Tag Archives: morality

Age discrimination in the Bible

Here’s what the Bible has to say about how people should be treated (or how they were treated) based on their age.

God told his people to consecrate every firstborn male to him, whether they were humans or animals, and they would belong to him. I can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for the firstborn. It could mean they’re declared sacred, and therefore entitled to respect. It could also mean they have to be dedicated to the service of God, which sounds a lot like forced labor.

It could even mean that God wants his people to make sacrifices of their firstborn sons. God says to do the same thing with your firstborn sons that you would do with firstborn animals, which are to be killed when they’re given to God. But it also says some animals and sons can be redeemed, and don’t have to be killed.

Whatever it means, God apparently decided the Levites would replace the firstborn males in that role. So it doesn’t even really matter what would have happened to the firstborn. Or does it? A thousand years later, the Jews still thought they needed to bring the firstborn of their sons and livestock to the house of God…

There’s a passage where God tells exactly how much he thinks different kinds of people are worth. For instance, he thinks males are always worth more than females of the same age. As for age differences in value, God says 20-60-year-olds are worth the most. People between five and twenty are less valuable, and people over 60 are worth less than that. Children one month to five years old are valued even less. And babies under a month old aren’t even worth mentioning.

God assigned duties at the tent of meeting to male Levites who were 25 or older. But he didn’t allow them to work anymore after they reached 50.

The psalmist who wrote the longest chapter in the Bible claimed to have more understanding than the elders.

God mentioned that when Babylon attacked his people, they showed no mercy even to the aged. I can’t tell if he approves of that, though. That chapter is generally disapproving of Babylon, but punishing his people is exactly what God wanted Babylon to do…

Paul says you shouldn’t be harsh when you tell older men what to do.

Against younger people

The law of Moses demands that people show respect for the elderly and stand up in their presence. Paul also said younger people need to submit to their elders.

Elihu was afraid to speak up at first, thinking it was best to listen to older and wiser people. But after Job and his three friends had been arguing for 29 chapters and had gotten nowhere, Elihu decided he could be at least as wise as them. So he gave his own six-chapter-long speech, but everyone completely ignored him.

When God had Moses count the Levites, he specifically had him exclude anyone less than a month old.

God’s law says a man has to give his firstborn son twice the inheritance a younger son would get, whether he wants to or not.

The law says it’s okay to take young birds out of a nest, but it’s not okay to take the mother.

Saul didn’t think David would be able to fight Goliath, because David was “only a young man“.1 Goliath didn’t think much of him either.

Solomon thought beating your children with a rod was a loving thing to do, and would make them wiser. He thought not beating children was a disgrace, and the only possible reason anyone would refuse to do it was that they hated their children. Proverbs insists that if you beat children, they definitely won’t die.

King Rehoboam consulted both old and young people to help him decide whether he should give the people what they were asking for. The Bible says he ended up following the advice of the young people, and he lost most of his kingdom as a result.

Hezekiah had his people donate heaps of food “to the Lord”, which actually all went to the priests and Levites. Even though the priests and Levites had more than they needed, they didn’t distribute food among themselves to anyone below a certain minimum age.

Isaiah thought children weren’t good at counting. Paul said underage people are no different from slaves. When “Matthew” estimates how many people Jesus fed, he says how many men there were, and only mentions as an afterthought that there were also women and children. Jesus thought people didn’t have enough respect for children. But even he equated being the youngest with not being so great.

Paul told his followers not to care for any widows who were under 60.

Against older people

Joseph thought his firstborn son should be blessed the most. But his father Jacob insisted on giving the better blessing to Joseph’s younger son. Similarly, Hosah the Merarite treated one of his own younger sons as if he was the firstborn.

To convince Pharaoh to let his people go, God killed every firstborn in Egypt.

There’s an oddly specific biblical law that says you can’t cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. There’s no rule against cooking an older goat in its mother’s milk,2 but don’t do it to a young goat!

When Moses told the Israelites to attack nations that weren’t even anywhere near the land they were trying to take over, he said they should offer to enslave everyone in those nations. If a nation refused this “offer of peace”, then the Israelites would kill all the men, and only enslave all the women and children.

Boaz was surprised that Ruth showed interest in a man as old as him. He expected young women like her to run after the younger men.

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Should people be perfect?

Nobody’s perfect, but it would be good if they were… right?

Yes.

God seems to think so. He tells people they need to be blameless. Eliphaz claimed that it wouldn’t make any difference to God whether someone was blameless, but Eliphaz did not speak the truth about God.

