Some thoughts on the roots/shoots of genocide

Been thinking about the topic of genocide lately due to a possible symposium talk in near future. If you are like me it is hard to wrap your mind around such a horrific human/group behavior. Just how does one get to the point of being willing to massacre 10 people much less 1,000? How does one become “okay” with mass killing?

I think most would like to believe it is something different from normal human behavior–something in a different category from the rest of humanity. Maybe it comforts us to think of it as a massive work of Satan (it likely is) or a secret political conspiracy that the general population knows nothing of til afterwards.

I suspect, however, that genocidal behavior develops out of some rather basic, even mundane, human tendencies. Here’s the recipe for mass murder, abuse of power, and even use of porn in the privacy of one’s bedroom while acting righteous in public. Duplicity, abuse of power, or any willful sin starts with,

  1. The seed of a perceived problem or threat/loss, and then
  2. Sprouts in the soil of self-focus and deafness or complacency to the needs of others, and then
  3. Bears fruit in warm glow of deception of self and other fertilized by propaganda

Here’s my question to you. What else might I be missing in this “recipe”?


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, cultural apologetics, deception, self-deception

17 responses to “Some thoughts on the roots/shoots of genocide

  1. Jess

    I think you touched on this when you said “deafness or complacency to the needs of others,” but for me an objectification of others is what comes to mind. If someone becomes willing to slaughter an entire group of people it seems that they would have to have, at least on some level, dehumanized and objectified them. The same is true for the person viewing pornography in private, who objectifies those who appear in the images they are viewing.

  2. Scott Knapp

    Genocide is a solution to a problem. A large number of people are persuaded that the problem is common to all of them, and that arriving at a solution is far more beneficial than tolerating the problem. Someone surmises that the problem is caused (en toto or in substantial part) by people who share certain characteristics, usually different from those who believe they’re experiencing the problem. That ‘someone’ shares their views with the mass public, and those who relate to the sentiment jump on board when the solution is presented: eliminate those who share the problematic characteristic. Anticipation of the relief of the problem (benefit) begins to overwhelm moral sensibilities, until carrying out the solution begins to offer adrenaline rushes better than sex…it becomes more than a problem solved: it’s triumph!

    It’s good to pause and recall that on several occasions God used Israel to commit genocide on sinful nations surrounding them, requiring the elimination of men, women, children, cattle, and property, in order to root out and remove “problems” that would infect the nation of Israel and its moral well-being. For God to triumph over an evil culture was entirely warranted, right and exhilarating to those doing the job for Him. As God annihilated the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, He instructed Lot and his family to not even look back as they were leaving the area, which may safely be interpreted as a command to show no sympathy or compassion to those the LORD was destroying. For Lot’s wife to “look back” was to show contempt for the LORD’s decision to destroy.

    Genocide is a solution to a problem…the key to understanding it (on one level, at least) is to know whether the definition of the “problem” is righteous or unrighteous. I don’t claim to have this discernment by any means; Exact certitude is exclusively in the mind of God. Can God use an unrighteous, evil society to mete out His judgment via genocide? Of course. Am I likely to stand by and approve? Hardly. Not knowing the exact mind of God on human events, might I be wrong in my indignation? Possibly. Should I be willing to err? Of course…God will understand.

    • D. Stevenson

      Your final paragraph almost seems like a defense of the possible goodness of the act of genocide.

      I must admit that I have difficulty with God commanding genocide. What is God doing? Is it the same as with the Jews, the Tutsis, the Armenians, and other groups throughout history? Those portions of Scripture are difficult for me, as is the man in the time of the judges who puts his concubine out the door to be raped all night (and she dies from it) while he complacently eats his meal and goes to bed. I’ve heard the explanation that this is just another example in the book of judges of “everyone doing what was right in their own eyes.” And then, how do we explain David’s daughter Tamar? David has sex with another mans wife and then kills her husband when he finds out she is pregnant with his (David’s) child. David suffers consequences for this sin. David also suffers consequences for the sin of taking a census when God told him to not do that. But when David’s son rapes his daughter and David essentially says nothing and does nothing, there are seemingly no consequences for David. Why? What is different? Is this not also sin on David’s part? Does this mean that sexual victimization in the church doesn’t much matter to God?

      • Deb, you might find Chris Wright’s book, “The God I Don’t Understand” helpful or at least useful.

