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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.


Satanist And Christian Holiday Displays To Go Up At Michigan Capitol

December 20, 2014

Satanist And Christian Holiday Displays To Go Up At Michigan Capitol : The Two-Way : NPR

I first saw this story on facebook a couple of days ago and I will readily admit that it brought great holiday joy to my heart! It all began with a nativity being proposed to be set up in the Michigan state capitol. The Satanic Temple, not being a group to miss an opportunity for some religious equality, jumped at the chance to apply to set up a satanist display along with it. As it stands, both have been approved and will be displayed next to each other.

One thing I’d like to mention is that I really like the Satanic Temple’s display (pictured on the right). The red snake offset against the green foliage on the satanic cross is really quite festive! Of course a Sigil of Baphomet is present, along with a really great holiday message:

The Greatest Gift is Knowledge

That’s a message I’ll certainly stand behind.

The folks from the Satanic Temple have consistently been impressing and entertaining me over the past couple of years with their handling of religious encroachment into the public sphere. Maybe I’ll look into membership.


A Long Pause

December 19, 2014

Some days I wish I didn’t need so much sleep. Actually that’s every day, and too often I try to force it to happen. Suffice to say that’s a recipe for burnout.

Hello again! To anyone still somehow following my blog here, I’ve decided to take another crack at this one. Because despite previous burnout and of course being really busy with life in general, there are still many things I might like to write about atheism, Christianity, and science. Hey that’s a pretty good summary of what I write about here… and politics, never forget the politics.

At any rate, given merely the time there are a number of side projects related to this blog I might like to tackle, but I try to be realistic so let’s leave it at blogging again for now. My goal going forward is to post here at least once a week. Whether that be a short commentary on some current events, or a more researched article I leave to the whims of my free time. I intend that I’ll post on Friday or Saturday each week, so watch out!

Conservative leader Bill Gothard resigns following abuse allegations

March 8, 2014

Conservative leader Bill Gothard resigns following abuse allegations – The Washington Post.

Even Gothard must have realized that this time there’s just no sliding past these accusations. It’s unbelievable that he got away with that kind of behavior for so long, but at last it seems some small justice might be done. So I bid good riddance to another hypocritical sleazy fundamentalist leader.

But wait, that’s not the only good news in the article:

The allegations against Gothard dovetail with financial woes. In recent years, IBLP’s net revenue has dropped significantly, and the ministry is losing money. Between 2009 and 2012, it lost $8.6 million. Its net assets dropped from $92 million in 2010 to $81 million in 2012. It held 504 seminars in 2010, but that number dropped to fewer than 50 in 2012.

That’s still a lot of assets they can sell off to stay afloat for a few years, but that huge drop in the number of seminars is great! More than even pointing to the demise of the organization, it reflects that people just aren’t buying into their crap philosophy of absolute authority anymore.

Bond Offering Succeeds for Full-Size Ark

February 27, 2014

Bond Offering Succeeds for Full-Size Ark – Answers in Genesis.

Woohoo! I look forward to watching AiG struggle to get this project completed. I watched the whole live-streamed announcement, but I’d suggest you not bother. That is unless you like listening to Ken Ham and his cohorts prattle on about how great God is and that they’re so persecuted by the media and all us evil atheists.

In all honesty I am actually kind of glad to see this monstrosity of a project going forward. Based on the amount of difficulty the Creation Museum has had in raising the initial funds just for the “phase 1” portion of the Ark theme park, this looks to be quite a bad investment for them.

If we’re all lucky, perhaps the whole organization will sink along with the Ark.

What Happens To You After You Die

February 14, 2014

What Happens To You After You Die | Something to Think About.

The above blog post from my old friend Tim Koop talks about what one woman, Kat Kerr, says God has revealed to her about heaven. Apparently she has been taken on tours multiple times and so is familiar with the place and how it all works.

I poked at the idea in a quick comment to Tim, and he encouraged me to voice my criticism; so buckle up! If you haven’t read the post on Tim’s blog, I’d encourage you head over there and do so. It’s not long and you’ll want to have the context for my responses here.

A Reason to Believe?

