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I watched Christopher Hitchens the other day on YouTube. The “Arch Bishop of Anti-Theism” remarked that the Jewish G-d was a genocidal megalomaniac and bemoaned how anyone could worship such a terrible deity.
Ironically, Christopher Hitchens is Jewish. But that’s a whole other story.
If you read Parshat Ekev, you’re left wondering if he’s right. The Hebrews are about to enter the promised land, and Moses is telling them to do some pretty cruel things to the Canaanites on G-d’s behalf. “You shall not spare them…no man will be able to stand up before you until you have destroyed them…their gods you will burn with fire…you shall drive out those nations from before you” (Deuteronomy 7:16-22).
So I guess you’re right, Hitch. G-d, it seems, doesn’t have a lot of loving-kindness for the Canaanites.
If you have the chance, watch a documentary called The Bible’s Buried Secrets and you’ll learn something interesting about the ancient Israelites: they weren’t exactly the mighty warriors that the Bible talks about. In fact, they were shepherds, outcasts, nomads, serfs…people on the fringes of society.
I know a little bit about people on society’s fringe. I’ve spent a good bit of my life there, as a nerd, a weirdo, a freak, a rocker, an artist. I think my teen years were the culmination of all of these identities.
Anyway, these are the people today who sit on the outside of society. Something we all have in common: we like stories that give us strength. We generally feel powerless, whether it’s powerless over some popular kid at school, a loudmouth boss at work that won’t leave you alone, whatever. So we come up with elaborate stories that give us a sense of belonging, a sense of unity with people in our struggle, and ultimately, stories where we win in the end. Pop culture is filled with these stories: Revenge of the Nerds, Napoleon Dynamite, American Splendor, Ghost World, SLC Punk…these are our “Parshat Ekevs” (or would that be Ekevot?)
Imagine what it must have been like to be a beaten up surf in the Bronze Age, a social pariah of your time, totally worthless to any community you tried to belong to, and then have someone tell you that you are chosen specially by the one true G-d who believes in you and that you are actually the descendent of mighty warriors. Sounds pretty rad to me.
So yes, Hitch, this G-d seems like a tyrant. But when life won’t stop beating you up, it’s nice to know that you have some muscle on your side and that you belong to something bigger than yourself.