The Wisdom of the Bible

‘You believe that Christianity is an unrivaled source of human goodness. You believe that Jesus taught the virtues of love, compassion, and selflessness better than any teacher who has ever lived. You believe that the Bible is the most profound book ever written and that its contents have stood the test of time so well that it must have been divinely inspired. All of these beliefs are false.

Questions of morality are questions about happiness and suffering. This is why you and I do not have moral obligations toward rocks. To the degree that our actions can affect the experience of other creatures positively or negatively, questions of morality apply. The idea that the Bible is a perfect guide to morality is simply astounding, given the contents of the book.

Admittedly, God’s counsel to parents is straightforward: whenever children get out of line, we should beat them with a rod (Proverbs 13:24,20:30, and 23:13-14). If they are shameless enough to talk back to us, we should kill them (Exodus 21:15, Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, Mark 7:9-13, and Matthew 15:4-7). We must also stone people to death for heresy, adultery, homosexuality, working on the Sabbath, worshipping graven images, practicing sorcery, and a wide variety of other imaginary crimes.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 5

17 thoughts on “The Wisdom of the Bible

  1. Morality is something that has evolved as humans have evolved – by trial and error, we gradually determined what was required for us to live together in relative harmony, and we’re still working on that. The “Golden Rule,” for example, attributed Jesus/Yeshua in the Bible’s New Testament, regarding doing to others that which we would have done to us, teaches empathy, and is found in some form in every major ancient culture.

  2. The two New Testament references Harris gives are Jesus quoting, neutrally, the Old. Harris never in this passage addresses Jesus’ teaching.

  3. It is significant that the abhorrent passages of the Old Testament are referenced, as according to Matthew (5:18), in his Sermon on the Mount, Yeshua plainly upholds OT laws, which would include the death penalty for picking up sticks on the Sabbath, saying, “For truly I say to you, until Heaven and Earth pass, not one jot nor one tittle shall pass from the law, till it be fulfilled.”

    Question, Houyhnhnm: How do YOU feel about taking disobedient children outside the city gates and stoning them to death? (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) Clearly Matthew tells us that Yeshua condoned it.

  4. I would certainly agree with your statement, Pollyanna, though possibly not for the reasons you wrote it. I find the Bible, both the OT and the NT, to contain a small amount of history, and a great deal of fiction, in the form of morality fables, written by mostly anonymous, superstitious, scientifically-ignorant, Bronze and Iron Age men.

  5. I find this fascinating! It appears that you and I are coming from opposing camps (I’m Catholic and I’m guessing you’re decidedly not Catholic) and yet we seem to be in perfect agreement about the nature of the Bible. I would also add that, regardless of who wrote it or why, only a handful of people alive today are even qualified to read it. What some people regard as the book with all the answers is actually a translation of a translation of ancient languages and dialects.

  6. “Decidedly” might be a bit of an understatement.

    What some people regard as the book with all the answers is actually a translation of a translation of ancient languages and dialects.

    With – (I don’t think you’ll disagree) – a great deal of messing around with the text by the scribes and monks who copied it. The scene in John (8:7), for example, in which Yeshua advises the sinless to cast the first stone at the adulteress, wasn’t added until some time in the 4th century CE, clearly not by the original, anonymous author, whomever that might have been.

  7. You are correct… I don’t disagree with that at all. I think we have both demonstrated why “Bible based” churches hate us both!

  8. I am perfectly capable of having intelligent, rational discussions with Christians, until the word, “inerrant” is trotted out, as it too often is. There are some valuable lessons to be learned from every religion.

    Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
    Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
    Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
    Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.
    But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.
    — Buddha —

  9. Well said (both you and Buddha). – Yeah, well, we hang out from time to time, our schedules depending —

  10. I was informed, a short moment ago, that the quotation I attributed to Buddha, was in fact never said by him:

    I was unaware of this, but one can see by reading the article above, that whomever wrote it certainly encapsulated much of the Buddha’s actual words written in the Kalama Sutta (no, I didn’t say the Kama Sutra!). I regret my error, but that doesn’t diminish the validity of the words.

  11. If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son, or your daughter, or the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, entices you secretly, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods,”… you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him; but you shall kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage…. If you hear in one of your cities, which the LORD your God gives you to dwell there, that certain base fellows have gone out among you and have drawn away the inhabitants of the city, saying, “Let us go and serve other gods” which you have not known, then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently; and behold, if it be true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, destroying it utterly, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.
    —-DEUTERONOMY 13:6, 8-15

    Many Christians believe that Jesus did away with all this barbarism in the clearest terms imaginable and delivered a doctrine of pure love and toleration. He didn’t. In fact, at several points in the New Testament, Jesus can be read to endorse the entirety of Old Testament law.

    For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall he called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
    —MATTHEW 5:18-19

    The apostles regularly echo this theme (for example, see 2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is true, of course, that Jesus said some profound things about love and charity and forgiveness. The Golden Rule really is a wonderful moral precept. But numerous teachers offered the same instruction centuries before Jesus (Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius, Epictetus…), and countless scriptures discuss the importance of self-transcending love more articulately than the Bible does, while being unblemished by the obscene celebrations of violence that we find throughout the Old and New Testaments. If you think that Christianity is the most direct and undefiled expression of love and compassion the world has ever seen, you do not know much about the world’s other religions.

    Take the religion of Jainism as one example. The Jains preach a doctrine of utter non-violence. While the Jains believe many improbable things about the universe, they do not believe the sorts of things that lit the fires of the Inquisition. You probably think the Inquisition was a perversion of the “true” spirit of Christianity. Perhaps it was. The problem, however, is that the teachings of the Bible are so muddled and self-contradictory that it was possible for Christians to happily burn heretics alive for five long centuries. It was even possible for the most venerated patriarchs of the Church, like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to conclude that heretics should be tortured (Augustine) or killed outright (Aquinas). Martin Luther and John Calvin advocated the wholesale murder of heretics, apostates, Jews, and witches. You are, of course, free to interpret the Bible differently – though isn’t it amazing that you have succeeded in discerning the true teachings of Christianity, while the most influential thinkers in the history of your faith failed? Of course, many Christians believe that a harmless person like Martin Luther King, Jr., is the best exemplar of their religion. But this presents a serious problem, because the doctrine of Jainism is an objectively better guide for becoming like Martin Luther King, Jr., than the doctrine of Christianity is. While King undoubtedly considered himself a devout Christian, he acquired his commitment to nonviolence primarily from the writings of Mohandas K. Gandhi. In 1959, he even traveled to India to learn the principles of nonviolent social protest directly from Gandhi’s disciples. Where did Gandhi, a Hindu, get his doctrine of nonviolence? He got it from the Jains.

    If you think that Jesus taught only the Golden Rule and love of one’s neighbor, you should reread the New Testament. Pay particular attention to the morality that will be on display when Jesus returns to earth trailing clouds of glory:

    God deems it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you … when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might…
    —2 THESSALONIANS 1:6-9

    If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.
    —JOHN 15:6

    If we take Jesus in half his moods, we can easily justify the actions of St. Francis of Assisi or Martin Luther King, Jr. Taking the other half, we can justify the Inquisition. Anyone who believes that the Bible offers the best guidance we have on questions of morality has some very strange ideas about either guidance or morality.

    – Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 5-7

  12. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
    — Mohandas Gandhi —

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