Baby’s First Book of Genocide

So God told Joshua to go to Jericho, but there were some other people living there already, who God didn’t like so much, so He genocided them out of the way, which just shows how much He loves us, doesn’t it, children?

My boys have a fairly large collection of Bible stories in one form or another, all written for or targeted towards young children. These various books all tell the same handful of stories in their own way, and it’s astonishing to see just how many of those stories are fundamentally unpleasant – tales of murder, genocide, death and destruction. Here’s a sample of the most common stories:

Bible

Contains violence, sexual content and adult themes

Jonah – God sends a message to the city of Nineveh, ordering them to worship Him or face the consequences. His chosen messenger objects and flees, not because of a moral objection to violent coercion, but because he wants those nasty foreigners wiped out and fears that if he delivers the message, they’ll end up worshipping his God. So God has him swallowed by an enormous fish until Jonah comes round to His way of thinking.

David and Goliath – A delightful war story for tiny tots, this heartwarming tale tells of how an entire army was scared of taking on an enemy giant, but no one seemed to mind sending a young boy to face him. So David came to be a war hero by killing a man in single combat. And then the rest of the Philistine army was brutally slaughtered.

Daniel – Held captive in a foreign country, a young man is condemned to be eaten by lions. But God saved him in the end, so that’s not really so bad, is it?

Walls of Jericho – God chooses somewhere for the Jews to live, but unfortunately some people are living there already. So He arranges to make the walls of the city collapse so that the inhabitants can be slaughtered.

Noah and Animals

Noah hadn’t realised just how many dead bodies he’d have to clear up

Noah’s Ark – An old children’s favourite. The jolly story of how God decided He’d screwed up first time round and put too much evil in the mix, so attempted to purify His perfect creation by drowning all but 8 people. Oh, and some animals. Look, animals! Nice, fluffy, cute animals…

Many parents, especially Christians, are very worried about young children being exposed to violence and disturbing themes in books and on TV, but for some reason those parents seem to positively encourage exposure to Bible stories that are far worse. Interestingly, though, while murder and genocide are fun for the whole family, Bible stories which involve sex don’t get a mention – clearly, that would be entirely inappropriate!

Whether you’re a literalist or not, why would you think these were suitable stories for young children? No one would consider genocide and murder to be bedtime reading in any other context, whether the stories are fact or fiction. As ever, it seems that horrific acts become innocuous and even charitable when God does them.

But I’m not prepared to give God a free pass. I’m no fan of Mary Whitehouse or her methods, but it’s fascinating to consider what she might have made of the Bible if she’d approached it in the same way as the many publications and broadcasts she complained about. So I’m going to start a new project to investigate that question, called the Blue Pencil Bible.

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

10 responses to “Baby’s First Book of Genocide”

  1. unkleE says :

    I am not an inerrantist, and I have struggled to come to terms with these stories for literally decades. I can only conclude, with some scholars, that these parts of the OT are “fictionalised history”, primitive understandings of God based on an incomplete revelation.

    I think on this level, the stories are slightly less nasty, but still difficult, especially for children. Though I note that many old fairy tales (Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, etc) are also full of death and frightful things, and kids have coped with these for centuries. I’m not sure what to make of that.

    I will be interested to see how the christian church as a whole comes to terms with these matters over the next decade or two (if I live that long!).

    • Neil Rickert says :

      Though I note that many old fairy tales (Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, etc) are also full of death and frightful things, and kids have coped with these for centuries.

      The children mostly know that the fairy tales are make-believe. They might possibly think that about the Bible stories, too, if only adults would let them.

      Though I note that many old fairy tales (Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, etc) are also full of death and frightful things, and kids have coped with these for centuries.

      Yes, that was how I always saw them. But fundamentalists disallow that way of reading the Bible.

      • Neil Rickert says :

        Oops. That second quote was intended to be:

        I can only conclude, with some scholars, that these parts of the OT are “fictionalised history”, primitive understandings of God based on an incomplete revelation.

        I should have looked more carefully at what I pasted in.

  2. Wen Scott says :

    Justifying OT brutality to fairy tales is like comparing 12 oranges to 4 apples. It’s a sad measure of our society that the ancient ‘God made me do it’ argument is still practised today. We seem to be learning the wrong lessons from all those bible stories.

  3. 2012 and all that says :

    I’m no fan of Mary Whitehouse or her methods, but it’s fascinating to consider what she might have made of the Bible if she’d approached it in the same way as the many publications and broadcasts she complained about.

    Seeing as she was a homophobe, fundamentalist and a creationist, I’m sure she had her excuses.

  4. Godless Poutine (@GodlessPoutine) says :

    I’m really liking this blog of yours! Do come guest post on mine any time btw.

    Hope you don’t mind my promoting my posts on Bible stories that this post of yours reminded me of:

    Teaching Religious Mythology (Specifically to Your Kids)
    http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/search/label/teaching%20religious%20mythology

    Fathers of the Bible (A Father’s Day Week Special)
    http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/search/label/fitb

  5. Joan of Quark says :

    Re Daniel: it’s worse than that. Once Daniel is rescued from the pit full of lions the king has the officials who plotted against him thrown in, and *also their wives and children*.

  6. Al from Hastings says :

    While slating the Bible, let’s all make sure we quietly ignore the great slaughter of the innocents in that factory of death known as the womb. I have never seen many agnostics or atheists crying over this particular form of genocide. Perhaps their criticisms of the Bible might have a bit more credibility if they were more consistent and spoke out against this particular horror. But maybe this kind of moralistic Bible criticism is really a form of sublimation: a psychological coping mechanism to justify ignoring what is really happening in the world today.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      A marvellous example of whataboutery. Congratulations!

      But if, as you assert, abortion is a terrible evil which results in the slaughter of innocent people, rather than the removal of insensible bundles of cells (and this is a subject I have no particular interest in discussing either way), that puts God in the firing line once again. If you think there’s a “great slaughter of innocents” as a result of abortion, that’s a minute fraction of the spontaneous abortions which are carried out by no one but God Himself, often before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.

      You must really hate God to bring that sort of thing into a discussion that has nothing to do with it.

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