24 Feb 2011

Child sacrifice and other atrocities ignored by believers who consider the Bible the source of morality

Secular News Daily  -  February 11 & 15, 2011

10 Biblical Atrocities That Go Overlooked (Part 1 & 2)

by Gordon Douglas
- An ex-Independent, Fundamental Baptist Pastor, Missionary, and Evangelist, I turned from all religion after years of hard study and soul-searching. Check out my blog, Walking Away, at http://capnjammer.wordpress.com/ for more of my writing, especially if you or someone you know is trying to escape religion.

I remember reading the Bible in my younger days. Don’t you?

I started before I became a Christian, at the tender age of nine, mainly because I had an unhealthy obsession with the end of the world. I ate up the book of Revelation, and even as an “unchurched” youth I clearly recall reading it to my friends at sleepovers.

When I became a Christian at twelve, my church family immediately put me on a “Bible in One Year” schedule which I stuck to diligently throughout the majority of my youth and young adulthood.

For the five years I spent in seminary, this was boosted up to four times over the course of one year, after a college professor my freshman year heard how I had also made it a habit to read through The Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the Chronicles of Narnia every year and challenged me to read the Word of God as often as I read my “worldly entertainment.”

After all those readings (which, after a simple bit of math you may deduce was about 26 times), I can’t to this day recall ever reading about some of the atrocities listed in the Bible. I clearly did read them, as I read and meditated on every word of Scripture, but somehow I missed them.

God killed Onan for pulling out. Image: www.thebricktestament.com

I remember reading about how Onan (Genesis 38:8-10) was punished with death for not impregnating his sister-in-law, but I didn’t see it as the act of a God who despises women and orders men to treat them like cattle. I didn’t see it an an act of incest. I didn’t consider Onan’s death as a pointless murder at the hands of a God who can’t stand to be defied, and didn’t view Onan as a hero for having a conscience and rebelling against a God who told him to do something he knew to be wrong. No, I saw it as a justified punishment for a man who defied a good, Holy, and just God whose beautiful purpose was to strengthen the family line of Onan’s brother.

That bloody Bible!

So here are a few of the things I failed to see in the Bible as a Christian which, if I had only chosen to think clearly and critically, I may have used to my benefit to escape religion much sooner than I did.

10: Being a good Christian means treating your slaves well.

Most people, when confronted with the idea that the Bible contains some terrible things, like to point out that that’s just “Old Testament stuff,” and that the bad things in the Bible were written for people living in a rougher and less civilized time. Gentle Jesus and his followers weren’t responsible for any of the atrocities often attributed to the Patriarchs.

Slavery is a terrible thing that has occurred all throughout history. There’s no doubting that the Old Testament does clearly allow for slavery, but surely, not the New Testament!

Guess again.

Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit. These things teach and exhort. (I Timothy 6:1-2, KJV)

This brings us to the best part about Biblical slavery. Did you know…

9: Beating Your Slaves is Perfectly Acceptable

Yes, there is a verse in the Bible that tells us it’s okay to beat your slave, as long as he’s only bedridden for two days. From the context, it can be inferred that, if the slave does eventually die after a few days, that’s okay too, because, well, he is property after all.

It's not just OK to beat your slaves; the Bible tells you how. Image: Atheistnexus.com

And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” (Exodus 21:20 KJV)

8: Boys Will Be Boys, and God Will Kill Them For It

I remember many times in my youth making fun of my pastor (often to his face) about his receding hair line. Of course, my pastor was a good sport about it and often made fun of himself. I’m glad that I live in a world where God doesn’t exist, because if he did I may have received worse punishment than the fair recession of my own hair.

The natural response of a child, upon seeing a bald man, is to make fun of him. The natural response of a loving and just God upon hearing children making fun of one of his servants for being bald is to have them eviscerated.

God loves all the little children. Except the ones He feeds to bears.

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them. (II Kings 2:23-24 KJV)

I once looked on this with respect for the man of God. Now, I realize that whether the kids were saying “Ha ha, you’re bald,” or “Leave town because we don’t want to hear your message” or “Have a great time in town, baldy, because we plan to stab you and take all your money,” there is no moral way to explain sending bears to disembowel them.

This is actually one of the best-known stories in the Bible of God’s atrocities. I still have a hard time understanding how I didn’t see this as being awful back when I first read it, and the 25 or so times after that, and all the times I heard it preached as though it were something wonderful.

Next up is another story I never really picked up on, and which most people don’t.

7: “One More Night With Them Stinkin’ Frogs.”

Lots of frogs legs . . . but that murdering of all firstborn might be going a bit far. Image: middletownbiblechurch.org

Everyone knows how Moses went to Pharaoh and said “Let my people go.” When I was younger, I heard an evangelist sing a song about a very interesting part of the story: When Moses asked Pharaoh when he wanted Moses to take away the plague of frogs upon Egypt, even though Moses could have done it at any time, Pharaoh answered “Tomorrow.” (Exodus 8:10)

The really interesting part of the story isn’t Pharaoh’s insistence that he spend “one more night in sin,” as the preachers will tell you the passage means. It’s that it was God, not Pharaoh, who made Pharaoh say no when Moses asked him to let his people go.

And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said. (Exodus 7:13 KJV)

Because God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, the people of Egypt continued to suffer the plagues, ending with the death of the firstborn child of every Egyptian household. (Jews celebrate this massacre with Passover.)

That’s a lot of innocent deaths for God’s punishment of one man . . . who did something God made him do. Sounds almost like . . .

6: 70,000 Innocent People Killed Because Someone Counted Them

King David receives the results of his Census of the Damned.

And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king’s word was abominable to Joab. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly . . .
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. (I Chronicles 21:9-14 KJV)

God told David not to count the people. Most preachers I’ve ever heard will tell you it’s because he didn’t want the great numbers of Israel to go to David’s head. God wanted David to know that it was his help, not the numbers of the children of Israel, that was responsible for his victory in battle.

Whether or not you think this was a terrible sin, anyone of good conscience should be able to see that killing 70,000 innocent people because of the sin of one man (again, that sin was counting) is not the act of a loving, just, good God. Especially not when you consider that the method of execution was pestilence: It wasn’t just the 70,000 fighting men of Israel who died, but the old and infirm, women, and children. They just didn’t get counted.

Stay tuned for the next installment. So far these have been instances in Scripture any Sunday School student could drudge up and try to explain away. Don’t worry: it gets much worse.


Last time, I introduced five of the greatest atrocities in the Bible.

These were slavery, the treating of human beings like property (including the right to beat and kill them at will), God’s murder of children in the most horrible of ways just for acting like children, his responsibility for Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness which led to the Ten Plagues and eventually the death of the firstborn of every house in Egypt, and his punishment (by death) of at least 70,000 innocent people for the sins of one man.

In a theocracy, God's Law has teeth!

These are only examples, by the way, of the type of things that happen all the time in Scripture. Along the same lines as the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, you have God actually sending demons to torture King Saul, purposely ruining Job’s life just to see if he would continue to be faithful (even though the Bible says God can be tempted of no man, neither tempteth he any man), and God actually claiming in Isaiah 45:7 to create all evil.

So we can see already, there are some places in the Bible that should (but often don’t) cause any of the religious faithful who are of good conscience to take a second and reconsider where they place their faith. It wasn’t until I was already well on the road to deconversion that I saw some of these awful things and began to make sense of them for what they truly were. I actually spent my time in trying to defend a god who was clearly guilty of some of the worst atrocities ever enacted upon humanity. Things like:

5: God Orders Systematic Genocide

Killing children because their parents chose another religion is godly!

Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again. (Deuteronomy 13:13-16 KJV)

In other words, kill the entire town, every man, woman, and child, even every animal, and don’t even take anything from the town, just burn the whole thing straight to the ground. Why, you ask? For choosing to leave Yahweh and worship another god!

War is hell. Regardless of the perpetrators or the targets or the innocent casualties, war is a terrible thing. It’s even worse when it’s God who commands it, and even worse still when he joins one side and destroys the other entirely due to the exercise of free will.

War in the Bible is glamorous . . . Right?

“How is this overlooked?” you may ask. “Everyone knows the story of the Israelites conquest of the Promised Land!” For the most part, that’s true, but when I was in Sunday School we sang songs like “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” and the tales of war and bloodshed were converted to stories of heroes and adventures for a younger audience, told with brightly-colored foam cut-outs. So technically, it’s not overlooked: it’sglorified.

To the victor go the spoils. If it had been the Canaanites that prevailed in the conflict for the Promised Land, the Bible most likely would have been written about Chemosh or Marduk instead of Yahweh. We’ll never know, because if there is any historical accuracy in the Bible, these entire races were exterminated.

There are some instances, though, where God didn’t command the death of every person…

4: God and Moses Approve of Rape

Rubens got it wrong. Picture the women a bit younger - like 12 or 13.

And they brought the captives, and the prey, and the spoil, unto Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and unto the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the camp at the plains of Moab, which are by Jordan near Jericho. And Moses, and Eleazar the priest, and all the princes of the congregation, went forth to meet them without the camp. And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.
Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves. (Numbers 31:12-18 KJV)

This isn’t the only time the people are authorized by God to rape. At Jabesh-Gilead, the men are instructed to kill every man, woman, and child, but to keep the young virgins for themselves. When the men of the tribe of Benjamin complained that there weren’t enough women to be their wives, they were instructed to go lie in wait near a festival just outside the city and rape the women who came out. That way, their fathers would be legally obligated to give them to the men as wives. (This all takes place in Judges 21).

3: While We’re On The Subject Of Rape…

Let me ask you a serious question. If you were a judge, which of the following would you find more heinous: Not listening in church, disobeying your parents, hitting your father, being a homosexual, following a different religion, being an astrologer, committing adultery, having sex before marriage, working on Saturday, or rape?

If you answered rape, then you would do well to stand aside and let God take care of making the laws, as you apparently aren’t up to snuff on it. All the former are punishable by death. Rape is only punishable by 50 shekels of silver, payable to the father of the victim, and marriage to the victim (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Unless, of course, you are the rape victim and your attacker was holding your mouth shut, because God’s punishment for those who don’t scream loud enough to be heard while being raped is death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).

God clearly cares less about the violation of the woman and more about the violation of the father’s property. This leads us to the next atrocity:

2: Women are Property

Not as bad as murder or rape, when you think about it. So why is this on the list above them? Let’s look at the following passage to see why:

And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money. (Exodus 21:7-11 KJV)

That’s right: the selling of one’s own daughter as a sex slave is fine and dandy. Of course, that’s really all the practice of marriage was in the Bible: sealing a deal by trading off your virgin daughter, normally just at the point of having reached puberty, to a man usually old enough to be her father. And if she didn’t have the signs of being a virgin (which we know today can happen through a completely innocuous activity such as riding a horse), she was to be stoned on her parent’s front porch (Deuteronomy 22:20-21).

Stop and think about that for a second: a woman was usually betrothed and married around puberty. That means she could be as young as 7, but probably around 13 or 14. Think about that for a second, and then read through the previous entries on today’s list for a clearer idea of just how atrocious the act of forcibly taking wives from among the virgins of your enemies really was.

1: Human Sacrifice

Ask any Christian, and they’ll tell you that the central story of the Bible is, indeed, the blood sacrifice of a human being (who also happened to be God). The Bible says without the shedding of blood there can be no remission of sins, and this is a facet of theology which is carried on all throughout the Bible, from the sacrifices of Cain and Abel to the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, from the scapegoat to the yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, from the sacrificial lamb in the Holy of Holies to the key event in all of Scripture: the crucifixion of Christ on the cross at Calvary.

But is God really obsessed with this idea of death and bloodshed as a means of maintaining favor? Based on some of what we’ve read already, and the punishment of death for so many minor infractions under his law, you would think so. But how far does it go?

Let’s look at Exodus 13:1-15 for the chilling answer.

If you can find a lamb (or a ram), you don't have to kill your firstborn son for God! See, he's better than those other gods. Merciful and loving.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine. [the middle section describes the feast of the Lord, when and how to observe it] And thou shalt shew thy son in that day, saying, This is done because of that which the LORD did unto me when I came forth out of Egypt. And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD’S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt. Thou shalt therefore keep this ordinance in his season from year to year. And it shall be when the LORD shall bring thee into the land of the Canaanites, as he sware unto thee and to thy fathers, and shall give it thee, That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD’S. And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem. And it shall be when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What is this? that thou shalt say unto him, By strength of hand the LORD brought us out from Egypt, from the house of bondage: And it came to pass, when Pharaoh would hardly let us go, that the LORD slew all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of beast: therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all that openeth the matrix, being males; but all the firstborn of my children I redeem.

That’s right: something occurs in the Bible that is so awful that God tells the people how to apologize to their children when they’re old enough to realize how terrible it is. You know that ceremony they perform at churches where the pastor or priest holds up a newborn child and introduces it to the congregation? That’s clearly a misrepresentation of what’s going on here. Read the passage again, and there can be no doubt. These verses are not simply asking the parents to dedicate their firstborn to god, but as a human sacrifice which is then redeemed by sacrificing a lamb instead. Just like most of the other gods of the day, Yahweh demanded sacrifice in his name, including all the firstborn children.

But God is merciful. You can sacrifice a lamb instead of your son. But how can a “good, loving, and righteous” god even ask this of his people?

Jephthah murders his daughter. A nice thank-you gift for God.

Some people weren’t lucky enough to be redeemed, either. Consider Jepthah’s daughter, whom God accepted as a burnt offering (Judges 11), or the priests of the pagan shrines in I Kings 13, who were sacrificed on their own altars in order to desecrate them from further use. Consider that the punishment for stealing something that was supposed to be a burnt offering was to become a burnt offering yourself (Joshua 7:15), which, after what we’ve just read, could include trying to rescue your firstborn child from the flames.

That’s my list, and it’s something to consider next time you hear someone try to explain that our system of morals and values came from the Bible. It wasn’t until people started thinking for themselves, when humanity started growing up as a species, that we were able to develop a system of ethics that defied the laws of the Bible and we started drawing away from these terrible, racist, sexist, bloodthirsty, inhuman practices.

If humanity ever wants to fully mature, we’re going to have to keep moving away…

This article was found at:

Why Do Children Suffer?

Christian belief in demon possession leads to physical, spiritual and psychological abuse of children

President of British Humanist Association: sex and death lie at the poisoned heart of religion

The Nightmare of Christianity: How Religious Indoctrination Led to Murder

Forced into Faith: How Religion Abuses Children's Rights [book]

Mystic Brutality: Understanding Religion as Child Abuse

When Religion Becomes Child Abuse

Is it ever OK to seriously harm your child in the name of religion? If so, which religion?

U.S. religious conservatives argue parents have right to beat and indoctrinate children, continue to fight children's rights treaty

Report reveals dozens of missionary kids in Africa criminally abused at New Tribes Mission school but no one ever charged


  1. Captive Virgins, Polygamy, Sex Slaves: What Marriage Would Look Like if We Actually Followed the Bible

    By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet March 27, 2012

    Traditionally, Republicans tend to run on a platform of God, guns and gays. This time, it’s God, gyne-policy and gays – a set of urgent priorities straight from the mouths of conservative bishops and evangelists who call themselves Bible believers.

    There’s no way to understand politics anywhere without understanding religion, but to an outsider American Christianity -- and so American politics -- can seem almost incomprehensible. Over the last 2,000 years, Christians have quarreled themselves into 30,000 different denominations. On top of that, American Christianity, like American culture more broadly, tends to flout hierarchy and authority, which means that a sizeable number of American Christians consider themselves “nondenominational."

    The ever faster splintering of denominations and non-denominations, from crystal cathedrals to house churches gives a particularly elevated status to the Bible, which is why, along with the Catholic bishops and charismatic preachers we find the Good Book in the middle of our public policy debates. “Bible-believing” Christians, also called “biblical literalists,” believe the Bible is the literally perfect word of God, essentially dictated by God to the writers. Thanks to the determined work of historical revisionists like David Barton, many of them also believe (very, very wrongly) that America’s Constitution and legal system also were founded on principles and laws drawn from the Bible.

    Not all Christians share this view. Biblical literalists are at the opposite end of the theological spectrum from modernist Christians, who see the Bible as the record of our imperfect spiritual ancestors who struggled to understand what is good and what is God and how to live in moral community with each other.

    A Christian’s view of the Bible often dictates social and moral priorities, which brings us back to the current political context. The Catholic bishops are well organized and so, under the banner of "religious freedom" (for institutions, not women), they have lead the charge against women's reproductive rights. But they have been able to limit contraceptive and abortion access in this country for decades only because FEB (fundamentalist/evangelical/born-again) Bible-believing Christians rally to the cause. In my home state of Washington, conservative Catholics and Bible believers rallied by the hundreds this week to protest against universal contraceptive coverage. As I write they are gathering signatures to reverse our historic gay marriage legislation.

    Even though divorce and teen pregnancy rates are lower in more secular parts of the country, Bible believers see both as problems caused primarily by America’s loss of faith. To hear them tell it, from the time of America’s founding until the 1970s (when gays, atheists and bra-less women began tearing down the social order) this country prospered because we attended church and lived as God commanded, and our courts protected the righteous institution of biblical marriage. Now gay marriage laws are creeping across the nation, threatening the last shreds of our moral fabric.

