I’ve had Dan Barker’s book Godless sitting on my shelf for a couple years but I haven’t yet had a chance to read it. However, today I opened it up and read the following passage:
“Exodus 22:18 says, ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.’ This one verse was responsible for the murder of thousands, perhaps millions, of women who were believed to be witches. Anyone who thinks this is a good moral teaching should become a fascist. It is manifestly immoral to deal with enemies, real or perceived, by genocide.” Dan Barker, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses, 2008), 184.
Several things struck me about this passage.
The first was the bewilderingly simplistic apportioning of “responsibility” for countless crimes throughout history to a single sentence in an ancient near eastern law code with no attention to matters such as translation, interpretation, or the complex and varied social and cultural factors that lead to persecution of specific individuals in specific times and places.
The second thing that struck me was Barker’s numbers: he says that thousands, perhaps millions of women were murdered as witches. “Millions” presumably means at least two million. Where’s the evidence to support the historical assertion that plausibly over two million women were murdered as a result of Exodus 22:18? Alas, the man provided no documentation at all to support his claim.
Third, I am at a lost as to why Barker thinks assent to this verse would constitute sufficient grounds to become a fascist. Certainly this makes no sense if fascism is intended in the political sense. One could think that Barker was referring to a colloquial usage where “fascist” refers to a person who is recognized to have
Finally, if Barker thinks this verse constitutes genocide then he should familiarize himself with Article II of the “UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide”. Such misuse of the term “genocide” irritates me because the more you misuse a critically important term like “genocide” merely to get a rhetorical advantage, the more you dilute its proper meaning and render it less effectual at flagging legitimate instances of genocide.
I cannot comment on the rest of Godless, but this short paragraph does reflect some problems I’ve often seen in the writings of secular/skeptical/atheistic polemicists. In particular, I often find this kind of careless, rhetorically loaded use of terms as well as the proffering of bold claims with little to no supporting documentation.
One could only wish the “skepticism” that so many of these folks love to talk about might be applied to their own writing.