        I don’t think anyone has ease over these passages. I sure don’t. I do know that God does not always explain his reasons for action and inaction and his failure to explain isn’t tacit approval. Why does David get blessed but Saul is condemned. We can explain away but no answer is totally satisfying. Why does Abraham seem to be let off the hook for his various sins but Moses’ whack of the rock is punished. At best we can say no one can tell God he is unjust to punish wickedness when and how he chooses to. And no, one can’t conclude that God doesn’t care about sexual victimization wherever it exists. There are more commands to protect the vulnerable than almost any other topic (and that the failure to do so is a complete violation of the Gospel).


  3. D. Stevenson

    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    A couple portions of Scripture have been especially helpful to me although I still ask questions. One of them is the end of Job. God’s response to Job isn’t to answer Job’s questions but to show Himself to Job and that satisfied. To calm the turmoil of questions, seeing God is enough . When push comes to shove, the bottom line is that God is God and He is Good.

    Not to say that knowing this keeps turmoil from returning or that I never stumble over doubt. Like the Psalmist of chapter 73, I feel pain when seeing the wicked flourish. I read “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” and wonder when. I see predators unstopped, leaving a trail of victims. When the offender is ostensibly a Christian and escapes an accounting in this life I wonder if they are getting off scot-free. That is, as we don’t pay the penalty for our sins because Christ paid the penalty, does this mean that the offender who dies without experiencing any earthly penalty “gets off” for his crime. I wonder if my desire to see “repayment” against the offender shows that I don’t understand how much God has forgiven me, so that I am willing, even desirous for the same forgiveness for the offender. Yet, it doesn’t seem right to allow, for example, a pedophile pastor to escape without consequences.

  4. Scott Knapp

    I think Phil captured some of my intentions with a few of his comments…I’ll add just a bit more.

    Years ago, after I’d attended a Bill Gothard “Youth Conflicts” seminar up in Detroit, I got a birthday card from his organization. The card had the following message on the front: “God’s will is exactly what I would choose, if I were in possession of all the facts!” I’ve had to muse long and hard over that, over the years…God is difficult to box in (if you’re honest) and understand (if you’re humble), and some of the things the Bible clearly depicts Him doing and saying seem awfully out of character with the God I was “taught” to believe Him to be.

    I was “taught” (probably inadvertently, but this is what I picked up) that God made mankind because He needed something to pour out His love and attention upon; He had me in mind when He sent Jesus to the cross at Calvary; He made Heaven for He and I to live together for eternity, where He will someday get around to taking me. While all these notions resemble some modicum of biblical truth, the focus of these notions is still squarely on ME. My theology for many years was man-centered…and so that’s how I understood the role God played in the drama. His actions had to be centered around the benefit of mankind, the destruction of evil (as I understood it) and the eventual fixing of everything that make mankind not happy, healthy and ultimately satisfied. And after doing all that, then we’d have a big party and celebrate His glory for what He’d accomplish for US.

    With that nutty theology rolling around in my cranium, is it any wonder why it might be difficult for me when I run into tough times in life, and remain unsatisfied with being told God is in control, God has a plan, God is good, God will bring good from this awful situation…based on my assumptions of God’s purpose and role in the universe, God was screwing up! Too, it makes those passages in the Bible where God is issuing orders to do the opposite of what I thought His role/purpose required seem like parenthetical insertions that Satan himself must have orchestrated; certainly the ‘God of my understanding’ (as 12-steppers might say) wouldn’t do that.

    I’ve also wondered another thing: how did Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” ever get to the top of the New York Times best seller list (and stay there for quite awhile), starting off with this line: “It’s not about you!” My earlier theology was me-centered; God’s theology is entirely Him-centered; all things exist and happen exclusively for His glory, and my well-being, and even existence, are subservient to that end. As heartless as it may seem, the moment anything or anyone ceases to contribute to the ultimate glory of God, that person or thing has lost substantive reason to exist; continued permission to exist is an act of mercy and grace on God’s part.

    As repulsive as some passages in the Bible may be to me, understanding that God orders all things to first of all bring Him the most possible glory, with all other possible purposes and motives falling in behind this purpose…I’m able to accept that in some way I’ll likely never understand (and far be it from me to imagine I deserve to understand) God was using the situation, or even orchestrating it on purpose, to bring glory to Himself on a universal scale (meaning, glory from the vantage point of an entire created universe, not merely just from the perspective of the creation being affected at the time). That’s too heady for me to grasp…so either I revert to my previous theology, condemn God for acting “out of character” and remain content with a smaller but understandable view of God…or I admit as Job did, when his own contentions with the Almighty were answered with a revelation he really was not “in possession of all the facts”:

    “I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:2-6).

