Joshua and Genocide: a Catholic Dilemma?


#1

I found this interesting webpage which raises a very challenging point (IMHO) for Catholic doctrine. I’ve been mulling over it for the past couple days and decided to post it here (without the author’s permission, but I don’t see why he would mind):

Genocide

           **A Catholic Dilemma             **
     **Anthony       Flood**
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1.**[font=Verdana] [/font]The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 105, states that God is the author of Sacred Scripture and that the Church “accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts” because they were “written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

            **2.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**Paragraph 106 states that God inspired the human authors of the sacred books and that “they consigned to writing whatever he [God] wanted written, and no more.” **
            **3.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**Paragraph 107 states the inspired books teach the truth, and that “without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wish to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.” **
            **4.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**Paragraph 120 lists the Old Testament Book of Joshua among the       sacred books.              **
            **5.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**Paragraph 121 states that the books of the Old Testament are       divinely inspired and retain a permanent value.              **
            **6.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**Paragraph 311 states that “God is in no way, directly or       indirectly, the cause of moral evil.”              **
            **7.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**Paragraph 2313 states that in war, non-combatants “must be respected and treated humanely” and that genocide is a grave moral evil: “the extermination of a people, nation, or ethnic minority must be condemned as a mortal sin. One is morally bound to resist orders that command genocide.” **
            **8.**[font=Verdana]    [/font]**The eleventh chapter of the Book of Joshua states that God commanded Moses to cause the genocide of various non-Israelite peoples. **                      **[font=Verdana][size=2]        **[/size][/font]

(Continued)

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#2

**In summary, the Catholic Church teaches that the Book of Joshua is divinely inspired, contains all and only what the human author of Joshua was inspired to write, and teaches truth for the sake of our salvation. **

             **Presumably, then, even if a book of the Old Testament was in error about, say, the number of people killed in a given battle, it could not be in error where it speaks about God’s relationship to man: on this matter we can count on an Old Testament book to tell us only the truth. **                                    

             **But in Joshua 11, God specifically relates to man by telling one group of men to annihilate other groups, including their noncombatant women and children. **                            

             **Did God give a command that “one is morally bound to resist”? Since the command was carried out, does not that make God at least an indirect cause of a moral evil? Can a coherent negative answer be given without giving up one or more of propositions 1-8?**[font=Arial]

Thoughts? Can anyone answer this?

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#3

[quote=Neithan]Thoughts? Can anyone answer this?
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Uh oh. And God committed mass genocide Himself with the flood!
:rolleyes: .

In this case, He used the Israelite army instead of water.

This is not a moral evil when God does it, becuase vengence is reserved for Him.

You know the old saying, God giveth and God taketh away. Does that mean God is doing moral evil by stealing? Nope.


#4

[quote=Genesis315] This is not a moral evil when God does it, becuase vengence is reserved for Him.
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If you argue that a moral evil is only evil because God commands it as such, and that it is not evil if He commands otherwise, then you are falling victim to the Euthyphro Dilemma: morality loses all absolute value when it is based solely on Divine fiat.

Personally I suspect that Proposition 8 above is incorrect in assuming that a genocide has even taken place. According to dictionary.com:

gen·o·cide n. The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group.

While it does appear that God is commanding the annihilation of the Canaanites, from Joshua 11 v. 3 we see that this nation is actually formed of several different ethnic groups, namely: Amorites; Hittites; Perizzites; Jebusites; and Hivites. So it can not be deemed any kind of ‘ethnic cleansing’. Furthermore, from various verses in the Bible we learn of the moral depravity of these people, such that even the women and children were guilty. It seems that God is condemning them because of what they did, and–based on His promises to deliver their land–to a lesser extent on where they live, NOT merely because of who they are as a people or nation. This fact reconciles the perfect Justice with the perfect Love of God, as He loves all people for who they are, but righteously judges them for what they do.
Calling this invasion a genocide would be like saying that an attack on Iraq, wherein women and children rebels are also actively slain is a genocide simply because all of them are Iraqis.

I’m not at all sure that this is a coherent refutation, however…


#5

Killing of an innocent person is unjust and immoral only when commited by a human being, since we do not have soverignity over another’s life.

God is Soverign over life and death. Therefore, he may take a person in or out of this world as He sees fit.

There’s no question of it being unjust.

It would be unjst for God to, say, torture a person for eternity for n ogood reason. But merely to take their life? Not at all.


#6

If you argue that a moral evil is only evil because God commands it as such, and that it is not evil if He commands otherwise, then you are falling victim to the Euthyphro Dilemma: morality loses all absolute value when it is based solely on Divine fiat.

This simply is not the case here.

Not all killing is sinful. This we know by both divine and natural law.

Murder is sinful. Murder is taking the life of an immoral person.

For one man to murder another is unjust, not because killing an innocent person is in-and-of-itself immoral, but because a human being killing another innocent human being is wrong.

In other words, the prohibition (natural law and divine) against murder by its very nature only applies to human beings, based on the reasoning that all life is given by the Creator, and so can only be taken by Him.


#7

[quote=Sacramentalist]Killing of an innocent person is unjust and immoral only when commited by a human being, since we do not have soverignity over another’s life.

God is Soverign over life and death. Therefore, he may take a person in or out of this world as He sees fit.
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Fair enough, however, in the case of the Canaanite massacre, God did not directly kill these people, He ordered the Israelites to do so. In this case genocide would be a moral evil.

Imagine that some Israelite nut today went around saying that God privately revealed to Him a commandment to gather an army and annihilate the Palestinians with nuclear weapons. Using your reasoning, you would have no right to judge his followers, because the madman claims that the command comes directly from God. I mean that if God commands a human to do something, this must be in line with Natural Law or else morality has no absolute value (it would be completely relative).

In other words, the prohibition (natural law and divine) against murder by its very nature only applies to human beings, based on the reasoning that all life is given by the Creator, and so can only be taken by Him.

Exactly, it is impossible for God to murder; however, we are specifically dealing with genocide here, which is condemned as a moral evil by the CCC. Since the invasion of the Canaanites was carried out by human beings, Natural Law would apply to them, yes/no?

Basically I’m arguing that no genocide even took place, and that God does not violate His own Law.


#8

So are you folks suggesting that God is somehow held to a lower moral standard than human beings? Or to none at all since there is no one He is accountable to?

Shudder

:eek:


#9

[quote=Neithan]Fair enough, however, in the case of the Canaanite massacre, God did not directly kill these people, He ordered the Israelites to do so. In this case genocide would be a moral evil.
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It doesn’t matter. God works miracles through people (cff. Acts 19:11) He can also work punishment through people, as he did in this case. It is still God’s command. Remember, the number one commandment is to love God, which means also to obey him. It doesn’t matter WHAT God tells us to do or how ridiculous: so long as we listen to Him, we are not doing any sin, and what we do is Him through us.

Imagine that some Israelite nut today went around saying that God privately revealed to Him a commandment to gather an army and annihilate the Palestinians with nuclear weapons. Using your reasoning, you would have no right to judge his followers, because the madman claims that the command comes directly from God. Basically, I’m saying that if God commands a human to do something, this must be in line with Natural Law or else morality has no absolute value (it would be completely relative).

Well, if God REALLY told him to do it, then there’s nothing wrong with it and it’s GOD’S COMMANDMENT, and it’s God working through the man. However, there are plenty of people who claim to be acting in the name of God all the time, everything from the UCC endorsing gay marriage to Usama bin Laden blowing people up… it doesn’t mean God really told them to. If God REALLY told him to do this, we could not judge the man’s followers. If the fellow just read the Torah on the other hand and got the wrong idea from it to do something, that doesn’t count.

You may ask how we can know if God really told somebody to. That is an entire other arguement which doesn’t have any consequence for our theoretical possibilities here.

Exactly, it is impossible for God to murder; however, we are specifically dealing with genocide here, which is condemned as a moral evil by the CCC. Since the invasion of the Canaanites was carried out by human beings, Natural Law would apply to them, yes/no?

Again, the number one rule is that we obey God. The Israelites were obeying God, which is all that matters. Genocide is listed as a moral evil because God tells us it is so. God tells us it is so because it is HIS right to choose when to end life, not ours. In His killing of a whole people, there can be no violation of the moral law because the moral law against killing has as its basis that God DOES have the right to do these things. It’s not that the law doesn’t apply to God, it’s that the law is based on God’s sovreignity over life. God was not telling them it was ok to do an immoral thing; He was doing something He had every right to do but using them as tool.

Let’s give an example. Say I go to my children and say, “It is not permitted to go into my room.” Does this mean that I can’t go in there myself? Of course not. Does this mean I can’t tell my children to go in there to get something for me? Of course not. The rule is based on the fact that I own the room and everything inside, and I have a right to what is in there, not anyone else. Therefore, it is not a violation of my own rule to go in there, because the rule is based on the fact, and actually made because, I have sovreignity over the room.


