The Farce of Redemptive Killing

The Farce of Redemptive Killing

Both Passover and Easter have made their yearly spring appearance and there is a great focus on the nice aspects of the holidays. Except at their core is an ugliness that most people would prefer to ignore. 

The story of Passover, so we are told, is God's redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt. Jews recount this story each year with the Passover Seder, replete with readings and explanations from the Hagaddah. We're told in no uncertain terms that the holiday is about freedom from slavery, the first such story in the history of the world. But look at the core of the story and what we have is a story of abject killing by God on behalf of this freedom. What kind of frightful example is this? And what does God have against firstborn sons?

The various plagues that befall Egypt, egged on by a capricious god who makes Pharaoh relent and then go back on his pledge to let the Israelites go, culminates in mass murder. And not just of human children, but also to any living thing. But it's the murder of innocent children that makes this alleged uplifting story of redemption from slavery a complete horror, and its celebration fraudulent. What's worse is all the dissembling that surrounds this story, particularly that of the rabbis over the ages, who were clearly uncomfortable with the act and tried to ameliorate the barbarity of God by reminding the listeners to feel sorry for the Egyptians. This mental acrobatic is accomplished with Seder participants dipping their fingers in a cup of wine and dripping the liquid on a plate at the reading of the Ten Plagues. And God is praised for this act of barbarity and cruelty. By making mass murder an abstract thing, it's easy to escape the reality behind the story. And if one takes the Exodus story as nothing more than myth, than why keep this ugly climax in? Because we humans are self-deceptive creatures, we will squirm our way out of any Biblical unpleasantness and try to label it "symbolic." But no amount of pretending and lexical and ritual tricks will cover up that God "rescues" his people by killing the children of others. We're supposed to consider this is just desserts for the treatment of the Hebrews at the expense of Egyptians. Why does this not bother more people?

And then, of course, there's Christianity, which carries the concept of killing a firstborn to its extreme with the crucifixion of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. The theology is that Jesus (who is God incarnate, which makes him his own father) must die to redeem the sins of mankind. The Passover story is reinterpreted as a foreshadowing of Jesus' passion and death. So, not only does God kill innocent people centuries earlier, but he actually needs to murder his own Son in order to redeem the entire human tribe. 

It does not matter if it was a thousand Egyptian firstborn or a handful: their murder at the command of a Supreme Being for redemptive purposes is as ugly and cruel as needing one final victim (of his Son who is also Himself) to accomplish the same thing. And let's not forget the archetype of this insanity: the near killing of Isaac at the hands of his loving father, Abraham. Again at the behest of God. 

Why do we gloss over these theological issues? To soothe our consciences and insist in some "mystery" as a suitable explanation? Christianity is the only religion in the world whose fundamental starting point is a murder: if anyone says it's the resurrection, well, you can't have a resurrection without a dead body. And this dead body is the result of God's plan and his love for humanity: the killing of a firstborn son. The Passover story can dress itself up as freedom but it's really a long torture story with the Egyptians as the true victims. But we don't celebrate them at all. We blithely say it's all part of the same plan stemming from the same impulse: God's love. This is love? We praise God for killing others for whom he is, ostensibly, Lord over as well? Why are we all so willing to give God a free pass for the killing he metes out? Rather than appreciating spring when Nature comes back to life, so to speak, must we put human death and suffering as an integral part of that cycle? It's mind-boggling that we ignore the ugly side of these two holidays, or pretend that the stories are metaphorical or some such nonsense. The mind-perverting influence of rabbis and Church fathers has denigrated the turning of the season into another occasion for worshipping an apparently diabolical fiend of cosmic proportion. 

And they say the devil is the one to be feared.