General Question

Qingu's avatar

Is genocide ever morally acceptable?

Asked by Qingu (21173points) March 15th, 2009

Genocide is the wholesale killing of every man, woman and child in a cultural or ethnic group. Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for genocide, but I think it sort of gets to the heart of the matter. The goal of genocide is not just to kill people, it is to eradicate an entire culture or way of life that you think, for whatever reason, is unacceptable.

I don’t believe genocide is ever morally acceptable. But I’ve talked to several religious people (some on Fluther) who defend the practice of genocide in the Bible (the only religious text I know of to actually command the practice). In Deuteronomy 20:16, God commands the Hebrews to kill every single person living in the holy land, so that their culture does not survive to pollute the purity of the Hebrews’ religion. In the book of Joshua, this genocide takes place, to great celebration. In the books following Joshua, God punishes Hebrew leaders when they are not complete in their genocide of holy land cities. Deuteronomy 13:12 commands you to wipe out of any Hebrew-controlled holy land city that relapses into previous religions. When—and why—are such practices morally acceptable?

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73 Answers

kapuerajam's avatar

No. The bible is over 2000 years old. Most of the stuff that was acceptable then is no longer vaild.

Qingu's avatar

@kapuerajam, thanks for your response, but I did make a point of asking if it’s ever acceptable. Why do you think genocide was acceptable 2,000 years ago? (Actually, this would be around 3,000 years ago)

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I believe it was acceptable because the ideas of equality is relatively new, in terms of society. We had slavery and the stratification of society that had nothing to do with the individual value of human beings. That’s pretty much the point of the prophecy in Jesus, and why the bible cannot be taken literally from a post-Jesus perspective. Do unto others as you would have done unto you, God exists in every person (whether they believe or not) and your material rewards on earth have nothing to do with being favored in the eyes of God. That’s what makes Jesus a radical instrument of social change, and the whole point of impact. Unfortunately, Christianity has become more “follow the scribe” rather than “follow the prophet” oriented, and to paraphrase Maus, “that’s where the trouble began.”

AstroChuck's avatar

Yes, if we’re talking the Duggar family.

Qingu's avatar

@AlfredaPrufrock, I’m having trouble understanding why you think genocide was acceptable.

Are you saying genocide is acceptable as long as there is no prior conception of equality and the individual worth of humans? So, for example, the current genocide in Darfur would be acceptable just as long as people involved didn’t have a concept of equality and individualism?

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

I don’t think it’s acceptable. I’m saying that in the time portrayed in the bible, it was an accepted societal norm, like stoning people, dismemberment, and slavery were acceptable.

Today, we have our own societal norms that perhaps later generations will find reprehensible.

Jack79's avatar

Didn’t know about Deuteronomy. In that case, it is of course acceptable. But only against Hebrews. No wait, didn’t a guy try to do that a few years back? I forget his name, he had a moustache like Charlie Chaplin though. Never heard whether he made it or not.

The only case in which this type of systematic murder can ever be justified would be if it really is a case of “cleansing”, ie some sort of virus that could wipe out the entire human race unless a certain group is exterminated. And even then, I’d go for either quarantine or sterilisation at worst.

Qingu's avatar

@AlfredaPrufrock, I understand that people back then thought genocide was morally acceptable. Obviously they did, or they wouldn’t have committed genocide! Similarly, the Janjaweed today believe genocide is morally acceptable, an accepted social norm.

That wasn’t the question. Do you think what the Hebrews did was morally acceptable?

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

With situations like Darfur, I finding it morally wrong from a western perspective. Is is wrong from an African perspective? I don’t know; I haven’t studied the culture. I do know that selling your children in order to feed yourself is an acceptable practice in parts of Africa.

Qingu's avatar

@Jack79, hrmph! I knew this thread would end up straining Godwin’s Law. :)

Jack79's avatar

Ok I added a serious part just for you then :)

Not sure what Godwin’s Law is, but I think I can guess.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Of course not, having been born into western civilization in the mid-1900’s.

Magnus's avatar

If it’s conservatives, in a world where we realize how wrong conservative views are, it’s a maybe.

