Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 6: NOT a message from God

Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 6: NOT a message from God September 6, 2020

WHERE WE ARE

Should we view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus?  In Part 1 of this series I outlined a dozen reasons to doubt this viewpoint.  Here is the first reason:

1. God does NOT exist, so no prophet and no book contains truth or wisdom from God. 

In Part 2 of this series I explained my reason for skepticism in general (i.e. CYNICISM), and I explained my reasons for skepticism about supernatural claims.  In this Part 3 of this series I explained my reasons for skepticism about religion.

In Part 4  and Part 5 of this series I presented my reasons for skepticism about the existence of God.

Here is my second reason for doubting the idea that we should view homosexual sex as morally wrong because it is (allegedly) condemned in the book of Leviticus:

2. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God. (Leviticus is just another book written by ignorant and imperfect human beings).

Actually, most of my dozen reasons for doubt relate back to this one.  For example, my first reason was that God does not exist (or that we have good reasons to doubt that God exists).  If there is no God, then it follows logically that Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.  If there is no God, then NOTHING is a message from God, because there is no God to send any message in the first place.

Since most of my dozen reasons provide support for this second reason,  I will not attempt to make a comprehensive case against the divine inspiration of the book of Leviticus in this current post.  My case against the inspiration of Leviticus will span several posts, as I continue to explain and defend reasons 3 through 8.  So, in this post I will briefly present a few reasons for doubting that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God.

LEVITICUS WAS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD IF MOSES WAS THE AUTHOR OF LEVITICUS

I don’t believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus, and neither do most Old Testament scholars.  However, conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals generally believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus.  So, this first argument is addressed to Christians who believe that Moses was the author of Leviticus:

1. Jehovah is NOT God.

2. Moses is a prophet of Jehovah.

3. Anyone who is a prophet of a someone other than God is a FALSE PROPHET.

THEREFORE:

4. Moses is a FALSE PROPHET.

5. Moses is the author of Leviticus.

6. No book authored by a FALSE PROPHET is the inspired Word of God.

THEREFORE:

7. Leviticus is NOT the inspired Word of God.

The only controversial premise here is premise (1), and I have already argued for this premise in Part 2 of this series:

Leviticus and Homosexuality – Part 2: No Messages from God

In short: Jehovah commanded the Israelites to MERCILESSLY SLAUGHTER every man, woman, teenager, child, and baby of the people who were already settled in the “promised land” (i.e. Palestine) in order to steal that land from those people.  Only a morally flawed person would give such an evil command, so Jehovah was a morally flawed person.  But God is a perfectly good person, so Jehovah cannot be God.  Premise (1) is clearly true.  So, if Moses was in fact the author of Leviticus, as stated in premise (5), then we must conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.

 

LEVITICUS WAS NOT INSPIRED BY GOD BASED ON THE CONTENT OF LEVITICUS

Here is a high-level outline of the book of Leviticus:

I. Laws on sacrifice (1:1–7:38)
II. Institution of the priesthood (8:1–10:20)
III. Uncleanliness and its treatment (11:1–15:33)
IV. Day of Atonement: purification of the tabernacle from the effects of uncleanliness and sin (ch. 16)
V. Prescriptions for practical holiness (the Holiness Code, chs. 17–26)
VI. Redemption of votive gifts (ch. 27)

(from the article “Book of Leviticus” in Wikipedia)

So, clearly four big ideas in Leviticus are:

  • Sacrifices
  • Priesthood
  • Uncleanliness
  • Holiness

SACRIFICES AND PRIESTHOOD (Leviticus Chapters 1-10)

If there is no good reason for animal sacrifices, then there is also no good reason for the priesthood that is established in the book of Leviticus, because the primary job of the priests was to sacrifice animals.  So, my main focus here will be to argue that there was no good reason for the practice of animal sacrifices.

However, I will say a couple of things about the idea of a priesthood.  I was a conservative Evangelical Christian in my younger years, and I was a big fan of the Protestant Reformation, particularly the key theological principles of sola gratia (salvation is by God’s grace alone), sola fide (justification/forgiveness is by faith alone), and sola scriptura (the only authority in matters of faith and religion is the Bible).  I was also a fan of the protestant belief in “the priesthood of all believers”.  So, the idea of priests and bishops is one that STINKS for me, or at least it did when I was an Evangelical Christian.

