If God Was at Nuremberg

[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?

God's Crimes

Slavery

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.”

Torture

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.

Genocide

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?

Conclusion

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.

-Michael Torri

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20 Responses to If God Was at Nuremberg

  1. MT, hope you are doing well. Great 1st post, directly on target when they say “there’s no morality without God”. Counter: God’s actions couldn’t even make it past the Nuremberg Tribunal.
    Mnemomic is GenoSlaveTort. But apologists will insulate NT Jesus v OT God, I forsee.

  2. Thank you Michael Torri for this post, I believe myself to be a very morally minded person and never wish any harm on another person. It seems to to me thought that it is always a God fearing person that has to defend their beliefs,I`v never felt in my entire life the need to defend mine…

  3. australopithecus afarensis says:

    Your premise is flawed and so is your conclusion. You have a lot of studying to do…

  4. Pingback: Putting God on Trial at Nuremberg | The Truth Corner Blog

  5. Ha ha ha ha ha. I laugh at your ignorance of a holy and just God. His ways are NOT our ways and our thoughts are NOT his thoughts. Are YOU beyond the judgment of a holy God; have you never broken even one of the ten commandments? Let God speak in the book of Job. Can you say ‘yes’ to anything???
    4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
    5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
    6 On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone—
    7 while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
    8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
    9 when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
    10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
    11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?
    12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
    13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
    14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
    15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.
    16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
    17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
    18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.
    19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
    20 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
    21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!
    22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
    23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
    24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
    25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
    26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
    27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
    28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
    29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
    30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?
    31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
    32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
    or lead out the Bear[d] with its cubs?
    33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s[e] dominion over the earth?
    34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
    35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
    36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
    or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
    37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
    38 when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?
    39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
    40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
    41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

  6. Terrell Taylor says:

    I was curious about the source of the quote: “If there is no god, he will have to beg for forgiveness.”
    Could you provide a source? Thank you for your blog by the way. I enjoy it.

    • Michael Torri says:

      Hey Terrel, thanks for your input! The quote in question was found carved into a barracks wall in Block C of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp outside of Linz, Austria. In this particular section of the camp, the conditions were exceptionally deplorable, and this was where Soviet POWs were sent to die. The original carving was also probably written in Russian cyrillic. But since the victim was from the USSR, this meant that whoever wrote it was very likely an atheist like myself, and that really stood out to me. Most people only associate the Holocaust with the genocide of Jews, when the fact is that the Third Reich’s victims were far more varied. The reality is that the Holocaust entailed the extermination of sexual minorities, people with disabilities, political prisoners, Christian Slavs, Gypsies, and Poles, as well as largely atheist Soviet prisoners.
      I came across this quote as a reading assignment for a class on the history of the Holocaust not too long ago. This was actually the thing that first inspired me to write the article for Mr. Ferguson’s blog. It came from a chapter of a book called “Blue River, Black Sea” by Andrew Eames, which is basically a tour of central and eastern Europe. In this particular chapter, Eames described stories from Mauthausen-Gusen that would disgust even the most stoic reader. But at the same time, this shows that you can come across very poignant and useful information in places you weren’t expecting to find it.

  7. Terrell Taylor says:

    I was thinking that a “If the Israelites were at Nuremberg” article would be interesting as well.

  8. Ashley says:

    Hi Michael, this is very well written. But you write without understanding the spirit of the Bible. You are misleading your audience by taking scriptures out of context. God is a Father who protects his people. His children are the Israelites, both in the Old Testament and the New, and even still today. At the same time, he is never against people, no matter where they come from or whatever they choose to make their god. God is against the destructive forces that try to rob life from his creations, e.g. the demonic spirits of religion, death, hate, etc. Therefore, he was against the demonic forces ruling over the “Canaanites, Midianites, Amorites, Amalekites, and the various other nations he commanded his armies to massacre” because they had strayed from him, began worshiping man-made idols, and waging war against the Israelites.

    God tried to call all of these people back to him, but they refused. Therefore, he favored those that would serve him and used them to destroy the forces that tried to harm his protected people. So there is a bit of a back story for you. But I encourage you to read the whole text without biases, but certainly read it with a questioning heart. You can always attack God with your questions. He can handle it.

    The beautiful thing is that God never imposes his will on humanity, not even during the Holocaust. He tells us plainly in the Bible how to live, and then he let’s us do the rest. Yes he speaks to us in dreams and visions and even in person a few times in the Bible before he came to earth to live as Jesus, but he never once forced any one person to do anything. He speaks, then leaves it up to us whether we react or even listen.

