Morality and the Bible

March 29, 2007 at 9:56 pm 9 comments

In a previous post “Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior,” referencing a N.Y. Times article by the same name, we began to discuss the subject of morality. Many Christians believe the Bible, God’s word to mankind, is the source of morality.

However, as I am re-reading the Bible through my new glasses of apostasy, I am discovering that the Bible is full of examples of what I would consider true immoral behavior.

In war, should we kill women, children, babies, old men and animals?

Our innate moral sense will say no. What does the Bible say?

1 Sam.15:2-3 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation–men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, camels, and donkeys.”

Ezekiel 9:5-7 As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out and began killing throughout the city.

Numbers 31:17,18 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

Should we discriminate against the physically challenged?

Again, our moral compass will say no. What does the Bible say?

Leviticus 21:17-24 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; no man with a crippled foot or hand, or who is hunchbacked or dwarfed, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the offerings made to the LORD by fire. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.

Should women be treated as equals?

Morality will say “absolutely yes.” However, what does the Bible say?

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 Let women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

Should a rape victim have to marry the man who raped her?

Absolutely Not! However, the Bible says:

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Should abuse and murder of children every be condoned?

Not unless you want to spend your life behind bars, but the Bible gives a different view:

Psalms 137:8-9 O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, Happy is the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy is the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock!

Even though I could continue through this exercise for hours, I simply want to make the point that I do not believe that the Bible is a good source for morality. I tend to more agree with Agnostic Mom who believes that much of our morality lies in the brain.

The de-Convert

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Cultural Christianity Theism, agnosticism and atheism

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mike  |  March 30, 2007 at 7:55 am

    I’ve been meditating lately on the nature of power. George Orwell, in his book 1984 defined absolute power as the ability to hurt and bring misery upon another human being. It could be that the axiom, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” should be applicable to the god of Christianity as well. If you combine absolute power with the idea that whatever God does is right just because he is God we have the making of a monster, not a benevolent deity.

    The God of Christianity clearly uses power as an end in itself. It should be obvious that he has used this power in extremely unethical ways. Hence we have theologically endorsed genocide, bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.

  • 2. j4jesus  |  March 31, 2007 at 11:14 am

    Excellent work at pulling Biblical concepts out of their contexts. That’s the same thing conservative, blow-hard fundamentalist pastors do.

    I am discovering that many non-Christians have as great a tendency to read Biblical texts outside of their context as do many conservative Christians.

    The Bible – as a source for ethics or morality – must be considered as a canon; not as individual books or invdividual verses.

  • 3. mysteryofiniquity  |  March 31, 2007 at 11:42 am

    Please explain, j4jesus, how we are to interpret these texts in context then. What concepts do these passages teach us? Or should we ignore these passages because they no longer apply? Which ones do we ignore? And if we ignore those passages we don’t like, why shouldn’t we ignore the ones we do like? Who decides these things?

  • 4. j4jesus  |  March 31, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    I am not arguing that the texts can simply be excoriated from scripture. They must be read in the context of the remainder of Pauls’ writings, for example, so that we can understand the specific situation into which Paul was speaking and understand what he was saying.

    I would love to do a full scale exegesis of this passage with implications right now, but I’m getting ready to walk out the door with my family to head to the bookstore and dinner.

  • 5. agnosticatheist  |  March 31, 2007 at 3:30 pm


    I echo MOI’s sentiments.

    They must be read in the context of the remainder of Pauls’ writings, for example

    This really doesn’t make sense. Every passage was written to a specific audience with a specific meaning in mind. Paul didn’t expect the Galatians to read his letter in light of what he wrote to the Ephesians. I doubt if Paul even envisioned that he was writing what future generations would call “The Word of God.” Those letters that are authenticate Pauline letters were simply letters to his followers.

    As for the whole “out-of-context” argument, this is the typical Christian response to difficult passages. It says what it says. One can say it should be read in a cultural context but what does that matter? It’s applies throughout time, doesn’t it?


  • 6. grizelda3  |  March 31, 2007 at 3:35 pm


  • 7. j4jesus  |  March 31, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I believe that the texts are timelessly applicable, but I also believe that the texts simply can’t mean something today that they didn’t mean back then, so the cultural context is incredibly important.

