A good friend of mine just started up a blog (the Pastor friend I've referred to in past posts here), and here he posted an interesting essay on a History Channel show called Bible Battles. In this show, they have military historians examine some of the battles in the Old Testament from a strategic and tactical perspective—it's quite neat! However, also in the show, one of the historians started pontificating on theological themes, which is the part of the show Jon commented upon.
For the most part, I agree with Jon's analysis. The historian was an expert in military history, and his contributions to the show on this topic were very good. However, he really was out of his element in commenting so briefly upon theological matters. The problem, honestly, was less that he decided to comment on his religious views and more that he did not preface them with something like, "I cannot conceive of a God who..." or "In my view, such a God..." Instead, he stated it as, "A God such as this could only..."
From Jon's essay: "A merciless attack on a series of cities would convince others of the need to move to a different area."I agree with this as well. In this story, if God's desire was to drive out the Caananites, a "shock and awe" strategy would be effective and less bloody, in the long run.
"These kinds of land displacements were common in the Ancient Near East."
And yes, this was a pretty violent time in history. Tribes frequently attacked other tribes for territorial expansion, with their local tribal god leading the way. The Israelites were no different.
However, here is where I part ways with his analysis.
"Their noxious religious behavior (including ritual prostitution and child sacrifice) cried out to the Creator for judgment."
Ok, their actions are pretty sick by today's standards. However, I can't agree that it cries out to the Creator for judgment. For the sake of argument, I'll assume for the moment that a creator god exists. If that's the case, that god created us and gave us free will in how to live. Therefore, to rain down judgment by killing the Caananites via the Israelites violates this gift of free will. Regardless of this (admittedly non-rigorous) argument based on logic, I have a bigger issue with this judgment. While I don't condone child sacrifice, "wholesale slaughter of every man, woman, child, and animal," which is what was instructed of the Israelites by God, disgusts me.
"There are situations that cultures become so repugnant in their morality that the only just thing for them to face is destruction. Clearly, the Nazi party needed to be destroyed for their behavior, not just reformed."
No. Clearly, we should not be exterminating entire cultures. Clearly, the minimal number of leaders of the Nazi party needed to be (ideally) captured, or (much less ideally) killed, in order to stop their horrific crimes. It is our right to defend ourselves with the minimal amount of force necessary in order to save our lives. However, I feel it is a major ethical violation (call it a sin) to go any further than is necessary. Therefore, once the Nazi party was stopped, remaining Nazis deserved imprisonment. Any more violent retribution than was strictly necessary would be a result of succumbing to anger, which is our greatest enemy.
As taught in the Kodhana Sutta:
When anger does possess a man;
He looks ugly; he lies in pain;
What benefit he may come by
He misconstrues as a mischance;
He loses property (through fines)
Because he has been working harm
Through acts of body and speech
By angry passion overwhelmed;
And anger fathers misery:
This fury does so cloud the mind
Of man that he cannot discern
This fearful inner danger.
An angry man no meaning knows,
No angry man sees the (Truth),
So wrapped in darkness, as if blind,
Is he whom anger dogs.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Jon!