    Let me tell you a secret about Bible believers that I know because I was one. Most of them don’t read their Bibles. If they did, they would know that the biblical model of sex and marriage has little to do with the one they so loudly defend. Stories depicted in the Bible include rape, incest, master-slave sexual relations, captive virgins, and more. Now, just because a story is told in the Bible doesn’t mean it is intended as a model for devout behavior. Other factors have to be considered, like whether God commands or forbids the behavior, if the behavior is punished, and if Jesus subsequently indicates the rules have changed, come the New Testament.

    continued in next comment...

  2. continued from previous comment:

    Through this lens, you find that the God of the Bible still endorses polygamy and sexual slavery and coerced marriage of young virgins along with monogamy. In fact, he endorses all three to the point of providing detailed regulations. Based on stories of sex and marriage that God rewards and appears to approve one might add incest to the mix. Nowhere does the Bible say, “Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have sex with you.”

    Furthermore, none of the norms that are endorsed and regulated in the Old Testament law – polygamy, sexual slavery, coerced marriage of young girls—are revised, reversed, or condemned by Jesus. In fact, the writer of Matthew puts these words in the mouth of Jesus:

    Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke or a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law [the Old Testament] until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)

    The Law of which Jesus speaks is the Law of Moses, or the Torah, and anyone who claims the Bible as the perfect word of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent God should have the decency to read it carefully—and then keep going.

    Polygamy is a norm in the Old Testament and accepted in the New Testament. Biblicalpolygamy.com has pages dedicated to 40 biblical figure,s each of whom had multiple wives. The list includes patriarchs like Abraham and Isaac. King David, the first king of Israel may have limited himself to eight wives, but his son Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived had 700 wives and 300 concubines! (1 Kings 11)

    Concubines are sex slaves, and the Bible gives instructions on acquisition of several types of sex slaves, although the line between biblical marriage and sexual slavery is blurry. A Hebrew man might, for example, sell his daughter to another Hebrew, who then has certain obligations to her once she is used. For example, he can’t then sell her to a foreigner. Alternately a man might see a virgin war captive that he wants for himself.

    In the book of Numbers (31:18) God’s servant commands the Israelites to kill all of the used Midianite women who have been captured in war, and all of the boy children, but to keep all of the virgin girls for themselves. The Law of Moses spells out a purification ritual to prepare a captive virgin for life as a concubine. It requires her owner to shave her head and trim her nails and give her a month to mourn her parents before the first sex act (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). A Hebrew girl who is raped can be sold to her rapist for 50 shekels, or about $580 (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). He must then keep her as one of his wives for as long as she lives.

    A man might acquire multiple wives whether he wanted them or not if his brother died. In fact, if a brother dies with no children, it becomes a duty to impregnate his wife. In the book of Genesis, Onan is struck dead by God because he fails to fulfill this duty – preferring to spill his seed on the ground rather than providing offspring for his brother (Genesis 38:8-10). A New Testament story shows that the tradition has survived. Jesus is a rabbi, and a group of scholars called Sadducees try to test his knowledge of Hebrew Law by asking him this question:

    Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” (Matthew 22:24-28).

    Jesus is too clever for them and points out that in Heaven, that place of perfect bliss, there is no marriage.

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  3. continued from previous comment:

    Having a brother act as a sperm donor isn’t the only biblical solution to lack of offspring. The patriarch Abraham is married to his half-sister Sarah, but the two are childless for the first 75 years or so of their marriage. Frustrated, Sarah finally says, “The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her." Her slave, Hagar, becomes pregnant, and then later Sarah does too and the story gets complicated (Genesis 16). But that doesn’t stop Abraham’s grandson Jacob from participating in a competition, in which his two wives repeatedly send in their slaves to get pregnant by him, each trying to get more sons than the other. (Genesis 19:15-30)

    These stories might be irrelevant to the question of biblical marriage were it not that Bible believers keep telling us that God punishes people when he dislikes their sexual behavior. He disliked the behavior of New Orleans gays so much, according to Pat Robertson, that he sent a hurricane to drown the whole city – kind of like Noah’s flood. And yet, according to the Bible story, both Abraham and Jacob were particularly beloved and blessed by God.

    The point is that marriage has changed tremendously since the Iron Age when the Bible was written. For centuries, concubines and polygamy were debated by Christian leaders – accepted by some and rejected by others. The nuclear family model so prized by America’s fundamentalist Christians emerged from the interplay between Christianity and European cultures including the monogamous tradition of the Roman Empire. As humanity’s moral consciousness has evolved, coerced sex has become less acceptable even within marriage while intertribal and interracial marriage has grown in acceptance. Today even devout Bible believers oppose sexual slavery. Marriage, increasingly, is a commitment of love, freely given. Gay marriage is simply a part of this broader conversation, and opposition on the part of Bible believers has little to do with biblical monogamy.

    Since many Christians haven’t read the whole Bible, most “Bible believers” are not, as they like to claim, actually Bible believers. Bible believers, even those who think themselves “nondenominational,” almost all follow some theological tradition that tells them which parts of the Bible to follow and how. Yes, sometimes even decent people do get sucked into a sort of text worship that I call bibliolatry, and Bible worship can make a person’s moral priorities as archaic and cruel as those of the Iron Age tribesmen who wrote the texts. (I once listened, horrified, while a sweet, elderly pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses rationalized the Old Testament slaughter of children with the same words Nazis used to justify the slaughter of Jewish babies.)

    But many who call themselves Bible believers are simply, congenitally conservative – meaning change-resistant. It is not the Bible they worship so much as the status quo, which they justify by invoking ancient texts. Gay marriage will come, as will reproductive rights, and these Bible believers will adapt to the change as they have others: reluctantly, slowly and with angry protests, but in the end accepting it, and perhaps even insisting that it was God’s will all along.

    Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.


  4. Arrests made following three human sacrifices carried out by followers of Saint Death cult

    The Associated Press HERMOSILLO, Mexico March 30, 2012

    Warning: This story contains graphic details

    Eight people have been arrested for allegedly killing two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman in ritual sacrifices by the cult of La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, prosecutors in northern Mexico said Friday.

    Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the victims' blood was poured around an altar to the saint, which is depicted as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.

    The grisly slayings recalled the notorious “narco-satanicos” killings of the 1980s, when 15 bodies, many of them with signs of ritual sacrifice, were unearthed at a ranch outside the border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.

    While Saint Death has become the focus of a cult among drug traffickers and criminals in Mexico in recent years, there have been no confirmed cases of human sacrifices in Mexico to the scary-looking saint, which is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Worshippers usually offer candy, cigarettes and incense to the skeleton-statue.

    Mr. Larrinaga said the first of the three victims was apparently killed in 2009, the second in 2010 and the latest earlier this month. Investigations show signs of brutal ritual sacrifice.

    “The ritual was held at nighttime, they lit candles,” Mr. Larrinaga said. “They sliced open the victims' veins and, while they were still alive, they waited for them to bleed to death and collected the blood in a container.”

    Authorities began investigating after the last victim, 10-year-old Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez, was reported missing March 6 by his stepfather.

    Investigations led authorities to the altar site in the Sonora city of Nacozari, about 110 km south of Douglas, Arizona.

    Larrinaga said the arrests were made after tests by forensic experts on Thursday found blood traces spread over 30 square meters around the altar.

    Those arrested included Silvia Meraz, who Mr. Larrinaga said spread the blood around the altar, and her son Ramon Palacios, who allegedly killed the victims. The spokesman identified them as the leaders of the cult.

    Mr. Larrinaga initially gave The Associated Press the wrong name for the suspected male leader, saying it was Martin Barron Lopez. The spokesman later corrected the suspect to Palacios and said the name he wrongly gave out was that of the last victim's stepfather.

    Ms. Meraz answered questions to reporters when she was shown to news media Friday.

    “We all agreed to do it. Supposedly she was a witch or something,” she said, referring to the women victim. She did not respond to questions about the boys' killings.

    The other suspects, many of them relatives, included people ranging from a 15-year-old girl to a 44-year-old woman.

    The “narco-satanicos” killings of the 1980s were committed by a cult of drug traffickers who believed that ritual sacrifices would shield them from police. Victims of the cult, many of whose members are still in prison, included Mark Kilroy, a 21-year-old University of Texas pre-med student.

    The narco-satanicos have no connection to the Saint Death cult, which gained widespread popularity around the 2000, although the two share some similarities. Followers of Saint Death believe they gain protection by worshipping “Death.”


  5. Mexico's Own Satanic Panic

    By JOSEPH LAYCOCK, Religion Dispatches April 10, 2012

    In 1969, the murders committed by Charles Manson and his “family” convinced many that just under the surface of the hippie counterculture lurked a network of criminal Satanism. Every flower child in the country became a potential Manson, ready to commit an act of ritualistic violence in the name of a deviant spirituality—and Manson's legacy persisted through the Satanic Panic of the 80s, his name invoked as a reminder of the threat of devil-inspired crime.

    Mexico may have experienced its own “Manson moment” last month when eight devotees of “Santa Muerte” were arrested for the murder of three people, allegedly as human sacrifices. While the media has been fairly restrained in covering this event, these murders will likely have lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America. Like the Manson murders, the Santa Muerte murders present a concrete instance of violence that can be used to support much broader claims about the dangers of the religious and cultural Other.

    In Mexican folk tradition, Santa Muerte or “Saint Death” is portrayed as a skeletal woman, often wearing a white cloak or a wedding dress. She claims devotees among all walks of life, but her help is especially sought by the very poor as well as narcos or drug cartels.

    Spanish records suggest prayers were offered to Santa Muerte as early as the eighteenth century, but in the last ten years, devotion to Saint Death has grown exponentially, fueled in part by the fear and anxiety created by Mexico’s escalating drug wars. Gifts of flowers, candy, alcohol, and tobacco are often left at shrines to Santa Muerte. There have been rumors of human sacrifice only in the last few years and these have (until now) been unsubstantiated.

    On March 6, Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez, 10, was reported missing from the town of Nacozari, Mexico, near the Arizona border. Investigators discovered an altar to Santa Muerte and forensics revealed traces of blood spread over thirty square meters around the altar.

    On March 28, authorities searched the home of Silvia Meraz, whose house had already been under surveillance for suspected prostitution. Inside, they found the body of the missing child buried under the floorboards in the bedroom of one of Meraz’s daughters. Members of Meraz’s family then led authorities to two more graves. Here, they discovered the remains of Martin Rios, 10, who had been missing since July 2010, as well as Cleotilde Romero, 55, missing since 2009.

    All three victims were allegedly killed as offerings to Santa Muerte in exchange for supernatural aid and protection. The family has no apparent ties to drug cartels and it is unclear if anyone acted as the leader in organizing the murders.

    Catholic Church authorities have condemned devotion to Santa Muerte as diabolic. The Mexican government has destroyed shrines to Saint Death in an attempt to suppress narco culture. In the United States, “occult crime experts” have implied that Santa Muerte is linked to ritualistic violence. Awareness of Santa Muerte has also fused with anti-immigration sentiments, giving rise to fears of “criminal gangs motivated by bloodlust and kinky spiritualism.”

    Last month’s grisly discovery would seem to validate claims that Santa Muerte represents a dangerous criminal movement. But are the tragic deaths in Nacozari an index of future religious violence? Is everyone who wears Nike’s Santa Muerte sneakers a potential murderer?

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  6. continued from previous comment:

    In sociology, “convergence” refers to the linking of two disparate things, creating an unwarranted parallel between them. An isolated but critical event (like a murder) gets linked in the public mind to a widespread phenomenon (like an outsider religious movement). The result is moral panic.

    We're seeing evidence of this exact link in English-language news coverage of these murders.

    In court, Meraz claimed she had only been a follower of Santa Muerte for about two years; the beliefs of her group were not rooted in a larger tradition of devotion to Santa Muerte. Furthermore, everyone implicated in the murders is a member of the same family (one suspect is only 15).

    But the group has consistently been described as a “cult,” implying an organized religious movement. State police took this a step further by referring to Santa Muerte as a “Satanic sect.” (Devotees of Santa Muerte are not Satanists and many consider themselves to be Catholic.)

    Finally, an Associated Press article has compared these murders to those committed by Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, a cartel leader who practiced a variety of esoteric traditions. In 1989 a number of bodies were discovered at Constanzo’s ranch in Matamoros, Mexico, some of whom had apparently been killed as sacrifices. The Matamoros murders were themselves connected to Charles Manson by conspiracy theorists attempting to prove the existence of a vast network of criminal Satanism.

    The effect of all these connections is to mold specific incidents into a monolithic danger that spans across decades, national borders, and religious traditions.

    It goes without saying these murders are unconscionable, and a tragedy. But attempting to find a grand pattern, or a reason, in a connection to so-called ritualistic violence brings authorities no closer to preventing such crimes—while greatly increasing the likelihood that innocent people will be persecuted.

    It is almost a certainty that at some point in the future the events that have unfolded in Nacozari will be presented as “proof” that Santa Muerte is an inherently violent tradition. As Saint Death’s popularity spreads and the Latino American population continues to grow, this is not a theory we can afford to entertain.

    If we can accept that not all Beatles fans are Charles Manson, we must also have faith that not all who pray to Santa Muerte are Silvia Meraz.


  7. Incan child mummies show evidence of sacrificial rituals

    'Maiden' ingested large amounts of alcohol and coca just before she died.

    by Erika Check Hayden, Nature July 29, 2013

    The hair of three Incan mummies bears evidence that one of them used large amounts of coca and alcohol in the year before she died, which may have been fed to her as part of a ritual that led to her death.

    The children, who were found in 1999 near the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano in Argentina, probably died about 500 years ago in a sacrificial ritual known as capacocha. In the study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences1, researchers led by archaeologist Timothy Taylor of the University of Bradford, UK, used mass spectrometry to analyse variations in levels of chemical residues in the children’s hair in the months before their deaths.

    The researchers looked for by-products of the metabolization of coca and alcohol — both important in Andean culture and ritual — and found that all three children ingested both substances in the year before they died. But the eldest — a 13-year-old girl known as the Maiden — took much more of both substances than the younger children. The pattern of consumption suggests that a series of rituals preparing her for her fate began about a year before she was left to die on top of the 6,739-metre-high Llullaillaco.

    The levels of metabolites in her hair, for instance, increased about a year before her death and then shot up to very high levels about a month and a half before she died — her hair recorded the highest level of coca ever found in Andean archaeological remains, says John Verano, a biological anthropologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.

    “In the final stages of her life, we see a use of alcohol far beyond any exposure which she’d been used to, and a concurrent use of alcohol and coca that was very likely a means of sedating her,” says Andrew Wilson, a forensic scientist and archaeologist at the University of Bradford, and a co-author of the paper published today.

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  8. Social climbing

    The results are consistent with a previous study in which Taylor, Wilson and their colleagues showed2 that the Maiden’s diet probably changed to include more high-status foods — such as meat and maize — about a year before her death, suggesting that being singled out for sacrifice granted her an elevated social standing. In contrast, the two younger children found with her had less well-kept hair and were buried with artifacts that suggested that they did not attain the same high standing that she did.

    Together, these findings indicate that the Maiden may have been an aclla, a girl trained in weaving and brewing chicha — a maize beer — who might become a priestess or the wife of a politically important man. Acllas could also be marked for sacrifice, and this appears to have been the Maiden's fate. She may have been chosen for sacrifice around the time of her puberty and then led through a series of rituals during a months-long journey from the Incan capital of Cuzco to her final resting place.

    Other researchers say that although it was already known that these and other capacocha victims chewed coca leaves, Taylor and Wilson's study combines forensic techniques with archaeological knowledge to develop a complete picture of the children's activities leading up to their final sacrifices.

    By analysing a series of segments of hair rather than conducting a bulk analysis of it, the authors were able to “determine month-to-month consumption of these substances right up until the time of death”, Verano says.

    He adds that the findings also reflect the importance of having scientific access to ancient human remains, a matter which has been controversial with some indigenous populations.

    “It’s very important to allow scientific study of these remains, because techniques change every year, and this type of study couldn’t even have been done a couple of years ago,” says Verano.


  9. Why Bible Believers Have Such a Hard Time Getting Child Protection Right

    by Valerie Tarico, Away Point October 21, 2013

    Far too often, the news cycle includes a tragic story about a child dying because his or her parents applied religious teachings with too much vigor. The most recent victim, Hana Williams, was adopted from Ethiopia by Evangelical parents who believed that parenting required “breaking her will.” Stories like Hana’s provoke rounds of collective soul-searching: How did we miss the signs? What can we do differently to protect children better? But some people find those questions more threatening than the abuse itself.

    Mark Meadows is the congressman and Sunday school teacher from North Carolina who rallied the Tea Party to shut down government operations this month. His passion for blocking contraceptive access has been on national display. Less known is the fact that Meadows also leads a fight against rights and protections for children. He is the sponsor of a “parental rights amendment” that has 64 signers in congress.

    Or consider Scott Lively, the anti-gay preacher who recently announced that he is running for governor of Massachusetts. Mr.Lively is known internationally for fanning the sometimes lethal flames of homophobia in Uganda. But his admirers see him as more than a single-issue candidate. According to Tea Party enthusiast Brian Camenker, “He is principled, pro-family, pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, pro-2nd-amendment, pro-religion, pro-parents’ rights, and utterly fearless.”

    Conservatives Christians like Meadows and Lively oppose both national and international protections for children—including compulsory education–which they see as government overreach. Thanks to their advocacy, the United States is one of two nations (out of 193) that has failed to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. (We stand with Somalia!) They also oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities because it “replaces parental rights with the ‘best interest of the child’ standard.”

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  10. How did parent rights make it onto the Tea Party list along with God, guns, gays and gyne-politics? The kinds of fears expressed by parental rights advocates offer a clue. Among the horrors threatened should the U.N. treaty pass:

    “Parents could no longer spank their children. Children would have the legal right to choose their own religion. Parents would be permitted only to give advice. America would be under a binding legal obligation to massively increase its federal spending on children’s programs.”

    But underneath these fears lies a sense of parent entitlement. Parents have rights dammit, and children don’t. And to understand the roots of that attitude, one needs to look no farther than the Bible. Futurist Sara Robinson has pointed out that women in the Bible are actually possessions of men, protected (when they are) by property laws rather than civil rights laws. In this regard, women of the Iron Age fall into the same category with slaves, livestock–and children.

    Modern Christians like to depict children as the little lambs of Jesus, who is their Good Shepherd. Sunday school teachers sing, “Red and yellow, black and white/They are precious in his sight.” Preachers quote a verse from the book of Matthew which says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6NIV).

    But the broader theme of scripture is that a man’s children are his possessions, to be trained, traded and treated as he sees fit, even if it kills them. This concept of the child emerges in the Hebrew Tanakh, beginning with the book of Genesis, and continues into the Christian New Testament. Stories, commandments, legal codes, and theology are built on this premise and make sense only when we understand fatherhood to mean ownership. ....

    to read the rest of this article and the numerous links embedded in it go to:


  11. Human sacrifice helped ancient societies entrench class divide study suggests

    Discovery points to the 'darker role' of religion in evolution of modern civilization

    CBC News April 08, 2016

    Why did so many ancient societies around the world make human sacrifices to appease the gods? A new study supports the theory that the practice may have played a key role in keeping the poor downtrodden and the elites in power.

    And barbaric as it sounds, human sacrifice may have created one path for more advanced civilizations, according to the study.

    "Unpalatable as it might be, our results suggest that ritual killing helped humans transition from the small egalitarian groups of our ancestors, to the large stratified societies we live in today," concludes the study published this week in Nature.

    Anthropologists and archeologists had previously suggested that ritual human sacrifice might help build and sustain social class systems. Researchers at the University of Auckland, the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Victoria University, wanted to see if they could find evidence of that.

    They looked at 93 Austronesian cultures, which share similar languages and were spread across the South Pacific from Madagascar to Easter Island to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. About 40 of them practised some kind of ritual killing, including burning, drowning, strangulation, bludgeoning, burial, being cut to pieces, being crushed beneath a newly built canoe or being rolled off the roof of a house and decapitated.

    The researchers looked at the class divide or "social stratification" in each culture and found:

    About 25 per cent were egalitarian, without inherited wealth and status.

    About 50 per cent were "moderately" stratified, where wealth and status were inherited, but there was some movement between classes.

    The remaining quarter were highly stratified. "They had strict class systems and no matter how talented you were or how hard you worked, you couldn't do a lot about your social status," said Joseph Watts, the lead author of the new study.

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  12. Strict class systems linked to human sacrifice

    Watts and his colleagues found that ritual human sacrifice was relatively uncommon among egalitarian societies, with only about a quarter of them engaging in it.

    But the vast majority of highly stratified societies — about two-thirds — made human sacrifices to the gods.

    Typically, the victims were those of low social status, such as slaves, and those conducting the sacrifice were people of high status, such as chiefs or priests. Sometimes victims were sacrificed as punishment for violating social or religious rules. Other times, sacrifices were made in an effort to prevent or end natural disasters.

    "We know from accounts in these cultures that it was often those out of favour with the social elites who became the victims," said Watts, a PhD candidate in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, in an interview with CBC Radio's Quirks & Quarks.

    The sacrifices may have been used both to justify the position of chiefs and to intimidate their inferiors, Watts said.

    Class divisions aren't usually viewed in a positive light, especially by today's non-elites, the so-called "99 per cent."

    But Watts said social stratification is "a pretty important first step in the emergence of complex societies."

    "Are you saying that modern civilization is based on human sacrifice?" asked Bob McDonald, host of Quirks & Quarks.

    "Well, I'm not saying it's the only way humans were able to build social stratification, but it may have played an important role there, yes," Watts said.

    He noted, however, that human sacrifice is pretty rare in the modern world, suggesting that other ways to enforce class divides eventually replaced it.

    The new paper also makes a note about religion and the role it plays in the development of human civilization. It's generally been seen as a positive force, by increasing co-operation, for example.

    "Our findings suggest that religious rituals also played a darker role in the evolution of modern complex societies," the researchers wrote.


  13. From polygamy to incest - confronting the Old Testaments strange sexual standards

    by Jonathan Merritt | Religion News Service April 8, 2016

    One of the biggest hurdles to believing the Bible is the content of the first testament. Though many conservatives claim that the Christian scriptures teach only one model for marriage—one man and one woman for life—the truth is not so simple.

    A standard modern baseline for sexual contact among both believers and the non-religious—mutual consent—is never considered. Young women are coerced to marry or sold into marriage by their parents with regularity. The book of Numbers, for example, records God commanding Israelite soldiers to marry conquered virgins (while slaughtering everyone else, including children). And while polygamous and incestuous relationships are not explicitly celebrated, they are regulated by Israel’s God-given laws. The most prominent polygamous relationships are blessed by God with children and financial gain.

