Reading the Bible, Part 2
I’ve still only read Genesis through 1 Kings and I have two more reasons for why this book is terrible. Let’s get to them!
Approach a random person on the street and tell him or her this story: “A military group wanted to conquer an area. They went into a town and killed all the soldiers and men. They took the women and children back with them. The leader was angry that the civilians were still alive and ordered his soldiers to kill all the women and boys. The leader let the soldiers keep the girls and virgin women, over ten thousand of them.” Ask the person on the street who the leader was. Who would they guess? Surely it must be one of the worst persons who ever lived, right? Adolf Hitler? Genghis Khan? Vlad the Impaler? Saddam Hussein? Attila the Hun? Muammar Gaddafi? Joseph Stalin? Emperor Hirohito? Emperor Palpatine? Mao Zedong? Pol Pot? Moses? Caligula? Wait a minute! Who would guess Moses??? He's just a prophet that wandered the desert for forty years, right? Not really. Read it yourself:
15 “Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. 16 “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. 17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.”
It's amazing to see the contrast between the righteousness that Jewish/Christian/Islamic adherents display for their monopoly on morality and the callousness that they have for murdered prisoners of war. I sometimes hear criticisms like “You can't determine what is right and wrong by yourself! You KNOW that genocide and rape are wrong! It's a fact whether you admit it or not!” Now read any Bible study guide on the above passage in Numbers 31, where God's best friend explicitly orders genocide and rape. (Let's be honest, these girls didn't have a future beyond being wives, concubines, or slaves to the people that just killed their families.) The study guides basically say “God decided those dirty Midianites had to die. Their evil Y-chromosomes just had to go. It's too bad they weren't related to those guys that tried to kill their brother. You know, the good people. Anyway, dead babies are fine. It's what they get for their mothers being such whores. Yay God!” The winners definitely wrote the history books on that one. And the winners decided that morality was whatever they decided was good for them.
I’m glad I read the Bible. I can use this chapter as a response to almost anything. God is love? He loves killing babies! God exists outside of time? He never stops killing babies! How do I have morality without God? I know enough to not kill babies! Jesus loves the little children? Jesus kills the little children!
By some counts, there is a lot of injustice in the Bible. And I bet that I could find a hundred examples of why its god wouldn’t be moral if he did exist. But instead I’m going to focus on just a few stories and the odd convenience in how God punished history’s losers and tolerated the misdeeds of the winners. The first story comes from Chapter 7 of Joshua. Joshua is the guy that led the Israelites after Moses. They had just destroyed the city of Jericho. The next city on the list was named Ai. Joshua’s spies reported that Ai had a small population that could be defeated with only a fraction of the fighting men. However, Joshua’s three thousand soldiers were repelled by Ai’s men and there were thirty-six casualties. So what did Joshua do about it? Did he train his scouts better for their next mission? Did he attack Ai again with overwhelming forces? Did he make a plan to draw out the city’s protectors and then ambush it? Did he blame the defeat on one of his own soldiers and burn his whole family? Yes! To the latter three anyway. And maybe the first one too. But let’s focus on the burning. When you make up a story about having an omnipotent god supporting you, you can’t just suffer a defeat because of inferior numbers, weapons, intelligence, position, or tactics. That would hurt morale. And it would prove that you don’t have an omnipotent god supporting you. So what’s wrong? God’s mad! At what? Choose something! I know! Let’s find someone stupid enough to confess to keeping treasure from Jericho instead of giving it to God (i.e. Joshua) as instructed. So they chose a tribe and interrogated people until a man named Achan admitted to taking some gold and other valuables for himself. The Israelites stoned and burned him, his family, and his animals. Harsh. But with God satisfied, they were able to conquer Ai! (Of course, the difference was in God’s attitude, not the additional twenty-seven thousand soldiers.)
Much later, in the book of Judges, the strategy is to blame the whole population for defeat instead of a random individual like Achan. There are at least four stories where basically “the children of Israel ‘did evil’ so God got mad and let X conquer them for Y number of years until righteous Z prayed and promised to kill a bunch of X’s people.” These tactics are still being used today. “If (country) doesn’t start behaving better like (deity/leader) wants, (enemies) will bother us and there will be (natural disaster)s! Behave! Behave!” Why is it never something simple like “our ancient civilization in a volatile region won some, lost some”? Oh well. Let’s move on to King Saul. Saul was chosen to be the first king over Israel. (They didn’t need a king, but the people wanted one, so God gave them a bad one.) Saul was doing okay for a while but then messed up when God instructed him to kill all of the Amalekites. Instead, Saul spared their king and their good livestock. Head prophet Samuel reported that Saul had lost God’s favor and will lose his position as king. Saul soon dies in battle.
If you like to pretend that God exists, you could argue that his treatment of Achan and Saul is tough but fair. He just punishes the disobedient people like they deserve, right? Well, good luck explaining David. David is the guy that God chose to replace Saul as king. For the most part, King David is awesome. He kills God’s enemies all over the place! Unfortunately, there was an incident where David slept with an attractive married woman named Bathsheba, got her pregnant, and arranged for her husband to be killed to cover up his misdeeds. So King David coveted, committed adultery, and murdered. With such blatant disregard of 30% of the Ten Commandments, you can imagine that David definitely deserves to lose his kingdom and will probably get a lightning strike to the face the minute he walks outside. So God sends the prophet Nathan to tell David his punishment: someone is going to take David’s wives at some point. And God kills the kid that resulted from the adultery with Bathsheba. Well… that’s something I guess. At least God didn’t allow a successful marriage or a child to result from that horrible sin. Anyway, David goes on to have several children with his wife, Bathsheba. Yes, that Bathsheba. Decades later, David’s son Absalom is trying to usurp his father’s rule and he sleeps with David’s ten concubines, fulfilling what Nathan said. So far, David really hasn’t had much punishment for his disgusting sin. But wait! Famine! Three years of famine for Saul’s sin! Oops, did I say Saul? Ha ha! I meant David. Saul was the king that died over twenty years earlier. David is the current king that murdered loyal soldiers to cover up his adultery. It would be ridiculous to blame… wait, wait, I was right the first time. David talked to God after three years of famine and God said that it was Saul’s fault for killing Gibeonites or something. So David executed two of Saul’s sons and five of his grandsons and the famine ended. Justice! David then sings about how righteous he is and how much God loves him. Wow. Okay, there’s one more chance though. David then sinned by counting his soldiers. So God sent a plague that killed seventy thousand people. Then David died peacefully in his sleep after ruling for forty years.
Well… let’s move on to David’s son, Solomon. King Solomon was the wisest man that ever lived, and he proved it by declaring that a baby should be cut in half. No, that’s not a joke. Sadly, Solomon wasn’t exclusive to God. He built temples to Chemosh and Molech. Well, that’s breaking rule #1 right there. Surely it’s time for instant death now, right? At least Saul and Achan apologized and kept the first commandment. Nope, Solomon ruled forty years too. But he was punished! God decided that he would take the kingdom away from Solomon’s son after Solomon is dead. God wouldn’t punish Solomon while Solomon was alive because it wouldn’t be nice to King David. Seriously.
I strongly encourage you to read the Bible. There are a hundred stories like this. When you do so, ask yourself what makes more sense: the creator of the universe has a highly inconsistent justice system where some sinners are mercilessly burned to death and others just stay alive because they’re awesome? Or this is a bunch of historical stories combined with fiction for the people in charge to explain why everything bad happened? See the death of Moses for example. They couldn’t even just say “the old man died.” No! They had to say “God’s best prophet didn’t make it to the promised land because he hit a rock in anger.” Give me a break.