Today, I was reading commentaries on Proverbs 20:30, a verse which commends physically beating people as a way to inculcate wisdom and goodness in them: “Blows and wounds scrub away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.” (Imagine how much pain and anguish has been inflicted on people as those in power cauterized their feelings of mercy and compassion and repeatedly lashed the weak and vulnerable in some tragically misguided pursuit of holiness and wisdom.)
One of the books I was looking at was John Phillips, Exploring Proverbs, vol. 2. In his treatment of this disturbing passage, Phillips waxes on about the evil and vileness of the Canaanites and how that required that they be butchered without mercy. Consider the extraordinarily offensive and brutish way that he otherizes an ancient people in order to win over the reader to genocide:
We need to pause to appreciate the profound offense of this rhetoric. According to Phillips, the Israelites engaged in “radical surgery” of the land in order to remove the “disease” of Canaanite culture. Within this narratival framing, human beings are the disease, and they are fundamentally “unsanitary”, filthy and vile, and so must they be slaughtered en masse, men, women, and children, in order to cleanse the land for the invaders. And to top it off, Phillips has the gall, the audacity, the temerity, to claim that this genocidal mass slaughter is an act not of “cruelty” but rather of “kindness”.
This is such despicable behavior on the part of a professing Christian. To be sure, it would be despicable behavior coming from everyone, but as a Christian myself, it stings to see people offering such a morally corrupt, debased understanding of Christianity.
The pinned tweet on my Twitter profile says “Nobody should reject Christianity because they cannot accept genocide. Period.” I’ll go one further here: Nobody who accepts Christianity should accept genocide and the utterly dehumanizing and othering rhetoric that inevitably comes with it. Nothing could be more profoundly opposed to the Gospel than this kind of behavior.