Monday 22 April 2013

The next time Christians tell you the Bible bans gay marriage -- here's the ammo to shoot them down

Are you sick and tired of listening to opponents of gay marriage invoking the Bible as their justification? If you want to load up with ammunition to blow those arguments apart, I have the whole load for you, right here.

Quite recently I read the entire Bible straight through, all 1370 spine-tingling pages, from Genesis through to Revelation. I took copious notes as I went, pages and pages. One of the things I was watching out for, was the issue of GLBT and gay marriage, since opponents of gay marriage invoke the Bible so often. Here is some of what I learned:

  • Opponents of gay marriage are basing their arguments on Biblical texts that are not only dubious but also contradictory; also the alleged ban on gay marriage comes from a Jewish legal code that nobody ever really followed, and in fact the Torah didn't even exist as a body of law until most of the history of the ancient Israelites was already over.
  • The people who established Christianity decided openly that they never intended their followers to follow that Biblical code either.
  • The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality.
  • The first great king of the Jews was gay.
  • The Bible does not support marriage between one man and one woman – the men of the Bible overwhelmingly deserted their wives, or committed polygamy.  Genesis does say that God did pair one man with one woman, but only because God's first plan didn't work out -- one man and one animal. God's plan was actually...bestiality; it was Adam who held out until God gave up and gave him a woman.
  • The Bible cannot possibly be relied on as a guide for morality anyhow.
  • The Bible does not support the rest of today’s conservative agenda, either.
  • The Bible can’t be trusted as a source at all, which invalidates Torah law and the use of the Bible as a source and justification. Among other things, even Jesus didn’t claim he was divine and he did not intend to die for our sins, which makes it impossible for anyone to invoke Christianity to defend moral or political views, or anything else.
  • The people who built these religions – priests – purveyed a completely fabricated picture of the world, and took a number of other steps, with the single aim of controlling their flock of believers. The aim was control, not saving souls.

Yes, a lot of this sounds unbelievable. But all this stuff is based on the hundreds of notes I took straight from the Bible. I have sources for everything, and if you own a Bible, you have the sources too.

Read on!

The alleged ban on gay marriage comes from a legal code that nobody ever really followed...

First of all, the people who insist that the Bible condemns homosexuality put forward their argument based on two things. First, Leviticus, a book written by a group of anonymous Jewish priests in the centuries following the Bablyonian invasion of Israel, more than 2000 years ago. I will point out the obvious fact that no anonymous document written by an unknown committee can be claimed as divine revelation: nobody can demonstrate with any certainty where this material came from. So it wasn’t God who disliked the gays: it was this gaggle of priests who thought that gays were icky.

Second, the disciple Paul. Paul himself felt that gays were “wicked” and should be punished, but not long before he wrote that, before he converted, he felt that Christians were wicked and should be punished. So Paul is also a very slender reed to hang an argument onto, particularly since Paul is the same person who decreed that members of the Christian church didn’t need to follow Torah law, which we will address later in this article: in other words, opponents of gay marriage are basing their fight on Leviticus and on the guy who rejected Leviticus.

Also, whenever evangelicals holler about one-man-one-woman etc....Let’s take a closer look at Genesis. This is the passage which evangelicals quote, to back their argument for one-man-one-woman marriage.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. 

In other words, God’s original plan was not one man with one woman as man’s “partner”. It was one man with an animal as his “partner”.  If Adam had found that orangutan or that sheep to be real purty, women never would have been invented. God’s first plan was…bestiality, which makes it a bit hard to take his second plan quite so seriously, especially since one-man-one-woman wasn't really God's plan anyway -- Adam rejected God's animal plan and forced God to make a woman.

(The closest Jesus gets to addressing this, is when he says in Corinthians that men shouldn't really marry -- but that it's okay for them to marry after all, just so as to avoid the sexual temptation)

This whole story begins with the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, given to us by God, Moses, his brother Aaron, or Moses’ scribe, or some other anonymous early sources, depending on what you believe. Whoever wrote the Torah had a critical goal: to build a nation that was totally pure, undefiled by any faith other than Judaism. And they were willing to go to appalling lengths to get it. As early as Exodus, God decided that if the Israelites shared their country with any non-Jews – gentiles – they would be contaminated, and tempted into worshipping other gods. So he told the Jews to take the Holy Land by force and kill everyone there, and he would help them do it. In other words, genocide, ethnic cleansing. Apparently the Israelite march from Egypt to the Holy Land showed God the need for this: along the way the Jews met Moab women and worshipped Moabite gods; God was forced to kill 24,000 people to show them the error of their ways.

God made two exceptions to the slaughter: if the Jewish soldiers found virgins while they were slaughtering the locals, they could keep the young girls for themselves (Numbers 31), and if a far-off city at the edge of the Holy Land surrendered, the locals could be enslaved instead of killed. So presumably rape and slavery were considered merciful, because those folks weren’t killed outright.

Through Deuteronomy and into the book of Joshua (and later under King David), the Israelites allegedly marched to the promised land, and killed, and killed, and killed. All to ensure that God’s laws were kept perfectly, and that no other Gods were even heard of, since the faithful of all the other religions had been murdered. Historically, however, it never happened: it was a fable invented by the Jewish priests to show that keeping God’s people and his laws pure was so important, that it even justified genocide. The Jewish writers preferred that future generations see the Jews as mass murderers, rather than as people who tolerated what Hitler would call “racial pollution”. Ironic. The authors, either priests or scribes working on behalf of the priests, wanted to stress the critical importance of keeping the Jews away from any exposure to non-Torah gods or ideas.

This in fact is a key tenet of monotheism: keeping the believers away from all other religions. Throughout the Old Testament, the men of God warned the Jews: don’t even ask about other gods, and kill anyone who does – destroy their whole town if that’s what it takes. The warnings about false prophets peddling unauthorized beliefs, even under the guise of regular priesthood, were incessant. The priests warned about witches, about atheists, about idols. Saint Stephen said the Jewish priests went too far, even persecuting genuine prophets. Stephen’s Christian colleagues initially tolerated other Christian preachers, under the doctrine that anyone who wasn’t against them was for them, but later they too began warning about fake preachers pretending to be Christians: not only did they want monotheism, they wanted to manage the quality control of the product.

Back to the Old Testament, where the Israelites were “liberating” their land. As the Jews murdered and took over territory, they dutifully repeated the orders of God’s priests: don’t mix in with any other ethnic groups or their gods, kill anyone who doesn’t want Jehovah, don’t ever let gentiles into Jerusalem. But the agenda of the Jews didn’t coincide perfectly with Jehovah’s: although they were perfectly happy to invade Palestine, kill the locals and steal everything that wasn’t nailed down, they showed little interest in maintain religious purity. They didn’t even bother to drive out all of the indigenous Canaanites, which is where the trouble began.

The Jews, from the common man right up to the kings, began intermarrying with other ethnic groups, worshipping other gods, making idols, all in violation of Torah law. It was an endless cycle: a good king would clean out the temple and destroy all the idols, and then an evil king would come along, often marry a foreigner with foreign gods, and put the idols back. King Solomon himself married pagan women (with a harem of a thousand women he had to branch out); this helped contribute to the division of the kingdom, whereupon the kings of both the northern realm and the southern kingdom went pagan throughout their terrible 200-year tenure.