Sacrifice of Isaac, by Caravaggio, c. 1603

Animal sacrifices are part of nearly every ancient religion.  Abraham practiced animal sacrifice long before Moses was born.  Lots of people from various tribes and cultures practiced animal sacrifice long before Moses was born.  Abraham didn’t need any priests to perform his animal sacrifices.  So, there is no reason why the ancient Israelites needed priests to perform animal sacrifices for them.  They could have done this for themselves, if there was some good reason for making animal sacrifices.

Having a priesthood basically removes thousands of able-bodied men from doing practical work that would benefit their people, like growing and harvesting crops, or raising and butchering animals, or baking bread, or making beer, or making useful items, like metal implements or clay pots.  A priesthood is a waste of potential workers who could perform useful practical tasks and help to complete important practical projects for their people.

The practice of having a priesthood teaches BAD THEOLOGY, because this practice implies that humans need to have an intermediary between themselves and God.  But according to Jesus and Christian theology, God is a loving “Father” to all human beings, and thus we ought to pray “Our Father who is in heaven…”.  Having a priesthood teaches people that God is a distant and frightening being whom ordinary humans ought not try to approach.  This is exactly the OPPOSITE of what Jesus taught.  So, the idea of a priesthood is BAD THEOLOGY from a Christian point of view.

The French atheist Denis Diderot (1713–1784) is often mistakenly* quoted as saying this about priesthood: 

Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

The basic idea is probably that religious institutions tend to provide support to powerful rulers and governments, whether those rulers or governments are good and just or are evil and unjust.

But there is also the suspicion that religions, especially religious institutions that include positions of religious authority, often abuse that authority, as for example, the world-wide sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests for the past century (and probably for most of the previous centuries) which was preserved by Catholic bishops who did everything they could to hide this fact from the public and to protect pedophile priests from being brought to justice, but who almost never lifted a finger to protect the children of Catholic believers from these pedophile priests.

Power corrupts, and hierarchies of power (like priests and bishops and popes) are clearly susceptible to unbelievable levels of corruption.  So, this is another reason for NOT establishing and maintaining a priesthood.  Give these men honest work on farms, and in manufacturing, and in business, and have them make actual practical contributions to their societies, instead of sucking off of hard-working fellow believers, or worse, assisting in the abuse and oppression of their fellow believers, as happened so often in the history of the Catholic Church, for example.

The priesthood established in Leviticus primarily performed tasks related to the practice of animal sacrifices.  So, if the practice of animal sacrifices was unnecessary or harmful, then there would be no good reason to establish a priesthood of the sort that Leviticus describes.

 

THE MORAL IMPERATIVE AGAINST ANIMAL SACRIFICES

The practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus involves the deaths and killings of thousands of animals, and over many centuries, millions of animals.  Even if the lives of animals are not given the same value as the lives of humans, it is clearly wrong to kill an animal without having a good reason to do so, especially higher animals like birds and mammals.  The killing of thousands of animals every year is most definitely morally wrong if those animals are birds and mammals, and if there is no good reason for doing this killing.  This might not be equivalent to killing thousands of human beings, but the killing of such animals is still of moral significance and would be wrong apart from having a good reason for doing that much killing.

So, it is morally wrong to institute the practice of animal sacrifices if this will involve the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year, UNLESS there is a good reason for having and maintaining the practice of animal sacrifices. If there is no good reason for the practice of animal sacrifices, then a perfectly good being would NOT issue commands to institute the practice of animal sacrifices when this would involve the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year.  I will argue that there is no such good reason, and thus that a perfectly good being would NOT issue commands to institute the practice of animal sacrifice as described in Leviticus, and thus that the book of Leviticus is NOT a message from God.

 

ANIMAL SACRIFICES NOT NECESSARY FOR MAINTENANCE OF A RELIGION

1. The sacrifice of animals is NOT necessary for the maintenance of a religion.  Judaism began after animal sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem ended, and Judaism has persisted for 2,000 years without the need of animal sacrifices, and Christianity has also persisted for 2,000 years without the need of animal sacrifices.

