Dawn broke over the quiet little settlement as the sun eased itself above the distant horizon. A rooster stumbled lazily across one of the many paths that separated the small dwellings. A small boy stood at the entrance to his home, looking out with the open-eyed stare that came after a long restful night. On any normal day the village would rouse itself slowly and start going about its business.
Stealthy feet stepped nimbly into the first home on the outskirts. The warrior’s short sword plunged deep into the sleep-heavy bodies – a wife, man and daughter – followed by a muttered incantation to an unknown god. In the hut next door, a shriek, cut short by a violent blow to the head that started a growing pool of blood on the dried mud floor. Other family members, bewildered, rose to their feet in chaotic defence only to be dispatched with sword blows from two warriors. As the killers emerged into the soft morning light, more screams and panicked shouts were going up into the cool air. Men emerged from dwellings, mostly naked with swords and clubs in hand, only to be cut down by the invaders’ blades. Within minutes, the main village path was a scene of butchery, metal cutting deep into the soft flesh of humans and animals alike.
A pregnant woman ran across the path to the hut of her mother – half way there, she was grabbed by two invaders – one held her to the ground while the other cut her belly open and ripped the foetus from her as she watched, screaming for the horror to end. He swung the little body and smashed it like a melon against a wooden column. At another hut, an invader pulled a small boy from the shadows. The boy kicked at his attacker who laughed derisively as he swung his blade down at the child’s neck. The boy squirmed just enough for the blow to miss its target, and it cut deep into his shoulder instead, almost severing his arm. He screamed in terror and pain, still trying to flee, and was rewarded by his arm finally ripping free from his body, left waving in the hand of his attacker.
Three warriors dragged a woman, still in her teens, into the square hut that served as a temple to the villagers’ deity. They threw her onto the primitive altar they’d constructed there, as she fought tenaciously – she kicked and scratched, reaching for eyes, testicles, whatever she thought she could get at. They ripped her garment off her, one held her arms above her head, the others a leg apiece. One of them bent her leg back and with the full weight of his body proceeded to enter her and rape her as she shrieked for help. They took turns at it as she cursed them and all their descendents. Then one of them took a piece of wood that lay nearby, rammed it into her vagina and kicked it in for good measure. By this time the girl was only semi-conscious. The leader of the three took his sword and severed her breasts from her body.
Outside in the little paths between huts, bodies lay bleeding out into the mud and grass. Toddlers had their limbs severed and soldiers were piling heads one on top of the other. In another hut, a soldier cut a baby wide enough to accommodate him before he proceeded to rape it in front of his mortally wounded parents.
Meanwhile, they’d identified the hut of the village leader. He had already watched as his wife had been brutally defiled and murdered. They dragged him out into the centre of the village, his eyes round with terror and hatred for his attackers. His two children - a boy and a girl - had been spared injury, and he now understood why. He was held either side by two powerful warriors and was thrust to his knees. He watched as his two children had their jaws pulled open viciously and their tongues cut out - they would be the only survivors of the slaughter, permitted to roam the land, unable to tell of the horror.
The lead invader, fresh from rape and covered in blood, approached him. The prisoner knew what was about to happen. He looked over at his children who were held facing him. Through blood and tears they saw his face soften to them; both he and they understood in that moment that they were about to see their father as they would always remember him. He gazed slowly and lovingly at them, and relaxed his body in the grip of his captors. He stared straight at the lead invader, who in one swift slice, opened the man’s belly. His innards fell to the ground, like slippery roasted vegetables. Another cut, and the warrior reached deep into his chest cavity, searching, feeling, until his hand gripped the man’s heart. He stabbed a few times between his ribs until, triumphantly, he pulled the leaking, quivering organ from the twitching body.
Just a few hours later, he presented the drying heart to the priest of his tribe. The priest held it aloft in the hot afternoon sun and cried to the sky, “Our god is truly good!”.
Ok, I hope you’ve found this piece as challenging to read as I did to write it. What I had in mind as I typed this short story was scenery and events of the kind that Mel Gibson used in his movie “Apocalypto” – warfare between Mesoamerican tribes that was both cruel and irrational, and enmeshed with religion. Of course we find it abhorrent, who wouldn’t? But it was the reality, where belief in deities was the backdrop to complete and utter devastation of nearby tribes that were either feared or despised, because of their strength, their resources, their beliefs or simply their “otherness”.
But here’s the clincher – I also wrote this knowing that it would be a perfect description of the slaughters depicted in the Old Testament. Complete destruction by violence of nearby tribes – their men, women and children, animals and treasured belongings. Unfettered viciousness, complete elimination of opposition. Ordered and endorsed by the Israelites’ god.
We had a debate recently as to whether Yahweh could be described as an infanticidal warmonger, as Christopher Hitchens put it. The piece I wrote above is what happens in war. Scripture is clear that Yahweh commanded the complete slaughter of the Canaanites, women and children included, and therefore the description is valid – and not blasphemy, as asserted by believers. To believe otherwise is either gross naivety or outright untruth, yet Christians continue to filter these events out of their worldview and religious history, sometimes even justifying them on the fallacious bases that (a) whatever God commands is good because it comes from God, (b) it was right because the Canaanites worshiped idols (which offended Yahweh), or (c) times were different then.
“In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you. Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the Lord your God”. Revered Christian apologist William Lane Craig goes so far as to suggest that the Israelite soldiers were actually doing the innocent Canaanite children and infants a favour by sending them to heaven earlier than they expected. He then, unbelievably, suggests that we should actually have sympathy for these murderers because of the exceptionally cruel task that Yahweh had called on them to perform. You can read this at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/slaughter-of-the-canaanites.
Incidents like the slaughter of the Canaanites and Moses’ order to massacre the Amalekites (in which he told his soldiers to spare no-one unless they were attractive females, in which case they could be taken as sex slaves) are a massive, indelible blot on the bible. Christians cannot justify these in a way that is acceptable to any normal human being with a conscience, and yet they will still attempt to do so, because they demonstrate so clearly not just the basic errancy of the bible, but also its moral depravity.