really exists) most people throughout history, even the pagans, understood the morality of the gods as a distinct issue from the existence of them.

But we should not be satisfied with this answer alone, because we are not content to admit that God is a sheer monster, because we know Him to be a God of infinite goodness, love and mercy. Therefore, let us cast Dawkins aside and look at the text of Joshua itself and see if genocide is consonant with a loving God.

Genocidal warfare was not uncommon in the ancient world, nor in the Bible. It's biblical origin comes from Leviticus 27:28-29, in which the concept of things or persons "devoted" to the Lord is treated:

But nothing that a man owns and devotes to the LORD -whether man or animal or family land—may be sold or redeemed; everything so devoted is most holy to the LORD. No person devoted to destruction may be ransomed; he must be put to death.
This "devotion" is often referred to as the ban, signified by the Hebrew word herem. This was a practice of devoting something entirely to God by utterly destroying it, the idea behind giving an animal sacrifice to God by slaying it, burning portions of it and consuming it. Furthermore, failure to observe herem when it was commanded brought curses upon Israel:

But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it (Joshua 6:18).

The nations of the Canaanites are specifically put under this ban by the Lord Himself in the Book of Deuteronomy:

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you. This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God (Deut. 7:1-6).

To these verse the Modernists make several weak arguments. First, some assert that this was not truly God's command but was written into Deuteronomy well after the fact to justify the genocide against the Canaanites committed by the Israelites. This explanation cannot be held because:

(A) It denies the divine inspiration of Deuteronomy. These are the words of God Himself, and it should be further pointed out that they occur in the same discourse in which God gives the Ten Commandments through Moses a second time - therefore we ought to tread lightly with this passage!

(B) Furthermore, the idea of some Middle Eastern tribe in the first millenium BC having such scruples about genocide that they felt panged by their conscience to insert some divine justification of it into the Sacred Books is stupid. People in that place and time had no scruples about genocidal warfare and would have carried it out with or without a decree from God. No army or nation "felt" guilty about genocide in the first millennium BC, making any sort of after-the-fact redaction a non sequitur. Let's not project our guilt-ridden, delicate 21st century politically correct consciences onto a warrior-tribe of the 12th century before Christ.

Another Modernist argument against this passage is that God did not command the genocide but rather tolerated it. In this view, God commands the removal of the Canaanites and it is Joshua who takes it upon himself to interpret that as killing. Thus, they would argue, God can be vindicated since He did not actually command the slayings.

To this argument, we can make several points:

(A) It's simply not true. God does command the herem warfare in Deuteronomy 7. Thus this argument must turn into the argument that this portion of Deuteronomy is not really inspired, which is heresy.

(B) But let's put that aside for a moment and look at the issue of God allowing something that He does not actively command. A great example of this is polygamy, which God tolerates because of the "hardness of their hearts," or in other words in light of the imperfect stage of moral development of the Israelites at that time. God permits polygamy but never commands or ordains it, and as soon as men are ready for it morally it is no longer permissible.

This is not a valid argument, because again it fails to take into account that the destruction of the Canaanites (unlike polygamy) is positively ordained by God, not only in Deuteronomy 7 but in Joshua 6:17 as well. Furthermore, God shows that He positively willed this by extolling punishment on Israel for not utterly wiping out the nations in the Book of Judges:

When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labor but never drove them out completely...[Then] the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, "I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give to your forefathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.' Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you" (Judges 1:28, 2:1-5).

If God did not positively decree the extermination of the Canaanites, how could he punish the Israelites for not carrying it out? Nobody was ever punished for not entering into polygamous marriage. This is a case of God definitively commanding something, not permissively allowing it.

(C) Finally we must make the moral point that if God commands the ends He also must will the means. Suppose the Modernists are right and God simply said, "Get rid of the Canaanites and take their land," and it was Joshua who assumed that God meant killing them, we have to ask the following question: What else was Joshua supposed to think? It's kind of like saying that the mafia boss is not guilty of commanding murder just because he said to "get rid" of a certain person without actually commanding a killing. In the 13th century BC in Palestine, what other conclusion was Joshua supposed to come to when God tells him to dispossess the peoples and take their land? Even if we grant that this could be true, God would still be the cause of the killings, because God would have given the command to dispossess them and would be guilty of failing to specify to Joshua how this was to be done - and furthermore, we don't see God stepping in to stop Joshua saying, "Wait! I didn't mean kill them!" But this is all a moot point, because we cannot get around the one fact that God actively commanded not just the removal but the killing of the Canannites. Remember Deuteronomy 7: "When the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy." If "show them no mercy" means anything other than "kill them", then we still have to judge God guilty of being the worst communicator in history.

