15 February 2010

The book of evil

Some religious believers claim that religion is necessary because it is the source of morality, and thus provides the sole objective standard by which to regulate human behavior. In fact, of course, there is considerable evidence that morality is inborn in humans and not dependent on religion, but aside from that, what would morality look like if we actually did derive it from religion? I'm going to look mainly at one example which will be fairly familiar to most readers. There are plenty of others I could have chosen.

It is often said that the Old Testament condemns homosexuals to death, but this is actually not the case. Let's look at the wording of the relevant text, Leviticus 20:13 (KJV translation):

If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

Note that this wording does not condemn "homosexuals" as such (a concept which, as far as I know, didn't exist until the nineteenth century anyway). It condemns anyone who has committed a particular action. Any man who has engaged in sexual relations with another man, ever -- even once -- is condemned to death.

This is a much larger number of people than just "homosexuals". Most studies on the subject have concluded that around 2% of the adult population is predominantly homosexual or bisexual in orientation; given an adult male population of at least 100 million in the US, this means there are at least two million gay or bisexual men, and executing all of them (as some hard-line Christian sects such as the Dominionists apparently aspire to do) would mean mass murder approaching the scale of the Holocaust.

But carrying out the actual clear intent of Leviticus 20:13 would mean executing every man who, say, ever went through a period of homosexual experimentation in late adolescence or early adulthood (something which as many as 20% of males may have done, by some estimates), or once had one isolated gay encounter while he was drunk, or resorted to such an act due to prolonged deprivation in an all-male environment such as prison or certain military deployments. This would likely run to tens of millions of people, most of whom don't think of themselves as "gay" at all and wouldn't be considered such by anyone else.

Notice that Fred Phelps, leader of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church (those much-photographed loons who pop up in so many places waving colorful "God hates fags" signs) actually stands revealed as un-Biblically permissive, since he denounces only gays as a category and ignores the much larger number of people actually condemned to death by the Word of God.

At this point someone may object that Leviticus is irrelevant to Christian morality because the New Testament has somehow abrogated the laws of the Old. This claim is unequivocally false. Here are the words of Jesus Christ according to Matthew 5:17-19:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do, and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

There is no wiggle room there. All the laws of the Old Testament remain in full force and will continue to be so for as long as the Earth itself exists. If you are a liberal Christian and you claim that Christian morality does not require enforcing Leviticus 20:13 and executing every man who has ever committed a homosexual act, Jesus Christ himself says that you are wrong and that Fred Phelps ("whosoever shall do, and teach them") is right.

(Notice too that almost all of the Biblical passages condemning homosexuality which are cited in Phelps's propaganda are from the New Testament, not the Old; they are not the actual words of Jesus, but they are the words of people much closer to him in time and culture than any modern Christian is.)

Many liberal Christians are decent people and I have nothing against them, as people. But they are decent people only because they do not get their morality from the Bible.

Homosexual behavior is not the only sin punishable by death according to Biblical morality, of course. It might be rather an interesting exercise for you, the reader, to leaf through the parts of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers in which Moses is getting all these laws directly from God, to see if you can find anything you yourself have done which is declared a death-penalty offense (assuming you aren't put to sleep by the interminable and tedious rules concerning animal sacrifice). Heterosexuality does not get you off the hook. Just three verses before the condemnation of homosexuality, in Leviticus 20:10, we find this:

And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.

You may not approve of someone sleeping with a married woman, but to kill both parties for it? Can you imagine how many people would have to be killed if this were enforced, as the Dominionists aspire to do, and America would need to do if we were serious about claiming the Bible as the ultimate source of morality?

(That would include me, by the way. I once had a relationship with a married woman. The circumstances were such that I felt, and still feel, no guilt about it at all. But the Biblical pronouncements make no exceptions for individual circumstances.)

Another passage of interest is Numbers 15:32-36:

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath-day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses.

