Tag Archives: bad rules

The Story of Ruth and Boaz
How I Met Your Great-Grandmother

Ruth was a Moabite woman who married an Israelite man named Mahlon, whose parents, Elimelek and Naomi, had moved to Moab from Judah because of a famine. Naomi’s and Ruth’s husbands both died. When the famine was over, Naomi moved back to Judah, and Ruth chose to go with her, rather than looking for a new husband in Moab. In Judah, Ruth met a man named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s dead husband. Boaz had heard that Ruth was good to Naomi, so he was good to Ruth.

Naomi wanted Ruth to remarry, so she told Ruth to go sneak up on Boaz and lie down with him while he was sleeping. That night, Boaz woke up and found Ruth lying there with him. This was a pleasant surprise, because he was so old. But he said there was another man Ruth should marry rather than him, because that man was more closely related to her first husband. Boaz told Ruth to stay with him for the rest of the night, and then hurry home before anyone saw them together.

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How I Met Your Great-Grandmother
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Should people gain knowledge?

No.

When God created humans, the very first command he gave them was that they must not eat fruit from the tree that would give them wisdom and knowledge about morality. God thinks knowledge can mislead people. He overthrows people who dare to learn things. It’s a fatal mistake even to try to find out what God wants you to do, because he won’t punish you as much if you don’t know you’re doing anything wrong.

Solomon didn’t think it was honorable to “search out matters that are too deep“. He said the more knowledge you have, the more grief you will have. He thought you should be willfully ignorant, just because you might not like what you hear.

Paul said everyone should just continue believing whatever they already believe, rather than learn the truth. He thought it was best to know almost nothing. He thought knowledge just made people arrogant. Sometimes Paul didn’t seem to think people should know anything, except maybe if they didn’t know they knew anything.

Yes.

But God causes people to gain knowledge, so it must be a good thing, right? When God offered to give Solomon anything he wanted, Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge, and God was so pleased with that choice that he gave him bonus gifts that he hadn’t asked for as well.

Solomon wrote proverbs to give people knowledge, and he encouraged people to listen to the knowledge others had. He said knowledge is extremely valuable, as well as pleasant to have. Desire without knowledge is not good. Knowledge makes people strong and helps rulers maintain order. Righteous people have knowledge, which helps them survive. If you’re wise, you will have knowledge, which fools lack, and you will seek to gain more knowledge. Knowledge comes along with fear of God. Only fools hate knowledge.

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Discrimination by nation

I’ve been cataloging everything the Bible has to say about various forms of discrimination. One type of discrimination that gets a lot of attention in modern times is racism. And the version of the Bible I’m working with does appear to use the word “race” in that sense a couple of times. But back in biblical times, they didn’t really have the same concept of “race”. So rather than write about “racism” in the Bible, I’m going to discuss the closest thing the ancients actually did have: Discrimination by nation.

Equality?

Let’s look at the least discriminatory parts of the Bible first. It says Israel isn’t the only nation God cares about; the nations are all the same to him. He cares about what people do, not who their ancestors are. God loves foreigners and wants his people to love them too. He says his people shouldn’t mistreat or oppress foreigners. They should judge everyone fairly and justly and treat the foreigners among them the same as the native-born Israelites, because they once lived as foreigners in Egypt.1

In fact, there’s one passage that just assumes Israelites want to help foreigners in need, and encourages them to help each other the same way they would help foreigners. (That’s not going to do much good in the cases where that assumption is wrong.)

Sometimes the Bible says its laws should be applied equally to Israelites and foreigners living in Israel. I’m not so sure that’s a good thing, though. Mostly what that means is that people will get stoned to death if they don’t follow the rules of the religion of the people of the country they happen to be in. But if foreigners do worship and obey him, then God will… allow them to worship and obey him.

God did occasionally disapprove of his people oppressing foreigners. (At least when they did it without fearing him.) But that didn’t do much good when he was telling them to oppress them most of the time. Foreigners were amazed and confused on the occasions when Israelites actually decided to be nice to them.

An angel who was the commander of God’s army said he was not on Israel’s side or on their enemies’ side. God thinks all nations are worthless and just wants everybody to die.2 Equality! David once entrusted the ark of the covenant to a Philistine, and later he allowed hundreds of Philistines to join his army.3 That’s quite a difference from how he normally treated Philistines. Solomon asked God to answer the prayers of foreigners, though I’m not sure it says God agreed with that part.

When Ezra said all the Jews should disown their foreign wives and children, there were about four people who disagreed. Jesus once healed a girl even though she was a Canaanite, though it took some convincing. There was one Samaritan who was willing to help a Jew… in a story Jesus made up.

After Jesus died, Peter convinced himself that foreigners could be saved, which his peers thought was a pretty weird idea. He decided he should preach to Gentiles even though it was against God’s law to associate with them. Paul, too, thought God now judged people according to their actions, their beliefs, or his own whims, and not by their nationality.

Ambivalently unequal ordinances

Sometimes the Bible says things about certain nations that I’m not sure whether to classify as favorable or unfavorable treatment.

