There are thousands of religious group in North America alone which promote
systems of morality derived from their sacred texts and tradition; these are primarily Christian,
Jewish, and Muslim. There are
also dozens of non-religious, secular organizations which promote their own
ethical and moral belief systems, as derived from social sciences and logic. Examples are the Agnostics,
Atheists, and Humanists.
Based on this consensus, there are many incidences in the Bible -- some
ordered by God; others perpetrated by humans -- which are profoundly
immoral. This has led some people -- particularly religious liberals and
secularists -- to conclude that there are passages in the Bible that
conflict with the will of God.
There are many "hard passages" in the Bible which appear to
conflict with today's moral consensus. Some verses describe what appear to be unjust
instructions or actions by God to commit genocide. Others involve the murder of
innocent, defenseless individuals, including the
elderly, children, infants and newborns. Still others involve the murdering of a
person for a minor transgression. Some are single murders; others are
instances of mass murder.
Hard passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) convinced the ancient Gnostic
Christians to believe that Jehovah was a defective, inferior Creator-God.
(The Gnostic Christians were one of the three main groups
in the early Christian movement. They are undergoing a revival today). They
named the Creator-God the Demiurge, and viewed him as fundamentally evil,
jealous, rigid, lacking in compassion, and prone to genocide. Gnostics worshiped a
different deity, called the Supreme Father God or Supreme God of Truth
who is remote from human affairs; he was seen as unknowable and undetectable
by human senses.
This essay describes some horrific Biblical events, as they appear in the
King James Version of the Bible. It contrasts these occurrences with
today's secular and religious standards of morality.
Interpreting hard passages from different Biblical viewpoints:
Protestant Christianity is deeply divided
into conservative, mainline, and liberal wings. A great
gulf also exists between Protestant and Roman Catholic/Orthodox beliefs. Many of these
differences can be traced to the ways in which different Christian faith groups interpret
Conservative Christians tend to believe that the Bible is inspired
by God, inerrant and infallible. This includes the "hard
passages." One of the main
Biblical verses supporting this belief is: 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
(King James Version) The Christian Scriptures (New Testament) did not exist
when 2 Timothy was written. So, the passage must have referred to the Hebrew
Scriptures (Old Testament) only. However, the verse is commonly used today
to refer to the entire Bible.
Religious conservatives believe that much of the apparent immorality in the Hebrew Scriptures'
hard passages are human misunderstanding because Jehovah is both a God of love and of
justice. God, as a wholly just being, must sometimes punish rebellious
individuals and groups for their sins in ways that we find difficult to
Liberal Christians tend to regard the Bible as a series of somewhat
imperfect documents, which individual authors (and later forgers) used to
introduce and promote their own competing religious beliefs. Religious thought is seen as evolving during the period from
about 900 BCE to 150 CE when the various books of the Bible were written. Liberals feel that some "hard passages" and
other Biblical passages reflect an earlier, lower standard of morality and should be
ignored. They are dangerous to the religious belief, spirituality and ethics of
today's readers. These passages include verses which condone and regulate slavery,
which advocate discrimination against women,
which promote religious hatred and intolerance,
which denigrate homosexuals, which describe the
killing of innocent people, genocide, etc.
Both conservatives and liberals agree on one factor: these "hard
passages" are rarely cited in church or religious writings. They appear to teach a
system of ethics that is profoundly evil by today's religious and secular standards.
sampling of these passages from the Hebrew Scriptures follows. If you have the
stomach for more, "The born-again skeptic's guide to the Bible"
contains brief descriptions of about 70 "mass killings ordered,
committed or approved by God." See our book list.