Posted by: nimbu | February 8, 2007

Is it genocide if God’s on your side?

Genocide is a tricky word: is it genocide if you kill civilians in the name of God? If your mission for the foreseeable future is to eliminate your enemy, and enemy is defined loosely as a member of a rival religion, is that OK. Both the Old and New Testament are full of stories of entire tribes being killed in the name of God. Being an ex-Muslim, I certainly won’t leave the Quran out of this one: it’s full of stories of Muhammad ordering the destruction of God’s enemies.

Well who are God’s enemies? I’m confused. People that worship idols, say Hindus, are they God’s enemies? What about people that worship any god but yours…are they God’s enemies? If Jesus is God, does that make everybody that doesn’t believe in him, God’s enemies? What about Atheists (and I’m one), are they God’s enemies? If so many people are God’s enemies, and all 3 books teach us to destroy God’s enemies, what to do?

I’m trying to rationalize mass killings, AKA genocide. How can an entire religion, or group of people that belong to a religion, turn a blind-eye to genocide? My hypothesis is this: when you’re killing God’s enemies, whether they be women, children, the elderly, etc., it’s OK. Maybe not OK, but certainly not worthy of action. If I were a Shia Muslim, living anywhere in the world, should I say something about death squads roaming Iraq? Or should I be quietly disturbed, but not to the point of vocalizing my concern with fellow Shia? I don’t mean to single out Shia. The Catholic Church was very quiet during the Nazi years…and that’s generally considered one of the Church’s darkest moments.

I just don’t understand how any human can kill a defenseless woman, child, old person, or even a dog. The only thing that makes sense is that these people were operating on God’s command. If that’s what a god would want, I’ll gladly take my place in hell. It can’t be any worse than a god that wants you to kill innocent children, whose only crime was being born, accidentally to another religion.



  1. You’re anger at the world’s injustice is certainly understandable. There’s a lot of it to go around and a good deal of it is attributed to religion. You’ll notice that I didn’t write attributable in the last sentence. It seems a terrible fallacy of reduction to believe (or even to consider) that religion is the sole or primary cause of evil and violence. One certainly doesn’t hear claims like that being made by historians or sociologists these days – instead they are made by biologists (who are woefully out of their field of expertise).

    I normally don’t comment on people’s blogs when I don’t know them, but I can’t resist pointing out a few glaring holes in your reasoning – mostly because I’ve never known a person who is particularly religious to advocate killing of any sort:

    so here’s a few surface issues:

    1) The genocidal massacres of the 20th century were overwhelmingly non-religiously motivated (with the possible exception of Bosnia’s “ethnic cleansing” – even then one would be highly incredulous to believe that religious difference was the primary impetus for the conflict). Sadly, secularization and Modernization have produced more wars resulting in more killings in the 19th and 20th centuries alone than all of the Crusades, Inquisitions, witch-hunts of the 18 centuries which preceded them. I don’t really see how anyone could claim otherwise or why, in the service of truth, they’d want to.

    2) Religions widely and profoundly differ in their beliefs regarding the treatment of non-believers. To group them together is a glaringly hasty generalization and not worthy of any serious thought or any further comment.

    3) You offer a passing reference to genocide being called for in the New Testament, but offer no citations…I took a class in the Christian Scriptures a little while ago and would be very interested to see what kind of non-contextual or isolated reading has delivered such a conclusion.

    4) As for the Old Testament your understanding may be informed by the fact that archaeological expeditions can find no evidence that the supposed “genocides” of the Torah ever took place. If one is a biblical literalist that may pose problems to one’s faith. However, since literalism fell out of fashion in most branches of orthodox Christianity in the 2nd century C.E. it poses little problems for those who read the bible as what Christians and Jews believe it to be – a theological declaration. A more responsible reading of the OT texts would conclude that the bible is a theological assertion of God’s provision for a minority people who would be otherwise exploited and enslaved by neighboring tribes. Granted, the fact that the Hebrew writers of the Tanakh chose warfare as the literary vehicle for their deliverance is, to modern sensibilities, a bit unfortunate – but in their day, that was the way they made sense of the seemingly miraculous fact that they were able to survive their years of oppression at all – a theme still celebrated in African-American churches. My friends across the street at Princeton Seminary call it a kerygmatic reading of scripture.

