One night when I was a kid I pulled out the bible from my shelf and said, “I’m going to read the bible, that’s what good people do right? Well I can be a good person.” Flip open the book and begin a very serious phase of disillusion.
Noah getting drunk and passing out naked in the garden, children raping their parents, everyone from genesis living well into their 900’s, these were not the stories I heard in school. I learned a lot from reading those stories, but certainly not how to be a good person. There’s a lot of sick, grotesque shit in the bible and it’s not all just hidden in Revelations.
Before anyone jumps down my throat, I acknowledge that there are a lot of good things in there as well, but perhaps it would be in the interest of the church to warn people about all the other stuff in there before painting the sunny “God loves everyone!” picture we expect to find.
Even though there were a lot of stories that really speak for themselves as to how bad they are, there were a few stories I was presented as a child that were acknowledged to be wholesome and should make me love god, but looking back on them as an adult I have some serious issues with them, and that’s what I’ll be going over in this post. As a bonus, I’ll go ahead and list a story from the bible I actually liked at the end.
Sodom and Gomorrah
The whole story isn’t exactly something I approve of, but my particular issue lies at the end.
Here’s a brief recap for those unfamiliar:
God decides Sodom and Gomorrah are full of sin and need to be wiped out, but he finds one man and his family worth saving. This is Lot, his wife, and two of his virgin daughters. Lot is warned of the destruction of the city and told to leave town immediately and not to look back until he reaches an appointed safe haven. At some point, however, Lot’s wife does look back for reasons highly debated and range from checking to see if some of her daughters were following, to natural curiosity, and upon looking back she is turned into a pillar of salt. Reasons for this punishment also vary, some say it’s because she saw god and that turned her to salt for… some reason, others say it was punishment for disobeying a command from an angel.
The literary student in me can appreciate the callback to Orpheus looking back for his love on his way out of Hades even after he was warned not to and being punished for it. Oh biblical authors, “divine inspiration” indeed.
The difference here is that the bible is a book that tries to make us love and revere god. No one gave a crap if you loved Pluto, all the Hellenic/Roman gods were pretty devious, but the Judeo Christian god is touted as an all loving and compassionate creator and yet he turns a woman to salt because she turned her head? Now whether you go with the punishment or sheer magnitude of seeing god explanation it’s still infuriating. This god is supposed to be all powerful right? Could he not turn her back into a human even after seeing him? And if it was punishment then dear lord, what kind of god is this? These are supposedly the people who were so moral that they were spared annihilation and yet one little impulse results in a life as salt… if she’s even alive… you know I’m not really clear on that, did she die and go to heaven or was she sentient salt? Either way I suppose… And poor Lot and his daughters, now without a wife and mother because god found Lot’s wife’s sin of turning her head so great that she no longer deserved to exist. I guess what’s really amazing is that Lot still worshipped god after that, I certainly wouldn’t be so eager to appease the tyrant who destroyed my family and hometown.
Moses and the Rock
I have heard this story two different ways. The first is that while leading his people through the desert Moses needed to find water for them. God directed Moses to a certain rock and told him to strike it, Moses did so and after a second or two with no results he struck it a second time upon which water began to spill forth. God considered Moses striking the rock a second time to be a lack of faith and decreed that Moses would never see the Promised Land with his own eyes.
The other way I’ve heard it is that god instructed Moses to speak to the rock and instead Moses struck it twice with his staff. This was considered not only a lapse in faith by Moses but also an act of arrogance, as Moses thought it was he who was performing the miracles and not god, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” (Numbers 20), thus he was denied the Promised Land.
The first explanation is what I heard in Catholic school, but the second is the one I came across far more in my research. With numerous translations and errors, it could be either one, but in any case I find it infuriating.
Moses, such arrogance, such gall to claim a little credit for a miracle. Who does he think he is except the chosen prophet who freed his people and led them through a desert for forty years? Ah, but the religious will tell you god really did all those things through Moses, because we humans are too small and pitiful to claim any credit. How dare Moses think to strike the rock twice and lose faith in the lord!
In either explanation, Moses’ biggest crime seems to be that he didn’t follow god’s instructions to the letter and god found that to be a failing in faith. Let’s keep in mind now that this is the same god who had allowed Moses’ people to be enslaved for generations and was now taking them on a forty year trek through the desert, and, although this didn’t affect the chosen people, he also just sent an angel to kill a bunch of innocent first born sons. God should be amazed that these people are doing anything he says at this point.
And to deny Moses, the man who betrayed his own family for god, the Promised Land because he made one little misstep, that’s… insane. I think Moses is well entitled to a little doubt, a little indulgence of pride, considering all he’s gone through. For a merciful god, this guy sure does punish the smallest infraction.
Several of you are probably groaning already. Most everyone is familiar with this story and it is arguably the most quoted book in the bible used to disparage the whole thing. The more hardened and studied people of faith can put up a very well thought out and thorough defense of the book, and, admittedly, there are a lot of good morals to come out of it, but it still doesn’t change the fact that it is an abhorrent story.
For the few of you unfamiliar the basic plot is that Job is a good, hardworking man who loves god and his family. God takes a lot of pride Job and when Satan realizes this he tells god that Job is only so great because god has blessed him. Taking up the challenge, god allows Satan to inflict countless horrors upon Job- destroying his house, decimating his physical health, and killing off his wife and children. Job does become irate, confused, wretched, and angry, but he never blames god for his problems. As a reward, god gives Job a new family and better life with daughters that were the prettiest in the land, and extends his life so he may see generations of his grandchildren.
There is a great moral to be taken from this story, and that is to always be a good person even in the face of adversity. It’s okay to get frustrated and angry, but so long as you don’t put the blame on others and remain true to your morals then you can stand proud. It also teaches that it’s alright to not just accept the bad things that happen to you, but to seek out what went wrong and work to change them, as Job does spend a great deal of time wondering why his life went so wrong.
Morality-wise there’s a lot of good to come out from this story, but because the bible is to be taken as pseudo fact and an accurate representation of god, there’s a ton wrong with it.
Why is god letting Satan goad him into destroying a man’s life? Why does god feel the need to ruin Job to prove a point? Shouldn’t an all knowing god already know how Job would react if his life was destroyed? And most importantly, innocent people died to prove this point. God allowed people to die for this, and then makes it up to Job simply by giving him a new family with better physical attributes. Sweet Christ, how can the bible so flippantly dismiss human life like that?
Let me make it clear that if the bible was taken simply as a work of fiction full of morals to live by (which is how I perceive it) I wouldn’t have a problem with this story… mostly, it still has other downsides. The fact that it involves a god who would kill people to prove a point and that we are supposed to believe in and even worship this being is what makes it so reprehensible. If god were presented as a purely fictitious being there would be no problem. I don’t find moral outrage at the Greek gods for doing terrible things because no one is on their knees praising them as benevolent.
It appears I’ve gone on a bit too long, so I’ll cut this into two parts. Next time: The story I hate the most, my favorite story, and conclusions.