God and Baby Face Nelson: Thoughts on Obedience, Genocide, and Problematic Narratives

May 3, 2011 | 93 comments
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How should church members today approach morally repugnant scriptural narratives? I wondered about that as I recently read over Elder Hales’ talk about agency and obedience.

There was a lot in the talk which I liked. I do think that order and consistency can absolutely be useful for faith communities (for instance, in helping establish expectations). I think that agency is a useful way to conceptualize human behavior, and that despite its problems it remains one of the best broad answers to problems of theodicy. And I certainly agree with many of the talk’s basic points, such as the tension between freedom and accountability.

But I had a strongly negative reaction to a central portion of the talk, because it relies heavily on a morally repugnant Old Testament story. I give you Elder Hales:

Contrary to the world’s secular teaching, the scriptures teach us that we do have agency, and our righteous exercise of agency always makes a difference in the opportunities we have and our ability to act upon them and progress eternally.

For example, through the prophet Samuel, the Lord gave a clear commandment to King Saul: “The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the Lord. “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have.”

But Saul did not follow the Lord’s commandment. He practiced what I call “selective obedience.” Relying on his own wisdom, he spared the life of King Agag and brought back the best of the sheep, oxen, and other animals. The Lord revealed this to the prophet Samuel and sent him to remove Saul from being king. When the prophet arrived, Saul said, “I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” But the prophet knew otherwise, saying, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”

Saul excused himself by blaming others, saying the people had kept the animals in order to make sacrifices to the Lord. The prophet’s answer was clear: “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken [to the commandments of the Lord] than the fat of rams.”

Finally, Saul confessed, saying, “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord, and thy words: because I feared the people, and obeyed their voice.” Because Saul did not hearken with exactness—because he chose to be selectively obedient—he lost the opportunity and the agency to be king. My brothers and sisters, are we hearkening with exactness to the voice of the Lord and His prophets? Or, like Saul, are we practicing selective obedience and fearing the judgments of men?

Of course there are a number of morally repugnant Old Testament stories (and more than a few morally repugnant New Testament stories), but this has to be one of the worst. Saul is ordered to kill the Amalekites, man, woman and child, and down to the livestock: In today’s language, Saul is asked to commit genocide.

All genocide is problematic, but this genocide is for a particularly bad reason. God explains in verse 2 that Saul is to commit genocide because the Amalekites warred against Joshua 300 years earlier. Not kidding. Read it yourself:

Samuel also said unto Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Sam. 15:1-3).

This is a vile and morally repugnant act. Committing war is problematic, even under the best of circumstances. Committing genocide on a neighboring kingdom — “both man and woman, infant and suckling” — is barbaric and inexcusable. And God’s explicit and stated rationale — that this will avenge a 300-year-old affront — only serves to highlight the absurdity of the order.

Of course Saul, being an amoral fellow, cheerfully complied with almost all of God’s genocide request, and killed almost all of the Amalekites. However, as Elder Hales points out, Saul ultimately wasn’t genocidal *enough.* He disobeyed a portion of Samuel’s order because he failed to kill the Amalekite king and livestock. And Elder Hales condemns this “selective obedience” in his talk. Apparently when God gives a genocide order, one should not be selectively obedient. Indeed, the Old Testament account ends with Samuel telling Saul that he will be removed as king of Israel for his disobedience.

I remember hearing this story in seminary and finding it a helpful example of the importance of obedience. Now it seems cringe-worthy. What are we supposed to make of a God who removes a king for unwillingness to genocide the sheep? The whole story is sadly reminiscent of Baby Face Nelson in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, where the character violently attacks a herd of cattle, yelling, “Cows? I hate cows worse than coppers!”


(The Baby Face Nelson scene starts at the 4:40 mark, and the cow scene is at 7:00. Warning: contains unchurchly language, and violence against cows and some people).

As we’ve mentioned, there are a lot of repulsive Old Testament stories, and most of them are generally ignored. This one, however, is regularly invoked as a morality lesson for today. This makes it particularly troubling. With many accounts, we can place them in historical context and leave them there. The ethics of tribal warfare were different at the time.

But in invoking the account today, Elder Hales makes clear that Saul’s disobedience was wrong. This would indicate that God’s original order was legitimate. And that seems deeply problematic. It’s one thing to note that genocide has been used historically. It’s another to argue in 2010 that reluctant genocide participants should be condemned for their reluctance. Don’t we have better illustrations of core gospel principles — illustrations which don’t ask listeners to condone repugnant ideas?

In fact, this Saul example seems to be exactly wrong for the topic of obedience. It is precisely in the context of an order to kill that individuals should be *least* willing to simply follow orders, and *most* inclined to ask questions, push back, or disobey. A genocide order is the worst possible context for a lesson on obedience. As we know from Nuremberg, genocide participants cannot excuse their actions by saying that they were merely following orders. The church’s own troubled history with the Mountain Meadows Massacre — or for that matter, with church member participation in validating Iraq torture — underscores the point.

I hope that the at some point, modern sensibility about genocide will prevail, and the Saul story will be left to gather dust like so many other problematic Old Testament accounts. Until then, I hope that we can think about what it means, and the implications in condemning Saul’s “selective obedience.” And that just maybe, we can push back, and make clear — *especially* in contexts like that of the Saul story — that sometimes to ask questions, get a second opinion, or even defy orders, is better than to simply obey.

93 Responses to God and Baby Face Nelson: Thoughts on Obedience, Genocide, and Problematic Narratives

  1. Aaron B on May 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Kaimi, I’m curious if you’ve ever had an opportunity to push back against this nonsense in a church classroom setting, and if so, what you said and how it went. I’m not sure how I’d handle it, but I agree with the bulk of your post.

  2. TT on May 3, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    We just had this same discussion! http://faithpromotingrumor.com/2011/04/genocide-is-better-than-sacrifice/

    My solution is to make ethical and interpretive decisions a part of our discourse on reading scriptures and responding to what we take to be revelation.

  3. Kaimi Wenger on May 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    A post without a Youtube insert is dead to me, TT.

    In seriousness, though, that’s an excellent discussion, and we seem to have arrived at a lot of the same basic conclusions. (As some of your commenters point out, the problems with the story are enough to make one seriously consider becoming a Marcionite.)

  4. Jonathan Green on May 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    So, Kaimi, you and TT think alike. And you make some good points –

    but I don’t think that this is ultimately a useful way to deal with scripture or with the apostles’ conference addresses, because it sets one down the path of looking for scriptural teachings or modern prophetic counsel that isn’t tainted in some way by morally repugnant actions or ideas –

    and you’re not going to find it. Which prophet – or deity – doesn’t appear to modern eyes as a hopeless sexist or racist or worse? If we use those reasons to abandon struggling with the scriptures over their meaning for us, we end up with very little.

    I agree that people should choose examples that do not distract from the point they’re trying to make, but I think you’re wrong to say that Elder Hales was invoking or making any kind of a statement about genocide. What’s remarkable about the section you quote is how carefully genocide has been removed from the narrative. The closest it gets is the citation of “utterly destroy[ing] all that they have,” which makes it sound like the Israelites were only supposed to go vandalize their property.

    As repugnant as the events might be, there’s an important point that they teach, namely that obedience is better than sacrifice. And it’s an important point! If one can’t use Saul and the Amalekites (as problematic as it is), what other scriptural account can replace it? Is eliminating scriptures that offend our modern sensibilities from our teaching repertoire worth the cost of reducing the amount of doctrine that can be taught with scriptural support?

    Perhaps it is, and certainly there’s an argument to be made that this particular story is one such case. But in the absence of an acute problem with genocidal Mormons at the moment, I’m not yet convinced.

