People will do anything if god commands it…

Y’know, if more people heard god telling them to walk around naked instead of telling them to infringe upon the rights of others, I’d be out of a job.

Drivers in Charlotte, N.C., faced traffic stemming from an unusual distraction Saturday: Two women and two children walking down the street naked. “Like freshly-born baby naked,” police Capt. Rod Farley said. “This was Adam and Eve stuff, not even a loincloth.” When the women were questioned, they said “the Lord told them to get naked and walk down the street.”

Response from Christians will be something along the lines of:  “That’s lewd, indecent, and wrong and nowhere in the bible!  God would never command that!”

And I’ll always hear the unspoken second part of that response:  “God would command Abraham and Jephthah to kill their children!  That’s moral, wholesome, and good and clearly in the bible!”

Of course, what better reason do Christians have to think god spoke to Abraham but not to the nude strollers?  Actually, you can get the account directly from the mouths of the nude people and all you have are far-removed re-tellings of the Abraham story.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Glodson

    They would be right, JT. God would never tell people do something as horrible as be naked. He only gives good commands, like the commands to kill their own children.

    But, hey, god did stop Abraham that one time. So, it was only one out of two times that he had a father kill his child for him. And it was just the guy’s daughter. No big deal.

    • Gehennah

      The daughter didn’t count, she was female, hence property.

  • invivoMark

    God loves the smell of burning blood, but he hates the sight of naughty bits!

    Probably because he was drunk the night he designed them, and would rather not be reminded. I mean, no sober god in His right mind would design the penis! And he forgot to put the pleasurey bits inside some of the vaginas. What an amateur mistake!

    • Andrew Kohler

      God really does seem to have issues with naughty bits, given his (albeit inconsistent) commands to his followers to take sharp objects to his design.

  • Pulse

    I don’t like it when people bring up Abraham and Jephthah as counterexamples when Christians say, “But God wouldn’t ever command that.” They really don’t hold up very well.

    In the story of Abraham, God clearly withdrew his command, claiming it to be a test of sorts. It could be argued that God didn’t really mean it in the first place.

    In the story of Jephthah, God wasn’t even involved. Jephthah made the vow to burn a human sacrifice if he won some battles, Jephthah won some battles, Jephthah followed through on his vow, and later people heralded Jephthah as a holy man for doing so. Nowhere in the story is God’s voice heard ordering Jephthah to kill his daughter.

    Instead, use this counterexample. “If God told you to slaughter every Palestinian you saw, would you do it?” There is plenty of precedent for God commanding the slaughter of non-Israeli natives in the Promised Land, so we know it is in God’s character, and Christians can’t counter that it’s not in the Bible.

    • Glodson

      These are great examples. The Binding of Issac forces the issue of what kind of entity would inflict such psychological terror on its follower. Issac was Abraham’s son, and god wanted that blood. What a sadistic test. A powerless Abraham before the might of a god who throws genocidal tantrums if not appeased.

      And Jepthhah…. it forces the issue of why a human sacrifice at all.

      Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I
      return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. —Judges 11:29-32

      If god’s spirit came to him, why didn’t the spirit say “no thanks” to the human sacrifice? Now, this isn’t has evil an act by god as in the other example, but it does raise the question: why is Jephthah looked at as anything but a murderous bastard? Hell, Kratos from God of War is much more sympathetic character that is also a murderous bastard as he rebelled when he was tricked into killing his wife and child. Here Jephthah isn’t particular about who he kills for god, it seems. Still. Why did god accept this? Why is this story in the bible?

      • Loqi

        Edit: Stupid Disqus.

        • Glodson

          Well, yea. But that’s more of how the fiction works. This god character can be credited for any action that is good. Of course, this opens up plotholes.

          And theology is really nothing more than an attempt at plothole repair with a hideously overpowered character and no option to reboot the series.

          • Loqi

            (Readers should skip down to my next non-reply comment to see the original context of this. I’m trying to make my phone play nicely with Disqus, and I keep introducing new bugs, like keeping replies active even if I submit it as a general comment.)

      • Spuddie

        You miss a key element which would have been more obvious to ancient readers. Human sacrifice was not something unusual for cultures living in the same area as the Hebrews.

        The point of those stories isn’t that these people were devoted enough to God to kill their children, it is to distinguish that such things are bad. With Abraham, he ultimately disappoints God who has to intervene and stop his knuckleheaded disciple.