The first, and most obvious, objection to the claim about heaven is that there’s simply no reason given to believe it. Near as I can tell, Kat had some dreams which she interpreted to be about heaven and then wrote them down and made it a book. The small portion of her story I read on Tim’s blog doesn’t even align with the Bible, so aside from her word there’s nothing.

Now, some might be inclined to believe her (or others like her) for any number of reasons: she’s sincere, she’s a good person, etc. But none of those things have any significance when it comes to the question of whether or not her claims are actually true in reality.

That’s all there really is to say as far as believing her claims go. But there’s really so much more to say once we look more closely at the content of the claims.

A Reason not to Believe?

Most of my criticisms from here out are coming from the viewpoint that these claims about heaven are preposterous even from a religious, and specifically Christian, viewpoint.

The base objection that I have throughout Kat’s story is that the entire description represents nothing new, but merely more of what we have on earth. Apparently what makes it heaven is that you’ll just have more of everything. But… when has having more stuff, even having exactly the stuff you want, made you truly happy? Maybe heaven-stuff is better at giving happiness than earth-stuff.

If Heaven blows your mind, that’s because Heaven blows the mind.

My problem is not that this description of heaven blows my mind, the problem is that it decidedly doesn’t. Given that God, the all-powerful creator of everything we’ve ever known is building heaven as a paradise for the faithful, wouldn’t it be far beyond describing in a human language? All this talk about flying roller-coasters and Jello land is just silly.

Another objection I’d mention is the idea that you’d get there, go visit with God real quick, check out your friends’ places, and then just chill and live life. Except you’d be in heaven. In reading through Revelation and seeing the tiny glimpses of heaven given in that book, I find it laughable to suggest that you’d “stop by” to see how God is doing.

You love certain things, Ben, and you would love to be able to do them for a long time.

You’re right that I love certain things and would love to be able to do them for a long time, so my arrival would apparently go something like this: “Hey God, awesome place you made here. Well I’ll catch ya tomorrow, I’m gonna go frag some noobs on my Playstation four billion.”

My point is that if you were to go into the presence of the most powerful, glorious, majestic, and loving spirit/being/whatever that could possibly exist, where would your desire to leave come from? Doing anything else would be straight up depressing in comparison.

Lastly I’d like to point to one item just in the short summary that runs contrary to a specific Bible passage. In Matthew 22:23-30 Jesus specifically says that there will be no marriage in heaven and that all will be like the angels. How then could Kat’s description of going to “passionate paradise” with your spouse have any truth in it? If all are become like the angels then human passion and sexuality certainly wont be present in heaven.

The story told by Kat Kerr was ruled out to my satisfaction in the first few paragraphs, but I hope that I’ve enlightened others as to my thinking on some of the details. Overall the whole thing reads like bad Bible fanfic and I’m honestly surprised at how unconvincing it is.

What we Know

We have no concrete information about any afterlife. What we do know is quite a bit about the human brain. We know that the brain is where consciousness is based and that altering the brain can alter how people feel and even their personality. So if you’re wondering my opinion on the question of what happens after we die, it’s simple: No one knows for sure, but probably nothing.

The Gothard Files: A Case for Disqualification | Recovering Grace

February 7, 2014

The Gothard Files: A Case for Disqualification | Recovering Grace.

I’m starting to think that there isn’t a single fundamentalist leader who isn’t a sexual predator. But when it’s only too easy for these men, the picture of godly leadership, to silence their accusers it’s just bound to attract the predator type. I haven’t read through all the stories linked in the article but it’s clear this is a long running system of abuse that has been repeatedly suppressed and covered up, even by the victims’ own families.

This story is of particular interest to me because I remember there were  a few years when my mother & stepfather were big into Gothard’s stuff. We even went as a family to the “Basic Seminar” from the Institute of Basic Life Principles for a couple years. It was a huge event, the audience completely filling an expo center near us. (which I have just looked up and is over 40,000 square feet) I don’t remember much of what was covered, just lots of stuff about authority, and how not submitting to authority correctly would result in all kinds of horrible problems. Oh look, the first session of the seminar is available free online!

Happily that phase of christianity didn’t last more than about the two years before even my mother realized how emotionally abusive the whole system was. Several boxes of the IBLP literature were trashed and we moved to a new church.

I’ll be keeping an eye on any Gothard developments and I can only hope that some kind of justice is done. Forever the optimist.

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