* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Response to a recent comment

In response to Casting Out Demons, Laura wrote:
You seem to be limiting your view to only what you can measure and scientifically verify. Those tools are limited to the natural world, yet you are applying them to the supernatural world. It's like that old adage about the flea that denies the existence of the dog because the dog is simply too big to see.

You're right, people are incredible, and the world is amazing. People are also awful, and the world is a very cruel and unfair place, as seen daily in nature. You seem to focus on just the good in people (i.e., the divine self) and not on the very real, completely inexplicable evil that also exists in the human heart.

Thankfully we live in a part of the world where we can easily choose a very sheltered life. Is it a coincidence that atheism correlates with wealth and relative comfort?

Such a worldview certainly makes for a satisfying journey, as you stated, but it only reflects a partial reality. As I said, it would be really nice if the world were that simple!
Laura, you make a few assertions in your comment: (1) the supernatural should be considered a meaningful part of our reality while remaining free from the constraints of scientific measurement and verification, (2) that the flavor of atheism to which I subscribe is a convenience of the sheltered and privileged that fails to fully acknowledge the cruelness and unfairness of the natural world, and (3) that inexplicable evil exists within human beings. Although a meaningful response will be lengthy, I believe it is important to take each of these in turn.

Belief in the supernatural is on the one hand harmless and endearing. If I choose to believe that fairies sprinkle diamond drops of dew along the spider webs in my yard each morning, or that the spirits of my dead ancestors give me comfort and guidance, what harm can that possibly do in the world? Yet, belief in the supernatural is powerful and easily abused precisely because its assertion requires no proof. The vast majority of human violence is the result of religious beliefs or beliefs that are bolstered by religious conviction. Believers maintain their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence for any number of reasons, but the actual data suggests that religion does far more harm than good globally. The surprising thing is that human beings have more or less dismissed much of their ancestors’ mythologies. We no longer worship many of the gods people worshipped in ancient times because knowledge and reason eliminated the need for them. Once we realize the natural structure of the solar system, it becomes silly to believe that a flaming chariot is driven across the sky every day by a super-being. If we did not rely on scientific proofs, we could be justified in any belief, like the belief that black people don’t have souls – something white Americans believed not so long ago. Why did we stop believing this? It isn’t because the Bible suddenly appeared and taught us differently. In fact, religion was used to subjugate those deemed to be lesser, as it has consistently done throughout history.

So, how do I determine that my thoughts are not being beamed into my head by aliens? How do I assess whether I will be able to drive my car safely without gremlins taking control of it and causing me harm? How do I trust that the food I eat hasn’t been laced with nanites by a shadow government? There is no way to disprove any of these beliefs if I must also consider evidence that cannot be measured or evaluated by scientific means. Yet, I know that none of these things is true as much as I can know anything else. For one thing, there is no recorded instance of any of these things happening to anyone anywhere, although people may have invented stories about such things. I can certainly imagine what it might be like to try to drive a gremlin-infested car, but I know the difference between my imagination and reality. In my imagination, all sorts of things are possible, but when I restrict my perception of reality to only those things which are observable by some scientific means, the likelihood of certain events reduces to nil.

The natural world is certainly wondrous, and there are plenty of things we still haven’t figured out. But, as a famous thinker once said, “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Until there is some way to observe, measure, and repeat instances of spiritual forces, such things must be dismissed in order for us to live in a sane world. Believing in demons or angels makes no more sense than believing that a chariot of fire is driven across the sky every day. The difference is that we have clear evidence about what the sun is, and the definition of spiritual forces has been so constructed as to evade scientific examination, which makes it highly suspicious when subjected to rational scrutiny.

While that in and of itself is enough for a thinking person to recognize how incredibly unlikely it is for angels and demons to exist, we fortunately have had some fantastic sports in the scientific community who have tried to verify things like faith healing. Presumably, the thinking was that if something is undetectable by scientific observation one might still be able to detect its impact on the world, so even if we can’t see demons or angels, perhaps we can see some trace evidence of their impact. As one might expect, the scientific examinations of faith healing, demonic possession, psychic ability, and hauntings have all wound up at the same place. Not only is there no evidence that any of these things exist, there is evidence that these things do not exist. And when we have evidence that something does not exist, we must consider that thing to be unreal. There is no other rational option.

