She looked like a normal woman; and for the most part, the Hammer Killer lived a normal life. But that morning would be different. Still, she did her best to act as normally as she could. She ate breakfast with her family, kissed her husband and daughter tenderly, and then left the house.
As she drove to where her next victim would be, she tried to calm her emotions. She had been waiting a long time for this. But now the time had come. Time for another killing.
She crept into the building, and while nobody was looking, she put on her disguise. Then she slipped into the room where her next victim sat. There were still people around, so she waited patiently for the time when it was all quiet. She calmed herself, and when the moment was right, she picked up the hammer that would seal her victim’s fate.
She looked at the man for a few moments. His gaze was elsewhere. With ruthless efficiency, she brought down the hammer in a few swift blows, and killed him. Then, just as quietly as she had entered, she slipped out of the room, took off her disguise, hurried out of the building, got back into her car, and soon she was home again, back into the arms of her unsuspecting husband.
Now, this brief story leaves several questions unanswered. The most obvious one is, why did she murder the man? Was it revenge for something he did to her previously, or was she simply a psychopath?
Actually, the entire premise of the question is wrong. The story is an example of how we can give people a false impression or lead people to an incorrect conclusion, simply by missing out critical pieces of information, or if we misinterpret or misrepresent people’s actions and motives.
In the case of the “Hammer Killer,” a name I gave her as part of my cunning plan to give you a misleading impression of her, I left out the critical detail that her career was as a judge. She had no personal malice toward the man she sentenced to death that day. In fact, she personally disliked sentencing anyone to death, which explains why she crept into the court building that morning. She felt sick about what she knew she had to do.
Nevertheless, she was able to control her emotions by the time she passed the sentence of death. The “hammer” was, more accurately, a gavel, which she used to declare the sentence. Thus, she effectively killed him with it, but only in a metaphorical sense. Her “disguise” was simply a judge’s gown and wig, but I could argue that someone might see it as a disguise.
Of course, my choice of language strongly implied the woman was a serial killer. It was “time for another killing.” Her husband was “unsuspecting,” and she drove to where her next “victim” would be. Even the name I gave to her suggests this.
In reality, there is a clear difference between a serial killer and a judge sentencing a man to death. One is a criminal with perhaps a mental imbalance, and the other is administering justice and judgment. We may or may not agree with the sentence, or the idea of capital punishment, but we understand the difference.
However, by omitting important information about the woman from my story, I prevented you from seeing the distinction; and by using a carefully chosen set of words and phrases designed to paint a certain picture, I deliberately led you to the conclusion that the woman was a psychopath.
If we wanted to get an accurate understanding of the woman and her motives, and not be taken in by the highly biased version I initially presented, we would need to see the full picture, along with the ability to look past the deliberately misleading language.
For example, we would need to know the real purpose of the “hammer,” and why the woman “killed” the man. Ironically, he had been sentenced to death because he had murdered several people, and yet I gave the impression that the woman was the serial killer and the man was an innocent victim. The truth is, he was the psychopath and she was simply administering justice in her capacity as a judge.
The same is true when it comes to understanding the nature of God, or certain Biblical accounts. If we only look at things with a one-sided view, we may not be seeing the true picture.
Let’s look at another example. One book written by a prominent atheist mentions an account found in the Bible book of Judges. However, the atheist writer omits a critical piece of information, which could leave a misleading impression about motives.1 We will use this as an example, because it has direct relevance to our discussion about the nature of God.
The story, as found in Judges chapter 19, goes something like this: In the days before Israel had a king, a certain Levite priest was traveling with his attendant and concubine. They stopped in a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by members of the Israelite tribe of Benjamin. They spent the night in the house of a hospitable old man. While they were eating, men from the city, sons of Belial, beat on the door and demanded that the old man hand over the priest, so they could have sex with him.
The owner of the house pleaded with the men not to do this, and offered his daughter and the Levite man’s concubine instead. The mob refused to listen, so the old man grabbed hold of the concubine and brought her outside, where she was gang raped. In the morning, the Levite priest found his concubine dead on the doorstep. He took her to his home, cut her up into twelve pieces, and sent one piece into each territory of Israel.
Now, this is where the atheist writer ends his commentary of this particular account, perhaps leaving readers with the impression that the old man was a misogynist, gang rape was tolerated, and cutting up a dead concubine into twelve pieces is just the kind of weird behavior you might expect to see in the Bible.
By cutting off the narrative at this point, a critical piece of the story has been omitted. Only by reading on in the Biblical account, do we get the full picture. For example, why did the Levite priest cut up the concubine’s dead body into twelve pieces and send them out? Was it some strange woman-hating ritual?
