Sunday, 19 February 2012

Dawkins’ ill-gotten inheritance and misrepresentation of Scripture

It’s been a difficult few days for Richard Dawkins.

On Tuesday 14 February, some critics branded him ‘an embarrassment to atheism’ after what many listeners considered a humiliation in a Radio 4 debate with Giles Fraser, formerly Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral.

Dawkins boasted that he could recite the full title of Charles Darwin's ‘The Origin of Species’, then when challenged, dithered and said: ‘Oh God.’

In today’s Sunday Telegraph there is an interesting article linking his family with the slave trade.

One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins (pictured), amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.

And the Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.

One of his other relatives, James Dawkins, was an MP who voted in 1796 against Wilberforce's proposal to abolish the slave trade, helping to defeat it by just four votes. He is also believed to have been among just 18 MPs who supported an amendment to postpone the act's implementation by five years.

Dawkins is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past.

He has responded predictably, and with some justification, that he is not personally responsible.

But he has also taken the opportunity to lash out again against Christianity:

‘I condemn slavery with the utmost vehemence, but the fact that my remote ancestors may have been involved in it is nothing to do with me… For goodness sake, William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.’

The charge that the Bible sanctions slavery is a common one from Dawkins and his New Atheist colleagues but is actually groundless.

Contrary to what Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have said, the keeping of servants in ancient Israel can hardly be called ‘a warrant for trafficking in humans’ or a means of treating people ‘like farm equipment’.

As Paul Copan cogently argues in his recent book ‘Is God a moral monster?’, a mistake critics (like Dawkins and his friends) make is to equate ‘servanthood’ in the Old Testament with ‘prewar slavery’ in the US South.

An Israelite strapped for shekels could choose to become an indentured servant to pay off his ‘debt’ to a ‘boss’ or ‘employer’ (adon). But calling him a master is way too strong a term just as the term ‘ebed’ (servant, employee) should not be translated ‘slave’.

Servanthood in Israel was a voluntary (poverty-induced) arrangement used to ensure that indebted people’s welfare was provided for whilst debts were paid off. Once a servant was released, he was free to pursue his own livelihood without any further obligations, and under the sabbatical year arrangement all ‘servants’ were freed and forgiven their debts after seven years anyway.

In fact one scholar, JA Motyer, has written, ‘Hebrew has no vocabulary of slavery, only servanthood.’

In fact one might suggest that this system was far more just than our present one where people can declare themselves bankrupt, or waste millions as a banker gambling with other people’s money, and get off scot-free!

Furthermore, under Old Testament Law, injured servants had to be released (Exodus 21:26, 27), kidnapping a person to sell as a slave was punishable by death (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7) and Israelites were obliged to offer safe harbour to foreign runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16).

Contrary to Dawkins’ claims, these arrangements were far more protective of slaves than his own ancestors were. Stones? Glass houses?

But lest we are too quick to judge Dawkins for his ill-gotten inheritance and misrepresentation of the Bible, we should remind ourselves that the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, John Newton, was once a slave-trader... who repented.

And we all fall short of God’s grace... and all have ancestors and relatives who have done questionable things.

Perhaps there is hope for Dawkins yet!

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.


  1. Oh dear.
    I think you are rather confused, there is no suggestion that Prof Dawkins has been in any way inconsistent or hypocritical about slavery, but organised christians certainly are.

    Perhaps you would be better off starting with the Church Of England who were paid compensation for their thousands of slaves when slavery was abolished in the British empire, or perhaps demanding reparation from the Pope who owned slaves in the 1890s.
    You might even want to see how mainstream protestants used the bible as justification for slavery up to and after the US civil war, something that protestant churches routinely deny now.

    Only, of course, the complicated reality of history, and the awful history of chrsitianity, is a lot less fun than attacking a prominent atheist.

  2. Not at all. This post is not about what people claiming to be Christians have said or done about slavery throughout history.

    It is quite clear that all kinds of atrocities have been perpetrated by religious people in the name of Christianity and many other world faiths including atheism. That is not in dispute.

    And I am certainly defending neither the Church of England nor past Popes. Heaven forbid.

    I am simply making two points.

