The Canaanite Genocide, William Lane Craig, and Richard Dawkins
Rubin was a rescue. Having been seized at a dogfight when he was less than two years old, his history was highly questionable. A good deal of previous experience with abused dogs, and more specifically, a background in working with pit bulls led me to believe that Rubin still could make a good pet. Given that I was in college at the time, unmarried, no children, etc. Rubin, despite having had a questionable history, was a good choice for a dog. He was loving from the get go, but as might be expected with pit bulls in general, and a pit bull that’s actually been involved with fighting on any level, he exhibited a good deal of dog aggression. As days turned to weeks, months, and eventually years, time at the dog park, time with friends dogs, and a good deal of discipline turned Rubin into a reasonably stable dog, great with people, okay with other dogs, but probably never be trusted entirely around other dogs.
And he never was.
As life went on, college turned into grad school, I married, had children, etc. Rubin was there for all of this… really through every experience of my adult life, and given this as well as his history, there is no doubt that he was my favorite pet of all time.
Eventually, we moved to a dead end road in the woods, lots of space, no neighbors… a place where the kids and dogs could run freely.
This was a different environment and living situation for Rubin. Whereas in college, he saw many different people all the time –people were constantly in and out of my college residences– and interacted with many people, people rarely come to the end of my road. What became normal for Rubin after a number of years was to not see people near my home. I suppose that over time, he interpreted this to mean that people were not supposed to be at the end of my road.
Though great with my young children, Rubin gradually became less and less reliable around strangers. It was his opinion that our home was ours exclusively, and that others didn’t belong there. What made the situation worse is that he reacted badly to people being frightened of him. The difficulty here is that people are naturally inclined to be frightened of 80 lb pit bulls that are barking and growling at them.
Rubin gradually became limited in his freedom; whereas when we initially moved to this home, he had free reign of my land and the woods that surround it. Over time, he was limited to my land exclusively, and eventually to the backyard only. I recognized that while he was a great dog with respect to my family –I could trust he would never hurt my kids, for example (There are times he probably should have)– but in all honesty, was a potentially dangerous animal with respect to people he didn’t know.
Rubin’s restrictions resulted from not only my concern for his behavior, but as a consequence of legitimate incidents wherein he exhibited behavior that I recognized as being dangerous.
For example, my closest neighbor (200 yds away) brought her grandchildren with food for Oscar to try and make friends with him, to which he responded by raising his hackles and emitting and extremely ominous and menacing growl.
The census takers that recently came around were chased away on a couple of occasions, and my FedEx guy calls when he has a package for me.
In other words, there were signs that Rubin was eventually going to bite someone, and I did my best to prevent this from happening. He was my dog, my responsibility, and if he did bite someone, I would have that on my shoulders.
Unfortunately, my worst fears eventually came true, and Rubin bit someone.
Despite my numerous “No Trespassing” signs, despite the clearly posted and visible “Beware of Dog Signs”, a fly fisherman decided to cut across my land to access the stream that runs behind my house. As it so happens, I was out with Rubin doing some yard work, and letting him run around my property with me. Rubin spotted the fisherman before I did, and promptly barked and ran after him. The fisherman started running, which is understandable, but a big mistake. Rubin caught him by the calf and took him down. By the time I got there the guy was screaming and hitting Rubin with his tackle box, trying to get him to loose his grip; Rubin was locked onto his calf, and shaking his leg violently. Rubin responded immediately to me, I pulled him off, kicked him, and told him to go home.
I helped the fisherman into my house were we assessed his horrific wound, called his wife, called the police, and sat and waited for the police and his wife to arrive. During this time, I questioned the fisherman as to whether or not he’d seen either the “No Trespassing” or “Beware of Dog” signs, which he acknowledged he had. He claimed that he’d been cutting across my property for years to fish at this spot, and further acknowledged that he’d seen Rubin behind the fence in the past, noting he was thankful for the fence.
The police arrived first, and while clearly not sympathetic to my situation or my dog’s, and further expressing an open disdain for pit bulls, they were forced to conclude the bite was the fisherman’s fault. He was trespassing. He ignored my “No Trespassing” signs. He ignored my “Beware of Dog” signs, and perhaps most importantly noted the presence of a potentially dangerous and protective dog on the property when previously trespassing on my land. Legally, Rubin was off the hook.
