Friday, July 16, 2010

Genocide: Good or Bad? It depends!

Israeli psychologist George Tamarin conducted a survey among 1000 Israeli school-children ages eight to fourteen. He presented to them the biblical story of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, where Joshua commanded Israeli soldiers to slaughter all men, women, children, infants, and animals in the city, and to bring all gold and silver into the Israeli treasury.

The children were then asked a single moral question: Do you think Joshua and the Israeli soldiers acted rightly? The results were interesting. 66% of the children expressed total approval, 8 percent expressed partial approval, and 26% expressed total disapproval. Contrary to expectations, there was no difference in the answers between male and female children.

Those who expressed total approval typically gave religious reasons for their answer:

In my opinion Joshua and the Sons of Israel acted well, and here are the reasons: God promised them this land, and gave them permission to conquer. If they would not have acted in this manner or killed anyone, then there would be the danger that the Sons of Israel would have assimilated among the Goyim.

In my opinion Joshua was right when he did it, one reason being that God commanded him to exterminate the people so that the tribes of Israel will not be able to assimilate amongst them and learn their bad ways.

Joshua did good because the people who inhabited the land were of a different religion, and when Joshua killed them he wiped their religion from the earth.

Even some of those who expressed total disapproval did so for backhanded religious reasons. One girl wrote that even entering the land to perform the conquest ran grave risks:

I think it is bad, since the Arabs are impure and if one enters an impure land one will also become impure and share their curse.

Two others expressed disapproval because the Israelites slaughtered the animals as well, and those could have been kept as more loot.

What really makes this study interesting is that Tamarin also ran a control experiment. He presented the same story to 168 other school-children, except he substituted any mention of "Joshua" with "General Lin" and of "Israel" with "a Chinese kingdom 3,000 years ago." When asked the same question of approval, this time the results were reversed. Only 7% expressed approval, 18% gave partial approval, and 75% disapproved. As Richard Dawkins writes:

"In other words, when their loyalty to Judaism was removed from the calculation, the majority of the children agreed with the moral judgments that most modern humans would share. Joshua's action was a deed of barbaric genocide. But it all looks different from a religious point of view. And the difference starts early in life. It was religion that made the difference between children condemning genocide and condoning it." The God Delusion, p. 255

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