So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded. Joshua subdued them from Kadesh Barnea to Gaza and from the whole region of Goshen to Gibeon. All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fought for Israel. Then Joshua returned with all Israel to the camp at Gilgal.
This passage from the book of Joshua (part of a litany of similar episodes) sparks concern. "He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded." What are we to make of this? According to secular morals, we are supposed to think this an abomination. On what principle? On the principle that everyone deserves life, and respect, and freedom. Warring tribes slaughtering entire cities and leaving no one alive are evil. But the Gospel teaches us also to respect life and acknowledge human worth.
The moral issue here is reducible to a metaphysical issue. What is the basis of morality? What is the sine qua non upon which all moral judgments are founded? If it is the absolute and intrinsic dignity of free persons, then we must reject the book of Joshua like Marcion did, as being inspired by an evil God. If the dignity of persons is the foundation of morality, then nothing can contravene it and remain moral.
If on the other hand, the foundation of morality is not the dignity of persons, but the providential reign of God, the supreme Good, to whom all lesser goods are ordered, then the ultimate, decisive question we can ask about the morality of an action is: Does it tend toward God?
The form of our society reflects itself back into the form of our morality, which shapes our understanding of the natural order of the universe. If we are really democratic, and if we are formed to be democratic citizens, then our morals will focus on ideas about equal dignity and 'rights'. And once this has taken hold of our ordinary relationships and activities, it will be projected analogically onto our ideas about God.