Gospel Doctrine for the Godless

An ex-Mormon take on LDS Sunday School lessons

Category: fetish for dead baby blood (page 1 of 2)

NT Lesson 30 (Respecter of Persons)

“God Is No Respecter of Persons”

Acts 10–14; 15:1–35

LDS manual: here


To show that the god of the Bible is unjust, and encourage readers to do better than God does.


Even as a believer, I was noticing doctrinal shifts in the Mormon Church. The 1978 change on race and the priesthood was the biggest example — that was an earthquake — but I’m thinking of the little shifts and tremors.

Like the idea that Blacks were neutral in the War in Heaven. This idea was taught to me in church, and the idea even popped up in LDS fiction of the time. Well, there was no way of proving it wrong, but it was distasteful, and that was reason enough for it to get shifted.

I found the 1990 changes to the Temple Endowment — well, quite welcome, actually! The miming of throat-slitting and disemboweling was really creepy. But why would the ceremony need to change? I could think of nothing but: The penalties were too weird and off-putting. Well, wouldn’t God have known that to start with?

Even as a believer, doctrinal creep bugged me. I made a sour joke once: “What’s the difference between true and false Mormon doctrine? About 40 years!”

Of course, Mormonism is well-equipped to shift its doctrines. The idea of “continuing revelation” means that the president can change what Mormon doctrine is. It doesn’t work that way, though — church leaders generally avoid revealing or clarifying anything. Instead, changes are brought about by an anonymous committee working out of the Newsroom. In the modern church, “continuing revelation” usually means that the church is continually (but gradually) revealing unsavoury details about its past to its members.

And herein lies the problem: if old doctrines were weird, unpalatable, or — in the case of race and the Priesthood, just plain racist and unjust — and they need to be changed, then the church should say that the old ways were wrong, and that they’ll try to do better.

Instead, according to the LDS Gospel Doctrine manual, the issue of race and the Priesthood is taken as evidence of God’s justice. Because he stopped being racist.

If any class members remember the day the revelation was announced, invite them to describe how they felt when they learned of it.
Who made the priesthood available to all worthy male members of the Church? (The Lord.) How did the Lord make his will known to the Church? (He revealed it to the prophet, who then announced it to the Church members.) How did this revelation affect the Church?
Explain that this revelation is an example of how the Lord continues to direct
his Church through revelation. This lesson discusses a similar revelation that was given to the members of the Church shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Better question: Who was it that prevented the priesthood from being available to all worthy male members of the Church in the first place?

It’s hugely ironic that this example of discrimination is taken by Latter-day Saints as a sign of how great God is.

Brother Jake has explained how this is totally not racist.

Anyhow, the lesson starts with a racist doctrine, as a way of tying it into an even more racist doctrine: only allowing Jews to have the gospel. Which apparently Jehovah was okay with at first. It seems that God has had some consciousness-raising experiences over the years.

I’m noticing some shifting in the pews, which means I’ve been monologuing for too long. Let’s get to the lesson.

Main ideas for this lesson


At this point in our story, many Christians thought that only ex-Jews should be Christians.

Ask: Where would they have gotten that idea?
Answer: From Jesus, who never intended that his message should go to anyone but the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’.

Restricting your target audience is the worst idea for a business, and it must have been clear to someone (probably Peter) that tribal religions (like Judaism) were going nowhere, and that universalising religions were the way to go. So Peter got a vision.

Acts 10:9 On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour:
10:10 And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance,
10:11 And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth:
10:12 Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
10:13 And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
10:14 But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean.
10:15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.

The early church members must have been pleased to find that circumcision was no longer necessary.

Acts 15:5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.
15:6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
15:7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, …
15:10 Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

And that’s how Christianity managed to distinguish itself from other Jewish sects. (But they’re still Jews.)

Ask: What kind of Jew are you?

If you really want to take the broad view, have a look at this Evolutionary Tree of Religion. Can you spot your religion, or former religion?

God is a respecter of persons

Peter, despite a lifetime of evidence to the contrary, says this:

Acts 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:

Ask: What does this phrase mean?
Answer: It is usually taken to mean that God treats everyone the same.

I don’t think anything can be clearer than the fact that God does not treat everyone the same. Paul, in his speech to the Athenians, said:

Acts 17:26 And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;

That means that God has chosen where and when everyone will live, and that means that God has elevated some to lives of prosperity, peace, and plenty, and consigned others to lives of disease, poverty, and misery. How unequal!

From Sam Harris’ debate with William Lane Craig:

“Nine million children die every year before they reach the age of five. Picture an Asian tsunami of the sort we saw in 2004 that killed a quarter of a million people—one of those every 10 days, killing children only under five: that’s twenty-four thousand children a day, a thousand an hour, seventeen or so a minute. That means before I get to the end of this sentence, some few children very likely will have died in terror and agony.
“Think of the parents of these children. Think of the fact that most of these men and women believe in God and are praying at this moment for their children to be spared, and their prayers will not be answered. But according to Dr. Craig, this is all part of god’s plan.
Any god who would allow children by the millions to suffer and die in this way and their parents to grieve in this way, either can do nothing to help them or doesn’t care to. He is therefore either impotent or evil. And worse than that, on Dr. Craig’s view, most of these people, many of these people certainly, will be going to hell because they’re praying to the wrong god. Just think about that: through no fault of their own, they were born into the wrong culture, where they got the wrong theology, and they missed the revelation. There are 1.2 billion people in India at this moment; most of them are Hindus, most of them therefore polytheists. In Dr. Craig’s universe, no matter how good these people are, they are doomed. If you are praying to the monkey God Hanuman, you are doomed—you’ll be tortured in hell for eternity. Now is there the slightest evidence for this? No. It just says so in Mark 9 and Matthew 13 and Revelation 14.
So God created the cultural isolation of the Hindus; he engineered the circumstance of their deaths in ignorance of revelation, and then he created the penalty for this ignorance, which is an eternity of conscious torment in fire.

“And please notice the double standard that people like Dr. Craig use to exonerate god from all this evil. We’re told that God is loving and kind and just and intrinsically good. But when someone like myself points out the rather obvious and compelling evidence that God is cruel and unjust, because he visits suffering on innocent people of a scope and scale that would embarrass the most ambitious psychopath, we are told that god is mysterious. Who can understand god’s will? Yet this merely human understanding of God’s will is precisely what believers use to establish his goodness in the first place. If something good happens to a Christian—he feels some bliss while praying, or he sees some positive change his life—we’re told that God is good. But when children by the tens of thousands are torn from their parents’ arms and drowned, we are told god is mysterious.”

Fortunately, the crushing poverty under which many people live getting better. Here’s a chart showing that fewer and fewer of us are living in abject poverty.

Ask: If you’re doing okay financially, are you sharing with others who have much less? There are lots of good secular organisations that are working to eradicate poverty and disease. By donating to them, you can help to do what God has failed to do for millennia of human history.

My favourites are Oxfam, MSF, water.org, and the Smith Family. Put yours in comments.

Additional lesson ideas

How church policy and practices are made

From the Gospel Doctrine manual:

• How do the events described in Acts 15:6–31 demonstrate the pattern by which decisions about Church policy and practices are made?
a. Church leaders meet to consider the matter (verse 6).
b. They discuss the matter thoroughly (verses 7–21).
c. They make a decision in accordance with the Lord’s will (verses 19–21).
d. The Holy Ghost confirms that the decision is correct (verse 28).
e. The decision is announced to the Saints for sustaining (verses 22–31).

I see a different pattern at work.

a. The morality of the world improves, or an unpleasant tidbit from church history emerges.
b. The Church feels pressure to change.
c. Church leaders resist the pressure, because that’s not how the church works!
d. The issue starts to affect the bottom line, as members leave.
e. President Newsroom releases an uncredited, unannounced essay on lds.org in the middle of the night.
f. Apologists, PR flacks, and surrogates defend the church
g. Church leaders say nothing to clarify church doctrine, so that everyone can keep believing what they like.

All right, it’s a lovely day, and some of you are looking longingly out the window, so let’s dismiss. I’ll see you next week.

OT Lesson 32 (Job)

“I Know That My Redeemer Liveth”

Job 1–2; 13; 19; 27; 42

LDS manual: here


Whereas in earlier books, Jehovah-worship has been fairly straightforward — worship Yahweh or be killed — now we’re seeing a more nuanced and thoughtful view. Job is a guy who endures undeserved suffering, and leads us to ask why. It’s almost as though someone noticed: hey, the consequences of faith are not always unambiguously good. Why, it’s almost as though there’s no correlation between what a person is like, and how their life goes! Almost as though God didn’t exist! How is that possible?

According to the real lesson manual, the Book of Job is intended:

To help class members develop strength to face adversity by trusting the Lord, building their testimonies of him, and maintaining personal integrity.

That’s right! You’re facing adversity because God has a plan for you! Trust him.

Isn’t that what people always say? You’re going through adversity, and it’s hard to understand, but hang in there! It’ll all make sense one day! God has a plan!

Unfortunately if you’re Job, God’s plan is to kill your family, afflict you with boils, and then bully you afterward by bragging about how great he is. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

Read the following story, or play the following video for the class.

