Long-time readers of my blog (all fifteen of you!) may recall my past critique of the accommodationist approach to the Canaanite genocide. But others will not. And for those folk, I offer this article.
From a Christian theological point-of-view, it is a truism to note that God accommodates to various suboptimal understandings of the nature of reality. This should not surprise us given that every capable pedagogue accommodates the limited understandings of her audience in order to bring them to a greater understanding. To note a very trivial (but still informative) example that I proferred in one of my books, the grammatician initially teaches her students “‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c'” whilst knowing both that there are many exceptions and that the students will not initially interpret the rule as subject to many exceptions. She accommodates their misunderstanding in order to bring them to a greater understanding … eventually. And insofar as her accommodation to their errant understanding ultimately serves their acquisition of more sophisticated grammar later, it is justified.
Any thoughtful parent will know that similar accommodations are required to create informed and good moral agents. For example, we tell our children “Lying is wrong” and when we do that we recognize the exceptions (e.g. you sure as hell should lie when you’re hiding Jews in your basement and the Nazis come knocking). As with the grammatical exception, that moral nuance can be added later. But for now, we will simply say “Do not lie.”
Some Christian theologians have argued that the herem killing of outgroups can be justified along these lines. For example, respected scholar Christopher Wright has proposed this possibility. On his view, God said, “kill ’em all” with respect to the Canaanites not because God really wanted to kill them all but because that was the best accommodation to the brutish limitations of ANE warfare in which people commonly did kill all the persons of the targeted outgroup including the most vulnerable civilian noncombatants.
This is where I provide my push-back. After all, accommodation surely has its limitations, and in my humble estimation, this is undoubtedly one of them. Think about it like this: in the ANE, mass civilian slaughter was part of the status quo, so Wright proposes that God accommodated that errant, imperfect perspective. But at other points in history, rape and cannibalism of defeated foes and civilians have been part of the status quo. But surely the rape and cannibalism of defeated foes are not intrinsically worse than their slaughter (so I say, anyway). And if you agree, then you have a choice: either God could accommodate to rape and cannibalism by commanding his people in other circumstances to those obviously heinous practices, or God would not accommodate to any of it because it’s all bloody abominable.
I know where my intuitions lie. And nobody has ever given me a compelling reason to question those intuitions.