I was never a biblical literalist. My church was, but I wasn’t. There were just too many issues I had with a literalist reading of Scripture that, if true, turned God into a deity that I couldn’t worship. Here’s 10 of them, in no particular order.
I. PREGNANT WOMEN AND THE FLOOD
In Sunday School, we learn about a great flood that wipes out all of humanity save for one family. The takeaway, we’re told, is that if we are faithful to God, he will be faithful to us. The thing I want to know is this: what about all the pregnant women who inevitably were caught up in the waters? I suppose they were corrupt and abominable (as if that’s a reason to slaughter them) but what about the life inside them? I thought all life was precious? Well, not in this story.
II. THE WHOLESALE SLAUGHTER OF CHILDREN (AND DONKEYS!)
The Amalekites hated Israel, so God vowed to wipe them off the face of the earth. Here’s the command in 1 Samuel 15:3, according to the prophet: “Now go and attack Amalek and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” Savage, am I right? Well, no explaining this verse away removes the fact that God (according to a prophet) commanded children and animals to be slaughtered. If you can get down with that, then that’s your prerogative. Just don’t expect an invite to my house.
III. A MAULING BY BEARS
Elisha is one of Israel’s greatest prophets, and for good reason (I guess). However, there is this one particular story that we never read in Sunday School, and it has to do with being insecure over one’s baldness. The story is basically this: A group of kids make fun of Elisha for his hair-deficiency, so instead of doing what secure men do (walking away, taking the high road, etc.) he calls on the Lord to send bears to maul them. How many children die, you ask? 42!!! Wow!
IV. THE SUN DID WHAT?!?
In Joshua 10, the sun stops “moving” in the sky. Now, for anyone with a basic grasp of science, this is impossible. But all things are possible through Him! Well…okay…sure. But bear with me (pun intended). If this were truly to happen, it means the sun didn’t actually stop, but that the earth did (they may not have known that then, but we know it now). Here’s what the Smithsonian says would happen if this were to occur:
At the Equator, the earth’s rotational motion is at its fastest, about a thousand miles an hour. If that motion suddenly stopped, the momentum would send things flying eastward. Moving rocks and oceans would trigger earthquakes and tsunamis. The still-moving atmosphere would scour landscapes.
V. SNAKES DON’T TALK
Unless you’re tripping on acid or perhaps even mushrooms (though they never “talked” to me when I took them), snakes don’t talk. But in Genesis, they do. This is nonsense. Now, if you’ve read my books, you know that there are some deep truths in this story, but not if we take a literalist reading. Because again, snakes don’t talk.
VI. A BIT TOO MUCH SALT
Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked places, we are told. So God destroys them after no righteous people could be found. Okay…off to a great start. After Lot and his wife (apparently the only decent people in town) flee the city, she turns around to see the destruction, even though she was told not to. So God, because he is apparently a bit quick-tempered, turns her to a pillar of salt. This is completely overkill and would be condemned if done anywhere but in the Bible. But because it’s in the Bible, Christians explain it away with fancy mental gymnastics.
VII. EGYPTIAN CHILDREN
We get it, the Egyptians were the baddies. Their leader, the Pharaoh, was the worst of the worst, a slaveowner through and through. This much we can probably all agree on. What I can’t get down with is that when things escalate, God decides to – wait for it – kill ALL the firstborn sons in the entire kingdom. Holy crap! A bit much, even if we are talking about despotic leaders.
VIII. NO LOVE FOR VICTIMS
Trigger Warning: There is a lot of r*pe in the Bible. And much of the time, the Bible actually stands in solidarity with the victims. But not all the time. In fact, there are laws that force r*pe victims to marry their victimizers. That’s just sick and is something that should be out-and-out condemned.
IX. HE WAS JUST TRYING TO HELP
There is a fascinating story about a poor sap named Uzzah who is killed for touching the Ark of the Covenant. Of course, it was forbidden to do so. However, what gets me about this story is that Uzzah is not trying to play games, or see what he could get away with. He was literally trying to stop it from falling over, grabs it, and is immediately struck down. Because God apparently lacks any empathy whatsoever, and doesn’t understand the difference between the letter and spirit of a law? It’s mind boggling.
X. THOU SHALT NOT PULL OUT
I get it; Onan was not a great guy. But striking him dead just because he pulled out early is not a good look on a God who is supposedly the very embodiment of love. Honestly, for all the things I couldn’t get down with in the Bible, this is the story that broke the proverbial camel’s back for me. Call me odd, but I kinda felt bad for Onan, even though, again, he was a bit of a prick.
Now, before you retort to any of these and try to put forth an apologetic for why you take the Bible literally, save your breath. I don’t care. Nothing, not even God himself, could convince me that these stories are to be read literally, and if they are, then again, I have no desire to worship this deity.
However, I will say that I still value the Bible, when read through a different hermeneutical lens. But that will have to wait for another day.