    1. Some of Dawkins' ancestors and relatives profited from the slave trade and opposed its abolition.

    2. Dawkins, in saying that slavery (of the kind Wilberforce sought to ban) is sanctioned in the Bible, is actually misrepresenting Scripture.

    If you wish to challenge my post it is these two statements that you need to take issue with.

    Don't widen the argument.

  3. The 2 points you claim to make are pretty poor:

    1. Some of Dawkins' ancestors and relatives profited from the slave trade and opposed its abolition.

    So what ?

    I probably had 256 ancestors alive in 1810, so did you. Some of them may have had interests in WI plantations and may have been christians.

    More certainly in 810 I will have had ancestors who were christians and owned slaves.

    And so will you.

    2. Dawkins, in saying that slavery (of the kind Wilberforce sought to ban) is sanctioned in the Bible, is actually misrepresenting Scripture.

    I think its great that you think the bible doesn't support slavery. Man invents religion to meet their own needs and believing in biblical slavery now would certainly be uncomfortable.

    But... be honest enough to recognise that for most of the last 1800 years most christians have interpreted their scripture to support slavery. Archbishop of canterbury Plegmund had slaves (781) and archbishop of canterbury Cornwallis (1783) owned slaves. They believed it was sanctioned by scripture.

    What christians at the time thought is the point, and many would not have recognised your reworking of the concept of slavery.
    Don't believe me ? Well go and read what they say. The speeches of Cof E bishops opposing abolition are available in hansard.

    Of course, the point Prof Dawkins makes is that you can use scripture to justify any point of view that is conveniant.

    1. 1. I don't think I made a judgement on Dawkins, apart from implying that perhaps he had benefited indirectly from slave labour. I just reported the facts. Of course, as I acknowledge above, we all have ancestors and relatives who have done questionable things (if we have not done them ourselves!). Jesus Christ himself had a murderer, an adulterer and a prostitute amongst his forbears. Your point?

      I wrote this piece primarily to address Dawkins' misrepresentation of the Bible, although I must admit I was somewhat amused by the extent of his self-justifications and lashings out and the indignation expressed by his worshippers and followers.

      2. People use Scripture to justify a whole range of views yes - some of them profoundly anti-Christian - but this does not mean that Scripture does not have an actual meaning which can be clearly discerned by those who use the correct hermeneutical tools and who have a personal relationship with the author!

  4. 'pretty poor' is a very generous description of Saunders' argument.

  5. Peter, I think you have have been somewhat selective in your choice of scripture...

    Leviticus 25:44-46
    New International Version (NIV)
    44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

  6. I can use quantum theory and Darwin to justify euthanasia. I can also use the American constitution to justify me personally being paid £5 million a day. The fact that I am at fault in all of those interpretations doesn't make the source material wrong. It just makes me an arse. I would be twice the arse to suggest that quantum theory, Darwin and the American constitution be expunged because some arse chooses to bend the text to fit their agenda. Re the bible and religion, this is a subtle point Dawkins would rather you didn't get.

  7. ALso ytou haven't done your researech Prof Dawkins family farm is NOT 400 Acres. Thou shalt not bear false witness!

    1. See my comment to Gordon Stokey below. I never said that Prof Dawkins farm was 400 acres, but that the original Dawkins family farm was. This was as reported by the Sunday Telegraph.

  8. Guido, you missed the rest of that chapter, which describes how these "slaves" become "slaves." They have sold themselves of their own free will to you until their debt has been paid off, at which point, they are free to go. Nowhere in 46 does it talk about slaves for life. Not in my bible anyway.

    Whilst we are on the subject Christopher Hitchens "God is Not Great" Chapter 4, Page 43 " In dark ages, people are best guided by religion"

    I would misquote Dawkins at you, but Upstairs Downstairs is about to start and I have lots of ironing to do.

    1. I think you will my quote is accurate ( You are confusing the rules for Israelites and for foreigners. Verse 46 is quite clear that foreign slaves remain so for life. The 'voluntary' slaves are Israelites.