Your second claim regarding the connection between atheism and privilege stands on its own, apart from one’s conclusion about the supernatural. This suggestion simply does not stand up in light of current research. While the United States has more and more people who are willing to claim the label of “convinced atheist,” this is actually congruous with the rest of the world. In fact, 24 countries rank above the United States in the percentage of their populations that are convinced atheists, and not all of them are wealthy, sheltered places. While it’s true that the poorest countries do tend to be highly religious, this says much more about education level and political oppression than it does about any validity to their beliefs. Generally speaking, the more wealthy a population is, the better educated it is, and the more educated a population is, the less religious it will be.

It is also worth questioning why some of the most violent places in the world also rank high in terms of religiosity. Religious assertions often promote intolerance, because highly religious people tend to feel threatened by opposing views. Intolerance easily becomes violence, especially when backed by the approval of a deity (or at least a representative of a deity). Without the religious incentive, much of the intolerance in the world would be declawed, more easily mitigated through rational means. Such efforts are impossible when one or both sides believe that their every effort is supported by a deity who will at the very least reward them in an afterlife for standing firm in their faith. Why does this continue to be acceptable to us?

You are absolutely right that there is unfairness in the world. Some animals are born the runt of the litter, and they just don’t have the same chances of survival their siblings have. Some animals wind up being food for other animals. Some plants wind up choking out other plants. Some people are born into wealthy families. Some people are born with birth defects. There is no sense of reward and punishment for anything that anyone has done, and thus there is no fairness about the natural world. We are all very fortunate even to be breathing, and that’s enough to generate a bit of gratitude.

But there is nothing cruel about any of this. Cruelty implies intelligence, or at least malicious intent, and the world is simply not malicious. It can’t be. The world doesn’t have any opinions about us or any other creature, malevolent or benevolent. We think of things as unfair and cruel because we want there to be a sense of justice. We want to make sense of things, and we get frustrated when we can’t. We can observe that dumb luck plays a big role in the universe without anthropomorphizing reality into something that is either for or against us.

Seeing the injustices in the world and recognizing it as human-created is powerful. Our worldview evolves profoundly when we recognize that people born in wealthy nations did nothing to deserve being born in wealthy nations, and people in poor nations did nothing to deserve being born in poor nations. While a religious person may look at the world and assume that everything is working according to a divine plan, an atheist more easily recognizes that if we want anything to improve for ourselves and anyone else, the ball is in our court. If there is no deity responsible for taking care of everything, then it is up to us to take a bit of responsibility for the world we inhabit. So, far from looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, I would say that my atheism better equips me to see the world as it is and recognize that what I do matters.

This is certainly complicated by people, which speaks to your argument that people hold within them inexplicable evil. People do some atrocious things to one another and to themselves. It is a challenge to see the inherent worth and dignity in some people, to be sure, and yet every time I look for it, it’s there. The world is beautiful in spite of its natural unfairness, and people are beautiful despite their atrocities. You might say that good and evil both exist in the human heart, but I would amend that. What you see as evil, I see as evidence of fear.

I believe that, at their core, people are “good.” Beautiful. Creative. Worthy. Capable. Honest. What we typically see of people, however, is the fear and anxiety we all carry around. From a very early age, we are taught to be afraid. Some of the lessons we learn are intentional: Hot stoves will burn your fingers. Bad people go to Hell. Strangers are going to hurt you. And some of the lessons we learn are not so intentional: If Daddy’s mad, it’s my fault. I have to try really hard to measure up. Bullies always get their way. The beliefs we carry around about ourselves, other people, and the world cover over our innate beauty, creativity, and capability. We stop trusting ourselves and other people at a certain point and put more faith in our anxiety.

Here’s the thing: we will always prove ourselves right. Whatever we believe, we will always find enough evidence to maintain our conviction. We must. We have invested so much time and energy into our beliefs that it is important for us to keep finding ways to validate those lies and fears, even in the face of profound contradictions. It requires courage and integrity to assess our beliefs honestly and determine whether they truly measure up to reality --  whether our beliefs lead us to behave in a way that reflects who we most want to be in the world. If you believe that there is evil in everyone’s heart, you will see evidence of that. I believe that most folks are running around fearful, and I find that I can be compassionate toward them. I don’t ignore the horrible things that people do to themselves and others, but I recognize that they are, after all, just people. They have inherent worth and dignity, and they are prone to acting on their fears in order to soothe irrational anxiety. That doesn’t seem inexplicable to me at all.