Qingu's avatar

@AlfredaPrufrock, do you find the situation in ancient Israel where the Hebrews burned dozens of Canaanite cities to the ground and deliberately killed tens of thousands of Canaanite men, women, and children—do you find this morally acceptable?

I mean, I understand that “morality is relative” is a description of reality: Everyone has their own moral perspective. I’m asking, from your perspective, is genocide ever justifiable? Edit—nevermind, it looks like you clarified.

LanceVance's avatar

I think you’re missing a thing or two here. Your premise is that genocide was never acceptable and you therefore question yourself why was it acceptable at a certain point in history.

In times of early civilizations, genocide was considered normal because everyone that commited it considered it worth doing, because they felt it’s their duty, their obligation, maybe even that it’s the most moral thing. The Jews, when they were put in slavery in Egypt probably wanted to take revenge (wouldn’t claim that for sure, just trying to find some explanation for what’s written in the Bible) and so they put that line in.

It was in the New Ages that idea of equality arose and that’s when I think, genocide, became immoral.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

From my perspective, no.

Qingu's avatar

@LanceVance, most ancient civilizations did not commit genocide against the cultures they conquered. The ancient Babylonians didn’t kill all the Hebrews when they conquered them, they actually carted them back to their capital in an attempt to “civilize” them (didn’t work out).

The Greeks and Romans did commit their share of genocides. But more often, they went out of their way to incorporate the people they conquered into Greek and Roman civilization. They would even bring back the conquered Gods and Goddesses to the Greek and Roman pantheons. Even the human-sacrificing Aztecs didn’t commit genocide.

So I don’t necessarily think “genocide is okay!” was the social norm back then. Possibly more than it is today, but genocide is still quite common in modern times as well.

DrBill's avatar

I am still looking forward to the time someone actually reads the Bible before criticizing it.

God did not direct them to eliminate any race of people, he told them to purify the Holly land. If they are not in the Holly land, no one is going after them.

As far as bringing Godwin’s Law into this, Hitler wanted to “purify the races” of the entire Earth

God ask them to purify the Holy land, and only the Holy land.

laureth's avatar

I’ve read the Bible straight through a few times, and still I criticise it. (I often find that the people who question the Bible are more well-informed at to its contents than those who defend it.)

In this case, while it’s true that the Hebrews were commanded to kill (almost) everyone in the Promised land, I don’t see how that makes it less than genocide. The folks in Darfur are committing genocide, but they don’t necessarily aim to take it worldwide.

Even if it isn’t genocide in the Bible (because they kept the virgin girls to use, for example), a name change doesn’t make it any less wicked.

syz's avatar

No, I can’t think of any situation under which ethnic cleansing would be acceptable.

Qingu's avatar

@DrBill, these tribes only lived in the holy land. Their cultures were contained there.

We are talking about entire kingdoms and tribes of people.

“But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded.”

Also, not only have I read the entire Bible, I studied it in depth during college.

asmonet's avatar

UH, hell to the naw?

ninjacolin's avatar

Dr. Bill, people who recognize that the Bible is not the word of God aren’t uneducated. They are simply educated differently than you. If you knew all that they know about the Bible, you would have the same opinion as them. If they knew everything you know about the bible, they would have the same opinion as you.

Anyway, is genocide and the mass slaying of men women and children begging for their lives acceptable? Yes, absolutely. But only if the order to commit such gruesome atrocities comes from a “loving” god.

Harp's avatar

To play Devil’s advocate here…pause to let the ironic use of the term sink in…we’re talking about a culture for whom the only working definition of “morality” was God’s pronouncements. There are several instances in the Bible where people are called upon to override their own sense of propriety to follow God’s instructions (e.g. Abraham being told to sacrifice of his son). Man’s own sense of right and wrong was entirely subjugated to the will of God.

The injunctions against killing in the Jewish law were based on the premise that God, as giver of life, was the only one who had the right to take it. For a human to do so of his own initiative would be to usurp God’s prerogative. But the logical extension of this is that if God decrees that a life (or lives) are to be taken then it is, by definition, moral.

laureth's avatar

Devil’s advocate. Har! :D

One reason I’ve heard for why life is held in such sacred view these days (i.e., making genocide wrong) is the Christian belief in the sancity and dignity of each life. And Christianity is based in Judaism. And Judaism was based on the principle, as @Harp said, that God dictated what was moral.

