The perfectly awful apologetic defense of the Canaanite slaughter in this clip concisely captures why I wrote Jesus Loves Canaanites. Let’s begin with the video (it’s only six minutes). I’ll then post my commentary below.
The video begins with a question posed by the moderator of what appears to be an in-church training event. He asks: “Why would a good God say go into the Promised Land and clear these folks [the Canaanites] out?”
Turek’s reply begins like this: “Normally atheists bring this question up.” At first blush, this is a puzzling claim. After all, the question was just posed by a friendly moderator in a church setting. And there is no doubt but that countless Christians have struggled with this very question. So why is Turek now starting to talk about atheists?
The reason is that it allows Turek then to introduce his first talking point which isn’t about Canaanites at all. Rather, it is about atheists: “They talk about an Old Testament atrocity, I’ll ask them, ‘Um, you’re an atheist. By what standard are you judging the God of the Bible?'” So now Turek can talk about atheists and how they allegedly have no objective basis for morality.
First of all, this is simply not true. I don’t want to spend much time discussing this because I’ve already done so many times elsewhere. Instead, let me direct you to this debate where renowned ethicist Shelly Kagan soundly defeats William Lane Craig on the question “Is God necessary for morality?” Or you could read this book by atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg. Or you could read the work of philosophers like J.L. Schellenberg and Ronald Dworkin which outline various ways that atheism is perfectly consistent with objective moral value.
Turek’s claim that atheism entails that morality is merely a matter of opinion has been refuted time and again. I don’t know whether Turek is dishonest or just very poorly informed, but his claim is false and he should stop making it.
That said, the way that Turek then relays an exchange with an atheist is just so offputting:
Atheist: “Oh, he murders people.”
Turek: “Why is murder wrong if there’s no God? Who said? You said? Oh, you’re the moral arbiter of the universe now?”
First of all, it wasn’t an atheist who raised the issue, Mr. Turek. It was a friendly moderator. Second, this snarky exchange is meant to humiliate, embarrass, and deflect from a very real question. Turek is much more comfortable mocking fictional atheist interlocutors than he is dealing honestly with the question.
And then comes the icing on the cake: “You’re stealing from God to argue against him.” Turek thinks this line is so clever that he wrote an entire book about how atheists allegedly “steal from God.” Christian apologists who accuse atheists of “stealing” are the equivalent of atheist apologists who accuse Christians of “lying”. Each is an inflammatory, provocative, and wholly unjustified allegation which merely poisons the well of charitable discourse.
At that point, Turek goes on to explain that God only kills people after giving reasons, and the reasons he killed the Canaanites were because they were evil and, in particular, they sacrificed their children. But the Israelites didn’t simply target the subset of the population that practiced child sacrifice: they targeted the entire population including children. If a man kills one of his children, do the police storm his house and kill the man, his wife, and the rest of his children in retaliation? That, of course, is insane. Yet, that is precisely the logic that Turek is proposing we follow here.
Turek describes the way that Canaanite babies were allegedly “cooked” in sacrifice: it’s a clear and bracing appeal to moral intuitions. And yet, Turek is silent on how the Israelites would have hacked Canaanite infants to pieces in retaliation. If our intuitions unveil the heinousness of the Canaanite actions against their infants, those same intuitions rise to condemn the Israelite actions.
Moreover, Turek says the offense was child sacrifice. What he doesn’t bother to mention is that the herem killing described in passages like Deuteronomy 20 provides a cultic, sacrificial framework to Israel’s assault against Canaan. In other words, the Israelites were sacrificing Canaanites (including infants) as well as their property and animals to Yahweh. So apparently, the offense isn’t that the infants were being sacrificed. Rather, it is that the infants were being sacrificed to the wrong deity.
Next, Turek makes what is arguably his most outrageous and appalling claim: “If Christianity is true, people don’t really die. They just change location.” So according to Turek’s logic, the Nazis were just helping European Jews to “change location.” And in 1994, the Hutus merely dispatched 800,000 Tutsis to a new location.
After that, Turek invokes some bad arguments from Paul Copan that I refute in Jesus Loves Canaanites. But I will simply say this to conclude: I am sure Mr. Turek is a nice fellow, but I find his apologetic treatment of the Canaanites to be morally corrupting and deeply counter to the way of Jesus. Apologetics like this does incalculable harm and needs to be openly refuted. And the best way to become equipped to respond to such pastoral and theological malpractice is to read Jesus Loves Canaanites.