God the Original Fascist
Revolution #015, September 25, 2005, posted at revcom.us
EDITOR’S NOTE: This series of articles was submitted by a reader who was inspired by Bob Avakian’s writings and talks on religion and, further provoked by discussions and arguments with friends about the Bible, engaged in a systematic study of the first five books of the Bible. These books, which are known as the “Mosaic books” (and which contain such crucial passages as that outlining the Ten Commandments), lay out the foundation for some of the Bible’s most important themes. After having read these five, Mosaic books of the Bible, the reader was struck even more deeply by how profoundly the essence of the Bible’s message has been distorted and hidden.
Introduction to the Series: Why Studying What the Bible Actually Says Is Crucial in These Times
“When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it responds peaceably and lets you in, all the people present there shall serve you at forced labor. If it does not surrender to you, but would join battle with you, you shall lay siege to it; and when the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, the livestock, and everything in the town—all its spoil—and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy, which the Lord your God gives you. Thus shall you deal with all towns that lie very far from you, towns that do not belong to nations thereabout. In the towns of the latter people, however, which the Lord your God is giving you as a heritage, you shall not let a soul remain alive.”
“See, I set before you this day life and prosperity, death and adversity. For I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His Commandments, His laws, and His Rules, that you may thrive and increase, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land you are about to enter and possess. But if your heart turns away and you give no heed, and are lured into the worship and service of other gods, I declare to you this day that you shall certainly perish. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commandments, and holding Fast to him.”
Moses, speaking to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30
“You’re either with us or with the terrorists.”
George W. Bush, shortly after September 11, 2001
Recently, I had a spirited and instructive debate with a close friend of mine. Like me, this person is an atheist, and thus by definition does not believe that the workings of the universe are governed by a God, or a higher power of any sort. However, she was arguing that whether or not one believes literally in a God, the “core principles” that are articulated in the Bible are good rules to live by.
This is actually a viewpoint that I have encountered relatively often, and I decided it was something worth looking into. It was actually this discussion, in large part, that provided the immediate inspiration for me to read and study the five Mosaic books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. As it turns out, almost from the beginning of the text, one can find the advocacy of codes of conduct and belief systems that, if followed literally, would do tremendous harm to any society. This, in turn, got me thinking about some eerie connections between the type of rhetoric, ideology, and actions one finds in these Mosaic books and the rhetoric, ideology, and action that pervades the Bush administration and its most devoted followers.
This country, and all of humanity, are currently confronted with a president whose policies and ideology are so horrific that they in many ways surpass those of even the most ruthless war criminals to occupy the presidency in the past (and this is indeed a competitive field!). The “Dubya” regime has been characterized by unprecedented and overt demands for total, unquestioning obedience to the program of this ruling class. This program has been centered around the perpetration of unspeakable acts of death, destruction, and torture against people in Iraq, in the Guantanamo Bay prisons, and throughout the globe. The ruling structure in power has, of course, sought to legitimize and enable these atrocities abroad by creating the basis for swift repression on the “home front” against all those who do not step in line to support this program.
Meanwhile, another element of Bush’s regime that has so many people correctly identifying Dubya as a “fascist” is his allegiance to and central role in the leadership of an Evangelical Christian movement that aims to transform society in a way that aligns it with a strict, literal interpretation of the Bible. In short, Bush and Co. aim to create a Christian theocracy. This, to say the least, would reap consequences for humanity that are disastrous in terms of the future of science in our society; the basic rights of people of color, women, Jews, homosexuals, and other groups that have been discriminated against and oppressed; the flourishing of critical thinking and debate, and many other areas.
It cannot be overstated that the coexistence of Bush’s vision of a society based on strict adherence to the Bible, and his policy of world domination and plunder, is anything but a coincidence. Indeed, Bush often articulates (sometimes subtly, sometimes directly) a vision of conquering Iraq and other “terrorist nations” in terms of a war between cultures and civilizations, with America carrying the sword of Christianity. In fact, General Jerry Boykin, currently one of Bush’s most trusted leaders in the armed forces, has openly referred to the war on Iraq as a war against “Satan.”
Many folks—including plenty of well-intentioned progressives and even leftists, as well as religious people who seek to emphasize aspects of their faith that seem to focus on serving and providing for one another rather than conquering or converting—have banded together to condemn Dubya’s vision as a perversion of the core principles of the Bible. However, while this viewpoint is clearly based on a fundamental hatred of atrocities carried out by the system and must be united with on that level, to classify what Bush and company are doing (and trying to do) as a misguided reading of the Bible is in an important sense missing the boat.
In actuality, and somewhat ironically, the Christian fascist reading of the Bible is not at all misguided but is instead quite accurate. In other words, the horrific vision of the current administration does not demonstrate the horror of deviating from the core principles of the Bible; rather, it shows the horror of following the core principles on the Bible.
To understand this more fully, it is necessary to do what is done far too infrequently, especially in this society, and even more especially at this particular juncture in time: We must examine some of the key principles that are actually articulated in the Bible, rather than merely relying upon what essentially amounts to literary “sound bytes”; i.e. the referencing of a few passages that are either not representative of the overall themes of the Bible or are taken out of their context—or both. In this way, I am hopeful that valuable discourse will have been generated that will seek to identify the very biblical roots of the deadly program the Christian fascist element of this system seeks to implement. I am likewise hopeful that such discussion will illuminate the necessity to oppose this program itself, as well as to recognize the horrors that inevitably result from efforts to implement the value system promoted by the Evangelicals’ most revered text: The Holy Bible.
Over the course of this series, I will center this discussion of the Bible around the five Mosaic books, seeking to subject these documents to a process that they far too often elude: critical analysis. While these books do not even represent the entirety of the Old Testament of the Bible, to say nothing of the New Testament, examining them nonetheless provides a valuable window into some of the key themes that the Bible addresses. In this series, the first five books of the Bible will be examined and dissected, using many references to individual passages to support my points, but with the ultimate emphasis being not on the same regurgitation of individual phrases that the Evangelicals focus on, but rather on the goal of arriving at a much more clear picture of the predominant themes that characterize the first five books of the Bible.
Over the course of this examination, I hope to demonstrate that in its essence, the story of the five Mosaic books is primarily one that many folks in contemporary American society know all too well: A repressive social order, consolidation of rule “at home” by way of fear and terror, and the bolstering of power by unrelenting conquest and destruction of “foreign” peoples and their countries. It is because of all these elements that I refer to God quite unapologetically as the “O.F.”—Original Fascist.
Part 1: The Core Principles, and the Actual Outlook, of the Bible
There can be little doubt that throughout history, awful events and acts have been initiated and justified in the name of Christianity. To briefly mention just a few powerful examples: The Crusades; the conquest of Aztec, Incan, and other Native American civilizations by Europeans who felt their society and religion were superior; the brutal enslavement of Africans in the Americas; the persecution of Jews throughout history, most horrifically and powerfully embodied in the Holocaust; and the present war against an “axis of evil” that many Christian fascists feel is synonymous with a war against the Islamic world. In addition, fundamentalist Christians have used the Bible to condemn homosexuality, and demand that women occupy a traditional, subordinate role to men in society at large, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom.
However, as mentioned, while many progressive-minded folks readily recognize the horrible ways in which the Bible and religion have been used over the centuries to reinforce oppressive social agendas and justify all sorts of crimes against humanity, what is far less understood is the degree to which these repugnant principles are actually articulated as plain as day right in the Bible itself. How in the world, many people wonder, can a book that emphasizes loving thy mother and father, serving the poor and disadvantaged, and respecting the humanity of others- be distorted to serve such vicious and cruel ends?
The answer, unfortunately, is that these high-minded principles, in actuality, have very little to do with the fundamental message of the Bible. I hate to say it folks, but as crazy as these Christian fascists seem (and are), they’re not merely pulling ideas out of thin air. The core principles that Dubya and the Christian fascists are seeking to apply and uphold today as the guiding light for America’s foreign and domestic policy are the very same core principles that one finds in the Mosaic books: conquest, plunder, oppression, and repression of all sorts.
