Banning the Bible

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.”

—Genesis 19:30-36

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.”

—Leviticus 20:15-16

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.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://mcv.planc.ee mcv

    I agree with you in principle but not in the case of Leviticus. As I understand it that chapter is about describing acts that need to be punished, meaning that if you want to ban that you would also have to ban the current laws on such offenses which also describe acts of obscene nature.

  • http://mcv.planc.ee mcv

    I agree with you in principle but not in the case of Leviticus. As I understand it that chapter is about describing acts that need to be punished, meaning that if you want to ban that you would also have to ban the current laws on such offenses which also describe acts of obscene nature.

  • norman ravitch

    I remember a delightful advertisement for The Bible Uncovered by Robert Ingersoll, a famous American atheist, which asked the question: would you want your children reading such stuff?

    Banning the Bible won’t unfortunately work but it is a very dangerous book; it has destroyed or weakened many a mind.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    I find it interesting the the archaic language of the Bible tends to mask the obscenity. We don’t speak or write the way the OT and NT writers wrote, so obliquely and euphemistically. Rewrite the paragraphs you quote from Genesis in todays English, without pulling punches, and the book would be banned in Boston.

    And Lot moved from Zoar into a little cabin in the mountains, and took his two, young, nubile daughters with him. His first born, having reached puberty and showing an interest in sex, said to her younger sister, who was also showing signs of horniness, “Dad’s getting up there in years, but he’s still got a little spunk to him, and I don’t see many men visiting this god-forsaken cabin in the woods in the near future, and I’ve got an itch only a man can scratch. So let’s get him drunk and have some fun. What do you say, Sis?”

    So they went out to the still where they made their hootch down by the Piney Creek, brought back a couple of jugs of that sweetwater syrup, and gave it to their father to drink. Once he was drunk as a skunk, the oldest went to his bedroom, stripped naked and f**ked his brains out. When she was done, she sent her sister in to do the same, and she proceeded to f**k his brains out too, (not that he had many left after her sister got through with him) but, with the alcohol fogging his brain, he did not remember the next morning having such carnal relations with his own two daughters. Of course, nine months later his children/grandchildren were born.

    Hope I don’t get you in trouble with the censors with that re-write, Adam.:)

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    I find it interesting the the archaic language of the Bible tends to mask the obscenity. We don’t speak or write the way the OT and NT writers wrote, so obliquely and euphemistically. Rewrite the paragraphs you quote from Genesis in todays English, without pulling punches, and the book would be banned in Boston.

    And Lot moved from Zoar into a little cabin in the mountains, and took his two, young, nubile daughters with him. His first born, having reached puberty and showing an interest in sex, said to her younger sister, who was also showing signs of horniness, “Dad’s getting up there in years, but he’s still got a little spunk to him, and I don’t see many men visiting this god-forsaken cabin in the woods in the near future, and I’ve got an itch only a man can scratch. So let’s get him drunk and have some fun. What do you say, Sis?”

    So they went out to the still where they made their hootch down by the Piney Creek, brought back a couple of jugs of that sweetwater syrup, and gave it to their father to drink. Once he was drunk as a skunk, the oldest went to his bedroom, stripped naked and f**ked his brains out. When she was done, she sent her sister in to do the same, and she proceeded to f**k his brains out too, (not that he had many left after her sister got through with him) but, with the alcohol fogging his brain, he did not remember the next morning having such carnal relations with his own two daughters. Of course, nine months later his children/grandchildren were born.

    Hope I don’t get you in trouble with the censors with that re-write, Adam.:)

  • norman ravitch

    John P: You are right about the Bible and the way it is written. The old archaic language gives a certain beauty and sanctity to some of the most ridiculous notions and beliefs. That is why a modern Bible translation turns people off: it reveals the whole thing for what it is/was: ancient superstition and barbarism.

  • http://atheisthussy.blogspot.com/ Intergalactic Hussy

    Perhaps just a warning label (not to take it seriously) would suffice?

  • Alex Weaver

    However, I think it’s certainly reasonable to limit children’s access to material that is age-appropriate.

    Interesting. What do we mean by “children” and how do we define “age-appropriate?” (My own experience suggests that the best approach would be to poll adults as to the age at which they feel children are able to handle the topic in question, take the average, and subtract five years. x.x )

  • Alex Weaver

    However, I think it’s certainly reasonable to limit children’s access to material that is age-appropriate.

    Interesting. What do we mean by “children” and how do we define “age-appropriate?” (My own experience suggests that the best approach would be to poll adults as to the age at which they feel children are able to handle the topic in question, take the average, and subtract five years. x.x )

  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens

    It ain’t the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me — it’s the parts that I do.

  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens

    It ain’t the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me — it’s the parts that I do.

  • Pi Guy

    John P,

    I think that maybe you’ve struck on an untapped market: Translating common or oft-referenced verses in the Bible into modern language and analagous, if not ironically humorous, situations.

    Aside from the book/website forum, I n caenvision people using the material to present during local school board meetings where a Book Banning Party is on the agenda. Then, read a few of the modern, offensive, entirely accurate translated version with the names changed slightly and get the support of the audience. *Burn it! Burn it!* Then re-read the passages as they appear in the Bible and continue to recommend that it be banned as well, or none at all.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    John P: That, good sir, is brilliant. :) Truth, we ought to start a project to rewrite the whole Bible in modern language, or at least the nasty parts. The kind of religious conservatives who usually agitate to ban books for sex or violent content would go into spasms of cognitive dissonance when they read it, and I for one would love to see that.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    John P: That, good sir, is brilliant. :) Truth, we ought to start a project to rewrite the whole Bible in modern language, or at least the nasty parts. The kind of religious conservatives who usually agitate to ban books for sex or violent content would go into spasms of cognitive dissonance when they read it, and I for one would love to see that.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ John P

    Thanks. I’m surprised no one has done it yet. It sounds like a good project for Larry Flynt.