Lesson #6 in Vacation Bible School: Biblical Inspiration? Not So Much

(Originally published 3/8/12, by Mike Aus, aka paganpreacher)


Editor’s Note: Mike picks out some of the ugliest parts of the Bible, questioning why so much of the “good book” would contain such gruesome material. Vacation Bible School


Just a little inspiration from the “Good Book” to bless your week:

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.” (Exodus 21:7) “Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.” (Exodus 21:17) “Whoever sacrifices to any god, save to the Lord only, shall be utterly destroyed.” (Exodus 22:20) “You shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, destroying it utterly. all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword.” (Deuteronomy 13:15) “The Lord will smite you with consumption, and with fever, inflammation, and fiery heat, and with drought, and with blasting, and with mildew; they shall pursue you until you perish. The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down upon you until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:22-24) “I will bring such distress on men, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.” (Zephaniah 1:17) “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, adulterers, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with sulphur and fire, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)

And finally, everybody’s favorite:

“Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9)

As we say in church, “The word of the Lord:  Thanks be to God!” Have I taken these passages out of context?  Of course I have.  But even reading them in context does not make them any more palatable.  Plus, all the “inspirational” scripture passages you see on bumpers stickers, billboards, and church marquee signs are also taken out of context.  And when you read those passages in context, they frequently sound quite a bit less inspirational. But, you might protest, what about all the beautiful and lovely parts of the Bible that have brought hope to so many people?

Yes, even the Bible shows occasional flashes of genius.  Some passages even approach the sublime.   The treatise on human love in First Corinthians 13 comes to mind–which, by the way, does not contain a single reference to God. I’m just saying that if any book were written for the purpose of transmitting a divine message of eternal truth for humanity, it doesn’t make sense that you would have to look so hard to find the good stuff.  How on earth could a book that is up to its eyeballs in divinely mandated blood, gore, and human suffering be considered in any sense, “holy?”


Oasis-MediaMike-150x150After serving in Christian ministry for twenty years–as a missionary in Japan and then as a pastor in the U.S–Mike Aus publicly came out as a non-believer on MSNBC in March of 2012.  He is now the Director of Houston Oasis, a 501(c)(3) secular education and service organization in Houston, TX, which describes itself as “a community grounded in reason, celebrating the human experience.”  Mike is a graduate of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN).

Lesson #3 in Vacation Bible School: Dishonest Bible Translations
The Apostles Creed – Revised For Humanists
Lesson #5 in Vacation Bible School: Paul Never Quotes Jesus
Climbing (not Cutting) a Christmas Tree
About Linda LaScola

Linda LaScola is co-author, with Daniel C. Dennett, of Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind (2013) and “Preachers who are not Believers” (2010). She is an independent qualitative research consultant who works out of Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the Catholic University of America and is a co-founder of the Clergy Project.

  • AndyT

    Usually, when confronted by serious criticism like yours, Christian apologists rely on some passive-aggressive answer such as “Really God wanted to deliver a high, sublime message, but Biblical human authors – rotten and helpless sinners like we all are! – ruined & distorted it by adding their backward cultural values and their utterly futile human reasonings.” Obviously, in their opinion it’s always “sinful” mankind’s fault!
    It seems like they are not able to see Bible as it is, a long, heterogeneous literary production, including very good – divine? – stuff (such as Paul’s definition of Love), but also very bad one, mostly influenced by the harsh and ruthless life conditions those Semitic semi-nomads had to face three millennia ago.

    • Brian Kellogg

      It is an intellectual blindness where seeing their beliefs from another perspective is not a possibility. Their depiction of god is worse than ISIS in Iraq as he’s coming back to remove the undesirables and torture them forever; many of whom simply don’t believe the right stories in the right way according to them. Yet they can’t see this as a possibility due to the abused spouse mentality cultivated in the sects.

      Its frustrating, but such a fear and distrust of their own mind is ingrained in them. Intellectuals are necessarily ridiculed in order to mute their voice among the faithful.

      “Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason”, Martin Luther. Sadly this is how they see it when something just doesn’t fit their worldview like they know it should.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    You are right that taking things out of context works both ways.

    “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

    I saw this one on Facebook once. Sounds nice and inspirational…. but in context? Its from a pep-talk that God gives Joshua before he goes in to kill all the Canaanites and take their land. Why does Joshua need strength and courage? Why, to invade and slaughter the men women and babies. And God will be with him all the way as he commits genocide! How wonderful!

    • David: Atheist Ex-Pastor

      Oh dear. Another great Bible verse i’ve preached on to give courage to those facing adversity. Thanks for reminding me of the context (I just sat down and read the Book of Joshua again) that Joshua was to have courage to slaughter the Canaanites because God had declared that the land “will be your territory” (Joshua 1:4)

  • busterggi

    The bad stuff is there to make the miniscual amount of good stuff sound better.