    No other response, in the face of what I cannot understand of God, seems appropriate…though my questions remain unanswered still.

    • D. Stevenson


      Not disagreeing with what you say. In fact, I don’t see it as at odds with what I wrote. He is the potter and I am the clay. What is man that He is mindful of us? And from Romans 9, “Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!”

      Perhaps (likely) neither of us comprehends what the other means. One thing I wonder from what I hear in your words is this. How does the theology expressed here apply to my response to a pedophile pastor?

      I have an answer that I think is compatible with what I hear you saying. I am curious if you have the same answer.

  5. Scott Knapp

    Hey D! I didn’t feel like we were disagreeing at all…your comments simply prompted more thoughts. I’m honored any time my thoughts prompt anything more than an exasperated sigh! 🙂 Please go on to share your application of this discussion, for your conversation with a pedophile pastor…you have my curiosity piqued! I may share a few thoughts back, but I promise my intentions are NOT to correct, tear down or fix your perspective. Also, when I write, I write “long hand,” I don’t think in blurbs and soundbites. I take a lot of flack for not “getting to the point.” Please don’t interpret the longer responses as me thinking I’ll overwhelm your argument with words…you’ve simply inspired more creative engagement. Looking forward to your reply.


    • D. Stevenson

      Hi Scott,
      I need to clarify. I would not, and could not have a conversation with a pedophile if for no other reason than my emotions run high on the subject and I couldn’t remain objective. This was a poor word choice. I didn’t mean -to- the pedophile. I meant -concerning- the pedophile, that is, the response to situation.

      Also, a pedophile is a poor choice for me to use as an example because I think the proper response to this situation is fairly cut and dry. They have committed a crime(s) and need to be turned in to the legal authorities. This is just as true in the church whether a pastor, elder, deacon, Sunday school teacher or parent.

      The secular psychology stance is that once a pedophile, always a pedophile and the only hope is to keep them away from situations where they might again commit that crime. I think there is hope in Christ for even the meanest of sinners. Repentance is possible. The power of the addiction can be broken. Reconciliation is possible.

      I DO NOT think they can be restored to public ministry. I question their repentance if they push for that. Just as secular psychology would recommend, I think they should stay away from situations where they have had strong temptations (and falls) in their past. Because of the love of Christ, I think it is the responsibility of their brothers and sisters in Christ to support them, to help bear their burden, to keep them away from their areas of weakness.

      What I heard in your words likely results from some current triggers. I can see someone saying these same words about God’s will, that our life is about glorifying Him, not ourselves, and their first thought is to “restore the sinner” and counseling the victims to forgive, don’t destroy the person’s ministry. It has happened.

      I guess, my real question is/was, how is “it is all about God, not us” practically applied in the case of the victim of a spiritual leader (whatever the offense) I wondered if what you expressed leaves out the reality that while it may not be about ourselves, but about God’s glory, He is glorified as we bear His image.

      These words came to mind:

      Amos 5:21-24
      “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, And righteousness like a mighty stream.

      I’ve written this response over a period of a few days. That has given me time to realize that it is only my personal trigger-points that caused me to think I heard something that likely isn’t there. Just because people kidnap Scripture and use it for evil doesn’t mean that there is evil in the words.

      As an example – these words, part of a statement by the Westboro Baptist Church group about the shootings in Arizona this weekend.

      “God sent the shooter. Praise God for ALL his works, and BE YE THANKFUL!”

      • Scott Knapp

        I think that though God will weave all of history (the good and the evil) into a tapestry that ultimately brings Him glory (which, in this conversation will include using genocide and even pedophiles), my role is still to grieve over the evil itself, and respond to reality in a manner that seems fitting and proper (as best as I can see it).

        Thinking more specifically of pedophiles, I work with a number of adolescents who prey on young children, and (according to them) plan to continue this awful practice as adults, until either they are satiated in their lust or are prevented from doing so by the law. On only one occasion have I EVER worked with a penitent pedophile who has gone on into adulthood to achieve relative success at controlling his cravings, live a normal heterosexual life, and continue to function in his community as a reasonably responsible citizen…once!

        God can and does continue to pursue persons who have committed awful, sickening and heinous acts of sin toward others (sometimes countless others), and He can/does use penitent sinners in various capacities of ministry. He alone can redeem a hideous past to have some positive impact on others for His good, but the capacity in which that ministry is exercised may/must be limited due to the nature of the past sin.

