In the fourth installment of my critique of William Lane Craig’s podcast defending the Canaanite genocide, Matthew Flannagan reiterated an objection he had posted in response to an earlier installment of the series, namely that Craig does not understand himself to be defending genocide. Matt writes:
“Craig has repeatedly explicitly denied that the command was to genocide an entire people he is clear he thinks it was to drive them out and to only kill those who stayed, which while killing is not genocide. So to keep claiming Craig is giving reasons for genocide is simply false.”
Matt seems to be assuming that because Craig doesn’t understand himself to be defending genocide, it is incorrect to say he is defending genocide. But of course this doesn’t follow. Whether or not Craig believes himself to be defending genocide is a separate point from whether he is defending genocide. By analogy, imagine that Moe argues that the age of sexual consent should be reduced to 12. Moe may not believe that by advocating for the lowering of the age of sexual consent he is thereby defending the morality and legality of some pedophilic relationships. (For example, Moe may insist that a 12 year old is no longer a child.) But that doesn’t mean that Moe’s critics are obliged to agree with him. They may continue to insist that Moe is indeed defending some pedophilic relationships despite his asseverations to the contrary.
Craig on dispossessing vs committing genocide
With that in mind, let’s turn to Craig’s comments on the issue. We pick up the discussion at 9:17 into the podcast and continue until 10:17:
“One thing I would like to add to my answer that I didn’t have in the original answer that I’ve since come to see is that God’s command was not actually to just go into the land and exterminate everybody. Rather, the command was to drive the people out of the land, drive the Canaanites out of Canaan, and take possession of the land for the Jewish state. There was no command to pursue the Canaanites and hunt them down and kill them if they left. What God wanted to do was to annihilate the Canaanite nation-state, to destroy them as nations, by dispossessing them of the land. So most of the Canaanites probably fled before the oncoming Israeli armies. It was only those who chose to stay behind and fight who were utterly devoted to destruction. Had they had the good sense to leave, there was no command to pursue them and hunt them down and kill them….”
Hence the title for Craig’s podcast: “Richard Dawkins and Driving Out the Canaanites”. And so Craig claims that this was an act of dispossessing a people of their land (an act which conforms to the common usage of the term “ethnic cleansing”) rather than a genocide.
As I said, however, whether or not Craig believes he is defending genocide does not settle the matter of whether we ought to conclude that he is defending genocide. So how shall we settle this? Let’s consider an analogy in which we put the biblical evidence into a contemporary example and see whether the result ends up looking like genocide.
Would you think this was genocide? A contemporary example
Imagine that you’re in a meeting with Major General Dellione, the head of UNAMM (United Nations Assistance Mission for Mubimtu) peacekeeping forces in Mubimtu. You’ve been sent as the representative of the US Secretary of State to consider the evidence the Major General has collected that ongoing incidents of violence in the country being visited on the Podo people by the Musi people constitute a genocide. Thus far the diplomatic representative of Mubimtu in Washington has emphatically denied that there is a genocide in the country. After the meeting you must decide whether the evidence Dellione presents is sufficient to advise the Secretary of State that there is a genocide in the country.
Immediately after walking into the room the Major General sits down at the desk and begins to pull out various documents and present them to you. The first document is a memo from the general of the Musi army outlining a plan to destroy the Podo completely. The document advises to “Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.” It stipulates that Musi should not intermarry with Podo because of their errant religious practices. Instead, all Podo religious and cultural artifacts are to be destroyed completely as should the Podo as a people. (Compare Deuteronomy 7)
Next, Major General Dellione slides a second Mubimtu military memo in front of you. This one is titled “Going to war against the Podo and other tribes.” In the document it stipulates that all the men of other tribes are to be slaughtered but the women and children should be taken as plunder by the Musi armies. Next, the document outlines that in Podo settlements the Musi armies should “leave alive nothing that breathes. Destroy them completely.” The document then stipulates that complete extermination is required lest the Podo influence the Musi with their abominable religious practices.
At this point the Major General pulls out a recording device and plays a radio broadcast on Mubimtu National Radio in which the ecstatic Musi host announces that all the residents of two Podo settlements have been completely annihilated in attacks by Musi armies. “Twelve thousand men and women fell today,” the voice announces triumphantly, “all the people in the town!” (Compare Joshua 6 and 8)
Finally, the Major General pulls out a third memo and says: “It looks like the Musi will be targeting the Bondu people next.” He hands you the memo and you begin to read. It provides instructions from the president of Mubimtu to the generals of the army declaring “Now go and attack the Bondu and destroy completely everything they have. Do not spare them. Kill men and women, children and infants, oxen and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
With that the Major General looks at you intently. “I know you’ve been hearing from Mubimtu’s diplomat for some time now that this is just a land dispossession. He suggests that the Musi are merely moving the Podo people off their land. He’s suggested that some of these sweeping statements for complete annihilation are merely hyperbole. But even the diplomat admits that any Podo elderly, women, infants or children that are found in the territory are being butchered by the Musi armies. He admits it. He even had the gall to suggest that anybody who stayed behind was essentially committing to fight the armies. Surely he must know that some people are simply unable to travel. The weak, the elderly, the infirm, many of them are simply unable to flee. And they’re all being slaughtered as soon as the Musi armies find them in the land. And that’s what he admits.”
With that the Major General takes a drink of coffee and then continues. “Even worse, in those documents you’ll see the rationale for slaughtering all the Podo is that they will infect the Musi with their culture if they are not all killed. The Podo are being described as akin to a cancerous tumor that must be removed. So how the diplomat can claim this is not a genocide is beyond me. And that is not even to mention this other horrifying document outlining an even more explicit mandate to slaughter all the Bondu.”
“Thank you Major General,” you say as he stands to go. After he has gone you sit back down in the fine leather chair and stare at the phone on the desk. Should you tell the Secretary of State that this is a genocide or not?
Are you kidding me? Only a politician … or an apologist … would think this is a hard question.