Job was a pretty good guy, just the kind God would have been into.

1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
1:2 And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.
1:3 His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.

But one day God and Satan are hanging out for some reason, and they make a bet whether Job really loves god or not.

1:6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them.
1:7 And the LORD said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
1:8 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
1:9 Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
1:10 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
1:11 But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
1:12 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

So Job’s children, his animals, and his servants are all killed, and Job is understandably upset.

1:20 Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
1:21 And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.
1:22 In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

That’s not enough for God, though.

2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.
2:2 And the LORD said unto Satan, From whence comest thou? And Satan answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
2:3 And the LORD said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.

Yes, here God admits that he destroyed Job for no reason.

Here’s Dan Barker commentary, using the Book of Job to show how morally compromised believers are. (Thanks to David.)

Anyway, Satan responds:

2:4 And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.
2:5 But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.
2:6 And the LORD said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.
2:7 So went Satan forth from the presence of the LORD, and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot unto his crown.

I really like how this commenter breaks it down.

What Satan is baiting God with is the prospect of receiving unearned worship and adulation. You see, if God is good, and people worship him for being good, then his ego-strokes only come because he’s living up to his end of the bargain. But Satan tempted God with the chance to receive Job’s adulation and praise regardless of his actions. God wanted to be able to throw all morality to the winds and be literally demonic in the cruelty of his deeds, and still be worshiipped as the ‘perfect, just God’. He doesn’t merely want unearned praise–he wants his worshippers to be so mindless, so utterly servile they will praise him to the skies even as he tortures them. Or, as Job put it, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.”

The Book of Job makes it plainly, indisputably, blatantly clear that God cannot be trusted as a Protector, and that he has no ethics at all.

Job’s wife isn’t much help.

2:9 Then said his wife unto him, Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.
2:10 But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.
2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.

Job’s friends aren’t sympathetic, and they hurl accusations against Job in various ways. Eliphaz the Temanite, unaware of God’s bet with Satan, thinks God is just dandy.

4:7 Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?

Bildad the Shuhite also argues that God is fair.

8:3 Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?

Zophar the Naamathite wishes that God would come down and shut Job’s wicked mouth. If only he knew about the bet.

11:4 For thou hast said, My doctrine is pure, and I am clean in thine eyes.
11:5 But oh that God would speak, and open his lips against thee;
11:6 And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is! Know therefore that God exacteth of thee less than thine iniquity deserveth.

They all have the same idea: that God is good, and Job must have done something terrible to merit such suffering. But we, having read Chapters 1 and 2, know that — nope — God’s a shit.

Job seems to have figured it out.

9:22 This is one thing, therefore I said it, He destroyeth the perfect and the wicked.

He blasts his friends.

16:2 I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all.
19:19 All my inward friends abhorred me: and they whom I loved are turned against me.

Nevertheless, he maintains his faith in a god who is allowing him to be destroyed.

13:15 Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.
13:16 He also shall be my salvation: for an hypocrite shall not come before him.

Another guy, Elihu, joins the discussion and keeps up the pressure on Job.

34:12 Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.

God must be feeling pretty stupid at this point. All these men are extolling God’s righteousness to Job, who is suffering undeserved torment at God’s hands — again — for no good reason.

So at this point, God breaks in, and to me he sounds rather defensive. His answer, in summary is: “Who the fuck are you? I ain’t gotta explain jack shit to you.” He taunts everyone for not being as strong or as mighty as him.

38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,
38:2 Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?
38:3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me.
38:4 Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.
38:5 Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?
38:6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
40:1 Moreover the LORD answered Job, and said,
40:2 Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

God also likes his arms and his voice, so — you know — good self-esteem there, God.

40:9 Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?

God also makes reference to many mythical animals he invented, like unicorns, behemoth, and leviathan.

39:10 Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee?
40:15 Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox.
41:1 Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?

Read more in “God refuses to explain his cruelty” in the Brick Testament

And now we get to the ending, and I think it’s the worst way to end this story. God gives Job more sheep, camels, and oxen — and more children! So everything’s all right, right? He won’t miss his dead children now!

42:10 And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
42:11 Then came there unto him all his brethren, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him, and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him: every man also gave him a piece of money, and every one an earring of gold.
42:12 So the LORD blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses.
42:13 He had also seven sons and three daughters.

Click to go through to Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

I have to confess that, besides the way we’re supposed to act like there’s no harm done, I really hate this ending. The Book of Job is an exploration of why bad things happen to good people, and this is a serious issue for believers. Some people are harmed and never restored. Some people worship Jehovah / Jesus all their lives and never get the goodies. But the Book of Job blows it all by… giving Job the goodies! So what was the lesson here? I thought it was “Worship God, even if you don’t get the goodies.” But no, I was wrong; it appears the lesson is: “Worship God, and eventually you’ll get the goodies!” As far as tacked-on happy endings go, this is up there with the Joad family finding jobs in the movie version of the Grapes of Wrath. It blows the whole thing.

There are lots of ways to deal with adversity — get help from friends or professionals, do things that make you feel better — but this lesson promotes probably the most unhelpful way of dealing with adversity: trust in a cruel and capricious deity.

Main points from the lesson

Satan, and the Problem of Evil

People have always asked: If there’s a good god, why do bad things happen? We could use Epicurus’ formulation:

There’s an entire branch of theology devoted to this called theodicy.

Follow through to Jesus and Mo

I’m ashamed to say that, maybe because I hadn’t suffered much in my life, the Problem of Evil was never a problem for me in my believing days. What, do you want God to run around fixing everyone’s problems? How are we supposed to grow? and so on.

My view changed when I read “The Tale of the Twelve Officers“, who witness a crime, and refuse to stop it. Each officer gives a rationale — more morally callous than the last — that exactly mirrors an excuse believers give for God’s failure to help people, in a way that any of us would do if we could.

It was, of course, sad to hear that Ms. K had been slowly raped and murdered by a common thug over the course of one hour and fifty-five minutes; but when I found out that the ordeal had taken place in plain sight of twelve fully-armed off-duty police officers, who ignored her terrified cries for help, and instead just watched until the act was carried to its gruesome end, I found myself facing a personal crisis. You see, the officers had all been very close friends of mine, but now I found my trust in them shaken to its core. Fortunately, I was able to talk with them afterwards, and ask them how they could have stood by and done nothing when they could so easily have saved Ms. K.

Let’s back up. It was easy to explain evil in the polytheist days: There are good gods and evil gods, and an evil god did it.

It was sort of easy to explain evil in the early monotheist days as well: God did all the good and the bad stuff, and he didn’t really care what you thought. For example, we have these scriptures that reflect the idea that God does everything, good and bad:

Amos 3:6 Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?
Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.

But having God do bad stuff conflicted with the notion that he was loving and merciful, and as those latter aspects became more and more important to people, something had to give. So the victim-blaming rationale became popular: You deserved bad things to happen to you because you’d done something bad. But eventually even that answer seemed unsatisfactory to many. A new answer was needed. And now — what a coincidence — just at the time that Bible writers were grappling with the reason for undeserved suffering, they were developing a new character to explain it: Satan. And the new explanation is: God is good, but there’s a devil who messes you up.

Satan hasn’t been a character in the Old Testament until now. Oh, sure, there was a talking snake in the Garden, but he was just a snake. The word satan (Hebrew ‘stn‘) just meant ‘an adversary‘. In the story of Balaam (Numbers 22:22), the angel of the Lord that was meant to turn Balaam away from the king was a ‘satan’. In 1 Samuel 29:4, the Philistines debate whether to help David, lest he be a ‘satan’ to them. The idea of Satan as a adversarial supernatural being appears to be an innovation in the Book of Job. And notice how he’s pretty chummy with God at first, dropping in, chatting, and of course making bets.

Admittedly, the Satan explanation for evil isn’t that much better, because why would God allow an evil being to roam about mucking things up? But at least it absolves God of the direct responsibility for doing evil things. It even allows the semblance of free agency — you have God and Satan; which one are you going to follow?

Satan is an evolved explanation for the Problem of Evil, but one that causes more problems than it solves.

People are better than their god

Elihu taunts Job, asking if he has the audacity to think he’s more righteous than God.

35:1 Elihu spake moreover, and said,
35:2 Thinkest thou this to be right, that thou saidst, My righteousness is more than God’s?

My answer is a resounding “yes!” In church, we’re accustomed to hearing how great God is, and how we are nothing, less than the dust of the earth. It’s time to shake that off and realise that the reverse is true. We — all of us — are more moral than God. This should be obvious to anyone who’s been following these lessons, but let’s just have a quick recap.

Ask the class which of these actions they would perform:

  • Condemn humanity to suffering for one couple’s disobedience
  • Drown all but a handful of your children
  • Allow slavery, but be angry when your own people are slaves
  • Kill the firstborn child of a group of people
  • Have all knowledge of medicine and science, but only reveal details of animal sacrifice and furniture building to your chosen people
  • Instruct your people to commit genocide
  • Kill your way out of every problem you created and foresaw
  • Demand first, last, and always, that you be obeyed
  • Know in advance about every atrocity that’s happening or will happen, but do nothing to stop it
  • Condemn some of your children to an eternity of any the following — torture, isolation from family, separation from you — for not believing in you or loving you enough

The god of the Bible is claimed — by his followers, no less — to have done or to do each of these things, and yet instead of hunting him down and purging him from their society like you would do to any human that did them, they somehow account him worthy of worship. It’s really breathtakingly perverse when you think about it.

Check out this blistering litany from Matt Dillahunty to a caller.

You are moral than the god that they forced you to believe, that they’ve conned you into accepting! You don’t believe that I necessarily deserve to go to hell for exercising the “free will” that you think your god gave me. You don’t think that the dictates of a conscience — whether or not somebody believes — is a sufficient justification for eternal torture…. You are better than your god. You are better than your religion. So am I, so is Don, so is damn near everybody on the planet! I wish people would wake up and see this! Stop apologising for this (holds up Bible)! It’s not the Good Book! There’s nothing good about it! All it does is poison minds!



In the Old Testament, resurrection was never really on the cards. Job seems to take the prevailing view that people just die, and then nothing happens to them.

7:9 As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.

And yet, in Job, we start to see glimmers of the idea that people will have some kind of existence after death.

19:25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:
19:26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Christianity is going to need this when it gets invented. Without a wonderful tantalising afterlife to look forward to, this religion lacks something in the motivation department. With Judaism, who cared if you were motivated? It was your ethnic religion, you were born into it, and you’re stuck with it. But for Christianity, which had to attract converts, a nothing sort of afterlife wasn’t going to cut it. And this is why we find Christianity seizing upon such scriptures in a hope for a heaven — an innovation that started right here in Job.

My father died in 2004 or 2005. We’re still not sure which. (No, it’s nothing that mysterious. In his sleep on New Year’s Eve.) It wasn’t funny at the time, but now to me, it is, just a little bit. Sorry, Dad!

Dad’s death was a bit of an earthquake that wrenched a lot of my calcified belief free. Questions of existence and afterlife took on a new urgency. I was the adult now. No older generation acting as a buffer for life’s uncertainties. You’re the next to go. So if I was wrong in my belief, and there was no consciousness after death, I damn well wanted to know. I think this “wanting to know” is probably the beginning of the end of belief for a lot of people. If you’re content to go back to sleep, and hang on to faith — take the blue pill — then you can believe anything forever, be wrong for the whole of your life, and never know it. But if you really want to know… then you can start to investigate a little more stringently. Which I began do to, and I did not like what I found.

At Dad’s gravesite, I found myself speaking aloud this verse from Job:

14:14 If a man die, shall he live again?

My sister, also present, immediately told me, “Yes.” Which is her way. Always cuts straight to the faithful answer. Love her to pieces.

In the weeks and months to come, leading up to my deconversion, I began to realise that this question — do we live after death? — is really the critical question that all the others hang off of. If the answer is yes, then it’s logical to live one way. If the answer is no, it’s logical to live another. You can’t live halfway between.

So it took me a while to answer Job’s question: “If a man die, shall he live again?” And looking at the evidence, I had to admit that the answer was: Probably not. It’s time to admit that we’ve never seen any evidence of anyone coming back from being really truly dead. Oh, sure there’s no shortage of people telling us that heaven is real, and it’s usually people selling books about how heaven is real. But really, all we know is that this life is all we get. And if you’re reading this on a computer, then you’re one of the lucky few for whom life is the easiest, the longest, and the most luxurious it’s ever been for any group of people on earth. Yes, there are struggles and challenges. But there’s food and sex and art and music and people.

It’s all happening right now, and it’s too precious to waste in a church that promises that if you give them your money and obedience now, you can live in heaven when you die. Make your life better today.

Additional teaching ideas

Good things in the Bible

Withholding food and clothing from the poor is specifically mentioned as iniquity several times in Job.

31:16 If I have withheld the poor from their desire, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail;
31:17 Or have eaten my morsel myself alone, and the fatherless hath not eaten thereof;
31:18 (For from my youth he was brought up with me, as with a father, and I have guided her from my mother’s womb;)
31:19 If I have seen any perish for want of clothing, or any poor without covering;
31:20 If his loins have not blessed me, and if he were not warmed with the fleece of my sheep;
31:21 If I have lifted up my hand against the fatherless, when I saw my help in the gate:
31:22 Then let mine arm fall from my shoulder blade, and mine arm be broken from the bone.

Science in the Bible

Bible adherents like to quote Job for this tidbit of scientific wisdom:

26:7 He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.

See? The earth hangs on nothing! Proof that the Bible is accurate in its knowledge of the universe.

Except that just four verses later, heaven has pillars:

26:11 The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his reproof.

So far, no efforts have been made on the part of Christian scientists to find the pillars of heaven, because everyone knows that’s metaphorical.

Also metaphorical in Job is the idea that the sky is some kind of strong glassy barrier.

37:18 Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?

And that men lactate.

21:23 One dieth in his full strength, being wholly at ease and quiet.
21:24 His breasts are full of milk, and his bones are moistened with marrow
21:25 And another dieth in the bitterness of his soul, and never eateth with pleasure.

Enjoy that mental image, and I’ll see you next week.

OT Lesson 29 (Elisha)

“He Took Up . . .the Mantle of Elijah”

2 Kings 2; 5–6

LDS manual: here



OMFSM, 2 Kings is a tough reading. It’s nothing but this or that king, and either they were a good king (just like David) and they did everything Jehovah wanted (usually destroying other people and/or their religious iconography), or they were just the worst person ever and they liked Baal a lot.

Fortunately, there’s a bit of a buddy story going on between Elijah and Elisha.

Elijah is up to his old tricks, setting a hundred people on fire…

1:9 Then the king sent unto him a captain of fifty with his fifty. And he went up to him: and, behold, he sat on the top of an hill. And he spake unto him, Thou man of God, the king hath said, Come down.
1:10 And Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
1:11 Again also he sent unto him another captain of fifty with his fifty. And he answered and said unto him, O man of God, thus hath the king said, Come down quickly.
1:12 And Elijah answered and said unto them, If I be a man of God, let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty. And the fire of God came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.

and getting taken up into heaven, dropping his mantle to Elisha in the process…

2:11 And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2:12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
2:13 He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;

which Elisha then uses to do magic tricks. These include:

• parting the river

2:14 And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.

• reviving children by inflating them

4:32 And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed.
4:33 He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.
4:34 And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.
4:35 Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.

• fixing poisoned food using flour (don’t try this at home)

4:38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets.
4:39 And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not.
4:40 So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof.
4:41 But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.

• healing Naaman of leprosy (but only if he washes seven times in the Jordan River)

5:14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

• and giving the leprosy to someone else. I didn’t know leprosy was transferrable. Notice that the leprosy doesn’t transfer to one person, but all his children forever.

5:25 But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither.
5:26 And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?
5:27 The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.

• Also, making iron float.

6:4 So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood.
6:5 But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed.
6:6 And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim.

There are still the usual struggles between Jehovah and Baal. You’d think with Jehovah / Jesus being real and almighty and Baal being imaginary, this would be no contest, but — wouldn’t you know — even a god can’t make his omnipotent will happen without a little help from his friends. And when I say “a little help”, I mean “wholesale killing”, when Jehu kills all the priests and followers of Baal by subterfuge.

10:18 And Jehu gathered all the people together, and said unto them, Ahab served Baal a little; but Jehu shall serve him much.
10:19 Now therefore call unto me all the prophets of Baal, all his servants, and all his priests; let none be wanting: for I have a great sacrifice to do to Baal; whosoever shall be wanting, he shall not live. But Jehu did it in subtilty, to the intent that he might destroy the worshippers of Baal.
10:20 And Jehu said, Proclaim a solemn assembly for Baal. And they proclaimed it.
10:21 And Jehu sent through all Israel: and all the worshippers of Baal came, so that there was not a man left that came not. And they came into the house of Baal; and the house of Baal was full from one end to another.
10:22 And he said unto him that was over the vestry, Bring forth vestments for all the worshippers of Baal. And he brought them forth vestments.
10:23 And Jehu went, and Jehonadab the son of Rechab, into the house of Baal, and said unto the worshippers of Baal, Search, and look that there be here with you none of the servants of the LORD, but the worshippers of Baal only.
10:24 And when they went in to offer sacrifices and burnt offerings, Jehu appointed fourscore men without, and said, If any of the men whom I have brought into your hands escape, he that letteth him go, his life shall be for the life of him.
10:25 And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, that Jehu said to the guard and to the captains, Go in, and slay them; let none come forth. And they smote them with the edge of the sword; and the guard and the captains cast them out, and went to the city of the house of Baal.
10:26 And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them.
10:27 And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day.
10:28 Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel.

Jehovah/Jesus thinks all this murder is just dandy.

10:30 And the LORD said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.

Even so, the lost tribes are lost

17:6 In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

as Israel abandons (and in turn, is abandoned by) Jehovah

17:16 And they left all the commandments of the LORD their God, and made them molten images, even two calves, and made a grove, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.
17:17 And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
17:18 Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight: there was none left but the tribe of Judah only.
17:19 Also Judah kept not the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the statutes of Israel which they made.
17:20 And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight.

God cops a bit of an attitude because he’s not being worshipped enough, so he allows his people to either be murdered or become refugees. It’s a bit like the Flood, when people weren’t sufficiently obeisant for him, so he wipes them out. This god isn’t really good at doing stuff.