    The Holocaust was an immense tragedy. But God did not cause it. It was caused by an evil force and carried out by people influenced by that evil force. Obviously I cannot tell you why God didn’t intervene and it would be foolish for me to go down that path. But I know that God is just and good. He makes good out of every circumstance, even if we cannot see it immediately or even for years. Anyway, I’m praying that you get to experience some of God’s love and I hope that your studies are fulfilling.

    • Michael Torri says:

      Hey Ashley, I’m afraid I don’t have much time for a more thorough response, but here’s some stuff I noticed. I do think you need to re-read the article, because you seem to be arguing against a message I didn’t actually make. I never, for example, drew the conclusion that the god of the Bible was responsible for allowing the Holocaust. Rather my argument was that his past actions in the Hebrew Tanakh would be just as morally reprehensible as the Holocaust because there is no substantive difference between the two extermination campaigns, and it is hypocritical to condemn one and not the other. If it was wrong for the Japanese and German states to do these things in the 1930s and 40s, then it was just as wrong for the god of the bible to do them in the mythical foundation legends of the Christians and Ancient Hebrews. A question I have asked and have never seen answered is this: “What if the Biblical god used gas chambers and cremation ovens to kill the Canaanites instead of stones, swords, and spears? Would you still defend his actions?”

      You also accused me of taking this information out of context, which is an assertion I’ve seen directed at me quite frequently (one man even wrote a nine-page response to this article that quite literally consisted solely of this). But the article is very clear about the background of these commandments: they are a combination of Biblical legal edicts and war crimes committed in expansionist campaigns presided over by the Abrahamic god. In every case, there is a clear chain of responsibility that points directly to the god of the Bible as the leader and source of these commandments. Now, the lesson that all of us were to learn from the war crimes tribunals in Tokyo and Nuremberg is that ALL persons involved in crimes against humanity are responsible, from the top to the bottom. Even if you could prove that your god didn’t directly order his armies to commit these war crimes (and the context is very clear that he did), he would still be guilty as the principle of Command Responsibility states that the leaders and commanders of armed forces are responsible for the actions of their subordinates. Even if the god of the Bible did not order these actions, he would still be guilty of failing to restrain the men and women under his command and prevent war crimes from being committed.

      Additionally, the claim that these are being brought out of context is never accompanied by the context that the writer thinks justifies these actions. There is the implication that there *IS* a context wherein, say, exterminating an entire people down to the last baby boy and then taking all the little girls as virgin rape slaves is the best, most moral course of action an ethical god could command. But I am never told what the mysterious context that makes this horrific crime seem justified actually is. I see this “out of context” accusation as just an attempt to put me on the defensive without any substantive effort on the accuser’s part. I think you need to reconsider this, or at least attempt to provide the proper context for these crimes against humanity if you persist. The problem with this is that the only explanation I ever seem to get is an attempt to demonize the Christian god’s victims, which STILL doesn’t excuse the excessive violence and brutality. Even if this was true and the Canaanites were “demonic,” a god with the wisdom, foresight, morality, and power that his followers attribute to him would clearly have other, more ethical options for dealing with them.

      I recently came across a brilliant YouTube video by the NonStampCollector’s channel that summarizes it very amusingly and poignantly. In concluding this discussion, I leave you this gem:

  9. Pingback: Buchenwald 58: My father’s views on God and the camps.  /  The Ave

  10. XaurreauX says:

    It is unrealistic and unfair to judge a Bronze Age society by our standards. It is INSANE to judge ourselves by theirs.

    • Which is why I made certain to keep the criticism of this barbaric desert tribe to a minimum. You will notice that this article judges the Hebrew god, not the Hebrews who invented him.

      • XaurreauX says:

        For an interesting and critical history of the Jews I recommend, A Provocative People: A Secular History of the Jews by the late Sherwin Wine. The Jews have a very rich and complex history, but it has almost nothing to do with scripture.

  11. You are right. You are getting the point. Humans are subject to truth itself, and it gives them no rights to dictate to it. They are due the most horrendous punishment possible for their treason against truth. But the God of the Bible died in the person of Jesus, as the only sacrifice suitable to Himself, to justify those whom He chose to give faith.

  12. hypnostist says:

    The god of the bible is evil incarnate, nothing else

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