  5. Craig on May 3, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Interesting that Nephi pushed back pretty hard before the beheading. But we don’t talk about that as a “righteous questioning of authority”…

  6. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 6:25 pm

    Is eliminating scriptures that offend our modern sensibilities from our teaching repertoire worth the cost of reducing the amount of doctrine that can be taught with scriptural support?

    I may be asking for it, but…

    I’d say that there are actually very few doctrines for which we can’t find decent scriptural support because there are in reality very few doctrinal tenets. There’s: love God, love your neighbor, love yourself, exercise your agency wisely (arguably even this last one could be subsumed into the first three; I list it because the entire gospel narrative is premised on the centrality of agency). That’s pretty much it. I dare say I could find unobjectionable scriptural stories to illustrate each of those principles. All the rest of the stuff, even necessary ordinances, is a frame meant to support these basic core tenets of the gospel. I think we’d be much better off if we spent our time learning about those things rather than the framework (or the hedge around the law). So if cutting out deeply repugnant scriptural content like this particular story means it’s harder to teach what is, in my opinion, not really a doctrine anyway (I just don’t think “obey absolutely” rises to the level of doctrine), I don’t think we’re losing much.

    Perhaps if these repugnant stories were used more thoughtfully in order to generate discussion and thoughtful consideration, rather than as a means of prescribing appropriate behavior, it wouldn’t be as troubling to rely upon them to make important points (like the preference for obedience rather than sacrifice point you identify). But so long as they’re being used in a prescriptive manner, I agree with Kaimi that it’s problematic to hold them up as models of appropriate behavior.

  7. Matt Evans on May 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Aaron, I think a constructive way to address this in a priesthood or GD discussion would be to say that if President Monson told me to kill a bunch of Japanese babies, I’d refuse, because I won’t slit the throats of little babies, or their mothers for that matter. This would force Kaimi’s issue to the foreground by making the class realize that the heroes in this narrative are those who, unlike me, are indeed willing to slit the throats of little babies. Though framing the moral question that way would lead to a lively discussion, and I’d love to effectively challenge the Obedient in the classroom to say that they’d slit the throat of Japanese babies were President Monson to order it, I suspect I’d cut to my own answer and end by saying that there are many parts of the bible that are probably not true given what we now know about the nature and character of God.

  8. TT on May 3, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    @Kaimi,
    I just couldn’t find any good genocide clips on youtube that would really do the trick… :)

    @JG,
    I’m not sure how Kaimi would answer this question, but I’m not sure that I am advocating anything like giving up on the scriptures or not wrestling with them. Indeed, the kind of ethical engagement I am suggesting is a wrestling with the scriptures that goes far beyond the passive acceptance of genocide as simply a matter of course.
    But, honestly, I think you have misunderstood the narrative, or at least interpreted it in such a way as to do injustice to the story itself. When we contrast obedience and sacrifice for our own purposes, we are not talking about anything at all like the decision that Saul is facing–whether to slaughter all living things or whether to slaughter almost all of them and then sacrifice the rest at the temple. God says that he doesn’t need these burnt offerings more than he needs genocide. Since we don’t practice animal sacrifice, saying that God desires obedience to his commands in warfare more than that isn’t really all that meaningful.
    The fact is that violence, if not genocide, is committed all the time not only in Mormonism, but in religion more broadly. It is a problem. It is a problem that spousal and child abuse is sometimes justified in the name of the demand for obedience, or even as a response to supposed revelations. Our own violent past should be enough that we should take the opportunity to seriously think through the link between divine commands and violence in our own tradition.
    There are plenty of good texts that talk about obedience. I’m not sure that we need this one to teach it. Instead, we can critically engage the text to perhaps think about the limits of obedience to supposedly divine commands.

  9. TT on May 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    As I put it in a comment on the FPR version of this conversation:
    “The issue is that we invoke Saul’s act of genocide as a model for our own behavior, which suggests that our own moral calculations are not relevant at all when it comes to obedience. God commanding genocide is the extreme example meant to raise the issue of whether the lack of consideration and evaluation of the human implications of our “obedience” to what we interpret to be divine commands is a position worth defending. This applies not only to active, occasional commands, such as avenging a 200+ year old blood feud on women and babies, but even for the everyday, static commands that some might interpret to be immutable.”

  10. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    Kaimi, I’m curious if you’ve ever had an opportunity to push back against this nonsense in a church classroom setting, and if so, what you said and how it went.

    pushing back against nonsense in Sunday School was the delight of my church-going life, when I had a regular church-going life (now my church-going is much more sporadic). Sometimes it’s best to be politic and walk people through an idea until they’re ready to reach a slightly altered conclusion. Those can be fun intellectual exercises, and I engaged in them often, but I sorta enjoyed just taking the bull by the horns and naming a spade a spade on occasion (nothing like a little mixed metaphor). For instance, dismissing the whole “sexual sin is second only to murder” nonsense based on Alma 39:5 by re-reading the text and pointing out that there was a lot more going on there than just sex. Sometimes I just don’t have the patience for pussyfooting around such patent falsehoods in order to preserve the sensibilities of people who believe them just because they’ve been told they’re true. Of course, being that ballsy does mean that I have to be open to people pushing back. Which I am. In fact, I’d be thrilled if SS would devolve into a rigorous debate rather than its usual pablum.

  11. jks on May 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    I think Nephi did balk and did question. Yet he is the perfect example of obedience that we teach our children. There’s a song and everything.
    So from Nephi’s story we learn that it is ok to say, “Wait, maybe I’m misunderstanding because this doesn’t sound like a good thing” and then him deciding to trust the Lord and obey because the Lord has his own plan that Nephi can’t see. He did ask the Lord to verify and when he received his answer he did obey.

    As for the OT story, the guy had no problem killing all the innocent people but decided to not kill the king and some animals? His disobedience seemed to have no basis in a morality or questioning the rightness of the commandment. His disobedience had nothing to do with thinking it might be wrong to commit genocide.

  12. Brad on May 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    Kaimi, I agree with your post. I think that sometimes many of the apostles’ seemingly desperate attempts to persuade their followers to embrace the concept of obedience end up being a stumbling block. Elder Hales’ example was poorly chosen. If anything I would hope that more LDS leaders choose to distance themselves from the OT. There is a strong ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative embedded in the much of the text that is not something that we want emphasized in the LDS church. Early Jewish prejudice against the Amalekites and other ethnic groups should be recognized as a negative attribute. We should not be afraid to frown on many scriptural narratives.

  13. Matt Evans on May 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    amelia, my M.O. is to take your first course of action (be politic), primarily because I fear I’ll be type-cast and that people will tune me out if I pursue the second too often. Recently I did respond bluntly to a line of argument that had gone on for several minutes about missionaries being liable for the sins of everyone that they could have reached but didn’t, but only because I found it so outrageous and so damaging to those who didn’t serve missions.

  14. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    going back to your original question, Kaimi:

    How should church members today approach morally repugnant scriptural narratives?

    I’d love to see us approach morally repugnant scriptural narratives as opportunities to explore how one’s cultural moment can lead misapplication of what we think are gospel teachings. But that would require seeing scripture as at least partially cultural artifacts rather than as exclusively the Word of God. So I’m unlikely to see that happen. I just think it could be so instructive to do that with a scripture story and then use it as an opportunity to turn towards our own lives and world and try to assess how we live and apply what we think of as gospel principles.

  15. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Matt #13, that was my standard approach, too. I’ve said some pretty outrageous things (outrageous by traditional, conservative Mormon standards anyway) in SS and RS and SM by finding ways to do so politicly and in the context of Christ’s gospel. I find that if I can tie what I’m saying closely enough to Jesus, the response is usually agreement and a new direction in the conversation.