Thus, while it isn't always easy to live it out, I maintain that it really is as simple as this: People matter. When I start there, I am never disappointed with where I wind up, and I firmly believe that this simple truth can change the world.


  1. "The vast majority of human violence is the result of religious beliefs or beliefs that are bolstered by religious conviction"

    The vast majority of human violence is the result of human nature which is fundamentally flawed. So corrupt is human nature that even the most pure and vital teaching of Jesus Christ can be subverted and used for violence.

    For you to fail to see that it is not religion, but humans that poisons everything betrays a bigotry that is scary.

  2. I believe that religion is a man-made invention that is both useful and dangerous. While this man-made invention can give comfort and purpose, it can also be abused in the justification of atrocities. Either way, religion comes from man, so it is absolutely the case that human beings bear responsibility for their actions.

    However, I am able to say that a belief is flawed while maintaining that the person who holds that belief still has value as a human being. The inherent worth of the person is not negated by the belief, or by fearful actions.

    What does it mean to look at the world through the belief that human beings are fundamentally flawed and corrupt? Is it not a scary bit of bigotry to suggest that humans poison everything?

  3. Randy, you seem to consistently use very primitive forms of religion in your discussions. This would be akin to me referencing alchemy as an example of the sciences or the use of leeches to bleed out patients in medicine. Science has evolved, and religion has evolved with it.

    Misplaced/misguided religious beliefs have certainly contributed to evil acts, but then so have misplaced/misguided atheistic beliefs. One cannot judge the merits of a philosophy by its abusive practitioners. You cannot evaluate Christians on the basis of David Koresh; you also cannot evaluate atheists on the basis of Joseph Stalin.

    In our previous discussions, I pointed out that the human spirit has various measurable characteristics that science and medicine cannot explain. The desire to thrive, and not just survive -- why do we write poetry, risk life and limb to climb Everest, pursue self-actualization, seek to understand our universe? None of these activities propagate the species. At the time, you agreed that they could not be explained, but insisted that it doesn't matter -- what matters is that we honor the divinity in each other.

    We have also discussed the origin of the universe, and the fact that there is really no reason for anything to exist at all. In fact, the atheistic view of the beginning of the universe ultimately requires the belief that matter sprung out of nothing -- it spontaneously came in to being, with no catalyst. This requires a leap of faith just as great as any theist makes -- it breaks all the laws of physics, the same scientific tenets you rely on to discern the truth.

    Contrast that with modern, nuanced religion, which takes all these things into account. In fact, there is not a shred of scientific evidence that does not fit into my theistic worldview. My religion holds that there is a single source of truth which includes both faith and reason, both natural and supernatural. Your simpler, more limited view can be compared to the sola scriptura Christians I've encountered who refuse to acknowledge the existence of dinosaurs because they aren't mentioned anywhere in the Bible -- they are dismissing the natural and holding on to the supernatural... you are dismissing the supernatural and clinging to the natural.

    Education does correlate with atheism, but as you know, correlation does not equate to causation. I'm not claiming causation between comfort/wealth and atheism, either -- I have no idea whether a causal relationship exists. But I can definitely entertain a theory in which education leads to wealth, wealth leads to a general sense of self-sufficiency, and that in turn creates an environment that is favorable to atheism.

    1. There have been numerous events within our very young twenty-first century that demonstrate the type of violence that religion (and belief in the supernatural) encourages, from the recent public execution of a witch to the attack on the World Trade Center and the subsequent wars. Political and socio-economic elements play a part, but religious belief is not insignificant. Even on the airwaves of American radio, one can hear elements of what you call "primitive forms of religion." Thus, I consider it worth acknowledging that in our modern world, some beliefs are indeed primitive.

      This does not mean that I believe all people of faith are of identical maturity. You do indeed express nuanced religious belief that incorporates scientific data. As far as I can tell, you do not abuse your belief in the supernatural or use it as a justification for mistreatment of yourself or others. This does not mean that belief in something that cannot be proven or disproven is safe; it simply means that you exhibit personal responsibility.