So, did God change His mind at some point? That is, it was once OK to go on a slaughtering spree to carve out a place to live, and then later compel His followers to instead treat every life as dignified and of inherent worth, to the point where such things as the death penalty and abortion are morally wrong (even though they were not as wrong in the OT)? Interesting.

DeanV's avatar

No. Never is it remotely acceptable to kill an entire race of people for reasons usually based on suspicion. It’s not even acceptable to kill that many people, much less all of the same race.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Harp, I just want to adjust a few statements here from your post. :)

we’re talking about a culture for whom the only working definition of “morality” was a loving God’s pronouncements. There are several instances in the Bible where people are called upon to override their own sense of propriety to follow the loving God’s instructions (e.g. Abraham being told to sacrifice of his son). Man’s own sense of right and wrong was entirely subjugated to the will of a loving God.

The injunctions against killing in the Jewish law were based on the premise that God, as giver of life, was the only one who had the right to take it. For a human to do so of his own initiative would be to usurp the loving God’s prerogative to kill on a whim. But the logical extension of this is that if a loving God decrees that a life (or lives) are to be taken then it is, by definition, moral.

The moral of the story is: The God that these people worshiped back then was a God of love who loved to massacre.

Harp's avatar

@laureth Much has been made of how different God seems in the OT and the NT (assuming that Jesus is actually to be understood as being God). Some early Christian groups went so far as to teach that the OT Yahweh was actually a different, inferior and somewhat malevolent being who would be put in his place by the NT God.

The book of Revelation is a NT throwback to the angry and death-dealing vision of God, though. The amount of blood prophetically shed there makes the Canaanite massacres look like a spanking.

Qingu's avatar

@Harp, I agree that the ancient Hebrews and their modern Christian counterparts define morality as “whatever God says to do.” However, the law in Deuteronomy 20 is actually a rare instance of Yahweh explaining why he gave his commandment.

Yahweh explains the reason he wants the Hebrews to commit genocide in the holy land is “so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.” Yahweh doesn’t want a rival culture’s ideas to survive and possibly influence his followers.

ninjacolin's avatar

yea but that’s pretty silly, qingu. lol.

an all powerful god is afraid of some puny false diety’s educational program? haha.

Qingu's avatar

Also, just to clarify, the Hebrew law in the Ten Commandments is not “You shall not kill.” It is “You shall not murder.” Murder is a specific kind of killing—that which is prohibited by the law. Obviously, Yahweh is okay with all kinds of killing in both the Old and New Testaments.

laureth's avatar

@Qingu re: “Yahweh doesn’t want a rival culture’s ideas to survive and possibly influence his followers.”

Sounds pretty darn political.

Harp's avatar

@Qingu Right, but it never would have occurred to the intended audience of these words that there might be some universal standard of morality outside of God by which His actions could be measured. They wouldn’t have looked at His explanation and pondered whether or not that was a justifiable reason, as we do today.

The 6th commandment is often translated as “kill”. The Hebrew word, ratsach, is somewhat ambiguous, since it sometimes applies to unintentional killing (what we would call “manslaughter”). But clearly, what is being prohibited is any taking of life not expressly OK’d by God.

tiffyandthewall's avatar

i don’t think ‘ethnic cleansing’ is acceptable by any means, in any time period, for any reason. i just can’t think of any case in which i would be like “oh, good idea. let’s kill all of that race/religion/etc, i’m totally down with that.”

fireside's avatar

@Qingu – so, it was okay for the Babylonians to enslave the Hebrews and remove them from their homeland, but you take issue with Hebrews who had to fight to reclaim their homeland? It’s also interesting to hear someone who doesn’t believe in God say that the Bible should be taken literally and thus should be used to condemn people who have been dead for millennia.

I really can’t imagine why wars that were fought 3000 years ago make any difference in our daily lives today or have anything to do with the moral code that the world has been adopting and developing ever since nations began interacting with each other.

Was the moral code of 3000 years ago as refined as it is today? No.