No, there is no way around the fact that God commanded genocide. So other than trying to use Modernistic legerdemain to get rid of problematic verses, let's actually look at what occurs in Joshua, admit it was God's command and see where we can go from there. That's where we'll start next time.

Click here for part 2 in this series.


Bobby Bambino said...

This is really great so far. I've often wanted to have a much stronger, well-thought out argument against this than I currently do, so this is great.

I do have one question though. It concerns the principle "if God commands the ends He also must will the means." Now I agree with the way you apply it above, but I don't think it holds in general. For example, couldn't someone use something like Gen 1:28 "...be fruitful and multiply..." along with the above principle to argue for IVF? God commands the ends (children), so he must agree with the means (IVF).

Like I said, the way you used it above looks good to me, but I don't think it holds in general. God love you.

Boniface said...


Good question. This principle could be fleshed out a little more, I think. You said:

For example, couldn't someone use something like Gen 1:28 "...be fruitful and multiply..." along with the above principle to argue for IVF? God commands the ends (children), so he must agree with the means (IVF).

I think if we factor in God's Goodness, we must modify the principle to say that He wills the means insofar as they accord with what is Good and True (which is what we need to take up next time: how can God's command be Good and True if it orders genocide?).

When God wills the end ("be fruitful and multiply") He wills the means to that end insofar as we use means which are Good and True (in this case, only intercourse within marriage). I don't think we could use this to draw out support of IVF, at least if we worked out the principle a little more.

Bobby Bambino said...

"...He wills the means insofar as they accord with what is Good and True"

Yes, agreed. I agree that your principle would be correct once it's understood that you understand God's will as above.

I hate to be a pedantic jerk :) but I just wanted to clear that up. Thanks, God love you.

Boniface said...

No problem- but of course, if we were Muslims, we would have no scruples about this. What God commanded would simly be what God commanded, irrespective if whether we could square the means with anything Good or True.

Anonymous said...

"...of course, if we were Muslims, we would have no scruples about this. What God commanded would simly be what God commanded, irrespective if whether we could square the means with anything Good or True."

How do Muslim scruples differ on this topic ?

Nick said...

St Thomas was talking about a similar issue as this, but with a slightly different spin.

ST I-II:87:8

Before our radically individualist society mindset set in, people as well as animals and land fell into the "property" category (I'm not sure if that is the right term). So a slave was considered property as was a freeman in relation to the king. Thus, when God was punishing a king, he could justly include the destruction of all the people in the kingdom as well as property. Back then, you punished a king or father by also destroying their property.

However, St Thomas makes it very clear in the same context that when it comes to Heaven and Hell, the INDIVIDUAL SOUL is judged immediately and only by God for what it itself has done, not what another has.

So, given this, just because God ordered a mass genocide-type punishment, it doesn't mean all those souls were necessarily culpable as far as eternal punishment goes, but as a temporal punishment they got punished for the sins of those above them

Anonymous said...

Would it be a correct application of this principle that, if God clearly "willed" the stopping the Nazi war machine, that He also "willed" the horrific carpet-bombing of defenseless civilians in Germany as a deliberate act of mass terror as a"means" to accelerate the achievement of his primary objective regarding the Nazis?

Boniface said...


Please see my first response above regarding willing the means only insofar as they correspond to what is Good and True.

Anonymous said...


Are you saying that He DID will the means of carpet-bombing of defenseless civilians since He did command the Ending and, under just-war theory, the hypothetical "proportionality" of carpet-bombing was widely believed to accord with what is Good and True in reaching that Ending ?

Or maybe I misunderstood your summary comment and, instead, you actually reached the opposite conclusion ?

Or maybe you just chose to finesse the question rather than answering it directly ?

Can we try doing this over again ?

Whatever it is that you're saying is turning out, I'm afraid, to be too subtle or too elliptical for me pick up on.