    But I did really enjoy the times when I was blunt, too. And I did that infrequently enough that I didn’t jeopardize my ability to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. It’s a fine balance to walk. And not easy when one is suffering as a result of church teachings and practices. I found that the more I was hurting personally, the less patience I had to find a way to make my point politely. Probably just human nature.

  16. Kaimi Wenger on May 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Jonathan,

    It’s true that Elder Hales has stripped out the details of the genocide as best possible. But even then, it’s very clear that Saul’s sin was leaving people and animals alive when he was supposed to have killed them all. Even as sanitized as possible, it’s impossible to hide the fact that Saul’s orders were to kill everything.

    “Is eliminating scriptures that offend our modern sensibilities from our teaching repertoire worth the cost of reducing the amount of doctrine that can be taught with scriptural support?”

    Actually, the LDS church is uniquely positioned to avoid this problem, because we have an open canon. We can say — and Joseph Smith did — that Old Testament accounts like Lot’s “please, rape my daughters” episode are not scripture. Given our open canon, there is no good reason to keep reusing a genocide-dependent narrative.

    Finally, “obedience is better than sacrifice” is a weird framing in any case. Is there really a problem with people failing to obey because they want to sacrifice? That would only apply to a tiny subset of instances. In reality, the message that church leaders want to be conveying is, “obedience is better than disobedience.” And there are a whole variety of narratives that they could use there.

    Craig (5),

    Good point. Saul should have done the same.

    Amy (6),

    Amen. I don’t think we lose much. In fact, this lesson cuts against much more important commandments — e.g., love thy neighbor.

    Matt (7),

    I’m with you on refusing to kill based on a religious leader’s statements.

    “There are many parts of the bible that are probably not true given what we now know about the nature and character of God” — amen. :)

    TT (8-9),

    “The fact is that violence, if not genocide, is committed all the time not only in Mormonism, but in religion more broadly. It is a problem. It is a problem that spousal and child abuse is sometimes justified in the name of the demand for obedience, or even as a response to supposed revelations. Our own violent past should be enough that we should take the opportunity to seriously think through the link between divine commands and violence in our own tradition.
    There are plenty of good texts that talk about obedience. I’m not sure that we need this one to teach it. Instead, we can critically engage the text to perhaps think about the limits of obedience to supposedly divine commands.”

    Amen, amen, amen.

    Amy (10),

    I haven’t had a chance to discuss this particular verse recently. I do prefer an in depth discussion which examines the ambiguities and which does not seek easy answers. Sometimes though, due to weariness or just political caution, I bite my tongue. You have to pick your battles.

    jks (11),

    Yep. Saul managed to be disobedient while also failing the moral calculation. Talented guy!

  17. Kaimi Wenger on May 3, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Brad (12),

    Amen.

    Matt (13) and Amy (15),

    Me too!

    and Amy (14),

    I like this approach. :)

  18. E on May 3, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    There was a thread on another blog exploring whether conference addresses by our current prophets and apostles are “scripture” to us. This is an example of why I say yes. Because there is no way President Monson would ask us to kill Japanese babies. And neither would Elder Hales. And no matter what problematic OT scriptures they cite, no non-psychotic person could interpret their teachings in a way that would justify that kind of evil. The OT is a very imperfect window into a very foreign culture and we need to use a lot of caution when trying to interpret it. The same is not true of the teachings of living prophets.

  19. Jon on May 3, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    I’m a pretty hard core anti-war, anti-state person. These scriptures always trouble me. But I think dismissing them is wrong too. I think it is important to try and understand them and understand why God chooses to do certain things. We know the principle is “the wicked punish the wicked” but what about the righteous being told to kill the wicked?

    There are principles to be learned here and coming from a modern society it is hard to find the principles. If we but pray and be humble we might find them. What could be some of the principles from this story? The scriptures tell us that the wicked will be wiped out when they are ripe in iniquity. Is that what has happened? Typically, when genocide is commanded the people are ripe with iniquity. So why do the righteous go to battle against them? Maybe to cleanse the land of all iniquity and it’s the righteous that must do it. Also, we learn that the wickedness of the sinners will affect the 3rd and 4th generations because the first generation that was wicked. When I was discussing this with a friend he was able to relate it much better than me and sorry for the very poor rendering of the thoughts on this. But it does make you think some more and helps you to understand the “mysteries” of God more. I think there is something to be learned from these scriptures, the natural order of the world.

    Having said that, I recently have gotten quite a bit of flack for my anti-war stance with Afghanistan and how we should have repented after 9/11. So I am pretty hard core anti-war. But I think it is also important to try and understand the scriptures and try and figure out what they are teaching us.

  20. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm

    E, I have to disagree. The words of modern prophets may be windows onto a contemporary culture rather than a historically distant one; and that culture may be familiar (at least more familiar) rather than foreign; but I don’t think those facts mean that the words of modern prophets escape being imperfect. What our leaders say today is as imperfect as what was recorded and passed down as the OT. They may be called to lead the church and they may receive inspiration as they perform that duty, but they are still deeply flawed and culturally bound human beings (and the culture most of them are bound to is temporally removed from many of our own cultures, given the high rate at which cultures change in modern times).

  21. E on May 3, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    Amelia, I am not arguing that modern prophets are not flawed or culturally bound. I am arguing that since they are part of our current culture and society and their words come to us directly instead of through thousands of years of continuously changing oral and written traditions, their teachings are more relevant and more accurately reflect God’s word to us today.

  22. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    I can get on board with that. Mostly. :)

    The question becomes, then, why they would choose to use such patently problematic stories from the OT in order to communicate those more relevant teachings? If scriptures are always already less readily accessible because of cultural and historical divides, why choose to use a story that is that much *more* inaccessible because its content so clearly contradicts our contemporary morality?

  23. E on May 3, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Good question. I dunno.

  24. Dave on May 3, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Powerful post, Kaimi. Perhaps the Church as an institution predisposes senior leaders to discount any moral objections to their teaching. For example, LDS leaders spent decades discounting moral objections to plural marriage and to the LDS priesthood policy. That seems to be true for LDS scriptural exegesis as well.

  25. Jax on May 3, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    “There are many parts of the bible that are probably not true given what we now know about the nature and character of God”

    Well why do you not include the order of genocide in your calculation into the character of God?

    Did he not also slay the first born of all Egyptians to free his people?
    Did he not flood the earth and kill all but a select few?
    Did he not kill Ananias and Sapphira just for lying about their church donations? (Act 5)
    Did he not order Elijah to kill the priests of Baal after his confrontation with them?
    Did he not kill thousands following the death of His Son (Book of Mormon)
    Did he not claim credit for the elimination (genocide?) of the Jaredites?
    Does he not promise a desolating scourge among the inhabitants of the earth that will “utterly destroy” the unrepentant?
    Has he not sent forth his destroyer to “Destroy and lay waste mine enemies” today? (D&C 105:12)
    Not to mention the Nephi account mentioned already.

    If you think that we worship a God who thinks that killing people is abominable or repugnant than you do not know the character of our Father in Heaven. It is a useful tool he uses to accomplish His will. Just as He uses His saints to bless others, He uses us to curse and destroy others. He has not done so recently though. This account with Saul is no unique or an abberation from His character. If in an act of war I was ordered to commit genocide I, and every person with a conscience, will refuse (just as Alexander Doniphan refused to execute Jo. Smith). But once it is made known to use, through the Holy Ghost, that genocide is the will of the Lord, then we will obey or we will be cut off just as Saul was.

  26. Jax on May 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    The first law of Heaven IS obedience. Before anything else is revealed in the temple we are first put under covenant to obey. Obey what? We don’t know. It is just an open question. Will you obey me no matter what I ask of you? We answer yes. We don’t get to choose to turn back when we are asked to obey something that WE find repugnant. Well, we can choose to, but not with impunity – we will be found guilty of violating our covenants.

  27. chris on May 3, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    Jax,
    I’ll differ with you. That talk of the first law of heaven being obedience is not entirely correct. It must needs be the first law of even is freedom to choose. Without such there can be no obedience.

  28. Adam G. on May 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

    While your attempts to undermine Mormon apostles and attack Mormon scripture aren’t vile, they are repugnant.

  29. Jax on May 3, 2011 at 10:04 pm

    Chris, are you capable of breaking the law of choice? Can you give back your ability to choose? I can’t; I can more easily disregard teh law of gravity. So saying it is a law that should be followed is pointless….it is a permanent condition. Saying it is a law doesn’t mean it exists (as agency does) it means it is the first thing we have the ability to choose and have been given commandments on how to do so.

  30. chris on May 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    I can’t offer up a really good explanation that is not easily picked a part on this so I won’t bother. I’ll just point to one line I really liked from one of my favorite talks in conference.

    “The God of the Bible traffics in life and death, not niceness, and calls for sacrificial love, not benign whatever-ism” – Kenda Creasy Dean quoted by Elder Christopherson

  31. Chris H. on May 3, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Jax,

    Holy crap. That is all.

  32. chris on May 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    Jax everone is free to choose for themselves (although the degree to which we are free to choose does seem to have an element of discretion in this life). Some things of an eternal nature are not free to choose, they are agents to be acted upon and not to act.

  33. Ardis E. Parshall on May 3, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    This “first law of heaven” stuff is bunk, not doctrine. It’s from Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man,” not from scripture.

  34. Cameron N. on May 3, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    Amelia, I’m sure apostles are far from perfect, but to say ‘deeply flawed’ is a little much.

    I think many posting in this thread are avoiding the real issue: the fact that scripture tells us that if God tells you to commit genocide, it may be justified and right. I’m afraid to publicize that as much as you, and doubt it occurs more than extremely rarely in history, but it can’t be completely denied.

    Those who outright reject such accounts also reject the principle that eternal spiritual matters trump temporal ones, and this sometimes means that temporal lives are cut short for the greater spiritual benefit of God’s children. This includes wicked people dying to spare the indoctrination of future generations (OT examples and Nephi killing Laban), but also includes righteous people dying to seal their testimony to current generations (Alma and Amulek being restrained, the lamanites letting themselves be killed), and people being taken up into heaven (Enoch, Elijah, etc).

  35. Jax on May 3, 2011 at 10:23 pm

    I think my “first law of heaven” comment is jacking this thread….that isn’t the point. The point is that obedience is required of all of us and everything else.

    I’ve heard people talk about how they wish they knew the law by which the Lord walked on water or turned water to wine. I kind of laugh because the law is obedience….He commanded that for it to be so, and so the elements will realign themselves to obey. Even the dust obeys him…that is why Helaman said this,

    “7 O how great is the anothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are bless than the dust of the earth.
    8 For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.”

    (Book of Mormon | Helaman 12:7 – 8)

    If he commands me to serve others I will. If he commands me to preach, I will. If God wills that I walk on water, I will (just like Peter did). If he commands me to kill, then I will. But you can be certain that I won’t kill (or try walking on water) without being absolutely certain that it IS his will.

  36. Chris H. on May 3, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    “If he commands me to kill, then I will. But you can be certain that I won’t kill (or try walking on water) without being absolutely certain that it IS his will.”

    It is not that I do not trust Him….I do not trust you.

  37. Chris H. on May 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I particularly worried about Jax when he is off his meds. Please tell me you are not armed.

  38. Grant on May 3, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I’m going to put up a fight at least as good as Nephi’s if some church authority or the Spirit commands me to kill. I’m a pretty obedient guy who even tries to follow the handbooks and manuals (if you want to be a little rebellious against Mormon culture, just try that some time!) But I still have to think things through and make a conscious “choice” even to exercise obedience.

    It reminds me of my gut-wrenching reaction after reading Walker/Turley/Leonard’s Massacre at Mountain Meadows. I was wondering aloud with my family what I would have done had I been there. My grown daughter said, “Dad. You’re such a contrary guy, I wouldn’t worry about it.” Best compliment I ever had.

  39. Eric Russell on May 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Chris, that may be a valid response from a practical perspective, but not a moral one. If Jax is suffering from a mental illness or otherwise has very poor judgement, the moral value of his decisions weigh less. Put it to the “St. Peter at the pearly gates” test. If he genuinely believes that God has commanded him to kill and an inability to think clearly has led him to that conclusion, how harshly is he going to be censured for that decision?

  40. Dan on May 3, 2011 at 10:51 pm

    Cameron,

    I think many posting in this thread are avoiding the real issue: the fact that scripture tells us that if God tells you to commit genocide, it may be justified and right. I’m afraid to publicize that as much as you, and doubt it occurs more than extremely rarely in history, but it can’t be completely denied.

    Those who outright reject such accounts also reject the principle that eternal spiritual matters trump temporal ones, and this sometimes means that temporal lives are cut short for the greater spiritual benefit of God’s children. This includes wicked people dying to spare the indoctrination of future generations (OT examples and Nephi killing Laban), but also includes righteous people dying to seal their testimony to current generations (Alma and Amulek being restrained, the lamanites letting themselves be killed), and people being taken up into heaven (Enoch, Elijah, etc).

    Yeah, I can just imagine that “righteous” Israelite soldier walking up to some pregnant woman from Amalek who is crying, pleading for her life and him saying “sorry ma’am, but I gotta do it. My God says you’re evil and I must slay you.” He takes his sword and plunges it into the belly breaking the neck of the fetus and spilling the guts of the mother. She falls over screaming in pain and death. Which one is the righteous and which one is the wicked? Personally I don’t know. But I do know which action is wrong. And it is obviously the woman pleading for her life! She should have clearly realized the error of her choosing to be born in the Amalek tribe. Clearly she should have aborted her fetus and not bring another wicked Amalekite into this world, save the “righteous” Israelites the trouble of having to kill him later.

  41. Matt Evans on May 3, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Cameron, the challenge is to know what God wants, and in the case of Saul, it was Samuel telling him, not God. When I say that I’d refuse to kill Japanese babies even if President Monson told me to do so, I’m saying that I would believe President Monson would be grossly mistaken because I know that God does not want me to kill babies because they’re Japanese more than I’d know that President Monson was speaking for God.

    It does make an interesting thought experiment: accepting that God could command that the Japanese babies in your neighborhood be killed, for you to do the killing, what evidence would you need that it was God’s commandment before you’d kill? A prompting of the Holy Ghost, a phone call from the prophet, a personal visit from the prophet, confirmation after fasting and prayer, etc.?

    As for me and my house, I’d need God to pierce the veil and tell me in person before I’d believe that he wants me to kill mothers, infants and sucklings.

  42. Chris H. on May 3, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Eric,

    I do not care about his status at the pearly gates. I am worried about the physical safety of his neighbors.

  43. Chris H. on May 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Matt,

    We rarely agree, but I want to kiss you for #41.

  44. Paul 2 on May 3, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    One of the memes that gets repeated pretty often in our stake is that you should obey your priesthood leader even if what they are telling you to do is wrong. There are statements from church authorities that support this. I believe that obedience to a branch president resulted in nonreporting of child molestation to the stake president. As a result a child molestation occurred in our chapel.

    I believe that it is important for church leaders to always teach sensible boundaries for obedience. If you want hyperobedience, you are going to have some very very serious collateral damage.

  45. Kaimi Wenger on May 3, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    I’m happy to find myself on the same side as Matt on this one.

    In fact, I’d go a little further.

    I would not shoot babies based on a command from a church leader.
    I would not shoot babies based on a burning in the bosom, or because it beginneth to be be delicious unto me, or based on any other of the feelings which we generally view as the Holy Ghost.
    Not here or there, not anywhere. Not in a box. Not with a fox.