    2. The Jerusalem bible (which is the text used by the largest group of Christians in the world) states differently, not even referring to slave, but to servant. Also given that the piece starts at Verse 39, the whole nuance is different from that which you refer, with the whole chapter dedicated to the treatment of human beings with compassion, rather than giving justification to ownership. Moreover, in the Jerusalem bible, there is no reference to a slave for life at Verse 46. This whole debate reminds me of the old Testament reading last week, which referred to the Old Testament order that all lepers be cast out and nobody should have any dealings with them (something that Jesus disregarded in the NT). If we all went round taking literally the comments in the Old Testament, we wouldn't be wearing mixed cashmere and wool sweaters or eating turkey stuffed with sausagemeat, or for that matter poaching our smoked haddock in milk. Dawkins knows these laws in the OT were addressed to a people in flight from Egypt and not intended as a manifesto for the running of modern Israel. It is incredibly funny to see someone like Mr Dawkins so carefully studying the bible for his inspiration. As he is well aware, not many Christians take the Old Testament as seriously as he does. To rely solely on any text in spiritual or scientific life would put anyone at a little bit of a disadvantage re their learning and growth in understanding.

    3. Guido I think is correct. The verses I have quoted relate to Israelite debt servants but Leviticus 25:44-46 does refer to foreign slaves. These could be bought and passed on within a family, but as they could not own land themselves in Israel, to live with Israelite families and find employment there was their only option. However kidnapping a person to sell as a slave was still punishable by death. This arrangement, providing llivelihood and protection for people who would otherwise not have a home, was a far cry from the exploitative trafficking abolished by Wilberforce.

  9. Anonymous - most media sources this Sunday are quoting the Dawkins family estate as being 400 acres. The author of this article is not lying (which is bearing false witness) but being lazy (as he has failed to quote his sources). If you going to go around quoting the 10 commandments, it pays to do your research first.

    1. Thanks Gordon. My source for this as you imply was the Sunday Telegraph but as my main purpose for writing this article was to address the New Atheists' claims about the biblical teaching on slavery I did not relate all the detail and I see that this has led to some ambiguity.

      So to be clear, as I understand from the Sunday Telegraph, the original Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.

      But Over Norton Park, which was inherited by Richard Dawkins's father and remains in the family with the campaigner as a shareholder and director of the associated business, is much smaller.

  10. It's easy to get bogged down in the detail of particular scripture verses - but one thing which should be absolutely clear from just a cursory reading of the Bible is that, from the Exodus to Christ, God's purpose in redemption is to set people free from slavery, be it physical slavery or spiritual slavery. That's the whole point, is it not?

    1. Yes indeed it is but it is also important to challenge those such as Dawkins who through their distortions and misinterpretations of Scripture try to make the case that God (if he exists at all) is a malevolent bully and not to be trusted.

      In other words we engage with his arguments because he is leading people astray and because he also, we pray, is not beyond redemption.

  11. “An Israelite strapped for shekels could choose to become an indentured servant to pay off his ‘debt’ to a ‘boss’ or ‘employer’ (adon). But calling him a master is way too strong a term just as the term ‘ebed’ (servant, employee) should not be translated ‘slave’.”

    The Hebrew word Eved means labourer – “…used for any kind of labourer, whether an oppressed slave, someone working in the Tabernacle, or someone who has chosen the life of a household servant.” (

    1. You are splitting hairs. The meaning is revealed by the context here. Israelites who were in debt and without a livelihood could become paid servants to other Israelites to help pay off their debts. This could by no stretch of the imagination be called slavery.

    2. I agree, that isn't slavery. The point is that the same word applies regardless of context. The only way we can work out what was actually intended is by reading the original Hebrew. As neither of us can do that we necessarily must rely on translations that may or may not be accurate. Given that fact it is impossible to ascertain the original intent so we must consider all the possibilities.

    3. Yes we must of course consider all the possibilities of meaning but I don't agree that having done so it is then impossible to ascertain the original intent.

      In all languages, including English, words have different shades of meaning which are apparent only by examining the context and (if he/she is accessible!) consulting the author.

      There are some very well-known biblical examples - the word 'day' is used with three different meanings in the first creation narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:4 and the word 'Israel' is used with two different meanings in one verse in Romans 9:6 - 'For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel'

      If you misunderstand the author's intent you miss the meaning!

  12. “….under Old Testament Law, injured servants had to be released (Exodus 21:26, 27)”

    Exodus 21:26-27 – “An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. 27 And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth.”

