12 May 2013

The Bible Is Mostly Immoral

God is a being of terrific character...cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.

- Thomas Jefferson

If Jews really followed the Torah, and Christians really held up the Bible as their moral guide, the world would be a terrifying place indeed.  Thankfully, mostly, today neither Jews nor Christians act like they did in the Bible.  But, the scriptures that these faiths hold as foundational have little to recommend themselves from a moral perspective, and this casts doubt on the moral legitimacy of these faiths themselves.

The YHWH of the Hebrew Bible and his people acting under his guidance are positively wicked.  He commands the Jews to slaughter all of the adults and boys in whole communities and to rape and enslave their virgins, or at least to take similarly genocidal steps in order to grab land for their own selfish gain (e.g. the Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, Amalekites and Midianites, see, e.g., Deuteronomy 2; Joshua Ch. 8 and 10; Numbers 21 and 31; Judges 4:16; 1 Samuel 27:8-9).  He kills the first born children of an entire nation and visits this nation with plague after plague (the Egyptians) because the Pharoh was stubborn as a consequence of the mind control that YHWH placed him under.  The greatest philosopher-poet king ruling in his divine right (Solomon) arranges the death of a woman's husband on the front lines of a war so that he can have her for himself.  His commandment to murder witches has caused thousands of innocent women to be tortured, to suffer, to die over thousands of years (Exodus 22:18).  More people yet have been unjustly stoned on account of his commandments (Deuteronomy 22:22; Leviticus 20:10).  The Bible calls for the death penalty for such offenses as "eating leavened bread during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, a male engaging in sexual activity with a woman who is menstruating, teaching people about another religion, blasphemy, to working on Saturday, etc."  Men offer up their daughters to be raped (Lot) and their sons (Isaac) to be presented as sacrifices in his name.  Entire families are destroyed for one member's minor sins.  The Torah provides that virgins who are raped must marry their rapists who must pay a minor compensatory fine to their fathers (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).  When he loses his temper, God smites whole villages (Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19) and even almost the whole world (Noah's flood, Genesis 6-9).  He toys with even his most loyal and faithful servants for wager and jest (Job).  The first Jew (Abraham) is married to his half-sister yet offers up his wife as bride to a king to blackmail him and has second class children by his maid as well - this is neither the first, nor the last questionable pairing of the Hebrew Bible.  Esther's answer to a genocidal plot against the Jews is not reconciliation, but counter-genocide. 

These are not tangential or minor parts of the narrative.  These are central elements of it and the worst parts of repeated emphatically, over and over again in new circumstances.  Few societies in all of history have so meticulously assembled a legendary history of themselves acting like maniacal vile monsters.

The fundamentalist Christian defense is not exactly impressive: "one fundamental principle is overlooked by the atheists: God as the Creator of life has the right to take it."  I suppose, by that logic, we should go back to the old Roman law principle that fathers have an absolute right to kill their children without justification too.  (More critiques here).

The lives of modern Muslims are probably closer to that of the Biblical Jews than the lives of modern Rabbinic Jews, and Islam, like Biblical Judiasm, provides a set of commandments about how to live life that only makes sense in a society of iron age herders, if it ever even made sense for them.  Much of modern Islamic fundamentalism is as much as anything a case of the moderating doctrines of the extra scriptural tradition losing its force as more and more moderately literate Muslims are capable of reading the Quaran themselves, and doing so without this intepretative gloss from religious authorities over the centuries to contain its "hard passages."

The Christianity that Saint Paul created, that is ancestral, at least to the European Christianity and Orthodox Christian faiths is hardly better.  His conception of sex and marriage is twisted and wrong.  Celibacy is a disorder, not something to aspire to, and that someone with such a jaded view of marriage should tell those in marriages how to relate to each other is absurd.  He called on slaves to embrace their slavery.  His notion of resurrection is almost surely a gross distortion of what the Jesus movement taught and it appears to be him that made ritual cannibalism a central rite of Christianity.  Would it be so shocking to consider that maybe the authorities threw him in jail again and again and again because he actually did deserve it?

