As long as Roger Hutchinson persists in bending over backwards to defend the absurd belief that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God, I will continue to give him publishing space to expose his ignorance. Presently, he is on a crusade to show that I was wrong in even suggesting that the Bible could possibly be influencing some of the violent activities that have unfortunately become a part of modern society. We live in a time when those with obvious religious agendas are resorting to murder and terrorism to try to force compliance with what they think is a code of objective morality that "emanates" from the "nature" of their morally perfect God, so when peaceful methods of persuasion fail to convince abortion providers to close their clinics, the more radical fringes of these guardians of public morality undertake to force compliance with their demand by bombing clinics and killing doctors. When homosexuals refuse to give up a lifestyle that in all probability is as natural to them as heterosexuality is to others, the self-righteous ones seek to beat and bomb them into compliance too. Hutchinson doesn't deny that such acts of violence happen, because, of course, he can't deny them. He just denies that the perpetrators of this kind of violence were in any way influenced by the Bible, but he also denies that the Bible is in any way inconsistent or contradictory, so readers of my response to Hutchinson should keep in mind that I am responding to someone who lives in a sort of fantasy land where in matters related to his religious beliefs, he sees only what he wants to see. This is a world of self-imposed exile, where up can be down and right can be left if it must be made that way in order to find unity and harmony in a collection of ancient writings that the exiles desperately want to be the "inspired, inerrant word of God."
I have probably had as much experience debating biblical inerrantists as anyone, but I have rarely seen distortion and misrepresentation as flagrant as we are now seeing from Hutchinson in his frantic attempts to save face after having shot himself in the foot by claiming that the Bible can't in any way be considered responsible for modern-day bigotry and violence. In the three pages available for my response in this issue, I intend to address all of his arguments. If the three pages are not enough to answer them all, I will continue my reply in the next issue.
Flagrant Distortion: Almost every paragraph of Hutchinson's latest tirade contains a distortion of what I have said on this issue. "In his first article," Hutchinson said, "Farrell Till sought to show that Christianity was to blame for the activities of radical elements" (p. 6, this issue). If I said this, I wish that Hutchinson would quote where I said it. The way that he has worded the statement, he leaves the impression that I have claimed that Christianity is to blame for all activities of radical elements, but I have said no such thing. In the opening paragraph of my first article on this subject, I referred to terrorist acts "committed by those who have links with organizations that have biblical terms like `God,' 'Yahweh,' and `Phinehas' in their names" (January/February 1999, p. 1) and went on to say that if Christianity is not to blame for the acts of organizations bearing such biblical names, then who is to blame? The only correction I need to make to this statement is that in assessing blame, I should have used Bible instead of Christianity, because it is certainly possible that organizations like "the Army of God" or the "Phineas [sic] Priesthood" could have members who are not Christians, but that would not remove the fact that the very names of such groups as these are derived from the Bible.
The Phineas [sic] Priesthood is a typical example of extremist organizations that have derived their very names from the Bible. This is a white supremacist organization, whose latest poster boy is Buford Furrow, who walked into a Jewish community center in California and opened fire on children who had returned from an outing. He then fled the center and shot to death a postman, whom he crossed paths with, for no apparent reason except that the postman wasn't white. After he had been taken into custody, Furrow said he hoped that what he had done would be a wake-up call for Americans to kill Jews. Investigation of Furrow's background established that he had had connections with the Phineas [sic] Priesthood.
Where did this group get its name? Well, to Hutchinson's chagrin, he will never be able to deny that this is a name derived directly from the Bible. Aaron, the first high priest of Israel, had a grandson named Phinehas who rose to biblical fame by conducting a purge of immorality during an Israelite/Midianite orgy recorded in Numbers 25. When Phinehas learned that an Israelite man had taken a Midianite woman into his tent, he went into the tent and thrust a spear through both the man and the woman while they were copulating. Yahweh, who always seemed to enjoy a good bloodletting then said to Moses, "Phinehas son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. Therefore say, `I hereby grant him my covenant of peace. It shall be for him and for his descendants after him a covenant of perpetual priesthood, because he was zealous for his God, and made atonement for the Israelites'" (vs:10-13).