    By the way, I wish I had a lot of time to write, but we are headed out on vacation tomorrow, so let me toss out a few thoughts, for what they are worth and I will look forward to reading and learning from any comments you make when I get back late next week . . .

    1. You hit the nail on the head when you point out that Paul’s letters were written to specific communities and each of these communities had a specific need. All Biblical texts must be read within this socio-communal context. The texts are still viable for the communities that still hold them sacred. This is why the radical right’s attempt to enforce Biblical standards, ethics and morality on the world is so frustrating to me. The texts were written for communities to follow; not for the entire world to follow. As an example: the Christians who protested Disney World for allowing homosexual conventions as if Disney is a Christian community or a Christian organization. This is ludicrous. It’s like shooting a duck because it insists on constantly quacking. The texts are intended for communities of those who believe that they are the word of God for that community. In this respect, I have no reason for arguing that any atheist or a Buddhist or anyone else outside of the Jewish or Christian communities should adhere to any of the moral instructions of scripture; except where those instructions would also be similar to what we might consider (for lack of a better term) basic social morality (the assumption that taking another life is not a good thing, for example). The texts were never intended to have influence outside of their communities.

    2. Per Paul’s stuff in I Corinthians . . . Paul often speaks of female leaders in his churches and he often thanks them for their leadership. One of the major issues going on in I Corinthians 12-14 is the use of the Spiritual gifts; primarily prophecy and speaking in tongues. In all of his writings in these chapters, Paul is arguing for a sense of order in worship. Thus, the drive of the verses is not to silence women as a social group. This would be ludicrous as Paul would have known that women were important leaders in many of his churches. The impetus of the passage is to encourage this particular group of women to remain silent if they cannot contribute something worthwhile to the order of the church and, particularly, to worship. Of course, Paul is bound – in many ways – by the socio-political dynamics of his time and he does not necessarily speak in politically correct terms. You are right: it is ludicrous to assume that any of Paul’s communities had access to other letters. At the same time, that is not how the texts have come to us and so . . . this verse must be set into its social context within the Corinthian community and meted out against our knowledge of Paul having written things in other places such as “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gree, male nor female, slave nor free . . .” For example, John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. When I wrote a literary review of his works back in AP English in High School, I had to look at the entire corpus of his works to determine the breadth and scope and driving force of Steinbeck’s works and how he grew over time. The Bible not only deserves, but begs for the same kind of literary criticism. I say that it deserves this kind of reading because it is time that many conservative Christians stop taking it out of context. Likewise, it begs for such a literary reading because the Canon groups genres and the writings of the same men together, side by side, demanding that they be examined against one another.

    3. As per the Old Testament texts. I don’t have time to respond to each one tonight. But, they are written to a community of people who assume that they give important advice about how to live holy lives in the presence of a Holy God. The advice is not meant to be applied to other communities and I think that the Jewish people – far more than conservative Christians – understand this point. Since I don’t have time, I will make a few comments on two of the passages that you mention.

    Deuteronomy 22.28-29: These verses simply cannot be read apart from 22.25-27. Any woman who was raped would have typically been put out of society or stoned to death. (and we know that this is still the case in many mid-Eastern cultures). Here the text is setting up circumstances in which these women are not to be put out of the community or stoned for what would typically have been thought of as her sin and not necessarily the sin fo the man. I am not sure etymologically or exegetically about the Hebrew word translated here for rape, but it is interesting that the woman in vs. 27 is said to have screamed but no one could hear her and the woman in vs. 28 does not scream. Thus, it is possible that 25-27 insinuate the violation of a woman who is betrothed while vss. 28-29 insinuate a mutual sexual relationship. I’m not sure about this and could be drastically wrong, but I don’t have time to do my own translation and word study tonight. And even if this is not the case, vss. 28-29 should be understood in terms of the women being provided for and the man who acted so horribly being called to accountability by the community. I’m not for rapists marrying their victims, but it would be nice if so many men who are willing to make babies with women were to be held accountable to taking care of the situation they helped create.