#10

[quote=Lazerlike42]It doesn’t matter. God works miracles through people (cff. Acts 19:11) He can also work punishment through people, as he did in this case. It is still God’s command. Remember, the number one commandment is to love God, which means also to obey him. It doesn’t matter WHAT God tells us to do or how ridiculous: so long as we listen to Him, we are not doing any sin, and what we do is Him through us.
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The simple problem is: would God command something which contradicts Natural Law? If this is so, then morality has no absolute value. That’s my whole point. Is morality absolute or relative? God created morality and all spiritual beings can recognize it if imperfectly. An atheist does not need to read the Bible to know that murder is wrong, he simply knows this from an innate conscience. God’s commands affirm what He has already created, and to say that He would violate any of these commands (which never happens, so I don’t see why you are arguing for it) is in contradiction to the revelation of His immutability (Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17).

You may ask how we can know if God really told somebody to. That is an entire other arguement which doesn’t have any consequence for our theoretical possibilities here.

This is exactly my point. It is impossible to know if God has commanded someone to do something if He would directly contradict His revealed and unchanging commands! God’s Law is eternal. Hypothetically, one of the ways we could judge a valid prophet would be if He keeps God’s commandments.

God was not telling them it was ok to do an immoral thing; He was doing something He had every right to do but using them as tool.

I have to disagree with you, that God would ever tell a human being to do what He has previously commanded as immoral. He would be contradicting Himself. The very fact that He is using His people as a tool is why (God is not directly slaughtering the Canaanites through some natural diaster). Yes, His ways are not our ways, but why would He tell us to contradict the ways He has set for us? Given that this does not anywhere in Scripture ever occur (I’m still anticipating any comment on my refutation of the initial post), I don’t understand why you insist on its possibility when it would void morality of any absolute value.

Let’s give an example. Say I go to my children and say, “It is not permitted to go into my room.” Does this mean that I can’t go in there myself? Of course not. Does this mean I can’t tell my children to go in there to get something for me? Of course not. The rule is based on the fact that I own the room and everything inside, and I have a right to what is in there, not anyone else. Therefore, it is not a violation of my own rule to go in there, because the rule is based on the fact, and actually made because, I have sovreignity over the room.

If you tell your children to enter your room for whatever reason, then you are contradicting your original order that they are never allowed into it. You would need to say initially
"It is not permitted to go into my room, unless I tell you to do so." This commandment would keep your integrity intact. God is perfect, and He does not contradict His eternal Laws. He never commands anyone to murder, and He never commanded the Israelites to wage a genocide. Even the CCC does not add the disclaimer to paragraph 2313 “unless God Himself commands it” because He never did/does/would.


#11

You’re missing the whole point, but it may be because of the way the arguements have been made.

The only reason murder is wrong is because God is the only one with sovreignity over life and death. He alone can choose when a person dies or not.

Now it’s important to understand that God’s revelation is not limited to what He has told us. He has also revealed His ways to us by writing a basic moral code in our hearts. We all know murder is wrong because He wrote it in their when we were born, which is why atheists know.

But you have to understand WHY it is wrong, and that is because of God’s sole right to power over life. He tells us, both in words (Moses, Jesus, Scripture) and in our hearts, murder is wrong, but wrong ONLY BECAUSE WE CAN’T DECIDE WHEN TO END A LIFE. That is the entire basis for the law, even the law written in our hearts (just because atheists don’t understand this it doesn’t make it true). When GOD DECIDES that a life can end, then it’s no violation for us to end the life because the SPIRIT of the law is about us choosing when to end a life.

The law really says, ‘thou shalt not take God’s role in choosing when a life should end.’ He only tells it to us, in words and in our hearts, that murder is wrong because we can’t understand the entire fullness of the law (just like OT persons wouldn’t have been able to understand the fullness of the law in a different sense, which is why it was presented only as a "shadow,’ as St. Paul tells us).

Even if we did understand it the way it really is, God still couldn’t tell it to us that way because atheists wouldn’t read the Bible or anything and so they wouldn’t get that. Now you might ask why God can’t simply write in their hearts the full meaning of the law so they needn’t go looking for it. The answer is, that God could have written in their hearts that He exists, but He simply chose NOT to for reasons that are completely and only up to Him.

As parents we do this all the time. We tell our young children not to go near the stove. We don’t tell them the FULL meaning, which would be close to don’t touch the stove when it’s on, because they can’t understand this. When they grow up, of course, we tell them. We, as humans, need to “grow up” too, to understand God’s laws in all their fullness, but the closest we can do is go to Heaven (we will never grow up and be gods ourselves, in other words).