After this, God has a bit of a pout, and when other people start living in the area, he sends lions to eat them.

17:24 And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.
17:25 And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.

Even Judah stops believing.

21:1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Hephzibah.
21:6 And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.
21:10 And the LORD spake by his servants the prophets, saying,
21:11 Because Manasseh king of Judah hath done these abominations, and hath done wickedly above all that the Amorites did, which were before him, and hath made Judah also to sin with his idols:
21:12 Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle.
21:13 And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab: and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipeth a dish, wiping it, and turning it upside down.

That might have been the end of Jehovah. But then, like in a bad movie where someone awakens ancient evil by accident, someone finds a book about Jehovah, and the curse is renewed.

22:8 And Hilkiah the high priest said unto Shaphan the scribe, I have found the book of the law in the house of the LORD. And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it.
22:9 And Shaphan the scribe came to the king, and brought the king word again, and said, Thy servants have gathered the money that was found in the house, and have delivered it into the hand of them that do the work, that have the oversight of the house of the LORD.
22:10 And Shaphan the scribe shewed the king, saying, Hilkiah the priest hath delivered me a book. And Shaphan read it before the king.
22:11 And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.
22:12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Michaiah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asahiah a servant of the king’s, saying,
22:13 Go ye, enquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us.

Nooo — humanity, what have you done? They’ve restarted all the Jehovah / Jesus crap again. Now all this intolerant religious bullshit has to return. Destruction of trees and sodomites ensues.

23:4 And the king commanded Hilkiah the high priest, and the priests of the second order, and the keepers of the door, to bring forth out of the temple of the LORD all the vessels that were made for Baal, and for the grove, and for all the host of heaven: and he burned them without Jerusalem in the fields of Kidron, and carried the ashes of them unto Bethel.
23:5 And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.
23:6 And he brought out the grove from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people.
23:7 And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.

 Apparently human sacrifice was not out of the question.

23:20 And he slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altars, and burned men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem.

Let’s just remember that religious intolerance is in the very DNA of Christianity and Judaism. It reminds us once again how difficult it is for followers of religions to get along with followers of other religions. To co-operate and compromise is tantamount to idolatry, if you take your god seriously.

If the story really went down like this, then it seems that belief in Jehovah was really tenuous for a while there. He might have vanished from disbelief, and become just another in the panoply of failed gods. Here’s just a short list.

And as vicious and jealous and capricious as Jehovah is, his disappearance would have been a good thing. But no — these assholes had to go and dig him up. And that’s why in the 21st century, people knock on your door telling you about religion, and why sodomy and gay marriage are illegal.

Also, the Crusades.

Main points from this lesson

Elisha and the bears

One of God’s biggest dick moves in the Bible happens in this reading. God sends bears to kill 42 young people for calling Elisha ‘baldy’.

2:23 And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
2:24 And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.

I can understand the desire to harm insolent youngsters — one kid made a crack about my hair once — but there’s just no explanation for this incident that doesn’t scream “disproportionate response”.

Apologetics websites fall all over themselves to provide an answer. They weren’t children! There must have been lots of them, posing a threat to Elisha! “Go up” was a threat!

This is all so much twaddle. If the god of the Bible is all-powerful, could he have come up with a way to protect Elisha without killing anyone (with bears or otherwise)? Then why didn’t he? Like many other stories in the OT, this is just another example of a god who’s concerned with showing his power, no matter who gets hurt.

Succession in the Presidency

The real lesson manual uses the handover between Elijah and Elisha to talk about the issue of succession in the presidency of the LDS Church. Let’s see what they have to say.

President Joseph Fielding Smith explained:
“There is no mystery about the choosing of the successor to the President of the Church. The Lord settled this a long time ago, and the senior apostle automatically becomes the presiding officer of the Church, and he is so sustained by the Council of the Twelve which becomes the presiding body of the Church when there is no First Presidency. The president is not elected, but he has to be sustained both by his brethren of the Council and by the members of the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 3:156).

JFS thought the matter was settled, but this would be news to the Reorganized Church, the Strangite Church, the Bickerton Church, or any of the many splinter movements that arose after the death of Joseph Smith.

 This is what struck me when I first found out about the various Mormon sects: Isn’t it odd that God would go to the trouble of restoring the church, and then be so vague about who was to take it over upon Smith’s death? The possibility seems not to have occurred to Joseph Smith, which is why it’s strange for his modern followers to claim that he knew he was going to die at Carthage.

I think Smith expected to get away with it, which is why he made so little effort to establish his successor in an unambiguous manner. I don’t think he expected to die; I think he expected to become president of the United States.

I want to get more into this, but I have a practice of not cannibalising future lessons, and I think this topic is going to come up again. So we’ll go deeper the next time this comes up.

Additional ideas for teaching


This name for Satan appears in chapter 1, as the Baal (or god) worshipped by those in Ekron.

1:2 And Ahaziah fell down through a lattice in his upper chamber that was in Samaria, and was sick: and he sent messengers, and said unto them, Go, enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron whether I shall recover of this disease.

The zebub part means flies, making the name, in all, “Lord of the Flies“. This adds a dimension to the title of the William Golding novel.

The name Beelzebub will appear again in Matthew 10:25.

Waking up dead

A funny little translation glitch occurs in 2 Kings 19. The angel of the Lord smites the Assyrians. As soon as they wake up, they realise they’re dead. Maybe they were only mostly dead.

19:35 And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the LORD went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses.

You must admit: waking up is a strange reason to die. As the Gregory Brothers so aptly songified in our closing hymn (at 2:03).

Extra: I don’t know how to work this in to the lesson, so I’ll just leave it here.

OT Lesson 27 (Jeroboam and Rehoboam)

The Influence of Wicked and Righteous Leaders

1 Kings 12–14; 2 Chronicles 17; 20

LDS manual: here


Jeroboam and Rehoboam

This reading is taken up with the machinations of two of Solomon’s successors, his son Rehoboam, and Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s trusted men. Before you ask: no, -boam was not some sort of common additive on kids’ names, like -ayden is today. No, Jeroboam’s name might have meant ‘he increases the people‘, and Rehoboam’s name might have meant ‘he who enlarges the people‘. While similar, these names have an important distinction: Jeroboam wanted to make more people, while Rehoboam just wanted to make the existing people larger through better nutrition and so on. Jeroboam’s strategy would appear to have the better one; he soon found himself at the head of ten tribes, while Rehoboam’s tribes would dwindle down to two, probably because of lack of exercise, sex, and so on.

But we’re getting ahead of the story. In the last lesson, we saw that Jehovah/Jesus was going to punish Solomon for relaxing Israel’s monotheism and allowing religious pluralism — in other words, for being a generally tolerant guy. The punishment would be the dissolution of Israel, and it would be carried out some time after Solomon’s death.

1 Kings 11:11 Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.
11:12 Notwithstanding in thy days I will not do it for David thy father’s sake: but I will rend it out of the hand of thy son.

Solomon must have been like, “Oh, no, God’s going to fracture my kingdom. Wait — after I’m dead? That’s great! We don’t even have a coherent concept of the afterlife yet!”

No, this would take place after Solomon’s death, thus continuing the tradition of punishing children for the sins of their fathers.

As our story begins, Jeroboam is hiding out in Egypt after trying (and failing) to become king of the ten northern tribes of Israel. He becomes part of a coalition to petition king Rehoboam for better conditions.

1 Kings 12:3 That they sent and called him. And Jeroboam and all the congregation of Israel came, and spake unto Rehoboam, saying,
12:4 Thy father made our yoke grievous: now therefore make thou the grievous service of thy father, and his heavy yoke which he put upon us, lighter, and we will serve thee.
12:5 And he said unto them, Depart yet for three days, then come again to me. And the people departed.

Rehoboam asks the smart old guys what to do, and they say: Be nice.

12:6 And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people?
12:7 And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.

Wow — is the Bible encouraging leaders to be nice? This is a change.

He then asks the young dudes of his generation what to do, and their answer is: Be a dick.

12:8 But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him:
12:9 And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter?
12:10 And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins.

If loins means what I think it means, this just became a big dick contest.

1 Kings 12:11 And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.

“How about scorpions? Does scorpions sound okay with you?”

So Israel rebels. The rival Jeroboam becomes leader of Israel to the north, leaving Rehoboam to be king of Judah (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin)  to the south.

Interestingly, Jeroboam makes a break with monotheism by setting up golden calves. Israel loved those golden calves, you know.

1 Kings 12:26 And Jeroboam said in his heart, Now shall the kingdom return to the house of David:
12:27 If this people go up to do sacrifice in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then shall the heart of this people turn again unto their lord, even unto Rehoboam king of Judah, and they shall kill me, and go again to Rehoboam king of Judah.
12:28 Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold, and said unto them, It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
12:29 And he set the one in Bethel, and the other put he in Dan.
12:30 And this thing became a sin: for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan.

The prophet who was tricked by a prophet

God’s up to his old tricks again. He’s commanded a “man of God” to tell Jeroboam off. He does so by talking to the altar.

1 Kings 13:1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense
13:2 And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
13:3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.

Steve Wells points out that God must be okay with some kinds of human sacrifice.

Jeroboam doesn’t like this, so he stretches out his hand — and God dries it up.

1 Kings 13:4 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
13:5 The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.

“Aaaah!” says Jeroboam. “Put it back!” So he does.

13:6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.

Jeroboam thinks this is a neat trick, so he invites the guy over for drinks.

13:7 And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.

No dice, says the man of God. God told him not to eat or drink anything.

13:8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
13:9 For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.
13:10 So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel.

Then, another prophet comes and makes the same offer.

13:11 Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.

13:14 And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
13:15 Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.

And again, “Nope, I’m not supposed to eat or drink.”

13:16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
13:17 For it was said to me by the word of the LORD, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.

“Oh, yeah? Well, I’m a prophet too, and an angel told me to give you some dinner.”

13:18 He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him.

“Oh, you’re a prophet? That changes everything. Sure, let’s eat.”

13:19 So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.

So Jehovah/Jesus killed him, with the help of a hungry lion.

13:20 And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back:
13:21 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee,
13:22 But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
13:23 And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
13:24 And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.

The moral of the story: You can’t always trust prophets, which is probably the best lesson we could take from the Old Testament.


Rehoboam, for his part, is having his own problems. He’s fighting wars with the forces of Jeroboam, and soon Shishak (the pharaoh of Egypt who once protected Jeroboam, remember) is going to start his own offensive soon. What’s the problem? Sodomites!

1 Kings 14:24 And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.

But David’s son Asa is going to fix that right up.

15:11 And Asa did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, as did David his father.
15:12 And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made.

At this stage, I get the feeling that the Bible writer is just pulling ideas out of a hat. Every time something bad happens, he comes up with some arbitrary cause. Israel in tatters? Solomon’s idolatry. Israel lost a battle? Must be the sodomites.

Modern Christians follow Asa’s example by blaming gay people for all kinds of things.

God kills more children

Remember the city of Jericho? Joshua and friends were supposed to have destroyed with place with trumpets of sonic destruction. At the time, Joshua put a curse on anyone who tried to rebuild it. The curse was that if anyone did so, God would kill his oldest son, and his youngest son.

Joshua 6:26 And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the LORD, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it.

Well, guess what: Someone did, and sure enough, his two sons died.

1 Kings 16:34 In his days did Hiel the Bethelite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that the Lord never forgets his promises?

We now transition to 2 Chronicles, which repeats a lot of the foregoing chapters in 1 Kings.

The real lesson manual makes a contrast between the wickedness of Jeroboam and Rehoboam, and the righteousness of Jehoshaphat, Rehoboam’s great-grandson.

Three generations after Rehoboam, his great-grandson Jehoshaphat reigned over the kingdom of Judah. How did Jehoshaphat demonstrate his personal righteousness? (See 2 Chronicles 17:3–4, 6.)

It also asks this, rather frighteningly:

How does our private devotion affect our ability to lead others?

This is code for: Vote for Mormons.

What Jehoshaphat did was tear down the groves and the high places where other people used to worship their gods. In our day, as in ancient times, religious believers were big on deforestation.

Apparently Jehoshaphat tried to “help the ungodly” once, and a seer named Jehu called him out for it: “You shouldn’t have helped the ungodly. But you tore down the groves, so God still thinks you’re pretty awesome.”

2 Chr. 19:1 And Jehoshaphat the king of Judah returned to his house in peace to Jerusalem.
19:2 And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD.
19:3 Nevertheless there are good things found in thee, in that thou hast taken away the groves out of the land, and hast prepared thine heart to seek God.

And once again, Jehovah/Jesus helps Jehoshaphat commit genocide by confusing the Moabites and the Ammonites into fighting each other. Yes, it’s that story again.

2 Chr. 20:22 And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten.
20:23 For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.

No one was left alive.

20:24 And when Judah came toward the watch tower in the wilderness, they looked unto the multitude, and, behold, they were dead bodies fallen to the earth, and none escaped.

And the takings were incredible.

20:25 And when Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away the spoil of them, they found among them in abundance both riches with the dead bodies, and precious jewels, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away: and they were three days in gathering of the spoil, it was so much.

Main ideas for this lesson


According to the real lesson manual, the purpose of this lesson is:

To encourage class members to develop good leadership qualities so they can influence others to live righteously.

This got me thinking about good leadership qualities. I suppose I could make a list of what I think makes a good leader, and there would be nothing special about it. But right up at the top of my list would be: A good leader leads.

That seems simple enough: A good leader leads. But as I look at the leadership of the LDS Church in my lifetime, I have to say that they’ve failed in this, in two major ways.

LDS Church leaders do not provide good moral leadership.

There have been many cases where LDS leader could have led the way in helping Latter-day Saints be better, more moral people, in particular:

  • Being less racist
  • Being less sexist
  • Being less homophobic

These are three issues where people in society have evolved to become more moral, more caring, and more progressive. Just about everyone now agrees that being less racist is a good thing, or at least the racists now have to drop their voices a few decibels when voicing their views. Similarly, public views on the status of women and LGBT people are advancing. An all-knowing god would have foreseen that these views would be better accepted over time, and a good god would have known that these views are important for the rights and well-being of the people he created. At the very least, such a god would have figured this out at the same time as humans did generally.

And yet, the LDS Church does not take the lead on these moral issues. Society has taken the lead, and church leaders have dragged their feet. In issues of moral leadership, society — and portions of the church’s own membership — is way out in front of LDS leaders, on the order of decades. This represents a failure of moral leadership.

LDS Church leaders do not provide clear spiritual leadership.

But not only does LDS church leadership fail to provide moral leadership to the world. It also fails to lead its own people.

When I was a missionary, there was a pattern I taught people in the first discussion (paraphrasing here):

  1. God speaks to prophets
  2. The prophets report what God said
  3. People are invited to obey

There are a lot of stories like that in scripture, but nowadays the church exists in a kind of revelatory vacuum. You only need to look at an incident like the Great Caffeine Manifesto of 2012 to see the reluctance of LDS leaders to make any kind of official clarifying statement on even the tiniest of issues. When we ask what the LDS prophet says, the answer has to be: As little as possible.

Instead, LDS leaders send out armies of surrogates:

  • Apologists — professional excuse-makers — who try to explain away the holes in LDS theology, and whose explanations can be disavowed if they seem repugnant or run afoul of reality
  • PR flacks such as Ally Isom; smooth talkers who try to handle the media and muddy the issues
  • and, in the Tom Phillips case, lawyers who scarcely seem to be able to get the name of the church right.

The communication of modern prophets is typified by a reluctance to say anything definite that could later be proven wrong, as you’d expect from a normal non-prophet who is not really in touch with a god. Again, the moral questions facing the world and the LDS Church would be easy for a god to sort out with revelation — revelation that never seems to come from the leaders of the church. They do not show moral leadership. They show moral lassitude.

I look at people like Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, and even Carol Lynn Pearson — people who, in their way, challenge the leadership of the church to be better leaders and better people — and you know who I see? In a funny way, I see prophets (even though I’m an atheist).

Let me explain. You’ll notice that lately, in these recent readings, Israel isn’t run by a prophet. It was in the days of Moses, Joshua, and so on, but now Israel is controlled by kings, who play the part of administrators. Isn’t that how LDS Church leaders seem? They don’t prophesy — they’re businessmen, running the corporation.

Okay, so then what happens? Well, when the king screws up, then some prophet or seer or man of God — call him what you will — pops up and calls him out on it! These guys must have been everywhere! They were the moral force of Israel. And the kings would listen to them.

Can you imagine that happening in the church today? Not on your life. Today, when a moral person pops up and tells uncomfortable moral truths, the Brethren see that person as a threat. That person gets excommunicated, marginalised, and put on a watch list. Ancient Israel had a place for its seers — the people who saw clearly — but modern Israel doesn’t. No wonder they’re morally adrift.

So what kind of leadership do church leaders use? In many ways, the same as cult leaders always have.

Ask: How many of the following tactics do LDS leaders avail themselves of?

Things God is okay with

This reading has a list of things that the god of the Bible approves of.

God is okay with polygamy

2 Chr. 13:20 Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah: and the LORD struck him, and he died.
13:21 But Abijah waxed mighty, and married fourteen wives, and begat twenty and two sons, and sixteen daughters.

God is okay with killing a million people (or trying)

2 Chr. 14:8 And Asa had an army of men that bare targets and spears, out of Judah three hundred thousand; and out of Benjamin, that bare shields and drew bows, two hundred and fourscore thousand: all these were mighty men of valour.
14:9 And there came out against them Zerah the Ethiopian with an host of a thousand thousand, and three hundred chariots; and came unto Mareshah.
14:10 Then Asa went out against him, and they set the battle in array in the valley of Zephathah at Mareshah.
14:11 And Asa cried unto the LORD his God, and said, LORD, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O LORD our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O LORD, thou art our God; let no man prevail against thee.
14:12 So the LORD smote the Ethiopians before Asa, and before Judah; and the Ethiopians fled.

