Wednesday, July 2, 2008

God, you devil!

I have been asked to back up my statement that god (the god of the Bible) is evil. First, I should point out that I have probably been misusing the term evil. I don't know if I actually believe that the concept of evil is a real phenomenon, but it is a convenient catch-all term for very, very bad, or maladapted to life in cooperative society. Which is far too long to write and explain every time, so evil it is.

Also, I should mention that God is not a consistently evil character. Many things he does are good things. But much of his activity is petty and vindictive. And while it may be true that times were different, if God's law were so consistent and canonical, it should not ever need alteration. Sin should be sin, in other words. And even if the Bible listed only one single bad action, that would be enough to make God imperfect. Sadly, the Bible lists far more than just one violent and barbaric deed.

When citing examples of divine mischief, Christians inevitably counter with long explanations of why that action was justified. So I know how the game is played. The underlying thesis for my examples is that there are some things that are evil, no matter when they took place. A perfect and all-powerful being should know better.

Some examples have been cited here before, but I will try to make them at least sound different. First of all, God is obsessed with blood sacrifices. Not just with animals (although he apparently preferred animal sacrifices to those of vegetables) but also with people, often children. There is the case of Abraham and Isaac. The Christian emphasis on the story is on Abraham's faith. "See how much he believed in God?" they ask children as they tell the story in Sunday School. (Felt boards make the stories seem less violent) Well, yes. Abraham had faith in God. But he also believed that God was about to make him kill his child. And, for the sake of God, Abraham was willing to do just that. Imagine if this were to happen today. Not with God, because he isn't around like he used to be, but with a father using some unique parenting techniques. Suppose he told his six-year-old daughter Susie to push her little two-year-old brother off the roof of the building, and then at the last minute told her to stop and push the cat off instead, how would that look? That would be absurd psychological torture! And, yes, I used a false example because Abraham was not a six-year-old girl, but the principle is very similar.

And God was not always content to let children off the proverbial hook, either. There is a story of Jephthah and his daughter. This tale is less popular - either because it is even more distasteful than that of Isaac, or because it is relatively meaningless. Perhaps a combination of the two. But Jephthah certainly makes a poor decision when he vows: "whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." So instead of correcting him and maybe warning him that he shouldn't make promises like that, God holds him to it. And sadly for everyone, Jephthah's adoring daughter comes out. Unlike with Isaac, however, there is no last-minute reprieve. Christians might try to reconcile this story by God having to hold Jephthah to his word. But what about his daughter? God does apparently not bat an eyelash for her.

Which is consistent with his views on children - especially girls. Throughout all three Abrahamic religions, virginity is a prized commodity. This has translated into our society and I will, in a later post, discuss the problems with virginity as I see them. Nevertheless, virgins are often used as prizes for warriors or brave men. We have become so used to this concept that we fail to even see the blazing double standard: consider the standard prize for dragon-slaying knights. How many medieval tales were fueled by the lust of the king's daughter? Why is no thought ever given to the girl? Maybe she does not want to be wed to these people or traded like sheep.

Clearly these are modern ideas, but as I will continue to remind, if God intended life to be this way, then he would have imposed these rules long ago. Instead, his laws seem to be anchored in the time when they were written. And although Christians may argue that God was writing to a specific people in a specific time, I would have to counter that if God had simply laid out rules for the protection of women's rights back in the time of Abraham, then the world would be a much better place.

But who can know the mind of God, right? I mean, who would have seen this coming? "...As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies." And who knew that God would be able to put a price on rape? Fifty pieces of silver to her father was the going rate. I wonder if Christians are allowed to adjust that price for inflation or if they see the price as immutable?

In the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God plans to destroy the city because it is so wicked. And this is only 14 chapters after God has already destroyed everything on the Earth because it was so wicked. God consents to spare the life of one family - that of Lot, who happens to be Abraham's nephew. I do not think it is made explicitly clear in the passage if God spares Lot's family because they are righteous or because they are Abraham's in laws. Nevertheless, God apparently has no problem when Lot offers his daughters (virgins, of course) to an angry, horny mob of men who are lusting for two angels. It is true that this is the action of a man and not that of God, but I include it here because it is taking place under God's hammer. He is already planning to destroy the city for its eponymous sexual perversions, so God's approval of Lot's arrangement (which did not seem to go through, since the men were so gay for the angels that they ignored the offer to gang rape the two girls) stands out.

Slavery is a tricky subject. While it is universally acknowledged as a bad and immoral thing, this is only a very recent development. Because it seems so unthinkable to us, it is difficult to imagine how any decent, moral person could ever endorse slavery. And yet, until just under 200 years ago, it was almost universally accepted. So, from a historical perspective, it is not a surprise that the Bible endorses slavery. But if slavery is the evil that we now know it to be, then was God not aware of this evil thousands of years ago? Could he not have stopped the suffering and humiliation of millions of people throughout history if he had just mentioned it in the Decalogue? Or even if he had just not endorsed it outright. Here, for example, God lays out some specific rules for the accumulation of slaves through conquest. And here, God sets up a sort of evil catch-22: a slave can go free after seven years, but if, during that time he is married and has a family, they also belong to the master. If after seven years the slave decides to stay with his family, then he belongs to the master forever. Directly after that passage, God lays out rules for selling a daughter into slavery. Later that same chapter, God says that if master beats his slaves to death, then he is to be punished, but no punishment is necessary if the slave does not die, since the slave is his property.

Slavery is one thing. But then there is the genocide. God loves a good ethnic cleansing. If any nation started just crashing through their neighbors, killing them and taking their land, just about anyone would say that was the wrong course of action. Spain did it to the natives of South America, USA did it it to the natives of North America, England, Germany, Belgium and France did it to Africa and Hitler did it to Europe. History has not judged those actions favorably. But the nation of Israel wipes out countless cities and states and it is a good thing.

This could go on and on. I only briefly mentioned the flood, and did even not touch on Elisha summoning a bear to kill children. There are far more specific examples, and even more doctrinal issues that are matters of twisted legalities and logical traps, but this has run on long enough. I will not be surprised if you manage to find justifications for each and every example listed, but I think I have made my point. The morality that you and I cling to does not come from the Bible. That is a fact as simple as 2+2=4. Any decent morality that is in the Bible is there just out of coincidence, because there is plenty that is consistently ignored. Morality did not come from the Bible any more than slavery came from the Bible.

The bottom line is that the God of the Bible is not a nice god. He is vindictive and petty, jealous by his own admission, violent and abusive. It is true that all indications point to a man-made god, but somehow man has made a profoundly unlovable deity. If he were real, I would certainly fear him, but I could never respect or love him.

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