What Han Solo taught me about biblical genocide


Han shot first.  He murdered Greedo in cold blood in the first Star Wars movie. George Lucas tried to sanitize this in his new-and-improved Special Edition of the trilogy — he changed it so that Greedo shot first, meaning Han killed him in self-defense.  But something in the geek soul rebels against this sort of revisionist history. Why?

Because we value honesty. Truth at all costs.  And the truth is that Han Solo is a cold-blooded murderer, not to mention a slimy double-crossing no-good swindler.

I have the same problem with my Judeo-Christian roots.  My sacred texts bind me to atrocities committed by MY people in the name of MY God.  My children’s religious training involves stories about genocide.

Just like how their geek training involves movies with cold-blooded murderers.

Why?  Because I want my kids to understand that:

1.  We Homo Sapiens are violent primates. One of the worst things I could teach my kids is that there is such a thing as “good guys” and “bad guys.” That somewhere out there is a weird sub-class of humans who are capable of doing bad things, and that we are not them. We humans have survived because we have out-genocided our competitors.  My children are genetically capable of great violence, and they need to know this.  We can’t progress in this conversation until we admit that violence against The Other makes perfect sense to us.

2. We like to imagine our atrocities are good.  Crimes against humanity are hard work.  We don’t do them because they’re fun; we do them because we think they are the Right Thing To Do.  For the Greater Good.  Holy Work.  Our mythology tells us that Canaanites need to die because they’re bad.  Greedo needs to die because he might take Han Solo away and interrupt the plot. When we watch violent movies, I ask my kids to identify the characters they want to die, and then we talk about WHY they want them to die.  It’s always some version of “Everybody would be better off if that bad guy was dead.”  I ask them to think about why we instinctively laugh when Han shoots Greedo. Because let’s admit it, it’s an awesome scene.

3. Yahweh has been infiltrating and subverting our mythology for a long time.  The people of the Bible tell themselves all the standard tales about how God loves Us (the good guys) and wants us to kill Them (the bad guys). This is not remarkable in any way.  What is unusual is how these stories are salted with little subversive sub-plots that show the goodness of the bad guys and the badness of the good guys.  Canaanites are inhuman monsters, but Canaanite women like Rahab and Ruth become great exemplars of faith. David is a man after God’s own heart, but his filandering would make a Congressman blush. And when the good guys (Israelites) and the bad guys (Gentiles) team up to murder Jesus, he doesn’t shoot back, even in self-defense.

(Take that, Han).

What I want my kids to see is that, within the standard mythologies present in the Bible, there is Someone who is up to Something, and it’s that Someone we want to pay very careful attention to.

Han Solo is a murdering thug. Han Solo is one of us. My spiritual forebears are spittle-emitting genocidal religious fanatics.  I am one them. There is nothing in them that does not also exist in me, and in my kids.  The God who was with them is also with me.  And this God is taking us all somewhere we have never been before — a place called Shalom.


  1. Suzanne Ross says:

    What a wonderful argument for telling the truth to our children, John. Without facing the truth about our ancestors and ourselves, we may not even notice the subversive Someone in those texts leading us out of the mess we are in. It felt to me as if you were teaching your children — and us — to read confessionally and that is probably the best lesson we have to offer.

    1. I really like that phrase about “reading confessionally.” Like, the Bible narrates God and us at the same time, and by sharing in that narration we’re confessing the truth of God and also the complicated, sometimes-icky truth about ourselves.

  2. Jero777 says:

    Hey, John, good one. God is on the move through the history of mankind and in each of our lives. Meeting us where we are and leading to where he wants us to go.
    So, how do we deal with the accounts that attribute the command to commit genocide to God himself? Is it not really God, but his people’s projection of their own heart on him that is recorded? Or does God get a pass because he is the almighty creator who will resurrect all people – as in “on the last day it will be easier for Sodom than for that town?” Luke 10:12. Or something else… Jerome

    1. Hey Jerome! “Is it really God?” My short answer is No; it is normal for people to think God blesses (and even demands) their atrocities. My longer answer is more complicated and not yet fully-formed. The Bible is pretty adamant that all things ultimately come from God (Isa 45.7) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=isa+45.7&version=KJV Regardless of whether God actually told Joshua to commit genocide, God is ultimately the one who created a world in which such brutality is the price of survival. Simply saying “Joshua was wrong about God” is part of an explanation, but my gut says there’s more to it. I like Brueggemann on this topic.

      1. Jero777 says:

        Thanks, John. In the end, I guess face this question with another: “Who is the God we see in Jesus?” There is puzzling complexity and mystery, to be sure, but the answer to THAT question gives great comfort as well. Jerome

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