So the laws of God, written in the Torah, were never seriously kept by anybody, right from the beginning. One king built a temple for Baal. In Chronicles they simply rescheduled Passover because the temple wasn’t ready: imagine the fuss today if someone tried to reschedule Christmas! The holiday of Tu Bishvat was established in violation of the original interpretation of Torah law. Even Jehovah himself stretched his own rule on idolatry by giving instruction (in Ezekiel 5) for a process that sounds an awful lot like a voodoo curse, when he wasn’t violating thou-shalt-not-kill a few million times.

The Jews handled Torah law with a carelessness that bordered on contempt. In Samuel they brought the Ark of the Covenant right onto a battlefield, just for good luck: they lost both the battle and the ark. Apparently the victorious Philistines were more careful with the Ark than the Jews had ever been. Later there were attempts to hide the Ark, and apparently the Jews just lost track of it somehow. Much later, King Josiah’s servants were bumbling around in a storeroom and found copies of the original Torah texts: they were tremendously excited, and worried that they hadn’t been following the rules written therein for quite some time.

Not only have the Jews never been serious about interpreting all of the Bible literally – they have never even agreed on what the Bible means. For 2000 years their greatest religious minds have been arguing about what it all means, and writing commentaries about it. That’s how we ended up with the Talmud.

Torah law wasn’t respected any better in the New Testament. Jesus himself belittled the law, violated the law, and criticized the protectors of the law. And he didn’t obsess about faith in its traditional, Torah-authorized form either. He praised works more than other aspects of religion such as the law and faith, ridiculing those who pray but don’t follow up with action, and scribes who say long prayers and then snatch up the houses of widows. Right in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus insisted that faith -- professing belief in him -- was not the same thing as actually participating in the kingdom of God – i.e. making the world a better place. He told his disciples to ignore Torah law on fasting as long as he was with them, and said that it is what comes out of a man’s mouth, not what goes in it, which defiles. He contradicted the law’s decrees on divorce, talked a crowd out of fulfilling Torah law by stoning an adulteress, claimed that the law of circumcision was not mandated by Moses, and told  the tale of the prodigal son, whose brother – the one who followed the law closely – never got the big party that the sinner got. Jesus’s law was “love each other as I love you”, not “thou shalt not…”.

So despite the fact that Jesus showed deep and thorough knowledge of Torah law from a very early age, he violated Torah law all over the place, with the priests condemning his actions every step of the way. His very first miracle was putting wine into the water jars used for the Jewish rites of purification, which must have caught the attention of the priests. He was seen curing people and plucking grain on the Sabbath, violating laws on cleanliness, committing blasphemy, usurping God’s role in forgiving sinners. When he saw that merchants were at the temple selling doves for the religious sacrifices mandated by the law, he assembled a whip of cords, went to the temple, and trashed the place, hollering and yelling the whole time.

Not only did Jesus have little respect for Torah law, he had open contempt for the men upholding the law. Like John the Baptist who came before him, Jesus called the priests devils, criticized them for putting tradition ahead of God’s will, and said their temple would be destroyed. Jesus’ followers followed suit: they called the law imperfect, they called for obedience to God rather than human authorities such as priests, and they said that, contrary to the law governing the day of rest, “the Sabbath was made for mankind, not mankind made for the Sabbath”. Any notion that the Sabbath was made by God and for God was abandoned.

The priests themselves broke the law too. Even before Jesus came along, they were already fiddling with the rules regarding the priesthood itself. They bore false witness against Jesus. And sometimes the priests couldn’t even agree on what the law said: when they were trying to convict Paul in trial, they fell into a major disagreement on a religious question, thus delaying the proceedings.

People were questioning the notion that rigid adherence to Torah law was of paramount importance, even before Jesus came along. Isaiah claimed that God wanted Jews to focus on ending their sinning, rather than religious ceremonies; Isaiah quoted God to the effect that Jews worshipped him with their lips but not their hearts, and that they were merely following human rules, implying that the Torah was not divinely inspired. Jeremiah said that the important issues were not the laws and circumcision and the temple, but rather the way people acted and treated each other; Zechariah echoed the sentiment. Ezekiel compared the sinners of Jerusalem to a vine, pointing out that a tree is useful in itself, as firewood, even setting aside its fruits, but a vine must produce grapes to be useful – the important thing is not just what you are but what you do in the world.

As noted earlier, Jesus was no devoted adherent to Jewish law. In fact he resisted rigid literalism in any form. He felt that the crowds were not sharp enough to understand the coming kingdom of heaven in literal terms, so parables were needed. He kept the “decoded” version for the apostles, although sometimes he resorted to parables even with the apostles.

The apostles followed Jesus in moving beyond Jewish law toward active ministry. Peter warned that it was necessary to support faith with goodness, good behavior and good works; John proclaimed the new commandment, to love one another. James said that truly pure religion meant doing something – caring for the poor, the widows and orphans, and leading a good life. “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead…A person is justified by works and not by faith alone”.

Paul stressed the same themes in his address to the Romans. He said that just as the patriarchs before Moses were independent of the law (which hadn’t been written yet, at that time), after Jesus we are all discharged and set free from the law: it is pointless to judge people by what they eat, he argued, and Jews who keep the old law while ignoring Jesus won’t be saved. He made the same point to the Galatians: just as God’s covenant with Abraham predated the laws of Moses, after Jesus we could move beyond the law – Jews don’t even obey Jewish law, and clinging to the law cuts you off from Jesus. In fact many of Paul’s letters return to the same point: ignore Jewish laws on circumcision and food and sacrifice, since they are of human origin and cannot remove sin; the new covenant of Jesus cancelled the old covenant which was doomed to disappear.

As we recall, the first Jewish priests wanted to seal off the Israelites from all other cultures and religions, even to the point of murder. But after several centuries of interaction with neighboring cultures – war, trade, everything – that aim seemed silly and impractical. Jesus reached out not only to foreigners but to all sorts of undesirables: helping and curing Romans, Samaritans, Canaanites, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors. In Matthew he said that some gentiles would go to heaven while some Jews were left behind.

Fatefully, two key followers of Jesus, Peter and Paul, had to settle this notion of expanding the reach of the ministry, but luckily they got along well enough. Peter called Paul his brother and warned him that others were misinterpreting his words. This relationship symbolized the course of the early church: Peter planned to preach to the Jews while Paul went out to the gentiles; in fact Peter had to persuade the other disciples about the propriety of preaching to the gentiles. The sentiment of both men was that we are all God’s children, that gentiles are “fellow heirs” who will get the same mercy from God that Jewish converts do, and that Jesus had removed the wall dividing Jew and gentile so the two groups could be reconciled. This big-tent attitude applied also to preaching: although they were wary of false prophets, they also embraced outsiders who were purveying the message of Jesus honestly – whoever is not against us is for us.

This gentile outreach simply reinforced the notion that Jewish law would have to be abandoned: obscure laws which Jesus had abolished and which even Jews couldn’t keep up with, especially with regard to circumcision, would not be accepted by potential converts out there in Asia and Greece. James tossed out Jewish law and drafted a much shorter list of rule: avoid idols, fornication etc, and sent the rules out for the new churches. When Peter later began to backslide on this issue, avoiding meals with gentiles who weren’t observing Torah law, Paul called him out: if you’re a Jew living like a gentile, how can you tell gentiles to live like Jews? “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; but we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus.  And we have come to believe in Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.… For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”

This outreach to the gentiles needed to be counterbalanced with their efforts with the Jews: they continued their ministry in that society, but told the Jews that if they didn’t have Jesus, they didn’t have God, either.

Christians have been arguing since the beginning that Jesus, Peter and Paul were right – that we can’t use a literal interpretation and application of all Old-Testament law. That theory is called supersessionism, the belief that when Jesus arrived and gave his laws to us, he not only fulfilled Old-Testament law but also nullified that law. Most Christian schools of thought agree that at least some Mosaic law is no longer valid. The church that Jesus’ disciples built – the Catholic Church – took that stance, as did some of its key philosophers, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The Calvinists followed suit and so did the Church of England (the Anglicans and Episcopalians); likewise supporters of dispensationalism and New Covenant Theology.

The new pope has affirmed that, as long as you are doing good things in this world, you don’t need to believe in god at all, to be redeemed, because Jesus saved even the atheists, with his sacrifice. The pope’s adherents point to the first epistle to Timothy, in which Paul said that Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all of us. Atheists are also “saved”. So just as the first founders of Christianity said that following “God’s law” was not necessary, the new leadership asserts that even belief is optional, as long as you’re doing good. The pope's spokesman is now backpedalling but hey, the Church says the pope is infallible, right? So he couldn't have been wrong!

Even the authors of the Gospel of John – the ones who truly pushed the idea that one must be on Team Jesus to be saved – admitted that wasn’t really the case. Here’s John 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this fold.

I have other sheep that are not of this fold. The gospel is saying the same thing the Pope said – you don’t even need to be part of Jesus’ flock to be saved. 

The point being that nobody, not the Old Testament Jews, not the New Testament Christians, not Jesus himself, and not the disciples who set up the Christian church, upheld Torah law. So anyone insisting that the Torah forbids 21st-century gays and lesbians from marrying, is adhering to the law more minutely than the original practitioners ever did, and defying the will of the founders of Christianity. And the Church. And the current pope.

Citations directly from the Bible, showing that the founders of Christianity did not expect us to follow Torah law…

Here are instances in which Jesus made clear that the laws of the Torah (which includes the ban on homosexuality) were no longer valid.

·         John 2, Jesus’ first miracle is putting wine into the water jars for the Jewish rites of purification. A major violation.
·         Matthew 12, the priests criticize Jesus for plucking grain on the Sabbath; Jesus says that David did it too.
·         John 7, Jesus says that the circumcision law came from the patriarchs, not Moses.
·         Mark 10, Jesus contradicts Torah law on divorce.
·         John 8, Jesus talks a crowd out of carrying out Torah law on stoning an adulteress.
·         Mark 12, a scribe tells Jesus the loving God and loving your neighbor are “much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus replies “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
·         Luke 6, priests criticize Jesus for curing people on the Sabbath.
·         Luke 15, according to Jesus, the son who obeys the law doesn’t get the big celebration from his father – his brother, the sinner, gets the big party.
·         Mark 2, on breaking the Sabbath rules – “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”

And here are the instances in which the founders of Christianity said explicitly that Torah law, including the ban on homosexuality, was no longer in force.

·         Acts: Peter cancels the law on circumcision, and James replaces Torah law with a much shorter list of rules for all Christians.
·         Romans 2, Paul says that Christians don’t need to obey Torah law; Romans 4, blessedness is independent of the law; the acts of the patriarchs before Moses were independent of the law; Romans 7, we are now discharged from the law; Romans 8, we are set free from the law; both Jews and Gentiles who ignore the law will receive God’s glory; Romans 10, Christ is the end of the law; Romans 11, Israelites who keep the law but don’t embrace Jesus won’t be saved.
·         1 Corinthians 6, Paul shows the difference between what is lawful and what is beneficial; chapter 7, circumcision is irrelevant; chapter 8, food laws are irrelevant; chapter 9, I am not under the law. And 2 Corinthians 3, Jesus has overturned Moses.
·         Galatians, Paul criticizes Peter when Peter temporarily shuns those who are not following the law – “a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.… For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.”
·         Galatians 3, “Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish?... Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law…. Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.”
·         Galatians 5, “Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace…. I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!...For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.”
·         Galatians 6, Paul says that even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.
·         Collossians 2, Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”?  All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.
·         Ephesians 2, Christ has abolished the law; chapter 3, we now know that the gentiles who don’t follow the law are fellow heirs.
·         Hebrews, the death of Jesus erases the old covenant; chapter 8, in bringing a new covenant he has made the old one obsolete; chapter 10, it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
·         John – we are all God’s children. Mark 9, whoever is not against us is for us.

History says the Jews didn’t even have the Torah law yet, when God was supposedly punishing them for violating it...

Keep in mind, that when we say the Israelites never really adhered to Torah law, that is according to what we read in the Bible. According to what we know from history, the ancient Israelites couldn’t have adhered to Torah law, because most of the Torah hadn’t even been written yet.

The Biblical account says that God had passed his laws to the Jews in the form of the Torah by the time the Jews reached the holy land, as Moses was handing the torch to Joshua. Then the Jews violated those laws under a few centuries of judges, and again under four centuries of kings, until finally God lost patience and allowed the Jews to be conquered by the Babylonians.

But that’s not what really happened, in history. During the era of the judges, the Torah had not been written yet. While Solomon was on the throne, the first versions of Genesis and Numbers were being written; during the reign of one of the later kings, Josiah, work began on Deuteronomy – by that time, most of the history of the Israelites, as told in the Bible, was already over. After the Jews were taken to exile in Babylon, they finished Deuteronomy and began Exodus. Afterward, during the Persian period, they finished Numbers as well as Leviticus, the book that is most involved in God’s laws.

In other words, by the time the Jews actually had Torah law in their hands, most of those sinning judges and kings were dead, so God could not possibly have been punishing the Israelites for violating those laws. The entire theme of the Old Testament, God’s wrath against the Israelites for violating his laws, was a fiction, a fake. A bunch of priests had the inspiring idea of telling fellow Jews – “Gee, if only our ancestors had listened to their priests, we’d still have a kingdom. So maybe you guys need to listen to us and obey us: then God will take care of us.” The Jews agreed – and then God let their nation be invaded and destroyed yet again.

So even if we accept the Biblical account, the Israelites ignored God’s law for centuries; but if we use the historical account, the Israelites didn’t even have the Torah until their kingdoms had already been destroyed.

And by the way, where did Moses supposedly get the commandments? In Exodus, it's Mount Sinai. In Deuteronomy, it's Mount Horeb. And even today scholars are arguing about where both of these places are.

The Jews tried to destroy Paul because he proclaimed it was no longer necessary to follow Biblical law...

Let’s look at the relationship between Jews and the gentiles all around them – keeping in mind that Jesus and all the apostles, including Paul, were also Jewish. These two communities, and the efforts by the early Christians to get along with both worlds, will become important later.