    A very noble sentiment but you forgot to mention the earlier verse, Exodus 21:20-21, which clearly states that a slave is the property of the owner.

    Exodus 21:20-21 - “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.”

    1. The statement that the servant is his property (I think literally 'his money') is neither a description of how a servant as a person was to be understood nor a prescription of how a servant was to be treated. In fact there were demands for great respect: 'You shall not wrong a sojourner nor oppress him' (22:21-24; 23:6-9)

      The point I believe is that if a servant was beaten and could not work for a few days it was the owner's own loss as the servant could not be productive. In other words by harming the servant he was actually harming himself financially.

      So in other words:

      1. Damage servant irreparably - set him free
      2. Kill servant - punish (I would expect this would mean death penalty - see immediate context of 21:12))
      3. Hurt servant but with full recovery - you lose income from him not working

    2. Essentially, you are placing a monetary value on a human being and trying to equate that to something other than slavery.

      You have no evidence to support your idea that Exodus 21:20-21 does not refer to slavery as we understand it. In the context the passage was written, slavery was a vital part of the global economy as it existed at that time and was fully accepted by all nations. You attempt to equate "sojourner" with "slave" but ignore the fact that seperate passages in the bible deal with these categories independently and, if your suggestion is correct, offer conflicting views on the treatment of others.

      I fully accept that the bible specifically condemns the slavery of an Israelite but you have no evidence to suggest that this was a universal condemnation. The fact that the bible forbids the keeping of a fellow Israelite and also instructs the Israelites on where to obtain slaves suggests that, like all contemporary cultures, they had no issue with slavery as an institution as long as they weren't the ones being enslaved.

      You seem to be arguing that the monetary loss that may follow the beating of a servant is sufficient punishment for the offence. This makes no account for the suffering of the individual who was beaten and simply reinforces the notion that the individual had no personal rights and could be treated as the owner saw fit, albeit within certain guidelines.

      To put your argument into a contemporary context; If your employer decided to beat you with a rod do you believe the legal system would accept that your inability to work for that employer for a few days was sufficient punishment for the original assault?

  13. “kidnapping a person to sell as a slave was punishable by death (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7)”

    Exodus 21:16 – “16Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.”

    Deuteronomy 24:7 - “7 if someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.”

    As we already know, the bible forbids keeping a fellow Israelite as a slave so I’m not entirely sure which is the worse crime in this context, the act of kidnap itself or the kidnap of a fellow Israelite. What is clear is that the punishment is death even if the victim is still being held by the kidnapper so it appears that this deals with the crime of kidnap, regardless of the intent of the perpetrator for the victim.

    It certainly becomes clear that the above passages relate to the issue of kidnap and not slavery when Leviticus 25:44-46 is also taken into consideration,

    Leviticus 25:44-46 - “44‘your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”

    I think we would struggle to make a more unequivocal case for the support of slavery in the bible than a direct instruction to ensure that all slaves were to be taken from the nations outside of Israel and who’s people were considered to be property and could be passed down to your children as such.

    1. I'll make some more general comments about context lower down but all of these laws were part of the Old Mosaic Covenant which was made after the Exodus and which the Israelites broke. It was replaced in it enitrety by Jesus New Covenant so no longer applies. It was a thereby a temporary arrangement for a limited time of Isrealite history - from the Exodus to the Exile - or approximately 1450-587 BC.

      It was also imperfect - but a big step forward from barbarism. Accordingly God permitted some things whilst not prescribing them. But there were still tough penalties.

      Kidnapping and possessing or selling a person carried a death penalty. This completely ruled out anything of the nature of slave capture, trade, exploitation and abuse such as Wilberforce sought to ban.

      However foreign slaves could be bought (redeemed) and brought into the security of Israelite households where they were provided with food, shelter and protection in return for work, but they were not allowed to own land. This was not sanctioned/commanded but permitted.

      It was not an ideal situation but it was a big step forward from what was practised in other societies at the time.

    2. In response to your first point I refer your to Matthew 5:17-19,

      17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven."

      Jesus did not change the law, on the contrary, Matthew confirms that Jesus plainly and clearly stated that the OT laws were still valid and should be followed to the letter.

