[This is a guest blog from my friend Michael Torri, a political science major with interests in World War Two, who asks us to consider how the god of the Bible would fare if he were tried as a war criminal. This is not a satire. Michael repeatedly draws astute and disturbing parallels between the biblical god and Axis war criminals.]
On 5 May 1945 a squad of US Army Soldiers of the 41st Reconnaissance Squadron of the US 11th Armored Division, 3rd US Army reached the town of Mauthausen in Austria. Connected to it was the nearby Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp, located just 20 kilometers away. Mauthausen-Gusen was one of the first camps the Third Reich put into place and one of the last camps to be liberated by the Allies, having been constructed shortly after annexing the state of Austria in 1938. It was built with just one purpose: to work its prisoners to death through starvation and exhaustion. Jews, political dissidents, Russian prisoners of war, and many others were sent there to die in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Being sent to die in Mauthausen was so horrific that one prisoner, lost now in an anonymous grave, carved into a barracks there:
“If there is a god, he will have to beg me for forgiveness.”
Soon after, the war ended. There were no miracles, no divine intervention, and no god that made it happen. Only the force of arms, economy, and political will of a world united against tyranny brought down the Axis powers that had wrought so much pain and suffering upon so many. And with the Allied victory came the responsibility to ensure that justice was served against the perpetrators. What came of this were the international military tribunals against Nazi Germany in Nuremberg, and against the Empire of Japan in Tokyo, among others. And through these trials, from the ashes of a globe scorched by the most devastating war in human history, came the international laws forbidding Crimes against Humanity. These are laws that came from men, not gods, but they are considered the height of moral justice as we continue deeper into the 21st Century.
We as a species were so shocked by the atrocities committed by the Axis Powers in the Second World War that we actually created a new category of crime for them, and even to this day enforce them. But what if they had been around at the events illustrated in the Bible? How would the ancient Hebrew leaders be seen and treated by people today, given the crimes they committed against their neighbors? How would their god?
One of the most common crimes committed by the Axis powers was the use of slave labor. In Nazi Germany alone roughly 12 million were forced into slavery to fuel the Axis war machine. Prisoners of war were routinely sent to work in factories, while every concentration camp under the Third Reich was used to manufacture goods for the German Volk. At points in the war slave labor made up 20% of Germany’s work force. Meanwhile on the other side of the world, the Empire of Japan forced young women in occupied Asia into sex slavery to feed the sexual desires of its soldiers abroad. And when the Axis lost the war, men like Fritz Sauckel and Hiroshi Abe were tried, and some even executed for the use of slave labor.
But where does the god of the Christian Bible stand on the issue of slavery? According to Leviticus 25:44-46, slaves are considered property, much like cattle or other beasts of burden:
“Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”
Exodus 21:20-21 even provides the rules of just how brutal a slave owner can be toward his slaves, stating that only a beating so savage that it kills a slave instantly should warrant punishment (although if a slave dies a few days later it was not a strong enough beating to warrant it). Meanwhile, Numbers 31:17-18 details the capture of virgin girls by the Ancient Hebrews to be taken as sex slaves: “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
And even the supposedly more compassionate New Testament condones the practice when the author of Ephesians (not Paul, but a forger committing fraud) writes in 6:5 that slaves should “obey their earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as they would obey Christ.” The last part about “just as they would obey Christ” implies that Jesus of Galilee, the supposed paragon of morality, has no problem with slavery. Slavery is clearly an accepted and even encouraged practice in the Bible, and from its description there is no difference between the barbaric slavery of the Bronze Age and the war crimes of the 20th Century. And yet when it was condoned by the god of Abraham it was good and just, as this god is defined as “all moral.”
Wherever the Axis nations invaded, they brought with them the tool of subjugation: torture. Starting in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army began what was called “The Rape of Nanking.” Men were buried alive, pregnant women were cut open, and babies were impaled on bayonets in sadistic games by Japanese soldiers. In the German Reich Jews, Romani, Soviet POWs, homosexuals, and innumerable other “sub-humans” were routinely tortured in the camps. Both Germany and Japan conducted horrific medical experiments on screaming and writhing un-sedated victims, a practice so barbaric that it warranted its own unique place in international law. As before, men were tried and executed for these war crimes after the Second World War, because we as a people recognized that this was the very height of evil.
Yet does the god of the Bible condemn torture? Hardly. Indeed, the truth is quite the opposite. In fact, torture was apparently the preferred form of execution among the Ancient Hebrews. Death by stoning is the sentence for the crimes of touching Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:13), not screaming adequately while being raped by a man (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), and trafficking in illicit goods (Joshua 7). It is the prescribed punishment for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), not being a virgin on one’s wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), for gathering lumber on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), for speaking ill of one’s king (1 Kings 21:10), and a myriad of other crimes. It was this punishment that was commanded and condoned by the god of the Ancient Hebrews.
