Religious apologists would accuse in both cases that any critic of such passages was taking things out of context, or misunderstanding them.
But in words that are hard to misunderstand, one says that it’s okay in certain specific circumstances to cut off a woman’s hands, the other says you should beat women, in situations where you fear they may leave you.
Believers would argue two more things:
One, that these passages are not taken seriously by anyone today. Second, that the good their religion does far outweighs any little aberrations written down in some more primitive time.
The problem is, this business about cutting off a woman’s hands IS written down. And not in some obscure commentary by a distant weirdo who happened to belong to an obscure little splinter sect of Christianity, but in the main source book of Christianity.
Think about the significance of that for a moment. The Bible is not “a” book of Christianity, it is THE book of Christianity. It is the written foundation, the holy handbook, the one and only ultimate authority, of Christianity. Entire ways of life hinge on mere phrases found its pages.
If Christianity was a country, the Bible would be its Constitution.
As one group of believers puts it:
We believe that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” by which we understand the whole Bible is inspired in the sense that holy men of God “were moved by the Holy Spirit” to write the very words of Scripture. We believe that this divine inspiration extends equally and fully to all parts of the writings—historical, poetical, doctrinal, and prophetical—as appeared in the original manuscripts. We believe that the whole Bible in the originals is therefore without error.
IN THE BIBLE, there is a clear justification for cutting off the hands of women.
And this is after translations and retranslations over the centuries, passing under the eye of learned authorities deciding what stayed in and what got taken out. Even after all that, it still says you should, in certain circumstances, cut off a woman’s hands.
There’s no way around it: The Range of Permissible Acts in Christianity includes cutting off women’s hands. The Range of Permissible Acts in Islam includes beating women to keep them from leaving you.
Here in the predominantly-Christian U.S., we see stories a couple of times a year in which people refuse medical care to critically ill children, who then die. There are stories in which people practice exorcism on children, who die or suffer psychological harm. A story a couple of years ago had a woman bleeding to death after giving birth to twins, because she and her family refused a blood transfusion that would have saved her life. Growing up in the South, I must have seen a dozen stories over the course of my lifetime in which some backwoods believer died from handling poisonous snakes.
Each time, though there is some public condemnation, we seem to assume that these things are aberrations. Something OUTSIDE the bounds of the religion.
But they’re not. They are written down — there for everybody to see, there for anybody to believe and act on — right in the Bible.
Though they may be outside the core beliefs of most Christians today, they are absolutely, provably, without doubt, within the Range of Permissible Acts for Christians.
Sure, nothing and nobody is perfect. But given that this is a widespread system of belief, something so good it must be visited upon the rest of us at every public occasion, taught to every child whether their parents want it or not, you’d think someone would want to clean it up a bit. Shouldn’t some effort be made to see that the handbook of the religion is as perfect as possible? To, for instance, close down those boundaries of permissible acts so that each new generation would get the clear message that beating your wife is NEVER permissible? That refusing medical care to children is NEVER acceptable? That mutilating a woman by cutting off her hands is so abhorrent that only a disgusting psychopath would even THINK of it? That slavery is NEVER okay?
And yet it isn’t. Whatever good they might do, like that generous cousin, the Range of Permissible Acts in Christianity includes beating women and children. Burning unbelievers in fire. Allowing children to be torn to bits by bears. Performing unnecessary elective surgery on babies. Torturing and killing helpless enemies. Keeping slaves.
Things that should never-never not-ever be allowed. Things that should never, not ever, be believed.
There are a couple more things, points I think worth making in the broader context of religious beliefs in relation to society:
Right now in the U.S., there’s at least one preacher – and not some inbred freak who slithered out of a swamp, but a mainstream voice reputable enough to make it into the news – who encouraged his flock to pray for the death of the president.
Whether this is based on specific words in the Bible – frankly, right this moment I’m not interested enough to look it up – it is based on something well-enough known in religious circles that there’s a common term for it: Imprecatory Prayer.
Imagine two men saying this: “I hope the president dies. I want everybody within the sound of my voice to hope the president dies. It would be a great thing, friends and neighbors, if the president died. I call on all of you to actively contemplate the death of the president, to cherish the notion of him dying, and soon.”
If the one is a religious leader and the other is the manager of a department store, which will get a visit from the Secret Service? Which won’t? Right. Even non-believers often fall under the umbrella of religion’s Range of Permissible Acts. It’s been extremely rare that religious crazies were even slightly condemned, and it’s still not all that common. Sometimes we won’t even publicly admit that anything bad has happened.
The “scandal” of Catholic priests molesting children is recent, but you have to know the actual abuse – safely harbored behind official church secrecy, and supported by extreme reluctance on the part of secular authorities to even listen to victims – has been going on for centuries.
The Range of Permissible Acts in Christianity’s Bible – fantastically broad, scarily generous and supportive of almost any level of zeal – has been used to back acts ranging from simple individual child abuse to campaigns of slavery and genocide.
In my opinion, no matter how much good is attributed to holy-book style religion, no reasonable person can actually support it.
And finally, this:
There’s some source for human morality, right?
I say it’s something worked out by rational adults over time.
Christians say it’s the Bible.
Yet solely on the issue of cutting off women’s hands, something you can easily find in the pages of the Bible, but nowhere outside it, biblical morality falls short of modern secular morality.
To say it another way: Society has advanced beyond the Bible. Modern morality is independent from, in many ways better than that in the Bible.