The Phineas [sic] Priests, then, are members of an extremist group that named itself after one of Yahweh's favorite people, a man who killed those who didn't quite measure up to his moral expectations. And why not select this name for a hate group? Anyone reading this story can see that the Bible clearly praised a man for killing people whom he considered moral inferiors. Further reading in this general area of the Bible will show that the god Yahweh was also a racist, who had selected the Hebrews to be "a people for his own possession, above all peoples on the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6) and that he told his "chosen ones" to kill everyone in the other ethnic groups in Canaan (Dt. 20:16). Why wouldn't a group with a racial- superiority mentality not think it appropriate to name themselves after a man who had received a "perpetual priesthood" for killing people whom his racist god didn't like? Is Hutchinson so naive that he thinks the selection of this name by a white-supremacist group is merely coincidental and that the Bible had no influence on their choice? Does he really think that the activities of extremist groups are not at all influenced by the Bible in a society where the Bible is a perennial best seller and where even the smallest towns will be dotted with several Christian churches? I guess he expects us to think that none of these extremists ever read where the Bible gave presumably divine orders to kill those of other ethnic groups and to purge their ranks of false worshipers, and thought that it really wouldn't be such a big deal if they went and did likewise.
High moral principles: Hutchinson distorted my position again when he said that I was so "desperate to prove something" that I had "proposed that [I] am right unless it can be proven that the Bible can instill high moral principles." His claim was that I had said this in my third article ("A Poor Selling Job," July/ August 1999), but I have looked all through the article and can't find where I said it. I did, however, find where I said that Hutchinson, who has been holding the Bible up to us as a fountainhead of high moral principles and "messages of love," can't have it both ways. If he is going to argue that people can be influenced positively by high moral principles, which I admit are taught in some biblical passages, then he must also agree that the low morality of the Bible can influence people negatively. "(H)e can't have it both ways," I said, and contend that the stories of debauchery and barbarity in the Bible have no negative influence on people but that its "high moral principles" do have a positive influence. "If he is going to insist that the `good' contained in the Bible can have positive influences on people," I said, "he must admit the possibility that the `bad' contained in the Bible can have negative influences" (p. 8). That is quite different from the spin that he has tried to put on this section of my article. I was, in fact, agreeing with him that the Bible can and does have a positive influence on people but that consistency demands he admit that the horrendous tales of divine cruelty and barbarity in the Bible can influence people negatively. His stubborn fundamentalism, however, will never allow him to admit this, so he must vent his frustration and anger on me for telling the truth about the Bible. He has an obligation to show us why a book that contains both good and bad will influence people to do good but won't influence them to do bad. I don't read Playboy magazine, but I have heard people who do read it say that it contains some excellent articles that have nothing to do with nudity or sex. I'm sure, however, that Hutchinson would never say that it is all right for Christians to read this magazine on the grounds that even though it is sexually explicit at times, it also has some good articles in it that don't pertain to nudity and sex and that the "bad" materials won't negatively influence readers anyway.
Before Hutchinson counters here with a claim that the Bible is different from Playboy and other such magazines in that the Bible condemned immoral conduct and discouraged it by recording the punishment of those who engaged in such activities, I'll shoot this rationalization down before he can even get it off the ground. Anyone who believes this is either ignorant of the Bible or else has his head in the sand. Since I have already mentioned the story of Lot in an earlier article, I can use it as an example of how the Bible didn't always condemn immorality but even sometimes presented despicably immoral characters as people who were worthy of emulation.
According to the story as it was told in Genesis 19, God had decided to destroy Sodom for its extreme wickedness and sent two angels to warn Lot and his family to leave before the destruction came. These angels had evidently appeared as ordinary men, for when word of their presence in Lot's house had gotten around town, a group of apparently homosexual men gathered outside Lot's house and demanded that he send his visitors out so that "we may know them" (19:5). Rather than telling the crowd that this was immoral conduct that he would have nothing to do with, what did the righteous Lot do? He went out to the men and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly! Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof" (v:8).
