An update in the wake of Atlanta (plus a bit on rape and child killing)
It was a good time at the annual ETS conference (with a day at SBL thrown in). Let me say the weather was fine. It has been seven or eight years since I was in Atlanta and I was taken aback by the fine fall colors complemented with temperatures which, where I come from, belong more with late summer rather than late November.
(Speaking of the weather, horror of horrors, when I flew out of Atlanta on Sunday it was about 20 C (or 68 F), and when I got back to Edmonton that night it was -15 C (or about 5 F). Yes, a drop of 35 degrees Celsius. Now as they say, how is it that we can put a man on the moon, but Alberta and Georgia still can’t figure out how to swap some weather so those Georgians get milder, less humid summers and we Albertans can have at least tolerable winters? Go figure.)
But enough bellyachin’. The high point for me was listening to myself talk (bit surprise) along with three other smart guys (not just smart-assed like myself; I’m talkin’ the real deal, people with serious brains between their ears), more specifically Paul Copan, Matt Flannagan and Richard Hess. The four of us were all part of a session at the Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting (for all the Sesame Street fans: one of these guys is not like the others…okay, yeah, it’s me) called “Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?” Okay, we all agreed that he isn’t, but beyond that there were some significant differences. Copan talked about the nature of biblical slavery, Flannagan about divine command theory and Hess about the occupation in Joshua. And I talked about devotional child killing, and my strong distaste for it.
The evening was very enjoyable and constructive. I met a lot of interesting people, took a few blows and delivered a few of my own. But one thing stuck out to me as instructive: the indefensible contrast that some of the people there held between devotional child killing and devotional child rape.
What do I mean? In the paper I defined devotional child killing as follows: “devotional child killing is the act of killing one or more children with the primary or sole intent of demonstrating profound dedication, commitment, or fidelity to a third party.”
With that definition in mind, here was my first thesis in the paper (of three):
“The devotional killing of children for God can never be morally praiseworthy or even morally permissible.”
This isn’t rocket science. I think any moderately moral and properly functioning individual can see the truth of this proposition. And yet it conflicts with passages like 1 Samuel 15:3. So what to do?
Some people tried to soften the blow. Here is one approach that was tried as a response to my thesis (and I’m paraphrasing now): “What if a child was killed and then immediately resurrected by God? Would it still be wrong?”
“Yeah, what if?” I thought cynically. But that was my inside voice. With my outside (audible) voice I replied: “So what if a virgin child could be raped and then miraculously made a virgin once again? Would the rape of the child still be evil?” That didn’t go over well, I think. But I don’t see the difference.
Here was my point. Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that God demanded the killing of a child and then immediately resurrected that child. Would that make it all better? Well there would still be that little matter that the child was killed by dad… “Dad, it’s good to be alive again and all, but you did decapitate me, and that kinda stinks, you know?” (Talk about an awkward moment at the Thanksgiving dinner table.)
And likewise a child that was devotionally raped and then had their virginity miraculously restored (physiologically and psychologically) could still say, “Dad, it’s great to be a virgin again and all, but you did rape me, and that kinda stinks, you know?”
Sorry, I don’t see why conservative Christians are so indignant about the prospect of devotional child rape and yet have apparently no trouble with devotional child killing. It seems to me that that is like having no problem with someone burning down your house but protesting the very notion that they should think of trashing it.