Thursday, August 03, 2006


Anonymous said:

“Anyone who can rationalize killing children is a hopeless case. I'm unsubscribing.”

This comment is duplicitous at several levels.

1.Unbelievers like to attack the Bible. And they bring a certain tactical sense to their assault on Scripture.

They don’t generally attack just anything and everything in the Bible. Rather, they concentrate their fire on what they deem to be the most vulnerable areas of Scripture.

They pick on the most “offensive” or “unbelievable” parts of Scripture.

They pick on the “unscientific” parts of Scripture. They pick on Gen 3 because many people find the idea of a talking snake ridiculous. They pick on OT holy war because many people find the idea of holy war reprehensible.

The strategy is to box the Christian into a dilemma. If he picks and chooses what he’s prepared to believe, then the unbeliever wins.

If, on the other hand, the Christian defends the “indefensible,” then the Christian is just as bad as the thing he defends.

This is how some people win the debate without winning the argument. They play to prejudice.

2.Speaking for myself, I’m prepared to look bad. If defending Gen 1 or Gen 3, or the flood, or Joshua’s long day, or OT holy war makes me look bad, then so be it.

All I have to lose is my worldly reputation, which has all the value of Confederate currency.

If defending some parts of the Bible is a major turn-off to some readers, so be it.

3.Needless to say, it is unscrupulous as well as duplicitous to attack the Bible, and then attack the Christian for defending the Bible.

The unbeliever tries to confer upon himself the right to mount a unilateral assault on Scripture. He should be free to attack the Bible with impunity, but if a Christian dares to mount a counterattack, then the Christian is in the wrong.

Very cute. But cute doesn’t cut it.

Either the unbeliever’s objection is a serious objection or else a disingenuous objection.

If it’s a serious objection, then the Christian has a right to rise to the challenge put before us and subject the objection to rational scrutiny.

If, on the other hand, the unbeliever is going to deny us the right to scrutinize his objection, then he’s just admitted that his objection was disingenuous from the start.

It is to be taken seriously or not? If so, then we have the right to respond in kind. Then we have the right to examine the intellectual force of the objection.

If not, then the unbeliever is frivolous.

4.Now let’s get to the question at hand. In a fallen world, there will always be war. And noncombatants will always be killed in the course of war.

Whenever there’s a war, women and children are numbered among the casualties.

What’s the alternative? Pacifism. But at least as many noncombatants will be slaughtered if you lay down your arms.

If ancient Israel had never taken any preemptive steps to eliminate the threat, then the enemy would have annihilated ancient Israel, including all the women and children.

If you do something, women and children will die. If you do nothing, women and children will die.

That’s tragic, but inevitable.

5.People like Anonymous feel morally exempt if they opt out of the debate. But they are just as complicit as the rest of us.

All they’ve done is to delegate the hard choices to a second party. They contract out the dirty work to mercenaries, and then retire into their tower of moral smugness.

They duly deplore the actions of a policeman or a soldier as they profit from his actions. They pay others to do what they are too prim and pristine to do for themselves, then express distaste at the process.

6.So, yes, we’re all in the business of “rationalizing” violence.

But if we really care about the welfare of women and children, then we need to honestly confront the exigencies of the situation rather than evade the challenge, run away, and leave the hard choices to others—while jeering from the cheap seats.

If we really care, then we need to draw what moral and practical distinctions we can.

Here is one official definition:

“Broadly defined, collateral damage is unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces. During Linebacker operations over North Vietnam, for example, some incidental damage occurred from bombs falling outside target areas. Consequently, there was an effort to minimize such collateral damage to civilian facilities in populated regions. Determining collateral damage constraints is a command responsibility. If national command or theater authorities do not predetermine constraint levels for collateral damage, a corps or higher commander will normally be responsible for doing so.”

Note the key words: “unintentional,” “incidental,” “target areas,” friendly/neutral, enemy,” “damage constraints,” &c.

But these well-meaning distinctions fail to capture a workable or principled distinction. If, for example, the enemy uses the civilian population as a human shield, so that a commander has to attack the noncombatants in order to reach the combatants, then there’s a sense in which the commander is targeting noncombatants and intentionally killing them.

The real distinction is that a commander should not engage in wanton killing or gratuitous carnage.

Rather, he should only kill to secure the strategic objective. But if killing noncombatants is a necessary means of achieving the objective, then it’s justified—assuming that the objective itself is justified.

The killing of noncombatants is an incidental consequence of securing the objective. Given a choice, the commander would avoid killing noncombatants. But the enemy has given him no choice.

The commander is duty-bound to minimize collateral damage consistent with the strategic objective. But he has limited control over the options at his disposal. He can only play the hand the enemy has dealt him. He can only be as humane as the enemy allows him to be.

All other things being equal, the commander will avoid killing women and children. But we cannot desegregate the combatants from the noncombatants if the combatants choose to integrate into the civilian population, and if the civilians give them safe haven.

Moreover, where do combatants come from in the first place? From noncombatants. The younger generation resupplies the older generation. The younger generation is the recruiting pool.

Traditionally, most cultures are warrior cultures. Every able-bodied male was a conscript.

And that’s exactly the threat which ancient Israel was facing from first to last.

In more affluent and populous civilizations, it’s possible to create a division of labor, in which the military is a subculture, hidden away.

That, in turn, allows a commenter like Anonymous to foster the illusion of moral insulation, as if he’s not party to the killing machine. But, of course, he’s the beneficiary.

Like Anonymous, we can affect a moral repugnance at the harsh, utilitarian calculations of war. But someone else is making those calculations on our behalf, without which a moral freeloader like Anonymous would lack the life or liberty to feign indignation.


  1. Steve,

    Are these guys objecting to the fact that God is pro-choice?

    Just wondering.

  2. David,

    That is a marvelous observation. What people like EXB and anonymous fail to do is give us an alternative option for ANE culture. Let's just imagine here that Israel had only killed the men.

    First, as Steve points out, there was no "warrior class" among most of these peoples. Any male, from young to old fought. That's why the women and children are left. Now, Israel has left them defenseless in the desert, surrounded by their enemies.

    What then should Israel do? Take them home as slaves? Well, that's a problem for EXB and anonymous, because they also object to slavery in the Bible. So, if they give that alternative, then have to abandon their objections to biblical slavery.

    Should they take them in and provide for their needs? Well, (a) they are not part of the covenant people and (b) at this time in her history, Israel had not much of a mechanism for absorbing such people. This isn't modern America where we can absorb refugees with relative ease because of our social programs. So, this is impractical and could have the added effect of adding a subversive element into their society at a time of instability within Israel's history.

    Leave them to fend for themselves? That means they'd end up being sold into slavery and many would wind up as temple prostitutes spreading all manner of disease throughout the peoples. Not only that, Molech is very popular among those peoples, so that meant child sacrifice. Who's children do you think their new captors would sacrifice to Molech first, their own on their enemeies'?

    So, it would seem that EXB and anonymous would rather Israel do nothing or alternatively leave the children and women to the other peoples, effectively leaving them to be sacrificed to Molech, which is altogether understandable, since, for all intents and purposes abortion amounts to sacrificing your children to Molech in another time and place and most Village atheists like EXB and anon are invariably pro-choice.