In some ways, it is easy to see how good-hearted people could be deceived into interpreting the Bible as a source of moral goodness and love for others. All that one has to do is isolate the passages that seem to reflect these sentiments and then teach them as if they were reflective of the text as a whole. This is, in fact, largely the way that the Bible and other religious texts are traditionally taught in modern societies. For instance, in one passage in Exodus 34, God is described as “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation.” Several other passages throughout the Mosaic books call for mercy to be visited upon those in need and even those who are oppressed. For instance, in Exodus 22, God reminds the Israelites not to celebrate their release from enslavement at the hands of the Egyptians by oppressing others: “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
And in Deuteronomy 23, the principle is articulated that “You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge” from his master; “He shall live with you in any place he may choose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases; you must not ill-treat him.”
It is from passages such as these that progressive-minded religious folks have derived the idea that the Bible can be used as a tool to spread love for fellow citizens and as a weapon to fight social injustice. There is only one problem, however: While seemingly high-minded principles such as these are indeed sprinkled here and there in the Bible, they are in no way representative of—and in fact, contradict—the fundamental essence of the text. Just as the entire history of the United States—with its brutal oppression of women, people of color, homosexuals, and other groups, combined with the unspeakable savagery it has visited upon peoples throughout the globe—makes a mockery of the progressive-sounding rhetoric that can be found in some parts of the Declaration of Independence, so does the vast majority of what is written in the five Mosaic books reveal the few respectable passages to be nothing more than lip service.
The Bible and Science
To begin with something that is so obvious it is often overlooked, if one takes the Bible literally, then one must believe that the entire world, and the plethora of diverse life that can be found on it today, were created not over the course of millions and billions of years by natural processes but rather over the span of a mere seven days (or actually six days— let’s not forget that day of rest) by an all-powerful creator! This belief, of course, leaves those who adhere to it no choice but to disregard centuries of advances in science that have shown that life on earth has existed for billions of years, and that life evolves through the natural process of natural selection, rendering many species that once existed extinct but also creating new ones. (The topic of evolution is masterfully and thoroughly discussed in the excellent multi-section series by Ardea Skybreak, The Science of Evolution. Check it out—it’s fun!)
To use just two examples, taking the Bible’s version of creation as fact, one would have to conclude that God created such wonders of the world as the Grand Canyon and dinosaurs, both of which science has proven to date back far, far beyond the time that the Bible was written. Confronted with awesome discrepancies such as this, it is no accident that Evangelicals are left to scramble to devise ludicrous explanations such as that dinosaurs and humans roamed the earth at the same time, and that all of the Grand Canyon was created during the Flood mentioned in the story of Noah’s ark! The only thing more astounding than these explanations themselves is the frightening reality that these explanations are actually gaining currency in “mainstream” thought; for instance, as discussed in Esther Kaplan’s work With God on Their Side, the Grand Canyon gift shop was recently forced to begin selling books that “explained” that the Canyon’s features were carved out as the result of the great flood unleashed by God.
When ignorance and cruelty are combined great horrors result—and, as will be shown more fully in the rest of this series, that is what will happen if the Bible, and what it actually says, is taken as The Truth and acted on.
Part 2: The Repressive Social Order of the Bible
The Bible and the Oppression of Women
Along with the biblical myth of creation, also to be found early on in the story of Genesis is the first mention of a theme that is repeated quite frequently throughout the Mosaic books: the oppression and inferiority of women. Even many of those who have read very little, if any, of the Bible are aware of the story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were supposedly the first human beings that God created. While Adam was created from the dust of the earth, Eve was merely created from Adam’s rib, thus consigning woman in essence to the status of an appendage of man. God forbids Adam and Eve from eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Eve then convinces Adam to eat the fruit anyway, and God becomes enraged upon discovering this. So how does God react? By saying to Eve, “I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing. In pain shall you bear children, yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3)
From this passage, we are expected to accept two notions that reinforce the suffering and subordination of woman: First, that childbearing, rather than being viewed as an act that leads to joyousness, actually represents a punishment bestowed upon woman by God. And secondly, that men should rule over women. As mentioned, the latter in particular is a theme returned to multiple times throughout the first five books of the Bible. The women of the Mosaic books are kept as concubines (sex slaves), bartered and controlled as possessions, and subject to the most horrific of abuses. Abraham, for instance, is one of the most famous Biblical figures. When Sarai, wife of Abraham (who is originally called “Abram” and then later renamed), proves unable to conceive, how is the situation resolved? Well, according to Genesis 16, it is resolved when Abraham sleeps with a concubine instead: “So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took her maid—Hagar the Egyptian—and gave her to her husband Abram as a concubine.”
Later, in Leviticus 12, it is said that after a woman gives birth to a male, she shall remain in “blood purification” for thirty-three days, a period of time during which she must be isolated from all living things. However, if a woman gives birth to a female,she must remain in an isolated state for double that time—sixty-six days. What a statement to make about the value of women in society—both that they must remain isolated in a state of “uncleanliness” following the act of childbirth, and also that their period of “uncleanliness” is double if they gave birth to a girl rather than a boy!
Further on in Leviticus, the horrors for women continue. For instance, it is clearly stated that “When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry, it is her father whom she defiles; she shall be put to fire.” (Leviticus 21) Here we see not only the horrifying consequence for a woman who engages in prostitution, but also the articulation of the notion that daughters are nothing more than an extension of their father’s property.
Meanwhile, passages in Deuteronomy outline the “ideal” procedure for how to capture women as prizes of war:
“When you take the field against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your power and you take some of them captive and you see among the captives a beautiful woman and you desire her and would take her to wife, you shall bring her into your house and she shall trim her hair, pare her nails, and discard her captive’s garb. She shall spend a month’s time in your house lamenting her father and mother, after that you may come to possess her and she shall be your wife.” (Deuteronomy 21)
Where to even begin with the horrors of the above passage?! For one, the reader will no doubt immediately notice that it is apparently of no consequence whether the woman in question wishes to become sexually involved with the man! Rather, the woman is immediately declared a possession of the man who wishes to capture her, and she has no choice but to surrender to him.
The absolute surrender of woman to man laid out in the Bible is driven home in an even more powerful and explicit manner a few passages later: “If a man comes upon a virgin and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall pay the girl’s father fifty [shekhels of] silver, and she shall be his wife.” (Deuteronomy 22) Again, it is clear that the choice of a woman does not enter into the equation anywhere—she is powerless! If a man “seizes”—i.e. rapes—her, she not only can but must become the property of the very man who raped her, so long as he can provide monetary compensation. And the reader will again notice that the woman is being treated as nothing more than an extension of her father’s property—monetary compensation is paid because a father’s property—not a human being—was violated.
In this same book of the Bible, one finds that if a man accuses his wife of not being a virgin prior to their marriage, the parents of the girl are supposed to produce a bloody bed sheet that proves she was, in fact, a virgin. “But if the charge proves true, the girl was found not to have been a virgin, then the girl shall be brought out to the entrance of her father’s house, and the men of her town shall stone her to death.” (Deuteronomy 22) Perhaps it is worth taking a moment to pause and reflect on what kind of statement it makes if a woman accused of not being a virgin prior to marriage—i.e., accused of not being her husband’s complete sexual property—must be faced with either the humiliation of producing a bloody bedsheet or be brutally stoned to death.
I could go on and on quoting passages from the Bible that demonstrate in no uncertain terms that in every facet of life and society, women were expected to completely surrender to the will of their husbands and to be subordinate to men in general. In the interests of conserving space and time, however, it likely suffices to simply consider this: What would the implications be if the principles discussed thus far were taken and applied literally to a society?
The Bible and Slavery
Ah yes, of all the wonderful values extolled in the Mosaic books, perhaps none is more admirable than the notion of one human being owning another. Indeed, slavery is mentioned throughout each of the five Mosaic books of the Bible. Some passages mention the institution in a way that simply makes it clear that the practice is viewed as inevitable and a natural part of the social order of the times, while -others go a step further and actually outline the “proper” procedures by which one human being should “possess” another. In the first category, we find numerous examples taken straight from the Bible. Perhaps most noteworthy is the reference to slavery found in the Ten Commandments. The tenth and final Commandment instructs that God’s people: “Shall not covet their neighbor’s house, wife, male or female slave, ox or ass, or anything else.” (Exodus 20) When this is pointed out to many religious persons, their response is that this part of the Tenth Commandment does not actually condone slavery; it merely mentions its existence. This argument is severely lacking in logic. In fact, it is plain as day that the Bible is implying that there is nothing wrong with slavery itself—rather, people should simply stick to their own slaves and not covet those “belonging” to others!
