Stalking the Wild Taboo - John Hartung - Love Thy Neighbor: The Evolution of In-Group Morality

Love Thy Neighbor
The Evolution of In-Group Morality

By John Hartung
Skeptic, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1995

"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
-Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 1670


The world's major religions espouse a moral code which includes injunctions against murder, theft and lying. Or so conventional 19th- and 20th-century Western wisdom would have it. Evidence put forth here argues that this convention is a conceit which does not apply to the West's own religious foundations. In particular, rules against murder, theft, and lying codified by the Ten Commandments were intended to apply only within a cooperating group for the purpose of enabling that group to compete successfully against other groups. In addition, this in-group morality has functioned, both historically and by express intent, to create adverse circumstances between groups by actively promoting murder, theft, and lying as tools of competition. Contemporary efforts to present Judeo-Christian in-group morality as universal morality defy the plain meaning of the texts upon which Judaism and Christianity are based. Accordingly, this effort is ultimately hopeless.

Note: For a paper copy of "Love Thy Neighbor: The Evolution of In-Group Morality" with published criticism and a response by the author- and it's sequel "Prospects for Existence: Morality and Genetic Engineering," including a section that was censored by the editor of SKEPTIC, please send a stamped (5oz=$1.24 in US), self addressed envelope to John Hartung, box 6, SUNY HSCB, 450 Clarkson Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11203

A Look in the Mirror

Southern Baptists recently counted the number of people expected to go to hell from Alabama-a whopping 46.1%, or 1.86 million souls. The New York Times (1993) explained how: "The study took each county's population and subtracted from it the membership of all churches. After that, Baptist researchers used a secret formula to estimate how many people from different denominations and faiths were probably going to heaven." Newsday (1993) reported that based on this calculation "a higher percentage of Methodists are saved than are Roman Catholics" and that "virtually everyone not belonging to a church congregation was counted among the lost."

And according to the New York Times, when thousands of the world's clerical leaders gathered at the second World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago one hundred years after the first such gathering in 1893, "Evangelical and fundamentalist Christian churches that are embraced by many Americans shunned the gathering on theological grounds, and the established centrist and liberal denominations, like the Episcopalians and Methodists that have usually supported interfaith talks, were scarcely visible."

Eastern Orthodox Christians came, but left en masse when they found themselves in the company of "neo-pagans," and Jewish groups withdrew when the Nation of Islam showed up. Sikhs and Hindus stayed but tried to push each other out of the convention center (physically), and the Dalai Lama astutely concluded "Nonsense!" in response to his own question: "If we have conflicts in the name of religion, can we help resolve other problems?" (Steinfels, 1993, p. 93).

Nonsense indeed, but finger pointing can be useful if one is facing a mirror. If each of the world's families tends to its own backyard before the neighborhood inspection begins, we may all be able to live together. To that end we in the West should inspect Judaism and its demographically dominant offshoot, Christianity, before criticizing other religions.

Who Is Thy Neighbor?

When grade school twins help each other put a puzzle together, same-sex fraternal twins use the word I a lot, pull the puzzle away from each other, tussle over pieces that look like they will fit, take a long time to get the job done, and are not particularly pleased with the result. In distinction, identical twins use we a lot, keep the puzzle between themselves, hand each other fitting pieces, get the job done quickly, and seem pleased with their accomplishment (Segal 1984).

Evolutionary theorists argue that identical twins will naturally treat each other according to the gold standard of morality: "love thy neighbor as thyself." In kin selection terms, such twins have no room for conflict because their "degree of relatedness," or "r" is 100% (r=1) (Hamilton, 1964). Their self-interests are identical with their concern for each other, because each twin is as genetically related to their twin's offspring as they are to their own. For identical twins, to help thy other is to help thyself.

The phrase Love thy neighbor as thyself comes from the Torah.1 The word Torah means law, and the Torah is the Law. If Moses had been transmitting the word of his god to modern biologists, he might have said "Love your neighbor as if r=1-as if all of your genes are identical." According to the ancient Israelites' autobiographical ethnography, this was the general principle from which prohibitions against murder, theft, and lying were derived. But who qualifies for this apex of morality? Who is thy neighbor?

Most contemporary Jews and Christians, both of whom have the highest regard for the god of the Torah, answer that the law applies to everybody, as spelled out in the following excerpt from a Christian-authored promotion for the Committee for Judaism and Social Justice (Walz, 1992; for a more elaborate but ideologically identical interpretation, see Hefner, 1991): "It is upon the Biblical command to 'love your neighbor as yourself'-starting in the family and extending to the community, the business world and ultimately international affairs-that the Committee for Judaism and Social Justice is depending for its growth."

But when the Israelites received the love law, they were isolated in a desert.2 According to the account, they lived in tents clustered by extended families, they had no non-Israelite neighbors, and dissention was rife. Internecine fighting became rather vicious, with about 3,000 killed in a single episode (Exodus 32:26-28).3 Most of the troops wanted to "choose a [new] captain and go back to Egypt" (Numbers 14:4). But their old captain, Moses, preferred group cohesion.

If we want to know who Moses thought his god meant by neighbor, the law must be put into context, and the minimum context that makes sense is the biblical verse from which the love law is so frequently extracted. Here are four translations of Leviticus 19:18:

Thou Shalt Not Kill Who?

In context, neighbor meant "the children of thy people," "the sons of your own people," "your countrymen"-in other words, fellow in-group members. Specific laws which follow from the love law can be better understood by keeping the in-group definition of neighbor in mind. Consider the proto-legal portion of The Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:17-21; JPS '17 & KJV):

Thou shalt not kill.
Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
Neither shalt thou steal.
Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.

And add the realization that the scrolls from which these words were translated have no periods, no commas, and no first-word capitalization. (Decisions about where sentences and paragraphs begin and end are courtesy of the translator.) Accordingly, instead of being written as five separate paragraphs of one sentence each, without changing any of the words, Deuteronomy 5:17-21 could be translated:

Thou shalt not kill, neither shalt thou commit adultery, neither shalt thou steal, neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. Neither shall you covet your neighbor's wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's.

Here the question, "Thou shalt not kill who?" is answered "Thou shalt not kill thy neighbor-the children of thy people, your countrymen, your fellow in-group member."

How unconventional is this interpretation? Not very. The rabbis of the Talmud determined that an Israelite was not liable for murder unless he intentionally killed a fellow Israelite. Indeed, if an Israelite intended to kill a non-Israelite, but killed an Israelite by mistake, he was not guilty of murder. The law (Mishna) is explicit in this regard (Sanhedrin 79a):

If he intended killing an animal but slew a man, or a heathen and he killed an Israelite…he is not liable.

And the discussion (Gemara) of this law gives a clear example:

This excludes [from liability] the case of one who threw a stone into the midst of a company of Israelites and heathens. How is this? Shall we say that the company consisted of nine heathens and one Israelite? Then his non-liability can be inferred from the fact that the majority were heathens.

So if a defendant admits to having killed a fellow in-group member by throwing a stone, his plea of innocence should be accepted if there is reason to believe that he was aiming at an out-group member. In this regard, the rabbis of the Talmud, who are traditionally designated the Sages, took an extraordinarily lenient view of what would constitute evidence of intent, extending credibility to a perpetrator even if there was only one out-group member in the company of nine in-group members (Sanhedrin 79a, Baba Kamma 44b):

And even if half and half, when there is doubt in a capital charge, a lenient attitude must be taken!…if there were nine Jews and one heathen…still, since there was among them one heathen, he was an essential part of the group, and essential part is reckoned as equivalent to half, and where there is doubt in a criminal charge the accused has the benefit.