So maybe the answer to the simple question on whether carpet bombing was "Good and True" must be,
(1) YES,
(2) NO,
(3) can't discuss it now - read a future posting and maybe I'll address it then,
(4) this is a forum for discussing the abstract, not the actual and historical, or
(5) something else.

Which one (or more) of those ?

Why ?

Boniface said...


You demand too much for a person remaining anonymous! :)

Sorry my position was ambiguous. I agree with you: just because God wills the destruction of the German war machine (which we are pretty sure about) does not mean that He wills blanket bombing. He wills the means to accomplish the end, but only insofar as they are good.

If you have further questions, hang on -I'll address them in part 2.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Boniface.

I can't wait for part 2 !

Pat Drummond said...

Pat Drummond (13:10:39) : Your comment is awaiting moderation
Hi Folks

God could not have called for the genocide of the Canaanites because it is absolutely at odds with Jesus’ clear statements about the nature of God’s character. This is not to say the Jews who implemented the slaughter of that whole population, including innocent babies (the term leaves no room for quotations or misinterpretation, David) did not believe that God had commanded it. It just means they were absolutely and completely wrong in that belief….and that, where their Prophets had commanded such a thing were clearly out of touch with Yahweh’s Divine will.

This view is not popular with you I'm sur, because of its negative implications to the authority of OT Scripture. This is only a problem, however, for arch-fundamentalists who believe that every word of the OT is the revealed will of God rather than it being a record of the slowly developing relationship between God and, what was, a fundamentally faulted and warlike people living in very dangerous times.

Despite the volumes of learned apologetics on the matter there is no getting away from the fact that there is much in Jesus’ ‘complete’ portrait of the nature and character of God that stands absolutely in contradiction to the OT understanding of Yahweh (and the appalling things He is supposed to have commanded). The two simply cannot be harmonised.

Cowles' theory of Radical Discontinuity comes closest to working as far as I am concerned, where all the others listed above fail, because it places the source of these misunderstandings of God’s Will and the vile acts that this led to, squarely on the people of the Old Testament and their Prophets.

This does not say that they were completely out of touch with God; simply that at times they were unwittingly or deliberately misguided by their leaders and prophets.

Let it not be forgotten that the main reason Christ was sent for execution by the Jews was exactly this; that He claimed that He knew the will and nature of God better than the Jewish Scriptural teachers did. He claimed , and in many cases implemented teachings that absolutely flew in the face of the Old Testament understanding of the nature of God (His stance on The Sabbath and the woman taken in adultery, for example)

When challenged about this, His position was clear. He simply stated that He knew God better than they did; and that the basis of His Authority was His own personal relationship with God; that God was His Father.To them, it was the ultimate Blasphemy. He basically claimed that knew what God’s will more completely than they, or The Old Testament Law, ever could.

Make no mistake, it is a fundamental tenet of The Christian Faith that, in fact, He did know better. It is this fact that should most inform this discussion.

The logic is clear. By definition, God’s character cannot change or He is not God. By definition, God cannot commit evil or He is not God. If you believe that Jesus was the Son Of God, then you believe that He is the complete revelation of the nature and character of God; a Revelation that stands above and beyond any and all other authority, including that of the Prophets and leaders of The Old Testament.

Christ specifically said that complete forgiveness of our enemies was God’s will. He specifically condemned murder. He specifically said that God Is Love. This is the nature of God’s unchanging character. Murder and Genocide is not part of the nature of God’s Character and never have been.

Cowles says, quite rightly I believe, that where points of unequivocal tension arise between Christ’s Testament and that of the Prophets of the Old Testament, Christ simply ‘trumps’ the OT. And he is in good theological company in that assertion.

In other words the OT is valuable as a scripturally accurate account of the developing relationship between God and Man. It has much to offer in the way of History and moral guidance but where it’s revelation concerning God’s Nature and Character stands in clear contradiction of Christ’s revelation of God’s Nature and character, it must simply give way. That might be heresy as far as you're concerned. I'm not surprised. It was heresy as far as the Pharisees were concerned. In fact it was exactly the heresy Christ was condemned for.