#12

Our problem (IMHO) is we are trying to rationalize this according to human standards. Don’t you think if God kills innocent people for any reason, they are going to get some type of reward in heaven (which is all of ours actual goal, isn’t it?).

Anyone who is persecuted in defense of Jesus goes to heaven, right? Isn’t it logical to assume that anyone who dies so God can teach others a lesson would get some kind of heavenly reward?

Notworthy


#13

[quote=NotWorthy]Our problem (IMHO) is we are trying to rationalize this according to human standards. Don’t you think if God kills innocent people for any reason, they are going to get some type of reward in heaven (which is all of ours actual goal, isn’t it?).

Anyone who is persecuted in defense of Jesus goes to heaven, right? Isn’t it logical to assume that anyone who dies so God can teach others a lesson would get some kind of heavenly reward?

Notworthy
[/quote]

Great point.

By the way, who is this Anthony Flood guy and what’s his agenda?


#14

[quote=Lazerlike42]But you have to understand WHY it is wrong, and that is because of God’s sole right to power over life. He tells us, both in words (Moses, Jesus, Scripture) and in our hearts, murder is wrong, but wrong ONLY BECAUSE WE CAN’T DECIDE WHEN TO END A LIFE. That is the entire basis for the law, even the law written in our hearts (just because atheists don’t understand this it doesn’t make it true). When GOD DECIDES that a life can end, then it’s no violation for us to end the life because the SPIRIT of the law is about us choosing when to end a life.
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Are you saying that murder is wrong, unless God commands us to murder? Or that genocide is wrong, unless God commands it?
I would say that murder is absolutely wrong, and God never commands it. That genocide is absolutely wrong, and that God never commands it.
Both of these are moral evils which God does never Himself directly (which is not the case here) or indirectly (which you may be arguing) cause.
God may command you to enact His will and kill somebody, but never to murder them (which is, by definition, the taking of an innocent life for no reason).*****
Killing someone is not a sin. Murdering them is. This is exemplified by the fact that not every time a police officer guns a criminal down, he:
a). was commanded by God;
nor
b). is committing an evil act.

Even if we did understand it the way it really is, God still couldn’t tell it to us that way because atheists wouldn’t read the Bible or anything and so they wouldn’t get that. Now you might ask why God can’t simply write in their hearts the full meaning of the law so they needn’t go looking for it. The answer is, that God could have written in their hearts that He exists, but He simply chose NOT to for reasons that are completely and only up to Him.

Didn’t God write His existence on every human heart? Isn’t it Original Sin that causes us to disobey Him, fail to recognize by our own reasoning the whole of Natural Law, and allow our Pride to impede our Faith?

Now it’s important to understand that God’s revelation is not limited to what He has told us. He has also revealed His ways to us by writing a basic moral code in our hearts. We all know murder is wrong because He wrote it in their when we were born, which is why atheists know.

We do not know the whole of Divine Law, but we do know Natural Law–which is made for us and based on the former–although Original Sin muddies our apprehension of it, which is why God clarifies it for us in Revelation. He does not create morality by His commandments (Divine Command Theory), but affirms the morality He has already created.

As parents we do this all the time. We tell our young children not to go near the stove. We don’t tell them the FULL meaning, which would be close to don’t touch the stove when it’s on, because they can’t understand this. When they grow up, of course, we tell them. We, as humans, need to “grow up” too, to understand God’s laws in all their fullness, but the closest we can do is go to Heaven (we will never grow up and be gods ourselves, in other words).

Sure, we can use the analogy that God understands morality wholly, infinitely and perfectly in the Divine Law, but this does not negate the absolute value of Natural Law, which is based upon it. Perhaps I am missing your point again… but I fail to see how we can argue that God would ever contradict Natural Law, when He is unchanging, especially given the fact that there is no evidence in Scripture or Tradition to show that He ever does this.

*****You may bring up the objection that a madman could just as easily say that God commanded Him to kill someone, and therefore He is justified; however, this is much trickier in practice, as the Apostle Paul writes with authority that Christians are to obey their civil government (Romans 13:1).
Moreover, in the age of the Church, she is the ultimate interpreter of God’s word; therefore, if anyone were to claim a private revelation from God *against *her teaching, we can safely assume that they are a nutcase or a liar.


#15

[quote=Genesis315] By the way, who is this Anthony Flood guy and what’s his agenda?
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Oh he’s just some random skeptic with a website. They’re a dime a dozen these days.

Ironic how the Church actually does benefit in the end from their, admittedly intriguing, attacks.