It says God gave his laws to Israel, and not to any other nation. Some of those laws suggest that being a foreigner living in Israel automatically makes you disadvantaged and unable to provide for yourself somehow. But to make up for that, God’s law says Hebrews have to give foreigners free food. It says Hebrews aren’t allowed to eat animals they found already dead, but they can give them to foreigners to eat.

It says every seven years, an Israelite has to cancel any debts that another Israelite owes them. But they don’t have to do the same for a foreigner. And an Israelite isn’t allowed to charge another Israelite interest. But they can make a foreigner pay interest.

Jesus told his followers to only preach their message to Jews, at least at first.

Between Gentile nations

The Bible says God had his people wipe out a lot of other nations and steal their land. But it says God didn’t want them to invade the land of the Ammonites.

The Moabites and the Midianites both led Israel into sin in the Peor incident. God told Israel to go to war against Midian because of this. But he told them not to go to war with Moab, even though they did the same thing.

The Romans thought it was okay to violently punish people without a trial, as long as they weren’t Roman citizens.

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Everything wrong with the Ten Commandments

The 1st Commandment

You shall have no other gods before me.

  • This rule is based on the idea that God is jealous of other gods. But the Bible says jealousy is a sin! If God is jealous, he should get the plank out of his own eye before he starts blaming other people for failing to accomodate his own moral flaws.
  • Why would God be so jealous of other gods anyway, if other gods don’t even exist?
  • What harm could having other gods cause? God can’t be the victim, since nothing humans do has any effect on God. Maybe it would harm other people if those “gods” required people to do bad things. But this God’s instructions are already so bad, I doubt following other gods’ commands could be any worse.
  • Despite failing to explain how following other gods would cause any more harm than following this God, the Bible says the punishment for worshipping other gods is death. God seems to be commanding people to kill people for no good reason.
  • If God is so great, why can’t he just persuade people to prefer him by showing everyone how much better he is than the other gods, instead of resorting to threats?
  • The goal of getting people to stop believing in gods that aren’t real is good, but the method is all wrong. You don’t change people’s beliefs by force. That’s not how belief works.
  • Legally restricting who people can worship is a violation of freedom of religion, which is regarded as a fundamental human right in most of the modern world.1
  • God seems to be saying he doesn’t want people to regard any other gods more highly than him. So is he okay with people worshipping other gods as long as they consider them to be lesser or equal to him? If not, why didn’t he say so here? Why specify “before me”?2

The 2nd Commandment

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.

  • Well, that first sentence was poorly worded. Did they really mean to say you’re not allowed to make any images of things? Does God hate art? Is photography a sin?
  • Making images doesn’t harm anyone, including God, so this is a victimless crime.
  • And a victimless crime is not worth cursing people over.3
  • Legally restricting how people can worship is another a violation of freedom of religion, which is regarded as a human right in most of the modern world.4
  • God goes on to suggest that if someone breaks this rule, he will punish several generations of that person’s descendants, regardless of whether those descendants actually broke the law themselves or not. Even God admits that that’s an absurdly unjust thing to do, but he’ll do it anyway.
  • A lot of Christians are pretty bad about breaking this rule. They make tons of religious images, and sometimes it seems like they even kind of worship them. And they seem to think God would approve of that somehow. Amusingly, one excuse Christians make for doing this is that they’re not worshipping an image of Jesus, they’re just using it to help them worship who the image represents… just like every other idolator.
  • The Bible says God told Moses to make the ark of the covenant, which had graven images of heavenly beings on it. The ark was treated as a physical representation of a god, just like every other idol. God didn’t even seem to mind people treating the ark as an object of worship. When Joshua bowed down to it, God rebuked him… but only because he didn’t think Joshua should be praying at that time because he should already know the answer to what he was asking. He didn’t rebuke him for bowing down to the wrong thing. God doesn’t seem to have a problem with this particular idol.
  • Even God failed to keep this rule. When he created humans, he was making an image of something in heaven (himself). He even apparently wants people to worship one of the people he made in his image! I guess we’ll have to stone God to death now.

