You’ve got to give William Lane Craig credit. When he believes something, he believes something. The Kool-Aid gets drunk to the last drop.
Take the slaughter of the Canaanites by the Israelis in the Hebrew Bible (see Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 20:16-18; and Joshua). Like the recent bankruptcy liquidation of the Borders book chain, God commanded that everything in Canaan had to go: its gods, culture, men, women, and children.
And the Israelis made sure that everything did.
Today, we call this genocide. A crime against humanity. Well, at least most of us call it genocide. William Lane Craig, in a post at his website, calls it justice:
God stays His judgement of the Canaanite clans 400 years because their wickedness had not reached the point of intolerability! This is the long-suffering God we know in the Hebrew Scriptures. He even allows his own chosen people to languish in slavery for four centuries before determining that the Canaanite peoples are ripe for judgement and calling His people forth from Egypt.
By the time of their destruction, Canaanite culture was, in fact, debauched and cruel, embracing such practices as ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice. The Canaanites are to be destroyed “that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20.18). God had morally sufficient reasons for His judgement upon Canaan, and Israel was merely the instrument of His justice, just as centuries later God would use the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel.
I can’t help but wonder if William Lane Craig’s reasoning leads him to the (private) conclusion that God used Hitler to judge the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s. If, after all, God used the “pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel”, and He also used the ancient Israelites to judge Canaan, then doesn’t it follow that this might solve the question of why God allowed Hitler’s Germany to destroy 6 million Jews in the Holocaust?
Like the ancient Canaanites, the Jews had it coming to them. Discuss.
I’d rather not.
Despite the discomfort it entails, I bring up the Holocaust because it makes the grotesqueness of Craig’s reasoning less opaque and abstract. It’s no longer a strange and ancient people being mass murdered from thousands of years ago, but modern people like us. What sane person, for example, would ever make the following statement about the Holocaust?:
[W]hom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Jews? Not the Jewish adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life [by dying and going to heaven]. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the German soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these German soldiers is disturbing.
Isn’t that insane? But guess what? I’ve simply troped Jews and Germans for Canaanites and Israelis in what Craig himself wrote. Here’s the passage from his post:
[W]hom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites? Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement. Not the children, for they inherit eternal life. So who is wronged? Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.
This is not some crank or maniac speaking. This is evangelicalism’s premier intellectual philosopher in the grip of an extraordinary foolishness.
So the question must be raised: what is driving a sane man to such insane conclusions?
Well, the Bible’s inerrancy is at stake, and Craig’s doing his best to make one of its wilder recountings (the destruction of the Canaanites) palatable. Otherwise, the Bible’s inerrancy must go, and Craig apparently finds the thought of this worse than genocide:
If we Christians can’t find a good answer to the question before us [the genocide of the Canaanites] and are, moreover, persuaded that such a command is inconsistent with God’s nature, then we’ll have to give up biblical inerrancy.
But William Lane Craig hasn’t given a good answer. He’s provided a repugnant one. To save biblical inerrancy, Craig swallows hard and goes ahead and makes God into a monster, authorizing a mass murder circa 1100 BCE. Craig just doesn’t call it that:
So the problem isn’t that God ended the Canaanites’ lives. The problem is that He commanded the Israeli soldiers to end them. Isn’t that like commanding someone to commit murder? No, it’s not. Rather, since our moral duties are determined by God’s commands, it is commanding someone to do something which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been murder. The act was morally obligatory for the Israeli soldiers in virtue of God’s command, even though, had they undertaken it on their on initiative, it would have been wrong.
On divine command theory, then, God has the right to command an act, which, in the absence of a divine command, would have been sin, but which is now morally obligatory in virtue of that command.
Divine command theory is a fancy way of never having to say you’re sorry. Like Jesus turning water to wine (or Orwell’s Ingsoc making war out to be peace), divine command theory turns murder to virtue.
Craig doesn’t say, so one can only wonder: does the logic of his divine command theory extend to non-Israeli soldiers? If—as Craig clearly writes—God used “the pagan nations of Assyria and Babylon to judge Israel” in the same manner as God used the Israelis to judge Canaan, does this mean that the soldiers of Assyria and Babylon are also absolved of their culpability in murder? And, if the Holocaust occurred because God was judging 20th century Judaism (for secular apostates like Freud, I suppose), does it follow that the Germans are also free of culpability in murder?
Will William Lane Craig find Hitler in heaven?
No telling. With so capricious a God as the one who wiped out the Canaanites and permitted (or perhaps even willed as judgement) the Holocaust, all bets are off. But Craig’s promotion, under certain circumstances, of the wholesale murder of men, women, and children as a virtue does make him sound at least a teensy bit like, well, another person of historic infamy: Osama bin Laden.
The irony doesn’t escape Craig, and he attempts to answer it, putting some distance between his views and Islamic jihadism:
Yahweh is not to be trifled with. He means business, and if Israel apostasizes the same [as happened to the Canaanites] could happen to her. As C. S. Lewis puts it, “Aslan is not a tame lion.”
Now how does all this relate to Islamic jihad? Islam sees violence as a means of propagating the Muslim faith. Islam divides the world into two camps: the dar al-Islam (House of Submission) and the dar al-harb (House of War). The former are those lands which have been brought into submission to Islam; the latter are those nations which have not yet been brought into submission. This is how Islam actually views the world!
By contrast, the conquest of Canaan represented God’s just judgement upon those peoples. The purpose was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism! War was not being used as an instrument of propagating the Jewish faith. Moreover, the slaughter of the Canaanites represented an unusual historical circumstance, not a regular means of behavior.
The problem with Islam, then, is not that it has got the wrong moral theory; it’s that it has got the wrong God.
Did you catch that? Craig writes that if Israel apostasizes the same [as happened to the Canaanites] could happen to her and God’s just judgement [on the Canaanites] . . . was not at all to get them to convert to Judaism. In other words, by Craig’s curiously inverted (perverted?) moral logic, God’s justice means:
- apostasy can bring just genocide (an oxymoron) upon a people; and
- forced conversion (driving people into intellectual slavery and submission, but allowing them to live) is insufficient satisfaction for God’s righteous judgment.
How can this be? Because God—unlike Muslim jihadist invaders—cares about the attitude of your heart in submission. He wants you to love Him without compulsion, with nothing held back. He wants His love freely reciprocated, not coerced.
Otherwise, He wants you dead.
This is a positive distinction that Craig makes between his God and the God of Islam. Though forced conversion may have been practiced by errant Crusaders in the past, the Christian God of William Lane Craig’s imagining cannot be bothered with it. In judgement mode, God is an untame lion; he wants the total annihilation of what is not holy (that is, unbelievers). Forced conversion absent a heart change would have been too good for the Canaanites; forced conversion is for biblically ignorant Crusaders and jihadist pussies (who, in a misplaced gesture of mercy, tolerate the begrudged but compliant in their midst).
As an agnostic, my ultimate response to Craig’s weird apology for genocide can only be twofold: (1) to echo Kant’s reaction to a dubious theodicy argument that he had heard which callously allowed for the death of a little girl (“My heart rejects it!”); and (2) humor.
Here’s a little clip I made for YouTube a while back. It portrays a person going to a pastor with a concern about a Bible passage that he had read (2 Kings 2:23-24). William Lane Craig, meet Pastor Johnson: