Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Time to Trim the Bible?

Mar 15, 2007

The war against Biblical Christianity continues to hot up. This time the prestigious journal, Nature, has weighed into the battle. In its 8 March, 2007 issue, it carried a “news item” about an attempt to understand how “religious violence” as recorded in various scriptures may lead people to become aggressive or commit violent acts.

It discusses some religious texts which deal with violence, then interviews a few academics for their views on the matter. One University of Michigan psychologist commented, “People often use God as a justification for committing violent acts. And that just bothers me, I guess.”

The article concludes by citing a theologian who obviously has a problem with such texts. While a few others are quoted as saying that those who use scripture to justify violence are selective and not representative of most believers, Hector Avalos of Iowa State University in Ames disagrees: “People who choose the violent interpretation are no less arbitrary than those who choose the peaceful one”.

And Avalos proposes a radical solution to deal with such theologically inspired violence: he wants the violent passages cut out of scripture.

It seems there are several ways one can respond to this article. It can be asked why it appeared here in the first place. This seems to be a rather bizarre piece to appear in a science journal.

Also, one can ask why the article was so selective in its use of scripture. While the article speaks about violent religious texts, interestingly, it never once mentions the Koran, or Islam. This is all the more curious given that the article speaks about the “heightening concern about religious terrorism”. One would have thought that when the words “religious terrorism” are uttered, there is one group today which especially fits the description.

But this group is not once mentioned. Instead, the article begins by giving an account of a religious story dealing with rape and murder, as recorded in the Bible (Judges 19, 20). If the article was really concerned about “religious terrorism,” why its insistence on singling out the Bible, while ignoring the Koran?

There is also a biblical response that can be made. How does one understand the stories of violence, as recorded in scripture, especially the Old Testament? A number of points can be made.

Since the article speaks of “passages involving genocide,” it probably has in mind such things as God’s command for Israel to conquer the Canaanites. While an admittedly complex and ethically difficult subject, and one that cannot properly be covered here in such short space, I can nonetheless make a few brief remarks.

There is no doubt that a major reason why God wanted the Canaanites destroyed was because of their gross wickedness and immorality, including child sacrifice. A holy and just God can only allow so much evil, before he cries, “Enough is enough,” just as he did at the time of the flood.

And it was not a selective dislike of evil. When Israel settled into Canaan, it too started to engage in these detestable practices, including child sacrifice as well. This was in part due to the fact that Israel disobeyed God in the first place, and did not fully remove the Canaanites from the land. Thus the evil Canaanite practices became a snare for Israel, and they too engaged in such evil. As a result, Yahweh had to also judge Israel. Just as he had used Israel to judge the Canaanites, so too he used the Babylonians and others to judge Israel.

Second, squeamishness about acts of God’s judgment are in part a reflection of the way we minimise both the holiness of God and the heinousness of sin. Until we gain a proper understanding of the enormity of sin, we will not properly understand the response of a perfectly holy and righteous God to it.

Third, there is of course both continuity and discontinuity between the Old and the New Testaments. Whatever one thinks of divinely-sanctioned use of force in the Old Testament, there is no word in the New Testament of Jesus using force while on earth, or of his followers being told to use force, at least in the propagation of the faith.

The New Testament, however, does not balk at all use of force. For example, it considers the use of force by the state to keep evil in check as legitimate. But nowhere are believers ordered to take life or shed blood for religious purposes. This stands in stark contrast with the marching orders given to Muslims in the Koran and as evidenced in the life of Muhammad.

To do full justice to the use of force in Scripture, especially the “problem” passages in the Old Testament, would require a whole new article. It may be forthcoming.

But suffice it to say that the Nature article and the proposal for clipping Scripture is problematic at best, and nefarious at worst. Of course we already have had examples of Bible mutilators, including the so-called Jefferson Bible, in which Thomas Jefferson simply snipped every text out of the Bible that had to do with the miraculous or supernatural.

But if Professor Avalos has his way, just what will be cut? And who will determine what should be cut? If violent activities are to be censored, it seems that the very heart of the Christian faith would have to go. Surely the crucifixion of Jesus is one of the more violent and bloody stories as found in Scripture. Will Avalos, the theologian, begin with that passage?

The truth is, for as long as the word of God has been around, there have been people who have wanted to at least ignore, if not censure, those bits which they do not find to their liking.

But in the end, it is the Word of God which must judge mankind, not the other way around. Passages dealing with violent acts sanctioned by God can admittedly be problematic for New Testament Christians. And there is a wide range of viewpoints on how we are to deal with them or understand them (see for example one such discussion, Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide, C.S. Cowles, et. al., Zondervan, 2003).

But overzealous, and evidently liberal, theologians with scissors at the ready are not the way to go. Nor are secular science journals which seem intent on meddling in affairs that are not of direct concern to them.

[1073 words]

46 Responses to Time to Trim the Bible?

  • Bill, an interesting read, on a difficult topic. As always the double standards apply.

    References are usually limited to those where “God’s people” do the violence and the choice of Judges 19, 20 is a bit transparent. It would have to be the strangest passage about one of the toughest periods of the nation’s OT history.

    I don’t ever hear of any violence done by Assyrians, Edomites, Babylonians etc. My, they must have been most (E)nlightened cultures, musn’t they? 🙂

    John Angelico

  • Bible trimmers, who would take to the Bible with knives and scissors, are nothing new. Just look at king Jehoiakim in Jeremiah 36:20-26. He heard the court official Jehudi read out the dire warnings of judgment from Jeremiah’s pen, and simply took out his knife, cut the scroll in bits, and tossed it all into the fire.
    The people of the time consoled themselves with the thought that “God is a God of compassion and goodness: He won’t judge anybody”. Anyone who says he will just has to be thrust out of polite society.
    The mindset has not changed.
    Murray Adamthwaite

  • Why is it that retributive violence is so deplored by our society whilst ‘mercy killing’, be it of the unborn or the infirm, is condoned and even lauded?
    The death penalty for the unjustified taking of a human life is called ‘judicial murder’ but therapeutic cloning is ‘humanitarianism’.
    Am I missing something in seeing perverseness in such reasoning?
    John Nelson

  • I would contend that even if we were to edit out every mention of violence in Scripture, those who are “ignorant and unstable” would still find grounds to dispute Biblical truth. The fact is that any written document, sacred or otherwise, will never convey the intended meaning when read without contextual faithfulness.
    Passages of Scripture should be handled with sensitivity to their place in the entire Biblical account, lest we impose our understanding on what the text is actually saying.
    Luke Beattie

  • The use of scissors or whatever to remove parts of Scripture is in itself a violent act.

    Greg Brien

  • I couldn’t agree with you more Bill. You just have to look at the Uniting Church in Australia to see what can happen. By ‘uniting’ many Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian churches into one denomination the Uniting Church has watered down the message so as not to offend people and now in effect stands for nothing. It has got to such a point that they have allowed people practising homosexuals to become ministers. If the left had their way, the Uniting Church’s example would be followed.
    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Where are those civil libertarians who come out of the woodwork every time censorship is mentioned? If they were to stay true to their cause, surely they would be outraged if any printed material were to be censored.
    Donna Murphy

  • Mr. Muehlenberg’s blog entries exemplify one reason why some biblical scholars in America have come to believe that we must not only trim the Bible of its violent passages, but also help the world move beyond dependence on this violent text altogether.

    Although the brief interview in Nature does not mention my criticism of the Quran, such a criticism can be found in detail in my book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), which focuses on violent texts in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. That book also addresses all the main Christian, Jewish, and Islamic apologetic arguments that have been offered to defend scriptural endorsements of violence.

    While I see the Quran as no less violent than the Bible, the sheer number of endorsements of violence by biblical authors is far greater than in the Quran. In addition, many of the Quran’s rationales for violence depend on biblical rationales for violence. In short, the Bible has encouraged Islamic violence in direct and indirect ways.

    The way in which Mr. Muehlenberg defends his religion’s genocide is not much different than the rationales used by Islamic jihadists. Note, for example, this quote from Mr. Muehlenberg: “There is not doubt that a major reason why God wanted the Canaanites destroyed was because of gross wickedness and immorality, including child sacrifice.”

    In other words, genocide and killing children is just fine when MY RELIGION allows it, but it is not fine when some other religion allows it. Mr. Muehelenberg’s rationales also shows him to be a moral relativist because, for him, genocide and killing children is OK under some circumstances.

    One reason why I espouse removing violent texts from any scripture is that no scriptural claims can be verified to have come from what you call God.

    The fact that biblical authors say that God wanted the Canaanites destroyed for the reasons given does not make the statements of biblical authors any more true than those coming from Islamic jihadists or from the Quran itself.

    After all, would Mr. Muehlenberg simply accept the justification for genocide by Islamic jihadists if they told us that “Allah wants the west destroyed because of its gross wickedness and immorality?” So why should we accept a biblical author’s justifications?

    And it is ironic that Mr. Muehlenberg refers to Show Them No Mercy by Cowles, et al. (a book I discuss in my own, Figthing Words).

    On p. 36, Cowles notes: “Yet as offensive and as problematic as these texts are, they are part of the church’s received canon of sacred Scripture and cannot simply be dismissed, although in practice that is precisely what the church has done.”

    In other words, churches have already deleted, in practice, some of these violent texts. It is just that they are not openly admitting it. These churches usually also refuse to acknowledge the shameful endorsement of this violence in the scriptures they call “sacred.”

    And Mr. Muehlenberg also seems to miss how the other contributors in that volume see Cowles’ proposals, which are only a few steps away from mine. Note, for example, Eugene H. Merrill’s evaluation of Cowles: “Though Cowles admits that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture, he makes the astounding assertion that ‘its message is not of and by itself a Christian message’…With this comment he opens the door to what can, in effect, be construed as decanonizing of three-fourths of the Bible” (Show Them No Mercy, p. 47).

    Mr. Muehlenberg asks “If Professor Avalos has his way, just what will be cut?” In the first phase what I hope will be deleted is any endorsement of violence that cannot be proven by scientific means to be coming from God. In the final phase, we hope to persuade humanity that the entire Bible should be removed as an authority in the modern world.

    Yes, that should include removing the repugnant idea that a god sent his son to be slaughtered for the “salvation of man.” It is apalling that in the 21st century anyone still thinks that slaughtering one’s son should become a basis for “salvation.” It is an idea that has a long pre-Christian history, anyway, and it is rooted in notions of blood/sacrificial magic that our world should leave behind.

    Note also how Mr. Muehlenberg contradicts himself. He tells us that the Canaanites were destroyed for the immoral practice of child sacrifice, and then he wants us to accept that the sacrifice of his god’s son is perfectly moral. This again a case of blatant moral relativism.

    Rev. Greg Brien’s remarks (“the use of scissors or whatever to remove parts of Scripture is itself a violent act”) shows a skewed moral sense. Apparently, trimming a material object (i.e., the Bible) is “violent,” but killing women and children in the Bible is acceptable.

    Moreover, Rev. Brien seems to miss all the ways in which biblical texts were edited in biblical manuscripts and in modern Bible versions. This editing involved removing previous texts sometimes.

    So you folks Down Under are witnessing the birth of an overt Post-Scripturalist movement in America and the U.K. This movement originated among scientists and academic biblical scholars. Some of these scholars are, like myself, formerly evangelical Christians.

    This Post-Scripturalist movement not only focuses on challenging the epistemological basis for belief in the supernatural origin of the Bible, but will increasingly focus on exposing the violent morality endorsed in the Bible.

    The Post-Scripturalist movement seeks to challenge the myth that the Bible is a good moral guide for our modern world. This movement will increasingly focus on how dependence on this text can potentially end our civilization as we know it. Therefore, it is imperative that we move humanity past the idea that some ancient text should guide any behavior in the modern world.

    We affirm that if you are going to say “God allows me violent act X,” then our society should demand as much scientific evidence as possible that this claim is true. We should no longer jeopardize or destroy life or bodily well-being on the basis of faith-based claims. Period.

    If such scientific proof cannot be provided, then we should not allow such a claim by Christians or Muslims to pass into action. In the future, we should demand scientific verification for any other religious claim that seeks to become social policy.

    You will find the manifestos for this new movement in many places, but a good place to start is Fighting Words, and in the forthcoming The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus Press, 2007).

    I welcome any credible challenges that you can bring to the arguments and evidence amassed in those books.

    Dr. Hector Avalos, USA

  • Thanks Hector

    The short answer to your overly long comment is this: while there is disagreement amongst Christians as to how much continuity and discontinuity there is between the Old and the New Testaments, all agree that Christianity is Christ. We have no command from Christ to kill those who disagree with us, and the New Testament does not give us permission to use violence to promulgate religion. (Thus Christ stands in marked contrast to Muhammad, who in both word and deed justified the use of violence for religious purposes.)

    As to the my alleged contradiction, I am afraid it is you who cannot make clear intellectual or moral distinctions here. I am not aware of anyone volunteering to be a victim of child sacrifice. Babies and children are of course killed without their permission. Jesus, however, willingly, freely offered himself as a sacrifice. So there is no contradiction here, only your dislike of God and his chosen means of dealing with your sin and mine.

    And it was nice of you to let the cat out of the bag, informing us that you want to see the whole Bible removed. Of course we have heard such sentiments before, and they have often resulted in banned books, book burnings, etc. That is, the ideas of the coercive utopians usually end up being translated into action. Marx’s idea of creating the New Man resulted in the death and destruction of the old man, as in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

    So I can already see the secular thought police going from house to house, confiscating bibles and other dangerous literature, lighting bonfires on the streets, etc. What the Nazis did just a century ago will undoubtedly be repeated if some of the more militant atheists have their way.

    The secular left speaks much of tolerance and freedom, but is really quite intolerant, certainly of other people’s religious freedom. The coercive utopians are really the new totalitarians. Fortunately they so far are mostly confined to their academic institutions. But when they get into power, as in the French and Russian revolutions, watch out. Then the blood may well once again begin to flow.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Elsewhere Hector Avalos has made it clear that he has rejected his earlier Chrsitianty. What we find here is Avalos trying to justify his adoption of his new atheistic faith and bigotry against the faith he once professed. He of course has to ignore the clear archaeological evidence of the depravity of the Canaanites, and ignore intelligent Christian responses to his new-found squeamishness (e.g. Outrageous Reasoning: A Closer Look at a Common Skeptical Tactic and his summaries of alleged biblical cruelty here.

    And his double standards are enormous. Avalos has to ignore or explain away the unparalleled atrocities by his fellow misotheists in the last century alone. They dwarf “religious” atrocities from all centuries combined. And he now wants to repeat an important part of these atheists’ method: expunging biblical Christianity from socieity.

    Finally, if we all evolved from pond scum via survival of the fittest, as Avalos believes, then what would be wrong with extermination of the Canaanites under his world view? The evolutionary genociders of the last century saw no difference between wiping out a human race and killing a plague of locusts.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Sheesh,

    Is this what passes for academic sophistication these days?

    Dr Avalos, why is it that you consider a (presumably) historical account of an event, to use you example, the destruction of the Canaanites, to be a mandate or a precedent for the justification of violence today?

    It’s kind of like saying that Hitler killed a lot of Jews for his own reasons, therefore it’s OK for us to do the same. The logic just doesn’t work and not only that, to highlight the ‘violent’ bits in the Biblical text is in effect to take those things out of context. In that regard we have enough shucksters within the Church doing a great job of that as it is.

    Also to simply remove the parts of the Bible (or any other text) simply because they dont appeal to your personal ‘truth’ is just plain intellectual dishonesty. Any notion you have that God is not within his rights (note I said God here and not misguided followers) to do with his creation as he wishes shows you’ve kinda missed the point of the whole thing.

    Cheers, Paul Wilson

  • Hector Avalos’ comment above sounds half-way intelligent until one remembers that what he believes about the origin of the universe/world/life is but a mere fairytale. Notice that to him “science” is god. He has rejected the objective truth of the Bible and substituted it for subjective scientism. It’s just more humanism.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Dr Avalos, would you advocate that we remove the parts of our history where we went in and killed Germans in order to prevent Hitler from his genocidal mission? Should we have sat and chatted with him and hoped that after endless chats (and millions more Jews killed) he would have seen reason? War is not pretty, but it is and has been, at many intervals in history, necessary to prevent a more large-scale disaster on our planet.

    I’m sure you make the connections with regards to your moral judgments about the actions commanded by God in the Old Testament. You seem to know best about what might have been had these wars not taken place. Just as you presume to know best about whether or not Christianity is a good or bad thing for the world today.

    Atheist Communist China and the Soviet Union have arguably been the most bloodthirsty forces in the world today, killing far more of their own citizens than any other country. These nations also banned Bibles. Are you arguing that this is more acceptable?

    Dee Graf

  • Dr. Avalos’ said: “In the final phase, we hope to persuade humanity that the entire Bible should be removed as an authority in the modern world. Yes, that should include removing the repugnant idea that a god sent his son to be slaughtered for the ‘salvation of man.’ It is apalling that in the 21st century anyone still thinks that slaughtering one’s son should become a basis for ‘salvation’.”
    This speaks volumes about Dr. Avalos’ inability to read the story of Christ accurately. Christ as the Son of God was never sent to be slaughtered. Christ had the power to prevent his own death. Time and time again in the New Testament there are illustrations of events where Christ was given a way out, and even looking at the story of Christ from a non Christian perspective it is clear that Christ could have simply walked away from a confrontation with the Jewish leaders which led to his eventual death.
    Christ permitted his own death because in doing so it was His sacrifice of His life that led to our salvation.
    Unfortunately Dr. Avalos would probably not accept the notion that any persons sacrice of their own life to save another is something to be celebrated and rejoiced.
    After ripping up the Bible Dr. Avalos will probably need to destroy all records and writings which tell of the stories of countless men and women through the ages who have deliberately put themselves in a position where they were killed but where their death saved others, often others who were strangers.
    Fortunately for the world, the message given to us through Christ’s dying on a cross to save us (including Dr. Avalos and those who think as he does) is so strong that it simply cannot be removed or destroyed by the attempts of those who wish to get rid of the Bible.
    It is not possible to remove the message of Christ and the power of that message.
    Many forces have tried to do that and failed, including the Jews who had Christ put to death and the founder of Islam who wanted the Christian message destroyed as well as other evil men and women through the centuries.
    Both the Truth and Strength of Christ’s message have been reinforced by the constancy of attacks on the message of Christ over the centuries.
    I haven’t got the level of sophistry of Dr. Avalos and I dont feel confident or competent to debate with him directly.
    However I have one sure thing on my side, I can and will pray to Christ for help for Dr. Avalos.
    John Ryan

  • What are you so afraid of Dr Avalos? If God does not exist as you say, then the Bible will become obsolete anyway, won’t it?The New Testiment preaches hope to the hopeless: what is so violent about that? Maybe you should stop running and surrender to God who knows you so well. You can run but you can’t hide from the One who knows and loves you the best.
    Millie Grey

  • The responses to my entry show how quickly supposed beliefs in God-given moral absolutes dissolve into a morass of moral relativism.

    First, could Mr. Muehlenberg provide a quote from my writings where I espouse any sort of book-burning or confiscation of Bibles?

    If he wants an example of where book-burning was thought to be a good idea, he should start with Acts 19:19-20.

    On the contrary, I am convinced that people reading the violent parts of the Bible will often be enough to get them to recoil from the atrocities that are endorsed therein.

    So I devote myself to encouraging people to actually read the violent portions of the Bible that ministers are often too ashamed to have to explain to their congregations.

    Mr. Paul Wilson misrepresents my argument. I certainly do not hold that the destruction of the Canaanites provides a “mandate” for violence today.

    Rather my criticism is that those who believe in theistic morality cannot seem to explain why we should believe that God ordained the destruction of human beings in biblical times but yet be surprised that anyone could believe that God could do the same today.

    For Mr. Wilson, Canaanite genocide was acceptable then, but not today. Therefore, the proper analogy would be to say that Hitler’s genocide was acceptable in the 1940s, but not today.

    Does Mr. Wilson hold that view? Or would he say, like I do, that genocide is NEVER acceptable, whether in the 1940s, today, or in biblical times?

    And, of course, the replies continue to ignore the fact that I hold that all faith-based claims are equal in their unverifiability. Thus, saying that God commanded genocide in biblical times is no more verifiable than a jihadist saying that Allah commands genocide today. Verifiability is meant to be an objective standard, not a “personal truth.”

    Unlike Mr. Sarfati’s caricature of my supposed “survival of the fittest” ethics, a scientific viewpoint like mine would reject the biblical and the jihadist claims EQUALLY because they are both unverifiable.

    While your theistic based morality creates more moral relativism because it asks us to accept, without any verifiable evidence, that biblical genocide was acceptable but that of the jihadists is not.

    In addition, Mr. Sarfati’s reply provides no archaeological documentation for his claims of Canaanite depravity. Nor does he explain why “depravity,” which he does not define, should be an excuse for genocide, especially since jihadists can use the same excuse against the West.

    Being a trained archaeologist, I would love to hear more about this supposed archaeological evidence. Please provide sites, dates, and how you determined that this evidence of “depravity” belonged to “Canaanites.”

    In addition, Mr. Sarfati and Dee are content with repeating the tired myths that “misotheists” have committed greater atrocities than theists.

    Usually such “misotheists” are identified with the Nazis, Stalinists, etc. I have addressed this argument at length in Fighting Words, where I devote one chapter to Nazism and another to Stalinism.

    But, in essence, Mr. Sarfati and Dee express a very tortured form of moral relativism, as they are now seemingly forced to admit that theism does not prevent genocidal practices, in principle, any better than atheism.

    Mr. Sarfati and Dee are only quibbling about scorecards now (“atheists have killed more than theists”), and those scorecards are not documented, nor can they be.

    Gathering precise and fair statistics about theist versus atheist violence would require that Mr. Sarfati and Dee provide precise data from about 3100 BCE when we have the first written records until today. I address this problem of comparative statistics in Fighting Words, as well.

    In any case, you folks do not seem to realize the novelty of the Post-Scripturalists. Many of us are former Christian evangelicals who bother to still read Evangelical literature and apologetics. We know where the bodies are buried.

    Your replies all seem to portray a group that does not read the most recent literature from the opposing side, and so does not realize that your routine apologetic arguments are being addressed and refuted in detail. In fact, I have yet to see your group quote a single book of any Post-Scripturalist.

    Dr. Hector Avalos

  • Dr Avalos wants to debunk alleged commands that the Bible does not in fact make of us. Furthermore, he insists that such straw-man claims be subjected to scientific proof, yet many philosophers of science affirm that nothing can be absolutely proven by scientific method. This problem is particularly significant for Avalos’ own field of historical studies, and also in criminal law. Avalos’ philosophy would, if applied consistently, result in the dismantling of the entire system of criminal law, and consequently the end of ordered civilisation as we know it. Given the serious consequences of his ideas, Avalos should first submit scientific proof that his ideas are valid.

