The following story is complete fiction. It is, however based very closely on several stories from the Bible. My intent is to put these stories into a modern setting to make them more relevant for the modern reader.
Many people claim to hold the Bible (or the Qu’ran, or other holy books) to be their moral guide. Once you read the story I set out below, I’d like you to think about what kind of morality this story represents. I know it’s not something I’d like to base my sense of morality on.
It was reported today that in Afghanistan, internecine fighting has resulted in the apparent genocide of an entire group of Afghans. Sources within the United Nations say that a group backed by the United States government had slaughtered entire villages in the Kazagh region of northern Afghanistan. The UN has begun an investigation into the incident.
These villages were home to the Hazah tribe, which occupied disputed land in an area of Afghanistan where the US is trying to gain a stronghold. The US had been trying to negotiate with the leaders of Hazah tribe, but an incident that occurred on Thursday in the village of Pashtanzian which escalated to a massacre, according to sources close to the UN investigations.
According to reports that have filtered out from the few remaining survivors who managed to escape the slaughter, two outsiders had been staying at the home of one of the chiefs of the Hazah tribe. Afghan soldiers of the US-Afghan alliance went into the village in search of the two men, who they wished to take in for questioning. The chief refused to allow the men to be taken claiming that they were his guests. The chief offered his two daughters to the soldiers if they would leave them in peace. In many Afghan tribes, the hospitality and the protection of guests is considered a matter of great honor even above that of family and tribe.
The reports state that the soldiers then raped the chief’s daughters and that while they were engaged in this activity, the two men escaped from the village. It was upon finding that the two had escaped that the killing began. According the reliable reports, all but three villagers were killed by the US backed soldiers.
The violence then spread to the five other Hazah villages, where it is said that every village was completely wiped out. A Belgian unit from the UN peacekeeping forces reported that they found no one left alive in any of the six villages and that even all the livestock were killed and crops and house burned.
The US and the Afghan governments have yet to respond to requests for statements regarding this incident.
What kind of reaction do you think would follow if this story were real?
In the U.S. I think liberals would use it to bolster their claim that we have no business being in Afghanistan anymore and that we should leave. Conservatives would use it as proof that Obama’s strategy in the Afghanistan flawed and that more troops were needed.
But where would the moral outrage come from? In America it would probably come from liberal religious organizations like the Catholic and Episcopal churches, and liberal to moderate Protestant churches. In the rest of the world, it would come from the media, some politicians and much of the general population.
It is certainly something to think about, which is why I wrote it. I based the story on the following passages from the Bible:
“Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.” (Genesis 19: 5).
“I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof” (Genesis 19: 7-8).
The story of Lot and the Sodomites is echoed in chapter 19 of the book of Judges, where an unnamed Levite (priest) was traveling with his concubine in Gibeah. They spent the night in the
house of a hospitable old man. While they were eating their supper, the men of the city came and beat on the door, demanding that the old man should hand over his male guest ‘so that we may know him’. In almost exactly the same words as Lot, the old man said: **
“Nay, my brethren, nay, I pray you, do not so wickedly; seeing that this man is come into mine house my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you; but unto this man do not so vile a thing” (Judges 19:
“They knew her and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go. Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light” (Judges 19: 25-6).
The part of the story where the entire villages get wiped out down to every man, women, child, livestock and crops comes from many accounts of the people of Israel wiping out entire peoples in the “promised” land under the orders of Moses and, later, Joshua who were, of course, ordered to do so by God himself.
So much for a good moral guide.
Now, apologists will say that there are other parts of the Bible that do provide good moral guidance, and this is true. But if you believe that your scripture is the word of your God and is a moral guide, then you can’t just pick and choose which passages you like and which you don’t.
This leads to an important concept. Despite these passages, and those like them in other religions’ scriptures, people of all cultures and all religions for the most part agree that the type of acts committed in these stories are terrible, horrible and not to be repeated. The vast majority of people all tend to agree that these acts are immoral, despite what their good books say.
This is a crucial point. This tends to show that all people, despite their cultures, race, or religious beliefs have a similar sense of morality.
This morality is something ingrained in our collective human make up. It exists independent of local laws and religious scriptures.
You may ask why there are people who don’t seem to have this sense of morality within them. Just as DNA will produce mutations that lead to undesirable traits in any organism, so it may be with our sense of right and wrong. Genetic damage, brain damage, abnormal brain development are all things that have been show to lead to all types of abnormal behaviors.
Our sense of right and wrong is encoded in our genes and while aberrations do and will always occur, if it weren’t for this engrained sense of morality, we would have never have been able to build civilizations that continue to advance and thrive. We would have killed ourselves off thousands of years ago.
We don’t need scriptures or the word of any god to tell us what is right and wrong. We just need what we already have within us.
** Excerpted from The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins