Christian Moral Theory and Morality in Action
Biblical Morals and Social Disaster

By Vexen Crabtree 1999 Dec 20

Christian moral teachings, as derived from the Bible, are a contradictory mess of historical myths about human nature combined with a pseudo-historical account which produces a confusing, weird and inappropriate set of morals. From sex abuse to Christian attitudes towards women, gays, blacks, slavery, Jews and to human dignity in general, Christianity has highlighted and encoded human evil at its worst. It is only against Christian moral theory that Christian heroes have battled to do good. The Christian concept of original sin - the punishment of future generations for the sins of parents, and God's example behaviour in the Bible, are monstrously immoral, and other traditional sets of values such as the seven deadly sins and ten commandments are, when you actually inspect them, more suited to barbarians than civilised man. Christianity's best morals happen to also be those espoused by nearly every other religion and philosophy and as such, in itself, Christianity is morally worthless and has contributed nothing to the world.

This page: Just because parts of the Bible are untrue or results of error and human invention, does not mean that its stories have no worth as moral guidance. However frequently in addition to fallibility, the Bible presents immoral guidelines. This page is a summary of some of the myths, stories or events in the Bible which present anti social or immoral ethics.


1. Christian Moral Theory

Interpretation of the Bible is always done within specific cultural contexts. As cultures change the way in which morality is perceived changes also. All cultures experience this temporal nature of morality, a gradual change in opinion over time. Each cultural frameset is liable to read morals into the largely amoral text of the Bible according to their perception of what morals are within their cultural context.

It is not as easy as a layman would guess to find what the Christian morals actually are. There are so many contradictory statements and discredited parts of the Bible that it hard to decipher which bits are supposed to be valid or not. Because there is so much text, and most of it is not directly talking about morals, it is possible to construct any viewpoint you wish from the Bible. Reading up on slavery you can come to the conclusion that it is pro- or anti- , depending on what you personally believed in the first place. The same goes for all morals that people state are found in the Bible: there is endless disagreement because no-one interprets them in the same way. Each reader brings his own prejudice in to it because he is limited to using his own brain to interpret the text.

As a society changes its moral views, its interpretation of Biblical texts changes with it. This much is common sense. But the force of that change is often within that society itself, with or without the Bible, and in the important areas above most frequently against established opinion of what the Bible traditionally is interpreted to say. Moral changes in history have for the main part been established as movements by people who are not in contact with the Bible, and who have consistently had to struggle against the Bible's supporters in most cases. The escapade of homosexuality and Women's Ordination (both are related to equality issues) still shows that Bible is yet again finding itself as a weight on society and moral thinking, a dogmatic relic, rather than at the forefront of morality. Biblical interpretation has lagged behind society, and the Church's moral teachings have had to follow society, rather than lead it, in diverse areas such as the abolition of slavery, birth control, women's rights, gay equality, individualism (i.e. sola scripture, decentralized church), race equality and religious freedom1.

The Churches have steadily become more like reflectors of the practice of the times, gradually and hesitatingly endorsing change. In the emphasis on 'getting up to date' the Churches tacitly recognize their own increasingly marginal capacity to influence society. The shifts of Church response on the issue of birth control illustrate the way in which moral theologians have attempted to come to terms with the changing moral practice of societies which they increasingly realize they know very little about. [...] By 1958, theologians had begun to accept the lead of social scientists. They refer to 'the quantity and complexity of sociological information', and [...] the Scriptures, revelation, papal and Episcopal pronouncements had ceased to be accepted, even by clerics, as adequately prepared guidance for society.

"Religion in Secular Society" by Bryan Wilson (1966)2

There are a hundred verses in the Bible that are immoral, including rape, pillaging, all kinds of sexual violence, murder, stealing, parts that state you must hate your parents, kin, etc. There are tens of thousands of books and web pages that list these. Can it be said that the morals in the Bible, i.e., the main message, is enough to override the bad bits? Can we say that Christianity today upholds morals? This page will detail arguments that conclude no: Christian teachings are inherently immoral.

1.2. Confusing and Contradictory Morals

There is not a single moral "absolute" in the Bible that I cannot find a contradiction for in the very same book. For example, it is said by Bible believers that "do not steal" is an absolute moral found in the Bible, yet in the Bible we also find text where, under direct orders from God, people have stolen.

Old biblical text is overwritten by the new, and a common Christian argument as to why they no longer follow the codes of the old testament is that they were designed for a different, nomadic culture. Likewise, it is easily seen that the new testament was clearly written for a roman and Jewish audience, so even parts of the New Testament are ignored because it is not relevant to today's culture. Prof Dawkins, in his critical tome written against all god-belief and superstition, attempts to explain why the Bible is such a hodge-podge of confusing and haphazard moral laws:

Book CoverMuch of the Bible is not systematically evil but just plain weird, as you would expect of a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and 'improved' by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries. This may explain some of the sheer strangeness of the Bible. But unfortunately it is this same weird volume that religious zealots hold up to us as the inerrant source of our morals and rules for living.

"The God Delusion" by Prof. Richard Dawkins (2006)3

The reading of morals from the Bibles involves in all cases a judgement of which morals you find most important - you have to choose which text is most important morally, at the expense of other contrary morals. In addition because of the volume of text, and its frequent obscurity, it is not only possible to use your imagination in order to arrive at any moral at all, but it is necessary to use it! Your subconscious imagination is given freedom, with the bible, to read into its obscurities all kinds of morals.

1.3. The Bible is Not About Morals

There are reasons why the Bible contains such a poorly laid out set of (mostly contradictory) morals. The bible is a large text, but not as large as (for example) Tolkien's Lord of The Rings. Looking for morals in Lord of The Rings I find many direct morals to learn. There are many stories of people, events and actions and from these in any book we can find morals. However the Lord of The Rings does not attempt to present itself as a book primarily concerned with morals:

All the same things and more can be said of the Bible. Principally the Bible does not set out to teach morals, it is a holy book, and aside a few generics such as "Love thy neighbour" there are very few direct moral teachings in the Christian bible.

1.4. Dangerous Delusion

The most dangerous aspect of white light religion is the belief that if you think God wants you to do something, then it is for a greater moral good to go ahead and do it.

Book CoverSaint Augustine's maxim, Dilige et quod vis fac - if you but love [God], you may do as you incline - is morally one of the profoundest of observations, yet it is pregnant, for such persons, with passports beyond the bounds of conventional morality.

"The Varieties of Religious Experience" by William James (1902) [Book Review]4

Madmen, political leaders and Christian militants have all justified their own violent actions under the belief that if they think God wants it, then they can therefore do it regardless of the cost to society. The Dark Ages, Europe's darkest centuries, were ravaged in ignorance and blood under this type of rule. It is dangerous indeed to assume that we know what God wants or that God's whims are moral. Popes and leaders of the Crusades would often use this logic.

Anyone who fought in the war against God's enemies would earn the remission of all temporal penalties due for his sins; anyone who was killed fighting for Him would thereby gain absolution.

"The Medieval Underworld" by Andrew McCall (1979)5

2. Biblical Morals

2.1. Sin and Salvation

It is highly important to give a person unconditional love during their upbringing. A child that does not have a backbone of security against which to launch itself will be less healthy psychologically. It is important that even when a child does wrong, that there is still unconditional love. This is a parenting must. Whatever happens, the child is worth it, is moral, is good.

The Christian mythology implies that the opposite is true. That no matter what happens, the child is a sinner and must repent. They must actively seek out advice and reflect on their inherent badness. They are influenced by Satan, they are imperfect and they are bound to hell unless they accept this.

I once prayed to god for a bike, but quickly found out he didnt work that way... so I stole a bike and prayed for his forgiveness.

--Unknown

It is immoral to tell people or imply that they are inherently a sinner. If we want people to do good they must know that they are not inherently bad, that they are capable of anything they put their minds to. Telling people that they are wholly dependent on a person far removed from our age and time for their salvation externalizes their own goodness, and creates a Christian guilt complex that can be hard to overcome.

If we externalized the things that make us good, if we are told we are influenced by Satan (an evil force), then our egos suffer, our confidence suffers and we end up feeling that we cannot do good off our own backs. It is better to say that "you are a good person, but everyone makes mistakes" and avoid the concept of "sin" judged by an ethereal spirit altogether.

Once thou had passions and called them evil. Now hast thou only thy virtues? : They grew out of thy passions. Thou didst set thy highest goal amidst these passions: thus became thy virtues and thy delights.

"Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Friedrich Nietzsche (1885)6

Many of our good instincts come from things that from a 3rd person point of view appear to be bad. Trying to judge these things is wrong - everyone is motivated by things that are seen as good as well as bad, and trying to differentiate between them is unnatural and leads to instability and misguided behaviour.

2.2. Generational Sin

Punishing a person for a crime is a standard part of justice, but, what about punishing families, their children, then their children, and in a few hundred years time, their grand grand grand children, for the crimes of one of their fathers? Horrendous and crazy as this sounds, it is a theme repeated in the Bible as part of the infallible and perfectly good justice of God:

No man who has been castrated or whose penis has been cut off may be included among the Lord's people. No one born out of wedlock or any descendant of such a person, even in the tenth generation, may be included among the Lord's people.

Deuteronomy 23:1-2

"I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws.

Exodus 20:5- 6 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10

I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.

Exodus 34:7

These godly morals show us that either God is itself immoral and injust, or, that the Bible is a man-made archive of obsolete stories and daft myths, mistakenly attributed to God.

For two thousand years man has done penance for something he never should have had to feel guilty about in the first place

"The Satanic Bible" by Anton LaVey (1969)7

But the Bible as always is not so simple as to just reveal the absolute truth. For a contrast against the everlasting Word of God in the verses quoted above, try Ezek 18:20: "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father".

2.3. Adam and Eve

Punishing one person for the actions of another is immoral. If we use the Adam and Eve story to explain evil, suffering and death then we are saying that God is immoral and not a forgiving God. Judging Adam and Eve even when they didn't know the difference between good and evil, when they didn't know it was wrong to disobey and couldn't understand that the serpent tricked them, is also immoral. The Adam and Eve story is not a suitable moral story for children nor is it a valid theodicy to explain evil.

"Book of Genesis chapter 3: Adam, Eve and the Serpent in the Garden of Eden: 4. Adam and Eve Were Innocent (This Story Makes No Sense)" by Vexen Crabtree (2013)

2.4. Abraham's Attempted Sacrifice of His Newborn Son

In Genesis 22:1-18 and Qur'an 37:99-113 Abraham was tested by God and told to murder his own son. He obeyed, although God stopped him at the last moment, and gave him incredible rewards for his loyalty. Yet Abraham clearly failed any possible moral test: in going to murder his own son for God, he was displaying the worst signs of religion: insanity, murderous willingness to attempt spiritual gain at any cost, and an inability to question the true worth of his own beliefs. He followed criminal orders without asking why - a trend that in history has had terrible consequences yet is endorsed in the Bible. Not only that, he did not even question the highly likely probability that hearing voices is not a good thing. The Bible should teach that we ought to use our moral compass to decide if we ought to listen to the voices in ours heads! Instead, the Bible teaches we ought to murder even our own son in order to get ourselves into heaven, if it is what we think God wants.

It was said to be a test, a trial, to see if Abraham was loyal. But to say that God needed to do a test contradicts the all-knowing nature of God. Therefore, this story is immoral, makes no sense, and contradicts scripture in multiple ways: It cannot be true or divinely inspired, and it does not deserve the attention of good people or believers in a good god.

"Abraham's Attempted Sacrifice of His Son Isaac: Genesis 22:1-18 and Qur'an 37:99-113: 5. Conclusion: An Immoral Story Shows The Failures of Abraham and The Contradictions of Scriptures" by Vexen Crabtree (2012)

2.5. Lot and the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: In Genesis 18 and 198

Lot lived in Sodom, with his wife and two daughters. Genesis 19:1-5 says that one day, three visitors arrived in the city, and Lot kindly put them up for the night but all the people of Sodom, young and old, crowded around Lot's house and wanted sex with the visitors. Lot thought it better to send out his daughters, telling the crowd they were virgins and they could do what they want with them (Genesis 19:7-8). But the men from Sodom were so immoral, they didn't want to rape his daughters - they wanted his male guests! Genesis 18:23-33- had already revealed that there are fewer than 10 righteous men in Sodom, and, therefore, God blinded the crowd and then destroyed the city (Gen. 19:11-13,24-25). Lot went on to live in a cave with his two daughters and they both had children by him (Genesis 19:3-38).

The morals of the story of Lot:

  • It is important to be hospitable and kind to strangers.

  • Safeguarding male adult guests is more important than preventing the rape of your own children.

  • You need not fight against immoral mobs if you can instead give them something they might want (such as your daughters).

  • Homosexuality is worse than incest and allowing the raping of child virgins.

Lot, for his bravery in trying to save his male guests by sending his daughters to get raped, was considered favourable by god, and was saved from Sodom's destruction by God's angels (Genesis 19:11-13, 15-17,19). Lot is also described as just and righteous in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:6-8). But everything to do with Lot is highly uncomfortable; his morals and priorities seem irreconcilable with any form of goodness. Any moral person, or father, would have physically fought to safeguard his daughters from mass rape. I'm sure if his guests were moral people, they'd have fought too. Safeguarding male adults at the expense of (virgin) daughters can never be the right thing to do. Lot survives and has sex with both of his own daughters, and they have children by him (19:30-38). This horrid and unwholesome man is unfortunately endorsed by God and the Bible.

2.6. The 7 Deadly Sins

The 7 Deadly Sins, the deadly vices, are listed here in traditional order. This list goes back at least to the sixth century Pope St. Gregory the Great and St. John Cassian, but the refined the list over the years to arrive at the present seven. I will show here how each of these Christian "sins" is actually necessary for the normal functioning of a person.

'Vice'Virtues which requires itBrief Explanation
PrideQuality, Self respect, AchievementPride is positive feedback for the things that we do that are good. It is the self satisfaction behind altruism. It is the force behind one's desire to do a job well, to learn skills.
GreedGenerosity and Benevolence
Motivation
Without Greed we would not know how good it is to receive, and we would not appreciate the pleasure that giving can give. If we were not greedy from time to time we would lose the art of self control.
EnvyConsideracy, compassion
generosity, humbleness
We only learn to be considerate to others by knowing what it feels like to be left out, to have less: To feel envy.
Wrath/AngerPatience, FriendlinessIf we did not feel angry we wouldn't know how to avoid angering others. We wouldn't respect other's personal views, space or property unless we knew the anger that such violations cause. Suppressing ones anger is psychologically dangerous and leads to unstable outbursts of violence. We get angry about injustice. No anger = no social constraints.
LustEnergy, LoveI think this one's neutral. Lust isn't bad, it's what you do with it that counts. Sexual energy can be redirected into many fantastic works, but can also cause unhappiness.
GluttonyGluttony can be a conditional caused by many biological, genetic and psychological causes and attacking those who suffer from these diseases is immoral, support and advice is better than classifying people as "sinners"!
SlothSloth should be discouraged as much as possible, but not to the extent as to discourage resting. I probably agree that sloth is a sin.

In some of the cases above the very classification of the trait as a "sin" is immoral, such as "gluttony" for the reasons given above. Surely if Christianity wishes to impose any kind of moral order the sins should at least be formulated to effect changes in people that cause them to become better people, rather than suppressing desire!

Where in this list is violence? Surely "violence" would be a better sin than "anger"? Surely "sexual violation" would be a better sin than "lust"? These sins seems to attack people regardless of how they act, you'd almost get the impression that they are an attempt to make everyone feel like a sinner and set up guilt complexes more than they attempt to rally those who are morally weak.