    A friend recently told me that he believed that we should remove Biblical morals from society because he thought they harm society. I asked him why he seemed to want to remove the charge of murder from law. He said to me that the crime of murder is not dependent on the Bible, but on the more general principle, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” I laughed because this was, of course, a quote from Jesus. I commend my friend for his Biblical moral values.

    However Avalos is not merely calling for the removal of the Bible and the Quran. Avalos claims that “it is imperative that we move humanity past the idea that some ancient text should guide any behaviour in the modern world”. This is a claim that ancient texts are irrelevant, that historical texts should not guide our behaviour, that we should not learn from the past. This is a strange claim coming from a historian of religion. If this conclusion were reached from his study of historical texts, it logically follows that we should not allow ourselves to be influenced by his opinions.

    Avalos then goes on to imply that we should not object to him removing parts of the Bible because his fellow modern Biblical scholars have already been removing parts of the Bible in the same unscholarly manner. Avalos seems intent on offending other modern Biblical historians, on rejecting aspects of scientific method in his own field, and on discrediting himself as a Biblical historian.

    James Wheeler

  • Dr Avalos,
    If you want to censor violence out of religious texts, isn’t this pointless without censoring violence from all books, films, news, photos, and history books?
    Isn’t that a utopian dream – those who deny history are doomed to repeat it? Or is it really a rejection of Christianity – an unwillingness to admit that God owns us and that our free will is the ultimate cause of violence?
    But lets look at some detail. We agree that: “We should no longer jeopardize or destroy life or bodily well-being on the basis of faith-based claims.” So Jihad, abortion and euthanasia should be banned as being based on faith assumptions? But it should have no impact on Christianity defined as following the example and teaching of Jesus – that we should love our neighbour as ourselves and do good to those who hate us.
    Some OT violence is ‘warts and all’ historical report rather than advocating violence. And some is at God’s explicit command – as if God is the owner of the universe and can do whatever he wants. Well, that’s what the Bible says! Plus that God is just, loving, and does not want anyone to ‘perish’ – though true justice will not tolerate evil. But what is ‘perishing’? Death? Or more?
    That question can’t be answered, either way, without faith. The bible says life is a dress rehearsal for eternity. So death is not the end. After death everyone, even those killed by tsunami or ethnic cleansing or cholera, will get justice in and for eternity – where god will assign them to heaven or hell.
    Hector, you seem to have faith that death is the end. I think it is more logical and rational to trust the bible in matters of history, faith, life, death, eternity and science. I pray that you will discover the real Christianity.
    Peter Newland

  • Every society has rules by which it governs itself. I have spent fifty years working for and with men and women who have given their lives for the underprivileged, illiterate and despised people of the world. I have noticed that they have been slaves and certainly they tell of the hopelessness and cruelty of their situations. Having seen the teachings of the Bible accepted into some of the most pitiable of human existance and the resultant transformation of their lives and ability to live peaceably together as they have accepted the teachings of Jesus Christ, I wonder what Dr Avalos would suggest as an effective guide to restore and help such societies who live by fear and who have no hope in this life or for the one to come.
    I have travelled the world more than most and I have not seen a book or philosophy of life that gives light and help more than the Bible. I am interested in what he could offer. As a matter of fact the world is waiting for it if it is out there, but no one seems to have provided anything better yet.
    David Cummings

  • I have been a Christian for 31 years, having been saved out of the hippie scene in Dec 1974. When I sin against God (and I do still), I find that an immediate consequence is that my judgment becomes poor. My thinking becomes fuddled and I don’t see things as they are. Dr Avalos is obviously caught in this judgment of God. The best example of this I know of would be the no.1 mass murderer of modern history – Chairman Mao. This man, by his stupid decisions, is attributed with somewhere from 33,000,000 deaths plus. Makes Hitler look like a neighbourhood delinquint. Our God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a SOUND MIND. Dr Avalos, you have turned away from the Author of Life Himself, and wherever you now turn will be worse for you. Ask me, I know this from my personal experience.
    Ian Brearley

  • Hector Avalos obviously is one of those unfortunate people who does not know how well-off he is because of the Bible and its teachings. Without it he would still be living in a pagan world without a developed secure democracy to allow him to express his views and to enjoy his position as a learned person. The first five books of the Bible and the New Testament lay down the rules that have guided and governed the world since early civilisations realised there was another way to live, rather than solving problems by war and genocide. One can only feel sorry for Hector as he has obviously missed the scriptural messages which would have given he and his family lives full of joy, peace and fulfillment rather than the aggerssive bitterness and anxiety he so clearly suffers.
    Peter Rice

  • Dr. Avalos, why is it that you insist on ‘Scientific verification’ being the benchmark with which to measure the appropriateness – or otherwise – of religious claims?

    I believe morals – which are certainy not scientifically provable, are far more important. Perhaps you have forgotten about these?

    When you can provide ‘scientific verification’ that we descended from pond life and that God DOESN’T exist, I may pay attention.

    Until then, I’ll continue to worship him and obey his commandments…none of which condone violence.

    I suggest you may have your work cut out!

    Peter Howard

  • Thanks again Hector

    I of course nowhere said you wanted books banned, etc. I simply said such activities have happened in the past, and will undoubtedly happen in the future, especially if some militant atheists get their way.

    And you are wrong on Acts 19: the books there were voluntarily given up by their owners. I of course was speaking about books being confiscated and destroyed by others. Various atheistic regimes have done this in the past, and continue to do it today.

    As to your various arguments, I already gave the short Christian answer, which you obviously are not happy with. But given your Evangelical past, which you have turned your back on, and given what you have said here, you are quite aware of the various Christian responses, but you choose to reject them. So it is somewhat pointless to keep going over the same old ground.

    The real issue which remains is for us believers to keep you in prayer, and hope that you will come back to the truth as it is in Christ.