God is also okay with killing non-believers

2 Chr. 15:13 That whosoever would not seek the LORD God of Israel should be put to death, whether small or great, whether man or woman.
15:14 And they sware unto the LORD with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with cornets.
15:15 And all Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire; and he was found of them: and the LORD gave them rest round about.

But God is definitely not okay with worshipping some other god in a bunch of trees.

It’s worth repeating yet again: The god of the Bible (who is Jesus of the New Testament) is not a good god. He doesn’t care for all of his children, and he’s okay with a wide variety of acts that we now find morally abhorrent. He kills people for trivial infractions of his arbitrary commands. The one sure-fire way to piss him off is to worship someone else. This is incredibly petty, coming from someone who is supposedly secure in his dominion of the universe. If this god were real, he would not be worth worshipping. The worst person on earth is better than this being.

Additional ideas for teaching

The Bible encourages people not to go to doctors

King Asa has a foot problem, and — would you believe it — he tries to fix it by going to doctors! He should have “sought to the Lord.”

2 Chr. 16:12 And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great: yet in his disease he sought not to the LORD, but to the physicians.

We know now, however, that taking an illness to the Lord is a good way to die. We’ve seen many recent cases where parents have sacrificed their children to faith healing. Many children have died of treatable causes because their parents did nothing but pray.

Faith healing doesn’t work, of course. Otherwise, doctors would use it.

Piss, again

God tells Jeroboam:

1 Kings 14:10 Therefore, behold, I will bring evil upon the house of Jeroboam, and will cut off from Jeroboam him that pisseth against the wall,

Presumably this refers to males, but I always pee sitting down for this very reason.

And I stay away from walls.

OT Lesson 24 (David and Bathsheba)

“Create in Me a Clean Heart”

1 Samuel 18–20; 23–24

LDS manual: here


For today’s lesson, we’re blasting through all of 2 Samuel, and that means it’s all about David. In terms of kingliness, David was the apex. Israel had never seen anything like him. Imagine if John F. Kennedy, in addition to being a handsome president and a war hero, was also a rock star who wrote his own songs. That’s David for you.

And predictably, David collected a harem of women. Chapter 3 starts off with six of them.

3:2 And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
3:3 And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
3:4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
3:5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.

It wasn’t all slippery intercourse for David, though. There was also murder.

4:12 And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.

He wasn’t too keen on lame and blind people.

5:8 And David said on that day, Whosoever getteth up to the gutter, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind that are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain. Wherefore they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.

But he did like the women.

5:13 And David took him more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron: and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.

And one point, he danced — perhaps even cavorted — while not wearing very much.

6:14 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod.

Saul’s daughter Michal thought David was showing more of his body than was proper. So she complained at him.

6:15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.
6:16 And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

6:20 Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!

So David cursed her to be childless for the sin of sarcasm.

6:21 And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.
6:22 And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour.
6:23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death.

Except she did have children. But David took care of that by killing them. More on that later.

He killed off two thirds of the Moabites, and took the rest as servants.

8:2 And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.

We saw in the last lesson that the Israelites had a saying: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” When you get a reputation like that, you have to keep it up, and David does, with the murder of tens of thousands of people — with Jehovah’s explicit encouragement.

8:5 And when the Syrians of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David slew of the Syrians two and twenty thousand men.
8:13 And David gat him a name when he returned from smiting of the Syrians in the valley of salt, being eighteen thousand men.
8:14 And he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants. And the LORD preserved David whithersoever he went.
10:18 And the Syrians fled before Israel; and David slew the men of seven hundred chariots of the Syrians, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, who died there.

And now the famous story of Bathsheba. David sees her bathing, and invites her over for a bit.

11:2 And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
11:3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
11:4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

But whoops, she’s pregnant. Now David has to invite Uriah back, to establish plausible paternity.

11:5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
11:6 And David sent to Joab, saying, Send me Uriah the Hittite. And Joab sent Uriah to David.
11:7 And when Uriah was come unto him, David demanded of him how Joab did, and how the people did, and how the war prospered.
11:8 And David said to Uriah, Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet. And Uriah departed out of the king’s house, and there followed him a mess of meat from the king.

“Wash thy feet.” After the story of Ruth and Boaz, I’m wondering if this means feet, or if it means feet.

But Uriah frustrates David’s plan by refusing to sleep with his wife. Twice! Curses!

11:9 But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
11:10 And when they had told David, saying, Uriah went not down unto his house, David said unto Uriah, Camest thou not from thy journey? why then didst thou not go down unto thine house?
11:11 And Uriah said unto David, The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.
11:12 And David said to Uriah, Tarry here to day also, and to morrow I will let thee depart. So Uriah abode in Jerusalem that day, and the morrow.
11:13 And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk: and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house.

So David gets Uriah killed by stratagem.

11:14 And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
11:15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.

11:26 And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
11:27 And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.

Instead of reading all this, you can just listen to the Pixies song, “Dead”, which is a micro version of David and Bathsheba. The song is something of a miracle of economy, conveying the frenzy of David’s adultery, with each chorus pounding in a single word — dead — conveying the emptiness of the whole tawdry affair. Notice also how the rhythmic structure is built around groups of 3, and not 4. I think this makes the song more unresolved and unsettling.

You crazy Bathsheba, I wancha
You’re suffocating, you need a good shed
I’m tired of living, Sheba, so gimme,


We’re apin’ rapin’ tapin’ catharsis
You get torn down and I get erected
My blood is working but my
My heart is,


Hey, what do you know?
Your lovely tan belly
Is starting to grow

Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper
Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper

The prophet Nathan chastises David in epic fashion, with a particularly scorching metaphor.

12:1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
12:5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
12:6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man.

He explains that David’s wives will be given to other men, who will have outdoor intercourse with them.

12:11 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12:12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.

The child of their union dies.

12:15 And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.

12:18 And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died.

But Solomon springs from their loins. More about him in future lessons.

12:24 And David comforted Bathsheba his wife, and went in unto her, and lay with her: and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him.

Now a subplot about Absalom. Apparently, he was a handsome guy, with hair that weighed 2.2 kilograms.

14:25 But in all Israel there was none to be so much praised as Absalom for his beauty: from the sole of his foot even to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him.
14:26 And when he polled his head, (for it was at every year’s end that he polled it: because the hair was heavy on him, therefore he polled it:) he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight.

Absalom conspires against his father David.

15:10 But Absalom sent spies throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron.
15:11 And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.
15:12 And Absalom sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.
15:13 And there came a messenger to David, saying, The hearts of the men of Israel are after Absalom.
15:14 And David said unto all his servants that were with him at Jerusalem, Arise, and let us flee; for we shall not else escape from Absalom: make speed to depart, lest he overtake us suddenly, and bring evil upon us, and smite the city with the edge of the sword.

and even goes in unto his father’s concubines.

16:21 And Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Go in unto thy father’s concubines, which he hath left to keep the house; and all Israel shall hear that thou art abhorred of thy father: then shall the hands of all that are with thee be strong.
16:22 So they spread Absalom a tent upon the top of the house; and Absalom went in unto his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel.

Absalom is killed in battle with David, when he’s devoured by a hungry tree.

18:8 For the battle was there scattered over the face of all the country: and the wood devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.

Well, no, the tree didn’t kill him, but he got stuck in one of its branches. And then run through with a dart. Very GoT.

18:9 And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away.
18:10 And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak.
18:11 And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle.
18:12 And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom.
18:13 Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.
18:14 Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak.

David’s grief is “characteristically intense“.

18:33 And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!

And the concubines? David punishes them by keeping them under house arrest for the rest of their lives.

20:3 And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.

For all this, David sings about how righteous he is.

22:21 The LORD rewarded me according to my righteousness: according to the cleanness of my hands hath he recompensed me.
22:22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22:23 For all his judgments were before me: and as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.
22:24 I was also upright before him, and have kept myself from mine iniquity.
22:25 Therefore the LORD hath recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to my cleanness in his eye sight.

Main points of this lesson

God punishes people for arbitrary things that they haven’t even done

There are loads of things in these chapters that deserve punishment — murder being the main one – but as usual, the god of the Bible chooses to punish people, when the blame more properly belongs to someone else.

We’ve already seen how Jehovah/Jesus kills the baby of David and Bathsheba for his father’s sin.

But later, there’s a famine, and Jehovah/Jesus blames the famine on… David? No, Saul, who’s already dead. Why is he punishing people for the actions of a dead man? Who can fathom the divine mind?

21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

So David asks the Gibeonites what he can do for them. Answer: kill the supposedly non-existent sons of Michal from chapter 6.

21:6 Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.

21:9 And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.

And then God punishes Israel for taking a census — that he moved David to take!

24:1 And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

24:9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
24:10 And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

God hates stats.

So what’s going on? I think there’s something we can learn here about the way religious people attribute causation. When something bad happens, like a famine or a death, it’s normal for us to try and figure out why it happened. That might help us avoid the problem. But we humans, with our monkey brains, have trouble attributing causality.

I know a voice teacher who tells everyone to gargle with zinc when you get a sore throat. Every time she gets the first sign of a sore throat, she’s hitting the zinc. And she always gets better — or at least she hasn’t died yet. Is the zinc helping, or is she getting better by herself? Well, in the absence of a carefully designed experiment, it’s hard to say. She’s certainly convinced. But she could be falling for a very compelling illusion: the placebo effect.