The 3rd Commandment

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

  • A law restricting how people can use religious language is a violation of the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Trying to make law like this would doubly violate the 1st Amendment in the US.
  • Saying God’s name doesn’t harm anyone, including God. So this would be a victimless crime even if there was a God.
  • Despite that fact, the Bible says people have to die for not harming anyone. Killing people just for breaking petty rules like these is barbaric.
  • Or is there more to this crime than what it sounds like? What exactly does it mean to “misuse God’s name”? Or to “take his name in vain”, as it’s sometimes translated? A lot of people interpret this as a rule against using expressions that involve a name for God, but that aren’t actually being used to talk about God. But what this commandment is most likely really about is taking oaths. When someone uses God’s name to take an oath, they’re inviting God to punish them if they fail to do what they swore to do. If you swore by God like that even though you had no intention of keeping your promise, you would be taking God’s name in vain, making it useless as a guarantee of your honesty. But assuming that’s what it means, this commandment is redundant. Taking false oaths is covered by the 9th Commandment.
  • What if someone doesn’t believe, for whatever reason, that God would punish them if they took a false oath?5 That would make it impossible for them to use God’s name in an oath without using it in vain. There are better ways to make sure people aren’t lying. Modern legal systems ensure that there are people who actually will punish perjurers, giving people a real incentive to tell the truth regardless of what they believe about God.
  • Because Jews have been so careful to keep this commandment—hardly ever saying or writing God’s actual name at all,6 and using different words in its place—and because the Hebrew language didn’t originally use vowels, nobody really knows for sure anymore exactly what the correct pronunciation of God’s real name is. And the original wording of the commandment suggests that it only applies to that particular name… So as long as you’re not saying God’s real name that nobody knows, as long as you’re using other words instead (like “God”, or “Lord”, or even “Jehovah“), I guess you’re not really breaking this rule.
  • God himself sometimes swears rather carelessly by himself in the Bible, like when he said Abraham would have descendants “as numerous as the stars in the sky“. (Depending on how you interpret it, that number is either way too high or way too low.)

The 4th Commandment

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work.

  • Legally mandating religious observances is yet another a violation of the right to freedom of religion, as well as the right to work.
  • Choosing to work on a certain day of the week doesn’t harm anyone, including God. So this is another victimless crime.
  • It would be a terrible idea for everyone to take off work on the same day. That would mean on that day, no services would be available to anyone. There would be no one available to help you if an emergency happened to fall on the wrong day of the week.
  • Which day exactly is the Sabbath supposed to be, anyway? People don’t seem to be able to agree on that. Some might say it’s Sunday, or Saturday, or maybe even Friday.7 How are we supposed to figure out which of those people we need to slaughter for taking the wrong day off? What the Bible says about the timing of the Sabbath apparently isn’t good enough to clear that up. Since people have failed to remember what the Sabbath day is, it’s going to be hard to keep the Sabbath properly anymore. That’s why the five-day work week was invented, because people couldn’t agree on which day was the Sabbath.
  • Working five days a week is actually more productive than working six days a week. Working even less than that would probably be even better for your productivity and for your physical and emotional health. If God invented this regular day off for our benefit, he didn’t go far enough. But the commandment doesn’t even allow for people to improve on it by taking more days off in addition to the Sabbath. It says you have to work six days.
  • The Bible can’t make up its mind what God’s reason for making this law was, though. Sometimes it says it was purely for our benefit, and sometimes it says it was more about making sure people acknowledge God. And sometimes it says the reason behind this rule has something to do with some made-up story or other, which wouldn’t make any sense even if the stories were true. Why would an all-powerful God need to take a day off and rest? What does the exodus story have to do with taking a day off?
  • If God gave us the Sabbath for our benefit, it seems weird to punish us with death just for choosing not to accept that gift. And regardless of why the Sabbath was established, it’s insane to kill people for working, as the Bible requires. That’s now how people deserve to be repaid for their work. People who choose to work overtime should be paid extra, not punished.
  • This law says there’s one day every week when you can’t make your slaves do any work.8 A good law would have outlawed slave labor altogether.
  • Many people attend church on the day that they consider to be the Sabbath, and the clergy perform their religious duties at church on that day. Aren’t the clergy breaking this commandment when they do that?
  • Jesus, despite supposedly being the same guy who made this rule in the first place, worked on the Sabbath, told other people to work on the Sabbath, and made a bunch of lame excuses for why he thought it was actually fine to work on the Sabbath. And Paul took this rejection of God’s law even further, saying Christians shouldn’t observe any special days.

The 5th Commandment

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

  • Honoring your parents may be a good thing in some cases, but it definitely shouldn’t be an absolute rule. Some parents just aren’t honorable. Some parents neglect or abuse their children. Those parents don’t deserve anyone’s respect. Children shouldn’t have to live with bad parents, much less be forced to honor them.
  • Maybe this rule wouldn’t be so bad if God had also commanded parents not to mistreat their children. But the Bible doesn’t have much to say about that, beyond telling people not to sacrifice their children to the wrong god. Instead, it encourages people to beat their children with rods.
  • If you think your parents are honorable, you’re going to honor them without having to be told. And if you don’t think your parents are honorable, somebody demanding that you honor them isn’t going to change that. The best you could do is fake it (which would possibly conflict with the 9th commandment).
  • The Bible says we should kill kids for disrespecting their parents. That’s a seriously excessive reaction when they haven’t done anything worse than speaking.
  • What exactly does honoring your parents entail? Do you have to always agree with them, no matter how stupid their ideas are? Do you have to always obey them, making you unlikely to become an assertive and successful person, giving up your autonomy to make moral choices, and basically making you a slave? Do you have to obey your parents even if they want you to do something bad?
  • There’s no sign that this is limited to children. Apparently God thinks people have to always obey their parents all their lives, or die. There also doesn’t seem to be any exception for children too young to understand what they’re doing. Do we have to kill every toddler that ever throws a tantrum in front of their parents?
  • Jesus, who the Bible says never sinned, was rather rude to his parents. He required his followers to be disrespectful and hateful to their parents, too.