    As to your dislike of so much of Scripture, most honest Christians do have questions about many parts of it as well. I do too. I will probably have a few questions to ask our Lord when I meet him. Then again, many of these concerns may melt away as I kneel before his presence. So yes, the four contributors to “Show Them No Mercy” all admit to the tensions that exist, although only one argues for radical discontinuity between the Testaments, while the other three emphasise the continuity.

    But to find difficulties in Scripture is to be expected. We are finite and fallen, while God is not. So sure, there are a lot of questions. But humility suggests we let God’s word judge us, rather than we sitting in judgment on God and his word.

    But you know all this. As I have been praying for you, I am reminded of Peter’s remarks (2 Peter 2:16) about those who wrestle with, and stumble over, problematic portions of Scripture, which they distort to their own destruction.

    Have some Christians used the Bible to do violent and nasty things? Yes. Have unbelievers committed similar if not worse acts? Yes. But all that matters little, as you seem at this point to have made up your mind. But if you ever come to the point where you start having doubts, remember that Jesus still extends to you his scarred hands, and his broken heart. What you do with his offer is ultimately up to you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dr Avalos is hardly impressive when he dismisses the misotheistic atrocities of Stalin. Maybe he follows the New York Times’ Walter Duranty in denying Stalin’s purges or forced famines and defences of the Show Trials? Does Dr Avalos deny that that Stalin and his fellow atheistic communists like Mao banned the Bible and tore down churches? Perhaps he still thinks that the Inquisition killed millions, whereas the total number was less than what Stalin killed before breakfast. So if he wants to match the millions of documented deaths due to atheists/evolutionists, then it’s up to him to prove it.

    And who is Dr Avalos to challenge Prof. Weikart, an expert in modern European history, that the atrocities of Nazism have a clear line back to Darwinian teachings or survival of the favoured races and denial of the Christian sanctity of life ethic
    (From Darwin to Hitler?

    We still haven’t heard why his atheistic belief, which entails an evolutionary survival of the fittest, can provide any basis to prevent mass murders. I’ve already explained how Stalin and Hitler thought killing lots of humans was no different from killing lots of flies. They were acting consistently with their evolutionary beliefs.

    As for the Canaanites, not only were they given centuries of fair warning, they practised:

    *Child sacrifice (with at least some of it in fire)
    *Cultic prostitution–both male and female

    We know this from the biblical eye-witness data which is supported by ample extra-biblical evidence, documented in

    Conversely, there is nothing new by Dr Avalos that we haven’t heard from assorted apostates.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I think Mr. Muehlenberg is correct in that we seem to be covering the same ground. Thus, let me make my remarks brief to see if we can at least agree to disagree….

    Dr Hector Avalos

  • The story of rape and murder in the “Pilegesh haGiv’ah” story in Judges led to the virtual annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin by the rest of Israel, who insisted on uprooting the evil that led to the act in the first place. Hard to see in the narrative any endorsement of rape or murder. What one finds is horror at moral depravity and the determination to eradicate it.
    That is not to say that the Jewish Bible is squeamish. It isn’t. Why do those who hate the Bible suddenly become squeamish when reading it, and yet so often defend entertainment that would send an Old Testament Jew running from the room in horror? Is that “hypocrisy”?
    Ezra Marsh, Baltimore, USA

  • And of course we don’t see Orthodox Jews or Christians carrying out mass murders today based on these passages where God ordered a particular depraved people to be exterminated for gross depravity and the danger of polluting the people through whom the Messiah would come.

    No, Dr Avalos is just rehashing what can be found on any gutter misotheist site as an excuse to enable restrictions on the Bible. And he chooses to publish with the gutter atheist Prometheus press, which also has a virtual monopoly on the “Jesus never existed” nonsense :LOL:

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Thanks again Hector

    I have had to cut short your latest overly long comment, since it was doing exactly that: covering old ground. And it was far from brief. It is clear to all by now that you have made a decisive and complete repudiation of your Christian past. I repeat that there is still hope for anyone who wishes to once again come back to faith, say no to ego, and recognize that they are the creature, and God is the creator. Thus we will keep you in our prayers, and remind you that when you one day stand before your maker and judge, all your excuses and rationalizations which seem so clever now will melt away in an instant.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Professor Avalos says, “In the first phase what I hope will be deleted is any endorsement of violence that cannot be proven by scientific means to be coming from God” I wonder what sort of siecntific means is considered acceptable to him in a subject dealing with the Spiritual and the physical or the mental. For example, you cannot prove love or friendship with a microscope. Next, we must not forget that scientific proof is not always full proof. The so-called ‘truth/discovery considered to be true’ at some time can be overturned when better techniques and equipment become available. More than 30 years ago, I learnt from my Biochemistry class in the University that water melon has little nutritional value except for its fibre and sugar content. But today a study shows that watermelon juice may provide a novel source of the essential amino acid arginine, and that the juice is a rich source of its metabolic precursor. To cut down cholesterol, the general populace is encouraged to take margarine instead of butter. Then it is known that the conventional margarine contains a much higher proportion of trans fats than butter and studies show a correlation between diets high in trans fats and coronary heart disease. Isn’t it humbling?
    SK Leong

  • It seems like Avalos is just a Dan Barker clone who has somehow got himself an academic appointment to spread his misotheistic anti-bible bigotry. There is hardly anything in Avalos that hasn’t been trounced in Barker (see James Patrick Holding, Barker Worse Than His Bite: A Critical Look at Losing Faith in Faith) .
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I believe that Dr Avalos has picked up the flaw in evangelical reasoning. Faith is not a process of deduction but of induction. He calls for deductive (i.e. scientific) proof because he knows that we will bite and try to answer him in this way. Less than 1 in 1,000 of us have the grasp of a St Paul and it would take such a grasp to refute Dr Avalos. When Jesus was asked for proof he replied that those who keep his words will know if they are true (inductive proof). Evangelicals need to accomodate the inductive into their world view or they may all be disillusioned like the post scripturists.