      You are making the same point as you did in the original blog, your repetition of that argument does not address my comments. You have provided no evidence that suggests these passages refer to anything other than kidnap. The penalty for kidnap was death regardless of whether the victim was sold into slavery or kept by the kidnapper. There is nothing in these passages that specifically forbids the institution of slavery, only kidnap.

      You said yourself,

      "foreign slaves could be bought (redeemed) and brought into the security of Israelite households where they were provided with food, shelter and protection in return for work, but they were not allowed to own land."

      This is slavery. By definition, if the bible contains guidelines on this practice then the bible condones slavery.

    3. 1. You seem to have misunderstood the role of the Old and New Covenants.

      With respect to Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (from which this comes) was spoken before his death and resurrection. All 'was accomplished' at his death which is why he could say on the cross 'it is finished'.

      See also Ephesians 3:10,11 - 'His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

      The Old Covenant was broken by the Jews and never applied to Gentiles (Jeremiah 31:32) and Jesus at the last supper announced the inauguration of the New Covenant (Luke 22:20)

      The Apostle Paul makes it clear that Christians are not under 'The Law' (ie. the Old Covenant) but are under 'Christ's law' (ie. the New Covenant) (1 Corinthians 9:20,21)

      The book of Hebrews also makes it clear that one covenant has passed and the other has come (Hebrews 8:6-13)

      You cannot simply cherry-pick verses at random from the Bible (like Dawkins does) without looking at the broader metanarrative and whole context.

      I'll come back to your other point later when I have time.

  14. “…..Israelites were obliged to offer safe harbour to foreign runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15-16).”

    Deuteronomy 23:15-16 – “15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.”

    This passage makes no mention of “foreign runaway slaves” and it is more likely that it relates to the Israelites themselves as we know that keeping a fellow Israelite as a slave was forbidden whereas, as just demonstrated, the keeping of foreign slaves was acceptable practice.

    1. That's not my reading nor that of the commentators I have read. The runaway slave was most likely a foreigner who had no debt to the person he had sought asylum with so he was to be treated as an alien - ie. like a native born.

      See Leviticus 19:34 - 'The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'

    2. The passage is to vague to apply any certainty to it's meaning.

      It could well be that a slave who fled from a neighbouring nation was to be given shelter while a slave who fled from a fellow Israelite should be returned. This passage alone does not provide sufficient evidence to ascertain the exact context in which it was to be viewed. It's possible that a slave from another nation was to be protected for political reasons rather than as a gesture of goodwill.

      I understand your argument but this passage alone does not provide sufficient context or explanation to make any solid determination of intent, especially when we know that the guidelines for keeping foreign slaves were also in place.

  15. Regarding your Twitter comment that Deuteronomy 20 relates to Prisoners of War:

    Deuteronomy 20:10-15 - “10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies. 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.”

    I realise that the Geneva Convention did not exist at that time but it does exist now and it clearly states that,

    “Uncompensated or abusive forced labour is prohibited.”

    and that,

    “imposing forced labour on prisoners of war or civilians, as well as compelling prisoners of war or civilians to perform prohibited work, are criminal offences.”

    I think you’ll also find that the same convention makes it a criminal offence to arbitrarily murder all the male inhabitants of a city and to take the women and children as “plunder”.

    If we are prepared to accept the guidelines laid down in the Geneva Convention then it is clear that the modern world no longer accepts slavery as acceptable practice.

    I fully accept that these passages must be taken in the context of the time in which they were written and do not doubt that you find the practice of slavery despicable. What I struggle to comprehend is why any educated person would fail to understand that these passages clearly advocate and condone slavery, even if the context in which it was written is no longer applicable.

    It’s clear that these passages do not apply to the modern world and any attempt to put their teachings into practice would be criminally reprehensible yet many people still attempt to apply ludicrous excuses and unfounded interpretations to them.

    Your post begs the question; why are you attempting to defend the indefensible?

    1. Deuteronomy 20 needs to be seen in its context - not just as part of the Old Covenant and therefore time-limted (1446-587 BC) but in the immediate context of the conquest of Canaan where Israel was acting as God's instrument of divine retribution.

