Rational Compassionate Living
by Steve McRoberts
Mahatma Gandhi serves as an example of a man who changed the course of history by the pure example of his morality. His non-violent methods led to the end of British rule in India, and inspired Martin Luther King Jr. in his efforts to end racial discrimination in America.
Where did Gandhi's morality come from? What was its source? Though Gandhi considered himself a Hindu, a Moslem, a Jew, and a Christian, he was raised as a Hindu, and it was primarily to the sacred books of Hinduism that he turned for inspiration.
One of these books, the Bhagavad Gita, he called his "spiritual reference book", and he said:
"When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to the Bhagavad Gita, and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow."
Gandhi's secretary said:
"Every moment of Gandhi's life is a conscious effort to live the message of the Gita."
Judging from Gandhi's life, we would expect to find this book filled with his high moral ideals, advocating non-violence in the face of conflict, and equality across all racial, sexual, and caste lines.
Instead, the book advocates war and caste discrimination. The whole book is the story of a soldier having second thoughts about killing friends and relatives who happen to be on the other side of a battle. God chastises the soldier for this so-called weakness and tells him not to feel sorry for the enemy but to:
|"Fight for the sake of fighting, and by so doing you shall never incur sin."
In the Bhagavad Gita God says:
|"One who is engaged in devotional service, even if he commits the most abominable actions, is to be considered saintly because he is rightly situated."
How can it be that Gandhi's "spiritual reference book" so flatly contradicts what Gandhi stood for?
The fact is, Gandhi was raised with the belief that this was a holy book. Instead of this being the source of his morality, Gandhi read his own moral values into the book. Others have used the book as a justification for religious wars and caste discrimination.
Looking in from outside Gandhi's culture, we can easily see how he came to regard the Bhagavad Gita as he did, and we can easily see that the book itself fails to deliver a humane message and merely serves to justify the traditional values of the Hindu culture.
Now, what about us? If someone outside our culture looked in at us, would they see a similar situation?
Is the book we consider holy really the source of our morality, or is it a mixed message on which we project our own morality? Does the Bible really advocate peace and equality?
Unlike the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible is not a single book, but a collection of 66 books and letters, the writing of which spanned many centuries, authors, and beliefs. Some of the books are like the Bhagavad Gita: war stories in which God or his representatives command the soldiers not to feel sorry for the enemy, but to do their duty unquestioningly.
|"And thou shalt consume all the people which the Lord thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall feel no pity upon them." (Deut. 7:16)
"If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or your intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other Gods, whom you and your fathers have not known: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him." (Deut. 13:7 NAB)
"I have commanded my dedicated soldiers, I have summoned my warriors eager and bold to carry out my anger… Everyone who is caught shall be run through, to a man they shall fall by the sword. Their infants shall be dashed to pieces in their sight; their houses shall be plundered and their wives ravished. The fruit of the womb they shall not spare, nor shall they have eyes of pity for children." (Isaiah 13:3,15-18 NAB)
Some would like to think that the war stories of the Bible are examples of what not to do, but as we've just seen, many of these atrocities were commanded by the God of the Bible, and many were committed by the very men the Bible sets up as examples of holiness!
Moses is commended for being the "meekest man on earth" (Num. 12:3), and we are told that the meek are blessed and shall inherit the earth (Mt. 5:5). But listen to Moses in action:
|"They waged war against the Midianites, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male among them... Moses became angry with the officers of the army, the clan and company commanders, who were returning from combat. 'So you have spared all the women!' he exclaimed...'Slay, therefore, every male child and every woman who has had intercourse with a man. But you may spare and keep for yourselves all girls who had no intercourse with a man.'" (NU. 31:7,14-18 NAB)
That is not the statement of a "hero", but of a monster. It puts Moses in the same class as Hitler.
The entire book of Joshua serves to glorify the exploits of a mass murderer:
|"And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword…So the LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised throughout all the country." (Joshua 6:21,27)
Again and again we are told how Joshua killed every person in the cities he invaded, leaving no survivors.
The stories about King David also glorify war and violence, but the damage doesn't end there. David is an example of a man who took exactly what he wanted no matter how many people he had to step on or eliminate along the way.
