The other day I was speaking with a friend who had recently returned from a trip to Germany. The trip to Auschwitz was certainly not the “high point” of his trip, but it was undoubtedly the most emotionally arresting, memorable part. Since I’ve never been I could only listen to his chilling description and imagine what such a visit would be like.
I mused. “Can you imagine how much more efficient the Israelite army could have been in annihilating the Canaanites if they’d had access to the Nazi methods?”
My friend, an evangelical Christian, responded with a thoughtful if disturbed nod. He then commented how it is that much more difficult to read texts like Joshua in a straightforward manner once you’ve visited the ground of a genocide. Perhaps more Christians should visit the sites of infamous genocides to be shaken up a bit in their moral asumptions so they can relect on how those assumptions guide their reading of the text. There is nothing like a first hand knowledge of acquaintance to shake up facile cognitive assent to moral atrocities.
So if you want to challenge the pervasive assumptions among so many Christians that God commanded genocidal slaughter bring them into an acquaintance with the reality of genocide. If a round trip visit to the soil of Auschwitz or Kigali is impractical, provide them with thick descriptions of the face of genocide. You might start with this excerpt from Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil describing a scene in the Rwandan genocide:
“We saw many faces of death during the genocide, from the innocence of babies to the bewilderment of the elderly, from the defiance of fighters to the resigned stares of nuns. I saw so many faces and try now to remember each one. Early on I seemed to develop a screen between me and the sights and sounds to allow me to stay focused on the work to be done. For a long time I completely wiped the death masks of raped and sexually mutilated girls and women from my mind as if what had been done to them was the last thing that would send me over the edge.
“But if you looked, you could see the evidence, even in the whitened skeletons. The legs bent and apart. A broken bottle, a rough branch, even a knife between them. Where the bodies were fresh, we saw what must have been semen pooled on and near the dead women and girls. There was always a lot of blood. Some male corpses had their genitals cut off, but many women and young girls had their breasts chopped off and their genitals crudely cut apart. They died in a position of total vulnerability, flat on their backs, with their legs bent and knees wide apart. It was the expressions on their dead faces that assaulted me the most, a frieze of shock, pain and humiliation.” (430)
Keep in mind that this atrocity was carried out in an overwhelmingly “Christian” country.