    And, if the Heavens opened and God and Jesus personally came down to insist that I kill babies for them, then I would take immediate action —

    and check myself into a mental hospital.

    Because I think that the overwhelming likelihood there is that I have simply lost my marbles.

    And hey, if it’s that important that the babies be genocided, then Mr. Omnipotent can do it Himself.

    If this means that I forfeit some kind of blessing for not being obedient enough, so be it.

  46. amelia on May 3, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    This:

    And, if the Heavens opened and God and Jesus personally came down to insist that I kill babies for them, then I would take immediate action —

    and check myself into a mental hospital.

    Because I think that the overwhelming likelihood there is that I have simply lost my marbles.

    And hey, if it’s that important that the babies be genocided, then Mr. Omnipotent can do it Himself.

    If this means that I forfeit some kind of blessing for not being obedient enough, so be it.

    is simply perfect. And brilliantly funny.

    Also I was just about to say essentially the same thing. Only not quite as amusingly. So I’ll just say “ditto” to every Kaimi just said.

  47. Kaimi Wenger on May 4, 2011 at 12:00 am

    I should point out that, even in today’s age, it’s not so unusual for people to follow religious leaders and kill innocents when this is viewed as God’s will. In fact, there are a whole bunch of very recent news stories about one such leader. He had a bunker, in Pakistan . . .

  48. Stan Beale on May 4, 2011 at 12:06 am

    Many of the responses troubled me greatly. I could only think of some heroes of mine: Helmuth Hubener, Karl-Heinz Schnabbe, and Rudi Wobbe All of these three chose to reject authority and follow their own moral compass’

    They were young Mormon boys in Nazi Germany who chose to fight against the evils of Nazism. All three were caught.Hubener was beheaded and excommunicated, Schnabbe and Wobbe were sent to concentration camps(After the war when everyone was trying to say I was not a Nazi, Hubener had his excommunication expunged).

    Today we honor those three while at the same time have lessons extolling genocide as obedience. The incongruity is mind numbing.

  49. Cameron N. on May 4, 2011 at 12:58 am

    I think we’d do better here to discuss recorded scriptural/historical events, rather than hypothetical ones we’re all pretty sure won’t ever happen. Thus, I will repost my last post’s final paragraph:

    “Those who outright reject such accounts also reject the principle that eternal spiritual matters trump temporal ones, and this sometimes means that temporal lives are cut short for the greater spiritual benefit of God’s children. This includes wicked people dying to spare the indoctrination of future generations (OT examples and Nephi killing Laban), but also includes righteous people dying to seal their testimony to current generations (Alma and Amulek being restrained, the lamanites letting themselves be killed), and people being taken up into heaven (Enoch, Elijah, etc).”

    I’m not saying I could fathom doing such a horrible thing myself, or God telling me to do it. I’m just saying we can’t outright declare scriptures untrue because they’re weird, seem crazy, or make us uncomfortable. It’s a difficult subject, because while we can all receive personal revelation, we also know that scriptures are not for private interpretation. I don’t think God would prompt an apostle cite an untrue biblical story in general conference, but maybe that’s just me…it might be untrue, but I just don’t think we can declare that. That’s I’ll I’m saying.

  50. Dan on May 4, 2011 at 6:24 am

    Cameron,

    You can’t just repost your second paragraph without accounting for your first, where you say:

    I think many posting in this thread are avoiding the real issue: the fact that scripture tells us that if God tells you to commit genocide, it may be justified and right. I’m afraid to publicize that as much as you, and doubt it occurs more than extremely rarely in history, but it can’t be completely denied.

    You use the second paragraph’s scriptural examples to justify your comment here where you say “scriptures tell us that if God tells you to commit genocide, it may be justified and right.” I think what we’re saying is not that we doubt the scriptural record of the occurrence of the events, or even that the people involved thought they received a commandment from God to do the dirty deed. I think the point is that no matter if someone in the past has done it, there is no justification for us to do it today. I agree with Kaimi that if God wants me to kill Japanese babies, I will tell God that He can kill them himself. I will not do such a despicable act.

  51. Peter LLC on May 4, 2011 at 6:55 am

    we also know that scriptures are not for private interpretation.

    Seriously, heretics like Wycliffe, Tyndale and Luther did a major disservice to God’e elect by doing just that. These days, even kids can crack the Good Book and read it for themselves, which if it were just to learn proof texts for next week’s Sunday School lesson would not be so bad in and of itself, but such lay readings inevitably give rise to private interpretations that in turn lead to repugnant heresies like those on display in this thread.

  52. Jax on May 4, 2011 at 8:34 am

    You might be surprise, but I’m with Matt on what it would take to convince me it IS His will for me to kill people….some warm fuzzy would definitely not be enough…

    But I find it very, very sad to see so many on an LDS oriented blog stating that those who have visions and recieve revelation should be institutionalized in a mental hospital. Don’t we count that among the blessing of belonging to the TRUE church of Jesus Christ?

    After all the persecution and pain and suffering caused by people who didn’t believe that God and JC appeared to Jo. Smith, are you willing to jump into the same ship as the persecutors. They told JS that no visions occurred, that it was something in the past. Many of your posts say the same thing: that JS might have seen visions and heavenly messengers might have come in the past, but anyone claiming it today is a lunatic.

    Paul 2 – there are no inconsistencies with your Nazi youth example. They choose to disobey a worldly leader in order to follow God…. not disobey God to follow the world. All I know of the three is what I read in Hubener V Hitler, but that is what I understand of it.

    Kaimi, many do follow religious leaders to kill…but if your religious leader is the one that really is the mouthpiece for God???

    Remember Abraham 3:25 – and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.

    Our test here is to prove that we will do whatever He commands. The test is unique for everyone, but more fair than we can even imagine. Sometimes it is if we will suffer through tar and feathering or Liberty Jail. Sometimes it is whether we will restrain our power and watch others die (alma and Amulek). Or if we will part of our goods and care for others (most common, and most failed). Unfortunately it is sometimes to see if we will obey Him in taking a life, sometimes defensively (Capt. Moroni, Mormon) or offensively (Saul, Nephi, Abraham/Isaac).

    I hope and pray that my test is NOT to kill others; it would be simply devastating to do. But the important part is the emphasis of Elder Hales message – we must be obedient to whatever God commands. Let’s be grateful that His current commands are to love God and our neighbors and pray for them that despitefully use us!

  53. Jax on May 4, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Correction….. Cameron has no inconsistecies…not Paul 2….but Paul 2’s stake has serious issues if people think covering up child abuse is acceptable to church leadership or the Lord!

  54. Peter LLC on May 4, 2011 at 9:20 am

    Don’t we count [visions and revelations] among the blessing of belonging to the TRUE church of Jesus Christ?

    Sure, but our acknowledgement of such possibilities also raises thorny epistemelogical problems–how do you know that the source of your revealed knowledge is divine? For these and other reasons, the history and scripture of the restored church suggest that visions and personal revelations are not an unalloyed good and are to be checked by keys and authority.

  55. Dan on May 4, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Jax,

    Not speaking for anyone else, but for me, I will not follow President Monson if he said that God has ordered me to kill Japanese babies. That means that I still view President Monson as a prophet, but have chosen of my own free will and choice to not act in a certain way, no matter who says to do so. If God wants Japanese babies killed, He can do the job himself.

  56. Dave on May 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Thus does the problem of evil raise its ugly head.

    If thousands die in a natural disaster (say the recent tsunami in Japan), it is natural evil. That is a theological problem, but our response is simple: alleviate suffering. Save people if we can. Even those who think God is pulling the levers behind a natural disaster don’t suggest we should help God by withholding aid. (The moral sense of such people fortunately overrides their theological sense — I agree with their morals and disagree with their theology.)