    I have enjoyed Dr Avalos’ comments but I must apologise that this will not inspire me to read post scripturist books. While they may define their beliefs against beliefs in the Bible my belief in the Bible does not need others disbelief to define it.

    PS. I feel that the Jihadists are simply the modern equivalent of the Philistines whom God raised up to punish disobedient Israel. I would endorse their claims to a divine mandate to wage war on the decadent West. But the inductive view of scripture is not to inflict suffering but to be patient in bearing it. We should therefore love the Jihadist and use the suffering to draw closer to God.

    Mark Beadle

  • Mark Beadle

    Faith is not a process of deduction but of induction.

    Not at all. Why would faith be based on a logical fallacy like induction? Induction goes from particular to general, i.e. 100 crows are black, so all crows are black. But the 101st crow could be an albino, which means that the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise, i.e. the argument is fallacious. Induction works only in maths, where there is a way of linking the xth step to (x+1)th step to infinity, but not in the physical world. See also Loving God with all your mind: logic and creation., showing that faith doesn’t mean turning your brain off.

    He calls for deductive (i.e. scientific) proof.

    No, science is inductive. This means that it is logically fallacious, and thus folly to subjugate Scripture to science. Science is also often guilty of appealing to verified prediction as proof of a theory, but this commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent. See this discussion.

    Note, science is certainly useful (I have an earned doctorate in chemistry, while Avalos has no scientific qualifications of which I’m aware, like most atheologians), but this doesn’t mean that there are fundamental logical flaws in it.

    because he knows that we will bite and try to answer him in this way.

    I must have missed his disproof of logical defences of the Resurrection, e.g. The Impossible Faith — Offers 17 reasons why Christianity could not have survived in the ancient world unless it had indisputable evidence of the resurrection of Jesus.

    Less than 1 in 1,000 of us have the grasp of a St Paul and it would take such a grasp to refute Dr Avalos.

    Not so. The link above to the critique of Barker takes apart much of the same nonsense that Avalos spouts in a more academic way.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I believe that the time will come, even in Australia, that those who wish to practice Christianity, will have to go underground.
    As politicians become sillier and sillier, our opponents, with the use of gradualism, will foister their twisted theories on a do-nothing public, until one day, Christians will wake up one morning, to find they have lost their freedom to worship publicly.
    Do you think this opinion is alarmist? Who fifty years ago would he believed that a pastor in Norway would have been jailed for preaching publicly against sodomy?
    The so-called relgious vilification laws in Victoria “The Place Not To Be” will allow no criticism of Muslims, while allowing a free for all in criticism of Christianity.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie, Queensland

  • Thanks Mark

    You last paragraph is novel and controversial, to say the least. It is true that in the OT Yahweh used pagan nations as his servants in judging his people. But that did not let those nations off the hook, nor excuse their behaviour. Isaiah 10 is a classic example of this. God used Assyria as the rod of his anger to punish wayward Israel. But then Yahweh says he will now punish Assyria! It too is guilty and must be judged.

    The difference between then and now is that in the OT, there was a divine commentary, via the prophets, on these international activities. Yahweh provided a prophetic word as to what he was doing with Israel and the surrounding nations. That we do not have today.

    Thus while it is possible that God is using militant Islam to judge a decadent West, or maybe that he used a Hitler to judge the surrounding nations, it is probably more likely that these are simply tyrannical and imperialistic movements that need to be resisted. So I would not counsel passive acceptance of the Jihadist threat. I certainly would not say we should love them. We are told to resist that which is evil, and governments have a divine responsibility to punish evildoers.

    So we need to be careful about becoming fatalistic about the threats we face. Yes the West is in a mess, but that does not mean it is no longer worth fighting for. While difficulties we face may be used by God to cause us to turn back to him, we are not enjoined in Scripture to seek out such adversities. In the same way an attack of tooth decay might be some kind of divine signal to us, but it is just as likely an indication that we need to take the appropriate steps to fight the decay.

    To “love the Jihadists and use the suffering to draw closer to God” would simply mean being drawn to God real quick – by death. The West may have its problems, but I am not ready to give it all up just yet, thanks.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • This deserves more thoughtful comment but my immediate reaction was, “Those who object to the Bible’s teaching should move to somewhere where it is banned.” USSR no longer exists but I have heard that owning a copy in North Korea is dangerous.
    Katherine Fishley, Wantirna

  • Hector Avalos, it would be wise in future that you learn to differentiate between what the old testament, and the new testament have written, and not to take the words or scripture out of context. The Bible is the everlasting and Holy word of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ, and when we read it, it actually speaks to people, if we take the time to actually listen.
    The koran believes in the old testament, eg, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. However the true Christian faith is quite clear when Jesus said love your enemies.
    Fivos Panayiotou

  • “And who is Dr Avalos to challenge Prof. Weikart, an expert in modern European history, that the atrocities of Nazism have a clear line back to Darwinian teachings or survival of the favoured races and denial of the Christian sanctity of life ethic
    (From Darwin to Hitler?).”

    Hey, Sarfati, you might want to have a look at some more of what your source said:
    “It would be foolish to blame Darwinism for the Holocaust, as though Darwinism leads logically to the Holocaust. No, Darwinism by itself did not produce Hitler’s worldview, and many Darwinists drew quite different conclusions from Darwinism for ethics and social thought than did Hitler….The reason I only discussed the role of social Darwinism and evolutionary ethics in the shaping of Nazi ideology should be obvious. My book is not primarily about Nazism. It is about evolutionary ethics. I never claimed that Darwinism or evolutionary ethics is the only cause of Nazi ideology, and I specifically denied that interpretation.”

