Tag Archives: bad rules

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 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 as a Christian nation by Christians 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. 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 god 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.

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Somebody Get Me Pregnant Already
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Homosexuality in the Bible

What does the Bible say about gay men?

The Bible describes sex between two men as a wicked, detestable, vile, outrageous, shameful sin.1 It says any men who do this have to be killed, and will not be allowed into the kingdom of God.

Does it really say that?

I’m pretty sure it does. Some people say the Bible isn’t as anti-gay as it seems, but I’m not convinced.

Some say the law against gay male sex can’t be about gay sex in general because that’s too private for the law to be enforceable, since there aren’t likely to be multiple witnesses. So they say that law must really only be about public acts of temple prostitution. But by that logic, you would have to conclude that none of the Bible’s rules about sex apply to acts done in private. Not even the laws that specifically say nobody else is around. I doubt that’s what was intended.

Some say Paul was only specifically condemning the practice of pederasty, but that’s not what he said. The word he used translates literally to “man-bed”. Why wouldn’t he use a word that specified boys or teenagers, if that was what he meant? And nobody thought it was wrong for adults to have sex with teenagers back then, so even if Paul was talking about pederasty, the age issue is probably not the part he would have objected to.

Some say the Bible implies that if you’re a man who sleeps with men or a woman who grinds with women, you have a 50% chance of being raptured into heaven, while for the rest of us who try to enter through the straight gate, the chance of being saved is much lower. But does the Bible actually say those people who are being taken are going to heaven? According to one of Jesus’s parables, the first people who will be taken away at the end of the age will be sinners being taken to hell.

There are more passages in the Bible that could be seen as vaguely pro-gay,2 but interpreting them that way is a bit of a stretch, especially considering how much more straightforward and clear the other passages are that say gays must be killed, etc.

But why?

What’s so bad about homosexuality, that it would deserve that kind of punishment? Nothing at all, as far as I can tell. I haven’t heard any good reasons to think gay sex is immoral. I’ve heard some bad ones though…

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Faith is not reasonable

Faith is commonly regarded as a virtue. But is it really a good thing? What exactly is faith, anyway? Let’s look as some definitions.

Faith: Complete trust or confidence in something. Believing something without question. Firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Faith can also mean an obligation of loyalty, and if we’re still talking about beliefs, that would mean being devoted to sticking to a particular belief (which goes along with believing something firmly and without question).

“Faith means making a virtue out of not thinking.” —Bill Maher

So then, faith means you decide to believe a particular idea even though there’s no evidence for it, and then you completely refuse to ever question it or consider changing your mind about it, disregarding all evidence to the contrary. Faith means being gullible regarding some ideas, and closed-minded to others. Faith means abandoning reason, willfully ignoring the evidence, breaking the connection between your beliefs and reality.

“There is no virtue in accepting something on faith, since it may very well be false, and it is clearly not virtuous to believe the false.” —Charlotte Schnook

Clearly this is an unbelievably bad way to form your beliefs. Considering what faith actually is, I don’t see how anyone could possibly think it was a good thing. There’s absolutely nothing good or reasonable about it. Having faith is just like having a delusion, except you’re doing it on purpose. If you want to have true beliefs and avoid having false beliefs, having faith is probably the most counterproductive thing you could possibly do.

Unlike reason and evidence, faith provides no way to determine which things you should believe. Any belief can be “justified” by faith just as well as any other. If you have faith in one religion, why not have faith in another religion? Why not believe that you are a six-legged zebra from the planet Japan? Why not accept on faith that you should give me all your money right now?

You can probably think of some reasons not to accept those things, but why do you suddenly think you need to have reasons for what you believe? If I tell you that Ahura Mazda is the real God, or that you are a six-legged zebra from the planet Japan, or that you need to give me all your money, why do you question it? You don’t need a reason to believe; you just need to have faith, right?

“If something can be used as a justification for everything, then it shouldn’t be used as a justification for anything.” —Matt Dillahunty

When the inherent irrationality of faith is pointed out, religious people will sometimes protest that their faith is based on evidence. Well, if you’re trying to base your beliefs on reason and evidence, that’s great. You’re more reasonable than some religious people. But letting evidence shape your beliefs is not what faith is, and it’s not what the Bible tells you to do. The unreasonable way of thinking I described above is exactly the kind of thinking that the Bible encourages, and describes as faith.

The Bible on faith

The Bible says faith means confidently believing in something you hope is true, but that you don’t actually see any evidence for. To live by faith is to live blindly.

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Why the Golden Rule is a bad rule

Jesus says you should do to others as you would have them do to you.1 This is known as the Golden Rule. Sounds like a pretty good rule, right? As long as you don’t think about what it’s actually saying. But it’s really a very bad rule. Let’s look at an example to see why.

A man would like to have sex with a certain woman. But that woman is not willing to have sex with him. What should the man do? Well, what would he want that unwilling woman to do to him? He would want her to have sex with him. So according to the Golden Rule, he should go ahead and have sex with her.

That’s right, actually following this nice-sounding rule would lead to rape. What went wrong?

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