Monday, September 9, 2013

A Bloodthirsty God?

Perhaps this is an idea whose time has come. Skeptic author Steve Wells (who is also author of The Annotated Skeptic's Bible) has taken the trouble to calculate the exact number of people God either killed or ordered killed (according to the Bible) in his latest book, Drunk with Blood: God's Killings in the Bible. On the back cover of his book he gives in chart form the tally as 2,476, 633. His chart also attributes 10 deaths to Satan, just by way of comparison.
According to a recent op-ed in The Guardian by Rebecca Sabastio, which was the first I had ever heard of this book, "the number is much higher - 25 million people - when estimates in which no number is are stated are tallied...."

Did you know, for example, that God:

Burned complainers to death, forced the survivors to eat quail until it literally came out their noses, sent "fiery serpents" to bite people for complaining about the lack of food and water, and killed 14,700 for complaining about his killings?

Burned complainers to death, forced the survivors to eat quail until it literally came out their noses, sent "fiery serpents" to bite people for complaining about the lack of food and water, and killed 14,700 for complaining about his killings?
Helped Samson murder thirty men for their clothes, slaughter 1000 with the jawbone of an ass, and kill 3000 civilians in a a suicide terrorist attack?
Killed a man for trying to keep the ark of the covenant from falling and 50,070 for looking into the ark?
Killed 70,000 because David had a census that he (or Satan) told him to do?
Believe me, those are just a small sample of his examples So perhaps Rebecca Sabastio is justified in asking at the end of her editorial:

God is unquestionably bloodthirsty, so why is his character so revered? Is it because something in human psychology needs to exist in a state of constant fear? Or perhaps it is because the Bible verses that reveal God as the world’s most prolific mass murderer are conveniently ignored.

I vote for the latter. Most Bible believers are largely in the dark about these more shocking stories. But to the extent they are aware, say as with the popular tale of God's destruction of the ancient world in the days of Noah, they work from the notion that (1) God is just and incapable of doing wrong, and (2) God is master over his creation and therefore has the right to create and destroy life accordingly. But does that makes good sense of especially those last two items above (and others like them)?

Of course if one is not - as I am not - a believer in Biblical Innerrancy, or the idea that God literally wrote the Bible through men, the problem is easier to account for. In our day it is common to hear world leaders invoke God's name in their wars. It is still a common thing for religious leaders to attempt to tie natural disasters to God's anger at human behavior (although why Wall Street, Washington DC or sin-city Las Vegas seem to go unmolested is still hard to figure according to that logic). My belief is that the Bible says much more about the darkness of the human heart than it does about God's alleged bloodthirstiness. It was true back then and is true now. It is we who are bloodthirsty, and some people have few qualms about following or writing about a slayer-God.

I do have a problem with that idea of God. I have no desire to seek or worship a bloodthirsty God. At the same time I have a real problem with bloodthirsty humans, and it is they, I believe, who gave us the bloodthirsty God. Consequently, I don't feel the need to reconcile the bloodthirsty concept of God with that of a benevolent deity- I jettison the former without apology.

It seems to me that Steve Wells has performed a valuable service in writing this book and making it necessary for us to decide whether we should blindly defend tradition or work for compassion.


  1. This calculation has been at various places on the internet for years. But what we are doing using it is critically examining scripture with the eyes of logic and reason. What chance do these two have against: Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling and the preacher exhorting listeners to avoid eternal damnation and grasp eternal bliss? We are such sheeple.

    1. I believe those bad parts of the Bible were written by cruel religious and political leaders. What has changed? We look around the world today - even with our own leaders - and find those who believe the way to fight evil is with more evil, often in God's name. But even the atheist Hitchens supported God-invoking President Bush's unreasonable Iraq War. Sheeple come in all colors, I believe. But I do believe also that the Old Testament and Israel's God is more political than people realize.

    2. In the word of my former everyday life........AMEN!

    3. Yep, we can't just duck this issue if we are going to have a mature faith.