If “God” were actually trying to say that slavery as a whole should not exist, why would He give an instruction that is clearly designed to protect the “human property” of others? Furthermore, to use an analogy, suppose that in present society someone were to devise a law that said: “Thou shalt not commit murder on a Tuesday.” Would anyone actually try to defend this law by saying, “Well, this law isn’t saying that murder is OK, it just says that murdering on a TUESDAY is not OK”? Of course not. By specifying that committing murder on a Tuesday is immoral, the law would clearly be implying that murdering someone on any other day was just fine—just as saying that people should not “covet” other people’s slaves clearly implies acceptance of slavery and merely rejects coveting the “property” of others.
Slavery is also mentioned in Genesis 12 in relation to Abram (again, he who was later renamed Abraham): “Because of her [Sarai, Abram’s wife], it went well with Abram; [upon entering Egypt], he acquired sheep, oxen, asses, male and female slaves, she-asses, and camels.” Notice that acquiring slaves is viewed as a sign of when things “went well.”
Or how about Genesis 17, when God tells Abraham: “As for the homeborn slave and the one bought from an outsider who is not your offspring, they must be circumcised, homeborn, and purchased alike.” Or how about Genesis 32, when Jacob sends a message ahead to his brother Esau: “I stayed with Laban and remained until now. I have acquired cattle, asses, and male and female slaves.”
Still not convinced that the Bible is chock full of references to slavery—references that make clear that the Bible approves of slavery? How about this fine passage from Exodus, which instructs that, “When a man strikes a slave, male or female, with a rod, and he dies there and then, he must be avenged. But if he survives a day or two, he is not to be avenged, since he is the other’s property.” (Exodus 21) Here, the Bible goes one step beyond the part of the Ten Commandments where slavery is merely “mentioned”: Now slaves are clearly identified as “human property”—which, we can only conclude, is just fine with God. And this passage also makes clear that beating slaves within inches of their life is acceptable as long as they are not literally killed.
References to slavery hardly decrease as one progresses through the five Mosaic books. In fact, if anything, these references become more explicit. In Leviticus 25, God instructs his “chosen people” that “Such male and female slaves as you have—it is from the nations round about you that you may acquire male and female slaves... such you may treat as slaves.” There it is, plain as day—enslaving other peoples is OK in the eyes of God, according to the Bible. And as a later passage in Deuteronomy makes evident, the Biblical God does not merely sanction the enslavement of people in the nations “round about you,” but rather is perfectly willing to accept the enslavement of his own chosen people as well: “If a fellow Hebrew, man or woman, is sold to you, he shall serve for six years, and in the seventh year, you shall set him free.” (Deuteronomy 15)
Again, as with instances where the Bible sanctions the oppression of women, there are many more that could be found and discussed, just in the first five, Mosaic books of the Bible. But I feel that those referenced so far are more than enough to make all of us shudder at the implications of applying this “core principle” of the Bible literally.
The Bible and the Death Penalty
Many good-hearted religious folks point to passages such as the Commandment that reads, “Thou shalt not kill” to argue that the practice of state-sanctioned executions is ungodly. Unfortunately, while the death penalty in this society is indeed a great horror, it is not “ungodly.” The Holy Bible is full of instances where God commands that people be put to death. In some passages, God decrees that a specific transgression occurring in the Bible be dealt with by executing the offender, while in still other places he merely articulates that in any instance where a specific act is committed, the offender shall be put to death.
Passages in Exodus 21 outline a variety of crimes for which offenders shall be executed:
- “He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death.”
- “He who strikes his father or mother shall be put to death.”
- “He who kidnaps a man shall be put to death.”
- “He who insults his father or mother shall be put to death.”
In particular, it is worth examining the last of these “crimes.” Think about that law for a moment: “He who insults his father or mother shall be put to death.” How many of us in society—even those who are extremely close to our immediate families—have not at one time or another in our lives done something that could be considered insulting to our parents? The Bible would have us believe that any of us who are guilty of such an act should be put to death!! Many folks may be surprised to find that such a horrific law could be stated in the Bible; to be honest, I was pretty blown away myself! But perhaps it is not surprising that passages like this are not well advertised: Evangelical Chris-tians are not anxious to point out that their beloved scriptures would call for executing those who merely insult their mothers or fathers, because it would make the lunacy of following the Bible literally a lot more readily apparent!
In the event that anyone missed the point of the passage in Exodus 21, God is kind enough to repeat it several times throughout the Bible, including in Leviti-cus, where it is plainly stated: “If anyone insults his father or mother, he shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 20) This principle is then spelled out further in Deuteronomy, in a passage that articulates the notion that “If a man has a wayward and defiant son, who does not heed his father or mother and does not obey him even after they discipline him, his mother and father shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his community. They shall say to the elders of the town, ‘This son of ours is disloyal and defiant. He does not heed us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Thereupon the men of his town shall stone him to death.” (Deuteronomy 21)
Working on the Sabbath—a day which God commanded be set aside as a day of rest and worship to Himself—is also a crime for which the Bible advocates a penalty of death. In Exodus, this is made clear when God says: “Nevertheless, you must keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between you and me throughout the ages. He who profanes it shall be put to death.. Whoever does work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.” (Exodus 31) Like the Commandment concerning the execution of defiant children, God is nice enough to alleviate any confusion by repeating throughout the Mosaic books that those who work on the Sabbath shall be put to death, including in a passage further on in Exodus: “Whoever does work on it [the Sabbath] shall be put to death.” (Exodus 35)
That death to those who work on the Sabbath is designed as a law and not merely an idea is made clear in Numbers: “Once, when the Israelites were in the wilderness, they came upon a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him as he was gathering wood brought him before Moses, Aaron, and the whole community. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘This man shall be put to death: the whole community shall pelt him with stones outside the camp.’ So the whole community took him outside the camp and stoned him to death—as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Numbers 15)
Another crime for which the death penalty is advocated is blasphemy. As will be discussed at greater length in the next part of this series, it is made plain throughout the Mosaic books that God will show no mercy or patience to those who deviate from following him absolutely. For now, it will suffice to mention just a few examples of this. In Leviticus, the Bible describes an occurrence where, “The son of a half-Israelite woman had blasphemed.” (Leviticus 24) The penalty for this blaspheming was brutal: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Take the blasphemer outside the camp; and let all who were within hearing lay their hands upon his head, and let the whole community stone him.’” (Leviticus 24)
Immediately after this passage, it is made clear that this instance is to serve as an example of the proper ways that blasphemers are supposed to be dealt with in all cases: “And to the Israelite woman, speak thus: Anyone who blasphemes God shall bear his guilt; if he also pronounces the name Lord, he shall be put to death. The whole community shall stone him.” (Leviticus 24) Again, it is worth reflecting on the implications of this Commandment from God: How many of us in society—religious or otherwise—have not at some point uttered an expression such as “Oh my God!”, or “God damn it!”? According to the Bible, that is blasphemy—“taking the Lord’s name in vain”—and is grounds for the death penalty!
One particular form of blasphemy for which God doles out particularly merciless punishment is the worship of other supernatural Gods or spirits. In Leviticus, we find that “A man or a woman who has a familiar ghost or spirit shall be put to death; they shall be pelted with stones.” (Leviticus 20) In Deuteronomy, Moses continues with this theme, reminding the Israelites: “Revere only the Lord your God and worship Him alone, and swear only by His name. Do not follow other Gods. For the Lord your God is an impassioned God, lest the anger of the Lord your God blaze forth against you and He wipe you off the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 6)
The theory of these passages is put into brutal practice in many instances in the first five books of the Bible, including in a memorable passage in Exodus: Moses returns from Mount Sinai to find that many of the Israelites have built a golden calf and are worshipping it. Upon returning to the Israelites and observing the calf, Moses is consumed with rage and responds by grinding the calf into dust, and then making the Israelites drink it. (Exodus 32) But Moses didn’t quite stop there. He then “stood up in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord come here!’ And all the Levites [descendants of Levi] rallied to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, each of you put your sword on thigh, go back and forth from gate to camp, slay brother, neighbor, and kin.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded, and three thousand fell that day.” (Exodus 32)
Adultery is still another crime that the Bible deems punishable by death. Certainly it is the case that, even in a better society than the one we live in, the emotional harm that one human being can do to another by sleeping around on them would perhaps frequently justify adultery being labeled as an “immoral” act. (However, even if this is generally true, it has different meaning under different circumstances: For example, if a woman develops a relationship with someone other than her husband because the husband is abusive, that is very different from a married man who sleeps around as a means of acquiring sexual “conquests.”) And whatever emotional pain might result from adultery, it certainly seems reasonable to say that adultery is not a “crime” for which offenders should be punished by law, much less executed!! However, the ultimate penalty of death is indeed prescribed throughout the Mosaic books for those who commit adultery. In Leviticus, we find the decree that, “If a man commits adultery, the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” (Leviticus 20) In Deuteronomy, this point is repeated when Moses, who is supposedly articulating the word of God, says, “If a man is found lying with another man’s wife, both of them—both the man and the woman with whom he lay—shall die.” (Deuteronomy 22)
Besides the horror involved in calling for adulterers to be executed, the sheer hypocrisy of the Bible must also be pointed out here: Many of the key figures of the very same Bible that calls for the death penalty to be meted out to those who commit adultery themselves have more than one wife!! As early as Genesis, we find reference to Lamech, who “took to himself two wives” (Genesis 4). Earlier in this series it was noted that Abram (later renamed Abraham) was married to Sarai, but because Sarai could not conceive, Abraham was “forced” to lay with Hagar, a concubine offered to him by his wife. And here we see an instance of “like grandfather, like grandson”: Abraham’s grandson and Isaac’s son was named Jacob, who took to himself two wives—Rachel and Leah. Yet, for some reason, all of these men were able to escape the penalty of death that was supposed to await all adulterers.
While there are several other “crimes” for which the death penalty is advocated, there is one that, in light of recent current events, particularly merits discussion here. This “crime,” as the Bible deems it, is homosexuality. With fundamental rights for gay people in this country currently at stake, it is necessary to understand important historical roots for the attacks on these rights. For this reason, scriptural commentary on homosexuality perhaps deserves its own section here.
The Bible and Homosexuality
In 1998, Matthew Shepard—a gay man in Wyoming—was kidnapped by a couple of anti-gay thugs, tied to a fencepost, and beaten to death. This unspeakable atrocity immediately opened eyes across the nation to the persecution—often violent—that is constantly visited upon homosexuals in this society. One of the most enduring and horrifying images in the aftermath of Shepard’s murder was that, at his funeral, anti-gay religious leaders and also several lay persons held signs with cruel and vicious slogans, such as “God hates fags.” Indeed, the outrageous truth is that such picketing at the funerals of homosexuals is rather commonplace, as is the twisted notion that AIDS is somehow God’s way of punishing homosexuals.
Such despicable persecution of gays has clearly continued, and perhaps even grown since 1998, as anti-gay religious Evangelicals have accumulated more and more power in America. And now, the basic rights of homosexuals, including the right to enter into marriage and receive the same medical and other rights as heterosexuals, is under attack. Many Evan-geli-cals have based these attacks against gays on the fact that the Bible classifies homosexuality as a sin. Many gay-rights supporters, including religious organizations, have rightly condemned these vicious attacks on the basic rights of homosexuals. In doing so, however, they have often claimed that the Bible is a book of tolerance and that God would never advocate violence against homosexuals.
Here again, unfortunately, we see a contradiction: Justice, and a morality that reflects this, are clearly on the side of progressives, yet the Bible is clearly on the side of the Evangelicals. And this is yet another powerful example of what is wrong with interpreting the Bible literally as a means for organizing society—or of attempting to base justice and morality on what the Bible literally says. For in actuality, the Bible does condemn homosexuality in no uncertain terms.
A passage in Leviticus clearly states “Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.” (Leviticus 18) And there can be no doubt what is meant by “lie with,” because this phrase is used throughout the Bible in a way that makes it clear that the phrase means “to sleep with” or “to have sex with.”
In addition to the horror of classifying homosexual relations as an abhorrence, two other things are noteworthy about the placement of this passage in the Bible: First, that it follows directly after God gives a speech in which he emphasizes that his laws, and only his laws, are to be followed directly. In other words, it is clear that God’s decrees on homosexuality, just like all the rest of his decrees, are meant to be followed literally: There is no wiggle room. The second noteworthy aspect of the placement of this condemnation of homosexuality is that it is uttered as part of the same passage that also condemns practices such as bestiality and incest, thereby lumping acts of love between two people of the same sex with sex between people and animals and also amongst family members. That the Bible would implicitly link these practices is not insignificant; many powerful Christian fundamentalists, including Senator Rick Santorum, have picked up on this logic to assert that “legitimizing” gay sex and gay marriage would open the door to the acceptance of such practices as bestiality and incest. This may seem absurd to us—and it should. Yet it is an absurdity that originates from the Bible itself.
But the Bible does not stop at merely condemning homosexuality as an “abhorrence.” It also has God very clearly advocating the death penalty for homosexuals. Just a little bit further on in Leviticus, it is stated, “If a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing; they shall be put to death —their bloodguilt is upon them.” (Leviticus 20)
Thus, this section of my analysis of the five Mosaic books has hopefully demonstrated well beyond doubt that the society envisioned in these parts of the Bible is hardly one that we would want to live in. And let us remember that it is in these parts of the Bible that the Ten Command-ments are to be found—yes, the same Ten Commandments that Christian fundamentalists are demanding be posted in all kinds of public places, including in schools and courtrooms, with the insistence that these Ten Commandments will inspire “moral character” among youth and the people in society as a whole. From what I have shown here, it should be clear that the kind of society that would result from implementing literally what is said in the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic books of the Bible would be one characterized by the ultimate dominance of faith over science; the total subjugation of woman to man, enforced by tremendous and violent repression; the flourishing existence of human slavery; bloody and unforgiving religious intolerance; the bloodthirsty conquest and plunder of peoples who have different religions and ways of life, or who simply get in the way of what the “chosen nation” of the Lord is determined to control and exploit; the violent oppression and persecution of homosexuals; and the meting out of the death penalty for a wide variety of acts that many of us today would not even consider to be “crimes.”
In the next installment, I will discuss the way in which the Bible is characterized by yet another element of fascism: Consolidation of rule by fear and terror.
Part 3a: God Consolidates His Rule by Total Fear and Terror
In part 1 of this series, I discussed the many ways in which a society organized according to the Bible would be a total nightmare for the people living in it. To use just a few examples, the following themes were discussed: The complete dominance of faith over science; the total subjugation of women to men and various forms of deadly oppression that came with that; the condemnation of homosexuals to death; the Bible’s sanctioning of trading in human slaves; the total and vicious intolerance shown to people of other religions; and the meting out of the death penalty for not only violent acts but also acts that reasonable people would not even consider to be crimes, such as insulting one’s parents, engaging in homosexual sex, or committing adultery.
As frightening as such a society would be, what is perhaps even more frightening is the consequences that God implements and calls for in relation to any persons who do not rigidly and absolutely follow his rule. Examining these consequences, we indeed find that, much like the current President and many who have come before him, God’s rule was based on extreme repression of dissent and demands for total, unwavering obedience.
It is quite ironic that so many Evangelical Christians lament the abundance of “violent images” in Hollywood movies and video games when (a) these same Evangelical Christians have mobilized rabidly to support the mass slaughter of Iraqi people and the destruction of their towns by the U.S. military; and (b) when the very text these Christian fascists turn to as inspiration for “proper” morality is one of the bloodiest and most gratuitously violent books that has ever been written! And when one actually sits down and reads the Bible, there can be no doubt that, much like the passages about slavery mentioned in the previous installment in this series, the passages dealing with such violence are not mentioning it from a critical standpoint. On the contrary, the Bible is a tale of brutal death, relentless destruction, and tremendous human suffering initiated for the purpose of strengthening the rule of a leader who views himself as divine and all-powerful. Sound familiar?