Faced, however, with the very reasonable proposition of Christ's authority over Deuteronomy 7 or the appalling proposition inherent in Longman’s Spiritual Continuity theory (that the murder of innocent people is ‘a call to worship for the people of God’) I know which makes the most sense and which is clearly in harmony with the Teachings of Christ.

The implications of the implementation of the other three theories is terrifying beyond belief. They could well be used to justify the most horrible and degrading acts of war and torture; characterising them ( like the Inquisition or the Salem Witch hunts have in the past) as being the Will of God.

For those who accept the testimony of Jesus’s Law Of Love, this is nothing short of the most abhorrent and dangerous slander of the character of God.

Anonymous said...

The way I see it, it really comes down to a question of authority. No mere mortal could order a genocide or kill those who were innocent in relation to him because he would not have the proper authority to make such a judgement-- thus making it mass murder. God, on the other hand, holds authority over matters of life and death by his very being.

The question then is not whether God ordered a genocide but rather whether He had the right to--obviously yes. The reasons it would seem to me are His own and we must trust that they are right and just. His ways are not our ways.

We can speculate however that he was attempting to prevent the Hebrews from developing a taste for war by keeping them from enjoying plunder and slaves gained by conquest.

Boniface said...


Your position would indeed be considered heresy. As to the divine inspiration of Deuteronomy 7, we look to the teaching of the Popes and the Church on this matter. St. Pius X, the Lamentabile Sane, condemns the following proposition: "Divine inspiration does not extend to all of the sacred scriptures so that it renders its parts, each and every one, free from error" (no. 11). This means that every part of Scripture individually is inspired. Call it fundamentalist if you want, but it is in fact the Church's teaching.

As for your Radical Discontinuity theory, I don't think anything with the name Radical Discontinuity will fly on this blog! No, but seriously, we take seriously the divine command in Deuteronomy. If it seems to be out of keeping with Jesus' character, it is you who have misunderstood Jesus, not the CHurch that has misunderstood the Bible.

The God of the OT is exactly the same God that Jesus knew, and indeed, was one with. Christ said in Matthew 5:17 that He did not abolish the precepts of the law but fulfilled them- His message is not meant to be held over and against that of the OT, but as a completion of it. And do you think the NT is not strict? What about the slying of Ananias and Sapphire in Acts 5?

In Hebrews 10:28-29, St. Paul says that if the OT justice of God seemed harsh, then the NT judgments of God are ever harsher:

He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

If you think teh OT God is harsh and the NT Jesus is all mercy and love with no continuity between the two, you are mistaken, for the two are in fact the same Divine being, and if anything, the New Testament judgment will be stricter.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand:

"If you think teh OT God is harsh and the NT Jesus is all mercy and love with no continuity between the two, you are mistaken, for the two are in fact the same Divine being, and if anything, the New Testament judgment will be stricter."


On the other hand,

"For those who accept the testimony of Jesus’s Law Of Love, this is nothing short of the most abhorrent and dangerous slander of the character of God."

It looks like you may both firmly disagree on a highly fundamental issue.

But I hope both of you could agree that undue attachment to a merely theologically consistent construct of God can become impediment to deepening one's faith and can even appear, by attaching such significance to any arbitrary rule-based model for understanding God, to be a manifestation of some form of spiritual arrogance that mocks the fundamental incomprehensibility of HIS nature, power, mercy, justice, etc.

I think your dialogue is extremely helpful to all the rest of us, like me, sitting in front of our computers and freely receiving the benefit of the much deeper reflection you have given to these issues.

But when I see your well thought-out discourses tag-ended with "heresy", "slander", or the well-reasoned view that the same OT-NT God's judgement is likely to be even harsher the next go-around, I get nervous thinking that you may actually BELIEVE that the model of God to which you subscribe is ACCURATE, not merely an excellent hypothesis you have shared with us for our mutual edification.

Say it ain't so.

Boniface said...


Of course, you are right in that none of us can presume to really penetrate the Divine will in this case...for humans who are timebound, it is sometimes tricky to reconcile apparently (and I stress apparent) differences in God's nature with regards to how He treats the world.

But I don't see what the problem is with pointing out that denying the inspiration of certain parts of the Bible is heresy. It is a matter of fact. This is taught in Lamentabili Sane, Spiritus Paraclitus, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Humani Generis and Vatican I. What is so wrong with pointing that out?

