Gilead – just a stone’s throw away

Stone3

Ken Ham’s Answers In Genesis thinks it’s okay to stone people. Specifically, your wayward kids. The bible says so and AiG’s Elizabeth Mitchell is eager to defend whatever the bible says, on account of it being ‘God’s Word’. She does warn us that we need to read Deuteronomy 21:18–21, where you’ll find this particular bit of parenting advice, in context, because although the bible is the fallible, eternal, literal word of the Creator of the Universe it needs interpreting, and has to be understood in terms of the time it was written.

The context is of course that Deuteronomy and all of the Old Testament was written by primitive, superstitious bronze-age tribesmen who had the same mentality the Taliban and Isis have today. But this isn’t good enough for ‘Doctor’ Mitchell. No, her context is altogether different; she tells us in an article recently posted on the Answers In Genesis Facebook page that Deuteronomy 21 isn’t talking about children. No, it’s referring to uppity teenagers, which makes it okay. And not just teenagers, but really, really troublesome ones, which makes it doubly okay. These really, really troublesome teenagers are the scourge of society and can be stoned with impunity. The bible says so.

And yet, they’re not. Christians don’t stone awkward family members, thankfully. Perhaps, despite articles like Mitchell’s and others’, Christians don’t really believe the brutality promoted in and by the bible. Mitchell offers no explanation for this inconsistency of belief. Instead, her article peters out with some incoherent rambling about Jesus; the same Jesus who declared his undying support for these brutal, Old Testament laws (Matthew 5.17-19).

I suggested in the comments on Facebook that it doesn’t matter how much one takes context into account, the command of Deuteronomy, that rebellious youths be stoned to death, is utterly indefensible. It is cruel, barbaric and belongs in the past when, presumably, unfortunate young people were actually killed in this way by their families and tribal elders. I suggested morals and standards have evolved for the better since the days when people considered that murder was the best way to deal with youthful bad behaviour.

And for that I was metaphorically stoned myself. How dare you challenge God and his Word! How ridiculous to suggest we have better moral standards today when clearly we are in an immoral abyss worse than any before! Last Days! God’s standards are inviolate and if he says the best way to deal with miscreants is to stone them to death then it is!

The Gilead regime envisaged by Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale, where Old Testament sanctions are stringently applied in contemporary society, is closer than we think. People like those who hang around on Answers In Genesis’ Facebook pages, like flies around a corpse, would be more than happy to see the death penalty for those who infringe God’s barbaric laws. They’d be only too willing to throw the first stone, not only at difficult teenagers, but at all the others ‘God’s Word’ says merit the death penalty: couples who have sex when the woman is on her period (Leviticus 18.19); women who are not virgins on their wedding nights (Deuteronomy 22.13-14; 20-21); gay people (Leviticus 20.13); those who work on the Sabbath (Exodus 35.2; Numbers 15.32-36); blasphemers (Leviticus 24.16) and worshippers of other gods (Deuteronomy 13.6-9))

I am not an advocate of censorship but some form of censure is necessary for those who, either in speech or writing, advocate that others be put to death. Calling for the execution of those with whom you disagree or who have different moral codes cannot – must not – be tolerated in a civilised society. Pronouncements like those of Elizabeth Mitchell, her supporters and other religious crackpots who defend the indefensible, should be flagged up as hate speech, carrying a warning that the views expressed are themselves immoral, insupportable and, ultimately, illegal in civilised society. Ideally, their poisonous rhetoric should not be provided with an online platform. This wouldn’t, before anyone suggests otherwise, violate their right to free speech; they would still be free to express their unpalatable views in their churches, Creation Museums and own homes. Excluding them from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, however, would deprive them of their wider audience – they’re only showing off, after all – and confine their hateful rhetoric to where it can do least harm.

These people are not merely ‘causing offence’ – offence is not the issue. They are inciting violence against others, influencing fellow believers to adopt their repellant views as their own. The standards of bronze-age tribes are not ours today; those who think they are abuse free speech and forfeit their right to be heard publicly.

 

 

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What Jesus should have said…

KnockLists are the thing, aren’t they. It’s time we had some on this here blog thingy.

List 1. 10 things Christians pretend Jesus didn’t say:

1. Treat others as you like to be treated (Matthew 7.12)

2. Forgive so that you’ll be forgiven (Matthew 6.14)

3. Don’t judge unless you want to be judged (Matthew 7.1)

4. Sell all you have and give it to the poor (Mark 10.21)

5. Turn the other cheek (Luke 6.29)

6. Go the extra mile (Matthew 5.41)

7. Give to all who ask and lend without expecting anything back (Luke 6.30 & 35)

8. Love your neighbour as much as yourself (Matthew 22.39)

9. Love your enemies (Luke 6.27)

10. Don’t worry about the future (Matthew 6.34)

If Christians followed these injunctions, what a very different world it would be. Instead, what do we get..?