Unfortunately, he was not off the hook with me. I’ve always said, I won’t have an animal that bites a person around my home, especially a pit bull. Despite the fact that he was my favorite pet, despite the fact that he’s incredibly stable around my children, and despite the fact that him biting someone was predominantly the victim’s own fault, I was forced to put Rubin down. I won’t have animals that bite people in my home; that’s my standard.
What does any of this have to do with the Canaanite genocide?
Perhaps everything, perhaps nothing.
The Canaanite “Genocide” is one of the most controversial stories within the Old Testament, as it seems to contradict God’s allegedly loving nature. After all, how could a loving God order the slaughter of all of the Canaanites, men, women, and children. There is a good deal of evidence and scholarship suggesting that the Canaanites who were specifically targeted were political leaders and their armies. Richard Hess elaborated on this quite extensively in War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. Though not capable of commenting on the Biblical Hebrew myself, but Hess analyzes the specific use of Biblical Hebrew in these contexts, concluding that the language here is ‘exaggerated’.
That the civilian populations were not targeted by Israelite army is further supported by archaeological and historical evidence. For example, archaeological evidence suggests that the cities of Jericho and Ai were military strongholds, and not major population centers.
In addition to this, the Israelites had a long history of being attacked and forced to defend themselves from Canaanite people. For example, in Exodus 17:8 the Amalekites attacked traveling Israelites, in Numbers 21:1 the Canaanite king attacked and enslaved Israelites; indeed, according to both Numbers 21:21-32 and Deuteronomy 2:26-30, Amorite King Sihon refused the Israelite offers of peace and instead, attacked the Israelites. There are other examples of the Canaanites attacking the Israelites as well, indicating a long history of conflict and strife between these two groups.
Furthermore, evidence suggests that the destruction of the Canaanites was far from total. Consider for example, Joshua 11:21-22:
At that time Joshua went and destroyed the Anakites from the hill country: from Hebron, Debir and Anab, from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua totally destroyed them and their towns.
However, later in the same story (Joshua 14:12-15 and 15:13-19) Caleb seeks permission to again, drive the Anakites from the land. Were the Canaanites completely eliminated, verses such as Joshua 23:7, 15:56, 17:13, and Judges 2:10 that instruct the Israelites to not serve or bow down to the Canaanite gods would be completely unnecessary.
Though perhaps much of this is irrelevant; the real question is not whether or not the genocide of the Canaanites was complete, rather the point of contention is that God would order the wholesale slaughter of an entire people, men, women, children, young, old, etc. The fascination with the Canaanite slaughter in particular has always been intriguing to me, as I don’t really understand it. Yes, the slaughter of an entire demographic seems excessively harsh, and perhaps even indefensible based on our Juedeo-Christian values, but why focus on the Canaanite slaughter in particular? After all, certainly more people were killed in Noachian flood, and by comparison the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah seem to pale relative to the sins of the Canaanites, so why the focus on the Canaanite genocide in particular?
I certainly make no claims as to being any sort of Biblical scholar, I’m a trained scientist and a hobby theologian, but it seems to me that the only difference when one compares the Canaanite massacre to the others included in the Bible, is that judgement on the Canaanites was carried out via the Israelite army, and was not directly from God as with other examples. However, I’m not sure what difference this makes; whether or not God carried out any one specific judgement or if He ordered others to render that justice for Him, God is still morally culpable. Charles Manson is not known to have personally taken any lives, but is still morally and legally responsible for the Manson Family’s murders.
The question then is not one specifically of the Canaanite genocide, but a question of whether or not God is morally justified in killing humans by flood, killing humans in a ‘rain of fire and brimstone’, or ordering one group of humans to kill another group of humans; qualitatively the destruction of all but eight humans, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Canaanite genocide are morally equivalent.
This brings the entry nearly full circle, back to the story of Rubin. Rubin was my dog, while he was not my ‘creation’, he was entirely my responsibility. There ware many many signs that Rubin couldn’t be trusted, there were many signs that he would eventually violate my ultimate standard, but I raised him, I took care of him, he was my dog, and I wasn’t going to put him down at suggestion that he might in fact bite someone.