From the earliest books of the Bible onward, a basic theme emerges from God’s commandments and utterances: Follow me completely, or else I will annihilate you. Before delving into the numerous instances in which God says this openly and clearly to his supposed “chosen people,” let us begin by looking at an example that is more subtle, though no less instructive: The story of God, working through Moses, leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Much like the story of Adam and Eve, even those who have not studied the Bible closely (or at all) are generally familiar with this story of Moses and the Pharaoh of Egypt, and the famous instance during which Moses defiantly tells the Pharaoh: “Let my people GO!” What is perhaps less known about this story of “Exodus” is that if one were to take the story literally, they would have to believe that God deliberately enslaved the Israelites in Egypt, and then when the Pharaoh was tempted to release the Israelites, God repeatedly hardened the heart of the Pharaoh so that he would refuse to release the Israelites!
Indeed, at the beginning of Exodus, the famous story of the “burning bush” is described: God supposedly reveals himself to Moses in a burning bush and tells him that the Egyptians will have enslaved the Israelites for a period of 400 years before God finally delivers the captives from their masters. (Exodus 2) Now remember: This is supposed to be an all-powerful God we are talking about here! Instead of subjecting his own “chosen” people to horrible suffering and enslavement for centuries and then freeing them, why not just prevent them from being enslaved in the first damn place?
Well, reading on in Exodus, we get our answer. God hints to Moses that this whole process by which the Israelites become slaves to the Egyptians and then are freed is to him nothing more than a sick game—an opportunity to “shock and awe” everyone with his power: “You shall repeat all that I command you.... But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply my signs and marvels in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 6) The “you shall repeat all I command you” portion of this passage refers to the instructions God provides to Moses where he tells Moses to tell the Pharaoh to release the Israelites from captivity or else God will punish Egypt. The next few passages of Exodus follow a basic pattern: Moses threatens the Pharaoh that unless he releases the Israelites from captivity, God will unleash plagues on the Egyptians—including blood, lice, frogs, locusts, swarms of insects, and inflammation of the skin, among other things. The Pharaoh witnesses one of these plagues, and immediately agrees to free the Israelites if the plagues are stopped. God halts the plagues, but then also hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he recants on his promise to free the slaves, and thus God “has no choice” but to inflict more plagues on the Egyptians.
Think about this passage for a second. What does it say about this “God” that, even though he is “all-powerful” and could easily have prevented the Israelites from being enslaved in the first place, and then subsequently could have freed them once they were enslaved, he would instead choose to intentionally prolong the suffering of both the Israelites and the Egyptians merely so that he could show off his -powers? Is that God any kind of God to uphold or believe in?
This passage is one of the earlier examples of the brutality of God’s logic, and the remainder of the five Mosaic books clearly demonstrate that this passage is the rule and not the exception. The text, in fact, is littered with instances where those who do not follow God’s commandments absolutely meet with unspeakable death and suffering. Let us now look through some of these instances—a section we might refer to as “ God’s greatest hits.”
In Leviticus, God makes it clear that his laws are to be followed absolutely—no questions asked: “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or the land of Canaan, to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws. My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow my laws.” (Leviticus 17) Sounds pretty “totalitarian” to me! Yet strangely, one never hears those who would use that very word to describe Stalin or Mao use it to describe God! But sure enough, it gets worse. Following the passage mentioned at the end of Part 2, where God describes homosexuality as an “abhorrence,” the Lord proceeds to threaten the Israelites: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, for it is by such that the nations I am casting out before you defiled themselves. Thus, the land became defiled... You must not do any of these abhorrent things...for all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before you, and the land became defiled.” (Leviticus 18)
Thus, not only does God demand complete obedience to all of his laws, which include laws that label homosexuality as an abhorrence, but he goes one step further and implies that he will smite the Israelites completely, just as he did the Egyptians, if his laws are not followed. God elaborates on the exact forms that this “smiting” will take in a lengthy passage further along in Leviticus:
If you do not obey me and do not observe all these commandments, if you reject my laws and spurn my rules....I will in turn do this to you: I will wreak misery upon you—consumption and fever—which cause the eyes to pine and the body to languish; you shall sow your seed to no purpose, for your enemies shall eat it.... I will make your skies like iron and your earth like copper.... And if you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will go on smiting you sevenfold for your sins. I will loose wild beasts against you and they shall bereave you of your children and wipe out your children.... I will bring a sword against you to wreak vengeance for the covenant; and if you withdraw into your cities, I will send pestilence among you...but if despite this, you disobey me and remain hostile to me, I will act against you in wrathful hostility; I, for my part, will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. You shall eat the flesh of your sons and daughters....I will spurn you. I will lay your cities in ruin....I will scatter you amongst the nations and unsheathe the sword against you. Your land shall become a desolation and your cities a ruin....These are the laws, rules, and instructions that the Lord established through Moses on Mount Sinai, between himself and the Israelite people. (Leviticus 26)
Part 3b: God Consolidates His Rule Through Total Fear and Terror
The Bible’s opening books describe, over and over again, how God torments the people — with plagues, hunger or bloody murder — for any doubt or disobedience. In this old Bible picture (above) — reproduced on a modern fundamentalist internet site — Moses leads the cold-blooded execution of 3,000 Israelites for questioning him and his God. And God follows up by killing even more with a plague. No mercy, no compassion, no forgiveness — just death for disobedience. If such rules were imposed today, it would be a nightmarish tyranny and horror for the people.
Part 3a, in the previous issue of Revolution, ended with a quote from the book of Leviticus where God details how he will “smite” the Israelites completely, just as he did the Egyptians, if his laws are not followed.
Really, I could probably end this section of the discussion here and have effectively made the point that God’s rule was one based on complete fear and terror directed at all those who dared to dissent from his laws. But what the heck, let’s continue. The book of Numbers describes how the armies of God’s people begin assembling and then marching towards Canaan, prepared to battle and annihilate those who are already dwelling on the land (this annihilation and the philosophy of total conquest behind it will be discussed in much greater detail in the final installments of this series).
But at a certain point, hard times fall upon the armies and troop morale becomes low. The troops begin lamenting to Moses that their conditions are dire, that they do not have enough food to eat. So what is God’s response? Well, being the “compassionate God, slow to anger” that is mentioned in Exodus 34, the Lord undoubtedly responds by blessing the Israelites with food so that they are no longer starving, right? WRONG! God instead responds by initially giving his people food, but then, “The meat was still between their teeth, nor yet chewed, when the anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a severe plague.” (Numbers 11) All this perpetrated upon a people who did nothing more than simply complain that they were starving!
Apparently, God has some kind of fetish for plagues. Numbers 14 refers to yet another plague unleashed by God upon the Israelites. This time, the “crime” of the condemned was that they went on a scouting mission to Canaan and Sunsacame back with reports that the people who currently dwelled there were very powerful and capable. God describes the fate of these men: “In this very wilderness they [the Israelites] shall die to the last man. As for the men whom Moses sent to scout the land, those [who] came back and caused the community to mount against him by spreading calumnies about the land...died of the plague, by will of the Lord.” (Numbers 14)
Eventually, some of the Israelites become so exasperated with the tyrannical rule of Moses that they launch a rebellion against his tyranny. God responds to this rebellion by annihilating the rebels—he opens the earth and swallows them whole, consuming 250 men in a great fire. (Numbers 16) The next day, the entire Israelite community is up in arms about what God, acting through Moses and Aaron, has done to them. So God, being “a compassionate God, slow to anger,” naturally responds by profusely apologizing, recognizing his brutality, and promising never to repeat it, right? WRONG AGAIN! God responds with more brutality: He kills 14,700 Israelites in (you guessed it) a plague!