        A pedophile who is penitent about his past behaviors will continue to honor others (particularly those who fit the profile of his/her preferred victims) by recognizing and not denying an on-going propensity (that may vary in intensity over time) to slip back into that sin, and will take all necessary steps to not expose those folks to risk of his sin’s reprising. That’s an act of love an honor on his/her part, and evidence of true penitence. This is NOT to say that there is no room whatsoever in the area of “ministry” in which a pedophile can be useful and beneficial, and, just as importantly, experience the satisfaction and affirmation that comes with ministering well. Allowing a pedophile, once evidence has been demonstrated of real penitence (at minimum to those with decision-making capacity, if not to the body corporate), repentance, reparations as appropriate, and deep personal change, to return to some appropriate form of Christian service (under very specific restriction and possible more vigorous scrutiny) is the way the Body of Christ honors the Christian who has behaved as a pedophile…and given his status as an image bearer of God, who also has been washed in the blood of the Lamb, he is OWED this by the believing community. Seeing that we were all “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” denying some appropriate form of service to the Body to someone who has committed a sin we personally find repugnant, is nothing short of assuming the judgment role of God Himself. Jesus Himself vetted Peter three times, assessing his heart after his monumental denial of Him at His hour of need, before He restored Peter to his place of ministry.

        I have a friend who spent 15+ years in prison for producing child pornography. He was formerly active in the church we attended in various public capacities. While in prison, he was penitent, he submitted himself to all forms of psychological treatment, he became active in the prison Christian ministry while being very up-front about the sin that put him in prison in the first place (no hypocrisy). He missed the rearing of nearly all his children, their graduations, their weddings, etc. He was routinely denied early parole, in spite of being a model inmate, and was required to remain incarcerated up to the very last day of his sentence. Upon release, he quietly returned to his home, and dutifully registered with the local Sheriff’s Sexual Offender’s Registry. He has been trying to integrate into the community and into the service to the Body for a few years now, and he acknowledges that it is difficult. He accepts his limitations; he recognizes his continuing sexual weaknesses, and tries (with the help of and accountability to, his wife to avoid those circumstances. He has accepted appropriate constraints, and was able to integrate into a new local Body, assume appropriate roles of service with acceptable levels of scrutiny and accountability, and has returned to a place in which he feels “God’s pleasure” once again (as Eric Liddell of “Chariots of Fire” said about running fast!).

        There’s a poignant dialogue in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” between Bob Cratchit and his wife, while Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present silently look on. Bob Crachit has just arrived home from church on Christmas Day, and had been carrying his lame son, Tiny Tim, on his shoulders. After the children scamper out of the room, Mrs. Cratchit inquires about how Tiny Tim behaved in church:

        “And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content. “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”

        I wonder whether Saints who have behaved as pedophiles, thieves, cheats, adulterers, etc., but have legitimately repented and returned humbly to the Body, with hat in hand, looking for an appropriate opportunity to find productive service, can be used by God like Tiny Tim, to remind us all that we are no less deserving to condemnation, and should be grateful that the Lord took the greatest risk of all by restoring us: the risk that we may once again mar His glory with our return to sin.

        As awful and hideous as the damage done to image-bearers by the “worst” of sinners, so long as we continue to view human “damage” as a worse affront and offense than the damage to the glory and honor of God, we’ll likely never appreciate the mercy shown to us by our own affronts, nor will we be able to forgive and honor others who’ve offended us. It really is “all about Him.”

  6. Ryan

    Genocide is a no-nuanced, restriction-free, and more large scale happening of what goes on in my own heart when I am angry at anyone. It is pride, power, and bitterness run amok.

    • D. Stevenson

      I don’t know about that. I’ll admit to the pride, power and bitterness. However, I am fairly certain that taking that on to actual murder would not be my next step even if the majority of society approved. If so, is it only because current morals of society are well-ingrained in me? Possibly. Is it so because I have the Holy Spirit operating in my life? Hopefully, and I think, probably. However, in both cases I also could probably reach the point where I would participate in murder. The pressures of society around me could wash away my moral inhibitions. I could ignore the Holy Spirit and go my own way. However, neither of these possibilities would be a one-step process. My concern is to know the steps from A-Z. I want to avoid even the first step on that path. Does that start at C or D, right at B, or even A? In addition to my desire to avoid, I want to know what that path looks like so that if my eyes are opened from deception even when I am as far down as M, or P, or even W or Y, I can know to turn back and run fast for A.

      • Scott Knapp

        Ryan may have been thinking of the following passage from James 4:

        “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?”

