Since leaving Christianity, I have become acutely aware of the strange disconnect that believers have with the violent acts of the Bible. It seems that no matter how horrid the atrocity, once sugar-coated with divine approval, Christians swallow it quite easily. Another factor in Christians’ blithe acceptance of violence is that the blood-soaked events in the Bible have been depersonalized and spiritualized; reduced to mere props in service of religious lessons. Empathy for the suffering in stories such as the worldwide destruction of living creatures in the flood story, the killing of the Egyptian firstborn, and the genocidal stories of Canaanite conquest is pretty much absent from the thinking of the average Christian.
The willingness of evangelical believers to overlook atrocities in their holy book, coupled with their vigorous support for war, torture, and capital punishment, is quite troubling. Perhaps these “New Testament” believers are still in some way connected to the bloody and vengeful instincts of the Old Testament.
Today, as we remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the 9/11 attacks by 19 terrorists, I would like to point out something lost on many Christians. Samson is listed as a hero of the faith in Hebrews 11:32. Never mind his sordid history of visiting prostitutes, killing men so that he could steal their clothing to pay a bet, being cruel to animals by lighting the tails of 300 foxes on fire, so that he could release them to burn the crops of the Philistines. He is a man of faith… apparently.
Let us consider his ‘crowning’ achievement, and connect the dots with the religiously-motivated actions of the 9/11 hijackers. They too were men faith, devoted to their god. Men who praised their god as they slit throats and flew planes into skyscrapers.
Samson’s final act is recorded in Judges 16. Shorn of magical strength, by a haircut, he has had his eyes put out, and is imprisoned by his enemies, the Philistines. Interestingly, the location of his imprisonment is Gaza. In a bit of foreshadowing, the author of Judges tells us that his hair has begun to grow again.
The Philistine rulers held a great festival, offering sacrifices and praising their god, Dagon. They said, “Our god has given us victory over our enemy Samson!” When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, “Our god has delivered our enemy to us! The one who killed so many of us is now in our power!” Half drunk by now, the people demanded, “Bring out Samson so he can amuse us!” So he was brought from the prison to amuse them, and they had him stand between the pillars supporting the roof. Samson said to the young servant who was leading him by the hand, “Place my hands against the pillars that hold up the temple. I want to rest against them.”Judges 16:23-26 (NLT)
And so, we come to Samson’s final act; his transformation from foolish womanizer, to sainted hero of the faith. That act of course, involved killing lots of people; a killing empowered and approved of by his god.
Then Samson prayed to the Lord, “Sovereign Lord, remember me again. O God, please strengthen me just one more time. With one blow let me pay back the Philistines for the loss of my two eyes.” he prayed, “Let me die with the Philistines.” And the temple crashed down on the Philistine rulers and all the people. So he killed more people when he died than he had during his entire lifetime.Judges 16:28-30 (NLT)
By the way, I purposefully omitted verse 27. It reads like this:
Now the temple was completely filled with people. All the Philistine rulers were there, and there were about 3,000 men and women on the roof who were watching as Samson amused them.
That’s right. Samson was the original religiously-motivated terrorist, bringing a building crashing down, and supposedly killing the same amount of people as died on 9/11. Three thousand deaths in retaliation for the loss of his two eyes. Seems proportional – right? Anyway, God was ‘glorified’ and Samson earned his place in the Faith Hall of Fame. The Christian acceptance of the violent, vengeful acts contained in the Bible give them much more in common with the current actions of violence committed in the name of Allah, than they realize.
Written by J. M. Green