The Jesus of the Gospels is one of the more attractive figures in the Bible, but hardly above reproach.  He and his disciples were charlatan exorcists and faith healers and magicians first, and humane philosophers second.  People came to them greedy for their magic above all.  The distaste Jesus urged his follows to adopt for material wealth and family loyalties would be ruinous for the entire society if people actually followed it.  His focus on the next world was at best counterproductive.  And, a god who thinks that manipulating events to bring about his own son's painful unjust execution followed by a long weekend in Hell should in some way be relevant to the afterlife of billions of people is just more perverse crazy talk.

There are few important figures in the Bible who are not either felons or war criminals.

The New Testament emphasis on the forgiveness that urban people need to function, rather than the vengeance mentality of a herder society is a positive shift, but is only a half measure.

None of the "People of the Book" as Islam calls them have a scriptural code that could function at all today without a thick blanket of religious doctrine to mute or ignore their rough edges.

If God were real, he would be a evil force in the world that Lucifer was right to try to bring down (this reading is mostly rooted in Genesis 6:4-6; Isaiah 14:12-18 and Revelations 12:7-9 as elaborated on by Dante, John Milton, and other writers in the Christian mystical tradition).  The fact that God is not real, however, does not absolve the teachings made in his name of their fundamental immorality.

As people of the twenty-first century, surely we can do better in our search for moral guidance in life than the parade of positively vicious and wrong advice and examples set forth in the Bible.  The Bible's "wisdom" does not deserve respect or reverence from any modern man or woman or child.  It may have made sense for people in the Iron Age Eastern Mediterrean.  It does not make sense for a post-industrial global society.

The moderate web collective "Religous Tolerance.org" based on Ontario, Canada offers a more scholarly take than the fundamentalist straw man version set forth here which states in part:
Almost everywhere else in our essays dealing with Christianity, we compare conservative and liberal Christian points of view. This essay is different. Here, we compare various events in the Bible with current secular and religious standards of morality. This section lists many events in the Bible that are immoral by today's secular standards, including: genocide, murder of people for their religious beliefs, mass murder of innocent children, transferring guilt and punishment from the guilty to the innocent, executing some hookers by burning them alive, etc. They are sometimes called "hard passages" because they seem to portray God as behaving in a way that would be considered highly immoral by most people today.
Some of the early Christian groups, including many in the Gnostic tradition were so offended by what they viewed as profoundly immoral actions by Yahweh that they rejected the entire Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) or even lowered the status of Yahweh to that of a demiurge -- an inferior deity.
The purpose and intent of this section is to show there are some profoundly violent, immoral and unethical passages in the Bible when it is compared to today's secular and religious ethical systems. These passages are casting Christianity and Judaism a bad light. They are causing many potential Christians and Jews to reject the Bible, and may be contributing to the legitimization of violence throughout the culture.
Solving this problem is difficult.
Most religious liberals have long asserted that the Bible was written by humans who were influenced by their tribal culture, regional violence, and lack of scientific knowledge. Most liberals accept that the passages did not reflect the will of God at the time and are not the will of God today.
However, most conservative Christian and Jewish leaders take a very strong stand that the entire Bible reflects the will of God. If they were to teach that some biblical passages violate the will of God then their followers' faith in the validity of the rest of the Bible might dissipate.
Included below is a link to a companion essay which discusses why it is important to change the interpretation of those passages in religious holy books that are violent and unjust by today's standards.
The companion essay argues not just that these passages be reinterpreted, but that they be edited out of the scriptures in which they are found in the tradition of the Jefferson Bible that is currently on display in Denver.  I personally have a very hard time believing that censorship is the answer.