2.7. The 10 Commandments

Different sects of Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) interpret these differently. The Bible does not contain a list of "The 10 Commandments" but they are interpreted from 3 similar passages, both of which contain more than 10 instructions.

CommandmentCriticism
1. You shall have no other GodIt is immoral to force "Set is your only mighty deity" on people. (Set is an evil Egyptian god). It is immoral to force any god on people. This is the golden rule - would you like it if a foreign god was forced on you?
2. Have no worshipped idols or imagerySome religions require it. Telling them not to is immoral, inconsiderate and provokes antisocial behaviour.
3. Do not take the Lords name in vainThe exclamation "Jesus Christ" is uttered many times by atheists. It is a common English phrase in place of "Shit!". Which do you prefer?
Can we force people not to say "Bless you" after sneezing because it offends others? Of course not. Likewise with saying "Oh god!".
4. No person or animal shall work on the Sabbath, the Holy day.The Sabbath is Saturday. What type of moral issue is this? It is a ridiculous and inconsiderate statement! If there is a fire on the Holy day, who would put it out?
5. Honour thy parentsGive honour to your parents, keep their name in good order. Unless of course, they are bad people, in which case upholding this becomes wrong. It is in a young person's interest to know that if they are abused by their parents they tell others. This commandment should not be told to children and certainly not be considered an 'absolute', never to be broken.
6. Do not killWhat about self defence? - what if they are going to kill you and rape your wife? Then it is more moral to kill the attacker than let him continue.
If a person wants to die due to unrecoverable pain and misery, forcing them to live is immoral.
Killing a terrorist who is just about to attain hostages may be necessary.
7. Do not commit adulterySome religions have forced marriages. And members of these religions sometimes temporarily swap wives. In fact, consented wife-swapping is a growing phenomenon. It is immoral for what reason? If there is no moral reason then why is this a commandment?
8. Do not stealA beggar on the streets is dying. If he steals a loaf of bread one day he lives for a day. When he steals a loaf of bread, no-one else dies as a result. Therefore in this situation it is more moral for him to have a loaf of bread by stealing than not to.
9. Do not lieLying is necessary. Santa Claus & tooth fairies are lies. When asked "Are you gay" by a violent homophobe with a gun, it is more moral to lie and live than to die. Lies can save lives, lies can cause pain, such a blanket statement as "Do not lie" is useless.
10. Do not covet they neighbours wife, slaves or belongings.See the entry for Envy in the section on the 7 deadly sins.

It is very easy to see how the first four commandments should only be used by Christians in private. Anything else amounts to inconsideracy and an attack on non-Biblical gods, it is unethical and infringes on Human Rights to force a particular (Christian) God on people when it's not what they believe.

Furthermore, commandments five and seven are not moral teachings but "advice", and ill-founded advice at that. Human Beings' natural state is polyamory and endless suffering results from our suppressing this powerful sexual instinct. Some religions allow multiple wives - do Christians want to offend them? Commandment 5 is dangerous, for the reasons given.

The tenth commandment is not moral - envy is not a thought crime, but a natural process enjoyed and employed by all people to facilitate the wish to make one's life better. Without ever knowing of better things, who would try to attain them? Should the poor be happy with their lot or should they try to get more to alleviate their poverty? The commandments would instill everyone with a guilt complex simply for being Human ... which although very a Christian thing is not moral or a psychological sound tactic to get people to behave normally!

The remaining commandments: Six, Eight and Nine do have things going for them. However, every major religion contains very similar, if not better worded, commands! The secular world recognizes and punishes these things well enough, without the need for the other seven commandments. Christians do not rationally examine these commandments; for example the following case shows the irrationality that they are bound with:

Book CoverConsider the case of Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Finding himself confronted by the sixth-highest murder rate in the nation, Justice Moore thought it expedient to install a two-and-a-half-ton monument of the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state courthouse in Montgomery. [...] When a federal court ordered Justice Moore to remove the monument, he refused. [...] According to a Gallup poll [...] 78% of [the American people] objected to the removal of the monument. One wonders whether Moore, Ashcroft, the US Congress, and three-quarters of the American people would like to see the punishments for breaking these hallowed commandments also specified in marble and placed in our nation's courts. What, after all, is the punishment for taking the Lord's name in vain? It happens to be death (Leviticus 24:16). What is the punishment for working on the Sabbath? Also death (Exodus 31:15). What is the punishment for cursing one's father or mother? Death again (Exodus 21:17). What is the punishment for adultery? You're catching on (Leviticus 20:10).

"The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason" by Sam Harris (2006)9

Christians consider the 10 commandments to be somehow better than other religions' proscriptions, but as you can see, if you accept that social evils such as murder are wrong then you can hardly attempt to employ the 10 commandments in a social context, where the Bible itself says that death is the acceptable result of Human misdemeanours such as working on a Sunday. If you violent fanaticism and stonings, then the 10 commandments are just as appropriate as they were during the barbarous dark ages. If you want peace, they are best left behind us in history. In either way, such petit and odd concerns hardly seem worthy of the creator of the universe.

2.8. Matthew's Nativity Story

Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, the only other book to include the birth narrative is Luke, but his version is wildly different to the one given in Matthew.

