9.2 -- Is the Bible Racist?
Since the Old Testament is overwhelmingly concerned with the people of Israel, does this mean that Biblical Judaism is "racist"? Probably so, to secularists who are ideologically predisposed to reject the Bible on other grounds -- such as atheism or universalism. For atheists, the idea of a God who chooses favorites is nonsense, a primitive holdover, an obstacle to human personal and social maturity. For universalists, "god," whoever he/she is, must love all cultures equally, and emanate through all religious traditions.
Yet looked at more objectively, on its own terms, Biblical Judaism is a unique form of racism. There are several complications that we have noted in our study of the text:
a. Blood ties in the Bible are extremely important, but they alone are not sufficient. Racial pedigree and family genealogy became most important in the post-Exilic community, due to the necessity of preventing Israel from being assimilated by surrounding pagans. Yet throughout the history of Israel, as far back as Abraham and Lot, God has performed a "pruning" process on His holy nation. Thousands have been disowned, even millions -- usually for personal or family sin, sometimes just because of God's choice (Ishmael). The entire Kingdom of Israel was annihilated, and the majority of Judah. Paul, in the New Testament, writes "all Israel will be saved" (Rom 11:26) -- referring to the end times. This is manifestly not true looking backwards. As Isaiah and other prophets repeatedly stated: "only a remnant will return" (Isa 10:22). So Judaism differs from modern garden-variety racisms, which exalt all members of one ethnicity or skin color over everyone else.
b. Another distinction between the Bible's central concept of the Chosen People and modern racial supremacists is that the fact of God's choosing did not always work to Israel's advantage. "For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required," says Luke (Lk 12:48). This certainly applies throughout Israel's history. The entire record is one of a nation running away from God's destiny and embracing (literally) multi-culturalism. Israel longed to be like the nations around her -- in morals, in politics, in religious pluralism. Theoretically, God's requirement was simple: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut 6:5). But in practice, fidelity to monotheism and to monogamy proved to be contrary to the inclinations of vast numbers of the sons of Israel. Thus we have a counterpoint to God's choice of Israel, and that is an unremitting record of warnings, punishments, afflictions and disasters. What Egypt suffered in a few weeks during the Exodus was played out intermittently and increasingly through Israel's own history: pestilence, droughts, famines, defeats. Egypt lost only her first-born sons to God's wrath, but Israel lost 10 entire tribes and a good portion of the other two. So if Israel was "elected" by God, that was not enough to meet God's standard -- one also had to volunteer, to willingly and wholeheartedly enlist in God's historical enterprise. Most Israelites failed to do this.