        With Jephthah, the story has an almost Alfred Hitchcock Presents sort of grim irony to it. The warrior vows to sacrifice the first person who comes to his home so he can assure victory. That person being his daughter. He follows through on the vow and loses the one person he values the most. Think of it as the guy who kills people for money to help raise his family, whose actions destroy his family. (Like Vic Mackay on the Shield)

        He is condemned by his actions albeit in a less than obvious fashion, “the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament about the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite” (Judges 11:40)

        • Glodson

          My problem with the Binding of Issac is that this all-knowing god asked his follower in the first place. Given God’s past blood-thirsty behavior, I don’t think one can fault Abraham for thinking god was in earnest. The message might have been that this is bad, but then why not just say “hey, don’t do that human sacrifice thing?”

          And why not leave a note for Jephthah?

          • Spuddie

            God is an asshole in both stories.

            It probably made more sense to Bronze age folk than it does today. Back then child sacrifice was the default practice of worship.

            But where is the fun of a story where God just tells someone, “Don’t do that!”? It would make God look way too pedantic. No drama. Those ancient goat herders needed some stories to tell around those lonely camp fires.

            The Jephthah story is very dark and drips with the kind of dramatic irony that even the Greeks loved. The one result which would be the worst possible outcome is the one which is guaranteed to happen in the story. Like in the Iliad, Achilles has one weakness, his heel. Readers pretty much know ahead of time that will be what kills him in the end.

          • Glodson

            See? If we treated the Bible like we did other myths, I would have a much different take on it.

          • Spuddie

            My sentiments exactly.

    • Loqi

      I don’t think the “he didn’t really mean it” defense holds up. If I’m god in this scenario, Abraham failed the test. The way to pass the test would have been to defy the order. What kind of monster sets the criterion for success as “willing to murder a child at my command?” And what kind of tyrant does one have to be that your subject doesn’t even bat an eye at this command? As if murdering children is a banality. “Oh, Yahweh demands the blood of an innocent child. Must be Tuesday.”

      • Andrew Kohler

        “If I’m god in this scenario, Abraham failed the test. The way to pass the test would have been to defy the order.”

        Amen. Julia Sweeney addressed this wonderfully in Letting Go of God.

        As to Jephthah, it is true that God never commands the atrocity and seems to be silent on the matter. In this case, however, one may say that silence means consent. Would this not have been a good time to fire up the burning bush and relay a message? “Look, you won this battle because you handled it competently and/or got lucky, not because I accept human sacrifice. Find someone responsible to finish raising your daughter and never go within 10 yards of a child ever again.”

        • Spuddie

          Actually the point of the story was Abraham DID fail the test. He followed along with the tradition of his forefathers to engage in child sacrifice. He had to be stopped by God who showed him it was not the proper way to be showing devotion.

          Jephthah was also a story condemning human sacrifice. The man who vows to sacrifice the first person who walks through the door. It turns out to be his only child. He is punished for such a vow by losing what he values the most. That the person sacrificed is always going to be the son or daughter of somebody.

          God as a cruel practical joker here.

          The point of such stories is to actually distinguish Hebrews from people who sacrificed children. Its something lost on most Christians and casual readers.

          Whereas modern readers might see the sacrifice as a sign of supreme devotion, the OT’s audience sees it as a sign of supreme weakness. Lack of devotion.

          • Azkyroth

            There’s nothing remotely like that in the text. You’re projecting your own moral sense onto it.

          • Spuddie

            Actually I am projecting the moral sense of the ancient readers onto it. Neither story shows child sacrifice as a good thing. It was a common practice among cultures in the region. One which the Hebrew religion sought to distinguish itself from. Much of the OT makes a big show of how Hebrews are different from their polytheistic neighbors in various ways.

            Cultures which condemn human sacrifice make a point of showing it being a foreign belief. Even the Romans did that when describing the culture of Carthage and the druids.

            The Abraham story ends with God stopping him and producing a ram to be sacrificed.

            The Jephthah story has the women of the land mourning the loss of the daughter after the sacrifice. the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament abou the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite” (Judges 11:40).

            He laments that to follow through on his vow he has to kill whom he values the most.
            “”Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low!” but is bound by his vow: “I have given my word to God, and I cannot go back on it.” (Judges 11:40)

            He made a stupid bargain and gets punished for it with the loss of his daughter. If anything the story is about why such things are inherently dangerous and silly.

          • Andrew Kohler

            It’s a shame that Jephthah’s punishment includes his daughter losing her life (and weirdly mourning her virginity for two months in the wilderness). Couldn’t God have found a way to punish Jephthah without the collateral damage?