Further on in Numbers, God articulates to the Israelites the basic principle of “kill or be killed.” He tells Moses, “Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images; you shall demolish all their cult palaces....If you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they will harass you in the land in which you live; so that I will do to you what I planned to do to them.” (Numbers 34)
It is not hard to see how, from passages like this, the Christian fascists of today would conceive of current global conflicts in terms of a literal “Holy War” where they must conquer or perish. In addition, it is important to keep in mind, again, that the God of the Bible is supposed to be all-powerful. There is no way that the peoples God is describing could be “stings in the eyes or thorns in the sides” of the Israelites unless God willed it that way. Thus, we see another instance where human carnage and suffering is clearly presented as nothing more than another one of God’s sick games.
In addition to enforcing his own laws and Commandments with the utmost of brutality, God often relies on his top foot soldier, Moses, to do the same. One of the earliest examples of this comes in Exodus, in a passage mentioned in part 2 of this series. Moses returns from Mount Sinai to find that many people have violated God’s Commandment outlawing the worship of any other Gods; they have built an idol in the form of a golden calf. In response, “Moses stood up in the gate of the camp and said, ‘Whoever is for the Lord come here!’ And all the Levites rallied to him. He said to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, the god of Israel, each of you put your sword on thigh, go back and forth from gate to camp, and slay brother, neighbor, and kin.’ The Levites did as Moses commanded them, and three thousand fell that day.” (Exodus 32) And the reader will recall that this brutal action follows after another one: when Moses ground the golden calf into dust and made the Israelites drink it."
The Lord then follows up the slaughter of 3,000 Israelites with still another atrocity—by now, the reader can probably imagine what that was: Yep, a plague! (Exodus 32)
In Numbers, Moses utters a “kill or be killed” phrase similar to that referenced a few paragraphs above and uttered by God: “Moses said to them [the Israelites], ‘If you do this, if you go to battle as shock troops, at the instance of the Lord, and every shock fighter among you crosses the Jordan, at the instance of the Lord, until He has dispossessed his enemies before him, and the land has been subdued at the instance of the Lord, and then you return—you shall be clear before the Lord and this land shall be your holding under the Lord. But if you do not do so, you will have sinned against the Lord; and know that the Lord will overtake you.” (Numbers 32)
In Deuteronomy (which, again, Moses is said to have written himself) he repeatedly describes the consequences for those who do not follow and worship God. In Deuteronomy 4, he says, “When you have begotten children and children’s children and are long established in the land, should you act wickedly, and make for yourself a sculptured image in any likeness, causing the Lord your God displeasure and vexation, I call heaven and earth against you that you shall certainly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess; you shall not long endure on it, but shall be utterly wiped out.” (Deuteronomy 4) This point is repeated in Deuteronomy 8, when Moses says, “If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish.”
Then, in Deuteronomy 12, Moses utters the phrase quoted at the beginning of this series, one that certainly calls to mind the “you’re either with us or against us” logic of George W. Bush’s infamous speeches. Moses says, “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I enjoin upon you, and curse if you don’t obey the Lord your God, but turn away from the path that I enjoin upon you this day and follow other Gods.” (Deuteronomy 12)
Considering the actual nature of God’s laws and Commandments, the idea that whether someone will be blessed or cursed depends entirely on whether they follow these laws can only be described as chilling!
In short, then, the Bible repeatedly shows that God’s rule is anything but “compassionate,” and that he is anything but “slow to anger.” Rather, God’s rule, as laid out in the Bible, took shape as a society characterized by totalitarian brutality against which both distortions of Communist leaders such as Stalin and Mao—and even the practices of actual brutal human dictators throughout history—would pale in comparison. Taken literally, the “Holy” Bible is a ruthless tale of conquest, a blueprint for unleashing tremendous persecution and suffering against all those who will not fall in line and persecute others. Again I must ask: Does this sound familiar? Indeed, it is precisely the logic of Holy Conquest, plunder, and total subordination to one’s rulers that “Dubya” and his team of fascists are seeking to implement right now in the “real world.”
In the next and final installments of this series, we will examine in greater detail what was only hinted at in this section: The theme of conquering other peoples in the name of God. Or, as it might be termed, a Biblical Manifest Destiny.
Part 4a: Holy Wars—Manifest Destiny in a Biblical Setting
Parts 3a and 3b in the previous two issues showed how, according to the Bible, God consolidates his rule by total fear and terror.
Throughout history, horrible atrocities have been committed by one people against another in the name of God. These atrocities have been characterized by the highest degree of sadistic savagery, and have usually been fueled by two related notions: the notion of superiority as a people (with religion—and in particular, Christianity—frequently offered as the supposed justification for this designation of superiority); and the notion of entitlement to occupied land that comes with this notion of superiority. In other words, the philosophy driving conquest throughout history can often be boiled down to a notion that one people are entitled to the land of another because they are superior, with the religion of the invaders often serving as the means by which these invaders convince themselves of their superiority.
As mentioned earlier in this series, this type of logic has been used to justify horrific slaughter and destruction against innocent people—including in the “modern era,” from the time Columbus first set foot in the Americas, to the enslavement of Africans in those same Americas, to the unspeakable horrors perpetrated upon Jews during the Holocaust, to the colonization of native peoples in Africa, Asia, and the Americas by European rulers.
It is again important to understand that it is no accident that brutal conquests such as these have so often been done in the name of a Christian God, or that religion has been cited as the means by which invaders shall dominate others, plunder their land, and then justify the whole thing. No, instead, the blueprint for this sort of Holy Conquest can indeed be found early and often in the Bible itself. The essence of the narrative found in the Five Mosaic books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) is this: God has “chosen” certain people and he is entrusting, instructing, and demanding that they follow absolutely his teachings and Commandments. Any of those within this “chosen people” who violate this absolute rule and its absolute commandments—and certainly any human beings who do not belong to this chosen people to begin with—had better take cover!
The understanding that conquest is a key theme of the Bible can be reached following two general paths: One is by studying the story of God’s chosen people as they trek towards the land of Canaan, which God has promised to give to this people and their descendants. In tracing this story, it quickly becomes apparent that this “promised land” is not vacant, but rather is occupied by a variety of peoples, including the Amorites, the Hittites, the Canaanites, and the Jebusites. The other main way to arrive at a full picture of the brutality committed in God’s name is to simply study what God repeatedly says should be done to any peoples—in general, in any time or place—whom his chosen people encounter, especially if, in any way, they pose an obstacle to god’s great plan.
Let us begin with the first theme: God’s ruthless ethnic cleansing in the land of Canaan. We first read of God’s plan to annihilate all inhabitants of this land in order to clear the way for his chosen people in Exodus: “When my angel goes before you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them, you shall not bow down to their gods in worship, to follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits.” (Exodus 23) Here we see the clear justification that God is offering behind his total destruction of foreign peoples and towns: the fact that the people of these towns are worshipping other Gods besides Himself. In the next passage, the Bible makes it clear that the peoples whose fate is annihilation are, at the time he is speaking, the inhabitants of the very land he has promised to his followers: “I will send forth my terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come....I will send a plague ahead of you, and it shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites... I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands and you will drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. They shall not remain in your land, lest they cause you to sin against me.” (Exodus 23)
In the above passage, we see one of the first instances of an insidious and recurring theme that the Bible offers up: Refusal to make peace with other peoples, even if these peoples are willing to make peace with God’s followers! Further on in Exodus, God again commands his followers that under no circumstances must they make peace with those who inhabit Canaan: “Beware of making a covenant with the inhabitants of the land against which you are advancing, lest there be a snare in your midst. No, you must tear down their altars, smash their pillars, and cut down their sacred posts.” (Exodus 34)
In Leviticus, God refers again to one of his favorite practices—inflicting plagues as a punishment on those who do not follow him: “When you enter the land of Canaan that I give you as a possession, and I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house in the land you possess,” God begins, before outlining the proper procedure for cleaning a house that God Himself infected with the plague! (Leviticus 14) In Leviticus 20, God again offers a supposed justification for the brutality he is inflicting upon the inhabitants of Canaan: That justification, once again, is that the inhabitants of the land deviated from or resisted his ways: “You shall faithfully observe all my laws and all my regulations, lest the land to which I bring you in to settle spew you out. You shall not follow the principles of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because they did all these things that I abhorred them and said to you: ‘You shall possess their land, for I will give it to you to possess.’” (Leviticus 20)
In Numbers, God speaks to Moses and employs a familiar trick device used by conquerors and imperialists throughout history: casting the conquered in the role of the aggressor, and the invaders in the role of the attacked. God provides to Moses a series of instructions for the proper procedure for when “You are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you.” (Numbers 10) Notice the way in which God has distorted the equation here: His followers have assembled armies to invade a land that is already occupied, yet God refers to it as “your land” by mere virtue of the fact that God has decided that things are so. Proceeding from this assumption that the land of Canaan is naturally “theirs,” God’s followers are then supposed to be imbued with some sort of legitimacy that makes any attack on them by “aggressors” (i.e., those already inhabiting the land) illegitimate. Taking a look at the current U.S. occupation of Iraq, as well as the countless other wars waged by American and other imperialist powers, I must return to my refrain: Sound familiar?