If  you have a strong ideological precommitment to saving Judaism and Christianity as morally legitimate enterprises that should guide us going forward in the modern world, you urgently need to find a way to gloss over the "hard passages" and tame your religion. 

But, if you come to the matter without preconceptions, the answer is easy.  These religious are so rotten at the core that it makes far more sense to simply start over from scratch and abandon them to the wastebins of history, than to try to build an elaborate work around of doctrine to deny what the written word has preserved.

It is partially for this reason that the ranks of the non-religious are surging despite the fact that millions of people are employed full time for pay to evangelize and to sustain the faithful, while virtually no one is employed to try to cause people to abandon their faith and the non-religious movement is terribly disorganized.  The force of ideas is on their side.


John. said...

"quote" However, most conservative Christian and Jewish leaders take a very strong stand that the entire Bible reflects the will of God. If they were to teach that some biblical passages violate the will of God then their followers' faith in the validity of the rest of the Bible might dissipate.

This is patently false. Most ie: evangelicals baptist and the like; teach that the word testament means covenant. Hence new covenant old covenant. Most believe the old testament is for reference only and use it as a means of backing up verses from the new testament.

While I do not believe in the god of the Christians. I am not going to condemn their holy book because it happens to have antiquated passages that reflect the history of the Jews and their god. Much of the verse used in the beginning of these post are taken out of context.

I would like to know. Who or what do you think is the proper moral standard. If not the bible then what teachings. Certainly not a PHD of psychology. Man trying to teach man moral law is like a great white shark trying to teach a seal how to swim. Man has no moral superiority. There are moral men and women, but it ends there.

There is no secular god. People are leaving Christianity, not because it is not a good religion to base ones moral life code on. But because people care more about TMZ and the kardashian sisters then moral code. Its as simple as that. What is happening now in our society is the result of years of secularism being streamed first via TV and now via the internet into the hearts and minds of people. It started in 60s by future hippies dredging up the GOD IS DEAD theology. And our country has gone downhill since.

What you espouse is nothing new. Just a rehashing of the same seen here.


andrew said...

I make no claim that the ideas in this post are original. Good ideas bear repeating, however.

Also, while Christians do make a distinction between the "Old Covenant" of God with the Jews, and the the "New Covenant" brought about through Jesus Christ, they do not assert that different gods were involved in each. Christian doctrine asserts that YHVW and "God the Father" of their own religion are one and the same. It is an ad hominen attack on God (yes, I see the irony in that phrasing). The issue in not that they should kill each other for eating unleavened bread during Passover; they issue is that they should be loathe to worship a God who would ever have imposed such a commandment upon his people. Also, the New Testament, as I note, isn't all that wonderful either - although sometimes for different reasons.


This post asserts that this God isn't worthy of worship if he exists, whether or not his old Covenant is binding up Christians. Adherence to a doctrine like Stalinism is not redeemed because Stalinists stopped causing the deaths of millions of people a year after a while.

I also strongly dispute that these passages are taken out of context. As I note in my post, the stories of genocidal slaughter, an ever wrathful god, and a people committed for carrying out that ever wrathful god's harsh commands themselves, are very much at the core of the Hebrew Bible's narrative.

I also firmly reject the notion that man cannot teach man moral law. This is what every parent does. No one but man can teach other men moral law and a man or a woman can have moral superiority. Ideas espoused by men and woman have power than need not be rooted in divine authority. There is no need for a secular god. All that is necessary are secular ideas about morality that give rise to what people see as a good life. This body of ideas is sometimes called "humanism."

Our country is not going downhill. It is becoming better. Our more secular society is an important part of this transformation for the better. A key point of this post is to recall that the "good old days" were less moral and just than they are today.

People have always enjoyed popular culture. Jane Austin's novels used to receive the same snotty condemnation that the saga of the Kardashian sisters received from you.

The GOD IS DEAD theology is one of the more positive and promising paths to a better world in theology and deserves another look. Thank you for the link and the reference.