Of all the appalling immorality depicted in the Bible, this has to rank high on the list. Lot was willing to turn his daughters over to a crowd and let them be gang raped in order to save his male visitors the indignity of rape, as if protecting the virtue of complete strangers was more important than protecting the virtue of one's own daughters. I would think that Hutchinson would be hard pressed to find even in the ranks of the most immoral men alive today, anyone who would have so little regard for his own daughters, but a character in the Bible could so conduct himself and, as we will see later, be considered a "righteous man." This story, of course, mirrors the belief in biblical times that women were inferior to men, and so Lot, if such a person ever lived, was simply reflecting this belief. However, it will do Hutchinson no good to offer this as an excuse for why a "righteous man" would have done such a thing, because Hutchinson is a biblical inerrantist, who believes that morality is absolute. If morality is absolute, then he cannot argue that although it would be morally despicable for a father to conduct himself like this today, back then such conduct would have been morally acceptable. If he makes such an attempt, I will remind him that he is again trying to play both sides of the street.
So did Yahweh withdraw his angels and inform Lot that he was no better than anyone else in Sodom and would therefore have to die along with the others? Not at all. Lot was told to leave with his family and not look back when destruction rained down on the city (vs:12-22). As the story was told, Lot's wife turned and looked back when the fire and brimstone were coming down on Sodom, so she was changed into a pillar of salt. Lot and his daughters went on and escaped the destruction. Let's take a moment to look at what we have here in this treasury of "high moral principles" that Hutchinson is praising. Lot offered his daughters to be victims of gang rape and was divinely led to safety; Lot's wife looked back in curiosity when the fire and brimstone were raining down, and she was changed into a pillar of salt. Who couldn't love this book of "high moral principles" that Hutchinson cherishes so dearly?
The story didn't end with the fate of Lot's wife. Lot and his daughters went up into the mountains and lived in a cave (v:30), where the most despicable part of this sordid story happened.
Now the firstborn said to the younger, "Our father is old, and there is no man on the earth to come in to us as is the custom of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father. So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
It happened on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, "Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father." Then they made their father drink wine that night also. And the younger arose and lay with him, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose.
Thus both the daughters of Lot were with child by their father" (19:31-36).
Let's suppose that a best-seller was on the shelves of bookstores all across the land and that a part of the plot included a character who engaged in drunken orgies with his own daughters. Can you imagine the furor that such a book would create among the guardians of public morality? How many demands would we hear to remove this book from store shelves and certainly from public and school libraries? The people making such demands, however, don't think anything at all about the presence of Bibles on the shelves of bookstores and libraries.
God didn't approve of Lot's conduct, biblicists will argue, but if that is so, just where is God's disapproval stated in the Bible? The text that I quoted above simply gave a matter-of-fact account of the escapades of Lot and his daughters. There isn't a hint of divine disapproval in the story. The last two verses of Genesis 19 merely related (matter-of-factly) that the firstborn daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Moab and that the younger daughter gave birth to a son whom she named Ben-ammi. There is no condemnation even implied in the story. Elsewhere, however, Lot was described as a "righteous man" when the writer of 2 Peter said that in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, God had rescued "Lot, a *righteous* man" who was "greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless" and went on to say, "(T)hat righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard" (2:7-8). Yes, indeed, this "righteous man" was so "greatly distressed" by the lawless deeds of those around him that he offered to let a group of men gang rape his own daughters and then later engaged in a drunken orgy with these same daughters. When we read about such "high moral principles" as these, I think we have to agree with Hutchinson that there isn't a chance in the world that the Bible could have a negative influence on anyone.