Theism adds another layer: When you believe in a mysterious being who does things for his own reasons, and who isn’t directly available to answer questions, it’s easy to pick up and use the supposed motives of this being as an explanation for everything. This makes people think that:

It’s a very convenient form of reasoning. The cause of the trouble is always something the religious person doesn’t like.

Thomas Gilovich has an interesting case from Israel in his book, “How We Know What Isn’t So“.

“A flurry of deaths by natural causes in the northern part of the country led to speculation about some new and unusual threat. It was not determined whether the increase in the number of deaths was within the normal fluctuation in the death rate that one can expect by chance. Instead, remedies for the problem were quickly put in place. In particular, a group of rabbis attributed the problem to the sacrilege of allowing women to attend funerals, formerly a forbidden practice. The remedy was a decree that subsequently barred women from funerals in the area. The decree was quickly enforced, and the rash of unusual deaths subsided — leaving one to wonder what the people in this area have concluded about the effectiveness of their remedy.”

Religious reasoning. It’s not for nothing that they think God is the answer to everything, because to them it is.

Steadying the Ark

Here’s the story of Uzzah, who Jehovah/Jesus killed because he tried to help. Unfortunately, helping in his case meant trying to touch God’s favourite piece of furniture.

6:6 And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it.
6:7 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.


This is the way the god of the Bible works: kill tens of thousands of people, and you’re a hero; try to keep the Divine Toybox from tipping, and you’re dead.

Uzzah’s death seems unnecessarily harsh, even to Mormons, who have to explain why it was actually okay for God to kill him. For Latter-day Saints, Uzzah’s story is most often employed as a cautionary tale about not correcting the leaders of the church. It’s always seemed odd and self-serving to me that leaders of the church warn against correcting or criticising leaders of the church.

Brian Ricks’ symposium talk about Uzzah is fairly representative of the Mormon view and the Mormon arguments:

We live in a day when we are bombarded with temptations to leave the path of obedience to follow the path of good intentions. There are those who criticize the Brethren, thinking this loyal opposition will help the Church.

This interpretation of Uzzah’s death worked its way into the Doctrine and Covenents:

85:8 While that man, who was called of God and appointed, that putteth forth his hand to steady the ark of God, shall fall by the shaft of death, like as a tree that is smitten by the vivid shaft of lightning.

The real Gospel Doctrine manual skips Uzzah, but the D&C manual says,

In modern revelation the Lord referred to this incident to teach the principle that the Lord does not need the help of men to defend his kingdom (see D&C 85:8). Yet even today there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. There are those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, those who would extend some unauthorized blessing, or those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. These are ark-steadiers. The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan.

Yes, let’s talk about women being treated fairly in the church, shall we?

For decades, the LDS leadership has engaged in double-talk regarding the role of women in the church. They’re equal. But separate! Which means “not equal”.

And while there’s a lot of sexism in our society, we don’t tend to take kindly to ‘old boys clubs’, of which the LDS priesthood is a glaring example. Every male from the age of 12 gets the priesthood, and no woman does.

It was inevitable that there would be a movement to ordain women, and lawyer and feminist Kate Kelly spearheaded just such a movement. Her subsequent excommunication has opened up a huge problem for the LDS Church. With more and more people resigning, converts down, and alternative communities becoming more available, the LDS Church can ill afford to alienate half of its membership. If I cared about the church, I’d be very concerned right now.

And yet it’s the same old story: when you think you speak for a god, it often means you’re not good at listening. Mormons think the church will never fail, and overreach is impossible. And so, predictably, LDS leaders and members are throwing up Uzzah’s ark-steadying story as a way of shutting down the discourse.

The leadership of the LDS Church wants to convince people that they know what they’re doing, it’s all under control. But as the church lurches from PR crisis to PR catastrophe, this becomes harder to believe.

Additional ideas for teaching

The manual conflates premarital sex and sexual assault

We’ve already seen in Deuteronomy how rape is just another way of getting a wife. This lesson tells of the sexual assault of Tamar by her brother Amnon.

13:1 And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.
13:2 And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do anything to her.

13:10 And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the meat into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand. And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
13:11 And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
13:12 And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.
13:13 And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.
13:14 Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
13:15 Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
13:16 And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.

Amnon pays with his life.

13:28 Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.
13:29 And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded.

A very sad story. But now here’s the kicker: the real lesson manual takes the story of this sexual assault, and uses it for a discussion about extramarital sex.

2 Samuel 13 contains the story of David’s son Amnon and David’s daughter Tamar. Amnon was attracted to Tamar and forced her to commit fornication with him.
• 2 Samuel 13:1 says that Amnon loved Tamar. How did Amnon’s feelings for Tamar change after he had sinned against her? (See 2 Samuel 13:15.) Why does hatred, rather than love, often result between people who violate the principles of morality?
President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “I heard Elder John A. Widtsoe . . . say,
It is my observation that a young man and a young woman who violate the principles of morality soon end up hating one another.’ I have observed the same thing. There may be words of love to begin with, but there will be words of anger and bitterness later” (“True to the Faith,” Ensign, June 1996, 5).

If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that rape is not the same as sex. But the lesson manual conflates them. This is inexcusable.

Lest we think this is isolated, let’s remember the story of Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped and was forced to live and travel with the rapist. She commented on why she didn’t try to escape:

Smart said she “felt so dirty and so filthy” after she was raped by her captor, and she understands why someone wouldn’t run “because of that alone.” Smart spoke at a Johns Hopkins human trafficking forum, saying she was raised in a religious household and recalled a school teacher who spoke once about abstinence and compared sex to chewing gum. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you know longer have worth, you know longer have value,” Smart said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.” . . . Smart says children should be educated that “you will always have value and nothing can change that.”

I heard the ‘chewed gum’ analogy growing up in the church, and it was designed to induce sexual guilt, but in the context of consensual sex. It’s awful that this gets rolled into rape. This attitude harms people, and this part of the manual needs to be retracted immediately.

Interesting language note

This passage caught my attention:

17:29 And honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of kine, for David, and for the people that were with him, to eat: for they said, The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness.

What’s with the word kine? It’s a rather unusual plural because it shares no letters with its singular companion, cow. How did it get to be this way?

Back in the early days of English, there were a lot of ways to pluralise things. There was the occasional plural -s that we know so well, but there was also a lot of vowel-raising going on, too. For this, you would swap the vowel for one that was higher in your mouth. That’s why we have

  • manmen, or 
  • tooth → teeth.

But there was another method, and that was to put an -n on the end. That’s how we get oxen and brethren. Some people still say eyen for eye.

For its part, cu appears to have gotten a double shot of plurality: both the vowel raising and the -n on the end. But nowadays, we find it much easier to just put a plural -s onto cow.

If you’re curious about English plurals, you can hear me talking about them with Ben Ainslie on my podcast ‘Talk the Talk’, episode 158.

I also found this construction to be a little unusual: “The people is hungry”. While in American English usage, collective nouns like team or organization are considered singular (as in ‘the team wins’, not ‘the team win’), the noun people is almost always plural. This verse is evidence that, at least in the Jacobean English of the 1600s, people could take a singular verb. A singular observation, to my way of thinking.

OT Lesson 22 (Saul)

“The Lord Looketh on the Heart”

1 Samuel 9–11; 13; 15–17

LDS manual: here


This lesson’s about Saul.

Ch. 9: Saul’s a tall young man from the tribe of Benjamin.

9:2 And he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.

He runs across Samuel the Seer, who thinks he’s a bit of all right.

9:17 And when Samuel saw Saul, the LORD said unto him, Behold the man whom I spake to thee of! this same shall reign over my people.

God’s going to regret that choice. He’s got terrible people over there at Human Resources.

Ch. 10: Samuel anoints Saul to be king, and gives him a smooch.

10:1 Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the LORD hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?

Ch. 11: Conflict time. The Ammonites are going to gouge out the eyes of the Israelites of Jabesh. When Saul finds out about this, he hacks an ox to pieces as an object lesson.

11:6 And the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard those tidings, and his anger was kindled greatly.
11:7 And he took a yoke of oxen, and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel by the hands of messengers, saying, Whosoever cometh not forth after Saul and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. And the fear of the LORD fell on the people, and they came out with one consent.

Gospel Doctrine suggestion: You might want to hew an ox to pieces as a way of inviting the Spirit of the Lord into your class.
You will need: one ax, one ox.

In battle, Saul and the Israelites kill the Ammonites all day long.

11:11 And it was so on the morrow, that Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the host in the morning watch, and slew the Ammonites until the heat of the day: and it came to pass, that they which remained were scattered, so that two of them were not left together.

And when he’s victorious, he refuses to kill those who were against his leadership. That’s a lovely gesture, Saul.

11:12 And the people said unto Samuel, Who is he that said, Shall Saul reign over us? bring the men, that we may put them to death.
11:13 And Saul said, There shall not a man be put to death this day: for to day the LORD hath wrought salvation in Israel.

Ch. 12: Samuel warns everyone to fear the God of the Bible. Really, what else would he say.

12:24 Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you.

Ch. 13: Now we have a scene where Saul overreaches a bit. There’s a battle planned, and Samuel the seer said he’d show up and offer a sacrifice, because we all know that’s what makes you win.

