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Sodom and Rwanda?

Wed 25 Jan 2006 In: Comment

When the Christian Right uses the myth of Sodom and Gomorrah to attack us, why are they blind to its genocidal overtones? Think about it. In a fit of divine rage, Yahweh is alleged to have exterminated the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, including its female, nursing infant and infirm elderly inhabitants. Ah, fundamentalists drool, but think about the kinky sex. So what? It's a myth about 'justifiable' genocide. Nor is it the only example of such unsettling obliviousness to the humanity of ethnic minorities in the Old Testament's myths. I should note that much is dependent on whether the latter are actual descriptions of events, or exaggerated hyperbole based on more gradual entry and military aggression against the previous Phoenician Canaanite inhabitants of Israel. Still, think about it. Yahweh condones infanticide and murder of pregnant women as an element of military conflict, and it is tied to Astarte's more liberal concept of sexuality. It would be grossly anti-Semitic to transfer concerns about this myth to modern Jewish communities, given the last two thousand years of pogroms and the nightmare of the Holocaust's six million lost Jewish lives. Rather, it is Christianity that has much to answer for in this regard. This myth is a 'text of terror,' as feminist Phyllis Trible referred to biblical myths that refer to, or condone, violence against women. The Canaanite genocide reveals Yahweh to be no better a deity than the neighbouring Moloch or Baalim, some of whom also demanded child sacrifice. We're talking about mythology that helped to legitimise the dangerous concept of a 'chosen people,' with all the horror that has been perpetrated in its name. Apartheid. The Holocaust. Rwanda. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Kosovo. In my experience, fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge that if they did occur, these historical genocides laid the basis for more recent slaughters of non-combatants, children, elderly and infants. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are always wrong, regardless of where or when they occurred. Or, in this case, whether, as the offending mythology has laid the basis for philosophies that condone territorial conquest and aggression against civilians. We should challenge the Christian Right on this, and ask them pointblank. Do they buy into the philosophy of genocide whenever they cite the Sodom and Gomorrah myth? Do they also defend the alleged slaughter of innocent non-combattants that has been called the Canaanite genocide of several Phoenician tribal communities- Amorites, Hivites, Hechites and Jebusites? Don't expect a humane answer. Christian Reconstructionism and fundamentalist apocalyptic pulp fiction suggest that they condone prospective mass slaughter in the event of a thenomic republican takeover of our democratic institutions, or at the end of the world. Therefore, in order for those political strategies or apocalyptic myths to be the literal truth, then the Sodom, Gomorrah and Canaanite genocide myths also have to be true, and thus, Yahweh condoned genocide. I wish that latter paragraph were nothing more than surmise, but current fundamentalist theologians think that because their Bible is supposedly literally true, that takes precedence over the presence of these genocidal 'texts of terror.' All but one contributor to a recent volume on the subject argued that the Canaanite genocide was permissible, but failed to go on to examine how that 'permissible' chain of events was subsequently abused to justify the likes of Bosnia and Rwanda in the present day. Commendably, that one contributor disavowed biblical literalism and inerrancy, and had the guts to admit that yes, that text of terror probably has been abused to justify subsequent slaughters of the innocent. But hang on, this is about racism, isn't it? Yes, and also homophobia. Remember, the chosen people myth relies on purity myths, and purity presupposes a group of people designated impure, which means us. In modern Brazil, there are 'social cleansing' squads that attack drag queens, street kids and street sex workers, as well as Brazilian underclass gay men. If the Christian Reconstructionists had their way, we'd be the victims of our own holocaust. Sodom and Gomorrah is based on a myth of divinely sanctioned 'permissible' genocide. It never happened, but that's not the point, because it's part and parcel of a series of similar insidious myths about chosen people, purity and 'justified' ethnic and social cleansing. On the cover of the Zondervan book I cited, there's a skull amidst a barren landscape. Genocide is about blood, spilt guts, screaming children and the cries of the incinerated burning to death amidst the ruin of their homes. Or suffocating in gas chambers. Or starving to death in concentration camps. It has nothing to do with cleanliness or purity whatsoever. It's about the denial of humanity to the victims of those atrocities. Recommended: C.S.Cowles et al: Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on the Canaanite Genocide: Grand Rapids: Zondervan: 2003. John Allen: Pope Benedict XVI: New York: Continuum: 2005. Craig Young - 25th January 2006    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Wednesday, 25th January 2006 - 12:00pm

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