A helpful Daylight Atheism reader (thanks, Rowan!) pointed me to this thread on Christian Forums, about a believer who’s losing his faith after reading the Bible. From past experience, these threads tend to have the same lifespan as posts on Chinese web forums criticizing the government (and for the same reason), so I advise checking it out while you can. I’ve also saved a snapshot in case the site’s administrators flush it down the memory hole.
The user who started the thread claimed to be a lifelong Christian, but when he sat down and actually read the Bible for himself, he came across some passages that he’d never heard of and that shocked him badly:
like where god hardened the heart of the pharoah, there by obstructing his free will. so that god could show everyone how powerfull he was by killing the first born sons. now i dont understand why god didnt just lighten his heart so that he wouldnt have had to murder children. now i know they had them in slavery, but why would god mess with his free will then still punish him by murdering children , who had no part in the conflict, for a decision god made him make.
now the other issue in there that surpasses everything else is the one of slavery. there was one passage in exodus that completely disgusted me , on how to sell your own daughter as what is basicaly a sex slave… these slaves could be bought and sold as chattel… they could be beaten so badly, that so long as they didnt die within 2 days everything was fine… the other thing i have heard said is that this wasnt gods will but he had to put up with it as its how society was back then. but in many other instances god doesnt put up with things he doesnt like. not even remotely. why was slavery different since slavery is so obviously evil? i cant make myself see how it is right to own another person as property to do with as you will in any age. yes it might have been common back then but that didnt make it right did it?
As you’d expect on a Christian forum, many other commenters jumped in to respond with the usual tortured apologetics about how it was okay for God to harden Pharaoh’s heart because that’s what Pharaoh wanted (sidestepping the original poster’s question about how it could be just to kill all the Egyptian children for a decision they had no part in), or how the laws about slavery were “an expression of thinking in a sinful world” (again, sidestepping the OP’s question about why God would choose to tolerate and even encourage it when he clearly outlawed other common practices of the time).
A few apologist responses were especially notable – like this one, which castigates the OP for not shutting his mind off and believing without asking any annoying questions:
So you said that you trust your own intelligence (Tree of Knowledge) more than God (Word of God), as prophecied? So be it.
God hardened your heart sometimes which God allows you (your free will) to decide to walk in the darness, He won’t choose to wake you up when you made up your mind to betray Him.
Then there were these chillingly evil remarks about how God is above our puny moral standards (the classic excuse of career criminals and supervillains everywhere).
Basically, first you can’t subject God to rules of morality as God is the source of all morality and you are not the judge of God (sorry).
Maybe we can’t understand how the killing of the first born sons was compassionate but having learned from the example of Christ we can trust that in actuality it was even if we don’t see how this is so.
And finally, there’s this brilliant piece of apologist reasoning:
I do believe God ordained slavery. After all, if slavery did not exist, how could we understand being slaves to sin, and now being slaves to righteousness?
See? All those sons and daughters who were sold into bondage, all those foreign prisoners who were enslaved for lives of hard labor, all those slaves who were beaten to death as the Bible allows – that was all so God could make a theological point to people who would live several thousand years later. Now don’t you feel silly, atheists, for ever having doubted the inspiration of those words?
The non-replies of all these Christian commentors show that, even after all this time, the apologists really have no satisfying explanation for the cruelties of the Bible – that is, besides the obvious one that the book was the creation of cruel and fallible men without godly involvement. Impugning the sincerity of those who ask or insisting that God isn’t bound by standards of morality is really all they have, regardless of how blunt or how flowery the language. Small wonder that so many believers who read the Bible for themselves are shocked into questioning their faith.