As one might expect, the law for inadvertent killing was not symmetrical. If an out-group member accidentally killed an in-group member, he was guilty of murder one. Maimonides, whose summarizations and condensations of the Torah and the Talmud are generally accepted as authoritative, put the point succinctly (Book of Torts 5:5:4): "If a resident alien slays an Israelite inadvertently, he must be put to death in spite of his inadvertence." The Book of Judges (5:9:4) confirms this:

A Noahide [non-Jew] who kills a person, even if he kills an embryo in the mother's womb, is put to death. So too, if he kills one suffering from a fatal disease…he is put to death. In none of these cases is an Israelite put to death.

Who Is Human?

The Sages perceived their god as having given his people a special fierceness. As explained by Rabbi Simeon, "There are three distinguished in fierceness: Israel among the nations, the dog among animals, and the cock among birds" (Bezah 25b). The Yanomamo Indians, who inhabit the headwaters of the Amazon, traditionally believe that they are fierce, and that they are the only fully qualified people on earth. The word Yanomamo, in fact, means man, and non-Yanomamo are viewed as a form of degenerated Yanomamo (Chagnon, 1992). A similar theme runs throughout Judeo-Christianity. Although many Jews have been killed by Christians who perceived their god to have changed his choice, the original theme of God's chosen people was developed in the Torah and promoted a not-fully-human perception of out-group members.

Maimonides had a penchant for omitting rulings and opinions that were not politically correct by 12th-century standards, yet he was often more explicit than the Talmud, especially when stating rules that the Sages assumed would be taken for granted. Consider his exegesis of the intent of the commandment against murder (Torts 5:1:1, 5:2:11):

If one slays a single Israelite, he transgresses a negative commandment, for Scripture says, Thou shalt not murder. If one murders willfully in the presence of witnesses, he is put to death by the sword…Needless to say, one is not put to death if he kills a heathen.

In most recent translations of Maimonides' Codes, the words "single Israelite" are replaced by "human being" in the above passage (e.g., translation by Klein, 1954, p. 195 and note 1, p. 273), and the clarification regarding heathens is relegated to the editing room floor (e.g., Chavel, 1990). This suggests an effort to convert in-group morality into general morality by strategically mistranslating and editing original documents. However, in one of Maimonides' hand-written manuscripts, referred to as The Oxford Codex, the text reads "single Israelite" as distinct from "human being" and cannot be translated otherwise unless a translator accepts the Talmudic argument that only in-group members qualify as human beings. Even then, such an ideological translation requires taking the liberty of inserting this understanding without putting readers on notice that the translation is not literal.

The Sages were quite explicit about their view that non-Jews were not to be considered fully human. Whether referring to "gentiles," "idolaters," or "heathens," the biblical passage which reads "And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God," (Ezekiel 34:31; KJV) is augmented to read (italics in original): "And ye my flock, the flock of my pastures, are men; only ye are designated 'men'" (Baba Mezia 114b). Or: "And ye My sheep the sheep of My pasture, are men; you are called men* but the idolaters are not called men." [Footnote in original: *…only an Israelite, who as a worshipper of the true God, can be said to have been like Adam, created in the image of God. Idol worshippers, having marred the Divine image, forfeit all claim to this appellation (Yebamoth 61a).] Or, again with explanation from a footnote (parentheses and italics in original):

…in the case of heathens; are they not in the category of adam?-No, it is written: And ye my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are adam (man).* Ye are called adam but heathens are not called adam. [Footnote reads: *…The term adam does not denote 'man' but Israelite. The term adam is used to denote man made in the image of God and heathens by their idolatry and idolatrous conduct mar this divine image and forfeit the designation adam (Kerithoth 6b).]

Indeed, the Hebrew word adam appears 106 times in the Torah, referring to the character Adam only 14 times. The other 92 occurrences of the word adam translate as man or men, usually referring to Israelites generally, as distinct from designating gender.

East of Eden

According to the distinction made in the Talmud between adam and other terms for humans, the original conceptualization appears to have been that the god of the Israelites created them in his own image. This explains how it could be the case that their god created man (adam) in his own image while other people (non-adam) were simultaneously alive east of Eden in the land of Nod-where Cain went after killing Abel, found a wife, and founded a city (Genesis 4:16-24). The word adam is not used for man when referring to persons in Nod (Genesis 4:23).

In fact, the most frequently used biblical Hebrew words for man/men are 'iysh and 'enowsh, occurring 428 times in the Torah. All occurrences of man being created in the image of god occur as adam, but people who were conquered by the Israelites are not referred to as adam, with the exception of two passages which also involve cattle. These exceptions are rhetorically questioned in the Talmud, where the Sages explain that "This is used in opposition to cattle," by which they meant, "In contrast to cattle, idolaters also may be described as adam (men)" (parentheses in original, Kerithoth 6b, Yebamoth 61a).

A strained and self-serving defense of these passages is presented by the 20th-century editors/translators of the Soncino Press edition of the Talmud, asserting that the restricted use of adam only applies within the context of ritual defilement, and that distinguishing "gentiles," "heathens" and "idolaters" as not in the category of adam, "loses all harshness when it is remembered that it is simply a Talmudic idiom denoting 'inhuman,' and that its author was Rabbi Simeon, who had been so bitterly persecuted by the Romans" (Baba Mezia 114b, p. 651, n. 7).

There are a number of difficulties with this explanation. Among them is the fact that Rabbi Simeon, son of Yohai, was among the most authoritative, most cited (over 700 times just within the Talmud), and most respected Sages of Judaism; rabbis at large accepted and promulgated his view on this point; non-Jews are referred to as not fully human in contexts other than ritual defilement; and designating one's victims as "inhuman" is not "simply an idiom"-on the contrary, such designation has been a critically important propaganda accomplishment for most of the world's most immoral military enterprises and by in-groups of all stripes. Aldous Huxley said it succinctly on the eve of World War II (1937, p. 101): "The propagandist's purpose is to make one set of people forget that the other set is human. By robbing them of their personality, he puts them outside the pale of moral obligation."

The Evolution of Cooperation

Have you ever watched a flock of birds dart across the sky like an animated cloud, turning on a dime, in unison, through three-dimensional space? Before the mid-1960s we knew what flocking birds were up to-they were surveying their breeding territory in order to assess its nutritional abundance. That way each female could adjust the number of eggs that she would lay, her objective being to prevent over-exploitation of the environment. How could natural selection produce such a morally sound arrangement? Simple, by group selection-birds that overcrop their territory would eat themselves into oblivion, leaving only environmentally conscientious groups to perpetuate their kind. Domestic sheep are a counter example. If not herded along, sheep will crop all edible plants beyond recovery. That's the main reason that shepherds have jobs-because left to their own devices, or lack thereof, sheep would decimate otherwise renewable resources.

In 1966 George Williams published a book that initiated the demise of the notion that organisms evolve by group selection. Williams perceived three main problems: First, what would happen if a mutation caused an individual female in an environmentally-conscientious group to have as many offspring as she was able? Answer: that mutation would spread. Second, what would happen if there were any appreciable amount of migration between less conscientious groups and more conscientious groups? Answer: conscientious groups would lose their conscience. And third, if the mutation and migration problems could be solved, how long would it take for a gene to go from a low frequency to a substantial frequency by group selection? This depends upon the rate at which whole groups fission and become extinct. Proper models show that both rates need to approach the rate at which individuals are born and die. For whole groups, such rates are orders of magnitude beyond realistic.