The 6th Commandment

You shall not murder.

  • After getting halfway through the list, we finally get to a reasonably good rule. Maybe it shouldn’t be an absolute rule, though. There are conceivable situations where killing someone would be the best thing to do. Like if you had to kill an attacker to save your own life, or to save other people’s lives.
  • This one is also sometimes translated as “You shall not kill”. But the Bible commands people to kill a whole lot more often than it forbids people to kill. How are people supposed to follow God’s instructions to kill animals, lawbreakers, and foreigners, if they’re not allowed to kill at all?
  • “Murder” might be a more accurate translation, and it might seem like it would make more sense or be more consistent that way… But what exactly does “murder” mean? It means unlawful killing, which means it has different meanings in different societies that have different laws. Not all killings that we would consider murder now were against the law in ancient Israelite society. So this commandment as it was originally intended was inadequate. Outlawing “murder” means making it illegal to kill in ways that are illegal. That can only be meaningful if the law also specifies which kinds of killings are to be banned. But the closest thing the Bible has to a specific definition of what should be considered murder fails to resolve the contradiction between this commandment and all the times God told people to murder people. Not only that, but most of the distinctions it makes regarding what counts as murder aren’t morally relevant at all, and are instead based on things like what kind of material the weapon is made from.
  • A lot of laws in the Bible, including laws against killing people, are punishable by death. But anyone who is involved in executing the lawbreakers is breaking the law against killing, so they have to be killed too. Or if you prefer the “murder” version of the law: Anyone who participates in the Bible’s favored execution method (stoning) is a murderer according to God’s law,9 and so must be stoned to death themselves. And then all the people who stoned them have to be stoned, too… If people actually followed these rules, everyone would be dead. That seems kind of counterproductive for a law against murder.
  • This law supposedly comes from someone who kills innocent babies. Someone who kills people just for being related to other people who did something he didn’t like. Someone who proudly commits multiple genocides. Someone who once drowned nearly everyone in the world. Someone who is planning to kill everyone again. How can he claim to be against murder?

The 7th Commandment

You shall not commit adultery.

  • The main reason adultery is considered bad is that people don’t tend to like their spouses having sex with other people. But what the Bible fails to acknowledge is that there are people who don’t mind their spouses doing that at all. In those cases, an act of “adultery” wouldn’t negatively affect anyone. So it wouldn’t actually be a bad thing to do. But the Bible ignores that fact, and says people would have to be killed for that victimless crime.
  • As for people who aren’t polyamorous or whatever, the Bible says it would be bad to have sex with their spouses because of their jealousy. But isn’t jealousy a bad thing? The Bible says it is. So if that’s the case, why is God commanding people to comply with other people’s wrong feelings? Why isn’t he commanding people not to have those wrong feelings in the first place? Or designing them not to have those wrong feelings?
  • The Bible requires that both of the people who commit an act of adultery be put to death. But if the reason adultery is bad is that you don’t want to lose your spouse, killing your spouse seems kind of counterproductive.
  • You wouldn’t know it from the way it’s translated, but this commandment wasn’t originally intended to cover all of what we would now consider to be infidelity. In the past, women were property owned by men. So adultery was defined as a man having sex with another man’s wife (using someone else’s property). Since women didn’t own men, it was perfectly legal for a man to cheat on his wife.
  • Since the Bible assumes that wives are property, this commandment is redundant. It’s already covered by the 8th commandment.
  • Jesus tries to make this into a thought crime. He claims that even just looking at a woman and feeling lust makes you guilty of adultery and can get you sent to hell. Obviously, he’s wrong about that, for a bunch of reasons. For one thing, not all women are married, and you can’t commit adultery if there are no married people involved. And it’s possible to look lustfully at your wife, but it’s not possible for you to commit adultery with her. But if Jesus was right about lust, that would basically mean heterosexual men go to hell. Also, if nobody ever wanted to have sex, humanity would go extinct. Is that what you want, Jesus?
  • Jesus also broadens this commandment when he declares that divorce is not a legitimate concept. He says anyone who gets divorced and remarried is actually committing adultery.10 The resulting lack of options for unhappily married people is one of the things that leads people to think that people should be required to regularly have sex with their spouses even if they don’t want to, for the rest of their lives. That sounds like a terrible idea to me.
  • God once got somebody else’s fiancée pregnant. That seems a lot closer to being adultery than the things Jesus calls adultery.
  • If God doesn’t like adultery, why does he keep making people commit adultery?

The 8th Commandment

You shall not steal.