In my July/August article (p. 8), I referred to a TV series called Ancient Secrets of the Bible, which in one of its programs had dramatized the story of Lot but had omitted all of the sordid details that I have just summarized. I cited these omissions as an example of how even defenders of the Bible recognize that some of its material isn't fit to be related. In his latest "contribution" to our discussions, Hutchinson said in reference to the omissions, "Are skeptics so naive? No one produces movies for children that include the unsavory parts of life. Such things are not deemed fit for children because children are innocent and impressionable" (p. 6, this issue). Apparently, Hutchinson doesn't know that Ancient Secrets of the Bible is an apologetic series intended to present evidence for the historical accuracy of the Bible. It is structured to show a dramatization of a biblical story after which a Josh McDowellian "apologist" makes an appearance to talk about "evidence" that has been discovered to prove that the story is historically accurate. The program is directed at adults and not children, so the omission of the unsavory details from he dramatization of Lot's story was a tacit admission by the producers that the sordid aspects of the story should be left untold; otherwise, people not familiar with the story (which would include more adult Bible-believers than Hutchinson would care to admit) just might have asked themselves why a story like this was included in a book divinely revealed to mankind in order to promote "high moral principles."
Equally influenced? Hutchinson said that "(t)he central theme in Till's argument is that Christians are equally influenced by the positive or negative accounts that they read in the Bible," and so "(w)hen Christians read the positive things (e. g., God is love), they rush out and love people," and "(w)hen they read the negative things (e. g., homosexuality is sin), they supposedly run out and persecute people," but when did I ever say anything like this? I just showed above that I have said only that Hutchinson can't have it both ways. If he is going to contend that the high moral principles in the Bible can influence people to do "good," then he can't argue that the cruelty, barbarity, violence, and immorality depicted in the Bible will not influence people to do "bad." There is absolutely nothing in this position to imply that I think that Christians are equally influenced by the good and the bad in the Bible. My position is simply that if the good in the Bible can influence for good, then the bad in the Bible can influence for bad. If not, why not?
What levels of influence the good and the bad in the Bible may have has never been addressed, but I personally believe that the Bible has far less influence on Christians for good than Hutchinson apparently thinks. My observation has been that most Christians are smorgasbord Bible believers in that they pick and choose the parts they want to believe and ignore the parts they don't want to believe. Proving this is quite easy. When Hutchinson receives this issue and reads this paragraph, I want him to lay the article aside and send me $1,000. Unless he is a smorgasbord Christian, he has an obligation to do this, because Jesus said, "Give to everyone who asks of you" (Luke 6:30), and I am asking Hutchinson to give me $1,000. If he says that he doesn't have $1,000, I'll settle for whatever he has, $500, $200, $100. I just want him to demonstrate to us that the Bible is indeed the force for good that he claims it is. A good way to do this would be to show us that he personally practices even the tough moral requirements of Christianity.
Will Hutchinson send me the money? I'll have to see it to believe it. I suspect instead that we will see him twisting himself into verbal knots to explain why this text doesn't mean what it says or to argue that I have taken it out of context, just as we have so often seen him twist himself into knots to explain why the Bible doesn't mean what it clearly says when discrepancies are pointed out to him. The same verse quoted above also says, "And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back," so I'd like for him to tell me what he would do if I took his car. Would he ask for it back? Would he report me to the police if I came to his home and took it? I'd like to know just how much Hutchinson really believes in this influence for good that he has been praising so loudly.
As for the "context" of these statements, Jesus spoke them when he was telling his audience to love their enemies and to do good to those who hated them, to turn the other cheek when they were struck, to give their cloaks to those who took away their coats, etc. These are "high moral principles" that I wonder if Hutchinson is following. Does he take no thought for tomorrow? Is he ever anxious about what he will eat or what he will wear? Does he lay up for himself treasures on earth? I have to wonder just how zealous Hutchinson is about following the "high moral principles" that he has been yapping about. I have never personally known any "Christian" who has followed such commandments as these, and, except for their hypocrisy in claiming to be that which they are not, I don't blame them for not following them. Anyone who did try to follow them would be reduced to abject poverty, but that's not the point. If the Bible is what Hutchinson claims it is, he should demonstrate in his own life that the "good" taught in this book does indeed have the influence on people that he claims it does. I honestly don't see that it is the force for good that Hutchinson claims. I don't deny that it is an influence for some good, but I wouldn't call making hypocrites out of 99% of those who profess Christianity to be a "good" influence. Certainly, bigotry, intolerance, and murder committed in the name of God are not "good."