What exactly is your point behind this genocide topic that you have been adding to threads for the past two days? Just some cool new knowledge you can use to surreptitiously debase the Jewish faith?

Qingu's avatar

@fireside, why would you presume I’m okay with the Babylonian captivity? Please don’t put words into my mouth.

fireside's avatar

Oh, okay so we should be seeing your “Is Slavery ever Morally acceptable” thread coming up next? Or do you just like to get down on the ancient Hebrews?

How about “Were ancient Egyptians stupid for mummifying themselves?”
It sounds like Geraldo.

Qingu's avatar

I think it says something important when religious people are constrained by their faith such that they cannot even unequivocally denounce the practice of genocide. Though now that you mention it, it would also be interesting to see the reactions from a slavery thread. Maybe next week.

fireside's avatar

I think it says something when you notice that there are Agnostics, Christians, Buddhists and Bahai’s saying that the moral code of 2009 doesn’t necessarily apply to events that took place 3000 years ago.

I don’t see anyone on here, or in the last few threads where you brought this up, saying that Genocide is okey-dokey and should be ignored. It seems as though you are the one stuck in the past here.

Have you, personally, made a lot of efforts to stop the genocide taking place today?
I think I missed that thread.

ninjacolin's avatar

i don’t understand, fireside, is quingu’s observation somehow wrong?
was genocide not something “the god of love” of the bible asked his followers to do according to scripture? did jesus not approve of the old testament and all of god’s actions in it?

fireside's avatar

Like I said yesterday when this came up; the stories in the Old Testament of the Bible were documents and stories that were meant to establish the nation of Isreal. There are spiritual truths, cultural laws and obviously military directives.

If you look in the history of the United States you will also find stories glorifying heroes slaughtering the indigenous people. In fact, you will find that in many cultures.

So, what is the point?

Are you implying, ninjacolin, that all of Jesus’ teachings were bad because there’s a few lines, in a book that is hundreds of years older than Jesus, that detail a shameless act?

ninjacolin's avatar

Well, i just thought jesus and god are suppose to be of a higher standard than the fallible united states government. Yes, the USA has supported and committed horrible atrocities. That’s why the world has had such a big problem with them over the past few decades.

If God is guilty of the same sort of atrocities and worse as described in the bible.. then God is more malevolent than even the USA. If Jesus glorified all those atrocious actions that God committed, then obviously Jesus is just as fallible as the USA for condoning them.. only worse because God’s atrocities were more atrocious than the USA’s as described in the scriptures.

fundevogel's avatar

@fireside

“If you look in the history of the United States you will also find stories glorifying heroes slaughtering the indigenous people. In fact, you will find that in many cultures.”

But in this country nobody is obligated to continue glorifying slaughter simply because it was enacted by our government.

Being an American does not require me to unquestioningly support any violent or unjust action my country has ever taken. As an American I able to question my government and hold it accountable for its actions. Hell, I’m even allowed to start a revolution if they _Really_cross the line.

But questioning your religion, your Gods will? That’s not really encouraged within religious systems. And its peoples ability to excuse the atrocities and judgments of the Bible (and other religious texts) that make this question interesting.

fireside's avatar

Being an ___________ does not require me to unquestioningly support any violent or unjust action my _______ has ever taken.

I find the above statement to be true in my religious experience.
But then, I’m not a 3,000 year old Hebrew, so who knows?

—-

Actually, 3,000 years ago, I bet the above statement would be found false in most cases, quite the opposite of today’s world.

fundevogel's avatar

Then I would expect you to have an opinion regarding those that do unquestioningly accept the brutalities of their gods, like the genocide Qingu cited. This could conceivably involve your own personal morality and attitudes toward genocide, whatever the time, setting or circumstance.

laureth's avatar

It’s also odd to hear people holding Bible-believers to some sort of objective truth. Isn’t it usually the other way around? Folks with their objective Bible and the subjectivist attackers?

Qingu's avatar

@fireside, the thing is, you and I both have a progressive view of morality. We both believe that humans should pick and choose the best moral ideas from the past and discard the rest. We both see religions as evolving along with morality, and with that evolution necessarily comes some vestiges. Our difference, I think, is primarily with how much we think those vestiges ought to be criticized (I think a lot, you think not so much).

