A very entertaining story has come out of Hong Kong recently. After the Hong Kong goverment’s “Obscene Articles Tribunal” censored a Chinese student magazine as “indecent” for publishing a sex column asking if readers had ever fantasized about incest or bestiality, over 800 residents protested by calling on the government to classify the Bible as indecent also. (Such material is not outright barred from publication, but must be sold in sealed bags with a legal warning and can only be sold to those over the age of 18.) Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, the government later announced it would not do this.
I do not advocate banning or censoring any book, including the Bible. But if sexual content is considered a reason to officially classify a book as “indecent”, then the Bible should be the very first book to be classified in that category. It contains much of the very same kind of content that got the magazine censored, including incest:
“And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him…. And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth: Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose…. and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose. Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.”
and even bestiality:
“And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. And if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the beast: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”
In addition, there’s much other content in the Bible that is at least as bad or worse. The Bible contains numerous mentions of public nudity (Mark 14:51-52), rape (Genesis 19:8), sexual slavery (Deuteronomy 21:10-13), polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:15), sexual abuse (Judges 19:25), exhibitionism (Isaiah 20:3), and other transgressions. Some of these incidents are presented as sins to be condemned, but many are recorded with approval or even endorsed as God’s will. If this material is considered unsuitable for children or worthy of censorship, then the Bible should unquestionably be classified as such, despite the Hong Kong regulators’ inconsistent refusal to do so. The freethinkers responsible for this brilliantly exposed the government’s double standard.
Less censorship is always a good thing. I think obscenity or indecency, when used as an excuse to ban any kind of material, are code words for inexcusable tyranny. Adults should be able to seek out any form of expression they are interested in, including sexual expression, so long as only consenting and mature adults are involved in its production. However, I think it’s certainly reasonable to limit children’s access to material that is age-appropriate. The dilemma for religious people who agree is that much of their own scripture inescapably falls under the same standard. The Bible contains not only extensive sexuality, but vast amounts of gruesome violence, hatred, and terrifying images of suffering and torture, as bad as or worse than many of the most frequently challenged books. Religious parents who fight to censor these books are being hypocritical by giving a pass to the even worse material in their own holy text.
The dilemma for freethinkers is that the Bible also unquestionably is the inspiration for much of our civilization’s great literature, and education on comparative religion is an excellent way to make students culturally aware and broad-minded. It would be wrong to ban the Bible altogether, but if we expose children to only the good parts, we will be giving them a skewed and misleading idea of what the book as a whole contains – which is exactly the way it is now. Therefore, I think any good course on the Bible as literature should span several years, gradually introducing students to the book’s entire content in an age-appropriate way. Unsavory, though relatively less violent, thematic stories like the Fall from Eden could be introduced early on, working up to the more complex and graphic material. Teaching a balanced view of what the Bible contains, both the good and the bad, would end the unmerited and often uninformed worship of this book’s contents.