King Herod hears of Jesus' impending birth. He consults the three wise men and finds out where and when he is to be born. They rebel against Herod and worship the baby and give gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There are two basic gifts, Gold, the height of expense, and the two scents, cheaper gifts, with an emphasis on ritual and vanity. No matter what gift you give, as long as you try, it is the act of giving more than the actual gift that counts. This is a good moral (missing, though). It is bad however, that we should value one baby's life over any others - especially when that baby is actually an immortal being of infinite power, God incarnate, someone who perhaps needs no help at all. The wise men would have been wise to give the gold to a children's home. The gifts teach that you should give gifts to your superiors (God).

If you suspect your commander has insincere motives behind his wishes (i.e., Herod had immoral motives) it is correct, as this story shows, to question and rebel against those orders.

King Herod's infanticide of Matthew 2:16 sees the murder of all the children under 2yrs old in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. The mother of the child - the supposed hero of the story - allowed all the children to be killed rather than sacrifice her own by revealing him to Herod. Although typical of human nature, the more moral, braver and altruistic action would have been to stop the slaughter.

2.9. God Destroys Families

The Bad:

God itself sets some very poor examples when it comes to parenting. Genesis 6:7 says "And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them". What does this teach us? If our children do not turn out how we wished, then, we can follow the example of the perfectly just Christian God, and destroy them. And anything around them, including animals and other people. We can deliver group punishments in accordance with the worst offenders amongst them, and, the less bad amongst them are simply unlucky to have been around at the wrong time. It seems that when it comes to good parenting, it is not to the Christian God that we should look!

Genesis furnishes us with some additional horror in the stories of Lot and his family who lived in Sodom, and, of Abraham and his precious first son Isaac. In Genesis chapters 18 and 19, Lot is rescued from destruction by God's actions for his noble and commendable actions. What did he do? He tried to protect 3 male guests who had arrived at his house, from a mob outside who wanted to rape them. His method of protection was to send out his two virgin daughters and tell the crowd they could do as they pleased with them. In case we doubt God's judgement of Lot, Lot then goes and has children by both of his daughters. The story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis chapter 22 has Abraham obey the voices in his head which tell him to murder his only son Isaac on an altar as a sacrifice to God. Abraham complies, and is massively rewarded by God. Any moral person would have sternly told Abraham that he failed God's test. These two stories tell us that obediance and male honour are valued far ahead of the protection of the family; rape of young daughters and child murder are both preferable to disobeying voices in your head, and risking your male guests from being mobbed.

Deuteronomy 13:6-9 says that if your relatives or friends try to get you to worship other gods, firstly you must not give in to them, and secondly, you must kill them. That's right - kill your relatives if they try to draw you away from your religion, "without pity". Genesis 17:10,12,14 teaches that newborns are to be circumcized, and, those who are not are to be cast away from their friends and family. There seems to be no way to view such teachings in a moral way. The author(s) of the Bible severely lacked moral compassion and a sense of justice. Even when aiming at noble goals, such as respect for family life, the moral teachings derived from this instinct go instantly awry in the Bible - note that the punishment for cursing one's father or mother, and for adultery, is death (Exodus 21:17).

Throughout the Old Testament, male children are promised by God as the ultimate reward, women are often unable to bear children (but this fate never happens to men). Throughout the Old and New, the unequal and barbaric position of women in the family compared to men is infamously misogynistic - there are too many related verses to repeat here.

The teachings of Jesus do not bring much in the way of hope for family life:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

Matthew 10:34-37

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

Luke 12:51-53

Milder verses continue the theme; Jesus in Mark 3:31-35 leaves his "brethren and his mother" outside after they call for him; giving no reason at all for shunning them, he instead says that his followers were his brethren and mother. Luke 2:41-49 tells a story of a 12-year-old Jesus; he wonders off for three days and his parents search for him, before finding him in a temple. They exclaim to him that they've been looking for him sorrowfully, and his cold response is covered by the last two verses of that story: "How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them". In both places a little courtesy would have cost nothing. The lack of respect continues in another story in Luke:

"When one of his women listeners was so entranced by his teaching that she cried out 'Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts that you sucked!' Jesus shrugged off this praise of his mother. She was irrelevant: 'Still happier those who hear the word of God and keep it.' (Luke 11:27-28)."

"The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West" by Karen Armstrong (1986)10

It is strange to hear Christians promote Christian family values as if they were a good thing, when the feelings of relatives are of such little concern to Jesus.

The Good:

The large number of horrible teachings on family values are contradicted by some good ones. Proverbs 6:16-19 says that God hates those who bring conflict to brethren (family and community). The commandments to respect and honour your parents are found in Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Ephesians 6:2. 1 Timothy 5:4 say that children and grandchildren should first of all learn to their religion into practice, by respecting and caring for their parents and grandparents. And 1 John 4:20 has Jesus say that you can't love God if you don't love your brother. So not only do we find poor family morals in the Bible, but, we find them contradictory too.

This contradictory mess results in a complete moral subjectivity; good Christians who are also good people can choose to abide by the verses that command family niceties; whereas good Christians who are bad people can choose to abide by the verses that disregard family life. This means that the Bible itself effectively teaches nothing on the subject, and all people do is attain divine assent for whichever values they already had.