Gathering sticks on a Sunday? Are you sure you've never done that? Even if you haven't, do you think of it as no big deal? Yet this is a crime worthy of death; God himself said so. If you disagree, then you're judging the Bible by some other moral standard, which is to say that your own morality is ultimately based on something other than the Bible.

If we took the Bible as our source of morality and actually did what it tells us to do, we'd need to kill so many people that we'd make the Nazis look like angels of mercy. We'd need to build a dozen Auschwitzes and keep them running around the clock for years. We'd be lucky if a quarter of the population were left alive when we were finished.

Those survivors, by the way, might include some pretty unsavory characters. There are many other ways in which Biblical morality deviates from real morality. Consider the story of Lot in Sodom. As we all know, two angels came to visit Lot, and his house was quickly surrounded by locals who demanded that the attractive male strangers be handed over to them for, shall we say, purposes of which Fred Phelps would not approve. Lot's shocking response is found in Genesis 19:8:

Behold now, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do you to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.

Lot tried to defuse the situation by handing over his own virgin daughters to a mob of would-be rapists. And God clearly approved of this behavior, since he judged Lot to be the only man righteous enough to be saved from the destruction of the city. So this, too, is Biblical "morality".

I do not condemn only fundamentalism or theocracy. I condemn the Bible itself. It is a work of irredeemable evil.


Blogger TomCat said...

One of the problem I see in modern Christianity is that the worship of a book has replaced faith. As a progressive Christian, I recognize that the Bible is loaded with errors and contradictions. As such I do not consider myself bound by Old Testament piety codes.

15 February, 2010 11:58  
Blogger Jerry Critter said...

Even fundamentalist Christians pick and choose what they want from the bible.

15 February, 2010 13:41  
Blogger dotlizard said...

I started to write a comment and it got a little out of hand, it ended up being a whole blog post.

I've been one to accept the New Improved explanation from progressives, but while the New Testament version was decidedly less mass-murderous, they still did a whole lot of hating.

15 February, 2010 23:08  
Blogger Sabio Lantz said...

I prefer focused arguments. I guess by similar argument the Mahabharata is irredeemably evil or the Iliad is irredeemably evil.

Instead, valuing evil beliefs is evil. As stated, "The Bible" is a huge collection of many texts by many writers. Ironically, in a sense, by condemning the book itself, we buy into the belief that it had one author -- the Holy Spirit.

But I get the rage with the hatred recorded in by some authors (in the Iliad, Mahabharata and the Tanak) and even more with those who still embrace hatred ! I get the rage with those that tell us the text codified by some Christians is a moral guidebook. That voice of yours is highly valued by me.

16 February, 2010 03:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

TomCat: The more people move beyond "worship of a book", the better. I do wonder, though -- if Christianity is not to be based on the Bible, then what is it based on, and why call it "Christianity"?

Jerry: True. When you get right down to it, many of the actual pronouncements of the Word of God are so morally revolting that even the most hard-line fundamentslists can't stomach them.

God Lizard: The New Testament seems to be where the threat of Hell mostly surfaces. At least the Old Testament Jehovah finished tormenting his victims when they were dead.

I don't mind longer comments, by the way, so long as they're positive and on-topic.

(God Lizard has a posting up on this same issue.)

Sabio: I guess by similar argument the Mahabharata is irredeemably evil or the Iliad is irredeemably evil.

I don't know very much about those works, but if they contain commandments similar to the ones I quoted from the Bible, and if those commandments are similarly claimed to have the force of divine law, then yes, they are irredeemably evil. I know of no "traditional culture" which is not a ghastly abomination of pointless cruelty and stupidity.

by condemning the book itself, we buy into the belief that it had one author -- the Holy Spirit.

I don't see how that follows at all. I judge the book by what is written in it, not by who wrote it. In fact, the Old Testament is a crude forgery and the provenance of the Gospels is murky at best. As far as I know, there is no evidence whatsoever that Jesus actually existed. But in practical terms it doesn't matter. Millions of people believe this book contains the keys to absolute truth and morality, and are willing to kill on that basis, and that makes it important to understand what the book actually says. If there were a huge religion which venerated the Harry Potter novels in the same way, analyzing those novels would be similarly important, even if non-members knew perfectly well that Dumbledore was a fictional character.