      Regarding the beginning of the universe: We do not yet know what catalyzed the universe, but this does not make it unknowable. Humans continue to make discoveries all the time. I choose not to use God as a placeholder for things we don't yet know. I will admit to having a certain faith, however, in that I cannot prove that all human beings have inherent worth and dignity. I will accept that as belief in something unknowable, although it falls far shy of supernatural.

      And of course you're right -- correlation does not equate to causation. Everything that we have learned in the past centuries, however, indicates that there is value in looking for a natural, observable, measurable cause for events. Nothing in the history of the world has ever been proven to be magic or supernatural; all scientific research has instead refuted supernatural explanations.

    2. Laura, you wrote:

      "In our previous discussions, I pointed out that the human spirit has various measurable characteristics that science and medicine cannot explain. The desire to thrive, and not just survive -- why do we write poetry, risk life and limb to climb Everest, pursue self-actualization, seek to understand our universe? None of these activities propagate the species."

      One of the things about evolution that people find hard to understand is that not every single trait in an evolved being came to be there as a result of it conveying an evolutionary advantage. In many cases, it just means the gene for that trait hitched a ride with the gene for the advantageous one. If the biggest and strongest caveman has blonde hair and blue eyes, you will see an increase in blonde/blue offspring.

      A more reasonable hypothesis about the traits you mention is that they are byproducts of an overall increase in intelligence (on the evolution hand) and education (on the social hand).

    3. Assuming that there are specific cases of religion directly endorsing and encouraging violence (which is rare), then yes, let us criticize those theologies accordingly. However, in cases where people commit violence in the name of a religion, or misguidedly twist a religious belief into a justification for violent, let us criticize those individuals accordingly. You speak often of personal responsibility -- let's apply it in these cases, and not throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.

      There have been American patriotic zealots who have done terrible things "to defend our flag." Should we toss out the Constitution? Certainly not.

      Here's the deal about the origin of the universe -- something was there before the Big Bang. Whatever it was also had an origin. And whatever that was also had an origin. So although we don't yet understand the specifics, we can rely on logic and reason to tell us that there must have been an "ultimate origin" -- because something cannot erupt where there was nothing before. And because that concept defies the very foundation of the natural order, it is, by definition, supernatural.

      "Nothing in the history of the world has ever been proven to be magic or supernatural" -- that's because the method of proof is inherently natural, it is not meant to (nor able to) prove the supernatural.

      "All scientific research has instead refuted supernatural explanations" -- not sure exactly what you mean here, but surely you are not suggesting that *all* supernatural explanations have been refuted by science.

    4. If a patriot claims that his/her actions are in line with the Constitution when they clearly are not, this can be demonstrated by consulting the Constitution. If a scientist makes a claim, other scientists can test and verify the claim, or refute it. When someone claims to know what God wants, there is no such means of verifiability. Claims of religious justification are beyond rational scrutiny, and this is what makes belief in the supernatural dangerous. However, I do not ever suggest that every practitioner (or even most practitioner) of a religion are violent or irresponsible. At the very least, I would encourage believers to apply their faith responsibly.

      If you can believe that God is eternal, why is it so unthinkable that the universe could be eternal? This, to me, seems to require far fewer auxiliary beliefs. I don't assert that the universe is eternal, but I find it more plausible than belief in an active, intelligent, external divine being running the show.

      Scientific research has, in many cases, sought to explain things that were attributed to supernatural causes. In all such cases in which adequate research has been undertaken, supernatural explanations have been refuted. If you are able to find an example of competent research that has ended in the conclusion that there is no natural explanation for the matter being researched, and this conclusion has been verified by other researchers, I will happily change my stance against the supernatural.

    5. Laura, in re: the origin of the universe, may I suggest this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jY5BjGADv4

      Lawrence Krauss has a whole book that goes into this material, but this is a nice overview.

    6. If I commit an act in the name of Catholicism, you bet your bottom dollar that you can verify whether my action is in line with the teachings of the Catholic Church. The same holds true for most (all?) mainstream religions. If you're talking about one-off cases where someone has invented their own personal religion, then you're right. And in all of these cases (mainstream and one-offs), the law of the land still applies... our criminal justice system doesn't make it a habit of letting people of the hook because "God told me to do it."

