Friday, June 15, 2012

The Destruction of the Canaanites

The so-called "new atheists" like to attack the morality of the Bible by pointing to God's command to Israel to destroy the Canaanites.  There have been various responses to this objection (for one lengthy piece addressing this issue see HERE) but a recent essay deserves special mention.

Clay Jones teaches in the Christian Apologetics Program at Biola University and has written an article on this topic that was published in Philosophia Christi in 2009.  His article is entitled: "We Don't Hate Sin So We Don't Understand What Happened to the Canaanites: An Addendum to 'Divine Genocide' Arguments" and is very enlightening.  Dr. Jones states in the beginning of his essay:
For example, do we genuinely comprehend the depth of Canaanite sins?  Do we understand the significance of God's having all but destroyed Israel for committing Canaanite sins?  Could it be that because our culture today commits these same Canaanite sins we are inoculated against the seriousness of these sins and so think God's judgment unfair?  How might a theology of the human heart and its sinful condition illuminate a motivation for "divine genocide" claims?  In short, most of our problems regarding God's ordering the destruction of the Canaanites come from the fact that God hates sin but we do not.  (p. 53)
Dr. Jones goes on to detail out the kinds of sins that the Canaanites participated in as a culture: idolatry, incest, adultery, child sacrifice, homosexuality, and bestiality.  His discussion is graphic at times as he meticulously footnotes the horrific immorality of both the Canaanites and our culture.

When discussing the concept of idolatry, Jones helpfully shows the connection between idolatry and immorality.  The one leads to the other.
Idolatry is not some mere individualistic, private religious hobby that a person does (for example, "he committed an act of idolatry").  To the contrary, it can form an entire group identity and a way of life because those who commit idolatry do so as a result of being idolatrous.  Idolatry is a form of worship because it involves ascribing attention and affection to something considered worthy.  Worship, regardless of its object, is inescapably  whole-life formational.
Moreover, the concept of idolatry lends itself to a polytheistically formed mentality and culture that has pervasive social consequences.  In such a context, "worshipping the one, true God" is a morally, culturally and socially unpersuasive (if not also a repulsive) idea.  Within polytheism, a person cannot be idolatrous.  If polytheism were true, it would not make any sense in what way someone or some act could be considered idolatrous.  Moreover, a follower of polytheism can even happily engage in falsehoods (for example, worshipping deities that are contradictory) or calling something otherwise "unnatural," "natural" (for example, bestiality), which is evidenced by Canaanite culture.  (pp. 55-56)
In the final section of his paper (pp. 68-72), entitled "Our Sin," Jones details the same kind of sins in contemporary American culture.  It makes for disturbing reading in that the vileness of our own culture is brought forward and analyzed.  I appreciated that this kind of analysis of contemporary sinfulness was brought up in a philosophical journal.  And I especially liked how Jones ended his article:
[W]e do not appreciate the depths of our own depravity, the horror of sin, and the righteousness of God.  Consequently, it is no surprise that when we see God's judgment upon those who committed the sins we commit, that complaint and protest arises within our hearts: "This is divine barbarism!" or "This is divine genocide!"  But studying these things over the years has led me to wonder if the Canaanites might not stand up at the Judgment and condemn this generation.  (pp. 71-72)
Dr. Jones has done the church a service with this essay.  You can also find a shortened and condensed piece by Jones on the same topic HERE.