            I grant that there are passages in the Hebrew Bible that condemn human sacrifice (in Leviticus, it is specified that people should not sacrifice their children to *Moloch*, but I think it would be improved without that little specification). I’m not convinced, however, by your interpretation of the Akeidah (Binding of Isaac) because of the following verse, Genesis 22:12:

            “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

            That sounds to me like he’s saying Abraham passed the test by his willingness to murder Isaac.

          • Spuddie

            Of course God could have handled the Jephthah situation with more tact. But the Bible is at its heart a narrative. Albeit one written with religious purpose. The elements of storytelling taking precedence over mundane thinking. The Jephthah being a parable for not making foolish oaths to God. Think of it like a bloody version of King Midas.

            With Isaac, I think its a matter of emphasis on different parts of the same story. You lost a lot of the context with such views. Abraham is the prototype monotheist. He doesn’t know what he is doing. He only knows that worshipping idols is rather silly and he has this one god speaking to him. He still trying to get a handle on the situation. Isaac being his proverbial stress test.

            Child sacrifice was not an unusual act back in the day as it is now. It was more or less standard for showing fealty to a deity. However, the Old Testament goes to great lengths to show its a bad thing.

            Modern audiences would have seen the willingness to sacrifice with more significance. Ancients would have viewed God staying his hand with more significance than the request to sacrifice the child.

            To the Biblical Authors we have the one true God is saying that people should only sacrifice animals. That human sacrifice is not the way to worship him. This was as novel an idea as was worshiping only one god would be to such an audience.*

    • Edmond

      Gods can’t perform “tests”. The purpose of testing is to learn something unknown, since humans don’t know everything. An omniscient god should know whether Abraham would or would not kill his child on command, without a “test” to investigate the outcome.

      • Spuddie

        But where is the fun in that? The Bible is a collection of stories. Omniscience is tough to pull off in a narrative form without getting stale really fast.

    • stop2wonder

      The important thing to take away from the Abraham story is the character of God. Abraham, had already shown earlier his ability to question God’s command when God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, by negotiating with him how many good men he would need to find to spare the cities, but he raised no such objection when told to sacrifice his own son.

      Abraham didn’t hesitate nor question God’s command when God ordered the sacrifice. This tells me that Abraham viewed God’s command of human sacrifice, even that of your own son, as an action completely compatible with the character of God. And he was right; just as Jesus.

    • Azkyroth

      In the story of Jephthah, God wasn’t even involved. Jephthah made the vow to burn a human sacrifice if he won some battles, Jephthah won some battles, Jephthah followed through on his vow, and later people heralded Jephthah as a holy man for doing so. Nowhere in the story is God’s voice heard ordering Jephthah to kill his daughter.

      1) Jephthah got what he asked for. Sure sounds like god accepted it.
      2) Would it have been THAT hard for god to say a couple words, since it was done in his name and all?

      • Spuddie

        1. He got what he asked for in a very ironic “Monkey’s Paw” sort of way.
        2. Nobody ever said God isn’t a dick sometimes. Be careful what you wish for may be a moral lesson of the story.

    • Pulse

      Many of you seem to have missed my point. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough.

      I am not claiming that God gets a clean pass in the stories of Abraham and Jephthah. I believe they show God to be an immoral being. My first point was that Christians can and will find many arguments showing how God was good in these cases, and non-Christians can and will find many arguments showing how God was an asshole in these cases. The arguments will get flung back and forth ad infinitum, and little progress will be made either direction.

      My second point (and my more important point which seems to have been completely ignored) was that instead of opening ourselves up to these unproductive debates, we should rather call to attention clearly atrocious commands by God, commands which God would clearly maintain to this day if he were at all consistent, commands which Christians would clearly be forced to obey if they were at all consistent. Does anyone agree or disagree that my prefered counterexample meets these criteria?

      • Andrew Kohler

        While I maintain that the Binding of Isaac and Jephthah are useful to bring up, I do like your second point and the example you adduce. Challenging people to think about what they would do if God behaved today like the God of the Bible is a clever idea with a good deal of potential, not least because it calls into question the status of the Bible as a timeless moral guide.

  • Loqi

    The reverse of that statement is also true. God will command anything that people do…

  • Billy Bob

    Well, at least it’s better than God telling people to kill their kids

    • Gehennah

      Was the first thought that came to my head too.

  • Zinc Avenger

    And He keeps telling Republicans to run for President. He’s a right jokester, that God. Don’t believe anything He says.