Part 4b: Holy Wars—Manifest Destiny in a Biblical Setting
As mentioned before, it is not always God himself that articulates the philosophy of conquest—sometimes, he relies on his chief foot soldiers to speak in his name. This is the case in Numbers 14, when Joshua reassures the Israelites returning in awe from a scouting mission of the enemy by saying: “Have no fear, then, of the people of the country, for they are our prey.... Their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us.” (Numbers 14) This passage calls to mind the logic of war architects depicted in Bob Dylan’s “With God on Their Side,” in which Dylan brilliantly captures how all sorts of atrocities have been justified by conquerors on the basis that God has willed it to be so. Quite convenient, this God is!
As the book of Numbers unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that God’s followers are getting the hang of how to properly carry out what God has instructed them to do. Some of God’s people are taken captive while invading Canaan. In response, “Israel made a vow to the Lord, ‘If you deliver this people into our hand, we will proscribe their towns.’” (Numbers 21) The footnote in the edition of the Bible that I was reading noted that “proscribe” meant to “utterly destroy.” Numbers 21 goes on to clarify that, not surprisingly, “God heeded Israel’s plea and delivered up the Canaanites; and they and their cities were proscribed.” (Numbers 21)
Later on in that same passage we find another fine instance in which God’s followers implement his “foreign policy” exactly as he would have designed it: The Israelites send a message ahead to the Amorites asking for permission to pass through their land. The Amorites refuse, so the Israelites “Put them to the sword and took possession of their land.... Israel...settled in all the towns of the Amorites, in Hesbon and all its dependencies.” (Numbers 21)
Perhaps no passage in the entire Bible, however, is as open a celebration of unrepentant and merciless conquest as that found in Numbers 31. A little background here first, in order to properly situate the passage: Yet another astounding example of God unleashing tremendous wrath against his own people that was not mentioned in the previous section of this series came in Numbers 25: The story went that some of the Israelites had been seduced by a Midianite woman and had laid with her. Upon discovering this, God became so enraged that he struck down 24,000 Israelites in (any guesses, anyone?)...yes, a plague!
Numbers 31 describes the instance during which the Israelites “took revenge”—not only on the one Midianite woman guilty of seduction, but the entire Midianite community. Numbers 31 is indeed so brutal, its violence so vicious and unforgiving, that were it not from the Bible, there is no doubt that Christian fascists would be lamenting the destructive effect this “immoral” passage would have on America’s youth. But once again, we are reminded: Violence, no matter how brutal, that is committed in the name of God is A-ok:
“They [the Israelites] took the field against the Midianites, as the Lord had commanded, and slew every male....the Israelites took the women and children of the Midianites captive, and seized as booty all their beasts, all their herds, and all their wealth. And they destroyed by fire all the towns in which they were settled, and their encampments. They gathered all the spoil and all the booty, man, and beast, and they brought the captives, the booty, and the spoil to Moses.” (Numbers 31)
But, as the saying goes...Wait, it gets worse!! Moses, being the compassionate agent of God and liberator of humankind that he was, naturally became enraged at the death and destruction God’s armies had unleashed—because it didn’t go far enough: “Moses became angry with the commanders of the army, the officers of the thousands and the officers of the hundreds, who had come back from the military campaign.” (Numbers 31) And why, one might ask, was Moses angry? Well, here is the answer: “Moses said to them, ‘You have spared every female! Yet they are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor....Now, therefore, slay every male among the children, and slay also every woman who has known a man carnally.’” (Numbers 31)
To any who would doubt that repugnant and supposedly divine-sanctioned violence characterizes the five Mosaic books of the Bible, I don’t know how the above passage could help but remove these doubts. Here is a passage where in essence genocide is committed against an entire people, and yet Moses—again, the chief communicator between God and his followers while he lived—is consumed with rage that the children and the women were spared (except for the women who were virgins—they were to be carried off as concubines—sex slaves)!
In Deuteronomy (once more, a book said to have been written by Moses, who in turn was of course speaking through God) we find this lovely passage where Moses commands his troops: “Up! Set across the Wadi Arnon! See I give into your power Sihon the Amorite, King of Hesbon, and his land. Begin the occupation: engage him in battle. This day, I begin to put the dread and fear of you in peoples everywhere under heaven, so that they shall tremble and quake because of you wherever they hear you mentioned.” (Deuteronomy 2) Thus, Moses is not only admitting that what his troops are engaged in is a bloodthirsty occupation, but he actually brags about and celebrates it!
Similar sentiments can be found one passage later, when Moses recalls: “Sihon with all his men took the field against us at Jahaz, and the Lord delivered him to us and we defeated him and his sons and all his men. At the time, we captured all his towns, and we doomed every town—men, women, and children, leaving no survivor. We retained as booty only the cattle and the spoil of the cities we captured.” (Deuteronomy 3) Once again, it was useful to consult the footnotes in the edition of the Bible I was reading, to grasp even more fully what is being commemorated here: The footnote says that “doomed” is being used to mean “totally annihilated.”
The supposed inferiority of those being conquered is once again used as justification for atrocities committed in Deuteronomy 8, when Moses explains to God’s people: “It is not because of your virtue and your rectitude that you will be able to possess their country; it is because of their wickedness that the Lord your God is dispossessing those countries before you.” (Deuteronomy 8) Thus, we see here another instance when Moses does not even bother attempting to deny that he is leading the occupation and destruction of peoples already on the land; rather, he is celebrating it and deeming it necessary because of their supposed “wickedness.” Think again for a moment about the history of genocide by the U.S. government against Native Americans and the rhetoric that was used to justify it, and then ask yourself: Sound familiar?
Part 4c: Holy Wars—Manifest Destiny in a Biblical Setting
As mentioned earlier in this series, passages spelling out the policy for occupying and annihilating the peoples of Canaan mark only one main theme of Holy Conquest in the Bible. The other way in which the Bible repeatedly upholds such conquest is found in passages that speak in general terms about the supposed justification and necessity for wiping out any people along the way who are not God’s “chosen people.” For instance, the following passage in Deuteronomy explains that God has chosen his followers to rule over all others:
“For the Lord your God will bless you as He has promised you. You will extend loans to many nations, but require none yourself; you will dominate many nations, but they will not dominate you.”
Is it any wonder, given passages like this, that so many Evangelical nutcases insist that not only military conquest, but also a global economic order based on imperial dominance, is all part of “God’s plan”?
Or let us once again consider Deuteronomy 20, which contains the passage referenced earlier in this series:
“When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it responds peaceably and lets you in, all the people present shall serve you as forced labor. If it does not surrender to you, but would join battle with you, you shall lay siege to it....You shall put all the males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, and the livestock, and everything in its town—all its spoil—and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy which the Lord gives you....Thus shall you deal with all the towns that lie very far from you, towns that do not belong to nations hereabout. In the towns of the latter people, however, you shall not let a soul remain alive.”
So, to review, the best that invaded peoples can hope for, according to the logic of this passage, is a lifetime of “forced labor”—i.e., slavery. And conquered peoples will only be this “fortunate” if they both surrender immediately to their invaders and if they are lucky enough to be located a safe distance from their attackers. If, on the other hand, they do not wish to be enslaved for the rest of eternity, and/or if they dwell in close proximity to their conquerors, they are doomed to total annihilation.