The authors of the New Testament had mixed feelings about the Jews, and it is difficult to drill down to the truth regarding the role of the Jews in first-century events. For example, when we are told that the Jews were trying to have Jesus convicted, is this fact, anti-Semitic fiction, or a confused mix involving Jewish priests impelling other Jews to seek Jesus’ punishment?

What seems to be clear is that Paul, whose name is (sometimes erroneously) on many books of the New Testament and who influenced the writings of Luke as well, didn’t get along with the Jews, surprising for a former Pharisee. He was a devoted citizen of the Roman empire and chose to blame the Jews, not the Romans, for Jesus’ death. This is despite the fact that crucifixion is absolutely a Roman form of punishment, possibly doled out because Jesus frightened the Romans and their thug-like governor with a “triumphal” entry into Jerusalem, attended by huge crowds, during Passover when big dangerous crowds were rolling into the city. Throughout Acts, Paul’s friend Luke accuses the Jews of stirring up crowds against Paul, plotting to have him arrested or killed, following him around, interfering with his ministry. Paul even had a friend circumcised because he was afraid the Jews would attack him otherwise.

Not all Jews were hostile to Paul. Paul insisted that he be put on trial in Rome rather than in a Jewish tribunal, but the Jewish king, far from being hostile, said “this man could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to the emperor”. And when Paul arrived at Rome, the Jews there, far from seeking his blood, had apparently never heard of him. After hearing his story, some of the Jews there sympathized with him. It was his friends the Romans who beheaded him.

But it is virtually certain that a key reason for the hatred of the Jews toward Paul, was because he preached that it was no longer necessary to obey Jewish Law anymore. He told the Jewish community and the Christians as well: stop obeying the Torah. And of course a key part of the Torah is obeying the priests and giving them lots of offerings. No wonder the Jewish priests whipped up the Jews to try and kill him. And that law which Paul rejected, includes the original ban on homosexuality: Paul, who as much as anyone else was founder of the Christian church, told Christians for all time that that body of laws was no longer valid, so the bans on things like homosexuality were no longer in force, as we discussed in the previous section. Paul still disapproved of gays, but was not concerned about any violation of the law.

Incidentally, the relationship between the Romans and the Jews was also complicated. During the trial of Jesus, the local Jews allegedly played the empire card against him, claiming Jesus had violated Roman law, but Pilate didn’t buy it and neither did the centurion who crucified him. The tension between the Jews and their Roman occupiers eventually erupted into civil unrest which went very badly for the Jews.

The author of Revelation apparently had an anti-Roman bent. Anti-Roman sentiments had of course surfaced earlier in the story of the Bible: in the book of Luke Jesus implied, right on his way to Golgotha, that Roman-ruled Jerusalem would soon see chaos and destruction. In Revelation the hints become more broad: Rome was characterized as the whore of Babylon, a reference to the great city that tormented the Jews before Rome did the same – Rome, the city that ruled over the kings of the earth, destined to be conquered by the risen Messiah. Revelation describes the deliverance of the faithful, by Jesus, from the clutches of Satan, but the subtext also refers to deliverance from the Romans. Deliverance which, like many biblical prophecies, never materialized. 

Some odd things happened when Paul ventured out among the gentiles to preach. When he healed someone in Lystra, the locals deemed him and his companion to be Zeus and Hermes, whereupon the angry local Jews almost got Paul lynched. Paul had to flee Ephesus because of smiths who were angry that the Christian faith was cutting into their trade in making pagan idols. When he was shipwrecked on Malta and bitten by a snake, a sailor insisted he must be a murderer facing divine justice, but when Paul stubbornly didn’t die, they proclaimed him a god. In Ephesus again, Paul and Priscilla found a whole group of people who professed to be Christians but only knew the story of the Jews and Christians up to the point where John the Baptist came onto the scene – nothing after that. Paul and Priscilla had to sit them down and explain that there was another guy who came along after John who was kind of important to the whole Christian scheme of things. But Paul never wavered in his resolve that the way forward for Christianity was to abandon Jewish law so that gentiles across the empire could be converted.

According to Acts, the Holy Spirit told the disciples not to preach in Asia, which to them meant Turkey. In retrospect it’s not hard to see why: according to legend, no less than seven of the twelve apostles were killed in the region stretching from Turkey over into the adjacent areas such as Armenia, and an eighth apostle went as far as India before being killed there. So two thirds of the Big Twelve got killed, not because they preached to the Romans, Greeks and Jews, but because they headed toward the east.

The sin of Sodom was not homosexuality...

Just because the label “sodomy” was slapped on gay sex by (ironically) the Greeks, doesn’t mean the Bible actually says that. According to the Big Book (Genesis, Isaiah, Ezekiel), the city of Sodom was punished for mistreating foreigners and the poor, not gay sex. 

The first great king of the Bible was gay ...

David, future king of the Jews, and his pal Jonathan “became one”. Jonathan loved David as he loved himself; the two men made a covenant together; Jonathan took off his clothes and gave them to David; he made David swear he loved him, and defied his father because of David, the father thinking the relationship shameful; they shared a love surpassing the love of women; they had secret meetings, kissed and wept. During this time David kept himself from women, although later he did his kingly duty and married so he could produce princes (which turned out badly). So….these two lads made a covenant? What sort of covenant do people make when they love each other? Round these parts they call it “marriage”. Just as it says in Corinthians: “However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.” In other words, you were Born That Way. Made That Way By God.

The Bible does not support marriage between one man and one woman...

The Bible calls for one-man-one-woman marriage? Not even close. Most of the patriarchs in the Old Testament practiced polygamy, and in Ezra the Jews were forced up break up many of their one-man-one-woman marriages, and even give up their children, if their wives were foreign-born. Not only weren’t they marrying one to one, they were going quite a long way to break up existing one-on-one marriages.

Jesus went even further: he actively rejected the concept of family, saying his real family consisted of those who carry out the word of God – in Luke he even said that no one could be his disciple unless they turned their backs on their families. He encouraged the disciples to abandon their families to go preach. Throughout the gospels the refrain continues: people who abandon their families go to heaven, so don’t even say goodbye before abandoning them. And that is exactly what the disciples did: a huge proportion of them abandoned their wives to go preach, so much so that eleven of the original twelve apostles were killed while preaching.

Apparently the epidemic of disciples leaving their wives to go preach, and then getting killed off in the process, was so widespread that their widows needed feeding, which led in turn to the ministry of Stephen, which led in turn to the ministry of Paul and the establishment of the churches across the empire. In other words, if Jesus had really been a one-man-one-woman-marriage kind of guy, the Christian Church probably wouldn’t have been built at all.

Apparently the sentiment about leaving your family behind was driven by the belief that Jesus was going to return and establish God’s kingdom on earth any day now, and that marriage would no longer be relevant since all of the faithful would be heading off to heaven, souls only. Later on, of course, when The Return didn’t happen as expected, the church leaders changed tack: they even said bishops and deacons could marry (which the Catholics later reversed).

So, as we noted earlier, God's first plan was not one man one woman.  It was bestiality. And then polygamy and desertion.

