Deut. 12-13 (Beginning of the Law)

Chapter 12 is a real blow to multiculturalism.  It closes with this admonition, just in case one finds oneself outside of the Promised Land in some sort of exile or something:

The Lord your God will cut off before you the nations you are about to invade and dispossess. But when you have driven them out and settled in their land, 30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.” 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.

Reminds me of my Grandmother.  She told me that her mother claimed nuns ate little children.  Ha ha, she never believed it.  But her mother did say it, so ….  There is also the discussion of destroying all of the places of worship used by those in the land they are about to invade.  This reminds me of invaders doing exactly this in recent history.  Either because they thought religion in general was evil or because they despised everyone else’s religion. 

Chapter 13 continues this theme, requiring death for anyone who worships another god.  You are to show them no mercy. 

12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt,

In the face of such virulent, violent, religious absolutism, I present two arguments for mitigation.  First, the historical argument.  Everyone was doing it.  Or at least anyone small and weak was doing it.  When put in context is there room to give them credit for their two efforts to avoid misuse–requiring a thorough investigation and prohibiting anyone from profiting from the destruction?  Second, they were weak.  I believe the moral culpability associated with a people on the verge of cultural extinction resorting to such tactics is less than that of a powerful culture in the process of assimilating the conquered.  Although, of course, if you take the narrative on its face, Israel was about to be the latter.

An important question for me is whether devotion to God moved the people away from such practices of intolerance.  I’m sure many readers will find this an absurd suggestion, but I would point out that we have seen atheist nationalism in the very recent past resort to cultural destruction.  Of course, atheist enlightenment deserves credit for tolerance supported by rationalism. 

Leave a Reply