Nevertheless, people like the idea of group selection. It could, if it worked, create natural harmony, and even imply that humans in a natural state will naturally cooperate-sacrificing self interest for the good of the group. Accordingly, wishful thinkers have been jerrybuilding group selection models ever since Williams found the idea to be theoretically untenable (e.g., Wilson and Sober 1994). But skeptics continue to dash group-selection hopes with clearer logic and empirical evidence of individual selection (cf Alroy & Levine, 1994; Cronk, 1994; Dawkins, 1976, 1994; Nesse, 1994; Smith, 1994; Williams, 1992).

The cleanest tests have come from ornithologists. Birds, having bird brains, are not good at knowing which eggs are their own and which came from somewhere else (that's why mockingbirds and cowbirds can make a living as brood parasites-laying eggs in other birds' nests). This means you can put a fifth egg in a nest of four eggs and see what happens. The birds will hatch and try to feed all five chicks, but more often than not, they will only fledge three, while nests left with four eggs fledge four chicks. Flocking aside, individual birds lay the number of eggs that will maximize their reproductive success (for a review see Trivers, 1985).

So why do individuals cooperate if there is no group selection? Two answers helped filled the gap and form the foundation of contemporary evolutionary theory: inclusive fitness (Hamilton, 1964) and reciprocal altruism (Trivers, 1971). For the purpose of calculating how fast a gene can spread, inclusive fitness is the realization that an individual's total reproductive success should include his or her effects on the success of individuals who also carry the gene in question-i.e., relatives. So we expect relatives to cooperate. In humans, this covers everything from mothers nursing infants to nepotism in politics and industry.

Reciprocal altruism is "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." In humans this covers everything from two individuals sharing a load, to groups of individuals hunting Woolly Mammoths, to groups of people hunting other groups of people. The key ingredient here is payoff-reciprocal altruism works if each individual's share of benefits is more than could have been obtained by not cooperating. A great hue and cry has gone up that inclusive fitness and reciprocal altruism are not real altruism-not really moral behavior. That is absolutely correct. As put by Trivers (1971, p. 1, emphasis added): "Models that attempt to explain altruistic behavior in terms of natural selection are models designed to take the altruism out of altruism."

Unfortunately, cooperation based on kin selection and reciprocal altruism can be difficult to distinguish from cooperation based on group selection-but there are telltale signs. Large-scale reciprocal altruism usually entails hierarchies (pecking orders, dominance ranks), markedly unfair distribution of group-derived benefits (according to rank), and in humans, rules and laws that compel cooperation. Indeed, human systems of reciprocal altruism often include individuals, like slaves, who would do better on their own but who do not have that option.

Like most ancient peoples, the Israelites had stringent hierarchies, vastly disproportionate distribution of wealth, many slaves, and many laws that compelled cooperation. Some of those laws were simply tests of loyalty, as distinct from enforcing cooperation per se, but they were taken very seriously. Consider the punishment for working on a Saturday (Numbers 15:32-36):

While the people of Israel were in the wildemess, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made plain what should be done to him. And the LORD said to Moses, "The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp." And all the congregation brought him outside the camp, and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses.

More severe decrements to inclusive fitness were reserved for low-ranking individuals who took a larger slice of the pie than they had been allotted, especially if that slice had been allotted to a dominant male. When Achan, one of Joshua's soldiers, put a captured 50-shekel bar of gold into his tent instead of putting it in the collection plate (Joshua 7:24-25, italics added): "Joshua and all Israel with him took Achan…and his sons and daughters…and all Israel stoned him with stones; they burned them with fire, and stoned them with stones."

These are not the hallmarks of a group that evolved its ability to cooperate through group selection.

Evolutionary Ethics

Moral behavior can be active or passive. If you refrain from stealing when you could get away with it, you have been passively moral. When you help someone at a cost to yourself, you have been actively moral. If natural selection proceeded by differential reproduction of groups, as opposed to differential reproduction of individuals, individuals within replicating groups might treat each other as if r=1 were their default program. But unfortunately, genes that cause self-sacrifice are sacrificed by natural selection.

That is not to say that groups have no effect. Imagine a gene for the ability to shoot straight-whether a sling shot or a gun shot. A gene like that could spread within a breeding group by individual selection and give that group a serious advantage in competition against other groups. So it is that gene frequencies can change in consequence of group-group competition, but only because the winning group already had more of the genes which caused more of its individual members to compete successfully within that group, and they engaged in sufficient reciprocal altruism to generate cooperation. That is, natural selection can generate individuals who behave against their short term self-interest in consideration of other group members if the cost to such in-group moralists is more than compensated by their share of benefits obtained from successful competition with other groups. For example, in-group morality can evolve if cooperation enables a group to wage war against other groups at a net profit. This is not a consequence of group selection as the term has been properly understood, nor is it a foundation for morality as that term is properly understood.

In addition to requiring laws that compel group members to cooperate, the viability of in-group morality is functionally completed when the converse of those laws is applied, implicitly or explicitly, to out-groups-when "within-group amity" serves "between-group enmity" (Alexander, 1987, p. 95)-i.e., when "Thou shalt not kill or steal from in-group members" is balanced by "Thou shalt kill and steal from out-group members."

Such evolutionary ethics apply to races and nations as well as religions. In 1942, Keith perceived this complementary relationship to be implicit in Hitler's term National Socialism (1947, pp. 10, 14):

Hitler uses a double designation for his tribal doctrine-National Socialism: Socialism standing for the good side of the tribal spirit (that which works within the Reich); and Nationalism for the ethically vicious part, which dominates policy at and outside the German frontiers…Hitler is an uncompromising evolutionist, and we must seek for an evolutionary explanation if we are to understand his action.


Moses may not have known about natural selection, but he transmitted his god's explicit commandment to kill and steal from out-group members as a recurrent major theme.4 Two distinct policies were put into effect. First, all members of nations located in the land that was to become Israel were to be killed outright. Subsequently, people in surrounding nations were to be killed unless they agreed to become subservient to Israel. Both policies are given in one passage of Deuteronomy (20:10-18; RSV), with instructions regarding people outside of Israel given first:

When you draw near to a city to fight against it, offer terms of peace to it. And if its answer to you is peace and it opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall do forced labor for you and shall serve you. But if it makes no peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the LORD your God gives it into your hand you shall put all its males to the sword, but the women and the little ones, the cattle, and everything else in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourselves; and you shall enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the LORD your God has given you. Thus you shall do to all the cities which are very far from you, which are not cities of the nations here.
But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded; that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their Gods, and so to sin against the LORD your God.

For prior occupants of the promised land, there can be no doubt that this meant genocide according to the word's modern definition (RSV): "They should be utterly destroyed,5 and should receive no mercy but be exterminated, as the LORD commanded Moses" (Joshua 11:20)…Utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling" (I Samuel 15:3). And, as if they had a sense of Hamilton's (1964) inclusive fitness:

You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath; and fire will consume them. You will destroy their offspring from the earth, and their children from among the sons of men (Psalms 21:9-10).

There can be no doubt that this commandment was mandatory, as Maimonides explained (Judges 5:4, cf Elba 1995; Lior 1994):

It is a positive commandment to destroy the seven nations, as it is said: Thou shalt utterly destroy them. If one does not put to death any of them that falls into one's power, one transgresses a negative commandment, as it is said: Thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth.