You can’t use an immoral book like the Bible as a moral guide anyway...

Using the Bible as a moral guide is a dubious prospect because there is so much immorality and appalling behavior therein. When the Jews were preparing their first great religious movement, from Egypt to the Holy Land, God allegedly told them to steal the Egyptian gold and silver on their way out the door. As soon as the Jews reached the promised land, they instituted genocide, slavery and mass rape (although Deuteronomy bans murder for hire). Solomon’s holy of holies, the temple, was built with slave labor. Elisha watched as bears killed children who had mocked his bald head; then God sent lions to kill Samaritan settlers who didn’t believe in him.

And the most immoral of all were God’s own patriarchs and prophets. Abraham “heard voices” and almost killed his son, before marrying his half-sister, and handing his wife off to be raped. Lot offered his daughters to be raped. Jacob deceived both his father and brother for personal gain. Rachel was a thief. Moses’ first public act was killing an Egyptian. Joshua sent his troops into the Holy Land and their first act there – the culmination and reward for forty years’ wandering -- was to spend the night in a whorehouse. Solomon married hundreds of women, in violation of Deuteronomy. David arranged for a romantic rival to be killed, and shed crocodile tears over the killings of other enemies; one of his sons raped his sister and another tried to overthrow his father. Ahab tried to disguise himself in battle to save his life. Joseph intended to abandon his pregnant “virgin” wife.

Incidentally the kings of the Holy Land were not only a wild bunch, they were truly erratic in making policy. They regularly made dubious political alliances in the quest for safety – Solomon even married the Pharaoh’s daughter. They enacted punishing taxes which backfired. A number of times they threw policy to the winds in dangerous times and simply trusted in God to protect the entire nation. Hezekiah showed a visiting Babylonian his vast rich storehouses, practically begging Israel’s eastern neighbors to invade and steal everything. They did not offer an example for people to follow.

Using the Bible as a moral code must be particularly difficult for women. Following on the model of Eve, men of the Holy Land equated women with temptation, and compared idolatry to prostitution; Zechariah said wickedness has a woman’s face. And women bore the brunt of the brutality in the Old Testament: mass murder and rape, stoning for real or imagined sexual offenses, men twice offering their daughters to be raped, the mass kidnapping of wives in Judges. Exodus gives detailed rules for men who want to sell their daughters into slavery. In Ezekiel, God wants to illustrate how Jews should mourn the loss of Jerusalem, and he illustrates it by striking Ezekiel’s wife dead on the spot. One bright spot is Habakkuk, who condemns date rape. The disciples were also completely old-school regarding women and their obligation to obey their husbands, like the Old Testament was; they also were very serious about women not braiding their hair for some reason. Anyone who thinks the Bible can be relied on as a moral code on issues such as homosexuality, needs to look at how women were seen and treated.

And yet even the rigidly patriarchal leaders of Israel couldn’t hide the fact that women were key players in the Holy Land, and rather ballsy. Queen Athalia, who ruled as regent and killed off rather a lot of potential male rivals; Phebe, whom the misogynistic Paul entrusted with his all-important message to Rome; Priscilla, Paul’s travelling companion and probably the real author of the Epistle to the Hebrews; Judith, who saved the Jews by sneaking into the enemy camp, getting the Assyrian leader drunk, beheading him, and then bringing back the head, just to show off (great story). Proverbs 31, calling for strong assertive women -- wonder who wrote that one?

And of course Mary Magdalene, queen of many myths. I always wondered why the resurrected Jesus allegedly first appeared to women, who were less likely to be believed? That episode injects some unexpected humor at the end of the last Gospel: Mary discovers Jesus in the graveyard and, not recognizing him, takes him to be the gardener. There is a school of thought indicating that Mary was Jesus’ true right-hand man in his ministry.

So perhaps a woman could use the Bible as a model – by embracing the women who broke the Bible’s rules.

The Bible does not support the rest of the conservative agenda, either...

The right wing folks wave around the Bible so much, that you would figure that the Big Book supports their beliefs and their preferred way of life. You would be wrong.

The NRA wants us all to have guns so we can kill a burglar – God’s on their side, right? Nope. Book of Exodus, you can’t even attack a burglar if you can see him.

God hates abortion, right? Nope. Numbers 5, it actually prescribes abortion, and in Kings an Israelite army attacks a town and rips open all the pregnant women.

God loves people who watch over the godliness of others, right? Nope. James, judge not….

God’s with the far right on watching out for the colored people, right? Nope. Book of Numbers: Moses, founder of the faith, married an African. When Miriam criticized Moses for it, God punished her.

God was with the far right on invading Iraq, right? Nope. Three different prophets called for bending our swords into plowshares and ending the study of warfare.

But God told Bush to invade Iraq, just as he sends Pat Robertson messages about the Rapture in the Middle East, right? Nope. Sermon on the Mount: beware of those who claim to receive messages from God.

God loves the tea party and hates government, right? Not even close. Exodus, don’t follow the crowd in doing something stupid. Four different books of the Bible say respect the leader, obey the government, pay your taxes. Samuel, respect the people who protect us; Sirach and Timothy, take care of our veterans and their wives. And for all those Republicans sucking from the NRA’s teat: Exodus, take no bribes.

God is on the side of all those people who hate Mexicans and immigration, right? Nope. The Bible says over and over: you Israelites were foreigners yourselves in Egypt, so treat foreigners right, as you would treat natives, make sure they have food, don’t take advantage of them. These edicts run from the Torah right up through Jeremiah and the other prophets.

God loves Fox News, I’m sure…? Nope. Exodus, do not spread false reports. Leviticus, no slander. Timothy, avoid “stupid and senseless controversies”, and also argumentative fools. Matthew, condemns people who criticize no matter what – “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; Jesus came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!”

Actually Proverbs describes the things God hates most, and it fits the Fox people and their fans in government so perfectly I think Solomon must have had cable: “There are things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.”

God loves the rich, right? Nope. James laughed at the people who fawn over the rich and ignore the poor – “isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court?” Timothy addressed the link between money and evil. Luke, doom for those who are dishonest with money; Habakkuk, doom for those who build their houses with unjust gain; Leviticus, doom for the people who acquire real estate dishonestly; Nahum, we have too many businessmen; Matthew, the rich cannot enter heaven.

And James again: “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.”

God despises the poor, they’re all lazy, right? Nope. Thirteen different books in the Bible, especially Proverbs, call on us all to feed and protect the poor, forgive debts, be fair to them; lend even to the people who can’t pay you back. Doom for people who hurt the poor, ignore their cries for help, mock them, exploit them, oppress them. Ecclesiastes, everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. Or as Grandpa Sycamore and Yoko Ono said, you can’t take it with you when you go. Ezekiel, the shepherd must take care of the flock rather than just living off of them. It was mistreating the poor, and travelers, that got Sodom in trouble. And of course Jesus was mostly homeless: “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” He and his disciples gave away all their goods, shared what they had in common like Marxists, lived on charity, slept rough.

The Bible can’t be trusted as a source...

