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Question

Is Richard Dawkins’ caricature of the God of the Old Testament accurate?

God of the Old Testament
Answer


In his 2006 book The God Delusion, and in countless speeches, Richard Dawkins has said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” It’s more of a caricature of God than a characterization.

Responding to Dawkins’ charges against God is best done by first examining his overarching critique and then working through some of his more specific accusations.

Dawkins’ predominant indictment against God is that He is immoral and evil because of the judgments He hands down that involve the killing of certain people. Dawkins arrives at his conclusion through a superficial and excised reading of certain passages in the Old Testament including the flood that destroyed the world (Genesis 6:17) and the expulsion or killing of various people (e.g., Deuteronomy 7:1–2), especially those in the land given by God to Israel (Deuteronomy 20:16–17) and Israel’s national enemies (1 Samuel 15:3).

However, reading these passages in their contexts and with an understanding of the history of those ancient civilizations paints a different picture. With a fair treatment of the text, a clear pattern emerges regarding how God arrives as His declarations of judgment on various peoples:

• God warns of a coming judgment that will be used to remove a moral cancer from His creation.
• Individual judgments are handed down for extreme acts of evil.
• Each judgment is preceded by warnings and, often, long periods of time to give the people a chance to repent. For example, the people of Noah’s day were warned about impending disaster for hundreds of years. The Canaanites were warned over 400 years in advance of God’s judgment on them (Genesis 15:13–16).
• The presence of “good” or “innocent” people in the situation delays or stops judgment altogether. For example, before judgment fell on Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asked God, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” and was told that if God found only ten righteous people in those cities, He would withhold judgment (Genesis 18:22–32).
• A way of escape is usually provided. For example, the Bible records that families were many times given the option to flee a land being conquered by God’s people. Only those who disregarded that option received judgment.
• A person or a group of people can be redeemed from the culture receiving a judgment from God (e.g., Rahab and the city of Jericho in Joshua 2).
• Finally, after the warnings and after the offer of mercy, judgment falls on a morally perverse, recalcitrant people.
If the evil actions judged by God in the Old Testament were catapulted into the twenty-first century and broadcast around the world, there would be a global outcry for strong military action to put an immediate end to the atrocities. The world at large would not stand idly by while a nation openly practiced child sacrifice, genocide, human trafficking, and the torture of criminals and war prisoners. If human beings call for severe judgment on national evil, why should God be criticized for carrying it out?

What about some of the other aspects of Dawkins’ caricature of God? Is God misogynistic? No, the Bible says women are equal to men in nature (Genesis 1:27), in value of life (Exodus 21:28), in redemptive status (Galatians 3:28), in spiritual gifting (1 Corinthians 12:1–10), in political leadership (Judges 4:4–7), and in business leadership (Proverbs 31).

Is God infanticidal? No, God declares nothing but love and protection for children, including the unborn (Exodus 21:22–25). The only children to experience judgments from God in the Bible were those whose parents resisted God’s calls for repentance or expulsion from their land.

Is God filicidal? (The reference here is likely to God’s telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.) No, God is not filicidal. Being omniscient, God knew what would happen and that Isaac would not die, but He allowed the episode to be played out to foreshadow the death of God’s Son in the future.

Is God homophobic? No, He offers His grace and redemption to everyone, including homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).

Is God racist? No, He is the Creator of all, and all are made in His image (Genesis 1:27). Racism directly violates the golden rule of loving your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). Caricatures of God as a racist usually revolve around Israel driving out other nationalities from their lands; however, it should be noted that 1) such judgment was carried out only in response to the people’s sin; 2) Israel was held to the same standard and was often punished in the same way (Deuteronomy 9:4–5), so there was no racial favoritism.

Regarding God’s mercy, a little-known fact of the Bible is that the word mercy, as it relates to God and His creation, is used only 70 times in the New Testament but 290 times in the Old Testament. In other words, the Old Testament speaks of God’s mercy four times more often than the New Testament does.

The mercy and love of God were well-known in Old Testament times. The prophet Jonah knew of God’s mercy very well—and he scorned it, at least on one occasion. God had directed Jonah to deliver a warning of judgment to Nineveh, and Jonah resisted at first. Later, Jonah reveals why he had been so reluctant: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah did not want the Ninevites to be saved, but he knew God, in His mercy, was going to save them.

The true God does not resemble Richard Dawkins’ caricature of Him in the slightest. Dawkins’ critique of the God of the Bible serves to show how he and other militant atheists feel about God and His authority. Their view can be summed up in this statement: “There is no God—and I hate him!”

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Is Richard Dawkins’ caricature of the God of the Old Testament accurate?
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This page last updated: April 26, 2021