      Israel had been in captivity (as slaves!) in Egypt for 400 years. By rescuing them God was also synchonously bringing judgement on the Canaanites (West of the Jordan) and the Amorites (East of the Jordon) but interestingly not Edom, Moab or Ammon whom he had chosen to protect.

      So Israel were to clear out these people, whose judgement (as a result of God's patience and mercy) was well overdue.

      As a measure of his mercy he gave each city the chance to surrender to become prisoners of war. They were most fotunate to get this offer.

      The conquest of Canaan was a unique event in history -it had never happened before and it was never to be repeated. It was the end of Israel's expansion and all her subsequent wars were defensive.

      It will make no sense I am sure to the modern mind but the Canaanites deserved to die and were very lucky that some of them were spared and that they ended up in the custody of people who were under divine instruction to treat prisoners with respect.

      I don't expect people in 21st century Europe to understand this - because it only make sense if one really understands how deserving of judgement we all are and how incredible God's grace and mercy are in delaying judgement and at great personal cost offering to forgive and rescue.

      And it also needs to be seen in the context of the entire sweep of the biblical metanarrative and God's plan to save a people to be with him for all eternity through Christ.

      God's judgement does not need defending. And it most certainly is not indefensible. It is our behaviour and apostasy as human beings that is indefensible. God is not a moral monster - but we all are.

  16. >> It will make no sense

    You're right, it doesn't.

    >> the Canaanites deserved to die

    Why? So the jews could occupy their land, eh?

    >> and were very lucky that some of them were spared and that they ended up in the custody of people who were under divine instruction to treat prisoners with respect.

    So using women and children as "plunder" (a euphemism for sex slavery and sexual exploitation) is treating prisoners with respect? I am sure your female readers, if any, will find this very comforting. Why are you tying yourself into knots defending the indefensible? Let's just say that the norms of ancient Israel were very different from our modern day understanding of human rights, and leave it at that. You do christianity no service by deliberately misinterpreting scripture for your own ends. Dawkins is a prat but he is right on this occasion - he isn't personally responsible for what his ancestors did, and the Bible does indeed endorse slavery. The only relevant point is this - the Bible was written in another age, for another time and another people. We can't be expected to follow it to the letter of the law, or else we none of us should wear polyester-cotton mixes. I would tell Dawkins that, instead of trying intellectual gymnastics to prove the unproveable.

    1. The issues needs to be seen in the context of the whole biblical metanarrative (big story).

      The Bible tells the story of God's redemption (saving) of human beings.

      God, the loving creator and sustainer of the universe, made human beings to know and love him forever and has bounteously blessed them with life, love, food, shelter and everything they need.

      However human beings, through active rebellion or passive indifference, have turned their backs upon God. As rebels we deserve judgement and exclusion from his presence, but because he loves he has organised a rescue plan to save a people to share a new heaven and earth with him for all eternity.

      This redemption plan, told in the Bible, involved the coming of the Messiah Jesus Christ, God made flesh, whose death in our place (he took the punishment we deserve) and resurrection deals completely with our rebellion and paves the way for each of us to have a new restored relationship with God through repentance (turning from sin) and faith (putting our trust in him).

      As a result we receive forgiveness and new power to live lives pleasing to him made possible by his indwelling spirit. In addition we are guaranteed to spend eternity in fellowship with him and with other believers in a new world which 'eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived'.

      This offer is open to everyone but we must admit our sin, believe his teaching and commit our lives to him.

      Those of us who do recognise that all of us (and not just the Canaanites!) deserve God's judgement and that he is just and right in what he does. He showed the Canaanites nothing but mercy and patience but then reluctantly had to deal with them, which he did via the Israelites (who were similarly not worthy of his love).

      That is the biblical metanarrative and those who accept it do not make judgements about God's justice but are grateful for his grace and mercy.

      In short James, as you have said in another place, we are all 'selfish bastards' but God is offering us a way forward and out. It is up to us whether or not we accept it. But if we don't we cannot complain about getting what we all deserve.