2.10. Violence and Murder Endorsed in the Christian Bible

The Old Testament was rife with occasions when God not only sanctioned the murder, pillage and rape of the enemies of his chosen people, but, often God itself joined in, directly smiting people itself. Jeremiah 48:10 declares: "A curse on him who is lax in doing the LORD's work! A curse on him who keeps his sword from bloodshed!". It reminds me of Exodus 15:3: "The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name".

It is clear that violence has a divine Biblical endorsement. But for what ends? Luke 14:23 says "Compel people to come in!" for the purpose of "filling" the Church. Jesus himself declared "think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword" (Matthew 10:34). And henceforth, Christian history contains many unfortunate chapters where Christian groups anathematized one another as heretics, and proceeded to burn, torture and murder those who disagreed. Victims have been anyone who disagreed even on confusing technical points of Christian doctrine, members of other religions such as Muslims and Jews, and it seems, many other innocent victims ranging from outcasts who were accused of witchcraft ("Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live" - Exodus 22:18), homosexuals and finally, a small number who have genuinely plotted against the Church.

Book CoverSuch attitudes are not merely disasters found in history. Even in the twentieth century, Pope Leo XII argued for violence and murder, based on religion:

The death sentence is a necessary and efficacious means for the Church to attain its end when rebels act against it and disturbers of the ecclesiastical unity, especially obstinate heretics and heresiarchs, cannot be restrained by any other penalty. [...] If there be no other remedy for saving its people it can and must put these wicked men to death.

Pope Leo XII11

The section above is taken from "Is the Christian God Evil? Evidence from Scripture and Nature: 3. Genocides and Divine Incitements to Murder" by Vexen Crabtree (2006), click for a more comprehensive look at the many genocides committed by God, or ordered by God, in the Christian Bible.

2.11. Some Horrendous Yet Entertaining Smitings From the Bible

3. Christian Morality in Action

When he convened the Great Council of Nicaea, Constantine could not have imagined that the bishops would be meeting almost every year to rule on charges of criminal activity and heresy.

"When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome"
Richard E. Rubenstein (1999)12

3.1. The Rise of Orthodoxy8

Christianity in the first few centuries was hugely varied, much more so than today. There was no consensus on the nature of Christ, the purpose of being a Christian, how to attain salvation, and how to live. As it became increasingly obvious that the expected second coming wasn't imminent, competing church structures and competing sets of beliefs emerged, some of them newer than others. What was to become modern Christianity was not one of the earliest groups of Christians, nor the most sensible in its beliefs, but it came to dominate the others.

So it came to be that the literalist, nastier forms of Christianity survived the first few hundred years of Christian history, because it appealed to a wider number of people. It didn't require such things as circumcision or strict dietary laws. Literalist Christianity held power in Rome and it is no coincidence that it happened to preach a strict hierarchy, instructing slaves to serve their masters, instructing for taxes to be paid ("give to Caesar what is Caesar's" - Matthew 22:21) and instructing that people subject themselves to their governors (Romans 13:1). This form of Christianity, as we have seen, was oppressive, combatitive and organised, wiping out its nearest competitors, which was other forms of Christianity, with help from the institutions and Emperors of the Roman Empire. This conflict became legendary; pagan leaders, historians and competing religions all commented on the propensity for Christians to be found mostly engaged in battles with other Christians. Qur'an 5:14-15 asserts that enmity and hatred between Christians is a punishment from God for their "abandoning parts of God's message".13

If Matthew 7:18 is true and good trees cannot bear bad fruit, then it is sure that modern literalist, Pauline, Christianity, having achieved its ascendance over other forms of early Christianities through violence and oppression, then modern Christianity is the bad fruit of a bad tree, and it is from much the earlier forms of Christianity that the moralist ought to learn from.

3.2. Abolition of Slavery8

Monotheism was one of the great institutions that upheld the slave trade; the Christian and Muslim markets held up the entire slave trade industry when without their support, it would have collapsed. Eventually, it was economic concerns that ended the trade.

The slave trade was the first black mark against the history of globalisation, resulting in imprisonment and forced movements of labour and destroying many lives. Arguments for slavery largely came from religious thinkers, like bishops and monks. Christian institutions put large sums of money into the slave trade, and became the biggest slave-owners, boosting a trade that would have otherwise collapsed. Behind this stood biblical arguments for slavery. But the Qur'an was even clearer in its institutionalization of slavery, and the conservative Muslim world debated bitterly for the keeping of slaves. Sometimes the motives were purely financial - in Africa itself black-owned companies made money by selling captives to foreigners.

The first abolitionists were the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. The most successful religious campaigns against slavery were those under the rule of Voodoo practitioners and priests. Such leaders showed the world that anti-slavery was valid, inspiring hope and valiant anti-slavery efforts, all relying upon the slaves' own will to free themselves. Adding to this physical effort were the arguments of an increasing number of moralists and freethinkers in Europe..., who had to battle their own religious authorities in order to help slaves. The Quakers were an influential non-mainstream Christian sect in America who were effective in pushing for abolition in America. In the end it was economic interests that turned the world against slavery, especially in the case of Britain who then went on to run the most potent large scale campaigns against the Slave Trade in order to further its own worldwide economic strength. To the end, conservative Christian and Muslim institutions opposed any attempts to end the slave trade, even when the materialists and moralists had won their arguments for abolition.