  • This is certainly a good rule generally, but maybe it shouldn’t be an absolute rule. There are conceivable situations where stealing something would be the best thing to do. Like if you had an opportunity to take a weapon away from someone who was about to use it to kill a bunch of people.
  • People can’t always agree on whether something should be considered “theft” or not. For instance, some people would say tax evasion is theft, but others would say taxation itself is theft. It would have been nice if God had thought to clarify exactly what theft is.
  • God seems to think it’s fine to steal things for him, just not for yourself. And sometimes in the Bible he even tells his people to take plunder for themselves. God also apparently helped enforce the early Christian leaders’ practice of forcing their followers to give them all the money they earned.
  • The Bible says God forcibly took land from the Canaanite nations to give to his own chosen people. If God steals other people’s land, that must mean it’s a good thing to do, and we should follow his example, right?

The 9th Commandment

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

  • (This commandment was most likely only intended to be about specific crimes like false accusation and perjury. But an awful lot of religious people interpret it more generally as “You shall not lie”, so let’s go with that.) I think it’s generally good to avoid lying, but maybe it shouldn’t be an absolute rule. There are conceivable situations where telling a lie would be the best thing to do. Like if someone asked you where they could find someone they wanted to harm.
  • In fact, the Bible commends someone for doing just that! Rahab was considered righteous for saving Israel’s spies with her lies. It also says God blessed Jacob even though Jacob only got his blessing by deception. When Jehu lied to the Baal-worshippers in order to get them all in one place so he could kill them, God said Jehu had done what was right in his eyes. God even directly tells people to lie sometimes. He told Moses to tell Pharaoh he only wanted him to let his people go for three days, when he really intended for them to leave permanently. He told Samuel to say he was going to Bethlehem to make a sacrifice, to hide his real purpose for going there. And Jonah tried very hard to avoid giving a prophecy that he knew was false, but God forced him to do it anyway.
  • Even if you think lying is always wrong, having a law against it doesn’t really work. How are the fallible people enforcing such a law supposed to always know for sure that what someone said wasn’t true? And that the person knew it wasn’t true?
  • And that’s if the authorities are even trying to enforce the actual truth. More likely they would just decide for themselves what to declare to be the “truth“, and force everyone to go along with that.
  • If you were going to outlaw lying, you would need to have a rigorous definition that makes it clear exactly what is and what is not a lie. Do technically true but misleading statements count as lies? How about technically false statements that nobody takes seriously, that do not and are not intended to lead to false beliefs? Are those “lies”? The Bible doesn’t say.
  • Lying may be a bad thing to do, but it’s definitely not so bad that it should be punished with neverending torture.
  • God deceives people quite a lot in the Bible. Like the time he sent a deceiving spirit to inspire a false prophecy that would lead to somebody getting killed. If he wants us to always be honest, he’s not setting a very good example.
  • Why specify “against your neighbor”? If someone doesn’t happen to live near me, does that make it okay to testify falsely against them?

The 10th Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

  • Is this a good moral rule? It doesn’t look too promising, since it assumes that women are property. It lists wives along with cows and donkeys and slaves and other things your neighbor might own.
  • Oh, and speaking of slaves, a good law would have discouraged people from wanting to enslave people at all, not just in the specific case where the person already belongs to somebody else.
  • This law is a thought crime, which means it’s not really enforceable, among other problems. There’s no way to even know whether someone is breaking this law, so why bother making it a law?
  • Thoughts aren’t exactly voluntary and controllable, so it would be pretty hard even to enforce this rule on yourself if you wanted to. And it would potentially be psychologically unhealthy to try. If God didn’t want us to think a certain way, he should have designed us not to think that way. That seems like it would have been a lot more effective than telling people what not to think.
  • The biggest problem with a thought crime like this is that it’s just a thought. Coveting shouldn’t be illegal because it has no consequences and causes no harm. Unless you act on it by stealing or something. But if that’s what you’re worried about, this rule is yet another redundant one. Stealing was already covered in the 8th Commandment.11
  • Envy doesn’t necessarily lead to bad things like theft. It can instead inspire people to “get what others have” by emulating what others have done right. The Bible says envy is the root of all achievement. If that’s true, envy must be a very good thing!
  • Like the previous one, this commandment creates loopholes by needlessly specifying that the “victim” has to be your neighbor.
  • If God doesn’t want people to be envious, why does he keep making people envious?
  • As with nearly all of the Ten commandments, God is guilty of breaking this rule himself. The Bible says God is a jealous God.12
Continue reading Everything wrong with the Ten Commandments
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Censorship in the Bible

I’m a big fan of freedom of speech. Here are a few of the reasons it’s important for everyone to be free to talk about controversial things without being forcibly silenced:

  • Think about important truths that were strongly rejected in the past. Those ideas could never have become accepted if people hadn’t been free to discuss them and to advocate for unpopular views.
  • The people deciding which views to forcibly suppress could easily be in the wrong, and end up suppressing the truth. The use of force doesn’t favor the people who are right. It favors whoever happens to be more powerful and capable of violence.
  • Even if it is in fact wrong views or potentially harmful ideas that are being suppressed, that just hides the fact that people have wrong beliefs, which makes it harder for anyone to actually do anything about it. If discussion of a topic is banned, there is no opportunity for anyone to correct people who are developing dangerously wrong beliefs about it. If people aren’t allowed to talk about their desire to harm people, that just means the victims will be less likely to be prepared to do anything to stop them.
  • Banning the expression of false beiefs can also backfire, causing people to assume (quite reasonably) that the truth is being hidden from them, and that the things people aren’t allowed to say must be true. And they will never realize how weak the arguments for those bad ideas are, if they never even get a chance to hear those arguments.