#16

People have their own standards, but the problem begins when they apply these standards to God. We are obliged to show justice to all because it is morally commanded by God himself. That’s why we cringe whenever we come across ethnic cleansing and mass murder.

God however, IS JUSTICE himself. As the supreme creator of all that exists, he has the right to exercise his will, and we can be absolutely sure it is just.

So how does this apply to Joshua? Well, for one, Joshua and his people lived some 1500 years before Christ. Moral standards were different then. It is a grave mistake to apply 21st-century political correctness to a visibly more savage era. God commanded the Israelites to do what needed to be done according to the moral standards of the time. And it needed to be done because the nation of Israel had to be planted.

Besides, those Cannanites were not innocent. They were idolaters and practiced human sacrifice. They would have posed a spiritual danger to Israel had they remained (and Israel made the mistake of sparing some of them, with terrible consequences).

In any case, it boils down to this: when God commanded, they did it, no questions asked.

Dare we do the same?


#17

[quote=porthos11] In any case, it boils down to this: when God commanded, they did it, no questions asked.
[/quote]

Exactly. And He did not command a genocide (or murder). Because these are moral evils, and God is perfect. He does not have a different moral standard from us, we are in His image; He has an infinitely perfect moral standard (Divine Law) which is infinitely above us, but our own (Natural Law) is based upon it and does not contradict it.


#18

[quote=NotWorthy]Our problem (IMHO) is we are trying to rationalize this according to human standards.
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In the words of the Catholic Encyclopaedia:

(3) The term Rationalism is perhaps not usually applied to the theological method of the Catholic Church. All forms of theological statement, however, and pre-eminently the dialectical form of Catholic theology, are rationalistic in the truest sense. Indeed, the claim of such Rationalism as is dealt with above is directly met by the counter claim of the Church: that it is at best but a mutilated and unreasonable Rationalism, not worthy of the name, while that of the Church is rationally complete, and integrated, moreover, with super-rational truth. In this sense Catholic theology presupposes the certain truths of natural reason as the preambula fidei, philosophy (the ancilla theologiæ) is employed in the defence of revealed truth (see APOLOGETICS), and the content of Divine revelation is treated and systematized in the categories of natural thought. This systematization is carried out both in dogmatic and moral theology. It is a process contemporaneous with the first attempt at a scientific statement of religious truth, comes to perfection of method in the works of such writers as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus, and is consistently employed and developed in the Schools (boldface mine).

The Catholic Church is rational, and it is her constant practice that Christian doctrine must be grasped to the fullest extent of human understanding. This doesn’t mean we presume to perfectly understand–far from it, but what is true cannot violate our understanding which God has given us.

I am sometimes shocked and saddened at the fiercely reactionary, protestant-minded fideism which pervades the thinking of modern faithful, particularly in these forums. In almost all of my threads there are a few who answer with something to the effect of ‘you cannot understand; stop reasoning; just believe.’ This is contrary to the Catholic spirit and, frankly, heretical.
In our zeal to ‘defend God’ from the incessant attacks of skeptics we are falling into their trap of positioning Reason and Faith in opposite corners of the arena. With that we may just as well throw in the towel in the fight against modernism and its post-modernist spawn.

Anyone who is persecuted in defense of Jesus goes to heaven, right? Isn’t it logical to assume that anyone who dies so God can teach others a lesson would get some kind of heavenly reward?

Yes… but the Canaanites lived before Christ and no one was able to enter heaven at that time. I would leave their particular judgment to when Christ descended to the dead after His death. Did He not minister to the deceased, or is that just superstition?


#19

[quote=Neithan] Did He not minister to the deceased, or is that just superstition?
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Well, He definitely descended in to Hell for three days, so He must have been doing something down there.:cool:


#20

[quote=Neithan]Exactly. And He did not command a genocide (or murder). Because these are moral evils, and God is perfect. He does not have a different moral standard from us, we are in His image; He has an infinitely perfect moral standard (Divine Law) which is infinitely above us, but our own (Natural Law) is based upon it and does not contradict it.
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Put that way, yes. Genocide or murder is intrinsically evil and God cannot do that. Therefore his order to wipe out (herem) the Canaanites had to be founded on something else. That that something else was for the implantation of his people, and to eliminate the danger to them. He did not have as his motive to exterminate them due to racial concerns. Many of the Canaanites accepted Yahweh and assimilated into Israelite society.

The problem with these non-Christian writers is that they think all killing is bad. It isn’t. The ancient herem warfare was an act of justice according to the moral standards of the time.


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