It is perhaps worth noting again that the Bible does not merely encourage God’s followers to engage in wholesale slaughter against other peoples—it actually requires it, lest God’s followers themselves be wiped out! For instance, in Deuteronomy 12, Moses reminds the Israelites,
“You must destroy all the sites at which the nations you dispossess worshipped their Gods, whether on lofty mountains and hills or under any luxuriant tree. Tear down their altars, smash their pillars, put their sacred posts to fire, and cut down the images of their gods, obliterating their name from that site.”
Or how about the passages cited earlier in this series, describing in vivid detail the consequences for those who refuse to conquer others. Perhaps it is worth revisiting these passages briefly. Numbers 32 was referenced, where Moses tells the Israelites, in essence, that their only two choices are to conquer or become conquered:
“If you do this, if you go to battle as shock troops, at the instance of the Lord, and every shock fighter among you crosses the Jordan, at the instance of the Lord, until He has dispossessed his enemies before him, and the land has been subdued at the instance of the Lord, and then you return—you shall be clear before the Lord and this land shall be your holding under the Lord. But if you do not do so, you will have sinned against the Lord; and know that the Lord will overtake you.”
Or how about Numbers 34, where God instructs Moses,
“Speak to the Israelite people, and say to them: When you cross the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall dispossess all the inhabitants of the land; you shall destroy their figured objects; you shall destroy all their molten images; you shall demolish all their cult palaces...If you do not dispossess the inhabitants of the land, those whom you allow to remain shall be stings in your eyes and thorns in your sides, and they shall harass you in the land in which you live, so that I will do to you what I planned to do to them.”
Part 4d: Holy Wars—Manifest Destiny In A Biblical Setting
Part 4c talked about how the Bible repeatedly discusses the supposed justification and necessity for wiping out any people who are not God’s chosen people.
Perhaps, however, in concluding the final portion of this series, it is best to do what I may not yet have done enough of: Give God a chance to speak for himself. After all, aren’t these fascists always complaining about how they need “equal time” to express their views? I suppose I have been a bit unfair.
So, before ending, then, let me quote from an excerpt of a poem that God reads to Moses towards the end of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final Mosaic book. In this poem, God is prophesying that future generations of his followers will turn against him, and is illustrating the punishments he will unleash upon humanity when this occurs. Says God:
“Vengeance will I wreak, on my foes, will I deal to those who reject me. I will make my arrows drunk with blood—As my sword devours the flesh—Blood of the slain and the captive—From the long-haired enemy chiefs.”
Well God, I couldn’t have said it better myself!
“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds.”
The above quote, of course, is a famous one from Bob Marley’s very powerful composition, “Redemption Song.” In some sense, the choice of that quote has a two-fold purpose here. The first, and perhaps more obvious, is that it poetically captures the notion that it is foolish to root one’s quest for freedom in a belief system that is barbaric, unscientific, and archaic. The second reason for choosing this quote, however, is its irony: In that line, Bob Marley is referring to such belief systems as Christianity, which he correctly identifies as having many poisonous effects on those who strive to be free, either physically or mentally. And yet, rather than going one step further to realizing that human societies must seek to move beyond reliance on any religion, he simply adopts another, equally unscientific religion in its place — Rastafarianism. Thus, one could say that when it came to religion’s role in society, Marley powerfully captured part of the picture, yet failed profoundly to see the rest. For while Christianity certainly takes second place to no other religion when it comes to justifying, and even extolling, the commission of horrific atrocities, the simple fact remains that just about any religion under the sun has at its core the same basic problems as Christianity: It is based on an unscientific and erroneous belief in a higher power, and its core principles envision a society reflecting the dominance of certain segments of society at the expense of others.
To be sure, the new Draft Programme of the RCP, as well as numerous writings and talks by Bob Avakian, have made it clear that while fully embracing communism entails a commitment to atheism, individuals living in the kind of society communists envision never should or will be forced to give up religion. In addition, the point has been made in many of the same writings and talks that there are, and for some time will be, many, many masses of people who will continue to adhere to religious viewpoints who are in fact well-intentioned, good-hearted people who must be united with and never viewed as being part of the enemy. Both of these points are vital in working towards a society where, one day, everyone can truly be “free.”
However, a fundamental distinction must be made between upholding the rights of individuals to practice their religions—which is a worthy principle—and using religious doctrines and texts as key principles by which to organize society—which would be deadly. In addition, while religious intolerance, including intolerance of people’s right to practice religion, is not only immoral but would represent a significant obstacle to the ability to build a successful revolutionary movement, it also must be stated that relying on the Bible or any other religious text to initiate fundamental and radical change will never work at any level.
The Bible presents a story in which the most ruthless and savage consequences await any peoples deemed to be inferior—a category which the Bible in turn would have us believe includes all those who are not followers of the God mentioned in the Bible. In addition, these same sorts of consequences are also said to await all those who do not follow absolutely and rigidly all of God's laws and commandments. And when we consider that God's commandments include things such as the sanctioning of slavery; tremendous and brutal oppression and repression of women; death to homosexuals, adulterers, defiant children, prostitutes, and all those who practice a different religion; we can begin to form a picture of the horrific nightmare that would constitute society if the Bible were taken literally and this were made “the law of the land.”
Even more ominously, we are beginning to get an actual glimpse of what such a society would look like, thanks to the rhetoric of the ever-growing (in numbers and power) Evangelical Christian movement in this country, but thanks even more to the degree to which this Fascist movement has already achieved significant successes. Indeed, the society that would result from a literal application of the Bible's core principles would be like the infamous Dark Ages of Europe, except potentially even worse; were such a society to take root in the world's only superpower in the present time, its military reach would stretch the entire globe and would be buttressed by incredibly advanced technology.
For century upon century, organized religion has been able not only to survive but to exercise a major role in society, based to a large degree on its ability to hide behind a veil of artificial legitimacy. In other words, it is exactly because these religions hold the mantle of traditions that have been passed down through the generations that they are able to persist. Even those who are inclined to be skeptical of the existence of a supernatural power have either been afraid to challenge these traditions for fear of alienating people, have been unaware of the fundamental essence of these traditions, or have felt that even if the traditions are misguided, they are not really capable of doing any real harm. All of these are dangerously erroneous assumptions.
Indeed, it's time to take the emperor's clothes off and face reality: It's 2005, and the president of the most powerful country in the world is a fascist in every sense of the word. How much sense does it really make to think that we can combat this fascism by turning to the supposed teachings of God, The Original Fascist?
The Bible instructs us to believe that “God created man in his image.” (Genesis 1). Were this true, given everything that has been described in this series about the nature, rhetoric and commandments, and the actions of this God, it would certainly present a very bleak vision of humankind. Certainly, this vision would not encourage anyone to think that humanity could come together to emancipate itself once and for all. Indeed, the Bible itself seems to make this point in describing “How great was man's wickedness on earth, how every plan devised by his mind was nothing but evil all the time.” (Genesis 6)
Fortunately, science and rational thought, if they are applied in a thorough and consistent way, tell us that, as the saying goes, “it's just us chickens”—we human beings and the rest of material reality are all that exists, with no gods of any kind. And, in fact, humanity as a whole is characterized by neither “wickedness” nor goodness, but by the ability to be the one or the other, depending on the kind of society people live in and the kind of values that characterize that society. So, reflecting upon the absence of a higher power should not be depressing to us. In fact, given what we would have to believe if we believed in God, it should be liberating —because it is made quite clear from the Bible that we shouldn't count on God's help to establish the type of society we would want to live in, to say the least! On the other hand, humanity freed from mental enslavement to religious doctrine, and motivated by the understanding that human beings themselves bear the sole responsibility for their own liberation, is capable of tremendous achievement. With this in mind, we can give a new and deeper meaning to the words Bob Marley famously sang: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds.”
With this—and everything else that has been shown in this series—in mind, perhaps there is one important lesson the Bible can teach us: BE GLAD THAT THERE IS NO GOD!