Judaism, Christianity, Islam; the Torah, Bible, Qur'an, etc.
Part 1 of 2: Editing, changing, reinterpreting,
and/or ignoring passages in holy books in
modify beliefs & alter behaviors:
||Alfred North Whitehead: "The religion which stays in place is the last refuge of
||Blaise Pascal: "Men [sic] never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
||Deuteronomy 7:2: "... thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy
them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them."
||Deuteronomy 20:16-17: "...thou shalt save alive nothing that
breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them."
||Deuteronomy 2:26-35: "...we
took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the
women, and the little ones, of every city. We left none to remain."
One of our web site's policies is to avoid criticizing the religious beliefs
of any individual or group. In this essay, the author recommend that certain
passages from the Bible and other holy texts be edited to remove passages that
promote or condone genocide; mass murder; human slavery; oppression of women;
torturing prisoners; execution of homosexuals, religious minorities, children,
and persons guilty of trivial offenses; etc. The essay is based on the belief
that deeds are evil and immoral and can promote religious hatred, discrimination,
and violence today.
We realize that believers who regard their holy text as God's word might
interpret this essay as an attack on their beliefs. However, with the world
sliding so rapidly into religiously-motivated mass terror, we felt that we
should bend the rules in this case. If you are easily distressed, we recommend
that you not read this essay. Alternately, you may wish to submit your own
rebuttal in the form of an essay for our visitors'
We will primarily cite Christian examples here because it is the main
religion in North America, which is our main service area.
People's behaviors are greatly influenced by their beliefs. Thus, the elimination of
religiously-motivated hatred, discrimination, intolerance, oppression, violence,
terrorism, murder, genocide, etc. requires that we first have to replace our current
beliefs with better ones. We will have to discard
some of what we have been taught, and change some of our traditional patterns of
Humanity cannot continue
to resolve twenty-first century dilemmas with 1st or 7th century
CE guidelines, much less guidelines that came during the
century BCE or earlier. Present and future generations must not be
held hostage to beliefs and practices originating in an ancient parochial world
organized in tribal groups. We need to deal with
the problem of religiously-motivated hatred and oppression at its source, by introducing major changes into our "sacred texts." This will be extremely difficult
To break the spiral of violence and intolerance in the
world, we need to eliminate the sanctification of wrong attitudes and evil
deeds which are contained in our "sacred texts." Consider two modern-day
examples inspired by the book of Joshua in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old
Testament). You will recall that this book records
numerous genocides committed by Joshua against the Canaanites.
In Vietnam, a few American
soldiers "quoted from Joshua to condone the My Lai massacre. They claimed
that butchering babies would purge Vietnam of the 'commie stain,' and that
they [the soldiers] were on God's side." 1
During the " 'ethnic
cleansing' of the Muslims in Bosnia. [some Serbian Orthodox Christian
believers]... quoted the book of Joshua to justify slaughter. They saw it as
'god's will' to slay the infidels." 1
Other examples from the Hebrew Scriptures that
inspire oppression -- and worse -- include the condoning and regulation of
human slavery, genocide,
oppression of women, execution
and oppression of homosexuals, transferring sin from
the guilty to innocent persons, and many other
activities that are considered profoundly immoral by most faiths today.
Progress can be
seriously impeded by the rigid attitudes of religious leaders against change.
More flexibility will be needed, particularly with regard to the
immutability, and universal applicability of sacred texts. Literalist and absolutist
interpretations will have to be challenged before change will be possible.
As humanity's intellectual and spiritual capacity grows, so does our ability to
understand complex phenomena. Our imperfect ideas are gradually replaced by more
adequate ones. Our judgments are not final and often need to be modified. These attitudes
should extend also to our consideration of our Scriptures. Unfortunately, reason
cannot tell us how to treat logical problems created by traditional religious
doctrines that do not seem to make coherent sense in today's world, but which
claim to present eternal truth. Trying to overcome intolerance by
simply reinterpreting existing holy texts may well be insufficient. More basic changes
may be needed.
The Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- with which most
of the Earth's population identify, will probably be very resistant to change.
These faiths have no need to retain references to historical atrocities and
immoral behaviors in their scriptures. However, there
is little hope that they will be easily persuaded to effect changes to the text, such as removing those
offensive commandments that serve no positive purpose. Still, retaining these
because some of the passages provide a ready-made pretext for many types of
hatred and violence.
Perhaps the most that can be hoped for in the near future is a change in
attitude towards the existing scriptures. This was largely accomplished over a
century ago with the biblical passages that recognized, condoned, and regulated
slavery. They are largely ignored today. Hopefully, religious leaders will proactively teach that passages
promoting genocide, oppression
of women and sexual minorities,
religious intolerance, etc. are devoid of value and
must also be ignored.
Further comments on Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam):
Some scripture passages are being used as a religious imperative for war, terrorism,
and the formation of mass suicide groups, while turning a blind eye not only to
tolerance, but also to genocide, the
misuse of nature, the maltreatment of
||Many faith groups find change very difficult. They obstinately cling to doctrines which cannot be reconciled
with modern culture.
Many faith groups fear change. They are
extremely reluctant to alter religious passages, even where
obviously needed -- such as the biblical injunction to execute a child for
cursing a parent. 2 They
feel that any changes would undermine the "word of God," and thus reduce their
group's authority. Many faith groups are motivated by a desire to preserve status quo
-- to teach "The faith which
was once for all delivered to the saints" 3
-- and to maintain their
Organized religions find it helpful to teach
exclusivity -- that their way is the only way; their belief system is
the only truth. This helps Churches
seek, acquire, and retain members, and thus, to grow in size and influence.
||It is a well known that the various sacred writings contain
contradictions, that obviously impossible claims are made, that commandments are
given that cannot be complied with, and that there are statements that cannot be
proven in spite of many hundreds of serious attempts. Recently, there has been
a strong tendency to gloss over or avoid discussion of such matters.
Scholars from the third world are the main voices calling for a Bible
that will reflect the realities and possibilities of today's world.
4 They are joined by
progressive Christians and some others.
The concept of progressive revelation:
"Progressive revelation" is the concept that some
instruction that was
originally revealed for a particular age may be superseded by later revelations.
These do not necessarily negate the earlier beliefs; they may simply bring them
up to date. 5 This concept also contains the understanding that
revelations that are considered still valid today, may well be
superseded in the future as cultures change.
Prominent among the faith groups that believe in progressive revelation are the
Unitarians / Unitarian Universalists and
the Baha'i's. Also, the Sikhs allow, in each generation, for a
change in interpretation of their revelation by the Panth, the Sikh
||Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists do not accept the idea of a final or 'sealed' divine
revelation. They do not accept revealed truth as immutable. Rather, they
view knowledge as continually
evolving. They also accept the teachings of all religions and faith groups as worthy of examination.
||Leaders if the Baha'i religion' assert that because God is, in essence, unknowable, religious truth
relative, and our consciousness only gradually expanding, human progress must be facilitated by a
progressive and continuous revelation of God's word.
According to them, no religion, including the Baha'i' faith itself, can
claim to be the final revelation of God to humanity. Revelations are both
recurrent and progressive.
The Mormon movement also accepts a limited type of
progressive revelation. They believe that they received an instruction from
God to at least temporarily suspend polygyny --
the practice of one man marrying multiple wives. This is referred to as the "Great
Accommodation" of 1890. In 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints received another revelation from God: to eliminate racism within the
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Christ Yes! Christendom No,"
- See: Exodus 21:17.
- See: Jude 3.
Canaan S. Banana, "The Case for a New Bible," in: Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah,
Ed., "Voices from the Margin," Orbis/SPCK, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Mel Thompson, "Philosophy of Religion," Teach Yourself book series,
McGraw-Hill, (3rd edition, 2010). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
... And other paths too numerous to list
Copyright © 2006
by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-27
Latest update on: 2015-FEB-16
Author. Vladimir Tomek, supplemented by contributions by B.A. Robinson