    Psalm 137:8-9
    This, I think, gets at the beauty of the Psalms. In a world where so many who are not Christians and so many who are Christians assume that being a believer means sanitizing your emotions and your feelings and pretending that life is OK, the Psalms remind us that sometimes life sucks, that we are emotional people who get angry and want justice and that its OK to put those feelings out before God. If someone raped and pillaged my home, I just might be tempted to pray for something horrible to happen to them, too. I’m not sure that God would take action on that request, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t cry out for something like that in the midst of my own anguish. These folks were living as captives in a foreign land with some really brutal captors (the Babylonians, along with the Assyrians, were some of the fiercest of warriors in the ancient world). That would make me cry out for justice, too, and the Psalms tell us that getting angry and crying out to God are OK and, perhaps even necessary.

    Those are my thoughts. Feel free to chew them to bits :-). Like I said, I’ll look forward to reading your reply when I get back from vacating.

  • […] not subscribe to their moral code, and they even attempt to legislating against what they consider the axis of immorality. They spread this intolerance, condemnation, and hate instead promoting love, kindness, compassion, […]

  • 9. Chad  |  November 21, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose!”

    Merchant of Venice-1.3.107.
    by William Shakespeare

    Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And
    “whosover believeth in Him [assuming he confesses to God and repents from his or her sin], shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

    Your use of scripture is to badmouth God and the decisions which He has made in the past (before He sent Jesus). By quoting scripture of the New Testament (about the time that Jesus was sent by God), I state what Jesus himself has said, without putting any twist on the words (or any inappropriate meaning).

    Dude, God is God. We can’t change what He’s done long, long, ago. While we don’t agree with His actions, He had a reason for them. Why do terrible things happen in the world today? Why do we get old? Why were we born? The point is, we don’t know. Why would God tell those people to do terrible things (in the Old Testament, i.e. before Jesus)? We don’t know, we can’t even begin to understand God. God is, and was the beginning. While we may try to “figure out the minds of the writers,” we cannot even begin to understand the depth and gravitas of GOD. That’s partly why He didn’t want people to know everything.

    Why did God have those people do things which are sins today? He had His reasons. We’ll never know. Let it go.

    And besides, He’s God. He does what is necessary. At those times, He had to make decisions which we humans are prohibited to do, but they were for necessary reasons. What were those reasons? We can’t know. We’re not God.

    But eventually, He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins. He had a timetable, a “strategery” about what He had to do, and when. Who else would have been able to carry out His work at just the right time, and at just the right place, for His will to be done? It’s God, the father Almighty. MAKER of Heaven and earth. And about the whole Iraq thing: people who support our troops in Iraq, the liberation of the Iraqi people (partly from our own post-911 poor judgements, and partly from Saddam, who wouldn’t let us check out his weapons) don’t want to see killings. We want to see order and freedom for the people. Sure, there’s oil there, but the main thing is helping out the Iraqi’s, so that terror will have one less footstool to stand on. Christianity and supporting operation Iraq are two entirely different things.

    Let’s not confuse “morality” with helping an entire country get back on its feet (which takes a really long time, sorry liberals, but securing freedom can take a lot of time, espescially with terrorists running amok between Iraq and Afghanistan).

    And the whole legislation against the Axis of immorality? We’re just trying to help people change their minds, so that they can live a little more morally upright. Some people are under the impression that you’re “born gay.” Now, while that might sound nice and easy, that’s just not the case. One chooses to favor men over women, and by working toward legislation that keeps marriage between a man and a wife (its original purpose), we help people to see that God created Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman), and that is how it works. We don’t consider homosexual people immoral, we just consider “choosing to be a homosexual” to be a sin.

    And we’re not banning them from having individual freedoms, we’re just protecting the sanctity of marriage. In fact, many Christians are in favor of allowing gays to have “civil unions.”

    how it works meaning that is what God built us for; and besides, we want to help stop the spread of AIDS, espescially.

    We’re not “spreading hate” by helping others to see truth and stop being homosexuals

    Read the Bible, dude, love, compassion, kindness, forgiving your enemies, forgiving people who sin against you, it’s all there

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