Stoning is not a quick death. It normally takes hours of agonizing pain for a victim of this torture to go into shock and die, all the while he or she is surrounded by sadistic neighbors cursing at them, humiliating them, and brutally smashing rocks into them. This is a sort of punishment that would be unthinkable in the modern Western World, but it still happens today in theocratic autocracies like Iran and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. I’ve witnessed one (thankfully not in person) and I can tell you there is nothing more heart wrenching than watching a young woman cry and beg for her life as an angry crowd of friends and family slowly torture her to death.
Just as the Japanese soldiers cut open pregnant women and murdered infants, the god of the Bible commands the exact same in vivid detail (Hosea 13:16):
“The people of Samaria must bear their guilt, because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.”
Apologists like William Lane Craig have defended the slaughter of children and have even asked us to feel greater sympathy for their murderers:
“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?”
But Craig’s whole notion about the psychological trauma of these massacring soldiers likewise does not align with the sentiments of his god. Far from being an “apparent wrong,” the Good Book tells us that (in certain circumstances, such as taking vengeance on the city of Babylon) to murder infants is a blessing (Psalms 137:9):
“Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
Yet this isn’t even the worst crime that the god of the Bible condones. If the mainstream view of Hell used by the majority of Christian sects is correct, the god of the Bible directly tortures non-believers there for eternity. The maximum possible torment for the maximum possible time. If this were true, then this would be the very antithesis of morality. All other crimes would pale in comparison. Thankfully, I know several believers who reject that Hell is a place of eternal pain and suffering, but this only reiterates that they recognize that this aspect of their own religion is immoral and thus needs to be reinterpreted. This shouldn’t happen if the Bible was truly authored or inspired by the source of objective morality and goodness.
The greatest crime against humanity outlined in the postwar tribunals was that of genocide. The Holocaust saw the elimination of entire populations of ethnic Jews in Eastern Europe, the application of industrial technology and processes for the purpose of exterminating human beings en masse, and the deaths of upward to 17 million people. It was an event so nightmarish that it immediately provided all justification for the most devastating war in history, something so evil that it was worth burning down the continent of Europe to stop. Today it is regarded as the single most horrific crime ever committed, and rightly so. But again, where does the god of the Bible stand on genocide? Perhaps the most tragic irony in this is that Jews made up the majority of those exterminated in the Holocaust. Close to six million were murdered by the Third Reich. And yet it is the god found in the Hebrew Bible that has also condoned and committed genocide like the ones they suffered from. Like modern Christians, the vast, vast majority of modern Jews are morally superior to the god of their ancient religion.
The Bible has occasionally been given the grim title “manual for genocide,” and with good reason. If the events described in the Old Testament actually happened, then the Ancient Hebrews would necessarily be considered some of the worst war criminals in history, all with the consent and command of their monotheistic god. Even if they didn’t happen, the savage message of the biblical authors conveys the same brutal ethic and the passages no doubt reflect ancient realities. 1 Samuel 15:2-3 details the genocide of a tribe called the Amalekites by the Hebrews.
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
Deuteronomy 2:34 describes the horrific extermination of the people of Heshbon, iterating that the Hebrews under the auspices of their god took the cities of Heshbon: “At that time we took all his towns and completely destroyed them—men, women and children. We left no survivors.” Meanwhile, Joshua 6 tells the tale of a massacre of men, women, and children in the city of Jericho. Had these events occurred in the 1940’s, would the Hebrew leaders not be sitting alongside the war criminals of the Axis Powers?
So if the god of Abraham was there at Nuremberg or Tokyo, sitting alongside the likes of Herman Goering, Hideki Tojo, Alfred Jodl, and others, what would the verdict be for him? Japan and Germany both employed forced labor and sex slaves to fuel their armies in the Second World War, but how can these be immoral things if the all-moral god of the Bible commanded that conquered foreigners could be purchased as chattel and virgin Midianite girls be taken as sex slaves in the Torah? General Seishiro Itagaki was hanged for torturing prisoners in Manchuria, but how were his actions immoral when the god of the Bible commanded that nearly all people who transgress against him should be tortured to death by stoning? Alfred Rosenberg was executed for committing genocide in Eastern Europe, but would God not also be found guilty of exterminating the Canaanites, Midianites, Amorites, Amalekites, and the various other nations he commanded his armies to massacre?
As an atheist in an overwhelmingly Christian country, I am often asked where I get my morality from, if not from their god. At times, I used to think I needed to provide an epistemological and philosophical basis for my ethical decisions. I used to think I needed to give an alternate source of a supposed “objective and universal moral standard.” Even today, I suppose I can’t give any definitive or authoritative answer as to where I get my morality. But I do know one thing: I do not get it from the god of the Bible. And neither does anyone else.