This past weekend I attended a conference on atheism and Christianity sponsored by Concordia University’s Canadian Centre for Scholarship and the Christian Faith. It was a very good conference with those in attendance flying in from as far away as Los Angeles, Harvard University, and our plenary speaker (Richard Swinburne) from London.
One of the sessions I attended consisted of a young graduate student presenting his preliminary thoughts on defending the Bible from the new atheist critique of biblical violence. Alas, by now the “new atheists” are getting rather old. One would wish this student had picked a more sophisticated interlocutor.
But what most struck me about the presentation was how quickly this young man took to defending the indefensible. In his twenty minute presentation he claimed that stoning is not a cruel form of execution. (When I asked him whether he had ever witnessed a stoning, he admitted that he hadn’t. So I suggested he watch the dramatic reenactment depicted in The Stoning of Soraya M.)
Then he defended the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But it wasn’t simply that he defended the intentional nuking of civilian populations. It was that he took it as obvious that this would be viewed as morally justified.
So at what point does the objectification of fellow human beings and defense of moral atrocities reflect poorly on one’s biblical hermeneutic?