The video I posted last week, “Creationist Arguments I’m Tired of: It All Comes Down to Faith (Part 2)” — and ain’t that a catchy title? — attracted comments from my favorite kind of Christian — the kind who actually wants to talk about things, and not just smack you in the face with his big-ass Bible. We covered a lot of ground in our brief exchanges, starting with the big bang theory and winding up at the morality or lack thereof in the Bible. My Christian friend cited the following passage to support his claim that the Bible is the divine revelation given us by a loving and perfectly moral God:
Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
“Morally, as good as can be, don’t you think?” my friend asked.
Being an atheist, I attach no importance whatsoever to loving God, so I could care less about the first and great commandment. The second one, though, is about as close to a perfect moral guide as we’ve ever come up with. Voltaire certainly thought so. Naturally, I don’t think the Bible deserves any credit for it.
There are three reasons why the Bible, which contains this, maybe the most moral instruction humans have ever conceived, is still a deeply immoral book that should never be read as a guide to anything by anyone. Or rather, there are at least three.
First, the idea that one ought to love his neighbor as himself, to treat his fellow human beings the way he wishes to be treated, doesn’t originate with the Bible. Jesus states it as quoted above, and the idea of loving one’s neighbor and treating other people with kindness and respect regardless of who they are or where they come from is also found in the schizophrenic Book of Leviticus (which also establishes many of the brutally sexist and homophobic edicts on which modern bigots still lean), but the so-called Golden Rule pre-dates Christianity and Judaism by quite a bit. It’s found in the mythology and philosophy of the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks, the teachings of Buddha and Confucius, and sacred texts of Hinduism, to name a few. It is the great humanist ideal — treat others as you would have them treat you. Better still, treat others as they would have you treat them. It’s an ancient principle found in cultures from all over the world. It wasn’t first recorded in the pages of the Bible.
Second, the Bible’s moral teaching neither begins nor ends with “love thy neighbor as thyself.” If it did, that would be one thing. But it doesn’t. That lone nugget of true morality is surrounded on all sides, in both the Old Testament and the New, by commands to murder witches and homosexuals, adulteresses and those who break the Sabbath. God himself, and many of the other characters presented in the Bible as heroes and virtuous role models, are guilty of the most abominable crimes imaginable — mass-rape, child murder, genocide. The Bible is filled with bigotry of all kinds — racism, sexism, homophobia — and its stories are drenched in the blood of the sinful spilled by the righteous. To ignore or rationalize all of that and focus on “love they neighbor as thyself” is certainly laudable (and proof that human morality is, and always has been, superior to the imagined morality of God), but it’s not being honest about the Bible.
Third, this, the one truly moral teaching in the Bible, isn’t even the first commandment! Check it out one more time: the first and great commandment isn’t “love thy neighbor as thyself;” according to Jesus it’s “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” And apparently God feels the same way, since his first commandment to the Jews in the Old Testament is also an assertion of authority, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; Do not have any other gods before me.” Sure, God is telling us, love each other, treat each other good — but always remember your highest duty is to love and to serve me, with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. God’s concept of love is something jealous and totalitarian, a tribute to be extracted under threat. And it comes before anything else, including love of humanity. I don’t call that morality.