In short, Rubin’s ‘sin’ was not complete, and not ripe for judgement so to speak.
I loved that dog immensely, probably more than the two that I still have, but as much as I cared for him, I won’t have a dog that bites people around my family or children. That was an extremely difficult and painful decision for me to make, but I believe it was the correct one.
Continuing with this analogy, suppose I recruited a friend to put down my dog, is he morally responsible for the dog’s death? Of course not; the decision was still mine.
Offering a different scenario, suppose the fisherman had decided that Rubin was a danger to him, and shot him behind the fence while trespassing on my property? Of course the fisherman is wrong in that case. Had he been carrying a gun when attacked by Rubin, would the fisherman have been justified in shooting him? Yes. The important point here is that though the same moral standard exists in all of the different circumstances, whether or not killing Rubin is justified is a function of those circumstances.
The justification is based on my standard as he was my dog; legally, I could still have him, and I wish I did. As harsh as it seems, and I would never do this, I’m perfectly within my legal rights to put the two dogs I have now down if I simply don’t want them around anymore. They’re my property; if I’m so inclined, I can take them both up into the woods and put a .45 slug into their heads, or bring them to the vet and have them put to sleep, and I’m within my rights to do this.
Take a different example: If I go into the Sistine Chapel tomorrow and begin to scrape off or otherwise damage Michelangelo’s frescoes, or if I go into the Louvre and destroy The Mona Lisa, I’ll go to jail as a vandal. However, had Michelangelo destroyed the fresco, or had DaVinci decided to burn The Mona Lisa, they’d be perfectly within their right to do so.
My acts would be the acts of a vandal, while Michelangelo and DaVinci would be acting as artists and creators, perfectly free to as they wish with their own creations. While morality is not relative, context is king, and dictates what is and isn’t moral behavior given the circumstances. It’s wrong to kill someone for fun, but justified in order to prevent harm from coming to innocents, etc.
How is this related to Richard Dawkins or William Lane Craig?
Fans of either person will certainly be aware that Richard Dawkins, despite having debated and planning to debate prominent religious figures, has refused to debate the world’s leading Christian apologist, William Lane Craig. Furthermore, the reason offered by Dawkins is that Craig is an apologist for genocide and infanticide because not only will Craig not renounce Biblically sanctioned “genocide”, but actually defends it.
Apparently Dawkins has no concept of what Christian apologetics are and what they hope to accomplish. The job of a Christian apologist is to make sense of those elements of the Bible that are difficult to understand, seem contradictory, etc, not to turn tail, run, and concede defeat by saying ‘God was wrong’ when they encounter a difficult passage. There would be no need for Christian apologetics if apologists simply dismissed difficult passages, though Dawkins’ most assuredly would be ecstatic if Christian apologists simply went away.
Interestingly, Dawkins expects that religious people will in fact, retreat from difficult Biblical passages:
Most churchmen these days wisely disown the horrific genocides ordered by the God of the Old Testament… You might say that such a call to genocide could never have come from a good and loving God. Any decent bishop, priest, vicar or rabbi would agree.
Do they? Would they? I don’t know. Maybe they do in the Church of England, though I highly doubt this. Once “churchmen” begin to pick and choose which passages of the Bible are to be “disowned” they cease to be “churchmen”, they become spiritually impotent, spineless, feckless, facades of Christians who emote about God, follow their heart rather than a standard, and believe that their x number of decades of life has somehow endowed them with more wisdom than the collective human experience thus far. Dawkins would rather debate someone who rolls over on difficult Biblical passages, capitulating to his soft-spoken, snooty, simplistic, sophomoric, intellectually vacuous, and unsophisticated analysis of God, religion and the Bible, as opposed to someone who offers sophisticated, scripturally sound, and scholarly analysis of said difficult passages.
The application of a human standard to God’s behavior fails to recognize the vertical hierarchy that exists between God and his Creation, and stands as an immature, intellectually unsound, simplistic, and inane basis upon which to judge religion and God.
I’m growing to expect less and less of Dawkins all the time.