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Killing Children, Good or Bad?

January 4, 2015

If there’s one thing that you would expect everyone to agree on, it would be that killing children is a bad thingPeriod. However, you’ll actually find that there are a surprising number of people who will argue that under some circumstances it’s fine, thanks to the Bible.

This is a subject that has come to my attention a couple times recently. First in a comment discussion with “M” over at Infinity and Hope, a blog I found last week due to it tagging a post to atheists, and then in a timely post from a longtime favorite blogger Captain Cassidy over on her very popular blog, Roll to Disbelieve.

In case you’re not familiar, one example (there are several) of what I’m referring to is when God orders Saul to take the Israelite army and slaughter the Amalekites:

Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’

– 1 Samuel 15:2-3 (NRSV)

Yep, right there from Yahweh’s own mouth, kill both child and infant. Babies must be a much bigger threat than I realized.

So what’s the explanation behind this obviously heinous turn of events? I did a little bit of googling around to find out what popular apologetics sites are saying about this passage, and I have to say I’m really not impressed. Though to be fair I am pretty much asking for the impossible here: “Justify murder.”

Let me go through a few of the main responses I found:

“They had to die or they would corrupt the Israelites.”

So you’re worried that the neighbors might teach bad habits. Let’s go to a quick test case here. Let’s say you’re Jewish and your neighbor is an Amalekite. Your neighbor always does yard work on Saturday and his house and yard look really nice. Saturday is the sabbath for you, but you really would like your place to look as nice so you start taking some time on Saturdays to tidy up the yard. God is not pleased with this turn of events.

Now given that situation, how do you justify killing your neighbor because you aren’t able to follow the instructions laid out by your god? Even more, how about justify killing him, his wife, and their newborn the day you move into the neighborhood because they might do something forbidden and you’d be tempted to join in? This is just an excuse to try and shift blame and doesn’t make sense at all. Pretty pitiful.

“You can’t judge God based on your subjective morality. / You are conceding that objective morals exist.”

Firstly, yes I can judge God based on what I believe is right and wrong, that’s all anyone can do. Even if you like to think you’re using some higher objective framework, you still had get that framework either from your own subjective experiences or from another person based on their subjective experiences.

But secondly, fine, for the sake of this particular discussion I’ll happily concede an objective moral code so long as we can agree that it contains the dictate “You shall not kill.” The point here is that killing innocent people is wrong, how that was decided upon isn’t relevant to this discussion.

“God has the right to bring judgement upon anyone at any time. No one is innocent.”

I’m not sure what any of the Amalekites did to God. In fact I’m not even sure they were aware of his existence, much less any of his numerous laws and how they may have broken them. So to say that the Amalekites were evil and sinful according to old testament law… well it’s never said exactly what they do. For all we know it might just be that they wore really nice wool and linen blend suits and enjoyed shrimp dinners.

There’s not really an explanation for why God has the right to judge people by having them murdered here. Yes he’s super powerful and even if (according to Christians) he created humans, that doesn’t automatically translate to anything he does to us is morally right. This argument tries to act like he’s only exacting justice, but we would have to have wronged God in some way to deserve punishment, and not obeying his whims really doesn’t count. If he’s supposed to be an omnipotent being, it’s not actually possible for us to harm God. So this is somewhat like trying to exact “judgement” on a toddler for bumping into you.

And lastly, if if no one is innocent, not even an infant, doesn’t that mean that they’re damned to suffer in hell too?

“It’s actually a mercy since the children went to heaven instead of being raised as hell-bound pagans.”

This is one that I’ve heard before researching this article. I know they don’t mean to, but anytime I hear this I can’t help but think that “open season” has just been declared on Christians. So much more merciful to kill a Christian and get them into heaven than let them question their faith and become an atheist!

Also, didn’t we just establish that not even babies are innocent? Shouldn’t they be bound for hell like any other sinner? If you’re going to tell me that God can just forgive them their “sinful nature” and let them in anyway, then why not do that for everyone? If you’d rather argue that babies don’t know what they’re doing and you can’t hold them accountable, well now you’ve just gone and shown how babies are innocent.

I have one other question: If God just let the children into heaven anyway (either by forgiving them, or because they’re innocent, or whatever you like), why not just realize that while they’re alive and not have them slaughtered?

“God knew the Amalekites would be trouble for Israel in the future, and tried to prevent that by having them wiped out.”

Or perhaps the Amalekites hate and attack the Israelites because Israel attacked them, slaughtered their women and children, and stole their land? This suggestion is just looking at the situation from a one-sided weird hindsight perspective. You can’t justify attacking them based on what they do after you attack, that’s getting your cause and effect backwards.

“The messianic line had to be preserved against intermarriage with other cultures so that prophecy could be fulfilled.”

This is a really strange one. Arguing for racial purity doesn’t seem like the way to go, but I really did find this as part of an argument at The obvious problem is, as far as I’m aware, if David’s kids grow up and marry someone from a different tribe, David’s grandchildren are still “the line of David.” Assuming that’s the kind of prophecy they’re concerned about. Also, hardly an argument for genocide and the slaughter of children. If you’re that worried, how about don’t live there?

“Whatever God commands is morally right. (Divine command theory)”

Now you’ve gone and done it, got me in a real pickle here. Actually I’m kidding. Divine Command Theory is so morally bankrupt that it would be laughable, if it were able to be considered a moral framework at all. It’s not useful in making moral choices though, since it gives no tools for figuring out right from wrong. If a situation arises that God hasn’t addressed you’re left without a compass and just have to wait for God, or for someone claiming to speak for him, to let you know.

Another big problem with Divine Command Theory is the Bible itself, the supposed source of these commands from God. There are more than a few contradictions throughout the text, and if you’ve been paying attention you already know where I’m going with this.

Command 1:

You shall not murder. – Exodus 20:13

And Command 2:

Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ – 1 Samuel 15:3

So if we’re following Divine Command, how exactly do we reconcile those two? You can try to play word games with different translations, but you’re only fooling yourself if you truly think these passages aren’t in conflict.

“We just have to trust God and have faith. His ways are higher than our ways.”

Ah, and thus we end in the old familiar dead end. No chance to appeal to reason, thinking is pointless since we can’t understand and we should just have faith. Guaranteed if you’ve had a discussion about these kind of hard questions with someone invested in the religion you’ve ended up here too.

Well, sorry Christians, but no, I don’t have to do anything of the sort. I don’t find faith useful for anything. And I’m certainly not going to “just trust” someone who’s suggesting that babies should be killed. Despite what the Bible may claim, I’m within my rights as a sentient and moral being to evaluate this story of genocide for myself and find it despicable. There is no trace of love or justice here, only brutality.


Thanks very much if you read through all my thoughts here, I hope you found it at least enjoyable if not also informative! If you have any questions, comments, or rebuttals I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. But for now I will bid you farewell until next week.

  1. January 4, 2015 11:01 am

    You really took this apart–well done. I don’t have a thing to add except my admiration.


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