 

THE PRACTICE OF ANIMAL SACRIFICES TEACHES BAD THEOLOGY

2. If Jesus died for the sins of all humankind, including the sins of the ancient Israelites, then the practice of sacrificing of animals teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that the deaths of animals were required in order for God to forgive the sins of the ancient Israelites, which is FALSE.  Only the death of Jesus was required for the forgiveness of sins, according to Christian theology. Also, since the sacrifice of animals was NOT necessary in order for God to forgive the sins of ancient Israelites, the forgiveness of sins is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.

3. If salvation is by the GRACE of God ALONE, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that humans can by meritorious actions obtain God’s favor and forgiveness.  Giving a cherished or valuable animal to God and/or to God’s priests is clearly analogous to giving a present to a king or ruler to curry favor with that king or ruler.  But according to Christian theology, human beings are not capable of meriting God’s forgiveness and salvation.  So,  giving people a way to obtain God’s favor or forgiveness is another INVALID reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.

4. If God is IMPASSIBLE, as Thomists insist, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that humans can by their actions influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions.  But if human actions can influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions, then God is subject to the same sort of weaknesses and influences as humans who have feelings and desires. (I disagree with Thomists on this point, but the person who replied to my objections against Leviticus concerning homosexuality appears to be a Thomist).

5. If God is OMNIPOTENT, as nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims agree, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that humans can by their actions influence Jehovah, which implies that humans have power over Jehovah.  If humans can influence Jehovah’s feelings, attitude, or decisions by performing ritual actions, such as the sacrifice of an animal, then Jehovah is subject to human power and influence and cannot be omnipotent, and thus Jehovah would NOT be God, and thus Leviticus would NOT be inspired by God.  Since the actions of humans cannot influence God’s feelings, attitude, or decisions, the desire to please and influence God is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.

6. If God is SELF-SUFFICIENT, as nearly all Christians believe, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.  This practice implies that humans can by their actions cause Jehovah to be happy or pleased, or deprive Jehovah of something that would cause Jehovah to be happy or pleased.   If we humans can make Jehovah happy or pleased by performing animal sacrifices, then this implies that Jehovah wants and desires that humans perform such actions, and that by failing to perform such actions we can deprive Jehovah of some potential satisfaction and happiness.  But in that case Jehovah would NOT be self-sufficient, and thus would NOT be God.  Thus, Leviticus would NOT be inspired by God.  Also, since animal sacrifices are not capable of causing God to be happy or pleased, this is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.

7. If God is PERFECTLY JUST, as nearly all Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe, then the practice of animal sacrifices teaches BAD THEOLOGY.   This practice implies that Jehovah is willing to inflict the punishment for human sins on an innocent animal who did not chose to sin or to disobey Jehovah.  It is manifestly unjust to kill an animal in order to prevent and eliminate the punishment that a human deserved for some sin or crime.  Thus, if Jehovah inspired the commands concerning the practice of animal sacrifice found in Leviticus, then Jehovah is clearly unjust and thus Jehovah is NOT God, and thus Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.  Since animal sacrifices do not constitute a fair and just way for the ancient Israelites to obtain forgiveness for their sins or crimes, this is another invalid reason for instituting the practice of animal sacrifices.

The term “scapegoat” originates from the book of Leviticus  (click on image below for a clearer view of the definitions):

(These definitions of “scapegoat” are from Dictionary.com.)

Making a person or group bear the blame for others or suffer in their place is clearly UNFAIR and UNJUST.  Doing the same thing to an animal is also clearly morally wrong.  This is NOT something that a perfectly good deity would promote or encourage.

 

CONCLUSION

If, as many conservative Catholics and conservative Evangelicals believe, Moses was the author of Leviticus, then we must conclude that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God, because Moses was a prophet of Jehovah, and Jehovah is clearly NOT God.

However, setting aside the question of the authorship of Leviticus, the CONTENT of Leviticus also gives us a good reason to believe that this book was NOT inspired by God.

I am not aware of any good reason for establishing the practice of animal sacrifices, especially if the practice clearly involved the killing of thousands of birds and mammals each year, potentially for many centuries.

However, there are plenty of good reasons AGAINST the practice of animal sacrifice, at least from a Christian point of view, and there are some good reasons AGAINST the practice of animal sacrifice from a Jewish and Muslim point of view as well.  The practice of animal sacrifices teaches many FALSE ideas about God, from a Christian point of view, and teaches some FALSE ideas about God from a Jewish or Muslim point of view.