"Traditional Religions and Abolition of the Slave Trade" by Vexen Crabtree (2003)

Christians with vested interests justified slavery on account of their religion although the Bible is much less openly embracing of slavery than the Qur'an. Christian arguments were used such as slavery facilitated the evangelizing of slaves, that black couldn't be saved anyway, and that certain Biblical stories made blacks out to be inferior and cursed by god - although no scholars nowadays interpret these passages in this way, at the time, they did. Bishops and monks provided some of the arguments that were used all over to justify the ownership of slaves. The fact that god-worship does not lead to better morals in society is one of the factor that leads skeptical and atheist thinkers such as Victor Stenger to conclude that God doesn't exist:

Book CoverJesus had many opportunities to disavow slavery. He never did. St. Paul reaffirms the practice: "Bid slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect" (Titus 2:9).

Prior to the Civil War, the Bible was widely used to justify slavery in the United States. Baptist leader and slave owner Richard Furman (d. 1825) laid the foundation for the biblical arguments that would be made in support of slavery leading up to the Civil War. While president of the State Baptist Convention, Furman wrote to the governor of South Carolina, "The right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example". [...]

While Christians in the South held onto their slaves as long as they could, secular humanist Richard Randolph of Virginia began freeing his in 1791. Popes and other fathers of the Catholic Church owned slaves as late as 1800. Jesuits in colonial Maryland and nuns in Europe... and Latin America owned slaves. The Church did not condemn slavery until 1888, after every Christian nation had abolished the practice.

"God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist"
Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)14

3.2.1. The Old Testament

3.2.2. The New Testament

3.3. Anti-Semitism was Created by Christianity15

The violent and irrational anti-semitism in history has had its roots in one common cause: the teachings of early and middle ages Christianity. Anti-semitism has always been rife within Christianity from the original Church Fathers of the first century. Many of the most influential Christian theologians, for example Augustine, St Aquinas and later, Martin Luther, all indulged themselves by writing anti-Jewish volumes. Aquinas wrote that "since the Jews are the slaves of the Church, she can dispose of their possessions". The Christian anti-semites took their cue from Biblical verses such as Mark 15:15, Luke 23:3, John 19:4-6, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 that blames Jews as a whole for the death of Jesus, John 8:42-47 that says Jews are descended from the devil, and in Rom 10:3 that they are ignorant of God's will, and other verses are often cited by early Christians too although sometimes the logic of their exegesis confuses me.

No other religion has displayed such immovable hatred towards another religion as Christianity did towards the Jews. No holy war has ever lasted so long and been so bloody as the one the Christians waged against innocent Jews from the first century and through the Dark Ages. History provides us with only few occasions where Jews, or even Muslims or pagans, were as intolerant or morally corrupt as the West was under Christian rule. Thankfully modern Christianity, since it lost its power, is generally more humane. Christianity has slowly been forced to change its ways mostly due to pressure from increasingly powerful secular, poly-cultural governments and changing culture.

"Anti-Semitism: 2000 Years of Christian Love: 12. Conclusions" by Vexen Crabtree (2004)

3.4. Homosexuality

Abrahamic religions have contributed to the most negative and destructive attitudes towards sexual issues, especially homosexuality. Christian and Islamic groups are the most vocal assailants on any legal or societal moves towards tolerance and equality. The liberal wings of some of these religions have adapted to the wide (European) acceptance of homosexuality. Many traditional religions reject the scientific, medical and psychological knowledge that we have gained about sexuality and regard homosexuality as "unnatural", a "choice" or a "moral evil". These religions are themselves immoral and evil in their attitude, causing hatred, bigotry, violence and oppression in the name of God. Homosexual communities have become accustomed to the ranting of religious fundamentalists and traditionalists, and this causes a strong anti-religious resentment amongst them.

"The Battle Between Monotheism and Homosexuality: 8. Conclusions" by Vexen Crabtree (2002)

3.5. Christian Child Sex Abuse

Child abuse and paedophilia has been a particular problem for Christian institutions. It seems that the Church's teachings on sexuality, and the general restrictions of the strict teachings of Christian churches, lead to a development of sexual dysfunction amongst its priests. Christian Churches, the biggest example being the Catholic Church, have fought to conceal paedophile priests and move them from place to place when allegations arise. They have tried to deal with paedophilia by sending priests on sick leave or to rehabilitation centres ran by other Christians, but, it appears that Christian hierarchies are the last places you should trust when it comes to dealing with sexual abnormality. The scale of the scandals has led to various Churches declaring themselves bankrupt as they attempt to pay some of the court costs and settlement fees demanded of them. No other industry - even those closely associated with children such as boarding schools - has a rate of abuse anywhere near the rate found amongst Christian clergy. Counting is difficult, but, around 3% of all priests appear to be prone to recurring sexual indecency with children. Catholic Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi represented the Vatican before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and stated that Jews and Protestants have worse rates of child abuse, but still admitted that in the last 50 years "somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases".

"Medical and Sexual Child Abuse In Christianity: Faith Healing and Priestly Paedophilia: 5. Conclusions" by Vexen Crabtree (2009)

3.6. Born Again Christians Divorce Most Often

Divorce statistics are sometimes a shock for Christians. The average divorce rate for born-again type Christians (27%) and others (24%) are both higher than that for atheism, which is 21%18. Empirically, atheists are more devoted to each other and commit to more stable relationship patterns than theists, yet the theists are the ones who say they stand for family values. Christian theologians have themselves expressed concern over their own rates of divorce and other marital problems such as wifebeating, which are mostly the same as the rates of non-Christians - and stricter Christians have worse rates19. There is a saying that those who shout loudest are the least capable. The Christian Churches shout loudly about love but... atheists are more capable. Seriously though, perhaps it is that atheists only get married if they're sure, while Christians feel pressurized so sometimes marry prematurely in relationships that aren't permanent. Christian culture can exert unnatural pressure on relationships.