List 2. 10 things Christians think Jesus should have said, but didn’t (with a few examples):

1. Show love for others by telling them what sinners they are (1, 2)

2. Stand on principle as much as you can (1, 2, 3).

3. Take easy offence (1, 2)

4. See persecution everywhere (1, 2, 3, 4)

5. Sue those who upset you (1, 2)

6. Demonise those who don’t share your world view (1, 2, 3, 4)

7. Hate homosexuals and oppose same-sex marriage (1, 2, 3)

8. Set yourself up as defender of God’s standards (1, 2)

9. Argue endlessly about points of doctrine (1, 2)

10. Obsess about the future and the state of the world (1, 2, 3)

This is the Christianity we’ve got. Well done, o righteous ones, for perverting Jesus’ radical (and yes, ridiculously impossible) message into this unsavoury concoction of mean-spirited self-centredness. It’s what he wouldn’t have wanted.

 

Why_Christians_Don't_Cover_for_KindleMy book Why Christians Don’t do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead looks at how Christians ignore most of what Jesus says in favour of a Christianity of their own making. You can find it here in the UK, here in the US and on Kindle. Go on. You know you want it.

 

Respect?

HebdoI could so easily take offence at this. (The caption reads ‘But who wants the English in Europe?’)

How far should we respect religious beliefs? I would suggest, not at all. The multitude of religions that exist in the world, not least the big five – Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism – are all built on mythologies that require belief in supernatural beings, highly improbable events and meaningless rituals. There is no evidence these beings exist or have ever existed, no evidence the improbable events ever occurred and none that the rituals lead to results of any sort.

Most religions have their revered teacher, prophet or saviour who died centuries or millennia ago, and about whom stories are told that cannot possibly be true. How can any thinking person respect the idea that one of these figures rose from the dead? Or that another flew to heaven on a winged horse? Or another grew a jewel tree from a toothpick? These stories deserve as much respect as other ancient tales – like the one about the man who killed a one-eyed giant or the dude who returned to life after being hacked to death and eaten. The preposterous stories told by today’s religions are of the same order.

For this reason, as well as many others – not least how religion causes some of its adherents to act and relate to others – religion is not above criticism. Indeed, there is a moral imperative to criticise world views based on far-fetched stories, especially when they cause some who subscribe to them to discriminate against others, advocate murder and  take it upon themselves to carry out executions like the ones we’ve seen in Paris this week. I’ve written before about how, while most religious believers are not themselves extremists, it is moderate believers who sustain the culture responsible for those who are. Fanatics, extremists and terrorists do not spontaneously create themselves; they emerge from mosques, churches, synagogues and temples. As Bill Maher said about Islam this week, ‘when there’s this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard.’

While some have argued that the magazine Charlie Hebdo provoked Muslim extremists to attack it with its satirical drawings of Muhammed (among many other religious ‘leaders’) it is absurd to suggest that publishing provocative pictures automatically leads to murder, as if the perpetrators have no choice in the matter. Of course they do. Caricatures of the pope have also appeared on the magazine’s cover and, as bizarre as the Catholic church is, it has not responded to these depictions with violence.

There is, in any case, a good argument to be made that offence can’t be given, only taken. While no doubt there are Muslims who don’t find rather poorly drawn, largely unfunny cartoons of Muhammed offensive, there are those who choose to. (Just like I could choose to take offence at the cover above.) But provocation, whatever the context, is no defence and no excuse for the slaughter, violence or incarceration of those with whom we’re offended.

The religious need to grow up and put away childish things; to stop taking offence so readily, insisting they’re being persecuted when they’re not and constantly assuming they and they alone have the right to mete out punishment. Is the god each religion claims for itself so weak and feeble he cannot look after himself, his standards and his reputation?

Well of course he can’t, because he doesn’t exist. Every god there has ever been, from Osiris to Christ, from Zeus to Allah has been a human invention. And if no god exists, then neither do his standards and reputation, nor his prophets and teachers, his Sons and emissaries; they’re all largely made up too. No-one should be punished for failing to respect the figments of primitive people’s imagination. It is beholden on all of us who have indeed put away such childish things, to disregard the sensibilities of those who subscribe to and peddle puerile nonsense and point out as often as we can that not only does the Emperor have no clothes but there’s not even an Emperor. Only then can the world work towards being free from the tyranny of religion.

Simplistic maybe, but the alternative is to continue tolerating the intolerable. And look where that’s getting us.