      The universe could very well be eternal -- this was the thinking of Einstein, at least at one point in his life. He believed that the universe *was* God - no anthropomorphic deity required. But the fact remains -- if the universe is eternal, then it is supernatural; that is, it defies the laws of nature.

      I'll get back to you on the research issue.....

    7. On the research examples, there are many documented miracles in the Catholic Church, a large portion of which have been subjected to secular physicians and scientists as part of the evaluation process. The challenge is to pick one that will most appeal to you.

      I'll give you two: incorruptible corpses and the stigmata wounds of Padre Pio. Theories abound about these being fakes, to be sure, but to date, scientific research not been able to conclusively explain these phenomena.

    8. Bryan, I watched the first fifteen minutes and saw nothing new -- just an arrogant guy in a poorly fitted jacket saying the same old stuff. What's the bottom line? Is there something in here that is ground breaking? Dark matter?

    9. Bryan, I'm familiar with the genetic mutation idea -- much of my undergraduate coursework was in biology and genetics. I switched to finance when I realized I'd be spending my career with other scientists. :)

      Let's talk when the scientific community isolates genes for the various aspects of the human spirit. Only then can we consider whether they "hitched a ride" with genes that propagated the species...

      Let me also clarify that I am not in the business of arguing people into believing anything.... my objective here is to defend and explain my faith. So far, Randy and I have consistently arrived at a juncture of mutual respect and allowances for the plausibility of the other's beliefs. I expect the same here.

    10. The examination of corpses previously believed to be incorruptible has demonstrated that, in instances that were not cases of actual embalming, environmental conditions were conducive to natural mummification. (This happens naturally in peat bogs for different reasons, but no one has proposed canonizing any bog bodies.) Ezio Fulcheri, pathologist from the University of Genoa, and Arthur Aufderheide, pathologist at the University of Minnesota, were two of the lead researchers that conclusively explained the very natural phenomena of supposedly incorruptible corpses. The research was undertaken in the late '80s through the '90s, and it was published in 2001.

      While there is obviously no way to examine Padre Pio's stigmata wounds now, accounts from physicians who examined his wounds during his life refuted any supernatural origins. Reputable pathologists concluded that the wounds were caused by acid or kept open with iodine, obviously self-inflicted in either case. On top of this, since the 1500s there have been supposed stigmatics who have later confessed to faking their conditions. The fact that stigmata have been admittedly faked on multiple occasions warrants considerable scrutiny of such cases.

      Given all that, stigmata and other such occurrences need not be assumed to be supernatural. Medical research is continually confirming connections between human thought processes and physical well-being. Upon demonstrating that an individual's stigmata are not self-inflicted or otherwise faked, the next step would be to apply medical research regarding this mind-body connection. Unfortunately, I do not think we have any clear cases of authentic stigmata with which to explore this.

    11. Ah yes, but none of the research in these cases was conclusive. They're just theories and plausible explanations -- nothing was proven.

      I'm not suggesting that we necessarily must assume them to be supernatural; I am suggesting that scientific research is not always adequate/conclusive.

      And besides, science can only explain the what, where, how, and when, and partially the who. But never the why.

      For example, when astronomers points to a celestial "occurrence" at the time of Christ's birth, some point to that and think "Aha! We have debunked the star that led the shepherds to the manger." And to that I say: what did you expect, a Pink Floyd laser light show? Of course God would use a natural event to guide natural mortal eyeballs.... he created nature, after all, and we are natural beings...

    12. I understand your perspective completely. From my perspective, the cases you mentioned are clearly explained by the evidence. There was not a conclusion on the part of investigators that the phenomena could only be explained by something supernatural, thus my statement stands. There is no reason to invent supernatural causes for either event, as you stated.

      On the question of why things happen, this is a completely human invention. There is not a greater purpose beyond what we create. Bodies mummify because of chemical processes; there is no super-human purpose behind that. Some people have confessed to giving themselves symbolic injuries; there is no super-human purpose to that. Life is as meaningful as we make it, but it is also as meaningless as we make it. It is our responsibility either way.

  4. Not to intrude on the other discussion, but bigotry is generally defined as disdain or intolerance for a particular group (in this case, theists), not the entire human race. So while Thesauros' view on the nature of all humans might be sobering or depressing, I'm not sure we could call it bigoted.