When looking at the "harsh" judgments of God, even in the NT, it not in any way detracting from His love or mercy, and nobody reading this ought to presume that I am stressing one element of God's nature at the expense of another - God is perfectly simple and all these things are one in Him.

Regarding your statement:

a merely theologically consistent construct of God can become impediment to deepening one's faith and can even appear, by attaching such significance to any arbitrary rule-based model for understanding God, to be a manifestation of some form of spiritual arrogance ,

I can probably agree with that insofar as you don't mean to say that any, theologically consistent construct about God is destructive of faith. We approach God through experience and faith, but also through our intellect, and on some levels it is perfectly acceptable to say "God is such-and-such a way and if you disagree you are wrong." I'm not making those claims about my own ideas (which is why I can tenatively agree to your statement) but if you say that nobody can make this claim to know things with certainty about God, then I must disgree to that.

You commentators are keeping me so busy with this combox that I have no time to finish part 2 of the post!

Anonymous said...

"...of course, if we were Muslims, we would have no scruples about this. What God commanded would simly be what God commanded, irrespective if whether we could square the means with anything Good or True."

How do Muslim scruples differ on this topic ?

The reason I ask this again is that I'm not aware of that Muslim scruples do differ on this topic and I would like to know how they do differ and how you reached that conclusion in light of the diversity of Muslim views on Allah.

I know you probably didn't notice this query with all the comments you've been fielding on this provocative topic and your remark on Islamic ethics was only tangential to your central point, but please help us inquiring Christians understand the source of your well-considered conclusion on one other religion of the Book so we can better understand the Muslims.

Boniface said...


As I understand it, Muslim view of God's will is that it is so supreme and sovereign that it cannot be restrained by anything: not even goodness, truth, or God's own nature. Thus, when people point out contradictions in the Koran, Muslim scholars of various schools have been apt to say that Allah can contradict himself if he wants to. Christians, obviously, would say that God is All Powerful, but in the sense that all the perfections of the Good exist in Him to an infinite degree, not that He can do whatever He wants (thus, He can't lie, deny Himself, change, etc.).

So, for a Muslim, if God commanded genocide, they would not have any scruples about trying to figure out how this conformed with God's goodness. The answer would simply be that God commanded it, end of story (which was John Calvin's answer to this as well). It would be irrelevant whether it was good or evil.

While I agree that in the end we have to simply acknowledge this as God's will, as Christians we are also constrained to acknowledge that all God's actions are Good, because He is goodness and cannot deny Himself.

I may be misconstruing something, but I think this is basically the case.

Nick said...

This is kind of off topic, but I'm not sure how to contact Anselm.

I told him I was in an Atonement debate, and I wanted to let him know I've posted my latest Rebuttal essay:


Anonymous said...


As near as I can tell from what you've written in the article and your subsequent comments, the primary (only?) way we are confident that God's periodic commands of genocide emanate from "His goodness", and not from "His unbounded power", is "because we know Him to be a God of infinite goodness, love and mercy".

To many of us, it's not clear why an action of God can't be described as being grounded in His unbounded power merely because it can also be described as grounded in His infinite goodness.

When a basic premise of proposition relies on a dogma-based resolution of a false dichotomy of only binary alternatives, readers may become skeptical of the proposition, however well presented.

By the way, that kind of black-and-white analytical approach is probably even less constructive in side remarks about Islamic "scruples" and the suggestion that Muslims aren't asked to try to figure out how to comprehend how a command to violent action from God can fit in with His goodness and to assess what the implications of that are for the means of execution of that directive (it might be surprising to many about how proto-Aquinian much of Islamic theology is on that point).

When that reductionist approach is coupled with an admitted lack of inquiry into the extensive literature available on the topic (I'm totally sympathetic with the lack of time to check Islam out - I'm still trying to figure out Christianity), the unfortunate and unintentional result is a kind of condescending,comic book perspective on Islam that most modernists, like Dawkins, have of Christianity.

I don't think we need any more caricatures of other theologies (let's leave that to the New York Times !).

Anonymous said...

"'on some levels it is perfectly acceptable to say "God is such-and-such a way and if you disagree you are wrong."'

Which levels ?