Many people believe that the USA, the country that values freedom of speech more than any other, was founded by Christians as a Christian nation based on Christian principles. If that was true, you would expect that the founders’ regard for free speech would have some basis in the Christian Bible. Or at least that the Bible would agree with them about it. Or at least that the Bible’s instructions wouldn’t be completely incompatible with it. Let’s look at what the Bible says about silencing speech, and see if that’s the case…

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Slavery in the Bible

Suppose you had a book written by the ultimate authority on morality, a book that was said to provide all the moral instruction anyone needs. One thing you would definitely expect to find in that book would be a clear, explicit, absolute condemnation of slavery. You won’t find that in the Bible, though. You might find a few vague passages that you could interpret as denouncing slavery if that’s what you really want it to say. Or you might find some passages that disapprove of slavery in specific cases. But mostly what you’ll find is that the Bible is very pro-slavery.

The Bible says “righteous” Noah made his own grandson into a slave (to punish someone else).

It says Abraham always did just what God wanted him to do, which included owning slaves.

Joseph threatened to make one of his brothers a slave, and he actually did enslave the entire nation of Egypt. Joseph is never portrayed as a bad guy at all, but as a hero doing God’s will.

Moses told the Israelites that God wanted them to attack random nations that weren’t even anywhere near the land they were trying to take over, and that they should subject the inhabitants of those nations to forced labor (if they didn’t just kill them all).

God approved of everything David did, which included enslaving whole cities. His son Solomon made tens of thousands of his own people, as well as the native Canaanites, into forced laborers1 in order to build his palace, the temple, the wall of Jerusalem, etc. And God was pleased with him. When the Bible lists some of these kings’ officials, it casually mentions that one of them was “in charge of forced labor“.

Esther said if all the Jews were sold into slavery, that would be no big deal. She thought it wouldn’t be worth the bother to ask her husband the king to do anything to stop it.

When the exiled Jews returned from Babylon, it casually mentions that they brought thousands of slaves with them.

There are passages in Ezekiel and Revelation that mention humans being sold, not as a bad thing or a reason for punishment, but just as one of many things that used to be sold in the glory days of the marketplaces of Tyre and Babylon.

The Roman soldiers seized a random guy who was just passing by and forced him to carry Jesus’s cross. Jesus didn’t object.

When Paul thought people were doing wrong, he wasn’t averse to telling them to change their ways, even if it meant they had to break the law. But when he encountered a fortune-telling slave girl, he didn’t tell her owners they should set her free, because slavery was perfectly normal to him, because he wasn’t any more morally enlightened than anyone else in his time. He thought slavery was fine as long as the owners provided for their slaves.2 Instead of helping the slave girl, Paul angered her owners by taking away her useful psychic abilities.

Paul encouraged slaves to always fear and obey their masters, submitting to them as if they were God. He thought slave owners were worthy of full respect, and he insisted that the slaves should agree that their masters were worthy of full respect. He thought this would somehow prevent his teaching from being slandered.3

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Irrationality in the Bible

Superstition

The Bible claims that random decision generators like dice are controlled by God and should be treated as infallible. That’s how the Bible encourages people to answer important questions, like whether someone is guilty of breaking the law. That or perform other silly rituals, like making people drink dirty water, and wishing for the water to harm them, but only if they’re guilty.

Another Bible-approved way to answer hard questions is to ask priests or prophets. (Or you can follow Paul’s example and just assume your own dreams are telling you about something real.) The priests are to be treated as infallible and always unquestioningly obeyed. And anyone who thinks the priests might not be so perfect is to be killed.

The Bible makes fun of superstitious people consulting fortune-tellers and divination instruments… and then advises them to consult these other fortune-tellers and divination instruments instead. It also makes fun of people praying to worthless pagan gods instead of the Bible-approved God. But I think you’ll find you get pretty much the same results no matter which entity you try asking for help or answers.

The Bible claims that seeking God is all you have to do to fully understand what’s right. It tells both kings and commoners to obsessively follow all its terrible rules, and indoctrinate their children with them. And it’s portrayed as a good thing when a foreign king decides to kill or otherwise punish his subjects if they don’t obey the biblical laws.

The Bible claims that curses are only effective when they’re deserved. This is the kind of thing that leads people to falsely think unfortunate people must be getting what they deserve. It discourages people from trying to either identify or fix the real cause of the problem.

The Bible blames mental health problems on “evil spirits“. And it commands sick people to seek help from religious authorities, rather than doctors. Jesus does say the sick need a doctor, but that’s just a metaphorical way of referring to himself. The Bible portrays the care of actual doctors as useless and the wrong choice, claiming that human help is worthless. It threatens people with curses and destruction if they rely on anyone but God for help. But in reality, it’s religious healings that are useless and the wrong choice.

