A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Deuteronomy's Chapters 19 through 21 deal with what sort of killing is okay in the eyes of Yahweh.

Dealing with the Difference Between Murder and ManSlaughter

Chapter 19 is a sort of amendment to the Sixth Commandment: Thou shalt not murder.

First, anyone that kills his neighbor should be executed. Specifically, he ought to be killed by the victim's closest relative, whom the ancient Hebrews called 'the avenger of the blood'.

If he accidentally kills someone, then the accidental killer must flee to another city. But, if he returns to the city where the victim lived, then the 'avenger of the blood' may kill the guy.

However, before determining this there should also be three witnesses.

Killing in the Context of War

Deuteronomy, Chapter 20, if I can sum it up, says that first of all the Hebrews should not be afraid in battle because Yahweh has their back.

The chapter makes a distinction between two types of foes: distant enemies that are too far to be conquered, and nearby enemies that can be incorporated into the Israelite nation. Upon defeating distant opponents, Israelites should slay all the males but take for themselves all the cattle, children, and women for themselves.

But closeby cities, which Yahweh has essentially given to the Israelites, are to be utterly destroyed. Yahweh instructs the Israelites to kill all the lame, sickly, and elderly people; but to take young women and children.

In fact, as Chapter 21 explicitly says, if you find a beautiful woman among the captives, take her into your house, shave her head, let her mourn her dead parents, and then "go in unto her".

An ancient Israelite can even have two wives: "one loved, and one hated."

When Punishment Deserves Death

Chapter 21 even talks about what sort of infractions deserve death.

In particular, any child who is disobedient, and I mean thoroughly disobedient, then he should be taken to outskirts of the village and stoned to death by the villagers.

And if the punishment is hanging, the advice given by the author of Deuteronomy is that the person should be taken down before the end of the day. Apparently, the criminal who was hung is so vile that if he remained on the tree for more than one day, his vileness would contaminate the land.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sam Harris talks about how science can, and should, be an important factor of morality.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In my many conversations with apologists, Bible thumpers, and the extremely pious; I've found that the most effective way to "win" starts off by showing that the argument for a) the existence of god, and b) the god they believe in, require completely different proofs. Former apologist John Loftus writes about it in his blog 'Debunking Christianity' as well. Numerous nonbelievers, like Sam Harris, successfully use the same strategy.

The Proof for Deism

Arguing for the existence of god is called "natural theology", or deism. This god relies on gaps in scientific knowledge. We should have no problem on a practical level with this. Until those gaps are filled, this god will always exist. So, arguing against deism is basically useless because either way it won't matter.

The Proof for Christianity

But Christianity is something completely different. Christianity does not rely on gaps in scientific knowledge. It relies specifically on whether the Gospel accounts of miracle stories attributed to Jesus are true. Just establish this obvious distinction first.

Soon, I will place another post up for the next step, which is simply the basic argument for why we should reject Christianity. But if you want to watch a short version of it, here's how Sam Harris did it at the La Ciudad de las Ideas debate earlier this year.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I just read Deuteronomy, Chapters 17 and 18. Again, we are covering ground that has already been covered. And in some cases, we're covering ground that I'm not sure should be covered.

The lessons I've learned in Chapter 17 are:

  1. Kill people who deconvert or follow other gods.
  2. Don't sacrifice animals with blemishes.
  3. When being judged by a priest, I must follow his judgment and if not I will be executed.
  4. When under the power of the king, the king should not have multiple wives.
  5. The king should also not have too much money.
In Chapter 18, I learn the following:

  1. The Levite priests can't own land, and must live off the offerings of the other tribes.
  2. Sacrifice the firstfruit of my crops and my livestock.
  3. Anyone that practices witchcraft (unless it's magic from Yahweh, of course) is an abomination to Yahweh.
Chapter 18 is also interesting in that there is a prophecy in there: Yahweh says, "I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him."

So, Yahweh plans on sending prophets. He also warns against false prophets. Unfortunately, the only way to tell the difference is if their words come true. And if they don't, they are to be executed.

Being a Prophet is serious business for the ancient Israelites.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Deuteronomy Chapter 16 - In this chapter we are reminded about some of the special holy days set aside by the ancient Israelites. In particular, there are three great festivals in which Jews and Israelites should meet at the temple and celebrate.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is celebrated during the month of Abib, which is a month in the Hebrew calendar. It's to remind the Israelites about their escape from Egypt. In 16:3 it says that you must eat unleavened bread for seven days; and in 16:8 it says six days, so I'm not sure what that's about.

The Feast of Weeks is meant for the entire community of ancient Israelites, and it is to remind them that their people were once bondsmen of Egypt.

In this chapter, it's not clear what The Feast of Tabernacles is about, but elsewhere on the web it says it's agricultural in origin.

During these festivals, or holidays, the males of the tribe must present themselves before Yahweh, and give a generous donation to the priesthood.

I'm not sure why it's in there, but at the end of the chapter (16:16), it almost sounds like judges and officers are picked during these festivals as well.

It's an interesting chapter and there's nothing too controversial. It's actually interesting to learn about the holidays of other cultures as well.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Deuteronomy Chapter 15 tackles the troubling issue of poverty and slavery. I think it has some nice things to say about poverty.

15:7 says, "If there be among you a poor man ... thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother."

And 15:11 says, (15:11)"Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy."

Yes. That's great advice! It still sounds good to this very day. Would you agree?

And then there's slavery.

15:12-17 says, "If thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee.
and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing to day. And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee. Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever."

Basically, after a slave's seven year term, hook him up and be generous to him as he parts ways. If he/she wants to stay with you, drill a hole through his ear into a door and he'll be your servant for life.

Judging from a modern-day perspective, more than 2,000 years later, a perspective with the hindsight of the Civil Rights era, the American Civil War, and the various practices of slavery before then; slavery has been a big moral issue for humanity. It's still a big issue today; and the arguments even delve into what is called wage slavery - which is basically what everyone calls "working". Anytime another human's labor is owned, and not purchased in any way, that raises the question of slavery and whether it is moral.

But 3,000 years ago when Deuteronomy was written, nobody in ancient Israelite society had these conversations (or at least published them).

So I ask you, the reader, this: What is it that makes it possible for people today to pick up the Bible, read Deuteronomy Chapter 15, and see that one set of passages are moral, and another set isn't?