When David resists the urge to steal from Nabal's shepherds, he assumes that Nabal owes him something. But when Nabal refuses to pay for David's "protection racket", David vows to butcher Nabal's entire family. But Nabal's wife Abigail intercedes, offering herself to David and assuring him that God will murder Nabal so David can remain guiltless. True to form, the Bible tells us:
|"The Lord smote Nabal, that he died." (1 Sam. 25:38)
Abigail then became David's wife, but that evidently wasn't enough for him:
|"David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel, and they were also both of them his wives." (1 Sam. 25:43)
In 1 Samuel chapter 27 we read that after being given a city by Achish, a prince of the Philistines, David moves into the city with his men to escape Saul. Evidently knowing nothing about being a polite guest, David proceeds to make war against the neighboring Philistine towns:
|"And David smote the land, and left neither man nor woman alive." (1 Sam. 27:9)
When Prince Achish asks David where he's been warring, he lies and tells him he was warring against Judah. Since David made sure he left no Philistine survivors to contradict him, Prince Achish believes him.
And what was God's part in all of this?
|"Thus saith the Lord: 'I was with thee withersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight and have made thee a great name like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth.'" (2 Sam. 7:9)
God rewarded David's murderous ways by making him king of Israel. David proceeded to misuse his power as king to get just what he wanted.
In addition to being a liar, a bigamist, and a murderer, David turns out to be a 'peeping tom' as well. In 2 Samuel Chapter 11 we learn that after spying on Bathsheeba in her bath, David gets the hots for her and sends for her. He gets her pregnant, and then arranges to have her husband Uriah killed:
|"David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. And he wrote in the letter saying, 'Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten and die.'" (2 Sam. 12:15-18)
This is exactly what happens, and once again David 'gets the girl', adding a third wife to his harem. Only this time God suddenly develops a conscience and disapproves of David's actions. But instead of taking out his displeasure on David, God kills David's son!
Is it any wonder that Thomas Paine wrote:
|"Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and, for my part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel."
These atrocities of the Bible are not meant as examples of what not to do, though any moral person would naturally regard them in that way. Far from holding David up as a bad example, the Bible tells us that in God's view David was "perfect":
|"For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other Gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father." (1 Kings 11:4)
And Jesus' most common title of respect was "Son of David".
Throughout history Bible believers have religiously followed these immoral examples from the Bible. When Christians came to the New World they used the example of the Israelites murdering the Canaanites and stealing their land to justify the murder of native Americans and the stealing of their land. They even came up with a pious sounding name for these activities: "Manifest Destiny", or simply: "God's Will".
But, some Christians may object, this is all the Old Testament. All of this passed away when the 'prince of peace' came to earth, and modern-day Christians seek to follow him: not the ancient Israelites.
Did Jesus preach non-violence? Sometimes, but listen to what he says for himself:
|"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword." (Mt. 10:34)
And a sword is what many Bible believers have lived by, and continue to live by.
Though he tells his followers to turn the other cheek, and pray for their enemies and return kindness for evil: he violently drives his enemies, the money-changers, from the temple (Mt. 5:39,44), and he engages in public ridicule of his enemies the Scribes and Pharisees. (Mk. 11:15, Jn. 8:44)
Does the Bible preach equality? No!
Racial prejudice is commanded against the Canaanites (Gen. 9:25-27), and listen to what Paul, the real founder of Christianity, has to say about equality:
|"Slaves, be obedient to your masters" (Eph. 6:5)
Nowhere in the Bible is slavery condemned, and nowhere in the Bible are women accorded rights. God creates woman, according to the book of Genesis, as an afterthought, and solely for the sake of man to "rule over". Listen to Paul again:
|"The head of the woman is the man...Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man...Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law." (1 Cor. 11:3,9; 14:34)
This keeps half the people in the world in subjection. An incalculable loss has occurred from following the Bible's principle of regarding women as inferior subjects. Countless generations of women have passed away without being allowed to fully express themselves and contribute to society.
Paul does not acknowledge love between men and women as a basis for marriage; he only sees marriage as a way to relieve one's lust without sin. (1 Cor. 7:8-9) Thus, he sees women only as sexual objects and he cannot conceive of love between members of the same sex (1 Cor. 6:9-10), thus Biblical morality denies rights to yet another minority group.
Finally, though they can speak in the Bible, animals, like women, are treated as things rather than sentient beings. (Gen. 4:3-5; 8:20-21, Ex. 29:38-42, Lev. 1:4-9)
God, it seems, likes nothing more than the smell of burning animals, and he sets up a priesthood of butchers to continuously offer the lives of innocent animals to himself on a bloody altar.
Like women, animals are relegated to being in existence solely for the sake of man: God says:
|"Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you...Subdue the earth and have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." (Gen. 9:3; 1:28)
Today many Christians use these verses to justify every sort of animal abuse from leg-hold traps to veal crates.