Moral Fallout

The Israelites' campaign to carry out their god's commandment to commit genocide against the native inhabitants of Canaan-cum-Palestine took several generations. It began with Joshua's massacre at Jericho. Contrary to the Christian song "Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho," according to scripture there was no battle at all. It was a siege, at the end of which all of the city's inhabitants were killed except Rahab the prostitute (she and her family were spared in exchange for helping Joshua plan his strategy, Joshua 6:16-17, 19, 21, 24, RSV):

Joshua said to the people, "Shout; for the LORD has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the LORD for destruction…But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the LORD; they shall go into the treasury of the LORD."…Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword…And they burned the city with fire, and all within it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

The half-life and penetrance of such cultural legacies are often under-appreciated. Some 3,000 years after the fall of Jericho, Israeli psychologist George Tamarin (1966, 1973) measured the strength of residual in-group morality. He presented Joshua 6:20-21 to 1,066 school children, ages 8-14, in order to test "the effect of uncritical teaching of the Bible on the propensity for forming prejudices (particularly the notion of the 'chosen people,' the superiority of the monotheistic religion, and the study of acts of genocide by biblical heroes)." The children's answers to the question "Do you think Joshua and the Israelites acted rightly or not?," were categorized as follows: "'A' means total approval, 'B' means partial approval or disapproval, and 'C' means total disapproval." Across a broad spectrum of Israeli social and economic classes, 66% of responses were "A," 8% "B," and 26% "C." The "A" answers tended to be as straightforward as they were numerous (Tamarin, 1966):

Tamarin (1973) noted that:

"C" classification [total disapproval] was accorded to all answers formally rejecting genocide, either on ethical or utilitarian grounds. This does not mean that all "C" responses reveal non-discriminatory attitudes. For example, one girl criticized Joshua's act, stating that "the Sons of Israel learned many bad things from the Goyim."xAnother extremely racist response is that of a 10 year old girl disapproving the act, stating, "I think it is not good, since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land one will also become impure and share their curse."

Other misgivings included (1966):

In contrast to the established difference between boys and girls in propensity toward violence and approval of violence in general, with regard to biblically commanded genocide Tamarin found that "Contrary to our expectation, there was no difference, concerning this most cruel form of prejudice, between male and female examinees" (1973). Less surprising, but more alarming, nearly half of the children who gave "total approval" to Joshua's behavior also gave "A" responses to the hypothetical question: "Suppose that the Israeli Army conquers an Arab village in battle. Do you think it would be good or bad to act towards the inhabitants as Joshua did towards the people of Jericho?" Tamarin (1966) received such responses as these:

Some respondents disapproved of Joshua's campaign (answer "C"), but approved of similar acts if committed by Israeli soldiers. One girl disapproved of Joshua "because it is written in the Bible, 'don't kill'," but she approved of the conjectured Israeli Army action, stating "I think it would be good, as we want our enemies to fall into our hands, enlarge our frontiers, and kill the Arabs as Joshua did."

As a control group, Tamarin tested 168 children who were read Joshua 6:20-21 with "General Lin" substituted for Joshua and a "Chinese Kingdom 3000 years ago" substituted for Israel. General Lin got a 7% approval rating, with 18% giving partial approval or disapproval, and 75% disapproving totally.

The Evolutionary Point

Over 400 cities are detailed by name as having been "utterly destroyed" by the Israelites. The campaign lasted some 170 years and ended with David's victory at Jerusalem, where the Jebusites had managed to defend their city against every Israelite leader from Joshua to Saul. The account of the second city to fall, Ai, poignantly juxtaposes the distinction between in-group sanction against, and the out-group sanction of, homicide. According to scripture, after a moderately heavy day of killing 12,000 people, Joshua carved the Ten Commandments in stone, including "Thou shalt not kill," while his troops were gathered around a campfire (Joshua 8:24-25, 30-32; RSV):

When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai…and all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword…all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand, all the people of Ai…then Joshua built an altar and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord…And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses.

These verses are not generally focused upon in Bible classes, but when inquiries are made about Jericho, Ai, or Jerusalem, Jewish and Christian theologians stress the view that their heroes were far from perfect, but their ideals were close to perfect (or perfect, having come from their god), and it is those ideals that constitute the take-home message. This is plain wrong. Joshua was not even guilty of contradiction, much less hypocrisy, because the law that applied to out-group members was the antithesis of the law that applied to in-group members.7

The point, however, is not that such phenomena were unique to the ancient Israelites. Far from it. Indeed, given the ubiquity of in-group/out-group double standards around the globe and throughout history, the propensity for in-group morality appears to be an attribute of human nature.

A Light Unto The Nations

Israel's glory-days reached their apex during the reign of Solomon, David's son, who inherited "all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt" (I Kings 4:21). Solomon spent most of his time enjoying the spoil of his enemies (Deuteronomy 20:14), including "seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines" (I Kings 11:3, RSV)xand massive protection payments (I Kings 10:14-15):

Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold, besides that which came from the traders and from the traffic of the merchants, and from all the kings of Arabia and from the governors of the land.

Since 666 talents is about 60,000 pounds of gold, this is almost certainly an exaggeration, but is still three times the amount that Attila the Hun was able to extort from Rome per annum prior to sacking it for late payment. After Solomon's reign the Kingdom of Israel split in two. Civil war between the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms so weakened Jerusalem that nations which had been sending tribute began to send troops instead. During a siege of the city by Syria, in-group morality fell to its nadir. Everyone is familiar with the story of Solomon's wisdom-how he threatened to chop a baby in half in order to discover which of two claimants was its real mother (I Kings 3:16-28)-but like the story of Ai, Bible study classes seldom focus on a similar dispute that was brought to one of Solomon's successors (II Kings 6:26-30):

Now as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, "Help, my lord, O king!"...And the king asked her, "What is your trouble?" She answered, "This woman said to me, 'Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.' So we boiled my son, and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, 'Give your son, that we may eat him'; but she has hidden her son." When the king heard the words of the woman he rent his clothes.

The picture became so bleak for so long that a most desperate hope grew among the faithful. Israel's god would send a messiah. That man would restore the Kingdom, and Israel would reign over all the nations on earth. Perhaps the best disguised theme in the Bible, the most spun by both Christian and Jewish exegetical spin-doctors, is the Light Unto the Nations. The light was to be Israel, and nations outside of the genocide zone were to be caused to see the light in consequence of being conquered by Israel. Those nations would then realize that the god of Israel is stronger than their gods, and, most important, they would then worship Israel's god through Israel-that is, once again, by paying tribute to Israel.

This ultimate in-group fantasy is explicated throughout the Bible, but is put most pointedly in Psalms and Isaiah (RSV):

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel [Psalms 2:8-9]. And the [diaspora Jewish] peoples will take them and bring them to their place, and the house of Israel will possess them in the LORD's land as male and female slaves...[Isaiah 14:2]. Thus says the LORD: "The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia, and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours, they shall follow you; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you. They will make supplication to you, saying: 'God is with you only, and there is no other, no god besides him [Isaiah 45:14]. I will give you as a light unto the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth [Isaiah 49:6]. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising....Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to youxyour gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut; that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste (Isaiah 60:1-12).8

And when was this to happen? As soon as Israel could stop internecine fighting-as soon as it could get its in-group morality back on course. Then the Messiah would come and bring The Kingdom of God to earth. The objective was not to leave earth for heaven, it was to have heaven on earth-to restore the kingdom of David.