    5) Do you have any evidence to suggest that Humanists or non-religious voices have mounted any more opposition to violence or genocide than religious folks? Where were the secular powers of the West during the slaughter in Rwanda? Where are they now in Darfur? What about the expressly non-religious campaigns of Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pot, to scratch the surface?

  2. Aaah – like many others before you…you bring up Hitler, Mao, Stalin. Just because an insane person believes there is no god, doesn’t make all atheists supporters of that insane person! I know many Christians that cringe at every word Pat Robertson says! My Christian friends would never condone that nonsense. Just like I would never condone Hitler’s nonsense!

    I’ll comment more later – have to go for now.

  3. I think you’ve betrayed your argument though – a great many Christians do cringe at Pat Robertson! He cannot be said to represent all of Christianity (or even all of American Christianity) any more than Stalin can be said to represent all of Atheism. The logical problem is (and your main post follows in this vein) that folks like Dawkins and Harris are only willing to deal with Atheism as theory, but insist on dealing with Christianity as some practice it in the rough and tumble world of compromise. That Robertson claims some pretty outrageous things in the name of Christianity holds as much weight as the fact that Stalin et al. did some horrendous things in the name of Atheism. If you cite only the bad aspects of religion, you have to be willing to deal with the negative aspect of Atheism.

    The truth is Stalin, Mao, Hitler weren’t acting alone – they were working within the broad framework of enlightenment principles that claimed that humanity is reaching perfection.

    A correlary point – I saw this thread the other day, but decided not to comment. You write: “How can an entire religion, or group of people that belong to a religion, turn a blind-eye to genocide?”

    It’s a great question – they can’t. Religion simply doesn’t teach that (I can only speak with any real knowledge about Christianity). I have to be honest, I’ve heard a lot more anger and passionate complaint about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, the genocide in Darfur and worldwide poverty in general from religious circles than I have from humanist ones. Almost every one of the Christians that I know are angry about our Government’s failure to make fair trade a priority, about our unwillingness to apply science and medicine toward helping those who need them most. A great many of them are actively involved in organizations that promote political change and raise awareness about these things. All of them came to these committments as a result of their faith (particularly the prophetic tradition in the Old Testament).

    This is all just to say that you can’t paint religion with as broad a brush as all that. It’s deeply unfortunate that types like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson play on television rather than the millions who quietly live out their faith in radical, peaceful, and profound ways.

    I’m glad that your friends (Christian and non-theist alike) acknowledge Robertson’s nonsense for what it is.

  4. The problem with the Stalin/Hitler argument is this: They never were promoting Atheism. They were never tried to kill people because they didn’t believe in Darwin! They were twisted people that just happened to not believe in god. Their dogma, or agenda was never to push for reason, rationality, etc. Just the opposite: they tried to push their twisted hatred using evil means.

    To your second point, I think I agree. My friends cringe at the strange things Pat says. And I certainly don’t believe that he represents the majority of Christians. That’s the other thing: I don’t think anybody voted him into any office. Therefore he only represents people that donate to his organizations such as the CBN.

    My original problem, perhaps not well formed in writing, was this: I see a lot of mention of “killing” tons of innocent people in the name of God. For example, when God killed everybody on earth except for Noah’s family and a hand full of animals. One could argue that it’s not a real event; but there’s many that would argue that it really happened!

    I’m also pointing out that the Quran also mentions killing of entire tribes and people – where women and children are simply collateral damage. There seems to be a trend here where it’s ok to have collateral damage, since God is going to sort it out. My problem is that nobody asked the collateral if they were ready to meet their maker.

    This trend of Muslims killing to make a statement with innocent victims is what bothers me. It seems that this can only occur when Islam is interpreted in such a way as to allow this. Not only the Quran, but the Bible also can be twisted in this manner. Just ask anybody who thinks it’s ok to kill a doctor who performs abortions.

    Just look at today’s news about the Indian train bombing where the victims where just pure innocent folk. Burned alive. All I can think of is that somebody rationalized this killing; whether Hindu or Muslim, it doesn’t matter. Somehow they found peace and justification in their religion. Rational people don’t do this.

  5. Sorry for any typos in that last note…had a couple of beers!

  6. Here’s a link to genocides as listed in the Bible:

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