    2. Why are you preaching at me? I have read the Bible and understand what it says, so your preaching is unnecessary. You have side-stepped the issue with all the BS about the bigger picture, when clearly what I am talking about is the biblical narrative which is either flawed in its account or simply nonsensical. I prefer to think the people who wrote that were voicing their own prejudices, and it had nothing to do with God's judgement on Canaan (rather convenient for the jews that God ordered them to annihilate their enemies, so they could occupy their land, what) - but YOU seem to think that God would order the massacre of men and the mass rape of women captives because they "deserved it".

      As for selfish bastards, perhaps some of us are more selfish than others.

    3. Even if you have read the Bible and understand the biblical meta-narrative you clearly don't believe it. And many others also read these posts. It is not all about you James :-)

      The Bible itself is very clear about the conquest as summed up in these verses from Joshua 10:40-42

      'So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the LORD, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the LORD, the God of Israel, fought for Israel.'

      The real question as you have correctly identified is, 'Was the conquest of Canaan carried out as a result of a divine command or was this just a human justification for subjugating and slaughtering people?' And perhaps there is a subsidiary question too - 'If it was by divine command then does it mean that God is bad or that the Canaanites were bad?'

      These are indeed the crucial issues.

      As for 'selfish bastards'- yes we are all 'selfish bastards' - but there are two varieties: those who recognise they are are seek God's forgiveness, and those like Dawkins who refuse to believe the biblical account, refuse to accept God's forgiveness, and who regard themselves as morally and intellectually superior to those who do.

      We are all bad people - the real issue is what we choose to do about it.

    4. That's the first time I've ever seen anyone use genocide as a defence for slavery.....????

      I won't reply to your original response to my comment. James has already covered most of the points I was going to raise and I see no need to repeat them.

      I will say that I agree completely with his assessment that the bible must be taken in the context of the time. Slavery is condoned in the bible because it was acceptable at that time. Surely the only intellectually honest response to this fact is to acknowledge that the people who wrote the texts in the bible had a different view of the issue than we do know.

    5. >> That's the first time I've ever seen anyone use genocide as a defence for slavery.....????

      I think Peter has lost the plot somewhat - in his desire to preach (to the converted, I might add, since I am not in need of being preached to), he has forgotten the original point, if any, he was making.

      You say I "clearly don't believe" the biblical account. You're wrong - I do. I believe the Israelites committed genocide whenever it suited them (just as all other people groups did in those days), that they looted, plundered, and committed what would be considered gross human rights violations today. They took male captives whom they used as slaves, and they treated captive women as sex slaves. Peter would have us believe that this was all with divine sanction. This then means that the Power behind these horrible instructions was bent on selective retribution against a section of His own creation. Is that likely? Do you really believe that God dislikes some ethnic groups and adores others? That was the pathetic argument used by slavers in the West and in apartheid South Africa.

      You need to get a grip, mate. Either he is a good God - in which case he didn't really order those things, and the people who wrote that stuff made it up, to make themselves feel better about what they'd done ("I was only obeying orders" - sound familiar?). Or you have a very different idea, of God and His goodness, from me. You choose.

    6. James (and 'eye' if you agree with James),

      You actually are in need of being preached to as you are clearly not converted :-)

      Yes in the conquest of Canaan the Israelites did (under divine commmand) take cities and kill their inhabitants. God told them to do it. But you will struggle to find any evidence of them taking 'sex slaves'. They were forbidden to have sex outside of marriage - a capital offence actually.

      With prisoners of war I would even suggest they were more humane than us in having them work in return for protection and provision of their needs. They were placed in individual families where they were cared for. You choose to call this slavery. But it is not the type of slavery that Wilberforce fought against.

      We are as a society I would submit actually less humane. We lock prisoners up indefinitely away from work, family and community. Or we deport them when they have no country to go to where they will be safe. You will not find custodial sentences in the Bible. The Israelites believed in restorative justice. They were commanded to practise it.

      It is clear that the Israelites were not lily white. After all they eventually rejected God's covenant. God did not choose them because they were good but because they needed rescuing. Remember that they themselves were slaves for 400 years in Egypt.

      I understand the way you both see it. But you are looking at it from the perspective that God either does not exist or doesn't have the perfect right to judge and kill people. He does exist. What he does is right and just. And we are all lucky to be alive. We all actually deserve judgement and Hell. This is why Jesus had to come and die in our place.