Onward Christian Soldiers

There is a tendency for Judaism's recusant evangelical sect, Christianity, to perceive its renegotiated contract with its god-the New Testament or New Covenant-as morally superior to the original covenant. Two thousand years of history suggest that this delusion has served military and colonial ambitions well. Thomas Paine perceived a "wretched contrivance" (1794, pp. 12,180,183):

Some Christians pretend that Christianity was not established by the sword; but of what period of time do they speak? It was impossible that twelve men could begin with the sword; they had not the power; but no sooner were the professors of Christianity sufficiently powerful to employ the sword, than they did so, and the stake and fagot, too…Those who preach this doctrine of loving their enemies are in general the greatest persecutors, and they act consistently by so doing; for the doctrine is hypocritical, and it is natural that hypocrisy should act the reverse of what it preaches.

Indeed, for a religion that prides itself on its contradictions and imponderables-like a Holy Ghost who is indefinable by definition and simultaneously one and the same entity as the god of the Israelites and that god's son-Christianity might have done a better job at disguising its own savior's antipathy toward out-group members, especially since the vast majority of Christians would have qualified as out-group members by Jesus' reckoning. Consider the attitude displayed in the following account of an encounter with a left-over Canaanite (Matthew 15:21-28; RSV):

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.

The assumptions that lie behind the miracle are revealing. They suggest that native inhabitants were tolerated if they perceived themselves as dogs compared to in-group members.9 This made sense because Jesus wanted to restore the Kingdom of David, and it would not do to have thousands of pounds of gold flowing in from foreign nations if in-group members had to sweep their own streets and empty their own bed pans. Day labor would be needed and the option of importing Romanians, Thais, and Filipinos was not yet available (Goell, 1994). Local domestics, satisfied with crumbs that fall from their masters' tables, would be perfect.

Essentially the same story is told in Mark (7:24-30), with the Canaanite changed to a Greek, suggesting that Jesus discriminated against out-group members on an equal opportunity basis.

The New In-Group Judaism

According to the Gospels, Jesus' declared mission was to reform Judaism, to bring back the spirit of in-group morality that seemed to have given way to sanctimony, observance of rituals, and rigid class distinctions in the face of Roman domination. He stated this repeatedly, even instructing his disciples to avoid out-group members when taking his message to in-group members (e.g., Matthew 10:5-6; RSV): "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

Jesus often used the words neighbor and brother without explicitly indicating that he meant fellow Jews whom he sought to unify. (For a sympathetic and particularly well informed perspective on Jesus and his mission within the context of 1st century Israel, see Vermes, 1973). Ironically, gentile Christians generally infer themselves to be included by these terms, even though many passages make it clear that they were not. For example, consider Matthew 18:15-18, in which Jesus explained to his disciples that Jews who sin against fellow Jews and cannot be made to see the error of their ways should be considered as gentiles because, like gentiles and tax collectors (Jews who collected taxes for the gentile government), they were going to be rejected from heaven (RSV, see also Matthew 5:47; 6:7; 6:32; 10:16-21):

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The purpose of re-forming Judaism was stated over and over by Jesus. It was to bring his god's kingdom to earth-to either be the Messiah himself, or to usher him in (see Vermes, 1973, regarding both the strength of the former conviction and the ambivalence of the latter). After so many centuries of foreign domination, Jesus wanted to bring his group back together, to forge them into a unit even more cohesive than that formed by Moses, primarily by emphasizing the need for active morality between in-group members, as distinct from the earlier emphasis on passive morality. This active in-group morality extended to nine repetitions of "love thy neighbor," to the Golden Rule (Jesus' twice-used paraphrase of "love thy neighbor"-"Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them"),1 and even to "turning the other cheek" to fellow Jews who might thereby be persuaded to join the cause (Matthew 5:39).

The cause was the plan, or the word, and the word was holy. Jesus was very concerned that the holy plan not become apparent to out-group members, so again he instructed his disciples (Matthew 7:6; RSV): "Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine." In this case "dogs" referred to left-over Canaanites and Samaritans (e.g., Matthew 15:21-28 above) and "swine" referred to people who eat pork-that is, gentiles. Pearls were the pearls of wisdom about how to treat in-group members. As such, Matthew 7:6 was the 1st century equivalent of saying in America today "Go tell the plan to the White people, but what ever you do, don't tell the niggers and the spics." Ugly language indeed, but it is commonly sold and bought among Christians as some kind of poetry, not the least of all by those who are upset about the coarseness of lyrics in rap music.

Jesus' prospects for accomplishing the plan were buoyed by the claim that he was the direct descendant of King David "according to the flesh" (Romans 1:3), the underdog who extended the borders of Israel throughout the Middle East (Luke 1:31-33; RSV):

And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob [Israel] for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Jesus' appeal was effective among the hopeless because he held out their greatest hope-the ultimate in-group aspiration (Acts 1:6-8; RSV; see also Luke 2:32; 24:21; 24:44; 24:49; and Revelations 1:5-7; 11:17-18):

They asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth."

He wanted to make Isaiah's dream come true (see Matthew 3:3; 4:4; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14; Mark 1:2; Luke 3:4-6; John 1:23; 12:38-41), to bring the Kingdom of God to earth, to fulfill his god's promise to Abraham, a less innocent promise than it is generally interpreted to be because the word "bless" in Genesis 26:4 is euphemistically translated. The transliterated Hebrew word is "barak" which is a primary word meaning to kneel (for barak translated kneel down or kneel, see Genesis 24:11; II Chronicles 6:13; Psalms 95:6; for barak translated as curse or cursed, see Job 1:5; 1:11; 2:5; 2:9).

A person, or nation, is blessed consequent to acknowledging subordination, by kneeling before the god, person, or nation that confers the blessing (italics and brackets added, RSV; see also Genesis 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18; 28:14 and 26:4): "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall bless [kneel] themselves."

But under the requirement of having to kneel before Rome, Kingdom Come was not a practical idea for 1st-century Jews. Nor was it, in any moral sense, a good idea. Indeed, it was a dangerous idea for Jesus' own in-group. It especially threatened those who had made an accommodation with the Romans-those who had knelt before Rome and were receiving the bulk of the blessings-and they had Jesus crucified for promoting it.

Rewriting the Script

So where did Christian universalism come from? It came from the Israelite Saul, who changed his name to Paul, and pronounced himself to be his Messiah's apostle to the gentiles. Like Paul's name change, his universalization of Jesus' message was more than a little convenient, since Paul had been kicked out of Israel and found himself irretrievably among gentiles. In addition to being an exigent personal accommodation, Paul's offer of honorary in-group status to out-group members was inextricably linked to the message that Israel's Messiah would be back very soon-certainly within a couple of years, probably within a few months, and quite possibly within a few weeks. In other words, the offer was good for a limited time only.

Paul's message, and that of his colleague Peter, included: don't get married; if you are married, don't have children…maintain the status quo even if you are an oppressed slave or an oppressed woman, even if you suffer beatings, behave submissively, because Jesus will be back any day and everything will change…withstand your suffering, no matter how unjust, be good, and he will take care of you when he gets here…etc. For example (I Peter 2:18-21; see also I Corinthians 7:24-40; Timothy 6:1-2; Titus 2:9-10; and I Peter 3:1-6):

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing. For one is approved if, mindful of God, he endures pain while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently? But if when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

That is, if your master beats you for an offense that you did not commit, this is your opportunity to be Christ-like. Just take it, have faith, and you will soon be rewarded.

