Friday, March 14, 2008

Awkward Bible Passages Part VI

"If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and worship other gods" (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again."
- Deuteronomy 13:6-10 (NIV)

This one starts out so nicely, evoking images of our closest loved ones. Ah yes, my brother, my son or daughter, the wife I love, my closest friend. But it's all down hill from there. We are instructed by Yahweh that if anyone, no matter how close to us or loved by us, should try to lead us away from him to worship other gods, then it's okay - nay, necessary - to murder her. And not just to hand her over for others to murder - we ourselves must be the first to put her to death (and then everyone else gets to join in).

Once again we see the jealous Yahweh (he freely admits as much - see here, here, here, here and here for a few examples) throwing a hissy fit because his tiny creations might worship some other god. There are quite a few problems with this, but I will mention some of the most salient:

1) Why the insecurity? Why does Yahweh need to be so jealous, anyway? He has lots of followers; is it really such a big deal if a few go astray? I'm not sure if his feelings are just hurt, or he doesn't feel appreciated, or what - but this seems awfully petty (and anthropomorphic) for the supposed creator of the universe. As Roy Zimmerman says in his brilliant song Jerry Falwell's God, "...If people are jealous and judgmental and vengeful and violent, maybe it's because you made them in your image."

2) Where's the free will? I thought the reason God allowed suffering was because he wants us to have free will. But how free can our wills be if we are threatened by force to remain believers? "You have two choices... you can believe in me, or you can DIE AT THE HANDS OF YOUR LOVED ONES!!" That's not really much of a choice. And it's rather immature. It's like telling your children, "You have two options... you can stop arguing, or I'll drive this van off the cliff." The subtext is clear... there's only one option.

3) Why does he remain hidden? If God is so insistent on being believed, then why doesn't he act like he exists? Why make the world seem chaotic and indifferent? Why let good things and bad things happen to good and bad people without any overriding pattern or justice? Why let there be other gods to worship? Why not just show up on a regular basis and confirm your existence? If blind faith is required, and punishment is death, then it just seems like Yahweh's trying to lure people in by entrapment.

4) There are other ways. Immediately killing a person to stave off deconversion is hardly the best option here. If I were a god, I could devise a better, moral way to handle the situation. First of all, I'd trust in my believers to think for themselves. I wouldn't be worried that someone else's mere suggestion could turn them away from me, especially because I wouldn't make myself so hard to believe in in the first place. Perhaps I'd give my follower the words to entice the loved one to believe in me instead, rather than killing her.

Of course, modern Christians and Jews do not adhere to this passage, and I've never heard it mentioned, let alone endorsed, in a sermon or Sunday School class. But here lies the rub: if we can all recognize this command as immoral, then why would Yahweh attribute it to himself in his word? And why would anyone persist in saying the Bible is a source of morality if we must purposefully ignore this kind of nonsense? If the Bible is the word of God, then God is as immoral as it says he is.

The image above is one I created after getting the idea that it would be funny to have an inspirational photo (like one of the Footprints in the Sand pictures) that looks like a beautiful scripture verse until you actually read it. I figured the Deuteronomy passage was ideal, because the first few lines sound so sweet and gentle. I've already given this, in a 5x7" frame, as a gag gift to some of my Christian friends, and they've gotten a kick out of it (or so they told me). The photo was taken by my wife, and shows the cliffs in Santa Cruz just down the street from where I was raised. I added the cross (it was actually just a sign warning people to stay away from cliff edges), for extra effect. I'll make prints available on a future site I'm building.


Anonymous said...

I am no scholar and very unqualified to respond but, with lack of any other ....

When you attempt to place God into the "Man" box, you will always come up wanting. We, as "Men" can not make understanding of his purpose. Everything we perceive is through experience and understanding. When we view something new that does not fit the jigsaw puzzle of our existence, we try to make it fit -AND- if it does not, reject it. Perfectly logical; however, I am certain there are things in your life that you know and I might never understand (and vice-versa). In the same way, God has understanding and reasoning for instruction and requirements that we might question or not understand. Trying to quantify/understand it is akin to attempting to explain to a small child why he can not run in the street. Rather than attempt to rationalize, we say "because I said so." (why? because they are unable to reason on the level necessary to understand their actions/circumstances). In the same way, God might have intention or reasoning that will never be apparent to our simple selves. Lastly, do not discount the extreme convergence of the multi-translated text. I would encourage you to go back to the source language and get the meaning of each word to build your own interpretation, based on your understanding of language. While English can sometimes be limiting in ability to express different emotions (single word for love, for instance), you might have an ability to glean a new perspective. Either way, continue to question and seek -- it is both healthy and as you search out paths, might lead you to the "right" one.
My hope is not to convince or sway you, but to provide a different possibility (while, hopefully, not confusing or discouraging) for understanding. As stated in the opening, I have zero qualification to instruct or inform. Best wishes.

DavisMcDavis said...

I've been enjoying your awkward Bible passages - I think I googled up Number IV the first time, but now I've come back to see the rest. That graphic is perfect! If you start selling those, I'm definitely picking up a few of them...

I know it's pointless, but I'd like to respond to Anonymous: If a young child asks why he can't run in the street, you can say "Because a car will run you over." It's actually not all that hard to understand.

Don't you find it awfully suspicious that God acts exactly as if he wasn't actually real? I sure find it suspicious. I think it's also a very logical explanation for why it's hard to understand "his will" - because he has no will because he's not real. God's will=complete chaos. Isn't it strange that prayers to Oprah Winfrey are more likely to be answered than prayers to Jesus, considering Oprah is supposedly a weak human and Jesus is an all-poweful entity with magic powers?

If God's will is so easily mistranslated that we need to study it and learn Greek to find the original text's meaning, then that means either God hates the retarded and dyslexic or that he isn't particularly omnipotent.

Eric Daniels said...

I don't see how "stone him to death" could be a mistranslation of something milder. Like, maybe it originally said, "throw soft objects at him until he is sorry"?

FS Carrie said...

Please please PLEASE start making these. I need like 500.