God is merciful and quick to forgive? Hutchinson said that "the Bible just as clearly reveals God to be merciful and quick to forgive those who sin" (p. 6, this issue). When I read this, I wondered if Hutchinson is reading the same Bible as I am, because the Bible I have been reading clearly depicts the Hebrew god Yahweh as a petty, vindictive, temperamental deity who was not only ^not^ quick to forgive but openly boasted that he would carry grudges for centuries: "I Yahweh your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me" (Ex. 20:5). Even four centuries weren't long enough for Hutchinson's merciful god to forgive the Amalekites. According to Exodus 17:8ff, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites on their way to Canaan, and Yahweh told the Israelites never to forget it.
Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and struck down all who lagged behind you; he did not fear God. Therefore when Yahweh your God has given you rest from all your enemies on every hand, in the land that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; do not forget (Deut. 25:17-19).
Four hundred years later, when Saul was king of Israel, Yahweh was ready to execute vengeance on the Amalekites for something their ancestors had done centuries earlier. He sent Samuel the prophet to tell Saul to completely destroy the Amalekite nation.
Thus says Yahweh of hosts, "I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Sam. 15:2-3).
Is this Hutchinson's idea of a merciful god who is "quick to forgive"? For that matter, is this Hutchinson's idea of "high moral principles"?
I know already what Hutchinson will say: God is quick to forgive those who repent of their sins, but the Amalekites didn't repent. They were so wicked that God just had to rid the earth of them. This is the standard inerrantist excuse for Yahweh's order to kill an entire nation of people for something that their ancestors had done long before, but this text doesn't say anything at all about killing them because of their own wickedness. Neither Hutchinson nor any other biblicist who parrots this ridiculous excuse for killing children and babies can find anything in the Bible that even suggests the Amalekites of Saul's time were any more "wicked" than any other contemporary nation. This is just a resort to desperation in order to give some semblance of a "solution" to a serious moral problem in the Bible. Furthermore, 1 Samuel 15 very explicitly stated the reason why Yahweh ordered Saul to exterminate the Amalekites, and that reason was to punish them for their attack on the Israelites during the exodus (v:2). It said nothing about any "extreme wickedness" that demanded their extermination.
If Hutchinson is still not convinced, he may want to consider the case of Josiah's religious reforms recorded in 2 Kings 21-24. Josiah eradicated idolatry in Judah and led the nation back to the worship of Yahweh. He removed all the vessels of Baal and the Asherah that had previously defiled the temple and destroyed the "high places" in Judah where incense and sacrifices had been offered to Baal, the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies (23:4-8). He ended the ritual of child sacrifices in the valley of Hinnon (v:10). His religious reforms are too numerous to mention here, but they were so thorough that he was praised as a king who had had none like him, before or after, who had "turned to Yahweh with all of his heart and soul and might" (23:25). This would have necessarily ranked him higher in Yahweh's sight than even David, an ancestor king whom Yahweh had praised as "a man after his own heart" (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).
Jeremiah, who prophesied in the time of Josiah (Jer. 1:2), had said that when a nation turned from its evil, Yahweh would turn from evil he would turn from any evil he had spoken against that nation (18:8-9), so one would think that if any nation had ever deserved the mercy and forgiveness of Yahweh, Judah under the reign of Josiah would surely have qualified. Such, however, was not the case, for after describing Josiah in the glowing terms quoted above, the writer said in the very next verse, "Nevertheless, Yahweh did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was aroused against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him" (23:26). Manasseh was Josiah's grandfather, whose bloody reign is recorded in 2 Kings 21:10-18, so according to the verse just quoted, Yahweh refused to forgive the people of Judah, despite their repentance, because an ancestor of the king had committed grievous sins. That hardly sounds like a god who is "merciful and quick to forgive."
I will conclude my reply to Hutchinson in the next issue.