In this post, we’ll look at passages in the Bible that express disapproval of different religious views. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that; religions are beliefs, and beliefs can be wrong, and having wrong beliefs is a bad thing. Pointing out people’s false beliefs and trying to correct them is a good thing.
But sometimes people go about combatting wrong beliefs in very wrong ways, such as trying to force people to change their beliefs or be punished.1 It’s also bad if your disagreement is actually based on false beliefs of your own. There is good religious intolerance and bad religious intolerance. Guess which kind the Bible is full of.
First, let’s look at the non-discriminatory things the Bible has to say about people of different religions. It says Jesus welcomes Jews and Gentiles alike. It says if a Christian and a non-Christian are married, that’s no problem, and they should stay together. (The Bible states that that part is not the word of God, though.) And it says that God shows mercy to people who act in unbelief, and that people should show mercy to those who doubt.
Well, that was quick. Now let’s look at the actual discriminatory passages…
Theists vs atheists
The Bible has nothing but bad things (and false things) to say about atheists. It claims that godless people know God exists but choose to suppress the truth. It suggests that people don’t believe in God because they’re fools.
It suggests that people will become evil murderers if they don’t believe there’s a God to punish them, as if there were no other reasons not to do that. Paul lumps the irreligious in with murderers and slave traders. He says unbelievers should be shunned because they’re so wicked. He uses unbelief as a standard of wickedness to compare other things with. And James thinks even demons aren’t as bad as that.
The Bible says God doesn’t want godless people to be rulers, because they will supposedly “lay snares for the people”. It says godless nations make God angry, and he sends violent people to deal with them, so that all the nations that “forget God” will die out. One of the foolish authors of the Bible thinks “godless fools” don’t deserve to eat, and another thinks the faithless should be dragged off and slaughtered like animals. The Bible says people must be executed for disrespecting God, or even disrespecting priests.
Abrahamic religions vs pagans
The Bible says people who worship other gods are foolish and shameful and detestable. It says they will be cursed and suffer for it. Paul accuses pagans of worshipping demons. Jesus sees pagans’ moral standards as a very low bar, and expects his followers to do much better. And he expects his people to treat pagans so badly, the punishment he prescribes for persistently sinning Christians is to be treated the same way pagans are treated. The writers of the Bible wish disasters on whole nations of people who don’t believe in their God.
Pagan Jezebel is portrayed as evil when she tries to kill all the Jewish prophets. But the killing isn’t the part the Bible writers thought was wrong. They think it’s a good thing when the pagans are the ones being slaughtered. Killing pagans is part of the Biblical law. The Bible even has God killing pagans himself for not worshipping him.
In the book of Daniel, a king threatens to kill anyone who doesn’t worship the idol he made. Later, another king threatens to kill anyone who prays to anyone but the king. Daniel and his friends convince both kings to change their minds. So instead, the kings start threatening to kill anyone who doesn’t respect Daniel’s God (as if that was any better).
Daniel predicts that a future king will show people favor only if they don’t worship Daniel’s God. And another prophecy says that in the future, there will be an idol that will kill people itself if they don’t worship it.2 And then everyone who does worship that idol (or any other idol) will go to hell. So there’s really no way to win here.
Christians vs non-Christians
Paul encourages his followers to do good to all people, but especially to believers. When he tells them to share what they have with people who are in need, he specifically mentions “the Lord’s people” who are in need, and no one else. He says Christians should only marry Christians,3 because holy, righteous believers have nothing in common with wicked, Satanic, unclean unbelievers. He thinks Christian slave owners are more respectable than non-Christian slave owners. And he says only Christians are worthy of judging disputes between Christians.
The Bible says anyone who doesn’t share Christians’ beliefs about Jesus is a liar and an antichrist. It says unbelievers, Jews and everyone else who isn’t a Christian will go to hell. On the other hand, Paul also says that while most immoral people don’t need to be shunned, immoral Christians should be shunned.
According to Paul, if God is on the side of the Christians, no one can be against them. But people were against them! People hated the early Christians, persecuted them, and killed them, as Jesus predicted.4 Paul himself persecuted the Christians before he became one. So if Paul is right, God must be an enemy of the Christians too.
Jews vs Gentiles
Pretty much all the religious antisemitism in the Bible comes from one guy.
When early Christianity was beginning to split from Judaism, Paul, the founder of the Gentile Christian churches, described the original Jewish Christians as deceitful, Satanic, false apostles. He called them dogs, evildoers, and mutilators. He said the only reason they insisted Christians had to be circumcised was so the other Jews wouldn’t persecute them, not because they actually believed that was what God wanted. He thought if they liked cutting their penises so much, they should just cut the whole thing off.
He said they were dishonest, disobedient, detestable and corrupt and couldn’t do anything good. He said they were rejecting the truth and making up their own laws, and should be ignored and silenced. He imagined God was very angry at the Jews for always being so intolerant of prophets and preachers, and he thought they were unworthy of eternal life.
As usual, the Bible also says the opposite, that Gentiles are inferior to Jews. It says Jews have to keep separate from unclean Gentiles. Intermarrying with Gentiles is an appalling sin, and even visiting Gentiles or associating with them at all is against the Jewish law.5 Jesus told his disciples to preach only to Jews, and to avoid the Gentiles. Even Paul thought the Gentiles owed the Jews money for the privilege of getting a share of the blessings that were really only meant for the Jews.
Sects within Judaism
John the Baptist told people their sins could be forgiven if they repented. But when he saw Pharisees and Sadducees coming to confess and be baptized, he insulted them and acted like he thought those people shouldn’t seek forgiveness, and should just go to hell. (But at least the fighting within one religion is all talk, and John isn’t killing people and stuff for being the wrong kind of Jews.)
John’s successor, Jesus, was also always insulting the Pharisees. Jesus called them greedy, wicked snakes and blind fools. He said they would go to hell, because they made people follow terribly burdensome rules about unimportant things, which they didn’t follow themselves. For no good reason at all, Jesus falsely accused them of approving or even participating in the murder of prophets.