HYS! – What’s wrong with the Bible?

I am occasionally asked, by well-meaning Christians, how can I be good without God and the Bible. The truth is that I find the Bible to be a highly immoral book, in which God or his prophets perform immoral actions, but which are presented as moral because they were done by God.

When Abraham heard a voice telling him to kill his own son he was ready to obey right away. His son was only spared because an “angel” physically stopped him. In 2001, Andrea Yates heard a voice in her head telling her to kill her children. She was determined to be as holy as Abraham, though no angel appeared to stop her as she drowned all five.

When Moses freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, the Pharaoh decided to release them right away – but God hardened Pharaoh’s heart several times, and punished him, along with all the Egyptians each time for having a hard heart, culminating in the killing of all first born children. Cecil B. DeMille was so uncomfortable with this that he invented a female character in The Ten Commandments and made her harden Pharaoh’s heart instead.

One recurring characteristic of the Biblical god is his habit of punishing everyone for the misdeeds of a few. In the story of Noah, he drowns everybody and everything in the world except for the contents of one large boat. In Sodom he kills everyone, explicitly decreeing that even the trees had to share in the punishment. Is it possible that nobody was innocent? Not a single child?

When the Hebrews were freed from slavery in Egypt, they encountered the peaceful Midianites and fell on them, slaughtering all the men. Moses was angry with them – for leaving the women and children alive. He sent them back to complete the job, however allowing them to keep for their own use any virgin girls they found.

The Bible contains instructions on selling your daughter as a slave, and imposes the death penalty on a woman who cheats on her husband, though a man can have as many wives and concubines as he could afford – and if a man rapes a virgin, he has to pay her father a sum of money, and then she has to marry her rapist.

Clearly these are very immoral. Although the New Testament is a major improvement, it also has its problems. Paul makes it clear that women are inferior to men, and that slaves should serve their owners as if they were serving God. Of course, most Christians today do not follow these examples. Anybody who tried applying the morality of the Old Testament today would find themselves behind bars. What happens is that people look through the Bible to find and follow the “good bits” while rejecting the immorality. But, in order to do this, the Bible itself cannot be the source of morality. Something else, external to the Bible, is being used to judge what is moral or not, and then the Bible is used merely to supply verses to support it. That source of morality is us – humans. We are the source of morality, or as Protagoras said 5 centuries before Jesus, “Man is the measure of all things”.

Once we accept that the Bible and its deity are not the source of morality we can set it aside and approach morality through reason – and that is at the heart of what Humanism is about.

4 thoughts on “HYS! – What’s wrong with the Bible?

  • Reply John P Cauchi 14th September 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Very fascinating arguments. Ones I uphold totally. My viewpoints differ however in that I see the Old Testament as a book written by hundred of people over the millenia as they try to define who this God who they follow truly is. You can see a gradual change in discussion on God from the tribal God of Moses to the “God put to court” of Job. In effect, the Old Testament is a spiritual exploration of the nature of God, through gradual realisation. I do not find the genocidal book of Joshua, for example, to be inspired. God forbid that it were – God would be schizophrenic!

    The New Testament on the other hand is a vast improvement. Forget Paul – he it talking to an audience of his time – a cultural mindset. Look at Jesus – he considers women very highly. He never condones slavery. In fact, the first person he appears to after Resurrection is a woman – a very very radical thing to state in a gospel written 2000 years ago.

    Clearly we humans have a morality – that is very clear. My argument would be however that perhaps, we are hard-wired for it, and the hard-wiring may be attested to “Providence” – God, in effect. Even chimps have some morality – so slowly, evolution is leading to a higher, moral being, slowly more aware of his spirituality and, as I see it, more aware of God. Read Jane Goodall’s book “Reason for Hope” – a true scientist with a very Spiritual outlook on life. Surely she is not cuckoo, as “all other believers would be” from a typical Humanist’s point of view.

    • Reply Ramon Casha 14th September 2013 at 5:13 pm

      As long as the Bible is read as simply the writings of a people in specific times and places and circumstances there is no problem. Historians can use it as source material to build a clearer picture of that era. The problems arise when it is taken as “the word of God”, which is the case in all mainstream Christian denominations, either as literal truth (eg. most Baptist churches), or metaphorical but still fundamentally true.

      The New Testament is a huge improvement precisely because morality had improved a lot by then. Jesus found himself trying to change morality without falling foul of those who were trying to defend the laws of Moses againsts change – something that still happens today in fact.

      Morality is not hardwired, though certain core principles seem to be. This is an evolutionary trait that helps us to coexist – very necessary for a communal or gregarious species, and isn’t found as much in solitary species. You can’t coexist if you steal your neighbour’s property. This morality has often been attributed to a deity in order to give it more authority, especially if this deity has the ability to see everyone everywhere, and dispenses justice in the end. However there is no evidence or reason to believe such a deity exists.

      Incidentally, you’re quite wrong in your characterisation of “a typical Humanist’s point of view”. While many Humanists take a very dim view of religion itself, we do not consider believers to be “cuckoo”, though we consider them to be mistaken.

  • Reply John P Cauchi 15th September 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Apologies as re: the “typical Humanist point of view” comment. I might have jumped the gun there… it simply is that antitheists like Dawkins often get a lot of media attention – and you get the impression that theirs is the prevailing mentality.

    The Old Testament should be viewed through the spectacles of the culture and circumstance of the time. God, from one book to another, is so different as to make Him utterly contradictory (God telling people to “cleanse” the city of Ai in Joshua, utterly, by burning everything, even children, cattle, crops) as opposed to God pleading the case for mercy on Ninevah to Jonah in the book of Jonah – clearly that in itself is an evolution in the understanding of God.

    However in the same way that there is no proof that morality is god-given, in similar ways there is no proof that it isn’t. Much like the “existence of God” argument (and by God here I do not refer to a “God of the Gaps”) – Both sides of the argument can be reduced to the absurd, and therefore I’d say being sure of one side, or the other, is in effect a matter of choice and belief.

    • Reply Ramon Casha 16th September 2013 at 10:34 am

      Even in the case of Dawkins etc, you have to be careful that what you’re getting is what they say, not how the media wants to portray them. You will find that he’s normally very careful to distinguish between religions (which he attacks vehemently) and the followers of that religion.

      We do have evidence of how morality developed over time, and in many cases the reasoning processes that led to them. In other species we can see how this helps them establish a social structure. All indications are that morality developed through entirely natural processes and shows no sign of an intelligence guiding it.

      Although it’s true that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, the reasonable position is not to believe in anything extraordinary without some reason to do so. In other words, if the evidence for Yahweh and the evidence for Poseidon are approximately the same, why believe in one and not the other?

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