Peter and Paul were the characters who appear in modern cartoons as bedraggled nay-sayers holding signs that warn Repent! The End Is Near. Reading these injunctions in the context of the perceived immediacy of the pending apocalypse suggests that if one could go back in time to tell gentile converts that the returning Messiah would be late by at least 2,000 years, they would have put these prototype Christian missionaries on the first boat back to Israel.

It All Comes Out In The End

Paul's historical revisionism aside, Jesus' plan, his message, and his prophecy are reissued in the Revelation to John (RSV):

He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I [Jesus] will give him power over the nations and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father (2:26-27)…And I [John] heard the number of the sealed, a hundred and forty-four thousand sealed, out of every tribe of the sons of Israel (7:2-4)…they were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads; they were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them (9:4-5).

Jesus' angels could not kill the goyim because they were needed to occupy the countries that would pay tribute to Israel when the Kingdom of David was restored. But apparently, in contrast to the Canaanite woman who was on her knees to save her daughter, the goyim would need a bit of softening up. Jesus was to have his own rod of iron, and because his hands would be occupied with that, a sort of stiletto sword would come out of his mouth (19:14-16) :

From his mouth issues a sharp sword with which to smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.

It is the miracle of the holy trinity-Jesus' ability to be both a god and a man-that enabled him to be simultaneously David's heir on earth (King of kings) and the ascendant god in heaven (Lord of lords). The difficulty of where this would leave him vis-a-vis his father is resolved by the article of faith that they were one and the same.

More than a few men of the cloth have been bothered by parishioners who take it upon themselves to engage in unsupervised reading of the Book of Revelation. The forward-looking concern is this: 144,000 may have looked like a hefty number 2000 years ago, but haven't all of those slots been filled by now? Is there still room in Kingdom Come? Unfortunately, this question completely misconstrues Jesus' message. The Kingdom is not taking reservation from gentile Christians, or even from Jewish Jews. All slots are reserved for a small subset of original in-group members-Jews for Jesus. The Good News is that many seats are still available, probably about 143,000.

The original covenant was an exclusive contract. Although he occasionally threatened to destroy them for insufficient fealty, the god of the Israelites never wavered in his insistence that they were his chosen people. The new covenant was for Jews who would follow the messiah and recreate the empire of the original chosen people. Jesus would have turned over in his grave if he had known that Paul would be taking his plan to the pigs.

If You Can't Enjoin 'em, Beat 'em

As it happened, Paul's rendition of Jesus' message was like Elvis Presley's rendition of Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes"-it took over. Paul's new target audience, gentile Christians, became an inordinately powerful in-group. Unlike Judaism, out-group members were encouraged to join, or were compelled to join, but payback for following the rules was to be reaped in heaven. Pie in the sky was Paul's hook. Meanwhile, in this life, the proceeds of wars and tithes to the Church were shared disproportionately by supportive government officials and Church dignitaries, who were often one and the same persons. Keith put his finger on this modus operandi (1947, p. 65; cf Alexander 1987:175): "[T]he area of the world over which the Prince of Peace is alleged to preside is the most nationally minded part of the world-the part where fierce war is endemic. Christianity has not conquered nationalism; the opposite has been the case-nationalism has made Christianity its footstool." Ironically, being a good Christian, Keith did not understand that nationalism's footstool was built for just that purpose by its original carpenter, albeit for a different in-group. Contemporary Christians tend to be aware of this footstool effect in reference to the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, but Americans tend to forget that their forefathers thought of the United States as God's New Israel (Cherry 1971, p. vi, original caps):

It has been often remarked that the people of the United States come nearer to a parallel with Ancient Israel, than any other nation upon the globe. Hence OUR AMERICAN ISRAEL is a term frequently used; and common consent allows it apt and proper (Abiel Abbot, Thanksgiving sermon, 1799).10

Reverend Abbot's analogy was as functional as it was apt, leading to a colonial high-water mark for in-group morality. Consider the following account of Sagoyewatha's words ("Red Jacket," Chief of the Seneca) to the Reverend Cram from the Boston Missionary Society, at a meeting between the chiefs and warriors of the Six Nations and missionaries from the Great Awakening, at Buffalo Creek, in 1805 (Stedman and Hutchinson 1889, pp. 36-38):

You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to His mind, and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost. How do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is written in a book. If it was intended for us as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given to us, and not only to us, but why did He not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book, with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know when to believe, being so often deceived by the white people? Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agreed, as you can all read the book?

Brother, the Great Spirit has made us all...we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our say you have not come to get our land or our wealth but to enlighten our mindsxyou have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.

Brother, you have now heard our answer to your talk, and this is all we have to say at present. As we are going to part, we will come and take you by the hand and hope the Great Spirit will protect you on your journey and return you safe to your friends.

Stedman and Hutchinson describe what happened next:

As the Indians began to approach the missionary, he rose hastily from his seat and replied that he could not take them by the hand; that there was no fellowship between the religion of God and the works of the devil.

This being interpreted to the Indians, they smiled, and retired in a peaceable manner.

Deuteronomic Deja Vu

The strategic practicality of killing locals and bringing slaves from afar was not lost upon God's New Israelites. Because they were already there, Indians could not be pulled out by their roots, transported halfway around the world, and terrorized into servitude as thoroughly as Africans. Once again, in-group morality worked its magic. African slaves were difficult to manage before they were converted, but upon seeing the light, their spirit was chained to the bottom rung of an in-group ladder (Maier, 1993):

American-born masters took greater interest in American-born slaves than in Africans, who seemed to them wild, and controllable only by the threat of harsh punishments. Gradually a new paternalism developed among owners that softened their relationships with slaves, increased their attention to slaves' material welfare and helped undercut an older opposition to the Christianization of slaves. It also led masters to intervene in the lives of their slaves to an extent unknown in other similar systems of servitude, and fostered an extreme hostility toward signs of independence in their slave "children."

Patrick Buchanan would have felt at home in God's New Israel and his forthrightness would have been appreciated by slavers and the Reverend Cram alike: "Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free" (1993).

Freedom, Fidelity, and Evil

Discussing religious freedom, comedian-cum-exegete Steve Allen (1990, p. xxix) quipped, "my freedom to swing my arms about stops at the point of another's nose." Allen is right, but naive advocates of religious freedom ignore "the ethically vicious part" (Keith, 1947, p. 10), pretend that it does not exist, and/or suggest that believers will pick out the good and leave the bad. This too is plain wrong, and it houses a Judeo-Christian self-deception that Thomas Paine warned us about (1794, p. 8):

Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what one does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief [belief professed] to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime.

By "believing what they do not believe," or professing "to believe it deeply, even if they cannot describe the it that they believe" (Williams, 1994), most contemporary Christians and Jews unwittingly support in-group morality. They do so by revering the Bible as a source of universal moral values, even though few have actually read it-as distinct from having actually read it and in consequence lending it credence as a source of moral values. This is backwards, and for the few believers who have read the Bible, it is not enough to simply assert that true Judaism and Christianity are other than what is stated in their book.