There are too many dubious passages in the gospels to take them seriously as history. First, they were all written long after Jesus’ death, by persons unknown; at least Luke was frank enough to point out that his gospel was not an eye-witness account. And there were many crude amendments introduced into the Bible. They rejiggered the story of Jesus’ life to fit earlier prophecies regarding the Messiah, thus bolstering his claim to be the savior and making it easier to convert Jews who remembered those prophecies; Jesus himself claimed that Moses had written about him. They purported that Jesus said he was going off to his own arrest and execution so he could redeem sinners , even though at other times he is clearly trying to stay alive and safe. They referred in the gospels to people “taking up the cross”, which would have been meaningless before Jesus’ execution. They cobbled together a completely unbelievable tale of Jesus ascending into heaven from Jerusalem, which the local Jews would have noticed (flying up into outer space above the earth, which as we know from NASA does not contain heaven); the Gospel of Mark has a crudely added postscript which tacks on Jesus’ ascension and other miracles. They added the story of Mary being a virgin, but they also mention that Jesus had four brothers and a lot of sisters: were they all divinely created as Jesus was, or was Mary not a virgin after all? They inserted a number of supernatural instructions in self-proclaimed “visions”. They added obvious inaccuracies about the Emperor Augustus demanding that everyone return to their birthplace for the census. They purported that Judas’ fall from grace was preordained. They concocted King Herod’s massacre of the innocents, which never happened. The first three gospels repeat a lot of the same material and seem to be borrowed from some earlier document which has never been available to us (historians call it the Q document). If these people were operating in our century, they undoubtedly would have Photoshopped Jesus too.

Such glaring errors and crude edits occur elsewhere in the Bible also, of course. Genesis gives two different accounts of the creation. Someone inserted allusions to Alexander into the book of Daniel which preceded Alexander by a long way. The book of Esther shows very crude changes: you can’t even read it coherently unless you read Addition A, then chapters 1 through 3, then Addition  B, etc.

The authorship of many books is in dispute. Several books, such as Peter’s epistle, refer to the death of the purported author. Many of Paul’s epistles were written by someone else. The scholars who originally assembled the Hebrew Bible had no interest in the actual authorship of the books: they just picked the books which seemed sacred to them, and Catholic leaders followed that pattern centuries later. This raises a key point: how can we believe these books are divine revelation when we don’t even know how they got here? Are we just relying on the opinions of ancient priests who used standards of research that the modern world would laugh at?

Most importantly: the first main story of the history of the Jews, the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and the trip across Sinai – never happened. Totally made up. And that means that Moses’ trip to Sinai and the revelation of the commandments – also made up. And that means that the rest of the laws in the Torah, including the ban on homosexuality weren’t “divine revelation” either – priests made it all up. It wasn’t divine revelation.

Another reason to mistrust the New Testament is that the whole thing leads up to a predicted Apocalypse which they all expected, which didn’t come. Readers of the New Testament understandably focus so much on the key tenet of the faith, the role of Jesus as redeemer, that they often fail to appreciate the other tenet that many of the disciples held: the notion that Jesus’ rule over earth was coming any day. Jesus said the kingdom of Jerusalem would come within their lifetimes, so the faithful needed to get ready and get right with the Lord, even if their families suffered in the process. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die, and live on in some sort of spiritual form. Jesus pointed out that his old recommendation, that the disciples go out without a purse of money, was no longer valid, now that the final crisis was coming: take a purse and a sword both, he said.

Before the coming of the kingdom, they predicted, hard times would ensue: wars, earthquakes, plagues, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the betrayal and persecution of the faithful, the rise of an evil one claiming to be God (just as many Roman emperors did) and ruling most of the world (ditto), plenty of sin, until Jesus conquered all and then raised the dead Christians back to life. As the disciples aged, they must have wondered when The Day was coming. In the end, the destructive part of the story came true, but the second coming of Jesus, not so much.

The Book of Revelation almost didn’t make it into the Bible, and no wonder: it is a wild, hallucinatory vision, going much further than even the wildest Old Testament prophets like Zechariah ever did. Animals with multiple heads, staggering plagues and disasters killing almost all of mankind (except the believers), a vision of God on his throne, an angel fighting a dragon, war with Satan, the horsemen of fate, a thousand-year hiatus before the war resumes with Satan, and then Jesus the triumphant ruler, as the holy city descends from heaven down to Jerusalem.

Even Jesus didn’t claim he was divine...

Let’s take a quick detour and look at two misconceptions about the New Testament.
In the first three gospels, Jesus accepts very vague titles that don’t really mean anything – son of Man, son of God, son of David. In Luke Jesus refused to put himself on the same plane with the Holy Spirit and specified that he was not God; in Luke it is also made clear that “son of God” merely means “descendant”. Likewise Jesus challenged the idea that the “son of David” was God. At one point he accepted the loose title “messiah” which simply means savior, which can denote a lot of things, but in Mark he didn’t even want to be called that. Under scrutiny from the Pharisees, he refused to even admit that he was acting on God’s authority. Mark’s mentor Peter admitted that Jesus died in the flesh and lived afterward only in spirit, which sounds to me as though Peter was admitting that Jesus was completely mortal like the rest of us, and that the notion of him rising from the dead, saying howdy to his friends, eating a bit of fish and then flying into the sky, was a bit of a stretch.

Then came the Gospel of John. No one really knows who wrote this book, but it came along much later than the other gospels, about seventy years after Jesus’ death. In John, the claims for Jesus get a little broader, but still vague: depending on who is doing the translating, the book calls Jesus god’s only son, the light of the world, bringing God’s commandment as a prophet would do, a lord, a teacher, less than his father. In places, “John” quotes Jesus as very assertive, claiming authority over all people and insisting that people could only reach God by obeying Jesus; “John” claims Jesus saved us by cleansing our sins so we could seek eternal life. Elsewhere in the gospel, however, Jesus said that God the father was the divine one, and even his own brothers didn’t believe he was God. And “John” admitted that when Jesus made his claim about eating his body and drinking his blood, a lot of disciples didn’t believe it and, freaking out, left Jesus. And remember that this gospel is essentially anonymous anyway, and that its more impressive claims about Jesus’ divinity were not substantiated by people who were actually there when Jesus was preaching.

Paul, who never even met Jesus (unless we’re counting the visitation on the road to Damascus), went further. Paul focused on Jesus as savior, stating that Jesus wiped away our sins and mediated for us so we could reconcile with God the loving father, and be saved, reborn and justified for all time, if we believed – a role which a mortal could play. But Paul also called Jesus the firstborn of all creation, with the form of God and equality with God, above Moses and the angels, ruling forever. This is the closest the Bible comes to promoting Jesus to the role of God – from a man who never met him, after 80-90 percent of the story of the Bible is over.

This is a quick illustration, to show that the Bible doesn’t necessarily means what you think it does. Here’s another illustration below.

Jesus did not really intend to die for our sins...

Jesus had a few anger issues. He was constantly bickering with the priests, he told the whole town of Capernaum to go to hell, he used his Jesus Powers to kill a fig tree for no sensible reason, and of course he trashed the temple in a fit of rage, a key factor in his execution. Perhaps Jesus was angry because, at least according to the gospels, he was regularly in danger. Like John before him and Paul after him, mobs and priests regularly tried to attack him. In his own hometown the locals tried to throw him off a cliff.