But surely you realize, fireside, that many religious people are not like you and me? There are millions of evangelical Christians in America who do not pick and choose the morals they like from the Bible and ignore the rest (or at least, they do far less so than you do, and would never admit to doing so). They don’t see the Old Testament as a vestige, they see it as the perfect word of a perfect God, and thus as a fundamental, unchanging source of morality. In fact, in traditional/fundamentalist Christianity, “sin” is often defined as transgressing the laws of the Old Testament. Moreover, many evangelicals want to codify the morals in the OT into United States law.

So I think it’s important for such people to confront the details and the implications of that moral system. I realize you disagree because doing so is “divisive,” which is fair, but I think that’s another discussion.

fireside's avatar

@Qingu – I can live with that. Though I really doubt that you will get more bees with vinegar or convince people to believe differently with this argument. But that’s cool.

cdwccrn's avatar

No. Ethnic cleansing is never acceptable.
I don’t believe God ordered it in first testament time, either. God created diversity. God loves diversity.

ninjacolin's avatar

@cdwccrn, does that mean you think the bible is lying?

cdwccrn's avatar

No. The Bible isn’t lying.

Qingu's avatar

@cdwccrn, the Bible says, explicitly and repeatedly, that God orders genocide. I’ve cited the verses. Are these verses wrong?

AstroChuck's avatar

@Qingu- cdwccrn is an intelligent Christian, not a bible literalist.
You have need to challenge her.

Qingu's avatar

@AstroChuck, are you suggesting that the mark of an “intelligent Christian” is to arbitrarily ignore any Bible verse that does not fit with one’s post-Enlightenment morality?

Okay, but I would like to hear it from her (because she said the Bible wasn’t “lying”). Is the Bible just mistaken in the numerous verses where it records God commanding genocide? How did you determine these particular verses were “mistaken” while, for example, the verses about peace and love were not? (Or, for that matter, the verses recording Jesus’ rise from the dead)?

AstroChuck's avatar

The bible was written by man, not God. There are many ways you can interpret the words within. There are also unmistakable contradictions.
I don’t happen to be a believer, but I don’t think you have to take everything in the bible verbatim to be a Christian. The bible is just a book, an imperfect one, at that. It is a guide and still contains much for people with faith.
Personally, and I really don’t mean to offend, but, I think bible literalists are either of limited intellect or…, well, I’ll just say that.

ninjacolin's avatar

it’s funny.. the problem with God causing genocides in the bible doesn’t even fall under the classic “Problem of Evil” which merely asks: “If there is a Loving God, why does he permit evil”

This problem of God causing genocides is a whole other issue. It’s the question: “Why did/does “The God of Love” commit evil, atrocious acts himself?”

cdwccrn's avatar

I believe the Bible is inspired, sacred.

cdwccrn's avatar

I believe that the Bibe, though inspired by God, was written by men, about events that happened millions of years earlier(creation) to hundreds of years earlier to decades earlier ( gospels).
Have you ever played telephone? The stories handed down may not have reflected actial events. For that matter, the Bible is not a history book in the same way 20th century textbooks are.
I read the Bible through the lens of an understanding of a God of grace who calls for love and justice. If a passage, read literally, does not make sense to me read through that lens, I find another, nonliteral way of understanding that passage.
As noted above, the Bible is rife with contradiction. That’s ok.
My professor in seminary said that she believes we have the Bible God wants us to have. God knows we learn as we struggle together to make sense of the unknowable. Blessings to all as you tend to your spiritual selves.

Qingu's avatar

@cdwccrn, when you say the Bible was written by man. Does that mean parts of the Bible are mistaken or untrue? Does that also mean that you believe man wrote the legal code of the Bible?

Maybe it would be best if you explained how you interpret Deuteronomy 20:16.

But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them—the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites—just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.

Is this passage false, because it was written by men—meaning that God did not actually ever say this?

Is this passage a nonliteral metaphor for something? If so, what is it a metaphor for?

Note that this is by no means the only passage in the Bible that condones genocide. Most of the Deuteronomistic histories—that is, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Samuel—repeatedly detail God’s commandments for genocide and exalt those who carry them out. Are all these books human-made mistakes? Or are they nonliteral metaphors for some obscure moral lesson?

