[The author of the following piece shared it with me and agreed to allow me to include it here, where it is published for the first time. - Richard Packham]
April 25th, 1999This past week two bright, talented young men, who had drifted into a dark isolated subculture of violent fantasy, came into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado heavily armed with guns and bombs. Before their rampage was over, they had killed twelve students, one teacher, and then killed themselves. It is a shocking, numbing, and tragic event. I found myself in tears several times watching the news and reading the stories of the kids who were killed, the kids who did the killing, and the ones (both teachers and students) who risked their lives to try and save others. One young woman was allegedly killed because the killer asked if she believed in God. When she answered that she did, he shot her. Another young woman begged for her life so the killer shot the kid next to her instead. Today an estimated forty to sixty thousand people came out in the rain and snow to participate in a memorial service. Thousands have attended church services every day since the shooting. Editorials in the Denver Post today from three liberal and one conservative nationally syndicated writers called for a return to God, family, and discipline. William Raspberry, a liberal black writer, noted that people instinctively went to churches after the tragedy rather than to city hall.
I have thought a lot about violence--even before the tragedy at Columbine High School. And I wonder if the answers are, as some people assert, to be found in our Judeo-Christian tradition. In my view, it is hard to imagine a system of supposedly elevating beliefs more preoccupied with violent resolution of conflict.
One of the first stories children learn from the bible is the story of Noah, where God, in his anger, kills every living thing on the earth but Noah and a few animals because he is disappointed with the actions of his children. In a strange twist that must be terribly confusing to a child in Sunday School, we are told that God killed his children because he loved them. Few stories in the bible are more revered than the portrayal of Godís absolute victory over the evil in Sodom and Gomorrah. Here again God is venerated by Muslims, Christians, and descendants of Israel for his violent destruction of the offending cities and all their inhabitants--except for Lot and his daughters. The violence left the land so desolate that Lotís daughters decided only they and their father survived. In order to prevent the extinction of mankind, the daughters seduce their father and bear his children.
When Jacobís daughter took up with a local gentile prince, Jacobís offended sons spread the rumor that their sister was raped and then killed every man and boy in the city where the prince lived. These sons go on to father the chosen family of God through the promise to Abraham. At Israelís return to the Promised Land, God commands them to kill the current inhabitants, slaughter their animals, and destroy their crops. When Israel wavers in their Godly assigned duty of ethnic cleansing, God condemns them and arranges violent, bloody punishments that continue for 1400 years.
At various times God promises that his punishments on his wayward children will be so brutal that suckling babies will be torn from their motherís breasts and cut to pieces in front of their sobbing parents before the parents are brutally killed. God also says that pregnant women will be cut open and their issue cut to pieces before they can be born and grow up to offend him.
Even the atonement, the crowning event in Christianity, required that an innocent life be taken in the cruelest, most heinous manner imaginable. God is venerated for having loved his only begotten son enough to allow the crucifixion to happen because his plan required it. This expression of love from the same God who is supposed to have incited his agents to tear the unborn from their motherís wombs so they would not grow up to disappoint him.
The legacy of seemingly senseless killing to achieve a sometimes incomprehensible divine mandate continues in Mormonismís Book of Mormon, most notably with the God-directive for Nephi to kill the drunken Laban with his own sword. After being stirred into a frenzy of vengeful paranoia in 1857, a handful of Latter-Day extremists orchestrated the murder of 120 innocent men, women, and young adults at Mountain Meadow. When the event was reported to Mormon leader Brigham Young, his scribe recorded that he said, "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord--and I have taken a little."
Christian crusades, the Holocaust, blacks enslaved and killed on a whim, 35 million indigenous people killed on this continent to fulfill Godís assumed promise for a land of manifest destiny for white Europeans, Muslim holy wars, Mountain Meadow, and the violent establishment of a Jewish state are the legacies of our Judeo-Christian heritage. From the beginning of recorded biblical history, God is portrayed as having ordained a campaign of bloody destruction for those who offend or disappoint him. Christians, descendants of Israel, and Muslims fervently anticipate an end-time when God is expected to usher in his kingdom with the wholesale slaughter of all who have failed to obey him--along with many simply good people who will be killed in consequence of the magnitude of the carnage. Even the Prince of Peace is recorded as having promised to turn father against son, mother against daughter, and siblings against each other in violent confrontations leading to the death and destruction of many.
Combine these messages of divinely-sanctioned violence against those who offend Godís (or our) sense of right with the pervasive propaganda spread by the psychopathic cults of hate, and one has to ask where impressionable young minds will find an oracle of non-violence.
In my quiet moments of mediation, I have found a God wholly incapable of violence against his creations--much less his own children. I am convinced that the purported divinely sanctioned violence and carnage found in the Judeo-Christian tradition is, in reality, a heinous blasphemy concocted by self-righteous sociopaths to justify their murderous acts and dispositions.
It strikes me as a strange irony that thousands, if not millions, of people in Littleton, Colorado, across the United States, and around the world flocked to sanctuaries to pray for solace from a God many of them expect to shortly unleash legions of impatient heavenly warriors to execute a vengeful carnage of such a magnitude that few, even of the just, will survive. I wonder: Who will introduce young people to a God of non-violence--in fact, a God who holds not only himself but his children accountable for their acts of violence. Should we be surprised if this is not the last time we have a Columbine High School?
For other articles on this theme, see:
Morality and Religion: Can we raise moral children without religion?
God: An Abusive Parent: How the Christian/Bible God is like an abusive parent.
"Gus And His Friends, A Parable Drama";   Gus is such a great guy - he wants everyone to be his friend, and he'll kill you if you aren't.