      Through Christ he offers us forgiveness, a new start, a relationship with him and the certainty of eternal life in a new world. The offer is still open to us if we are willing to accept it.

      Again, there are two types of people in this world: those who recognise they are bad and seek God's forgiveness, and those like Dawkins who refuse to believe the biblical account, refuse to accept God's forgiveness, and who regard themselves as morally and intellectually superior to those who do.

      You both sound as though you are in the latter category. But you don't have to stay there. It's your choice.


    7. >> refuse to believe the biblical account, refuse to accept God's forgiveness

      Refusing to believe that the biblical account is accurate, or meant to be taken literally, is not the same as refusal to accept God's forgiveness. You are incredibly arrogant, presumptuous, and self-righteous to equate the two. I don't recall saying anything about not needing God's forgiveness. How very self-righteous of you. I must have missed that halo on your photograph. Where is it?

      >> who regard themselves as morally and intellectually superior to those who do.

      Where have I said I'm morally superior to anyone else? (Intellectually clearly - at least I can spot inconsistency and fantasy when I see it). Did you miss the bit where I freely acknowledged that I'm a selfish bastard? Unlike your own selfless person, of course. Would you like me to confess all of my other sins too, just to prove how "morally inferior" I am?

      >> You both sound as though you are in the latter category.

      So you're actually arrogant enough to judge me solely on the basis of an argument, which you are patently losing btw, as to the historicity of the biblical account? And you have the cheek to tell me I cannot be a christian or think I need forgiveness, just because I point out that your "analysis" is inconsistent and contrary to what is actually given in the Bible? Thanks a bunch, mate. I don't think I'll bother reading or responding again. You and your yes-men can have your blog all to yourselves - it's clear the only way you can get your POV across is via intellectual dishonesty, historical distortions and gymnastics.

      I might remind you, incidentally, of the verse in the NT which talks of those people who "add" or "take away" from the given accounts - so far, your version (esp of biblical slavery) is nothing but additions and fantasy. I'd watch out if I were you. It seems God does not like people distorting what actually occurred, and putting a nice new-age spin on it.

      >> But you don't have to stay there. It's your choice.

      Great - I didn't know this, what with not being a hallowed evangelical who can twist the Bible to suit his own worldview. You ARE an evangelical, are you not? I can spot one a mile away from the self-righteous glow surrounding them.

      Ta, mate. Keep your delusions to yourself. Better still, be honest for a change, instead of trying to re-interpret the past to suit your own ends. It is possible to reject the genocide and hate crimes in the Bible and STILL be a christian, whether or not you "recognise" such christians as christians (and it is clear you don't). And whether or not I come upto your own saintly standards, you have no right to judge me, you're not God.

    8. Oh, and for the record, your analysis of events in the OT is on par with your analysis of the Rugby - clearly you think you (your team) are so much more deserving than everyone else, despite all evidence to the contrary.

  17. >> God's judgement does not need defending. And it most certainly is not indefensible.

    However, man may be passing off his own judgement as God's. As human beings, we all tend to do that. No reason to suppose the ancient Israelites didn't do it as well. If you put a religious spin on things, you can get the masses to do pretty much what you want.

    Congratulations, btw - can't remember ever seeing so many comments on any of your blog posts. So what was it that set you off? Me making that comment about the Bible and slavery to your son, eh?

    1. I didn't notice your comment James. I wrote this because the issue came up in the media.

    2. Now that Is disappointing.

    3. But I did read this one so all is not lost :-)

  18. Funny how soon as anyone comments on Dawkins and his followers are out in all force, they worship him, seems very religious to me.

    Why put some much value on him or yourself even, if god doesn't exist there's no objective moral reality anyway and therefore you, me, we have no value what so ever and are due to perish forever.

    However if Jesus was who he said he was, even Dawkins himself is loved and could be forgiven by god, i pray for Dawkins for i know there's something deep down inside him causing this anger and hate. The new atheism really is about people's deep down turmoils and troubles, covered up with science.

    Tit for tat arguments about this and that in the bible wont persuade people Jesus is real, it's a matter of the heart, if their hearts are hardened they wont want Jesus. How amazing is it still that God knowing what is good for us all never forces a human being to love him, for that would not be true love.


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