"Marriage: Its Diversity and Character: 10.2. Christian Divorce Rates" by Vexen Crabtree (2004)

3.7. General Immorality

The skeptic Victor Stenger considers the claim that Christian morality is better than secular morality by examining the actual rates of immorality within Christendom. He finds in general that Christianity does no better, but, that the stricter forms of Christianity are often correlated with worse risks of abuse, neglect and violence.

According to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Christians make up almost 80 percent of the prison population. Atheists make up about 0.2 percent. It is to be admitted that these data are not published in a scientific journal, but I think it is safe to conclude that the godless do not fill prisons. Published studies do indicate that a child's risk of sexual abuse by a family member increases as the family's religious denomination becomes more conservative, that is, when the teachings of scriptures and other doctrines are taken more literally. Similarly, the probability of wife abuse increases with the rigidity of a church's teachings pertaining to gender roles and hierarchy. [...] Even observers from the Christian side have expressed dismay that the current dominance of evangelical Christianity in America has not translated into a strengthening of the nation's moral character or the characters of evangelical Christians themselves. In an article in Christianity Today, theologian Ronald Sider lamented [...]:

"The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only little less than that of their nonevangelical peers."

"God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist" by Prof. Victor J. Stenger (2007)20

Given the emphasis that religion's place on beliefs, and morality, he concludes that Christian beliefs on morality must be wrong, and that the worship of god does nothing for general or societal morality.

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 1999 Dec 20
Last Updated: 2013 Jun 20
http://www.vexen.co.uk/religion/cm.html

Links:

References: (What's this?)

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The Koran. Translation by N. J. Dawood. Penguin Classics edition published by Penguin Group Ltd, London, UK. First published 1956, quotes taken from 1999 edition.

The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]

Armstrong, Karen
The Gospel According to Woman: Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West (1986). Subtitled "Christianity's Creation of the Sex War in the West". Hardback. Published by Elm Tree Books/Hamish Hamilton Ltd, London, UK.

Dawkins, Prof. Richard
The God Delusion (2006). Hardback. Published by Bantam Press, Transworld Publishers, Uxbridge Road, London, UK.

Ellerbe, Helen
The Dark Side of Christian History (1995). Published by Morningstar & Lark, Windermere, FL, USA.

Harris, Sam
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2006). 2006 edition. Published in UK by The Great Free Press, 2005.

James, William
The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902, first Edition printed 1960. Quotes from fifth edition, 1971, Collins. [Book Review]

LaVey, Anton. (1930-1997)
The Satanic Bible (1969). Published by Avon Books Inc, New York, USA. Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan in 1966.

McCall, Andrew
The Medieval Underworld (1979). Quotes from 2004 Sutton Publishing softback edition.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. (1844-1900)
Thus Spake Zarathustra (1885). .

Rubenstein, Richard E.
When Jesus Became God: The Struggle to Define Christianity During the Last Days of Rome (1999). First Harvest edition, 2000. Published by Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, USA.

Stenger, Prof. Victor J.
God, the Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows That God Does Not Exist (2007). Published by Prometheus Books. Stenger is a Nobel-prize winning physicist, and a skeptical philosopher whose research is strictly rational and evidence-based.

Wilson, Bryan
Religion in Secular Society (1966). Penguin Books softback first edition.

Footnotes

  1. Wilson (1966) p86.^
  2. Wilson (1966) p87-88.^
  3. Dawkins (2006) chapter 7. Added to this page on 2009 Feb 24.^
  4. James (1902) p93.^
  5. McCall (1979) p90.^
  6. Nietzsche (1885) p28.^
  7. LaVey (1969) Book of Lucifer 3:para38^
  8. Added to this page on 2013 May 11.^^^
  9. Harris (2006) p154-5. Added to this page on 2007 Jul 02.^
  10. Armstrong (1986) p10-1.^
  11. Lloyd M. Graham, Deceptions and Myths of the Bible (New York: Citadel Press, 1975) 468. In "The Dark Side of Christian History" by Helen Ellerbe (1995) p38. Added to this page on 2011 Oct 24.^
  12. Rubenstein (1999) p133.^
  13. 20120905: Added comment on Quran 5:14-15 to the text.^
  14. Stenger (2007) p202-203 Added to this page on 2010 Feb 25.^
  15. Added to this page on 2004 Oct 06.^
  16. 2002 Sep 30. Section on Adam and Eve and Noah's Ark has been expand and moved to a new essay. I now quote 2 parts of the new essay in place of the original text on this essay.
  17. 2003 Apr 22. Section on Abolition of Slave Trade moved to new essay and quoted from here.
  18. Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance "U.S. Divorce rates" accessed 2002 Aug 23.^
  19. Stenger (2007) p194-5. Christan theologians Michael Horton and Ronald Sider are two such voices. Added to this page on 2011 May 17.^
  20. Stenger (2007) p194-5. Added to this page on 2011 May 17.^

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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