Anti-intellectualism

The God of the Bible seems to hate it when humans are smart. When he created humans, the first thing he told them they must not do was to eat fruit from the tree of knowledge, which would give them wisdom. God thinks wisdom and knowledge are useless. When he sees intelligent people, he kills them or turns them into fools, because he likes them better that way.

God also seems to hate seeing humans make any technological progress. When he saw that people were developing better construction techniques so they could make an unprecedentedly tall building, God wasn’t happy with them. He didn’t want people working together and figuring out ways to do amazing new things. So he put a stop to that project by restricting their ability to communicate.

Then when God had people build things for him later on, he wouldn’t let them use any tools. He threatens to punish people just for using fire to help them see. He’d rather they blindly trust him as they walk in the dark.

Paul made a point of intentionally becoming foolish and ignorant when he preached. He demonized philosophy and taught his followers that it was futile to try to be wise or knowledgeable. Even Solomon claimed that investigating deep questions is somehow not honorable, that you shouldn’t rely on your own understanding, and that gaining wisdom and knowledge is pointless and only brings sorrow1 and death. Why do these people hate wisdom and thinking so much? Probably because they realize that that kind of thing can lead people to see how wrong the Bible is.

The Bible says you should respond to foolishness with similar foolishness. Why? Because otherwise, the fool will think he’s wise. But that would only be a bad thing because he currently isn’t in fact wise. Thinking you’re wise isn’t inherently a bad thing, as the Bible claims it is. That would mean people would need to be either foolish or wrong, and people should be neither of those things. So how about educating the fool and feeding him wisdom instead of more foolishness? If you help him become wise, then he’ll be right to think he’s wise. But if you live by the Bible, you’re not allowed to even point out foolishness.

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The Bible is unbelievably sexist

The Bible makes it easy to see how little its writers valued women. It says women are nothing but trouble, and good ones are very rare. It even has a list showing exactly how much God supposedly thinks various kinds of people are worth. So how much is a woman worth? It varies with age, but generally a woman is worth about half as much as a man according to the Bible. Two-thirds as much, at best.

Maybe that has something to do with why having sons was considered more desirable than having daughters. And why it says giving birth to a girl makes a woman “unclean” for twice as long as when she gives birth to a boy. Speaking of reproductive uncleanness, the Bible says everyone has to shun women and treat them as “unclean” about half the time (during and after their periods). Menstruation apparently makes God angry. (So why did he design women that way?)

Judah thought his daughter-in-law should be executed when he heard that she had engaged in prostitution, even though he had just had sex with a prostitute1 himself, and he didn’t seem to think he had done anything wrong.2 In the Gospel of John, a woman is caught in the act of adultery and brought out to be stoned to death, as the law commanded. But for some reason they didn’t bring out her partner in crime to be stoned too, even though the law also said the man had to be stoned to death.

Biblical gender roles

The Bible claims that women were made for the purpose of serving men. It also says they were then cursed so that men would always rule over them. And it uses the Eve origin story to justify subjugating women. It says women aren’t allowed to speak at church, or to teach, or to be in any position of authority. It suggests that women don’t make good leaders, any more than children do. Only one queen ever reigned over the kingdom of Israel, and she’s portrayed as a bad one.

The Bible says men and women always have to wear different kinds of clothing. It’s disgraceful for a woman not to dress or wear her hair in the same way that would be disgraceful for a man. But women shouldn’t dress too fancy, either.

God says daughters can inherit their parents’ property, but only if there are no sons.3 Some people who hear this then object to having even that much equality. They argue that if those women marry men from other tribes, that could lead to one tribe losing its wealth to another tribe (due to the male-focused nature of how their society worked). But when “God” responds, he doesn’t have a problem with that last part. Instead, he says they’ve got it right, that’s exactly how it works. And he solves their little tribe problem by telling them to be more discriminatory, not less.

A lot of the time, the Bible just ignores women, because the activities that were considered important were also considered to be for men only. Approved female occupations were mostly limited to things like sewing, cooking, fetching water, having children,4 taking care of people, crying, and other things women could do at home.

Whenever they take a census in the Bible, they only count the males, because women weren’t considered to be capable of fighting. Even when a woman did conquer the enemy, they tried to erase her achievement and attribute it to a man. The genealogies are patrilineal, and only mention the occasional woman as an afterthought. Saying “Let my people go” was considered to be the same as saying “Let just the men go.” When the Bible writers were talking about both men and women, they felt the need to clarify it by mentioning the people “and their women“.

A lot of rules in the Bible, particularly the ones about sex, are for some reason written with only male readers in mind, as if women are never going to be reading the Bible or deciding who to have sex with.5 This leads to some strange implications if you take what’s written literally. Some rules, like the ones against having sex with certain people if they’re engaged to somebody else, don’t appear to apply if you’re a woman. And what about that rule that says nobody can have sex with a man?? Most women aren’t going to like that rule. For that matter, most men aren’t going to like nobody ever being able to have sex with them, either. They did not think this through.

