Ancient dogma still messes with humanity: a few days ago, the illustration attached to this blog post showed up on my Facebook feed. I’d forgotten about this Old Testament verse that depicts God as a being with a body who sneaks around at night in the camps of ancient wandering tribesmen. Cover up your s**t, the verse adjures, because this anthropomorphic God might step in it and get his feet dirty. You sure wouldn’t want that to happen!
[Note: The correct reference for these instructions is Deuteronomy 23:13-14. Verses 10-11 tell what to do to a boy who has a wet dream.]
In my latest book, Prisons with Stained Glass Windows, I fill quite a few pages with details about Bible verses casting shade on fundamentalist claims that the book is the flawless, inerrant word of God. There are lots of those verses but this one above is perhaps the best to show that many biblical writers were merely putting together a set of rules for a very primitive band of nomads. What they wrote was not inspired nor is it applicable to us today. So, we end up with a volume containing instructions such as this that tells us to bury our poop while eking out an existence in the desert. It’s hardly a divine message or a holy announcement!
There are many other examples supporting the claim that huge hunks of the Bible are merely ancient rules dreamed up by bronze age wanderers who held religious ideas that, today, seem crude and silly. How else can you explain the endless instructions in the early Old Testament books about how to sacrifice animals, where to splash their blood and how to burn their carcasses? What kind of a god would require such cruel, wasteful nonsense? Animal sacrifices are inherently repulsive but the practice, according to the Bible, was a favorite indulgence for the early Hebrews. For example, we are told that, in one week alone, King Solomon sacrificed 120,000 sheep and 22,000 oxen. That’s about 850 large animals killed per hour over seven days, a figure that is extremely difficult to believe. Were there any sheep or oxen left in that tiny country after this outrage? We aren’t told.
And why do we still have in our so-called holy book admonitions such as the one telling us not to boil goat kids in their mother’s milk? Or the requirement not to mix different types of fabric in a garment? Or others telling us God demands we cut off penile foreskins that he allegedly put there in the first place? Instructions such as these are, today, pure baloney but, according to conservative Christians, they are the inerrant word of God.
In my book I tell the story of my own upbringing in an environment where we were taught to believe all this stuff and to never question an iota of it. “To disagree with what the Bible says is blasphemy and no one can be a true Christian if he or she does not believe that book in its entirety,” I recalled hearing. And on the next page I quoted a prominent pastor who shockingly said, “When scripture contradicts your instincts, feelings, or culture, you go with scripture.” In my late teenage years, I realized I couldn’t stomach that mindset any longer; it was extensive reading of the Bible itself that convinced me the book was seriously flawed and was a poor guide for us today. While it is relatively easy to form that opinion about the Old Testament, the New Testament has a multitude of problems as well—something that’s thoroughly explored in my book.
The point is this—churches exist and preachers earn their living because they convince shallow-thinking parishioners that the difficult-to-read Bible is the last word for today. Of course, the person telling that to parishioners is also putting himself forth as the best “expert” who can properly interpret the Bible for his audience. The fact is, tens of thousands of these “experts” have disagreed mightily with one another with the result that there are now more than 30,000 Christian denominations, each with its own, distinctive interpretation of what the Bible says! Frankly, the current Christian landscape is a disgrace.
As Prisons with Stained Glass Windows explains, there is a better way forward! And that way forward does not rely upon stale, obsolete, ancient dogmas. Instead, it emphasizes education, shedding toxic beliefs, recognition of recent discoveries and, most of all, it proclaims the truth that each person is not a sinner but, rather, a marvelously free spirit who has untold worth.