    1. "while Thesauros' view on the nature of all humans might be sobering or depressing, I'm not sure we could call it bigoted."

      Fair enough. Nor do I consider myself to be intolerant of anyone by way of challenging a belief. It is, in fact, with respect for the person as a part of the human race that I even bother to challenge the beliefs.

    2. I feel the same way -- challenging beliefs is the only way to hone them.

      I do agree with Thesauros' assertion that humans are fundamentally flawed. Religious beliefs themselves are not the cause of violence, nor can any theory/idea/concept. As you know, the pure form of most (all?) mainstream religions condemn violence.

    3. I agree that religious beliefs are not the cause of violence. Human fear is at the root of violence. Beliefs (of various kinds) are often used to justify fearful actions.

      I'm not sure what you mean by the "pure form" of a religion, but Judaism and Islam both condone violence in their holy books. The human beings that invented religion did so in part to protect their culture from outside contamination. Human culture is still in the process of outgrowing this tribalism. I believe that religious beliefs have been modified over time to accommodate the realization that we cannot thrive in a world in which violence is a viable solution to challenges.

    4. So, if you agree that religious beliefs are not the cause of violence, then why not aim your criticism at the humans in question, instead of the theology they abused?

      Stories of violence in sacred texts does not necessarily mean that a religion condones violence. (Says the girl who is neither a Muslim or a Jew.)

    5. It's a challenge to express complete perspectives on such complex issues in the comments section of a blog (which is why my initial response to your ideas wound up being a separate entry altogether). I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every human being. Thus, when I witness violence, hatred, or injustice, I consider it highly likely that the perpetrators are acting out of irrational fear and/or chronic anxiety, and that they are capable of behaving differently. I ask, "What fuels that fear and anxiety?" The answer is quite often: Faulty or misguided beliefs. Challenge the beliefs, and the capable, worthy, creative human beings involved might just do something different than allow irrational fear to rule their actions.

      All of our actions are based on our beliefs. If a person's religious beliefs lead them to create a more just and equitable world, I fully affirm that individual is using belief in a positive way. But beliefs are dangerous if they go unexamined. There are people who take personal responsibility for what they believe and how their beliefs prompt them to act. They have learned how to channel a potentially hazardous substance in a meaningful way. There are many people who do not examine their beliefs or take full responsibility for how their beliefs govern their actions, and not all of the people in this category are dictators and mass murderers. They are often every-day people who refuse to give someone a job because the person seems homosexual, who quietly wish violence upon a group of people just because they are different, who belittle others in so they can feel better about themselves... I cannot guess what goes on inside someone's head, but I can be certain that what a person believes will govern how that person acts. Thus, I challenge beliefs that are easily abused in the hopes that people will consider carefully what beliefs are at work in their lives. If I can challenge/inspire even just a few people to carefully examine their beliefs and live responsibly, I believe that the world will be the better for it.

      So, I separate the beliefs from the believers. People have inherent worth and dignity. Beliefs are tools that people use to guide their lives. I want to challenge beliefs that bolster irrational fear because I believe that people are capable of better.

    6. As to the lesser subject of sacred texts, Catholics and other Christians do indeed consider the Old Testament (i.e. Jewish sacred texts) part of their scripture, and in the Old Testament, God comes down squarely in favor of killing people who threaten to contaminate Jewish culture. These are not merely stories of violence, they are portrayed as orders from a deity. Of course, the religion has evolved from those early days, and I don't necessarily equate the oldest iteration of a religion with the purest form of the religion. The texts are still there, however, and are still considered sacred by major world religions.

  5. "I want to challenge beliefs that bolster irrational fear because I believe that people are capable of better."

    Yes, I agree. But in your writings, you seem to want to challenge all religious/spiritual/supernatural beliefs, not just the ones that bolster irrational fear. Which I don't think is necessarily the case, but that's what your phrasing indicates....

    1. I believe that all beliefs can be abused. Thus, I believe that all of our beliefs are worthy of examination.

  6. You're right, of course, that the Old Testament is sacred to Christianity, and that in it God orders genocide. That still doesn't equate to condoning violence. (Unless God tells you to, in which case, best of luck to you!) (cf, the Ten Commandments: "Thou shalt not kill."