Richard Dawkins once said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Why would he say such a thing? Because there is plenty of evil in “the Good Book,” but here are some highlights:
- God drowns the whole earth.
In Genesis 7:21-23, God drowns the entire population of the earth: men, women, children, fetuses, and perhaps unicorns. Only a single family survives. In Matthew 24:37-42, gentle Jesus approves of this genocide and plans to repeat it when he returns.
- God kills half a million people.
In 2 Chronicles 13:15-18, God helps the men of Judah kill 500,000 of their fellow Israelites.
- God slaughters all Egyptian firstborn.
In Exodus 12:29, God the baby-killer slaughters all Egyptian firstborn children and cattle because their king was stubborn.
- God kills 14,000 people for complaining that God keeps killing them.
In Numbers 16:41-49, the Israelites complain that God is killing too many of them. So, God sends a plague that kills 14,000 more of them.
- Genocide after genocide after genocide.
In Joshua 6:20-21, God helps the Israelites destroy Jericho, killing “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.” In Deuteronomy 2:32-35, God has the Israelites kill everyone in Heshbon, including children. In Deuteronomy 3:3-7, God has the Israelites do the same to the people of Bashan. In Numbers 31:7-18, the Israelites kill all the Midianites except for the virgins, whom they take as spoils of war. In 1 Samuel 15:1-9, God tells the Israelites to kill all the Amalekites – men, women, children, infants, and their cattle – for something the Amalekites’ ancestors had done 400 years earlier.
- God kills 50,000 people for curiosity.
In 1 Samuel 6:19, God kills 50,000 men for peeking into the ark of the covenant. (Newer cosmetic translations count only 70 deaths, but their text notes admit that the best and earliest manuscripts put the number at 50,070.)
- 3,000 Israelites killed for inventing a god.
In Exodus 32, Moses has climbed Mount Sinai to get the Ten Commandments. The Israelites are bored, so they invent a golden calf god. Moses comes back and God commands him: “Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.” About 3,000 people died.
- The Amorites destroyed by sword and by God’s rocks.
In Joshua 10:10-11, God helps the Israelites slaughter the Amorites by sword, then finishes them off with rocks from the sky.
- God burns two cities to death.
In Genesis 19:24, God kills everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from the sky. Then God kills Lot’s wife for looking back at her burning home.
- God has 42 children mauled by bears.
In 2 Kings 2:23-24, some kids tease the prophet Elisha, and God sends bears to dismember them. (Newer cosmetic translations say the bears “maul” the children, but the original Hebrew, baqa, means “to tear apart.”)
- A tribe slaughtered and their virgins raped for not showing up at roll call.
In Judges 21:1-23, a tribe of Israelites misses roll call, so the other Israelites kill them all except for the virgins, which they take for themselves. Still not happy, they hide in vineyards and pounce on dancing women from Shiloh to take them for themselves.
- 3,000 crushed to death.
In Judges 16:27-30, God gives Samson strength to bring down a building to crush 3,000 members of a rival tribe.
- A concubine raped and dismembered.
In Judges 19:22-29, a mob demands to rape a godly master’s guest. The master offers his daughter and a concubine to them instead. They take the concubine and gang-rape her all night. The master finds her on his doorstep in the morning, cuts her into 12 pieces, and ships the pieces around the country.
- Child sacrifice.
In Judges 11:30-39, Jephthah burns his daughter alive as a sacrificial offering for God’s favor in killing the Ammonites.
- God helps Samson kill 30 men because he lost a bet.
In Judges 14:11-19, Samson loses a bet for 30 sets of clothes. The spirit of God comes upon him and he kills 30 men to steal their clothes and pay off the debt.
- God demands you kill your wife and children for worshiping other gods.
In Deuteronomy 13:6-10, God commands that you must kill your wife, children, brother, and friend if they worship other gods.
- God incinerates 51 men to make a point.
In 2 Kings 1:9-10, Elijah gets God to burn 51 men with fire from heaven to prove he is God.
- God kills a man for not impregnating his brother’s widow.
In Genesis 38:9-10, God kills a man for refusing to impregnate his brother’s widow.
- God threatens forced cannibalism.
In Leviticus 26:27-29and Jeremiah 19:9, God threatens to punish the Israelites by making them eat their own children.
- The coming slaughter.
According to Revelation 9:7-19, God’s got more evil coming. God will make horse-like locusts with human heads and scorpion tails, who torture people for 5 months. Then some angels will kill a third of the earth’s population. If he came today, that would be 2 billion people.
In Defense of Evil?
Christians have spent thousands of years coming up with excuses for a loving god that would allow or create such evil. “Theodicy”, in its most common form, is an attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil.
As a response to the problem of evil, a theodicy is distinct from a defense.
A defense attempts to demonstrate that the occurrence of evil does not contradict God’s existence, but it does not propose that rational beings are able to understand why God permits evil.
A theodicy seeks to show that it is reasonable to believe in God despite evidence of evil in the world and offers a framework which can account for why evil exists.
A theodicy is often based on a prior natural theology, which attempts to prove the existence of God, and seeks to demonstrate that God’s existence remains probable after the problem of evil is posed by giving a justification for God’s permitting evil to happen.
Defenses propose solutions to the logical problem of evil, while theodicies attempt to answer the evident problem.
Philosopher Michael Martin summarizes what he calls “relatively minor” theodicies:
- The Finite God Theodicy maintains that God is all-good (omnibenevolent) but not all-powerful (omnipotent).
- The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy, a traditional theology, argues that the creation is the best of all possible worlds.
- The Original Sin Theodicy holds that evil came into the world because of humanity’s original sin.
- The Ultimate Harmony Theodicy justifies evil as leading to “good long-range consequences”.
- The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy has been reckoned a “complex theodicy.” It argues that a person’s state is deemed evil only when it is undesirable to the person. However, because God is unable to make a person’s state desirable to the person, the theodic problem does not exist.
- The Reincarnation Theodicy believes that people suffer evil because of their wrong-doing in a previous life.
- The Contrast Theodicy holds that evil is needed to enable people to appreciate or understand good.
- The Warning Theodicy rationalizes evil as God’s warning to people to mend their ways.
None of the above provide an acceptable solution for the evil that exists in the Bible or the (real) world.
In the words of Christopher Hitchens, who so eloquently wrote in God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything:
“Past and present religious atrocities have occurred not because we are evil, but because it is a fact of nature that the human species is, biologically, only partly rational. Evolution has meant that our prefrontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee; a recipe which, alone or in combination, is very certain to lead to some unhappiness and disorder.”
“Christian reformism arose originally from the ability of its advocates to contrast the Old Testament with the New. The cobbled-together ancient Jewish books had an ill-tempered and implacable and bloody and provincial god, who was probably more frightening when he was in a good mood (the classic attribute of the dictator). Whereas the cobbled-together books of the last two thousand years contained handholds for the hopeful, and references to meekness, forgiveness, lambs and sheep, and so forth. This distinction is more apparent than real, since it is only in the reported observations of Jesus that we find any mention of hell and eternal punishment. The god of Moses would brusquely call for other tribes, including his favorite one, to suffer massacre and plague and even extirpation, but when the grave closed over his victims he was essentially finished with them unless he remembered to curse their succeeding progeny. Not until the advent of the Prince of Peace do we hear of the ghastly idea of further punishing and torturing the dead. First presaged by the rantings of John the Baptist, the son of god is revealed as one who, if his milder words are not accepted straightaway, will condemn the inattentive to everlasting fire. This has provided texts for clerical sadists ever since, and features very lip-smackingly in the tirades of Islam.”
God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens