The so-called “link” between Religion and Morality is everywhere in our culture. It underwrites Religious Moderation and its Fundamentalism to a significant degree. The idea that without Religion, something fundamental will be lost to us in moral terms is questionable when you look at the books.
To speak specifically of The Bible, not even an Orthodox Jew or a Fundamentalist Christian can take God at his word given how sadistic God is in books like Deuteronomy, Exodus and Leviticus. If you’re making your to-do list out of a book like Leviticus, you would make Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban, look like Franklin Roosevelt. It creates a vision of life so horrible, so subversive of the basic project of creating a sustainable society where human happiness is even possible.We effectively have edited The Bible, even Fundamentalists have.
It is important to point out that nobody says these passages are immoral, or the idea that you stone a woman to death when you uncover that a woman is not a virgin on her wedding night, the idea that you stone homosexuals to death, or the idea that you stone to death your children when they talk back to you. You go to a town and see a man who worships a foreign God so you have to kill him, his family, and everyone in the town. These are not metaphors or analogies of some spiritual struggle from within, these are explicit directives to kill people for theological crimes. No one has ever said that this is immoral. Christians say that they don’t have to do these anymore because Jesus brought us the doctrine of grace. Well, incidentally, Jesus also said that every jot of the law has to be fulfilled. The Inquisitors of the middle-ages have a rationale for practicing this kind of law.
I can assure you that Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas have read The Sermon on The Mount. They managed to square the ministry of Jesus with their impulses to kill people for thought crimes.
From the point of view of Fundamentalism, The Bible and The Qur’an is the “best book we have” because it is literally been dictated by the creator of the Universe. From the point of view of Moderation, these are the “best books we have” but who knows what their sources are. Just the “smartest people of their time” wrote this books, they’ll say.
If The Bible is the best book we have, we should, in ethical terms, be practicing slavery. The creator of the Universe expects us to keep slaves. It simply tells us not to beat our slaves so severely that we pull out their eyes and their teeth.
Jesus expected us to keep slaves. He never criticized the institution of slavery and he uses slaves in his analogies.
“All slaves should show full respect for their masters so they will not bring shame on the name of God and his teaching.” – 1 Timothy 6:1
The abolitionists were on the wrong side of the theological debate. If this is the wisest book we have, the American slaveholders of the South were right. On so many questions this is true. If this is the wisest book we have, we should be beating our kids with rods.
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” – Proverbs 23:13
Incidentally, Fundamentalist Christians in our country are beating their kids with rods, or rod-like objects, or whatever they can use to spank them. In the American state of Alabama, some years ago, 40,000 kids were paddled in their schools. It is legal in their state and this is a faith-based initiative.
It’s important for us to recognize that we decide what is good in a good book, but we cherry-pick these books based on our ethical intuitions. All we have to decide are questions of Ethics are our own ethical intuitions and the ethical intuitions of other whom we are in conversation with.
You can put your faith in a 21st Century conversation about Ethics or you can put your faith in a 1st Century conversation as preserved in these books.