Posted by: rogermitchell | November 9, 2011

the abominable poppy (iii) the Western nation state and the ancient Canaanites

Among the most difficult of the Old Testament narratives from the perspective of mercy and justice, are the accounts of the destruction of the Canaanite peoples, that it is hard to describe as anything less than legitimated genocide. The accounts in Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 18 which seemingly justify this in terms of extremes of sexual immorality and occultism which would otherwise pollute the earth and its peoples, consist of lists of activities that culminate in a single common factor, the blood sacrifice of children, as in “You shall not give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech” (Lev 18:21) or “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire” (Deut 18:10; see also 2 Kings 23:10, Jer 32:35).

My considered exegetical practice, which regular visitors to this blog will by now be familiar with, leads me to bring these narratives, like the rest of the Old Testament, to the testimony of Jesus, difficult as they are, and to look for their fulfilment in him. From this perspective, the mercy and justice of Jesus’ kenotic life is discovered to present the only antidote for an approach to governance that requires the sacrifice of ones children to placate the deity or deities whose benevolence is deemed necessary for the endurance and prosperity of a particular people group. The stories indicate that such practices and the nations who promulgate them are so destructive to themselves and the rest of humanity that they would need removing if there was not an alternative way to counter and overwhelm their disastrous lifestyle. The application of the Jesus hermeneutic suggests that the kenotic love exemplified in Jesus and his cross fully accomplishes this, and that the consumption of violence in himself is the eternal choice of the divine nature.

This makes, in my view, the genocide of people groups who depend on and promulgate the sacrifice of children, as depicted by the Old Testament narratives, clearly sub-Christian. This raises some very important issues for ongoing dialogue in future blog posts and comments. But whatever we may conclude from these, what is clear for the purposes of this post is that the current Western practice of passing our children through the fire of war to defend and uphold the West identifies ancient Canaanite society and contemporary Western nation states as of the same sociopolitical order. To summarise, the Western nation states, including the modern state of Israel, and the Canaanite nations apparently destroyed by Old Testament Israel, appear to be undergirded by the same sacrificial practice. It follows that apart from God’s merciful, kenarchic rule, manifest in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, they do not deserve to exist.

This gift of mercy clearly needs understanding and applying again to our contemporary Western nation states. But to suggest that the sacrifice of our sons and daughters to defend and replicate these societies is worthy of commemoration, or somehow intrinsically Christian, is morally repugnant. To go further and attempt to claim the moral high ground over other societies in the Middle east, Africa or elsewhere in the world is utterly hypocritical. It completely misrepresents God and the gospel.


  1. Compelling.
    Once we recognise empire for what it really is, such argument is irrefutable.

  2. I was thinking about the sacrifice of children all day as I taught young people for 5 straight hours. I think we have to expand the means by which we understand the sacrifice of the young adult generation (or children). We, in the developed world have likely sacrificed all future generations at this point. The lastest reports out say that if we do not shift away from fossil fuels in the next 5 years we will not be able to counter climate change shifts. Think of all the countries that are hemming and hawing and proclaim, that yes, in the next 20 or 30 or 40 years, maybe, quite possibly, they will shift economically and politically in such a way that perhaps, maybe, possibly, we will address climate change. In other words, we, my generation, love our comfortable lives too much to avoid the sacrifice of our infants, toddlers, children, teens, and young adults to the god of consumption, particularly the consumption of fossil fuels. We are happy and content to toss them all into the fire, to let them die so that we can finish our lives without any duress. But the joke is on us isn’t it. We, my generation, will face the changes in the climate with all of the severe weather, loss of food supplies, lack of water and everything else in our most vulnerable, elderly years. Will the children we tossed into the fire be willing to sustain us at that point?

    War is not the greatest killer of our young people – climate change will outstrip that in every way. Like committed Baal worshippers we have done it. We have done it politely, obliviously, with great verbal commitment to their welfare. But we have done it. We live as liars. I realized recently that most people I know agree that human activities are driving climate change. And they agree that humans need to change their behaviours. And few of them would want to ever be considered a climate change denier. But their lifestyles betray them. They live as if climate change is not occurring, as if their children and grandchildren will not pay the price for their refusal to change how they live. They live as if we still have a choice about all of this. So they, we, my generation, live as climate change deniers no matter what we say about what we believe.

    I am Canadian. Generally, I say that with pride. But right now I am ashamed. Canada is the location of the Tar Sands development. It is considered the greatest ecological disaster on the planet. It is set to double in size. Scientists say that if the Tar Sands continue to be developed it is ‘game over’ in regards to climate change. In our worship of the god of fossil fuel consumption we are happy not only to sacrifice our Canadian children but we greedily consume and sacrifice the children of everyone else on the planet.

    Our good Christian Prime MInister, Stephen Harper, is enchanted with the Tar Sands development. He has compared it to the Egyptian pyramids which I guess means he sees himself as Pharoah. Good Christian Stephen Harper looks forward to the ongoing and increased development of the Tar Sands by his best buddies, the guys who run the large fossil fuel industries. In truth the Prime Minister is a baal worshipper and is happily consuming all future generations in his quest for power and glory.. . .just like a Pharoah would.

    I realized recently, that if you take the lastest report seriously, that we have 5 years at most to shift, then the development of the Tar Sands has to count as a crime against humanity, worthy of prosecution. To understand how empire is being acted out today we need to go beyond war to see how future generations are truly being abandoned to the fire so that we can continue to live as we like.

  3. You are right as I see it. War, law and money all combine together in our Western system to preserve maximum personal autonomy at the expense of life itself. This Christendom engendered biopolitics is the consequence of the marriage of church and empire and its outworking through the centuries. For us 21st century apprentices of Jesus (as the Message translation renders disciples) the gift of our lives in the opposite spirit to empire is necessary for our own integrity and for the sake of the earth and its children.

  4. You know the system must be feeling vulnerable at the moment (rightly so) as here in Canada I noticed a real shift in how Remembrance day was handled. Normally, it is barely acknowledged, has little import. But this year there was a big lead up to it in the media. The buses had flashing signs on them ‘lest we forget’, the motto now of Remembrance Day. Yes, the buses had to remind us for weeks ahead of time to not forget. There was lots of coverage, lots of publicity for something that is normally fairly quiet. Makes me think that foundations are rocking and everyone is rushing around trying to wallpaper over the cracks. c.

  5. I briefly responded to your recent post over on my blog. You asked me to notify you, but I couldn’t find a better way than by dropping a comment over here.

    • Thanks for the reply, I have briefly replied back, but the issues obviously require more exposition and discussion. My book, which will be available later this month, sets out the thesis of what I refer to the subsumption of transcendence by sovereignty and explores the predication on immanence that transpired in reaction. On this premise transcendence and immanence are not the countervailing opposites that they have appeared to be. In consequence Agamben’s work on immanence is not necessarily separate from an understanding of transcendence but can rather help us understand it’s true nature. Similarly his critique of what I take to be subsumed transcendence can help us to understand and resist it in order to reconfigure the true.

  6. Wish this was true here in the UK. Instead this was the biggest year ever for poppy sales: over forty million, although I’m not sure how that’s actually calculated. Pushed by the media for sure, but also by the awful realities of the deaths in Afghanistan. Trouble is that people are aware that the alternative to honouring and commemorating is the shocking conclusion that this is a total waste and the West is unsustainable. Most people can’t take that yet. But soon they will have to, and we need to be ready to help the multitude when it dawns on them that the system is as usual failing them utterly.

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