Genocide apologetics is the enterprise of attempting to defend the ethics of a historical reading of the conquest of Canaan, one which meets the legal definition of genocide. In other words, it aims to argue that genocide is really not intrinsically evil and in some cases, it may even be morally praiseworthy.
In Jesus Loves Canaanites I argue that genocide apologetics is, to put it bluntly, evil. It is evil in much the same way that nineteenth-century pro-slavery apologetics was evil. It attempts to persuade us to deny that which we really know to be true and it often does so by appealing to bad arguments and offensive talking points. As a case in point, consider this tweet posted just this morning by a fellow named Dave Thiessen:
I think this gets back to what you think of whether as God being the author of life is actually murdering people, or merely changing their location.
— Dave Thiessen (@daveythiessen) August 7, 2021
Thiessen combines two standard talking points here: God is the author of life and thus has the right to give and take life as he wills and killing a person is actually just changing their location. The problem with the first point is that the topic isn’t simply what God allows but what God commands. As the author of life, God may, consistent with his perfect nature, allow me to be tortured by a deranged serial killer. But it does not follow that God may, consistent with his perfect nature, issue a command that morally obliges the serial killer to torture me or which makes the torturing of me a moral good. And yet, that is the topic here: the claim that genocide can be a moral obligation and a morally good/praiseworthy action.
But if the first point is merely a misfire, the second one truly takes us into the basement of genocide apologetic rhetorical strategies. I don’t know if Thiessen got this talking point from Frank Turek but it is one that I have heard Turek use before. In the article “Frank Turek on the Slaughter of the Canaanites. And My Response,” I offer the following reply:
“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.”
In retrospect, my rejoinder may have been a bit too brief. It is important that we appreciate just how frankly disgusting and absurd Turek’s statement is.
Let’s think for a moment about The Passion of the Christ. This controversial film was provocatively described by one critic as “The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre” because it lingered for two hours on the extended process by which Jesus was killed. But if critics saw an appalling “snuff film” that offended their moral sensibilities, countless Christians saw an unparalleled display of the visceral reality of what it meant for Jesus to lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).
But according to Turek, if Christianity is true then Jesus didn’t really die: he just changed location. So we should presumably be less horrified by the actions of the people who called for his flogging and crucifixion and those who carried it out because they were just helping him change locations.
Who would ever have the gall to make such an inane and offensive attempt to diminish the horror of the death of Jesus?
Next, imagine scaling that same logic up to the smoking ruins of a genocidal killing field, one in which thousands of bodies litter the landscape, with untold numbers of victims groaning in agony with fatal head wounds having cleaved their skulls open, brains oozing out as their wild eyes dart about in desperation, breathing becoming more labored with every gasp, abdomens ripped open and entrails spilled out into the dust…
Now tell yourself: this is not an atrocity. Those people are just slowly changing locations.
When I say that genocidal apologetics in general, and specific rhetorical talking points like this beaut from Frank Turek are evil, I am not engaging in hyperbole. I mean it: they are evil. They are bald attempts to corrupt human moral thinking to sustain an unsustainable reading of the Bible and to persuade us that evil is good and good evil.
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.