    If soldiers intentionally kill civilians in war or leaders promote genocide, that is moral evil — it results from human agency. We should exercise our agency to avoid gratuitous killing. Moral evil is within our power to avoid.

    Laying responsibility for either natural evil or moral evil at the foot of God is a tricky undertaking. Generally those who shift blame to God for their own wrong actions are transparently attempting to avoid responsibility for their own actions (while at the same time reaping some benefits from those wrongful actions). Those arguing for exceptions (“God really did tell me to kill that person”) face a very skeptical audience.

  57. SilverRain on May 4, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I think you miss the point of this story. Saul didn’t disobey out of some moral high ground, but because he put political maneuvering and personal acquisition above the commandments of the Lord. He was fine killing babies, but he didn’t want to make people angry by keeping them from looting the belongings of the dead babies’ parents, among other things.

    My own personal life has opened my eyes a bit to why God might command things that are otherwise contrary to the precepts of the Gospel. My guess with the genocide thing is that there was more going on than the scripture relates (and even scripture relates more about that story than Kaimi does here). But that’s a topic separate from Saul’s lack of obedience and WHY he disobeyed.

  58. psychochemiker on May 4, 2011 at 11:56 am

    This problem goes away when the following things occur.

    1.) Each individual member has enough of a real connection to God that they know God and his character.
    2.) Each individual member stops trying to judge others throughout history and alive today.
    3.) Each individual member takes care of their own actions.
    4.) Each individual member asks God to teach them what they are supposed to learn.

    I’ve seen enough examples on this thread to note how these principles have been violated.
    1.) If each member here would commune with God more, they would know that God is not going to ask them to commit genocide. Just like He’s not going to suddenly allow gay acts or non-justified elective abortion as morally allowable.
    2.) Quite frankly we don’t need to be judging Elder Hales, or Samuel, or anyone else. We should be focusing on ourselves and our own faults
    3.) I own my actions, I alone am responsible for anything I do. I do not seek to blame any church leader that I choose to follow.
    4.) Why does it so often seem like members of the bloggernacle are just trying to get out of ever being obedient? It seems like the first article of faith of NOM’s (er, I mean bloggernacle-its) is I will refuse to be obedient, I will refuse to pray, I will refuse to read the scriptures, and I’ll be dmned before I’m ever obedient? Incidentally, they probably will be.

  59. Jax on May 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Dan,

    And if he wants your neighbor to recieve food or clothing, do you tell Him to do it Himself? This is exactly the kind of selective obedience that Elder Hales is warning against. “I will

    What is strange though is that most LDS people (this is not an accusation against anyones comments so far) say they agree with the helping others part, but when it comes to actually giving things to others they say that the person should be taking care of themself – thus they don’t do the bad because it is repugnant, but they don’t do the good either.

    “to see if they will do ALL things WHATSOEVER the Lord their God shall command them” – I guess many of you are just stating outright that you will not do whatsoever you are commanded. So be it.

  60. Mark Brown on May 4, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    2.) Each individual member stops trying to judge others

    Your comment is a bright and shining example of this, psycho-man.

  61. Dan on May 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Jax,

    And if he wants your neighbor to recieve food or clothing, do you tell Him to do it Himself? This is exactly the kind of selective obedience that Elder Hales is warning against. “I will

    Oh my gosh dude. Because giving your neighbor food and clothing is equal to slicing him in two with your samurai sword or ripping his brains out with your bullets.

    I guess many of you are just stating outright that you will not do whatsoever you are commanded. So be it.

    Pretty much. I believe we are taught to be agents unto ourselves and to judge righteously and wisely. While we are discussing here a hypothetical none of us will actually ever even come close to experiencing, thus our reactions should not be taken as an example of how we would respond under less extreme examples, yes, I WILL NOT kill someone else just because God asked me to. I certainly WILL NOT commit genocide just because God asked me to. Thankfully I will never have to experience those choices.

    Now, if you want to ask a harder question like, should I give money to pay for Prop 8 type political machinations if God asked me to, then I would have a harder time answering that question. I think, in the end, I would probably still say no, because I do not agree with that line of action.

  62. Bob on May 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    @ Dave: ” If soldiers intentionally kill civilians in war…, that is moral evil — it results from human agency”.
    Are you sure you want the campet bombing of German and Japanese cities in WWII considerd “Moral Evil”?

  63. Dave on May 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    Psychochemiker, thanks for the comment. My immediate reaction was to post a snarky reply, but after I found your website I decided you’re just another bloggernacle-ite. We’re all in the same boat. Somehow, discussing LDS issues from all perspectives seems to enlighten and encourage most readers.

  64. kevinr on May 4, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I think we all miss the point of the coming of the Lord of the New Testament; He did away with the killings and the sacrifices and the “us and them” attitudes, and made a new law, that we love our enemies and bless them that curse us. Elder Hale’s talk, as was suggested in the early comments posted here, should have focused on that new law, not the old laws, the old culture, the old way of doing things from the Old Testament.

  65. Jonovitch on May 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Wow, there are a lot of really “shouldy” attitudes around here. Elder Hales “should” have done this. God “should” have done that.

    The reality is, I have no idea why God wanted Saul to wipe out Amalek (even considering the reference to the prior slights against Israel — is there more to it, or was it just revenge? We don’t know!). I have no idea if such a things would have been considered “genocide” to them, or if such an act was even considered repugnant, or if it was just par for the course back then. I have no idea what would have happened had Saul not wiped them out. I don’t know if Saul struggled internally or with God the same way Nephi did (before he killed an incapacitated king, lied to the king’s personal servant, and stole from the king’s treasure).

    We’re projecting our modern and finite understanding (based on a few verse from an ancient, flawed record) onto a completely foreign time and place. To say nothing of the assumptions flying around about what an infinite being with infinite understanding does and does not believe, then or now. That’s quite a bit of extrapolation and assumption.

    Maybe God thinks today genocide is repugnant (or not). Maybe God thought anciently wiping out Amalek and the entire city was painful (or not). Maybe God understood that something worse would have come had Saul not done it (as in Nephi’s case). Or maybe God’s plan is to preserve his obedient creations while casting off the disobedient ones. Isn’t that in fact exactly what he did during the first five days of creation? Furthermore, isn’t that exactly what he told us he’s testing now, to see if we (his ultimate creations) will obey as well as his previous creations? I’m not saying I’m right. I’m simply pointing out that we can’t so easily judge the characters in this story. And we can’t so blithely claim that this and other “repugnant” stories are the “obviously not true parts” of the Bible just because our modern beliefs dictate that God “obviously” would not command such a thing. (I for one try not to tell God what he does or doesn’t believe.)

    Before we convict Samuel, Saul, Elder Hales, and God himself as being insensitive and endorsing of repugnant acts, we might first recognize that we have just barely begun the discovery phase here. Our only bit of evidence in this case is a second- or third- or fourth-hand description (read: hearsay), possibly without a single eyewitness to verify the account, translated from a different language, and roughly 3,000 years old.

    I’d say the jury is still out on this one.

  66. brian larsen on May 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Personally, I try to imagine a truly interesting back story that really took place, that we don’t have. Then I imagine me sharing this imagined story with an imaginary class that believes my story could also have happened, and at that point we tend to find that we have wandered into yet another discussion which usually ends with someone quoting from the Bhagavad Gita – and then we walk away very satisfied and enlightened.

    But really, I don’t say anything; and I leave, wondering if, by happy circumstance, anyone else was thinking the same thing I was.

  67. Jax on May 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Dan, you have proved the point. You are selectively obedient, just as Elder Hales was warning us not to be. Feeding the hungry you’ll do, killing you won’t. Funding Prop 8 is a maybe. You have your lines where when things become offensive according to your personal feelings you stop obeying. Most people do. They all have different values and lines though. By your same reasoning people refuse to obey the law of chasitity, because not expressing their sexuality is offensively restrictive. Others draw lines of personal sentiment around the language they use: few refuse to do so ever, some curse occasionally when it seems warranted, and others feel that believing in a God who would limit their speech at all is repugnant.

    The point being is that isn’t for us to choose what we find acceptable and what turns our stomachs and choose our obedience level accordingly. As covenant Saints, our obligation is to obey always, everything, all the time. Because we trust God and believe that He is perfectly merciful, perfectly just, perfect in everyway, we know that He wouldn’t ask us to kill people without it being for the benefit of His children. I don’t need to know how or why (though that would be nice) I just need to know it is His will. That is how faith works. We believe He is good and we are willing to trust that He knows best. It is sad to me that so many people here are willing to say that God is not good and that His decision to have the Amalekites slaughtered was terrible. It says that you don’t trust God to be perfect, to make good decisions, to act in our behalf for the best, that you think He would/could ask us to do something bad for us, and that is very, very disappointing. How can you possibly worship a God you don’t believe is good?

  68. Dane Laverty on May 4, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Jax, I think the issue isn’t that we don’t believe God is good; it’s that we don’t believe that particular narrative is an accurate depiction of God’s will. For whatever reason (Samuel interpreting his own feelings as revelation; there being more to the story than is included; the story itself being a later fabricated addition to the Bible; etc.), that story in the Old Testament doesn’t square with our conception of God. By rejecting it, we’re not rejecting God — we’re rejecting a man-made attempt to hijack God for nefarious purposes.

  69. Dan on May 4, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Jax,

    Because we trust God and believe that He is perfectly merciful, perfectly just, perfect in everyway, we know that He wouldn’t ask us to kill people without it being for the benefit of His children.

    That’s the point. This is an inherent contradiction in the same vein as challenging God to create a rock so large he isn’t able to lift it. Can God do that? Will he still be God if he cannot lift a rock? It is beyond my belief that God would ask us to kill people “for the benefit of His children.” Do you see the inherent contradiction there? Aren’t ALL human beings on this planet God’s children?

    It is sad to me that so many people here are willing to say that God is not good and that His decision to have the Amalekites slaughtered was terrible.

    That’s because it was terrible. There’s no getting around it. There was no right to it. There was no good to it. It was terrible. No one with a kind and merciful heart can look at that decision and claim there was any good in it. It was violent, unprovoked vengeance of the utmost worst kind. It doesn’t matter whether God ordered it or not. It was a terrible decision. One cannot judge the merits of why God would order such a genocide (if in fact he did), but one cannot claim it was good.

    Another incident might be more noteworthy of discussion. Why did God choose to flood the earth and kill off everyone except for a few? The discussion he had with Noah, he indicates that he hated the violence of the earth. Rather peculiar for a God that later asks his followers to slaughter a people and their animals. In any case, with the Flood, God did the dirty work, and I am more fine with that.

    How can you possibly worship a God you don’t believe is good?

    Clearly I should be an atheist, then I would be worshipping a God that doesn’t ask his followers to kill others of His children…

  70. brian larsen on May 4, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Jax, you seem to suggest that the “current” commands to love each other and God haven’t been always been the case, or that they can change in the future (RE, you comments in #52). Basically, you are saying that God DOES change. The discussion here is suggesting that men do, and that some of the confusion/contradictions in the scriptures come from the fact that they do; that language is not a perfect medium; that history is inaccurate; that we don’t have the whole picture, but that God DOES NOT change. If you believe God changes and that what this life is about is/has been/could be other than developing charity and loving God and others, then, to most of us here (if I may so presume), YOU appear to be the one who selectively understands the gospel.

  71. Dave on May 4, 2011 at 5:25 pm

    Nice discussion, everyone … but as a T&S perm let me remind commenters that comments should be directed to the post topic (obedience, genocide, and the problem of evil), not to whether any partiular commenter is obedient, genocidal, or evil.

  72. Jax on May 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Brian,

    My earlier posts suggest that I believe GOD doesn’t change. That he has always used the death of the wicked to serve His righteous purposes, from the Flood, to Nephi executing Laban, to exacting vengence for 300 year old wrongs. It is the same statements he makes in modern revelation

    28 And now, verily I say unto you, if that enemy shall escape my vengeance, that he be not brought into judgment before me, then ye shall see to it that ye awarn him in my name, that he come no more upon you, neither upon your family, even your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.
    29 And then, if he shall come upon you or your children, or your children’s children unto the third and fourth generation, I have delivered thine aenemy into thine hands;

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 98:28 – 29)

    We don’t just run out and exact revenge because we think someone is worthy of death. But if God speaks and makes His will clear that the someone should die, than it isn’t my place to tell him He is wrong or terrible for doing so.

    Dan said this:

    “That’s because it was terrible. There’s no getting around it. There was no right to it. There was no good to it. It was terrible. No one with a kind and merciful heart can look at that decision and claim there was any good in it. It was violent, unprovoked vengeance of the utmost worst kind. It doesn’t matter whether God ordered it or not. It was a terrible decision. One cannot judge the merits of why God would order such a genocide (if in fact he did), but one cannot claim it was good.” (as a side note, how do I do the inset with the solid bars when quoting?)

    So it doesn’t matter if God did order it, it was wrong and terrible? Then you don’t think GOD is perfect, because He either isn’t good or simply made a terrible choice.

  73. Jax on May 4, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Dave, sorry for personal comments about individual levels of obedience, but the nature of the discussion leads people to proclaim they would or would not follow certain commandments, which makes individual obedience part of the topic.

  74. Dan on May 4, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    Jax,

    But if God speaks and makes His will clear that the someone should die, than it isn’t my place to tell him He is wrong or terrible for doing so.

    yes, actually it is. Abraham did it.

    Then you don’t think GOD is perfect, because He either isn’t good or simply made a terrible choice.

    The Old Testament is fascinating for what it supposedly reveals of God, including Genesis 6:6 where we read this:

    6And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.

    Could it possibly be that God was surprised by how quick to violence his children had gone? How quick to sin? He was grieved as if He didn’t foresee that his creation would so quickly turn to violence. In verse 13 we read:

    13And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

    That sure sounds to me like a God that was surprised at what he saw of his creation. Furthermore, after the flood, God promised he would never again cleanse the earth (i.e. kill all his creation) with a flood no matter if man would again turn to violence and sin. Essentially I do not think God is perfect (whatever that word means in the eternal perspective—after all, we believe God progresses just like we will. How exactly do you progress from perfection?), and I do think he makes mistakes. I also think he has given us the freedom to choose what is right, to think for ourselves, and to judge for ourselves. We’re not to be blind automatons. We’re also not to be blindly obedient. So I’m going to conclude that I will never commit genocide against anyone if God himself comes down and tells me to do so, and that’s all I will say on this tangent.

  75. Bob on May 4, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    @Dan: I would likely come at this from a different angle that you (with Jax), but I think you and I would end up at about the same place.

  76. Bryan in VA on May 4, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Being a simple man I just vote for God’s will over “modern sensibilities”. The Lord’s ways are not man’s ways. Won’t these “modern sensibilites” also be offended by the cleansing of the Earth of telestial beings before the Second Coming?

  77. psychochemiker on May 5, 2011 at 9:59 am

    Dave,

    Somehow, discussing LDS issues from all perspectives seems to enlighten and encourage most readers.

