The conversation began when I raised some problems with calling God the perfect Father based on particular depictions in the Bible. I gave as a test case the text of Lamentations 4 where God judges Israel for her unfaithfulness by orchestrating conditions that will include women eating their infant children. The Israelites understood those conditions orchestrated by Yahweh as a punishment to constitute a proper punishment.
Pete responded like this: ” To God, and hopefully to us (again with fearful reverence, piety, and humility) we can say that the objects of God’s wrath deserved it.”
Now keep in mind that “the objects of wrath” that Pete refers to are an entire society, from infants (and indeed the unborn) to the elderly. Infants, in fact, figure prominently because they are the ones being cannibalized by their mothers as a result of Yahweh’s punishment.
This prompted me to ask Pete: “in what sense do infants deserve to be eaten by their mothers? Are you serious?”
Pete responded by inserting the following explanation for the punishment: “I’m saying apostate Israel, who happened to sacrifice their own children to Molech, got what they deserved, and then some.”
But wait a minute. The infants were the ones being cannibalized. They didn’t sacrifice their children to Molech. They were, after all, just babies. I asked Pete “in what sense do infants deserve to be eaten by their mothers?” And his response was to appeal to the actions of some Israelite adults.
No morally sane person accepts that it can be just to punish infants by orchestrating conditions that will lead to the cannibalism of those infants. Unless, as in the case of Pete, that othewise morally sane person is harboring a case of cognitive dissonance big enough to drive a Mack truck through.
Of course we could also ask whether Pete has any textual evidence that the actual women who cannibalized their infants were in any way complicit in sacrifice to and worship of Molech.
But that is a side issue. The biggest problem here is that cognitive dissonance. The Israelites are described in several narratives as being ordered to commit herem warfare of entire populations. Conceptually, herem was holy war and constituted a type of human sacrifice. Thus, the problem is not that the Israelites sacrificed infants per se for that was commended so long as the infants were offered to Yahweh. (For more on human sacrifice in ancient Israel read Susan Niditch, War in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford University Press, 1993).
Pete’s comment closed with this: “Instead of questioning God, who gave up His Only Son to die in our place, I tend to opt for the repentance/fear track.”
This is irksome, this idea that openly and honestly discussing the moral incoherence of many Christians amounts to “questioning God”. There are way too many Christians who are essentially told to shush up when they begin to explore this cognitive dissonance for fear of irreverence and even blasphemy.
But it is possible to question one’s tradition out of deep commitment to it. Indeed, in many respects pointing out such moral incoherence may constitute the first steps to claiming the faith for your own.