September 28, 2014

Biblical Immorality

Titlepage of the New Testament section of a Ge...
Titlepage of the New Testament section of a German Luther Bible, printed in 1769. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When atheists criticize the sort of morality found in both the Old Testament and New Testament of the book Christians call "holy," we tend to select a few choice examples that highlight the sharp contrast between what the Judeo-Christian god allegedly did and modern values. We might pick slavery or rape, for example, and point out how the god Christians claim to worship advocated these things which we now recognize as abhorrent. Many of our criticisms are fairly specific in this way, but it is also possible to step back and draw on larger examples of the sort that might be described as themes which permeate much of the bible.

Imagine that a parent raised a child to think and behave in a certain way. The child, who trusts the parent, conforms to the parent's wishes. If the child is young enough, we might conclude that the child does not have much choice in the matter and is effectively being molded by the parent. Now suppose that this same parent brutally punishes the child for thinking and behaving in the very ways he or she has instructed the child to think and behave. Perhaps the scope of the punishment even includes murder. It wouldn't make much sense, would it? We would be fairly quick to agree that such a parent was doing a rather poor job of parenting (to say the least). And yet, it is perfectly acceptable for the Judeo-Christian god to do this throughout the bible. Mysterious ways and all.

In passage after passage of the bible, we encounter descriptions of how an allegedly loving god "hardens hearts." This appears to involve a supernatural violation of free will. This god is making people think in certain ways. Whereas we might have been able to debate whether or not the parent of a young child was really depriving the child of free will, it seems apparent that a god "hardening hearts" was doing so. The victims of this divine intervention, influenced by this god to think and behave in ways of which it did not approve, were then punished ruthlessly by this very same god. In many instances, the punishment evidently took the form of wholesale slaughter, even genocide. What sort of god is this? Mysterious ways aside, this would strike even a child as an incredibly poor example of morality.

At some point, don't we have to agree that someone's motive for doing what they do stops mattering so much? Consider the Holocaust for a moment. Can't we agree that the scope of it renders Hitler's motives relatively unimportant in how we judge his actions? We aren't going to look at what he did and say, "Oh, well if that's why you did it, then I guess it wasn't so bad." If what we read in the bible is assumed to be even mildly accurate, it is safe to say that the behavior of the Judeo-Christian god was far more evil than anything Hitler could have dreamed up. Can mysterious ways really justify it all?

Some Christians will that Jesus somehow persuaded this god to stop behaving this way. I'm not sure they realize how absurd this idea is when they simultaneously insist that their god is all powerful, loving, all-knowing, and the like. But we can set this objection aside. Even if we could somehow agree that it was plausible, we would still have to confront the Jesus narrative. Did Jesus both abolish the Old Testament and do away with hell completely? No? Then we still have a problem. We still don't have anything that looks moral.

What we have is an ideology based on fear and guilt. It does not matter how desperately one tries to cloak this ideology in talk of love or insist that Jesus suffered for us. The notion of a god, or a god-like being of some sort if you prefer, dying (but only temporarily) in order to save us is beyond ridiculous. We are expected to believe that the evil god we encounter throughout the bible had a change of heart and will now spare us from eternal torture if we believe what it wants us to believe (i.e., Jesus). But how many of us can start to believe something that we do not believe? Do we really have a choice? Belief does not work like that.

For most of us who have actually read the bible, I think it is fair to say that this particular god has a bit of a credibility problem. If we were to believe it existed at all, we'd have to conclude that it was a vile being with nothing like our safety and happiness in mind. It is amazing that Christians have been able to reconcile their Jesus doctrine with everything said about their god in their "holy" book. I won't pretend I can do it.

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