Given the moral imperative that the practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus are morally wrong UNLESS there is a good reason for establishing the practice of such animal sacrifices, and given that there appears to be no good reason for establishing this practice, and we have a number of good reason AGAINST the establishment of the practice of animal sacrifices as described in Leviticus, making it even more unlikely that there is good reason for establishing this practice,  it was morally wrong to issue the commands found in Leviticus concerning the practice of animal sacrifices, and thus Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.

Given that there is no good reason to establish the practice of animal sacrifices, there was also no good reason to establish the priesthood as described in Leviticus.  Furthermore, there also appear to be some good reasons AGAINST the establishment of the sort of priesthood described in Leviticus, making it even more unlikely that there is sufficient reason for establishing the sort of priesthood that is described in Leviticus.  Thus, we have another good reason to believe that Leviticus was NOT inspired by God.

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*Meslier [the atheist‐​priest Jean Meslier] repudiated the doctrine of passive obedience unequivocally. Throughout the Testament he endorsed violent resistance against tyrannical rulers and their unjust actions. Indeed, in Chapter 2 we find the first formulation of a saying that has commonly been attributed to the French atheist Denis Diderot (1713–1784): “Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” This is not how Meslier worded the sentiment, nor did he take credit for the idea. Rather, Meslier attributed the sentiment to a common Frenchman “who had no culture or education.”  (from: “Smith explains Meslier’s three major objections to Christian morality, as taught by Jesus.” by George H. Smith)

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UPDATE ON 9/9/2020

CLARIFICATION OF THE PHRASE “BAD THEOLOGY”:

One sort of BAD THEOLOGY is logically self-contradictory claims about God.
“God, if God exists, does not know how many hairs there are on my head.” This is BAD THEOLOGY, in that in the ordinary sense of the word “God”, someone is “God” only if that person is omniscient. So, there is a logical self-contradiction in that sentence. Similarly, the sentence “God, if God exists, has a master plan in which billions of human beings will end up being tormented in hell for all eternity” is BAD THEOLOGY, because in the ordinary sense of the word “God”, someone is “God” only if that person is perfectly morally good, but a person who plans for billions of human beings to be tormented in hell for all eternity is clearly NOT a perfectly morally good person.

Another sort of BAD THEOLOGY is claims about God that contradict one’s own basic theological beliefs. Here the “badness” is relative to a point of view (unlike the badness of a logical self-contradiction which is objectively and universally bad). Jesus clearly taught (according to the Gospels) that we should view God as our “heavenly Father”, as a person who loves and cares about the welfare of each and every human being. So to claim that “God is a terrible and wrathful person whom you must only approach through an intermediary, like a priest” is to contradict a basic teaching of Jesus. From a Christian point of view, claims about God that contradict a basic teaching of Jesus constitute BAD THEOLOGY and thus should be rejected.

Of course, what counts as BAD THEOLOGY from a Christian point of view does not necessarily count as BAD THEOLOGY from the point of view of another religion, like Islam or Buddhism. But the argument against homosexual sex based on the book of Leviticus is primarily a Christian argument (although it could also be a Jewish argument). So, when I argue that Leviticus teaches BAD THEOLOGY in relation to a Christian point of view, I am using the beliefs and assumptions of the people who are presenting the argument against homosexual sex based on Leviticus.

Some of my objections in this post present a DILEMMA to Christian believers. For example:

1. Either you accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels) or not.

2. If you accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels), then you must reject the practice of animal sacrifices as teaching BAD THEOLOGY.

3. If you reject the practice of animal sacrifices as teaching BAD THEOLOGY, then you must also (to be logically consistent) reject the view that the book of Leviticus was inspired by God.

4. If you do NOT accept the basic teachings of Jesus about God (as presented in the Gospels), then you must also (to be logically consistent) reject the basic Christian beliefs that Jesus was a true prophet and that Jesus was the divine Son of God and savior of mankind.

In short, the DILEMMA is this:

5. You can either remain a Christian believer and reject the inspiration of Leviticus OR you can reject the Christian religion as FALSE.

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