Notwithstanding the doctrinal belief that Jesus fully intended to be executed in accordance with God’s will, Jesus went to great lengths to stay alive: he fled from scary crowds, he ran away to Galilee when he heard of John the Baptist’s execution and then again when the priests tried to kill him, he tried to avoid his destiny in the garden of Gethsemane, he played word games with Caiaphas and Pilate to avoid execution, and then on the cross he complained that God had forgotten him. If Jesus had really intended to be martyred, he would have walked right into Jerusalem and blasphemed right in front of Caiaphas and Pilate: there would have been no need to hire a spy for thirty pieces of silver, to smoke him out.

Or perhaps Jesus’ anger stemmed from post-traumatic stress. When he was a child, on a road trip with his family, he wandered off to preach in the temple. His parents left unwittingly him there and spent a day travelling back toward home, before they realized he was missing. The future Messiah was….misplaced by the Virgin Mary.

So if Jesus wasn’t really divine, and didn’t really die for our sins….what is left of Christianity?

Priests portrayed Jehovah as a murderous psychopath, so they could “protect” their flock from him, for a price...

Let’s read through the Bible and look at the main character, Jehovah. According to the prophets, he came out of the southern Arabian desert, from Yemen or Mecca, a long way away from Eden which was in Iraq. He brought with him another fascinating character, Satan (the name Lucifer appears nowhere in the Bible); the versatile demon begins as Lord’s loyal friend, and at various times serves as tempter, arguer, enemy, grave-robber (he fought with the angel Michael over the body of Moses for some reason), and “product-tester”, test-driving Jehovah’s product line of humans to see what they would do under stress.

The picture of God that emerges is that of a complete psychopath. Jehovah was a being that was so full of hate, even for his most treasured “chosen people”, that he could scarcely be restrained from killing large numbers of innocent people at one swoop. In Genesis 6, barely one-tenth of the way through the first book of the Bible, Jehovah had already gotten thoroughly sick of his absurd little experiment with his beloved Adam and his progeny. He limited the lifespans of men, and then got fed up and decided to kill off all of mankind except a tiny handful. Then, because he was truly in a foul temper, he killed off almost all the animals too – what did they do wrong? Kill the people, “and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” He later repeated this feat by killing all the first-born animals in Egypt while he was also slaughtering the first-born human babies.

Killing off almost all the human race in the flood didn’t cool his hate for mankind. Even as the flood was subsiding, and the only humans left were the tiny group he had chosen as the very best, God grumbled that “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood”. As the Jews fled Egypt, God told them that an angel, rather than Jehovah himself, would lead them forward, because he hated them so much that if he went with them, he would become angry and kill them – then in the very next chapter he described himself as slow to anger.

Just before Jehovah killed Moses, he did yet another terrible thing. He told Moses that the Jews were going to offend him and he was going to have to start killing them again. And he forced Moses to sing a sort of prophetic song to the Jews about how God was going to punish them for straying, almost as a taunt to the wandering, suffering Israelites. Then Moses, possibly fed up because he knew God was about to kill him anyway, responded to God’s song by blessing the tribes, almost as a refutation of God’s musical taunt.
Through the Old Testament Jehovah made his hate for his people clear: he promised to kill two-thirds of them (and then all of them); he promised to make them eat their children and their parents. He begrudgingly said that after he caused the Jews to suffer yet again for decades, in exile, he would let them return home – not because they deserved it, but to glorify himself.

Sometimes Jehovah would even make a game of it, manipulating people into “sinning” so he could punish them. He instilled in Adam a thirst for knowledge and planted the tree of knowledge right in front of him, knowing Adam would reach out for it and “earn” punishment. He repeatedly hardened the Pharaoh’s heart so that the Pharaoh would reject the pleas of Moses and “force” God to punish not only the Pharaoh but also his innocent subjects. God also hardened the hearts of the Canaanites so they would fight Joshua and invite slaughter. Isaiah suggests that God even hardened the hearts of the Jews, to make them sin and invite punishment.

Jehovah reserved his worst treatment for his most loyal servants. He demanded that Abraham kill his son to prove his love, and then did the same to the Israelites on the road from Egypt to the Holy Land – kill your family and friends! Moses hit a rock twice, instead of once, to create water, and for that Jehovah banned Moses, the man who did more than anyone to create the nation of Israel, from entering the Holy Land. Moses’ nephews were chosen to be the first priests, but they apparently did something wrong with the incense, since they’d never done it before, and God struck them dead; Moses warned the family not to mourn or God would kill them too. King Saul was ordered to kill every Amalekite, and when he let one of them live, God destroyed him. Shortly thereafter the Jews were moving the Ark of the Covenant, drawn by oxen; when the ox stumbled and a Jew nearby grabbed the Ark to steady it, God struck him dead just for touching it. Job, God’s most loyal servant, punished by God just to prove a point to Satan. Book of Ezekiel, kill anyone who isn’t mourning enough over Israel’s sins, no matter how faithful they may be – kill the children too! Even in the New Testament: when the disciples began bringing in converts, one couple donated some of their wealth, but not all of it, and God killed them.

On and on the misery went. God made the Jews wander in the desert and killed the ones who complained. He issued a truly draconian table of laws, with the widespread use of the death penalty, even for children (although weirdly he let Cain live). He told Joshua explicitly that he was empowering the Jews to kill the Canaanites because of their power to kill, rather than their moral righteousness. With no apparent sense of irony, Jehovah had the gall to tell David that he couldn’t build a temple because David had too much blood on his hands, whereas David with a hundred lifetimes couldn’t kill all the people Jehovah did. Jehovah’s behavior was so psychotic and murderous that even his son rejected it: when the apostles offered to punish a sinner with Old-Testament-style killing, Jesus stopped them and criticized them. But of course at the end of the Bible, in Revelation, the old Jehovah returns, killing almost all of mankind.

All this mayhem sounds crazy, right? Most of the other gods of that era were portrayed as benevolent or at worst indifferent: sacrifice at the altar and perhaps the gods will help you if they’re in the mood. Why would the Jewish priests go out and tell the Jews that they were being supervised by an all-powerful being who hated them and wanted every minute to slaughter them? Simple! So they could tell the Jews – “You must do everything we say, build us a beautiful building, and offer us food every day, or that crazy Jehovah guy will kill kill kill you! Only the priests can save you! Now, here are the rules…”

It was even decreed that during the census, every Jew must pay a tax to the priest, just so God won’t kill them. Now that takes chutzpah: pay me or God will kill you!

Year after year the priests told the Jews all the good luck that would come their way, if they only tried hard enough to follow the rules the priests imposed on them. Over and over the priests claimed that Jehovah made these very conditional promises: “Obey, and I will give you this land and make you prosperous, the king will have a son and long life….ooh, sorry, you fell short so, disaster, death, sorry about that!” God allegedly promised long peaceful reigns and the kings were assassinated over and over; he promised to free the slaves and didn’t deliver; he promised one king to withhold punishment until after the king’s death and then killed the king in battle. Then, just to cross up the Jews, God would throw them a curve: a good obedient king would be cut off after a short reign, and then a completely evil king would enjoy a long and destructive reign.

Then the Jews would notice that their fortunes seemingly had nothing to do with their obedience – “we kept the law and you forgot about us anyway!” And the priests, claiming to quote God, would switch to the Lucy-with-the-football gambit – “This time it will go better!” In Exodus, God “remembers” his covenant with the enslaved Israelites; Isaiah, he promises that he will never again let the Jews falls into the hands of their enemies; Jeremiah, he promises that never again will Jerusalem be in jeopardy; Ezekiel, he promises the Jews will never again be exiled. And of course all those promises were broken – those pesky Jews just couldn’t do enough to prove their love for Jehovah. So, the Romans conquer, Jerusalem falls, the temple is destroyed, the Diaspora, the Holocaust. Dang, how much sinning did the Jews really do, to deserve that?

This breathtakingly dishonest method was mirrored in the New Testament as well. In the Old Testament, the gambit was that only the priest could protect the believer from the bloodthirsty Jehovah. In the New Testament they added a twist: original sin, bequeathed to us by Adam, a concept hinted at by Paul and then codified by the church a century later. In simple terms, each of us was doomed to hell from the minute we were born, and the only way out was to obey the priest. And for 2000 years this stunning chutzpah has actually worked. They just assumed no one had ever read Ezekiel 18: the child will not share the guilt of the parent, which pretty much invalidates the doctrine of original sin.

When priests weren’t using God as a bogeyman to frighten believers into obeying him, they were instilling fear in other ways. The priests told the flock that the evil Egyptians enslaved them and that only God was able to free them – but historically that never happened. The priests claimed that the Canaanites were usurping the Jews’ birthright, the Holy Land, and only with God strengthening their swords could the Jews conquer them. Again, historically, never happened. The priests kept telling the believers that God and the priest had saved them from scary (and unbelieving) enemies, peddling stories of war and strife that were entirely imaginary. Sheer genius.

Priests want to control the flock, not save them...

This aspect of the faith  -- frightening the believers -- was and is part of a larger process, the priest’s quest to control his flock.

To keep the religious racket going, not only must the priest avoid competition from other faiths, he must prevent his own adherents from trying to go around him and access the deity themselves. It’s all about control. Moses claimed that no one could see God’s face and live (the con man who founded Mormonism used the same dodge regarding the original texts for his holy book – “Only I can see them!”), and that people really preferred Moses (and then other prophets) to talk to God on their behalf anyway. Moses said that even touching Mount Sinai (which might entail seeing God) would be fatal, and later on a man who touched the Ark of the Covenant accidentally was allegedly killed by God. Much later, Ezekiel claimed he saw a god of metal and fire, and John in the book of Revelation describes seeing God himself on his throne, which must have really weirded out any Jews who read the account.

Another way for a priest to lose control of his flock, is to let them start thinking for themselves.  Not many people realize that in Genesis, God planted not one but two dangerous trees in Eden: the tree of knowledge and the tree of life. Genesis specifies that Eve ate the apple because she sought wisdom. God said that since Adam had eaten from the tree of knowledge, he could not be allowed to eat from the tree of life also – otherwise he could live forever, and essentially be on the same level with God. Any rational explanation of Genesis must fail on the pivotal question: why did God plant the tree of life and the tree of knowledge, both, right in front of the people who could threaten God’s supremacy by eating from them?

But the key thing is that God told Adam and Eve it was bad to reach out for wisdom – using reason leads men to question the priests and question the faith itself, and faith can never stand up under the scrutiny of reason. Later in Genesis, God made men speak different languages, so that they could no longer reason together and work together to do impossible things (the tower of Babel). In Deuteronomy Jews were told to teach their children to think in terms of obedience rather than reason – obedient children grow up to visit the priest each week, donate, and do what they are told, but people who think are…trouble. In the Book of Sirach, the Bible tells us that the way to find wisdom is not to think and use logic, but to fear God and obey; wisdom is a yoke to lead you into the right path, not a tool for figuring out the world. In the book of Wisdom the Bible tells us that wisdom is a goddess (!) who tells us what to do – again, obedience, not reason.  Under the priests, even the quest for wisdom became a tool for control.

For a thousand years the Catholic Church worked to prevent believers from owning their own Bibles or, worse, translating the Bible into their native language so they could read for themselves, and analyze and interpret what was in it. The Church confiscated and burned such Bibles and also burned their owners including the ground-breaking Bible translator William Tyndale; his work ironically was used by the same king who had him killed, to publish the king’s own Bible in English, and later used again as a basis for the King James Bible. This of course ran hand in hand with the Reformation, wherein many of Rome’s cherished rules were overturned. And soon the worst fears of the priests were realized: believers, totally outside the control of the priests, could read and analyze scripture for themselves and decide what it meant and what they believed – the priests’ role as mediator between God and man was compromised. Or as Shaw said in his praise of Saint Joan, whom he tried to portray as a proto-Protestant heroine -- “The girls in the field praise thee, for thou hast raised their eyes, and they see that there is nothing between them and heaven.” Nothing, and no one, between the believer and the deity, if the believer could read God’s book for himself. Which is the outcome that priests fear most -- their own irrelevancy exposed.

Control, control, control. Book of Numbers, challenge the priest and you die. Deuteronomy, kill anyone who shows contempt for the priest. Epistles to the Romans, you must obey like a slave to righteousness. Hebrews, endure God’s discipline like a child. James, never doubt the priest.

And priests don’t only like to control religious issues – they want to get their fingers into everything. Just as today’s preachers stick their noses into all sorts of political issues, such as national security, immigration, guns, medical ethics, so did the priests of ancient Israel. The Torah granted the priests authority to rule on all sorts of issues: marriage and sex, medicine and hygiene, food, agriculture, real estate law, crime, science, the works. David expanded that even further, giving the priests more control over legal issues. The theme in the Old Testament was “Got a difficult problem? Ask the priest! Any topic at all!”

A key aim for the priests in all this is of course the priest’s well-being. The Torah is loaded with lengthy instructions for the Jews, to build the priest a fabulous temple and bring him a ton of food every day. And Paul’s letters sometimes had that PBS-Pledge-Week quality, exhorting believers to donate money for the “saints” and get God’s reward for it.

So, an impressive racket: invent a scary deity and pretend that you (the priest) are the only one who can protect people from the deity; control the flock by controlling access to the deity, by preventing other religions from competing with the priest, by stopping people from thinking for themselves, and then branching out the tentacles of power into other areas and figuring out how to keep the money rolling in.

If it wasn’t constitutionally protected, it would be felony fraud.

It is these con-artist priests who have been lying to us, controlling us, exploiting us for 3000 years….these are the people who insist that even today we must uphold a 3000-year-old prejudice against gays. That we must keep alive a hate that should have been allowed to die centuries ago.

So there you have it. Opponents of gay marriage are basing their entire argument on a scrap of ancient Jewish text that was written by persons unknown, and ignored by both Jews and Christians, for good reason. They have the story of Sodom wrong, they ignored the story of David entirely, and they pretend that the Bible supports marriage between one man and one woman, that the Bible is a moral document, that the Bible supports conservative belief, that the Bible is a reliable source for revealing God’s will, and that religious leaders can be trusted to explain all this to us. All of which is wrong.