The other day I was at the Wintery Knight blog when the following article title caught my eye: “What if you only had four minutes to defend Israel’s attack on the Canaanites?” The article provided a brief synopsis of Jonathan Morrow’s book Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible’s Authority by focusing on one example: how Morrow allegedly equips you to defend the genocide of the Canaanites in under four minutes. The article summarizes the response with the following bulleted points:
- quotes Richard Dawkins to set up the objection
- response: does God have the authority to give and take life?
- response: after the Fall, things in the world are not the way they are supposed to be
- response: Old Testament commands for the Jews to judge other nations are specific to them in that time
- response: “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” are not accurate descriptions of the attack on Canaan
- response: the attack on the Cannanites takes place in the context of redeeming the whole world
Let’s consider these five “responses” in under four minutes. Yes God has the authority to give and take life. Does that mean that God might command a Christian to eviscerate all the atheistic infants in Sweden tomorrow? Yes, things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Does that mean that God might command a Christian to eviscerate all atheistic infants in Sweden tomorrow? If genocide is a moral atrocity, it is always a moral atrocity, and saying it was “specific to them in that time” is no response at all. Yes, the events narrated in Joshua would constitute genocide and ethnic cleansing by the standards of international law. (See for example, my critique of Justin Taylor here and of Copan and Flannagan here and here.) Finally, if genocide can be morally justified because of alleged good results sought by the perpetrator, which other moral atrocities can be justified because of alleged good results sought by the perpetrator?
Do you think I will convince Morrow that he is wrong (or at least plant a seed of doubt) in my under-four minute rebuttal? I doubt it. So what was the point of this entire sub-four-minute exchange beyond giving each side the satisfaction that they had said something meaningful about a big and important topic in under four minutes?
This brings me to my problem with this entire discussion. That concern is captured well by this five minute clip from the 1992 documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Yes, the clip is over four minutes (indeed, it gets close to six) but in its defense it does manage to say quite a bit in that narrow span:
What Chomsky is concerned about here is that people don’t learn how to think in the four minute segment sandwiched between two commercial breaks (or a brief chapter in an apologetics ammunition book). Instead, they learn how to parrot a list of bulleted points back to an interlocutor. As Chomsky puts it, this condition of concision (or, as I prefer, the cult of concision), ensures the maintenance of the status quo:
“You gotta say things between two commercials or in six hundred words. And that’s a very important fact because the beauty of concision, you know, saying a couple sentences between two commercials, the beauty of that, is that you can only repeat conventional thought.”
Thus, for example, the Christian maintains a particular understanding of the historicity of the Deuteronomic narrative and the moral inerrancy of that narrative (relative to that historicist hermeneutic) and the exceptionalist insulation of the narrative from contemporary ethical and geopolitical discourse, all in a way that maintains the status quo.
This four minute framework serves to perpetuate indoctrination in conventional conservative Christian thought. Or, as Chomsky would say, it manufactures consent in the conservative Christian population, thereby inoculating them against the inherent inadequacies with this view of the narrative.