The Worst Passage in the Bible

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The Worst Passage in the Bible

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2015 5:05 am



This is an essay I just wrote for my writing class in school. Thought you might like to see it. I borrowed the concept from an article I read earlier today on patheos.com.


The Worst Passage in the Bible: An Argument

When selecting the worst passage in the Bible – “worst” being a common-sense stand-in for a more specific descriptor – one is naturally tempted to focus on the obvious passages. In Judges 11:29-40, Jephthah promises the Christian god, Yahweh, that he will kill his daughter, in exchange for victory in battle, and Yahweh allows him to. In Joshua 7:15, Yahweh, speaking in first person, proclaims that anyone who steals goods set apart for destruction will be burned to death, along with all of his possessions. In Ezekiel 9:5, it is written, “Then I heard the Lord say to the other men, ‘Follow him through the city and kill everyone whose forehead is not marked. Show no mercy; have no pity! Kill them all, old and young, girls and women and little children.’” In the New Living Translation of the Bible, Leviticus 26:21-22 reads, “If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey, I will inflict you with seven more disasters for your sins. I will release wild animals that will kill your children and destroy your cattle, so your numbers will dwindle and your roads will be deserted.” Second Kings 23:20 says, about the Hebrew King Josiah, that “He executed the priests of the pagan shrines on their own altars, and he burned human bones on the altars to desecrate them.” (NLT) Four verses later, it is written about the same man, “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.” (2 Kings 23:25 NLT) One wonders why the author of this passage so ardently praises a man who killed people and then burned their bodies, as a religious act. One wonders if it has ever been moral to kill little children. One wonders if it is moral to use wild animals to kill the children of people who do not obey Yahweh.

According to the New Abridged Bible, Ezekiel 21:35-37 reads, “In the place where you were created, in the land of your origin, I will judge you. I will pour out my indignation upon you, breathing my fiery wrath upon you, I will hand you over to ravaging men, artisans of destruction. You shall be fuel for the fire, your blood shall flow throughout the land. You shall not be remembered, for I, the LORD, have spoken.” By his own admission, then, Yahweh sometimes views human beings as “fuel” for fire, and he sometimes makes, or at least allows, their “blood to flow throughout the land.” One wonders why any being with the power to alter reality itself, and with the compassion of a parent, would allow human beings to be burned to death. Did he not have the power to simply remove them from existence, instantly and painlessly, or better yet, to alter the way that electricity fires through their neurons, so that the “sinful” impulses in their brains were averted? Is the very best plan that Yahweh could come up with for dealing with people who failed to obey him burning them to death?

In Deuteronomy 13:13-29, Yahweh, again speaking in first person, instructs his followers on his preferred method of dealing with rival religions. It reads as follows: "Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. “The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)
Notice that, in this passage, Yahweh commands the systematic killing of not just individuals who worship other gods, but of all the individuals living near them. In modern parlance, this practice is referred to as genocide, and it is explicitly forbidden by the Geneva Convention; in fact, any military leader who practices this form of invasion, according to the Convention, is to be tried for crimes against humanity. Necessarily, then, one wonders when it has ever been moral to kill human beings in response to the actions of other human beings. One also wonders when it has ever been moral to kill animals in response to the actions of human beings.

In Numbers 31:7-18, the Bible presents us with the story of Moses’ attack on the town of Midian. In this story, Yahweh, in his apparent fondness for warfare, commands Moses to attack Midian, and Moses obliges. Moses, however, becomes enraged to find that his appointed military leaders spared the women and children of Midian. He rails, “’Why have you let all the women live? These are the very ones who followed Balaam's advice and caused the people of Israel to rebel against the LORD at Mount Peor. They are the ones who caused the plague to strike the LORD's people. Now kill all the boys and all the women who have slept with a man. Only the young girls who are virgins may live; you may keep them for yourselves.’” (Numbers 31:13-18 NLT) It is interesting that, according to Moses, a group of women caused a plague to befall his community. It may be that these women had magical powers, and that they did, in fact, place a curse on Moses’ people, but history is full of witch hunts as reactions to declines in personal health, crop yields, fertility, the weather, et cetera. One wonders if Moses was correct about these individuals or if the author of this passage, living in pre-scientific times, made the mistake of blaming women for an illness that was actually caused by flourishing microorganisms – microorganisms that, to be poignant, only God could have created. One also wonders why Moses passed virgin women out to his followers, as though they were cattle.