There is a stark contradiction between abhorring genocide and paying homage to a god who commanded his followers to commit genocide. There is a deep structural discrepancy between outrage over persecution of people because of their religious beliefs and simultaneous reverence for scriptures that condemn non-co-religionists to death and damn them to hell. But humans have a unique ability to be evil. If evil is bad put forth as good, wrong put forth as right, injustice put forth as justice, and hate disguised as love, then institutions of religion that perpetuate in-group morality, whether up front or in the guise of "they're OK but don't marry one," are evil. And those who decry in-group morality while holding on to the self-image of being Protestant, or Catholic, or Orthodox, or Conservative, or Reformed, give overt in-group moralists the very fibre that sustains them.

The Bible is a blueprint of in-group morality, complete with instructions for genocide, enslavement of out-groups, and world domination. But the Bible is not evil by virtue of its objectives or even its glorification of murder, cruelty, and rape (Hartung, ms2). Many ancient works do that-The Iliad, the Icelandic Sagas, the tales of the ancient Syrians and the inscriptions of the ancient Mayans, for example. But no one is selling the Iliad as a foundation for morality. Therein lies the problem. The Bible is sold, and bought, as a guide to how people should live their lives. And it is, by far, the world's all-time best seller. But the effort to make the Bible a universal guide to morality is impossible, because although orally transmitted myths can make 180 degree turns across a series of generations and get away with claims to authority based on antiquity, distortions and selective dismissals of written myths can only, at best, fool most of the people most of the time.

Where Will It End?

History is replete with in-groups that have disintegrated from within after running out of enemies to parasitize and defend against. Like a full balloon in a vacuum chamber, as outside pressure is reduced, they burst. Avraham Burg, chairman of the Jewish Agency, has perceived this problem and put it bluntly (Haberman, 1995): "And if real peace does come to Israel, the question will be asked: Can we, and how do we, survive without an external enemy?"

Evolutionists have not been able to devise a model for converting in-group morality into general morality. Because in-group morality does not evolve by group selection, it does not involve selfless altruism. As put by Irons, "All forms of evolved altruism must be discriminate in terms of costs and benefits. The benefits must outweigh the costs, and both must be measured in terms of reproduction of the altruist's genes" (1991). If a group loses in competition with other groups, its members lose the advantage of having been in-group moral. Similarly, and somewhat paradoxically, if a group wins against all competing groups, its members lose the advantage of continuing to be in-group moral, because in-group morality can only be maintained at the expense of out-groups. As put by Alexander (1987, p. 261):

Only in humans are war and other forms of intergroup competition the central aspects and driving forces of social existence. Only humans have embarked upon a virtually unchecked arms race involving cooperative efforts of millions of individuals on the opposing sides.

Only these facts, I believe, can explain why individual people more or less continually treat their fellows as adversaries and competitors, to be manipulated and deceived and used when possible. Only these facts can explain the particular ways in which humans cooperate-within groups of expanding sizes and complexities, and so intensively as to deny even to themselves their manipulations and deceptions.

This lose-lose situation could be salvaged by an invasion from outer space, a favorite theme of fiction writers, because the world could unify to defend against a common out-group, but short of that, we must devise artificial foundations for morality.

Of course, our ability to self-destruct through nuclear war and ecological disaster may be the equivalent to an invasion from outer space. Whether we can collectively realize the urgency of this threat, and unify to save ourselves from ourselves, is a question that historians and environmentalists ponder without optimism. Nevertheless, humans are the first species with enough foresight to apprehend their own extinction and its probable cause. We are also the first species capable of conceptualizing everyone who is alive, and everyone who is yet to be born, as our neighbors. This makes hope a not entirely irrational emotion. From Moses to Jesus to Jim Jones, the phenomenon of religion proves that humans are capable of being unified by irrational beliefs. Substituting rational beliefs may even strengthen our ability to unify.

The Good News-Bad News

Humans are also capable of judging when relationships and circumstances are fair and just-in the abstract. That is, as an epiphenomenon of reciprocal altruism and intense selection for the ability to assess our self-interest in deals that we make with each other (Trivers, 1971), we are naturally rather good at judging the fairness of relationships in which we have absolutely zero self-interest. That ability enables us to make, and determine the justice of abstract rules and laws. This "knowing good and evil" was recognized by the authors of the creation story as a unique human attribute-attributed to Eve's daring defiance of her god's order to not eat of "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 3:22; 2:9).

In addition, in order to present an effective social self (cf. Hartung, 1988), each of us has been selected to maintain the self-deception that I am inherently fair and just but other people need to be regulated in that regard. Accordingly, and most fortunately, most of us are willing to support systems of justice that catch and punish those other people who break fair laws. And of course, when we do that, we set a trap for ourselves-because each of us is other people to other people, and our self-deceptions about our own behavior will not withstand their scrutiny. This is the good news trap. Unfortunately, our propensity to be scrupulous when it pays self-image dividends invariably causes some clerics, some philosophers, some modelers (e.g., Frank, 1988, 1994) and some muddlers (e.g., Wilson & Sober, 1994) to argue that humans are inherently moral, and that if we could just create the right environment, our natural moral propensities would flourish independent of the rule of law and the threat of punishment. This is the bad news trap. Hume (1750) would have had it right if he had argued that is cannot be derived from ought, rather than the other way around.

Moralistic wishful thinking endangers our ability to take advantage of those few serendipitous epiphenomena of natural selection which, when properly organized, can cause us to behave as if we were inherently moral. Fair laws fairly applied are the key. That is, the effectiveness of laws can be enhanced by severe punishment and a high probability of being caught, but only fairness appeals to our "knowing good and evil"-and only fairness gives laws the practical force to create an environment that makes moral behavior adaptive.

Nevertheless, the question remains, why bother?

An answer will be proffered in the next issue of Skeptic, where an exploration of the enlightened animism of modern physics and cosmology will be used to derive the premise that existence is contingent upon continuing consequence, such that life does not meaningfully exist if the universe unfolds in a manner that leaves no evidence that living matter did exist. It follows from that premise that we meaningfully exist only if we contribute to the evolution of life forms that continue to contribute to the evolution of life forms, forever. Because that is possible and inherently desirable, the struggle for existence derives values from knowledge-what ought to be from what is, and why we ought to bother.