God’s ways are perfect, so we should follow his example and be perfect ourselves. Jesus said so.

Paul told his followers how they could become blameless and pure, and he encouraged them to perfect their holiness. He prayed for them to be pure and blameless, because that’s how he wanted them to be when Jesus returned. Peter, too, told his followers to make every effort to be found spotless and blameless.

In the book of Revelation, Jesus says he’s unhappy with a certain church because those people are neither very good nor very bad. Jesus would prefer it if they were either one of those, but they’re just… in between. Jesus can’t stand that.

No.

Solomon, on the other hand, wisely advises you to be neither very good nor very bad. He says it’s best to avoid any extremes, and to stay in between the two, right where Jesus can’t stand you. And don’t bother trying to avoid doing things you know God won’t like. Solomon wisely says you should just follow your heart and your eyes wherever they take you, even though you know you’ll be bringing judgment on yourself.

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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 to 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 accommodate 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 (ineffective) 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
  • In the Bible, God himself pretty much fails to keep any of the Ten Commandments, possibly even this one. God offers sacrifices, which implies that there must be a god or gods that he regards as higher than himself.

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 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 idolater.
  • 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 a 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 written 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 violation of the right to freedom of religion, not to mention 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 might be? 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 for yourself, 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?
  • If God wants people to obey their parents, why did he give them over to a depraved mind, causing them to disobey their parents?
  • Jesus, who the Bible claims never sinned, was rather rude to his parents. He required his followers to be disrespectful and hateful to their parents, too. So is the biblical law wrong about this, or should Jesus have been stoned to death as a boy?

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 basically 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? Why did he give people over to a depraved mind, causing them to have no fidelity?

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. If God wants people to be truthful, why did he give them over to a depraved mind so that they were full of deceit?
  • 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. 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? Why did he give them over to a depraved mind so that they were full of envy?
  • If God doesn’t want people to be envious, why does his book tell people to eagerly desire the superior gifts that only some people have been given?
  • As with just about all of the Ten Commandments, God is guilty of breaking this rule himself. The Bible says God is a jealous God.12
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The Story of the Gibeonite Deception
The Colonists Get Rid of the Natives

After destroying Jericho, the Israelites next went to the city of Ai, killed everyone there with swords, stole all their belongings, and burned down the city. When the nearby people of Gibeon heard about that, they figured out a way to keep the same thing from happening to them. They asked Joshua to make a treaty with them.

God had forbidden the Israelites to make a treaty with the people who lived in the land they were taking over, so when Joshua asked, the Gibeonites said they lived far away. So Israel made a treaty of peace with Gibeon and swore not to attack them.

Continue reading The Story of the Gibeonite Deception
The Colonists Get Rid of the Natives
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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. And David’s son Solomon thought owning slaves was wise, and expected it to contribute to, rather than hinder, his goal of finding meaning in life. So he 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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Christian values vs the Bible

As an atheist who reads the Bible daily, I sometimes wonder if Christians read the Bible at all. They sure don’t act like it.

Why do Christians think they need to dress up in their finest clothes when they go to church? The Bible certainly doesn’t say they should do that. On the contrary, it says women, at least, should not adorn themselves with expensive clothes and jewelry and stuff. Christians seem to have decided that Sunday is disobey-the-Bible day.

Why do Christians think it’s proper to call priests, monks, the Pope, etc. “Father”? Jesus clearly told his followers not to call anyone “Father” except God.

Jesus also said it was wrong to take any kind of oath. Yet Christians don’t usually seem to see taking oaths as a bad thing. Avoiding oaths seems to be more associated with atheists. Most Christians have no problem with swearing on the book that tells them not to swear by anything.

Christians generally think following your conscience is good, important, and one of the best ways to make sure you’re doing right. The Bible, on the other hand, says it’s quite possible for your conscience to mislead you, making you think you’re doing right when you’re really doing wrong. It says a lot of people have no idea that they’re doing anything wrong, so their conscience clearly isn’t doing them any good. You have to train yourself to distinguish good from evil, because your conscience is naturally so unreliable. So if the Bible is right, trusting your conscience is a terrible idea!

Some Christians think it’s wrong for a couple to live together when they’re not married. But not only does the Bible not forbid that, it commands it in certain cases.

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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. The kingdom of Israel never had a female ruler, and only one queen ever reigned over the kingdom of Judah. 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. God punishes men by giving their property to other men, including their wives. 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 about8 was when a man had sex with another man’s wife.9 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.10 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.11

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 in a situation like that 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?

Continue reading The Bible is unbelievably sexist
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