    These passages are deeply troubling, and despite the wishful thinking of some Christians, are difficult to reason away. But Dr. David Lamb does his best to contextualize and explain these matters in Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style. He holds degrees from Stanford and Oxford Universities and is professor of Old Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary.
    Here we discuss how he deals with the strange sexual standards found in much of the Bible.

    RNS: The ancient culture of the Old Testament world is much different than our own. Many people say that we can’t project our moral norms on an ancient culture, but that doesn’t rectify that the Old Testament records God commanding some pretty awful stuff.
    What role does culture play in interpreting these passages?

    DL: Culture plays a huge role in biblical interpretation. A person from the Old Testament would be shocked at how inhospitable most people are in the West. We don’t know our neighbors, and we don’t invite anyone who rings our doorbell to join us for a meal or stay overnight. When it comes to their expectations of hospitality, we would appear to them to be barbarians.

    We want our actions to be evaluated not based on ancient values of hospitality, but on how we treat people and love them in our own context. We need to do the same to the characters in the Old Testament. As we do our homework on culture, the problems in the Old Testament don’t disappear, but they become less problematic as we gain insight into why God does what he does.

    RNS: Abraham was a polygamist and David was an adulterer, murderer, and possible rapist. Yet the Bible calls these men “righteous.” What am I missing here?

    DL: Abraham and David were both deeply flawed individuals. Abraham lied to Pharaoh about his wife, Sarah, profiting handsomely as he traffics her and essentially serves as her pimp in Egypt. While most people think of David and Bathsheba’s relationship as a mutual affair, which would still be wrong, I think it was more like a power rape. We shouldn’t be shocked that the Bible tells stories of screwed up saints.

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  14. What made these four sinners righteous is what makes all of us sinners righteous—a humble declaration before God that we have done evil and need him to create a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within us.

    RNS: Abraham wasn’t the only polygamist. Jacob and Solomon and many other people that Christians revere were too. There is no condemnation of polygamy in the Old Testament, and in some cases it is encouraged. What is the Old Testament’s position on polygamy?

    DL: Scripture is clear from the beginning that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. But post-fall, non-ideal forms of marriage appear, and God worked within that system to help provide justice, particularly for the wives in situations where they might get exploited.

    The example of Jacob might help here. We may think polygamy was primarily for the benefit of the husband. But Jacob was looking for just one wife: Rachel. It was everyone else who wanted to give him more wives. His father-in-law gave him Leah, because he wanted her to have security. Then Rachel and Leah offered Jacob their maidservants as his concubines to produce more children.
    Because of their non-ideal polygamous family structure, Jacob’s family was plagued with conflicts, and yet God was still able to work through it, to bring good for the nation of Israel, and ultimately, for the world.

    RNS: Cain married his sister, and the Bible doesn’t come near condemning this. Actually, there was a good bit of this sort of thing happening. So what is the Bible’s position on incest exactly?

    DL: We’re not really sure who Cain married, but we do know Abraham married his half-sister, Jacob married two sisters, Isaac married his cousin, Moses’ father married his aunt. I could keep going, but I’ll stop. Yes, there’s a lot of incest in the Bible.
    But we need not to assume that just because the Bible records a behavior, it approves of it. An absence of condemnation does not constitute an affirmation. Eventually, incest is severely condemned, and most of the biblical examples of incest occur before the laws were given that condemn it in Leviticus 18 and 20.

    While incest may seem weird, something that only royal families have to worry about, tragically it occurs frequently today in contexts of sexual abuse. Many of the victims are children. Into incestuous contexts, both ancient and modern, God’s laws tell family members, mainly men, that members of your own family are off-limits, and the consequences will be severe.

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  15. RNS Some have argued that the Bible – all of it – presents only one model of marriage, sex, and family: “one man and one woman for life.” With the numerous pictures actually present in the text, this seems to be reductionistic if not dishonest. What say you?

    DL: In Prostitutes and Polygamists, I discuss the Bible’s many examples of sexual relationships beyond the “one man and one woman for life.” It also includes many examples of murder, but no one thinks these examples should be interpreted as exemplars. Just because the Bible records something doesn’t mean it’s endorsing it. It takes work to understand how these non-ideal examples are to be understood. While there is no explicit condemnation in the text, the gang rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19 is clearly meant to be viewed as horrifically evil.

    The laws that may seem to condone polygamy, don’t actually advocate for it, but merely legislate what to do when it happens. Polygamy was assumed. In ancient contexts of warfare, there could be far more women than men. Polygamy could provide security for some of the unmarried women. The Bible does have an ideal, and yet it still practically addressed the reality of a broken world.

    RNS: You note that words related to homosexuality are never used in the Old Testament, even though two verses mention it briefly. You add that the Old Testament is more concerned about the topic of goat-boiling than homosexuality. Do American Christians place more emphasis and weight on this topic than the Old Testament, in your opinion? What’s the remedy?

    DL: Some Christians emphasize homosexuality too much, thinking it’s the biggest sin. Others, too little, thinking it’s too controversial. The remedy? To focus on Sodom.

    If you ask people about Sodom, they’ll tell you it was destroyed by fire and brimstone for homosexual behavior since they wanted to gang rape Lot’s angelic visitors. However, readers of Prostitutes and Polygamists may be shocked to learn Sodom’s backstory.
    The biblical text never records the residents of Sodom performing homosexual acts, but it makes it clear they were guilty of injustice and inhospitality, and therefore deserved judgment. But beforehand, God was gracious toward Sodom—slow to anger, delivering them in battle, and warning the residents of the city to flee. Abraham even risked his life on two separate occasions for the residents of Sodom. Wouldn’t it be great if more Christians were like Abraham, risking their lives for people associated with the sins of Sodom?