"if you say that nobody can make this claim to know things with certainty about God, then I must disgree to that"

I'm with you on that as a theory. But I'm not sure who, other than Jesus, you might consider to be justified in making such a claim.

What I was trying to convey in my original comment is that many of us are susceptible to developing an "undue attachment" to our individual construct of God (that usually we've spent a lot of faith, experience, and intellect in developing). History suggests that "undue attachment" to a conception of God (rather than to God) can frequently become an impediment, rather than an aid, to continuing to develop a greater understanding of, and deeper relationship with, God.

It just seems to me that, when we presume (even worse, when we assert) that we "know things with certainty about God", it's quite a bit more likely we're experiencing a grave bout of infectious hubris rather than being the unwarranted beneficiary of a divine and exclusive epiphany.

Boniface said...


Who besides Jesus can make such claims about God that we must believe? I would say any claim that falls under the following formula:

O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived

The Irish form gets to the point better:

I believe these and all other articles with the holy Roman Catholic Church proposes to our
, because Thou, my God,
the infallible Truth, as revealed them; and Thou hast commanded us to hear the Church, which is the pillar and the ground of truth. In this faith I am firmly resolved by Thy holy grace to live and die.

Anonymous said...


I guess I begin to diverge from you on who to believe on the nature of God and his directions to us when it's suggested that for "truth" we start relying on derivative interpretations of, or baroque extrapolations from, Christ's words and actions, rather than on Christ's clear words and actions.

Of course, I know it is a matter of faith that the Roman Catholic Church has been uniquely delegated the authority to "reveal" "truths" to us about God that might otherwise elude us and that He chooses not to reveal directly to us.

But many have observed that over a couple millenia the Church has gone through some wide swings in its pronouncements on pretty basic "truths" (justification by ?).

And we all know certain senior prelates in the Church that are selective in which revealed "truths" they choose to believe (they seem to hold on to their positions as a result of a long-established doctrinal don't-ask-don't-tell policy for Vatican appointees).

Anyhow, I respect where you're coming from.

It's a position grounded in unassailable faith, not mere intellect

But some of the rest of us that

have been the direct victims of abuse by Church authorities (if you haven't had the bracing experience of abuse, physical and/or spiritual, by a corrupt cleric, you've missed out on really getting to know one of the many diverse faces through which the Church makes its imperfect nature known)


understand the degree of sub-optimization of decision-making that is inherent in command-and-control organizations with such a tenured hierarchy like the Church

remain skeptical that the divine mandate with which the Church has been entrusted is sufficient to consistently protect the Church from error.

[It is an irony, I think, that among Catholic theologians it is often assumed, at least for purposes of discussion, that a received "truth", even as dictated by the Church, is subject to modification proceeding from successive revelations. And occasionally one of those theologians touting the new, improved "truth" may gain favor in the Vatican and, slowly or suddenly, a new "truth" overlays and old "truth". It's analogous to the US Supreme Court acting to vitiate one of its prior decisions, not by overturning it or by declaring it invalid, but by merely "clarifying" it.]

Anonymous said...

Whew! I've just read through all this for the first time, and I must say I'm quite impressed at how much discussion (both in agreement and disagreement) this has generated when all that Boniface really asserted was that, since the Bible says that God ordered genocide, then, in fact, God did order genocide. In other words, we have hear only an assertion and affirmation of infallible / magisterial / dogmatic teaching of the Church of Christ.

I can hardly wait to see what will happen when we get to part two, where I guess he'll propose a way of understanding these genocides as not contradictory to God's goodness (btw, I'm betting on him to offer a pretty decent explanation).

P.S. Thanks for the link Nick, I'll check it out.

Boniface said...


Thanks for you comments and support of my simple position that God commands what God commands.

By the way, I am surprised that people keep commenting on this thread when Part 2 has been up for a day. Here it is:


Ben said...

Not only did God command this, He also told Abraham His plan. He said the reason Israel would be in Egypt for 400 years is that the Canaanites were not yet wicked enough to destroy. And this was at the time of Sodom and Gommorah! The mind boggles as to how wicked they must have got! the question is, why would a loving God NOT want to destroy a society that practised child sacrifice among other things (and later influenced Israel to do likewise, hence their exile to Babylon)?