I get very frustrated when Christians take a troubling Bible verse and say “it’s a metaphor!” or “it was written by/for an ancient culture!” These statements are question-begging. What is it a metaphor for? How does the fact that an ancient culture wrote it affect the truth-value or moral worth of the passage?

cdwccrn's avatar

I don’t think you are really interested in my opinion.
I think you have made up your mind what is “right” and I will be “wrong.”

Qingu's avatar

I am very interested in your opinion, actually. And even if I think your opinion is wrong, that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear it or talk about it.

fundevogel's avatar

@cdwccrn

Quingu is asking a a perfectly legitimate question of you, one that you should consider for your own religious purposes whether or not anyone ever asked it of you.

I personally I’m interested in your answer.

Garebo's avatar

Only genocide of the mentally and physically handicapped, genetic abnormalities. We should SELECTIVELY strive to have best solid gene structure FOR the human race. We have the knowledge and power to do it now with the advances in genetic engineering and stem cell research. With stem cell research we can promote the marketing of fetuses for the advancement of humankind. We should just start breeding and incubating nothing but perceived superstars.
And eliminate anyone who does not agree in the system. JUST KIDDING!!

AstroChuck's avatar

Sieg Heil!

Qingu's avatar

@Garebo, are you trying to draw a parallel between stem cell research and genocide?

El_Cadejo's avatar

@Qingu me thinks you missed his joke.

Qingu's avatar

@uberbatman, you never can be too sure. See Poe’s Law.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@Qingu “JUST KIDDING!!!” also see Godwins Law :P

Garebo's avatar

@Quingo – As a potential contribution to developing new understanding for science to create desirable outcomes-indeed it may, in a perverted way. I happen to endorse the positive side of it, hesitantly though-kind’a of like the urgent need for atomic research before the atomic bomb. But the fact is that is where we are going, maybe not in my lifetime, but definitely, science and governments (money) will try and shape the populace to their intended outcome. The positive ramifications associated with the research and development I hope will far outweigh the negative.

fireside's avatar

@Qingu – I just finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia and this passage made me think of you for some reason:

”[...] there came to meet me a great Lion [...] Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him. But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, “Son, you are welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me. [...] Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.”

“And if any man do cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’ I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’ But I said also (for the truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all may days.’ ‘Beloved,” said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.’


So my question to you, kingu, is why you seek so hard to understand the truth if you don’t believe in God. Why is it that you spend so much time studying, conceptualizing and memorizing the stories of gods and mythology from around the globe?

What do you get out of it?

Qingu's avatar

You know, @fireside, a lot of people have asked me that question and it’s always shocked me. Religion has been one of the most powerful—if not the most powerful—forces in human history. It is the primordial ancestor to all these other fundamental areas of human society and activity—law, economics, science, storytelling, history, even language. Believe in it or not (and I do not), religion is a huge part of our cultural DNA.

You don’t need to believe in this stuff to realize and appreciate its vast importance—not anymore than Aristotle scholars have to believe the sun revolves around the earth or that women are inferior to men.

A second reason I think it’s important for someone like me to study religion is to “know thy enemy.” I don’t really think religious people are my “enemy,” but I do think the world would be a better place if less people believed in the Bible and the Quran. I think it’s important to make this argument as effectively as possible, and you can’t make an effective argument without being familiar with the subject in question.

A third reason is that I’m personally interested in fiction and fantasy. It’s weird that you quoted Lewis because I actually wrote my thesis on him (along with Philip Pullman). I think there is this weird nexus between fantasy stories and religious myths; the two sort of blend into each other and have a lot in common (compare, for example, the end of The Neverending Story movie to the book of Revelation. In both stories, a supernatural force is brought down to Earth from an “otherworld” (Heaven or Fantasia) to wreak justice/vengeance on the protagonist’s former tormentors (mean schoolkids/the Roman Empire). You see this template all over the place in fantasy literature: Hagrid giving Dudley a pig’s tail in Harry Potter, Aslan destroying the modern school in The Silver Chair, ... anyway, I could go on and on, but I hope this answers your question. :)

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