    I just happen to disagree with that. Not all viewpoints and persepctives enlighten and encourage most readers. I doubt that you have any statistical data that backs up that assertion. While I only have my own meager anecdotal evidence for why I view the world the way I do (now), I also recognize how harmful some points of view are, and believe it is my job to now point that out…

    Leave a comment over my way if you’d like to know more…

  78. Jax on May 5, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Well Dan I’m glad you are done on this tangent, because I have no way to respond either to the God-is-not-perfect idea or the God-doesn’t-have-all-knowledge idea, or the God-makes-mistakes-and-my-choices-are-better-than-His idea.

    I can see why you have such a problem with Elder Hales talk. Here was an apostle saying that you should be obedient in all things, even the repugnant ones. But if you think God is imperfect and makes poor choices then for you their is no reason to listen to anyone about anything. If apostles do speak for God and you disagree, it must be because God is an idiot and making a bad choice. If they aren’t speaking for Him then it is because they are even more fouled up than He is. Thanks for clarifying your position on this though. Now I can see why so many others have problems with that talk, even if they aren’t as willing as you to state the underlying reason.

  79. Sonny on May 5, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Psychochemiker,

    “I doubt that you have any statistical data that backs up that assertion”

    With all due respects I think you are reading too much into what Dave wrote. Notice the word “seems” he used, which makes it more of a personal observation than an assertion. And besides, I agree with his observation. It does not mean all viewpoints are equal or valid. But what it does mean, to me at least, is that I have the opportunity to read (sometimes) passionate views and their rationnale, which I may or may not have considered before. It does not mean I have to agree, but it gives me the opportunity to reflect upon my preconceived notions on a particular topic and either build upon them more strongly or even modify or discard them because I never thought to consider X or Y.

  80. Dan on May 5, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Jax,

    Don’t judge others’ position by what I said, but then again you’re painting quite a broad stroke. Not sure exactly what your endgoal is though. Why would you push someone to the edge of an extreme where he has to make a choice between two pretty awful evils? Either he thinks God made a terrible mistake, or he must commit genocide. Why push that line, Jax? I mean, I have no problem going to the extreme because I am comfortable in my religion and in my belief in God. But what’s your goal? To destroy others’ belief in God?

  81. Jax on May 5, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Dan,

    My end goal is to build faith in God. That He is good, that He is perfect, that He does have all knowledge and power and the capacity to save His children. To tell people they can trust Him and His decisions. I think if anyone is destroying faith it would be you so says He is imperfect and doesn’t know the end from the beginning. You are right though that I shouldn’t assume Kaimi or others think that God is fallible and not as smart or moral as you are.

    Joseph Smith taught that in order to act with faith a person had to have a knowledge of the perfection of God. I have been advocating that trust in His perfection in order to build faith and allow people to trust in His ability to save them. Stating that God made a poor decision, that he doesn’t have all knowledge, that He isn’t good or moral, or that He doesn’t need to be obeyed – those things destroy peoples faith.

    And we only reached that extreme because the original post started us at that point – that we either disobey God or we commit genocide. It wasn’t my choosing.

  82. Chris H. on May 5, 2011 at 11:46 am

    I just have to say that I love Kaimi threads on T&S.

  83. Dave on May 5, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for the help, Sonny (#79).

    Pschochemiker, I base my observation on almost 8 years of LDS blogging. People just seem to keep coming back and participating in discussions. None of them preface their comment with a disclaimer like, “I dislike everything I read here, which I find to be for the most part worthless and discouraging, yet I keep coming back for more …” My conclusion, based on that statistical count of zero (a convenience sample, I admit), is that most commenters come back because they learn something from time to time and enjoy trading viewpoints with other commenters and those who author the posts. Sometimes (see #82) people just come right out and say that they enjoy being here!

  84. Dan on May 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    Jax,

    You have a strange way of going about building faith in God. Telling someone that they must commit an act of genocide tends to not build faith in God. And that’s all I’ll say.

  85. Sonny on May 5, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I second Chris H in saying this was a very interesting and thought-provoking thread. I find myself personally in between positions of Jax and Dan actually.

    I believe it is against the nature of God to ask others to commit genocide, or at least it is to ask ANY one to do so now, and even if I did believe He would EVER ask and I that I would obey, it feels unseemly to me to declare my willingness to, say, slit someone’s throat in the name of God, even if saying that is intended to be an expression of my obedience and not in pride in carrying out ‘the act’.

    Did God ever ask in the past? Were the OT narratives completely accurate, and are they to be taken at face value based only on what is written? Many have, and I am not so sure that we fully understand what happened back then, or why, regardless of what is printed in the manuals or spoken of in a talk. However, I feel quite uncomfortable personally saying that God is not perfect and that these ancient actions were, or may be, ‘mistakes’ to be placed at His feet. I would rather take the view that we do not fully understand the narratives.

    Thank you all for expressing your passionate positions.

  86. Jax on May 5, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Sonny,

    I agree that it is unseemly both to say “I will kill in the name of God” and “God is imperfect”. We should all be grateful that we haven’t been asked to kill, or commit other atrocities. Thanks for the very middle of the road post.

  87. Sonny on May 5, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Very much agreed Jax, and thank you.

    I guess something that pretty much all can take away from this is that reconciling the apparent Divinely sanctioned attrocities of the OT narratives with how Jesus taught us to be and act toward our fellow man during His ministry is difficult for many of us. It always has been for me, and still is today. I know the explanations and interpretations that we traditionally learn in the manuals, but they never have as of yet passed the “in the gut it feels right” test for me. Perhaps we need further light and knowledge on what really happened. Perhaps *I* do. The best thing that feels right to me right now is that we don’t fully understand, and that our information is woefully incomplete.

  88. Cameron N. on May 5, 2011 at 11:31 pm

    I’m still disappointed that few in this thread fail to realize my points about death. Either the ignorant wicked will be brought to light sooner, or the righteous will progress faster in heaven, or the knowing wicked will be dealt with sooner.

    I don’t think that we really understand this OT story, but we do understand that eternity trumps mortality. Death, by any means, is not the ultimate tragedy, in fact it quite often is a blessing to the individual. God knows this, and we would do well to remember it when assessing all these difficult situations in scriptural history.

  89. Dan on May 6, 2011 at 6:40 am

    Cameron,

    It’s not the death that is bothersome. As you note people die. Millions of people die every day, mostly from natural causes. It’s not the deaths of the Amalekites that is troublesome. It has nothing to do with the Amalekites. It has to do with who caused the deaths and in what manner. For instance, Cameron, you may die today, but your blood will only rise for justice if you had died because someone killed you as opposed to having some blood clot in your brain. According to the Book of Mormon, the blood of the innocent will rise up against their murderers to cry for justice. Based solely on the information we have of the Amalekites, I would wager they have ample reason to cry for justice against the Israelites who murdered them.

  90. Peter LLC on May 6, 2011 at 10:04 am

    I have no way to respond either to the God-is-not-perfect idea or the God-doesn’t-have-all-knowledge idea, or the God-makes-mistakes-and-my-choices-are-better-than-His idea.

    I think Dane said it best in 68: “the issue isn’t that we don’t believe God is good; it’s that we don’t believe that particular narrative is an accurate depiction of God’s will.”

    As near as I can tell, Mormons are not obligated to believe in biblical inerrancy. Even the Book of Mormon as the “most correct” book is not The Final Word for the faithful. I’m partial to a good wrestle with the scriptures, but the contortions I am willing to engage in to preserve a literal reading of the entirety of either volume is limited, and that line is drawn well before the point I ask myself whether I’m obedient enough to kill in God’s name.

  91. Eric Boysen on May 8, 2011 at 1:18 am

    How many Mormons have held the brass keys? How many would have turned them?

  92. Brad on May 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I love it how Jax constantly hijacks threads with extreme comments which draw people away from having intellectual discussion. Oh that Jax’s ‘wisdom’ could be ignored.

  93. Jax on May 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Ummm, Brad…the post was on genocide and obedience, which is exactly what I/we were talking about.