Jesus massacres an entire herd of pigs by driving evil spirits into them so that they plunge off a cliff to their deaths. (Mt. 9:28-32)
Though he spoke of God caring for the death of every sparrow (Mt. 10:29), his actions showed no respect for animals or the environment:
He multiplied, and helped kill fish as if they were on the same level as the bread he multiplied, and serve solely as food for man. (Mt. 14:19-21; Lu. 5:4-9)
A fig tree, which doesn't happen to be bearing fruit when he happens to be hungry, is cursed by him so that it shrivels up and dies. (Mk. 11:13-14,20) Once more driving home the moral that the environment exists solely for man's use, and if he can't use something in the environment, he is perfectly justified in destroying it.
Jesus sometimes speaks of high moral ideals, but his actions, and those of his followers often belie these sentiments. He says:
|"Blessed are they that mourn; for they shall be comforted." (Mt. 5:4)
But when he meets a man in mourning for his father, he offers no comfort, but tells him to forget his father and join his followers, and:
|"Let the dead bury their dead." (Mt. 8:21-22)
He says, "blessed are the poor", and admonishes us to feed and clothe them, (Lu. 6:20, Mt. 19:21; 25:34-40) but when someone suggests he give up the luxury of perfume for the sake of the poor, he insists that, after all, his luxury is more important than their sustenance. (Mt. 26:7-11)
He says, whoever has hatred in his heart for his brother will go to hell, (Mt. 5:22) and Paul emphasizes the commandment to honor one's parents. (Eph. 6:1-3) Yet, when Jesus' mother and brothers approach him he disowns them, (Mt. 12:46-50,Jn. 2:3-4) and in Luke 14:26 he commands his followers to "
hate" their families!
The hypocrisy of "do as I say, not as I do" runs throughout the Bible. Take lying as an example: throughout the Bible lying is condemned. God 'hates all liars' we are told, and all liars are seen in the lake of fire in the book of Revelations. (Pr. 6:16-19, Rev. 21:8) But throughout the Bible the so-called 'great men' lie whenever it is convenient to do so.
We've already seen David lying to Prince Achish.
Jacob lied to his blind old father Isaac, deceitfully cheating his brother out of his birthright. (Gen. 27:19)
And following in his grandfather Abraham's cowardly footsteps, Isaac lies to King Abimeleck, telling him that his wife is not his wife. (Gen. 20:2-3,10-11; 26:6-9)
God himself encourages his prophets and angels to lie:
|"I saw the Lord seated on his throne, with the whole host of heaven standing by to his right and to his left. The Lord asked, 'Who will deceive Ahab, so that he will go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said this, and another that, until one of the sprits came forth and presented himself to the Lord, saying, 'I will deceive him.' The Lord asked, 'How?' He answered, 'I will go forth and become a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets.' The Lord replied, 'You shall succeed in deceiving him. Go forth and do this.'" (1 Kings 22:19-23 NAB)
And the Bible even records Jesus lying:
|"Go up yourselves to the festival. I am not going up to this festival because the time is not yet ripe for me. Having said this he stayed in Galilee. However, once his brothers had gone up to the festival he too went up, but as if in secret and not for all to see." (Jn. 7:8-9 NAB)
But the character of Jesus is assumed by Christians to be absolutely good: they see him through 'rose-colored glasses' and refuse to accept such faults. The liberal theologian Leslie D. Weatherhead demonstrates this when he writes:
|"When Jesus is reported as consigning to everlasting torture those who displease him or do not "believe" what he says, I know in my heart that there is something wrong somewhere. Either he is misreported or misunderstood... So I put this alleged saying in my mental drawer awaiting further light, or else I reject it out of hand. By the judgement of a court within my own breast... I reject such sayings."
This is the point I've been trying to make all along: moral people who claim that their morality stems from the Bible are mistaken; their judgement of what is morally right and wrong comes from "a court within their own breast", to quote the theologian.
In order to reconcile what they know to be morally right with the immoral examples of the Bible, they reinterpret or reject these parts of the Bible. But to do this is also to reject Biblical morality in favor of something better: our own sense of right and wrong.