  1. Leviticus 19:18; see also repetitions by Jesus in Matthew 5:43;19:19; 22:39, Mark 12:31; 12:33 and Luke 10:27, other repititions in the New Testament (Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14; and James 2:8), and Jesus' twice-used paraphrase in Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31.
  2. Many archeologists doubt that the Israelites were even in Egypt, that the Exodus ever occurred, that Moses even existed let alone wrote or dictated any part of the Old Testament (Stiebing; Redford). Likewise, biblical scholars and historians are not agreed about the existence of historical Jesus, let alone which (if any) parts of the New Testament accurately reflect his message (Mack; Funk, Hoover and the Jesus Seminar). However, the empirical veracity of biblical stories, or of any story told in earnest, is independent of the messages, both implicit and explicit, that they convey. Throughout this article, those messages are considered valid information.
  3. References to biblical passages are given by book, chapter, verse, and, where relevant, translation. References to talmudic passages are given by tractate and folio (page) number. References to The Codes of Maimonides are given by book, treatise, chapter and section. Full references for biblical, talmudic, and Maimonidean citations are given at the end under "Primary Sources."
  4. For examples of the commandment to kill out-group members, and boasts of having done so, see: Numbers 21:2-3; 21:34-35; 24:8; 24:19-20; Deuteronomy 2:34; 3:2-6; 3:21; 7:1-2; 7:16; 7:23-24; 9:3; 11:24-25; 20:16-17; 31:3-5; 33:27; Joshua 2:10; 6:21; 8:2; 8:24-26; 10:1; 10:28; 10:35;10:37; 10:39-40; 11:11-14; 11:20-21; Judges 1:17; 3:29; I Samuel 15:3; 15:8; 15:15; 15:18; 15:20; and I Chronicles 4:41, any major translation.
  5. Tanakh (JPS '85), although quite similar when not identical to JPS '17 and RSV, and occasionally more clear, often contains subtle differences which de-emphasize the negative, employing euphemisms when a more straightforward translation would be less obfuscating. For example, in every major English translation of the Bible except TANAKH, the Israelites are frequently commanded by their God to "utterly destroy" another people. Tanakh differs in that it usually translates the Hebrew word charam as "proscribe" rather than "utterly destroy" in this context (e.g., "you must proscribe them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and…," instead of "you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and…" Deuteronomy 20:17). When this is done the word "proscribe" is footnoted to Leviticus 27:29, which reads, "No human being who has been proscribed can be ransomed: he shall be put to death"-which amounts to the same thing (compare, e.g., RSV, JPS '17 and JPS '85 for Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 10:1; 10:28; 10:35; 10:37; 10:39-40; 11:11-12; Judges 1:17; I Samuel 15:8; 15:15; 15:20). Nevertheless, Tanakh is inconsistent in this regard, perhaps due to conflicting decisions from the translation's six editors. Accordingly, charam is translated "exterminate" in three cases (Joshua 6:21; 8:26; I Samuel 15:18), and "wipe out forever" in one case (I Chronicles 4:41).
  6. For more on the intensity of the fear of assimilation, see Hartung ms1.
  7. The passage: "When a man causes a disfigurement in his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to himxlife for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Leviticus 24:19-20 and Exodus 21:23-24; RSV), was just meant to keep revenge from escalating among in-group members. In distinction to an eye for an eye, the rule for out-groups was simply 'everything for nothing' (for an analysis of the history of reactive racism that the in-group nature of Judaism has fomented among diaspora host populations, see Shahak, 1994 and MacDonald, 1995 (and a review of MacDonald 1995 by Hartung 1995).
  8. To trace the development of this theme, see: Genesis 18:18; 18:22; 26:4; 27:29; 28:14; Exodus 23:31; 33:16; 34:24; Deuteronomy 7:14-24; 10:15: 14:2; 15:6; 12:18-19; 28:1; 28:10-13; 32:43; 33:17-29; Joshua 1:3-4; 23:4-5; Second Samuel 8:2-14; 10:19; 12:30-31; 22:44-47; I Kings 4:21; 4:24; 10:14-15; II Kings 3:4; I Chronicles 16:35; 17:21; 9:25-26; 20:29-30; Psalms 2:4-9; 61:6; 89:27; 105:44-45; 110:5-6; 111:6; Isaiah 11:11-15; 14:1-2; 17:12-14; 19:17; 34:1-8; 40:15-17; 41:8-11; 45:14; 45:22-25; 49:1-7; 49:22-23; 54:1-3; 55:5; 59:20-21; 60:1-16; 61:5-8; 66:10-16; Jeremiah 12:16-17; 30:11; 33:9; 46:28; Ezekiel 28:24; -26; 36:6-11; 39:17-22; Daniel 2:44; 7:13-14; 7:27; 10:13-14; 12:1-3; 12:7; Joel 1:12-14; 3:2; Obadiah 1:15-17; Micah 4:12-13; 5:5-18; Zephaniah 2:7-9; 2:12-13; 319-20; Haggai 2:6-9; Zechariah 1:14-21; 2:8-9; 8:22-23; 9:11-15; 12:5-6; 12:9; 14:1; 14:9-12; 14:16-19; and Malachi 1:2-5.
  9. For additional examples, see Matthew 5:47, 6:7, 6:32, 10:5, 10:18, 18:17, 20:19, 20:25, Mark 10:33, 10:42, and Luke 18:32, 21:24, 22:25. Jesus' view of the Canaanites as dogs was unwittingly echoed by the father of militant Zionism, Ze'ev Jabotinsky: "the human inhabitants of the district…the rabble of the town-laborers…the fragments of indigenous tribes…resembled homeless dogs…all looked alike, lacking the characteristics of any known breed," in his novel Samson (1926), which was made into a movie, Samson and Delilah, by Cecil B. DeMille in 1950.
  10. This view is very much alive today. Consider Christian ex-Senator Bob Packwood's tendency to use "we" when discussing Jewish or Israeli history in fund-raising literature, as in (referring to events of 72 BCE), "We were forced out of our own land, forcibly ejected…I don't regard them as occupied territories. I regard them as legitimately Israel's" (Noakes, 1992), or the opening lines of a 1992 speech by then Vice President Dan Quayle to the American-Israel Political Action Committee, "Fellow Zionists, Israel and the United States need each other. We benefit from each other and our alliance is unshakable because it rests on two firm pillars-strategic interests and common values" (WRMEA, 1992a), or from Governor-running-for-president Bill Clinton's address to the Jewish Leadership Council, "If I ever let Israel down, God would never forgive me" (WRMEA, 1992b).

Primary Sources

Babylonian Talmud, The (circa 200-500) Epstein, 1. (ed.). Quincentenary ed., 1978. London: Soncino Press.

Book of Judges, The: The Code of Maimonides (circa 1195) Hershman, A.M.( ed.) 1949. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Book of Torts, The: The Code of Maimonides (circa 1195) Klein, H. (ed.) 1954. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Holy Bible, The: King James Version. 1611, New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers (1976).

Holy Bible, The: Revised Standard Version. 1952. The Oxford Annotated Bible With The Apocrypha, H.G. May and B.M. Metzger (eds.), 1965. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holy Scriptures, The: According to the Masoretic Text. (circa 600-1000) 1917. The Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia.

TANAKH, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures according to the Traditional Hebrew Text. 1985. The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia.


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c1995 John Hartung, Ph.D. Author's note: I thank Noam Chomsky for nine years of insightful correspondence about issues raised in this essay, Richard Alexander, Napoleon Chagnon, Lalla Dawkins, Richard Dawkins, William Irons, Kevin MacDonald, Frank Miele, Robert Trivers, William Zimmerman, Matt Ridley, and especially Renata Hartung for steadfast encouragement and sage advice. Any errors of fact or interpretation are mine, and all criticisms, accusations, and assignations of bad karma that might be inspired by this work should be directed exclusively at me.

Dr. John Hartung is Associate Editor of the Journal of Neurosurgtcal Anesthesiology and Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the State University of New York. His Ph.D. is in anthropology from Harvard, where he was a student of, and teaching fellow for, Bernard D. Davis, Irven B. DeVore, Paul H. Harvey, William D. Hamilton, Melvin J. Konner, Robert L. Trivers, and Edward 0. Wilson. About half of Dr. Hartung's 80-some publications are in social science, with the rest in medicine. His articles on the sociobiology of inherited wealth have appeared in Current Anthropology, Behavioral and Brain Science, and Nature, His 1982 paper on "Polygyny and Inheritance of Wealth" is being reprinted by Oxford University Press in their forthcoming Evolution & Human Behavior (L. Betzig, editor). Dr. Hartung can be contacted via e-mail at:

John Hartung's article was originally published in Skeptic magazine. For subscription information contact: P.O. Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001; 818/794-3119; Fax: 818/794-1301; e-mail:
Published here with the permission of Dr. Hartung.

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