    Though I disagree entirely with his statment about “…role of social Darwinism and evolutionary ethics in the shaping of Nazi ideology should be obvious” it seems that Sarfati’s own source is more honest than he is when it comes to examining the many causes of Nazism, as opposed to Sarfati, who claims that is was “darwinism” specifically that led to it!

    Roger Peritone, Edmonton, AB, Canada

  • Hey Peritone, did you bother to read anything else in the book besides the academically polite disclaimer, which actually didn’t refute anything I said? At least read the summaries on Prof. Wiekart’s own site, e.g. from the dustjacket:

    In this compelling and painstakingly researched work of intellectual history, Richard Weikart explains the revolutionary impact Darwinism had on ethics and morality. He demonstrates that many leading Darwinian biologists and social thinkers in Germany believed that Darwinism overturned traditional Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment ethics, especially those pertaining to the sacredness of human life. Many of these thinkers supported moral relativism, yet simultaneously exalted evolutionary “fitness” (especially in terms of intelligence and health) as the highest arbiter of morality. Weikart concludes that Darwinism played a key role not only in the rise of eugenics, but also in euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination, all ultimately embraced by the Nazis. He convincingly makes the disturbing argument that Hitler built his view of ethics on Darwinian principles rather than nihilistic ones. From Darwin to Hitler is a provocative yet balanced work that should encourage a rethinking of the historical impact that Darwinism had on the course of events in the twentieth century.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Here’s a part from that book that you seem to have missed, (p. 232):

    “It would be foolish to blame Darwinism for the Holocaust, as though Darwinism leads logically to the Holocaust. No, Darwinism by itself did not produce Hitler’s worldview, and many Darwinists drew quite different conclusions from Darwinism for ethics and social thought than did Hitler.”

    At best, Sarfati, you’re quoting someone else talking about Weikart’s work in the third person! My quote was from himself, in the first person! Which would you say holds more weight?

    The ADL disagrees with “your” historian…(I say “yours” because I found out that Weikart is a member of the ID group’s Center for Science and Culture, a christian group that wants to replace science with ID. Hardly an unbiased source, wouldn’t you say?

    Now, on to the ADL:

    “ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement:”This is an outrageous and shoddy attempt by D. James Kennedy to trivialize the horrors of the Holocaust. Hitler did not need Darwin to devise his heinous plan to exterminate the Jewish people. Trivializing the Holocaust comes from either ignorance at best or, at worst, a mendacious attempt to score political points in the culture war on the backs of six million Jewish victims and others who died at the hands of the Nazis.”

    Historian Dagobert Runes said:
    “…the wearing of the yellow spot, the burning of Jewish books, and finally the burning of the people…” was learned and practiced well before Hitler. Prior to Nazism, he claimed, Jews were burned alive. At least, he said, Hitler gassed his victims before he burned them.”

    Have you read Mein Kampf? In it, Hitler wrote that he had no particular feelings about the jews until he heard a christian, Karl Leuger, speak about them. Throughout his book, Hitler professes admiration for people like Martin Luther (you know, the guy who wrote On the Jews and Their Lies)!

    To summarize: Hitler just took over the scapegoat that christians had been using for centuries in Europe. Evolution got tagged onto the end (if at all)…it was not the main force for anti-semitism in Nazi Germany.

    Roger Peritone, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  • Peritone, do you really think that Prof. Weikart would have permitted that blurb on the dust jacket or his own site if he didn’t agree with it.

    What would Foxman know? He is no historian, unlike Weikart who specializes in modern European history, but a secular misochristic Jew who is more interest in pushing liberal causes than Judaism. Indeed, he is an embarrassment to many of his fellow Jews; see Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s defence of James Kennedy and his film, Which Jews does the ADL really represent?. The group Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation has also attacked Foxman and the ADL for other intemperant anti-Christian bigotry, calling the ADL “another liberal front group”.

    Evidently Peritone is clueless about the huge amount of evolutionary thought in Mein Kampf, including justifications for euthanasia and racial superiority. The Nazis often showed films to illustrate survival of the fittest. And note that Germany was also the country that invented liberal theology, so according to the Ernst Mayr, there was hardly any biblical Christianity in Germany when he was growing up.

    Yes, we all know about Luther’s disgraceful attacks on Jews late in his life. They should not be condoned, but Luther’s antisemitism was totally different to Hitler’s. Luther trashed anyone he saw as an opponent of the Gospel, and his choicest barbs were for the papacy. Hitler cared nothing for the Gospel, and killed Jews just because they were Jews, including quarter of a million Jewish Christians. He also intended to wipe out Christianity, as Nuremberg prosecutor William Donovan thoroughly documented.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I do not understand what is wrong with liberalism Sarfati? Who cares if the ADL is a “liberal front group”.
    Zane Truesdale

  • A brief question by Truesdale deserves a brief answer: liberalism is wrong because it doesn’t work! For more, see The Vision of the Anointed by Thomas Sowell.

    And the point of ADL being a liberal front group is that liberals hate Christianity, and even biblical Judaism. So their rants against documentaries that demonstrate the role of Darwinism in the Holocaust have more to do with defending liberalism than defending Jews.

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Further support comes from none other than the misguided misotheist Clinton R. Dawkins himself. In a 1997 interview with The Evolutionist, he said:

    Dawkins: I find it quite ironic — amusing — the thought that if you did build a politics or an ethical system on Darwinism, people like you and me would hate it. It really would be a very unpleasant world in which to live.

    the evolutionist: What would it look like?

    Dawkins: Oh, it would look like Hitler’s Germany …

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Someone should tell Hector that the Holy Bible has already been trimmed down 🙂 Just pick up a copy of the NIV of the bible 🙂
    Rev. Buddy Burnett

  • J.P. Holding has a detailed review on his Tektonics Apologetics site of Avalos’ misotheistic squealing in Still a Child Evangelist: A Survey of the Temper Tantrums of Hector Avalos.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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