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The Old Testament - It's a Bit Strange

The Out Campaign: Scarlet Letter of AtheismThe longer and longer I'm outside of Christianity, the more and more absurd it all appears. A friend of mine directed me to the following article the other day: 11 Things The Bible Bans, But You Do Anyway. It's what has become a somewhat typical list of some of the rules given in the Old Testament (OT) that are no longer followed by Christians, as a response to Christian cherry-picking of OT rules to condemn practices they don't like. Several Christians left comments to that article explaining that Christians were no longer obligated to follow OT rules because of the New Covenant with Christ.

On a certain level, I'm glad that Christians use this New Covenant rationalization. When you read the rules from the OT, some are truly horrendous. Consider Deuteronomy 21:18-21, which explains that "stubborn and rebellious" sons should be stoned to death, or Exodus 21:20-21, which explains how it's okay for someone to beat their slave since the slave is their property (they just shouldn't kill the slave), or Deuteronomy 22:20-21, which decrees death by stoning for girls not being virgins, or from that same chapter, verse 28, which describes a woman as a piece of property that a man can buy from her father. I could go on, but that's not the point of this essay. I'm glad that most Christians recognize these rules as immoral, and try to distance themselves from them with the New Covenant (in the modern industrialized world, at least - witch hunts are still tragically common in some parts of the world in accordance with Exodus, 22:18 or Leviticus, 20:27).

But invoking the New Covenant leaves a major issue unresolved - what type of a god would have created those horrendous rules to begin with? They're certainly not representative of a loving, forgiving god like most Christians profess to believe in.

I've seen various rationalizations from Christians for why OT rules were so much different than the New Covenant. One of the more common, ignoring the barbaric commandments and focusing on dietary rules, is that they were for the benefit of primitive people that didn't have as complete an understanding of the world as we do today. Here's one such example, The Dietary Law Today. The first objection is that these rules weren't as beneficial as some people would like to believe. Sure, pork can be contaminated with trichonosis, but meat from 'clean' animals can also be infected with parasites, and even a head of lettuce can be infected with E. coli. The risk is not so much in the specific types of food, but in the preparation. A better guidebook would have given directions to properly clean and cook food.

A bigger problem with the above rationalization, and with several other rationalizations concerning the OT that I'm not going to discuss here, is when you look at it in a larger context. Barring what some fundamentalists might say, the Earth is a few billion years old, and humans have been around for a hundred thousand years or so. The various books of the OT were only written on the order of a few thousand years ago (give or take for the different books). And the Hebrews certainly weren't the only people living at the time. So out of all the peoples that have lived over the millenia, God supposedly revealed himself to one small group, and gave them rules that applied only to them, but that none of the surrounding societies adopted. Obviously, given the successes of Egypt and Rome, it's not as if OT rules gave the Hebrews any earthly advantages over other peoples. It's not as if Romans were dying from food poisoning at much higher rates than Jews, allowing the Jews to conquer the Romans. And then, just a few thousand years after dictating all these specific but seemingly arbitrary rules, God just comes along and says that they're not important anymore. And by the way, all you Gentiles that never followed the rules to begin with, you can now become Christians and get into heaven, too.

So, the Old Testament just really seems strange. Aside from the utter immorality of the rules, it just seems so bizarre that a god would impose those types of rules for such a short period of human history, isolated to such a small group of people, only to later say that they didn't apply anymore.

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