That voice of yours is highly valued by me.

Thank you. Since I understand evolution, I know that the capacity for rage is born in us for a reason -- it has its place. There are things to which rage is an appropriate response.

16 February, 2010 05:36  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I just wanted to state for the record (even though I read this the other day) .... that I thought this was an excellent posting.

You know Mr.Infidel .... it still is amazing to me that people in the 21st century would take these ancient middle eastern stories and try to apply this to today and the current reality, it's almost like some form of genetic insanity, hard to explain. Yep, I've enjoyed reading the bible, but also many other book's, but I am an American Texan in 2010, and frankly beside's a good story or two for entertainment, the bible in these time's, old or new testament ... or any other occultic type book's( basically it's an ancient type occult, sci-fi, horror book, and I treasure it simply as such) as such couldnt do me a damn bit of good.... period.

And, "no" ...for the record I am not an atheist or against folk's that treasure these writing's, I am very spiritual actually, I just keep my spirituality to myself. But yes, I have enough evidence that show's me that this book has been actually, very destructive to many as well.

Just my opinion Guy .... thanx

16 February, 2010 22:34  
Anonymous NickM said...

1/4 left alive... I think you are being spectacularly optomistic!

I mean without even thinking they got me on the "sticks on a Sunday" clause!

And what pray tell of the fates of some of the noted televangelists...

I have it on good authority that one who raged against homosexuality and drugs was found by the cops in a hotel room in Co with a pile of crystal meth and a male prostitute.

Ho hum!

17 February, 2010 07:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

1/4 left alive... I think you are being spectacularly optomistic!

Probably so. I can't remember all the stuff that's punishable by death. Quite possibly we'd be left with no one but the severely retarded.

I have it on good authority that one who raged against homosexuality and drugs was found by the cops in a hotel room in Co with a pile of crystal meth and a male prostitute.

You're probably thinking of Ted Haggard. Frankly I'm suspicious of these guys who put so much energy into condemning homosexuality. Most people who are genuinely 100% heterosexual hardly ever even think about homosexuality.

17 February, 2010 07:35  
Anonymous Anil said...

great article, thank you for sharing

25 November, 2015 23:55  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Infidel, I feel like part of the issue with interpreting this teaching of Jesus in this way is that it seems to contradict many other teachings of Jesus were His words do appear to supersede the OT law.

I'm especially thinking of His teaching where He revokes "an eye for an eye," and speaks strongly against retaliatory violence. (I won't read this to mean we should be doormats, though.) Here's an article that addresses this in greater detail.


Hope the link works. But, tell me your thoughts.


24 January, 2021 12:57  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It's not an "interpretation". All this stuff is right there in the Bible in plain language. Yes, the Bible contradicts itself a lot, but the fact remains that all this stuff is there and any claim that the Bible is a source of morality founders on it.

25 January, 2021 02:01  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well, would Jesus contradict Himself, though, or might there be misunderstanding on our part of the meaning of His teaching? To me, this seems a more likely possibility. Infidel, I also feel Jesus used hyperbole at times to make a point as was the custom of that time. I mean just to give an example of what we call "turning the other cheek .." I feel like the truth being expressed here is centered in the pursuit of peace, defusing a fight..I don't feel like it means stand bye and just be a doormat, never attempt to defend yourself,etc. I mean what if someone broke into our house with intent to commit violent assault? Does Jesus simply want us to standby and be murdered. Infidel, even apart from what the scholars are saying, good old common sense also can go a long way in how we use and interpret the Scripture. Becky

25 January, 2021 02:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jesus is a fictional character in a very-badly-edited collection of fables. It's not at all surprising that some tales would have him saying things that contradict what he said in other tales.

The fact that some people want to use the said collection of fables as a source of morality and law is all the more of a problem because the text itself is such a random jumble.

25 January, 2021 03:56  

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