Women as property

In the past, women were usually considered to be the property of men. And rather than providing the visionary moral insights you’d expect from the word of a perfect God, the Bible only encouraged the status quo.

Even among slaves, women were treated worse back then. The Bible’s laws state that male Hebrew “servants” usually have to be set free after seven years,6 but female servants can be kept forever.

The Bible condones taking virgin girls along with the other plunder from enemy nations and using them as sex slaves. Or wives, as it sometimes calls them.7 Not that the Bible really makes any distinction between servant girls and wives. Marriage in the past was basically a form of slavery.

The Bible describes marriage as men giving or selling their daughters to other men. Laban sold his two daughters to Jacob in exchange for 14 years of labor. Boaz bought a piece of land in order to get the woman who came with the land. Saul sold his daughter to David in exchange for 200 foreskins. And after Hosea’s wife left him, God had him buy her back from her other lover. Wives belonged to their husbands. The commandment against coveting lists wives along with cows and donkeys and other things your neighbor might own.

That explains why in ancient times, the only kind of adultery people cared about was when a man had sex with another man’s wife. That was a crime because the man would be using somebody else’s property without permission. Solomon wrote at length to discourage his son from doing that. But Solomon had 700 wives and 300 girlfriends, so he clearly didn’t think there was anything wrong with a woman having sex with another woman’s husband. Women didn’t own men, after all. The law generally allowed a man to own as many wives as he could provide for. But a woman could only belong to one husband at a time.

At one point in the Bible, the tribe of Benjamin is in need of wives, because the other Israelites have just killed all the Benjamite women, and have sworn not to “give a wife” to any Benjamite. The only way they can think to solve this problem is to have the Benjamite men kidnap a bunch of women. It never occurs to them that they could just let the women decide to marry Benjamites on their own if they want to, without their fathers having to do anything.

The Bible says if someone hits a pregnant woman, they have to compensate her owner (her husband) for the damaged property, rather than having to compensate her. It says if a man falsely accuses a woman he married of not having been a virgin, he has to compensate her manufacturer (her father) for slandering his product, rather than having to compensate her.

It says if a man rapes a virgin, he has to compensate her owner (her father) for the damaged property, rather than having to compensate her.8 And if you’re a single woman who isn’t a virgin (in which case you’d probably be considered already damaged and unsellable), “God” doesn’t seem to care if you get raped. The Bible has no laws against that, since there’s no obvious way to interpret it as a crime against a man.

Control over women

Right after he tells slaves to always submit to their masters even if they’re violently abusive, Peter says wives need to submit to their husbands in the same way. Paul agrees that wives need to submit to their husbands, treating them like they’re God. He thinks this requirement of extreme submission is fitting and will prevent people from slandering the Bible.9

When a king’s wife disobeyed him, he banished her, so all the other women wouldn’t think they could get away with disobeying their husbands, the rulers of their households. The Bible portrays women as thinking that what kind of behavior is proper is entirely determined by what their husbands think. When women try to make their own decisions, they’re often ignored and overruled by men. The Bible’s laws say a man is always fully responsible for keeping any vows he makes, but a woman’s vow can be nullified by the man who’s in charge of her (her father or husband).

It says a man whose brother dies without a son has to marry his brother’s widow and pretend that the dead man is the one having children with her. A man who chooses not to go along with that custom is to be publicly shamed. But the writers of the Bible don’t even consider the possibility that the woman might not want to marry that man. Only the man’s desires matter.

When Abraham sent a servant to get a wife for his son, her father said to go ahead and take her, without waiting to see if she was willing to marry a man she’d never met. All they needed was the consent of her owner. They didn’t bother consulting her at all until after it was already decided, and they were just sorting out the details of getting her to her new owner. The Bible says a man is allowed to divorce his wife any time he wants, but it never says a woman can divorce her husband if she wants to. Only the owner has the authority to make that decision.

The Bible has the supposedly righteous man Lot decide to send his daughters outside to appease the mob of rapists surrounding his house. The only reason he doesn’t actually do it is that the rapists don’t happen to be interested in them. And God still thinks Lot is worth saving from the doomed city after that. It says sending a man out there would have been wicked and vile and outrageous. But his daughters are his own property, so it must be okay for him to do whatever he wants with them, right?

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Religious discrimination in the Bible

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.

Equality

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…

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The Story of Judah and Tamar
Somebody Get Me Pregnant Already

Jacob’s son Judah had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. God killed Er because he thought he was wicked, so Judah told Onan to have children with Er’s widow, Tamar. But if Onan had children with Tamar, they wouldn’t be considered Onan’s children for some reason. So he refused to do it. God thought it was wicked to not impregnate your brother’s wife, so he killed Onan too. Tamar wanted to have children, but Judah wouldn’t let her marry his last son, Shelah.

Continue reading The Story of Judah and Tamar
Somebody Get Me Pregnant Already
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