Finally, what about this God of the Bible? The one we are commanded to worship and appease? The one Jesus directed us to pray to. The one whose 'will' seems to center around a constant stream of murder? What can we say about a God who commands his "chosen people" to murder innocent children? Is it any wonder that some have called him "the worst character in fiction"? Or that Thomas Jefferson called him,
|"A being of terrific character: cruel, vindictive, capricious, and unjust"
We've already seen how God punished David's son for David's sin. This turns out to be his standard operating procedure, according to the Bible:
|"For I, the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the inequity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation." (Ex. 20:5)
If a man commits a crime today, would it be justice to imprison his children, grandchildren, and great grand children for his crime? No? Then the God of the Bible is unjust, and the Bible is wrong when it calls him just. It is also interesting to note here that this notion of "justice" (punishing a man's children for a man's crime) underlies the concept of "original sin" and "redemption" through Jesus' sacrifice!
In addition to his addiction to sniffing the burning bodies of murdered animals, the God of the Bible also enjoys an occasional human sacrifice as well:
|"No devoted thing that a man shall devote unto the Lord of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed... but shall surely be put to death." (Lev. 27:28-29)
We see this law of God's put into practice after the infamous incident in which Moses chides his soldiers for not killing the women and children of Midian:
|"And the Lord spake unto Moses saying, 'Levy a tribute unto the Lord... one soul of 500 both of the persons and the beeves, and the asses, and the sheep'... and the persons were 16,000 of which the Lord's tribute was 32 persons. (Num. 31:25,28,40)
In the eleventh chapter of the book of Judges we read of God's acceptance of the human sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter as a "burnt offering" at her father's hand. This was in exchange for God's allowing Jephthah the privilege of murdering all the 'children of Ammon'. (Jg. 11:29-40)
In 2 Samuel chapter 21 God agrees to stop a 3-year famine (which he's been causing) only after 7 of Saul's sons are hanged for Saul's sin.
God also murdered the first-born of every Egyptian family as well as the first-born of the domestic animals. (Ex. 12:29)
God also sanctioned slavery and the selling of one's daughter. (Ex. 21:2-7)
And God commanded death for any woman who was not a virgin at the time of marriage. It was okay, of course, for men not to be virgins at the time of marriage. (Deut. 22:20-21)
Is this the "Just Judge" of mankind? Is this the moral lawgiver we are supposed to worship? And is this the book we are to read to our children for moral instruction?
The moral of the Bible seems to be this: do whatever God commands unquestioningly. Whether that means murdering your own son or daughter, (Gen. 22:1-2,9-12; Jg. 11:29-40) or murdering a stranger's children and raping his wife. (Isaiah 13:3,15-18) Because, if you do these things that God commands, no matter how immoral they may be, God will reward you with an eternity of bliss; but if you don't obey, God will punish you. This is not morality; this is fear and cowardice. It is the very same attitude Hitler encouraged: to follow orders unquestioningly in fear of the consequences.
No wonder the Bible extols the fear of God as a virtue! (Pr. 9:10, 1 Peter 2:17)
Many people feel they can overlook all these flaws of the Bible I've mentioned, because to them the Bible consists of a mere handful of verses about love and being "saved", and they ignore the rest. For some people the Bible consists of this single verse:
|"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (Jn. 3:16)
Many Christians interpret such verses to mean that once they've believed in Jesus they have been 'saved', and no matter what atrocities they may then commit, it doesn't matter; they will still get their heavenly reward after death because they've been "saved" or "born again". This feature of Christianity is one of the worst teachings of any religion since it absolves one from all moral responsibility. Used in this way, there is no such thing as Biblical morality; it is a book advocating no morality at all, but rather a belief in a fabulous myth.
Though born-again Christians may think they've simplified their faith down to these few verses, and thus cut away the moral problems presented throughout the rest of the book, they're mistaken. These verses have no meaning outside the context of the entire Bible. We must ask ourselves just what does it mean to "believe in Jesus"?
In order to "believe in Jesus" we must believe something about Jesus, and something specific about him. The Pharisees, for instance, believed Jesus was a man, and a blasphemer. But the Bible tells us the Pharisees did not believe in Jesus. So just having any old belief about Jesus is not good enough; we are asked to believe something specific about him: namely, that he is the son of the God of Abraham, Moses, and David.
This is the God Jesus commands us to love: the God of the Bible! (Mt. 22:37-38)
But how could any moral person possibly love the God of the Bible? I hate the God of the Bible as I hate all things that are cruel. But if you cannot love this God, you cannot obey the number one commandment of Jesus. And if you cannot follow the commandment of Jesus you cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus: you cannot call yourself a Christian. Then you cannot consider yourself "saved" or "born-again": so you must take responsibility for your own actions and develop your own philosophy of life and your own sense of right and wrong appropriate for today, not for 2,000 years ago.
In short, once you stop turning to the Bible for moral guidance, you can go beyond Biblical morality.