Deuteronomy 20:10-14 reads, “As you approach a town to attack it, first offer its people terms for peace. If they accept your terms and open the gates to you, then all the people inside will serve you in forced labor. But if they refuse to make peace and prepare to fight, you must attack the town. When the LORD your God hands it over to you, kill every man in the town. But you may keep for yourselves all the women, children, livestock, and other plunder. You may enjoy the spoils of your enemies that the LORD your God has given you.” (NLT) According to this passage, Yahweh “handed” towns to his followers, so that they could kill the town’s male citizens and take possession of the town’s female citizens and children. One wonders when it has ever been moral to attack towns, taking their inhabitants as slaves. One also wonders why women and children are referred to by Moses as “plunder.”

These passages display only a small fraction of the commands given by Yahweh to murder, enslave, forcibly marry and ravage the inhabitants of ancient Palestine. The Old Testament is replete with these sorts of tales. But intelligent Bible-believers have an ace up their sleeve – an ace that exempts Yahweh from responsibility for the atrocities in the Old Testament. That ace goes as follows: “God did those terrible things in Old Testament times, but we live in New Testament times; we have Jesus now, and Jesus frees us from the Old Testament’s harsh punishments for sin.” The trouble with this logic, however, is that, according to Matthew 5:18-19, Jesus openly endorsed the Old Testament laws. In this passage, he states, “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV) In other words, Jesus openly endorsed Exodus 21:20-21, which reads, “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” (NIV) This means that, according to the Bible, Jesus believed that slave owners possessed the right to beat their slaves with rods, so long as those slaves recovered from the beatings after a day or two. One wonders when it has ever been moral to own a human being. One also wonders when it has ever been moral to beat that owned human being.

Jesus necessarily also endorsed Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which says, “If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father. Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her.” (NLT) One wonders why the act of raping a woman was to be ameliorated by paying money to her father. One also wonders why the rape victim was obligated to marry her rapist.

Jesus endorsed Deuteronomy 22:23-24, which says, “If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife.” (NAB) There are, currently, pictures on Google Images of individuals who have been stoned to death under Muslim law. Their bodies are mangled and crushed. They are saturated with blood. One wonders how his or her life might be altered by throwing rocks at a woman’s head until she died, because she “did not cry out for help” while she was being raped. One also wonders why the rapist’s crime, according to Moses, was not of raping the woman, but of “violat[ing] his neighbor’s wife,” as if the neighbor were the victim and not the woman herself.

Again, with the horror of these passages in view, it is tempting to regard any of the Old Testament’s atrocities as candidates for the worst Bible passage. It is also tempting to regard Jesus’ endorsement of these atrocities, and of Yahweh in general, as the worst passage in the Bible. After all, what could be worse than Jesus rubber-stamping genocide, slavery, misogyny and terror? But there is a passage worse than any of those. That passage is 1st Corinthians 1:18-21.

The atrocities of Yahweh can be subjected to rational scrutiny; it is possible to hold them up to the light of reason and ask, “Is it really moral to kill all of the citizens of a town because some of those citizens worshiped another god?” or, “Is it really moral to stone women to death for being raped?” Jesus’ endorsement can also be held to the light of reason; we can ask, “Did Jesus really believe that slavery was moral?” or, “Did Jesus really support Yahweh’s military campaigns?” But 1st Corinthians 1:18-21 does something that none of these passages can do: it exempts the Bible from rational scrutiny. It gives Christians the impression that their belief in these tales need not fall under the jurisdiction of reason. In fact, it admonishes Christians to view their religion as superior to reason. This, in effect, is nothing short of a license to embrace nonsense, as if it were a variety of nonsense that cannot be understood without Christian faith. It is a license to stop questioning the atrocities just mentioned, and to stop questioning Jesus’ patent approval of those atrocities.

The passage reads as follows:

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21 NIV)

The atrocities of the Bible, along with its more positive teachings, make up the inside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but 1st Corinthians 1:18-21 forms the outer shell. Under its protective covering, no amount of skeptical inquiry can penetrate, because all reason and all rational thought are regarded as mankind’s “foolishness.” The embarrassment that Christians should feel about the horrific behavior of Yahweh and the Biblical patriarchs is anesthetized by the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians, which, to paraphrase, go something like this: “All of these intelligent people, with all of their rational thought and reasoning, just don’t understand us. And that’s because we have special spiritual insight. It’s an insight that they don’t have because they’re too busy analyzing our religion, instead of just accepting it. They just can’t see how special Christianity really is, and it’s all because of their use of logic. But logic is really just foolishness to God.” Needless to say, this passage suggests that God not only approves of blind faith, but prefers it, over and above intellectually-honest inquiry. This passage gives Christians the perceived right to disregard all skepticism about their religion as vanity. One wonders if it is moral to regard religious faith as superior to rational thinking.

It is absurd to think that a loving god, who could see the future, and who knew that even one of his children would end up suffering eternal conscious torment after his or her death, would still opt to create children; any human parent who did such a thing would rightly be regarded as a psychopath. It is also absurd to think that a loving god would select a tribe of illiterate goat herders in the ancient Near East to carry his message of salvation from this eternal torment by commanding them to cut and slice their way across the Levant, prescribing as a remedy for “sin” piles of dead children and a Messiah who said nothing against them. It is absurd to think that the Bible, which makes claims about science and history that are plainly incorrect, and about morality that are plainly destructive, should be referred to as “the Good Book.” Yet, no passage in the Bible does as much to insulate these horrors in the minds of its followers as 1st Corinthians 1:18-21. No other passage tells us that we can check our rational analysis of these fairy tales at the door like it does.

One wonders if it is moral to remain silent about the obvious destructiveness of this passage. One wonders if it is moral to remain silent about the obvious destructiveness of religion in general. One wonders why, in 2015, we are still discussing this.


Cpowers14 Offline
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Re: The Worst Passage in the Bible

Posted: Mon Nov 02, 2015 11:47 am



I see your point in this, and as a Catholic I do respect your reasoning. However, for one who has been through years of religious education, I feel obligated to tell you that the bible is not meant to be this literally. We actually teach against what we called "fundamentalism", which is truly a form of religious extremism. For example, we don't believe God ACTUALLY slapped a couple *beep* pieces of clay and made the first human. We believe in evolution through divine creation. It takes people lifetimes to fully understand the full meaning of the bible, not just one research paper (no offense).

It ape has to do with the different translations of bibles.

Again I respect your way of thinking and appreciate you sharing your ideas. I just wanted to tell you what our faith teaches us in terms of bible interperetation. This isn't intended to bash you, I was simply defending my faith. I just hope you can come to understand the figurative literature in the bible

Have a good day!
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So It Goes Offline
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Re: The Worst Passage in the Bible

Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2015 12:53 am



Cpowers14 wrote:I see your point in this, and as a Catholic I do respect your reasoning. However, for one who has been through years of religious education, I feel obligated to tell you that the bible is not meant to be this literally.


Every religion eventually re-interprets its holy writings, and Judeo-Christianity is no exception. Fortunately, we have ways of evaluating whether or not Biblical and Talmudic authors meant what they were saying literally or figuratively. For instance, when, in a fairly large number of places, the Bible refers to a flat Earth, we know that the language is not figurative but literal. If you're curious about the methods scholars use to come to these conclusions, Google the topic.

Significantly, when a religion claims that its holy writings require this or that interpretation, ask yourself why it is that, with something as terrifying as eternal conscious torture at stake for billions of souls, the very best mode of communicating that a particular god could come up with is having human beings write down contradictory tales in old, dead languages, which require extensive scholarship and analysis to understand. If you had children, and they were faced with eternity in a furnace, would you inspire other children to write them convoluted letters, fables and geneologies that don't even agree with each other, in some ancient, foreign language, or would you communicate your message personally, directly and in no uncertain terms? I think you'll agree that all scriptures, from all religions, lack the kind of simplicity and user-friendliness that any decent entity would use to communicate messages of eternal importance.
Cpowers14 wrote:We actually teach against what we called "fundamentalism", which is truly a form of religious extremism.

Cpowers14 wrote:For example, we don't believe God ACTUALLY slapped a couple *beep* pieces of clay and made the first human. We believe in evolution through divine creation.
http://infidels.org/library/modern/bart ... ution.html
Cpowers14 wrote:It takes people lifetimes to fully understand the full meaning of the bible, not just one research paper (no offense).
It takes far more than a lifetime to understand the Bible; brilliant scholars have been studying the Bible for millennia, and they're still making discoveries, debating nuances, etc.
Cpowers14 wrote:Again I respect your way of thinking and appreciate you sharing your ideas.
Thank you, truly. I can say that I respect your sharing your ideas also, but I cannot say that I respect your way of thinking, so long as it remains religious. Religion is an indefensible position and offers no benefit to society that can not be found without religion, while offering plenty of liabilities.
Cpowers14 wrote:I just wanted to tell you what our faith teaches us in terms of bible interperetation. This isn't intended to bash you, I was simply defending my faith. I just hope you can come to understand the figurative literature in the bible.
I understand that you were defending your faith, and I also hope that I can understand some of the figurative language in the Bible, because it just looks like 2,300-year-old religious ramblings from people who didn't even know where the Sun went at night, to me. No disrespect to you personally, but I think you can see why it appears this way, and I think you can appreciate why the non-religious question it.
Cpowers14 wrote:Have a good day!
You too, my friend. :)


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