I was debating doing a post on this in the past, but it popped up on theChristian Libertarians group on Facebook: how does the God-commanded genocide of the Canaanites in Joshua 6:20-21 square if you’re a libertarian and Christian?
The first commenter offered a good start with 5 options:
1. They deserved it. The Canaanites were horrible child-sacrificers, and God gave them years to repent before wiping them out.
2. God has the right to do whatever he wants. This is known as divine command theory. In other words, there is a giant exception in all moral absolutes: God, as author of life, has the right to take it.
3. God was like that then, but Jesus is the pattern for us now (the traditional Anabaptist or dispensationalist position).
4. God is a god of holy and righteous anger. This view boldly faces down the depiction and says that this is what God has always been like and is still today.
5. God is actually not like that and did not actually order these genocides. Rather, the authors of the Biblical books used God to justify their own violence. This response requires dropping inerrancy and this is the option I take.
I disregard #5 completely. There’s no basis, save for someone’s own personal feelings on the matter, to discard one divine command as opposed to another.
Though I don’t care too much about offering materialist reasons for God’s commands or self-directed actions, here was my two cents:
What about this:
God owns everything, so he reserves the moral right to evict or use force to defend His property from agents He deems trespassers.
If you consider God as the ultimate landowner then this makes plenty of sense, though it’s not quite as strong since we don’t know in what manner He dealt with the Canaanites to begin with. He may have given them “every chance” or no warning at all. Given what we know of God in the Old Testament, the former is “in character” but the latter is not impossible.
I like #1, personally. God can do whatever He damn well pleases. He owes us nothing. If anyone has a problem with this, what exactly do you plan on doing about it?
Let me put it another way, if any skeptics are reading this. Let’s pretend the God of the Old Testament exists as described. What reason would God obligate Himself, as a being (the only being, in fact) that can “account for all things,” towards any other moral agent? And as a being that can in fact account for all things, would someone with such limited capacity be able to apprehend His reasoning?
It follows logically that the obligation is non-existent as a matter of necessity. He could or could not obligate according to His discretion. And if He chose to reveal His reasoning for not obligating Himself, we would not be able to comprehend it.
Acknowledging this can be labelled as “having a healthy relationship with ultimate reality as someone considers it,” or some such. That comes with the package of believing in the God of the Bible, and that package includes things that aren’t very pleasant to material-oriented minds. I can’t figure any other way around this.