Within fundamentalism the bible is often placed as the “ultimate authority” on what is right or wrong. I would stop to examine that a little bit. Most evangelicals state that the bible has a clear and consistent voice on what is right and wrong. After all that’s where they pull their Christian values from. Things like marriage and civil law all have roots in the bible, or so I was taught growing up.
I know I’ve discussed marriage before, but polygamy and “relationships” with handmaidens were common in the old testament. Many biblical heroes were married to multiple women. Jacob, David, and Esau are a few of the better known examples.
In my “biblical worldview” history classes the death penalty was taught as a biblical concept. It was presented to me as being laid out in Jewish law, with protestants and the rest of the world to copy as an example. I would counter that with the example of Jesus. He refused to condemn a woman that by law should have been put to death. And while I know that many would point me to the “eye for an eye” passage, I would quickly follow up with the fact that society rarely follows any other portion of that passage.
Exodus 20:15-22 Say to the Israelites: ‘Anyone who curses their God will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death. The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born, when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death. “‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’”
We do not legally punish those that wish to speak against a particular religion. Even though that is clearly commanded in this passage. Nor are those that injure a person caused the same injury in return.
Is this the morality that keeps society together? A level of right and wrong that only teaches by negative feedback. Where those that kill or harm others should be treated in the same way. I would like to assume not.
I would also point out that another biblical command for the death penalty was childhood rebellion. Children were commanded to be stoned to death for rebelling against their parents. Something that I was reminded of as a child as a way to emphasis the “severity of the sin” of rebelling against your parents. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
I’ve pointed out before that in bible god clearly gives a command to the Israelites to kill off the men of several different people groups. Following that they were to enslave the children and women of the these groups. See Deuteronomy 21:10-14 for an example – please note the woman has no control over her fate. Other times the command was to kill off the entire people group see 1 Samuel 15:2-3 and Deuteronomy 20:16–18 for examples.
When the bible is read in a literal manner, one has to confront all of this. And following the logic of literalism, these were commands from god.
To tidy this up, I was told that these people deserved this fate. They were wicked and “fallen” with no hope of repentance. But some part of me rebels against that answer. How could a whole people group be “beyond saving?” Or in the case of Noah’s flood, how could the whole earth be beyond redemption?
The more I poked at this question the more I felt that it couldn’t make sense. If I read the bible in a literal way, god killed off millions of people without a chance for redemption. God told his people to force their captive women into becoming wives (rape in my mind). And the answer I got, “god’s way’s are beyond our ways” or “we can’t understand the ways of god.” It’s a non-answer, a dead end.
The only way I can comprehend morality is from a human standpoint. I can’t excuse god because his morality is somehow beyond or above our own. If any of these things were done or suggested by a fellow human they would be deemed immoral or wrong. Society has grown and changed since these biblical ancient societal laws were followed.
I can’t and won’t look at the bible as “the literal word of god” again. I can respect it as a historic document and as an important religious text. But I can’t see it as the literal spoken words of god. In my “fallen eyes ” (I was told that so many times) I can’t see what goes on between the pages of the bible as morally just, or as a concrete basis for how we should write and enact moral codes and laws.