        The flesh has the capacity for unsearchable evil, if left unrestrained. The sweetest grandma might surpass the evil of Adolph Hitler, given the depth of depravity in her unregenerate human soul. When evil in the unregenerate soul is restrained (either by societal pressures, the Holy Spirit, or lack of opportunity) humans typically congratulate themselves on their piety and altruism, not grasping the fact that any goodness (or lack of badness) that can be accomplished without full surrender to God is merely God preventing the worst possible scenario from occurring.

        James saw this, and thus he put the petal to the metal in his analogy. It’s doubtful everyone James wrote to actually did commit “murder” in response to lustful cravings, but I think he implied the potential is present in everyone walking in the “flesh”, whether they are saved or not; this potential is blessedly restrained in believers by the presence of the Holy Spirit within, but might be unleashed when the believer chooses to quench the Spirit and “walk on the wild side,” a very dangerous, precarious place to walk! And, of course, the unregenerate non-believer has no such hope to restrain such evil, apart from the Spirit reigning in general societal evil, until the time Scripture points to, when the Spirit releases evil to wreak total havoc on the earth, at which time the unregenerate person will be “reved to the red line” (to borrow another automotive term) of evil, and will have no capacity whatsoever to stop or slow it’s course.

  7. D. Stevenson

    I am 100% with you, except maybe the Eric Liddell quote. 🙂

    I wish church leaders (that I am thinking of) understood these things you say. I am thinking of the attitude that ignores the needs of the victims and instead focus on “restoring the sinner to ministry.” There is seemingly no view towards consequences, such as you delineate. Even worse than ignoring the victims, they imply or even say that the victim is destroying the ministry of the “pastor/pedophile”

    This is what I am addressing with the Micah 5 passage.
    These leaders do the sacred assemblies, fatted peace offering and songs and they have mastered the accent of the shibboleth. Yet they overlook justice and righteousness. In the name of God they are perverting the message of the gospel. Somehow they don’t see that it is righteousness and justice that glorifies God, not the facade they present to the world.

    Recognizing ALL sin as horrific, whether it is the sin of pedophilia or the sin of living life ignoring His call, is an essential part of the Gospel. What is our salvation if there is nothing we need saved from?

    I had the opportunity to be with a group of Christian people who struggle with same-sex attraction. It was awesome to worship with them. It is awesome to recognize His GRACE in the face, in the place of, my sin. When God grants us a glimpse of His holiness, like Isaiah we fall down before Him. Our only hope, His atonement.

    • Scott Knapp

      Great points (hacking on Eric Liddell, notwithstanding!)! I am old enough to remember when televangelist Jimmy Swaggart got nailed by a police officer driving his Jag with a bunch of porn magazines and a hooker in the passenger seat. He went on his TV show and bawled his eyes out, claiming repentence was his top priority. His denomination (AoG, I believe) demanded that he submit to church discipline, and relinquish day-to-day control of the ministry he was heading. He refused, and chose to continue heading up “my ministry” as he called it. It struck me that Swaggart was confusing his “business” (which included his TV ministry, church ministry, books and tapes sales, phone counseling, etc.) with his “ministry” of inspiring and helping others. He set the rules for how much “repentance” was enough, and how much humility was too much to tolerate. Some days I thought the world would have been far better off if Jimmy had just joined his cousin, Jerry Lee Lewis, and gone on tour backing Jerry up on “Great Balls of Fire!”

      • D. Stevenson

        –(hacking on Eric Liddell, notwithstanding!)! —

        Au contraire my friend. It is thee that dost hacketh. 🙂 I’m certain that MY application of the quote is the only correct one. 😉

        In seriousness, the statement “When I run I feel His pleasure.” is meaningful to me.
        From Eric’s sister, I heard the same sentiments that I heard growing up. Good Christians are in “full-time ministry.” At the very least you teach Sunday School. The very best is to be a missionary. Anything less is, well, less, lower caste Christian.

        The Eric Liddell statement is one of the things for me that added towards better understanding of truth about “ministry/serving Him/glorifying Him.” It added another dimension to what someone had pointed out to me in Psalm 148:9 Psalm 148:9 references the Cedars of Lebanon praising God. How do Cedar trees praise God? By being Cedar trees! God put running into His unique creation Eric. God is pleased when we evidence the beauty of His creation.

        “Sweet sister of mine,” Eric might say. “Yes, God is pleased when I preach. I have preached, will again preach and He will be pleased. Now, at this time, He is pleased when I run. “

  8. Scott Knapp

    Good thoughts! I can even hear the Scotish brogue in the hypothetical quotes!

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