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Bible themes

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Bible passages considered immoral
by today's theologians and secularists

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Quotations: 

bullet"God is a being of terrific character...cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust." Thomas Jefferson
 
bullet"Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker?" Job 4:17
 
bullet"Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a schoolbook? Its morals are pure, its examples are captivating and noble." Fisher Ames, Massachusetts Congressman (1758-1808)
 
bullet"...Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints." Revelation 15:3b
 
bullet

"...texts from the source we call Holy Scripture have been used in the past to defend the divine right of kings and to oppose the Magna Carta; to condemn Galileo and to assert that the Sun does indeed rotate around the Earth; to justify slavery, segregation and apartheid; to keep women from being educated, entering the professions, voting or being ordained; to justify war, to persecute and kill Jews; to condemn other world religions; and to continue the oppression and rejection of gay and lesbian people." Bishop John Shelby Spong 1 (He left out transgender individuals)

bullet"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Timothy 3:16-17
 
bullet "The Bible has been used for centuries by Christians as a weapon of control. To read it literally is to believe in a three-tiered universe, to condone slavery, to treat women as inferior creatures, to believe that sickness is caused by God's punishment and that mental disease and epilepsy are caused by demonic possession. When someone tells me that they believe the Bible is the 'literal and inerrant word of God,' I always ask, 'Have you ever read it'?" Bishop John Shelby Spong. 2
 
bullet The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction. Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic homophobic racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal ..." 3 Richard Dawkins
 
bulletThe problem with the Old and New Testaments is that they are both dated pieces of literature that reflect the values and mores of those who wrote them between 1000 BCE and 135 CE. Many passages in the Old Testament reflect a tribal mentality that portrays God as hating everyone the people of Israel hated. It also portrays God as killing the firstborn male in every household in Egypt on the night of the Passover; justifies the institution of slavery (except for fellow Jews) and defines women as the property of men. Note that even the Ten Commandments exhort us "not covet our neighbor's house, his wife, his slaves, his ox, his ass, etc." The neighbor is clearly a male, and the things that we are forbidden to covet are all male possessions. These Hebrew Scriptures, however, also define God as love, justice and as a universal being. In the portrait of the "Servant" in Isaiah 40-55 the Hebrew Scriptures portray human life as capable of giving itself away and even of acting in such a way as to draw the pain out of others, absorb it and return it as love. The New Testament portrays Paul as believing that slavery is good if it is kind. Paul also reveals attitudes toward women that are today deeply embarrassing: "I forbid a woman to have authority over a man." "Women should keep quiet in church." Bishop John Shelby Spong. 4

Special note:

Of the many thousands of essays on this web site, we regard those in this section to be among the most important.

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 standards of morality -- both secular and religious. 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, and the rapid abandonment of Christianity by older teens and young adults.

Solving this problem is difficult.

bullet 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.
 
bullet However, most conservative Christian and Orthodox 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 considered violent and unjust by today's standards

Topics covered in this section:

bulletPart 1:
bulletToday's religious and secular moral systems
bulletHard Passages in the Bible
bulletInterpreting hard passages from different Biblical viewpoints
 
bulletPart 2:
bullet Biblical acts of mass murder and genocide

bulletPart 3:
bulletMass murder of children:
 
bulletPart 4:
bullet Murdering people because of their curiosity:
bulletMurdering people for doing the right thing:
bulletReligious intolerance:
 
bulletPart 5:
bulletAdditional hard passages
 
bulletGod's genocides (being written)
 
bulletPassages that transfer sin and punishment from the guilty to the innocent
 
bulletPassages about human slavery
 
bulletReligious intolerance in the Bible
 
bulletChanging holy books in order to modify beliefs and alter behaviors

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List of books which deal with hard sayings from the Bible:

Some of these books are written by skeptics and religious free-thinkers who urge that believers ignore immoral passages. Others are authored by Christians who attempt to interpret difficult Biblical sayings from the standpoint of faith and who regard the entire Bible as the Word of God:

bulletR.H. Green, "The born again skeptic's guide to the Bible," private publisher (1992), Pages 102 to 111. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

bulletR.G. Ingersoll, "Some mistakes of Moses," Prometheus, (1986) Ingersoll (1833-1899) was a leading free-thinker of the 19th century. Read reviews or order this book safely

bulletW.C. Kaiser, ed., "Hard sayings of the Bible," Intervarsity Press, (1996) Read reviews or order this book safely

bulletJ.C. Laney, "Answers to tough questions from every book of the Bible: A survey of problem passages and issues,"  Kregal Publ., (1997) Read reviews or order this book safely

bulletPhyllis Trible, "Texts of Terror: Literary-Feminist readings of Biblical narratives," Fortress Press., (1984) Order this book safely

bulletDavid Voas, "The bad news Bible: The New Testament," Prometheus Books, (1995) Read reviews or order this book safely

bulletR.J. Weems, "Battered love: Marriage, sex and violence in the Hebrew prophets," Fortress Pr., (1995)  Read reviews or order this book safely

References used:

  1. John Shelby Spong, "The Sins of Scripture: Exposing The Bible's Texts Of Hate To Reveal The God Of Love," HarperCollins, (2005). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  2. John Shelby Spong, "Q&A on the Bible as a weapon of control," weekly mailing for 2007-OCT-31. You can subscribe to these mailings at: http://secure.agoramedia.com/
  3. Richard Dawkins, "The God Delusion," Houghton Miffin, (2006). Read reviews or order this book
  4. John Shelby Spong, "A National Religion?," Email Newsletter, 2009-OCT-01.

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