Not at all. It was deliberately done to grab attention, and to provoke all of the tribes of Israel to take action over the horrific crimes of gang rape and murder. And it worked. The people who saw the pieces of the concubine’s body exclaimed, “Nothing has been seen or done like this, from the day the sons of Israel came up out of Egypt until this day.” 2
All the chiefs of the people and tribes of Israel gathered together and asked, “How did this evil happen?” 3 The Levite priest explained what had happened to him and his concubine, and the Israelites were outraged.
They gathered together, and sent men to the tribe of Benjamin, demanding that the criminals be handed over to be put to death. The Benjaminites refused to listen to their brothers, and so the other tribes of Israel went to war with them. As a result, the tribe of Benjamin was nearly wiped out for harboring the criminals!
When we read the full story in its broader context, we see that most of Israel was rightly outraged by such a horrendous crime. I have chosen to use this particular example, among many I could have picked from atheist writings, to show that we can mislead ourselves or others if we do not see, or fail to communicate, the full picture of what is actually going on.
In a somewhat grim but curious irony, the concubine’s cut up body can actually be a useful metaphor for how humans can distort truth. If you are only given one piece of the story, you will also be outraged and say, “What is this?”
In this example, the full story was that the other tribes of Israel rightly saw the gang rape and murder of the concubine as a horrendous crime. In their day, they didn’t have police to go in and arrest the men who did this, so they took the strongest action they could take. They gathered in force and demanded that the criminals be handed over to be put to death. For whatever reason, the elders of the tribe of Benjamin refused, and this resulted in civil war!
Clearly this is the complete opposite of the impression left by the atheist writer by omitting the end of the story. The real truth was, gang rape was not tolerated, and the priest’s motive for cutting up his concubine’s already dead body was to draw attention to the abuse and murder suffered by the woman, and to seek punishment for those who had committed the crimes against her.
But why did the old man offer his daughter and priest’s concubine to the mob? The atheist writer hints at misogyny. However, I’d suggest the simpler and more likely reason is that the old man didn’t want to hand over a priest, a holy man of God, which in his mind would compound an already terrible crime. Also, since the mob were beating down his door and demanding sex, the old man was probably terrified, and reacted by first offering his daughter, and then practically throwing the priest’s concubine at them.
I don’t get the impression that the man hated women. After all, he had shown the priest and his concubine hospitality in the first place. Instead, the impression given by the account is that of an old man who was scared out of his mind, desperately trying to placate a violent and sex-crazed mob who were pounding on his door.
The point here is, if we want to understand the real motive behind a person or action, and not simply satisfy ourselves with a cartoon or straw man version, we need the full picture. Of course, this applies equally to atheists and believers. It’s easy to misrepresent people with whom we disagree. Atheists have also been misrepresented by believers. To a certain extent, we all have our Hammer Killers.
However, there is another important reason for introducing the story of the Hammer Killer to our discussion. Some may object to capital punishment, but whether we agree with it or not, the so-called Hammer Killer was acting in her legal capacity as a judge when she sentenced the man to death. In a legal sense, and in the context of the courtroom, she was not a murderer.
On the other hand, if she had then gone home and killed her husband and daughter, most normal people would definitely view her as a murderer. Similarly, if she acted romantically toward the man she was sentencing, in the way she acted romantically toward her husband, people would demand she be removed as a judge.
Clearly then, as humans we recognize that people act differently when they are performing different roles. The judge can be romantic with her husband one day, and then sentence a man to death the next day, because she has to metaphorically wear different hats in her life.
In our story, the woman wore at least three hats – those of a Wife, Mother and a Judge. The different hats come with different roles and responsibilities, and different ways of behaving. But if we assumed she was always wearing her Judge hat, and that killing people with a hammer was her thing, we would never truly understand her.
Similarly, if YHWH really does exist, as this letter suggests, then he also has to wear different hats at different times and in different contexts. He is said to have created the heavens and the Earth, earning him the Creator hat.
When he created humans, we could say he took on the Parent role, although many humans have chosen to go their own way. But parents are concerned for the overall welfare of their offspring, even when they go astray or become adults.
At times God also has to wear the Judge hat, when administering judgment and justice. We will talk about specific examples in later chapters. However, if we only viewed him through the lens of him being an angry Judge, we would be doing precisely what I did with the Hammer Killer at the beginning of this chapter.
If God exists, then it is important to get a full picture of him as well, and not just a one-sided version, so we can understand the real nature of God, and the motives behind his actions. In the coming chapters we will do this by looking at some of the accounts in the Bible that atheists have trouble with, as part of my investigation into the Communication Hypothesis.
1 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p240-241. Bantam Press, 2006. 2 Judges 19:30. 3 Judges 20:3.