idolatry

An issue lurking in some news stories: In Old Testament, was God guilty of 'genocide'?

An issue lurking in some news stories: In Old Testament, was God guilty of 'genocide'?

The Religion Guy poses this complex historical question himself instead of the customary answer to an item posted via “Send Your Questions In” -- new submissions very much welcomed.

There’s been important debate on this issue recently, and a new book proposes sweeping reinterpretation of the Old Testament depiction of Israel’s “Conquest” of the Holy Land under Joshua. More on that below.

Richard Dawkins, a fervent foe of religion, indicts the biblical God for inciting “genocide” in the Bible’s conquest passages and verses like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 that direct believers to wipe out neighboring populations. Many U.S. Jews and Christians frankly admit this material is troubling.

Let’s begin with three standard Jewish commentaries on those Deuteronomy verses.

“Pentateuch & Haftorahs,” a classic Orthodox compilation by J.H. Hertz, Britain’s longtime chief rabbi, observes that Joshua informed Canaanites before the invasion so they could flee bloodshed, offered peace to all, and only waged combat if they insisted on it. (That was relatively humane for violent times 3,000 years ago.)

The quest for a homeland, the commentary observes, is part of all human history including most European nations. Israel added to that the “ethical justification” of countering Canaan’s “depravity,” for instance human sacrifice. Moreover, “the whole moral and spiritual future of mankind was involved.”

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Make America grating again? That Donald Trump rally and those old American worship wars

Make America grating again? That Donald Trump rally and those old American worship wars

Hang in there with me for a minute or two, because I want to connect a few dots before we jump into troubled waters defined by the all-powerful words "Donald Trump."

A long time ago, an Episcopal bishop from the American South said something about his own flock that I thought was funny, but also insightful. When talking about issues linked to evangelism and winning converts, he said: "Episcopalians will do anything for God, as long as it's not too TACKY."

When he said the word "tacky," he added as much neo-British, aristocratic flair as possible. In other words, he was saying that some believers get very upset about religious activities that they see as beneath their perceived social status.

That brings me to this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in) and to the opening of this week's On Religion column that served as the hook for my latest chat with host Todd Wilken.

Let me ask a question that I did not have room for in the actual column that went out on the wires. Consider the lyrics of the songs featured in the following two events, one in England and the other in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Which song does more to mix the worlds of church and state, the sacred and the political?

First, there is this familiar hymn, No. 578 in the Hymns Ancient and Modern volumes found in Church of England pews.

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