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Putting the “Good” Book in Context

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I have had many theological discussions with Christians and inevitably at some point during our discussion the comment, “you’re taking the meaning out of context” is dropped. I think that a contextual understanding of the bible and Christianity is important also. Let me take this opportunity to try and put the bible and Christianity in it’s proper context.

There is plenty of terrible un-Godlike behavior in the new testament, but for sure it is easier to quote better examples of God’s loveless actions from the old testament. I have had people tell me, “…well yeah that’s the old testament but the new testament is much more peaceful”. I will be taking quotes for most of this article from the old testament.  I will be doing so because the old testament is particularly brutal. If you are a Christian and you believe the inspired word of God is infallible (and you have to), why does it matter that only the brutish old testament is mentioned? Having been written first, it has the distinction of being perhaps more timely and therefore more accurate (disbelief appropriately suspended) to the events that it describes.

Let’s start with the bronze age’s answer to Las Vegas, Sodom and Gomorrah. God was not happy with the evil taking place in the twin cities so he decided to rain down upon them “burning sulphur.” This is odd and cruel at the same time. Odd because if you were God, do you think burning sulphur would be the best way to completely wipe out two cities? Cruel because it involves burning men, women and children. Wouldn’t a 30 mile wide plasma beam be more efficient or at least more humane? It’s also a lot more cool than… burning sulphur.  Keep in mind bronze age construction had advanced from an earlier technique of packed clay walls to actual bricks made from mud.  Mud bricks don’t burn well, in fact heat is what is used to dry them. Weird God would choose such an incredibly inefficient way to smite people… unless the bible was written solely by men who didn’t know what a plasma beam or anything else more advanced was than… burning sulphur. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

Next, let’s talk about God’s quirky sense of humor. Just imagine if you had a neighbor whose name was, oh I don’t know, ahhhh… Abraham. Let’s say some “guy” showed up at Abraham’s house one day and put a gun to Abraham’s head and tried to force him to kill his son, ahhhhh… Isaac. Then right before Abraham did it the “guy” stopped him and said “Wait! I just wanted to see if you’d do it!”  Would we think this “guy” was funny, smart, all knowing, all powerful, peaceful, kind, or loving. No, we’d think this “guy” was vicious, cruel and twisted. I think you get the point. If God was omniscient, he would have already know what Abraham was going to do or he’s just a malevolent jerk who gets off on yanking mankind’s chain. Not very Godlike… unless God was a creation of mankind who from time to time does suffer from these character flaws. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

Now, Exodus 2:29-30 :

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Does anything here strike you as odd? Yeah I know, “why should God kill the children for the wrongs of their parents?”. Sure that’s unforgivingly evil, but that’s not even the “odd” part. I’m talking about killing the firstborn of the livestock! The livestock? Here is context for you. Throughout the bible, God has penalized mankind by killing his children and/or his livestock. In an earlier article I quoted Leviticus 26:21-22.

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.

God sure has a thing for killing livestock… or does he? Seems to me far more likely that mankind in the bronze age recognized how valuable livestock was to the other bronze agers of the time and decided to use livestock as leverage in the good book. Sounds again like mankind was truly doing the story telling here. Hard to keep this story any more in context than that.

I could go on…but I think it is clear that contextually these stories and most likely the entire bible, were man made from start to finish. How modern day rational people can’t see that the bible is riddled with un-Godlike, but very human, behavior is astounding to me.

…Sometimes a burning bush, is just a burning bush.

2 Comments

  1. Skarlet says:

    I liked reading your post, which was quite interesting. However, I don’t see how you can keep claiming that “God’s” behavior is “un-Godlike.” The term un-Godlike only makes sense if you know what God is. That’s like declaring the constitution unconstitutional.

    You point out that God destroyed cities with fire and brimstone, that he destroyed the firstborn of Egypt and even the cattle, and tested Abraham about offering his son. You seem to see these as flaws, and therefore unlike a perfect God, and more like imperfect man. Hence, man probably made up the whole thing. But where do you get your objective standard of perfection from?

    I’d encourage you to read this blog: http://silasreinagel.blogspot.com/2009/09/malevolent-god.html

    “What is wrong with being violent? What is wrong with seeking glory? What is wrong with jealousy? What is wrong with establishing clear and inflexible rules? As far as I can, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these. In fact, all of these seem to coincide quite nicely with the image of a president or a king. If there is any sort of claim that God is evil or malevolent, the claim is more a reflection of our own personal and cultural biases than it is a meritorious accusation against the God of the Bible. “

  2. Stan says:

    Hey Skarlet,
    I think you’re taking this blog post out of context.

    I have to go now as my four year old didn’t put her shoes on when I asked her to. I think I’ll smack her with a red hot poker. That’s not cruel is it Skarlet? She violated one of my rules and so there is nothing wrong with how I have decided to punish her. A bit cruel and over the top maybe, but hey if it’s good enough for the righteous Lord, it’s good enough for me.

    Good blog post by the way.

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