13:5 And the Philistines gathered themselves together to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and people as the sand which is on the sea shore in multitude: and they came up, and pitched in Michmash, eastward from Bethaven.

But Samuel doesn’t show up for a week! Where is he? Saul texts him, but he’s not answering his phone.

13:8 And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel had appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him.

So Saul performs the sacrifice himself.

13:9 And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering.
13:10 And it came to pass, that as soon as he had made an end of offering the burnt offering, behold, Samuel came; and Saul went out to meet him, that he might salute him.

Samuel’s pissed. Saul explains himself, rather unconvincingly.

13:11 And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
13:12 Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the LORD: I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13:13 And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.

We also meet Saul’s son Jonathan. He’s going to be the romantic interest in the next lesson.

13:16 And Saul, and Jonathan his son, and the people that were present with them, abode in Gibeah of Benjamin: but the Philistines encamped in Michmash.

Ch. 14: A story the manual skipped. Jonathan is off killing Philistines, and Jehovah/Jesus uses that old trick Gideon used: Confuse them and they’ll kill each other.

14:16 And the watchmen of Saul in Gibeah of Benjamin looked; and, behold, the multitude melted away, and they went on beating down one another.

In the meantime, Saul has commanded everyone to fast until evening, under threat of death. There’s even some honey just sitting on the ground, and no one eats it. Must have been made by some of those ground bees.

14:24 And the men of Israel were distressed that day: for Saul had adjured the people, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food until evening, that I may be avenged on mine enemies. So none of the people tasted any food.
14:25 And all they of the land came to a wood; and there was honey upon the ground.
14:26 And when the people were come into the wood, behold, the honey dropped; but no man put his hand to his mouth: for the people feared the oath.

When Jonathan comes back, he doesn’t know about the food ban, so he grabs some of the honey.

14:27 But Jonathan heard not when his father charged the people with the oath: wherefore he put forth the end of the rod that was in his hand, and dipped it in an honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his eyes were enlightened.

Apparently, the honey makes him reach enlightenment, so his father Saul has to kill him, not just for breaking the fast, but also for becoming a Buddhist.

14:28 Then answered one of the people, and said, Thy father straitly charged the people with an oath, saying, Cursed be the man that eateth any food this day. And the people were faint.

Saul figures out what happened by casting lots.

14:42 And Saul said, Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son. And Jonathan was taken.
14:43 Then Saul said to Jonathan, Tell me what thou hast done. And Jonathan told him, and said, I did but taste a little honey with the end of the rod that was in mine hand, and, lo, I must die.
14:44 And Saul answered, God do so and more also: for thou shalt surely die, Jonathan.

Now I can see why Jehovah/Jesus chose this guy: he’s willing to sacrifice his son Jonathan over a trivial detail that he didn’t even know about.

But the people come to Jonathan’s defence.

14:45 And the people said unto Saul, Shall Jonathan die, who hath wrought this great salvation in Israel? God forbid: as the LORD liveth, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground; for he hath wrought with God this day. So the people rescued Jonathan, that he died not.

Isn’t it nice that rank-and-file members are often better than the leaders and gods?

Ch. 15: With that out of the way, it’s time for more genocide! Jehovah/Jesus still has it in for the Amalekites for what their parents did a hundred years ago. ‘We believe that every man will be punished for his own transgression’, unless you’re an Amalekite.

15:2 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember that which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid wait for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.
15:3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

The killing begins. But Saul doesn’t obey God to the letter, because he leaves some things alive.

15:8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.
15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.

Boy, God sure is sorry that he called Saul. Guess he didn’t foresee what would happen.

15:10 Then came the word of the LORD unto Samuel, saying,
15:11 It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.

Saul: rejected for incomplete genocide.

15:22 And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
15:23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from being king.

Samuel does the job himself: he hews King Agag to pieces. Have you even hewn someone? It’s not a pretty sight.

15:32 Then said Samuel, Bring ye hither to me Agag the king of the Amalekites. And Agag came unto him delicately. And Agag said, Surely the bitterness of death is past.
15:33 And Samuel said, As the sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD in Gilgal.

Ch. 16: Saul’s depressed about the Lord rejecting him, and an evil spirit from the Lord comes upon him.

16:14 But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
16:15 And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.

What to do? Saul finds David, who plays the harp and makes the Lord’s evil spirit go away.

16:21 And David came to Saul, and stood before him: and he loved him greatly; and he became his armourbearer.
16:22 And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, Let David, I pray thee, stand before me; for he hath found favour in my sight.
16:23 And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.

Ch. 17: The well-known story of David and Goliath

This lesson’s long enough as it is. Go read it. I’ll wait.

Just one thing, though. Anthropologists and archaeologists have been working where this story takes place, and there’s no evidence of any giants.

Philistine cemetery uncovered in archaeological dig in Israel, Goliath’s people were ‘normal sized’

A few hundred metres from the dig, at its outdoor laboratory, anthropologist and pathologist Sherry Fox told the skeletons’ story.

“In their teeth, we can see that they did not have an easy life,” she said, holding up a skull.

“We see these lines that indicate a growth interruption as the teeth are forming. There were problems in childhood with either fever or malnutrition.

“We also see from their bones that they were hard workers, they practised inbreeding and they used their teeth as tools, probably in the weaving industry.”

She said they were “normal size” with no evidence of any Goliath-sized giants.

Main points from this lesson

Power struggles

Here’s what the real lesson manual has to say about Samuel’s rejection of Saul:

What did Saul’s offering an unauthorized sacrifice reveal about him? (He was no longer “a man after [the Lord’s] own heart” [1 Samuel 13:14]. He had grown impatient, failed to trust the Lord, and disobeyed. In addition, his presuming the authority to offer sacrifice suggests that he had an exaggerated opinion of his own power and importance.)

This is just another example of the church getting it wrong. By focusing on concerns of authority, they miss the real story: this is part of the ongoing struggle for power between the ruling class and the priest class.

In any society, the priest class has a problem: It is utterly superfluous, and produces nothing of value. But it does have the belief of a lot of people, which gives it a supposed moral authority.

So what’s usually happened historically is that the king tries to make nice with the priest, and gain moral legitimacy. In return, the priest gets access to the levers of power and all the goodies that emanate therefrom.

No wonder Diderot put a pox on both their houses, saying:

Now in the days of Moses, the civil power and the religious power were in the hands of the same person, and we’ve all read the murders that happened as a result. We can see this today in Islamic countries where religion is the basis for law: stoning for adultery, death to apostates, and so on. We can see it in Russia, where the ascendant Russian Orthodox clergy is causing greater persecution of gay people. It’s hell on earth when belief is compulsory.

In the last few lessons, though, we’ve seen a shift: the people have a set of judges, of varying degrees of religiosity.

And then in the last lesson, the people took it a step further down the road by wanting a king. You can imagine what a prophet figure like Samuel must be thinking. He’s watching the power slip away, and he’s not happy. But, hey, he thinks, maybe it’s not so bad as long as I have a king I can control. That way, I can still have some of the power, the king has to do all the admin stuff, and I can get some quality babbling done.

Accordingly, Samuel chooses Saul. But then Saul stuffs up. He gets impatient waiting for Samuel at battle time, offers the sacrifice himself, and by so doing, takes both the civil power and the priestly power into his own hands.

That’s why Samuel’s pissed. Who’s going to listen to him, if the king has both sources of power: ecclesiastical and civil? There goes the job and the house and the Tesla Model S.

And so he screams, as did Lemon Grab:

And Saul’s out from them on. Samuel goes to find a king who knows his place, and finds David.

That’s what’s happening here. It’s not about authority or priesthood or anything like that. It’s the priest class seeing the writing on the wall.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that the church takes Samuel’s side?

“Trust in the Lord, and lean not on your own understanding.”

The stated purpose of this lesson (in the real lesson manual) is:

To encourage class members to trust in the Lord rather than their own understanding.

The quote is actually from Proverbs 3, but we’re going to be busy handling a lot of Proverbs in the one lesson allotted, so let’s take this one now.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.

This is one of the worst ideas in religion.

The urge to understand is one of the most human impulses, and one of the best. It’s helped us to make sense of the world, cure diseases, invent technology, and discover principles that make the universe operate.

But the idea that there’s a supernatural being whose purposes govern your life, but that you can never understand, short-circuits all that. You’re supposed to turn off your curiosity. Let’s say you find something in your religion that doesn’t make sense — it’s contradictory, or nonsensical. It’s natural to say: what’s the answer? How can we understand this? And then the answer you’ll get is that you should not even try to understand — that you can’t understand. How could you possibly understand it? It’s all being done by a magical and capricious guy in the sky who no one has direct access to, except through shadowy feelings. So don’t lean on your own understanding. Just believe, trust, and obey.

Is it important to listen to others? Undoubtably. Very few of us know very much, and we can learn a lot more by combining our knowledge. That’s how science works. But this is different. This scripture encourages you to ignore your own thought processes, your own ideas about what’s true and right — and replace them with someone else’s. This is intellectual and moral surrender, and this demand for surrender is coming from the least capable thinkers around.

When someone says “Don’t rely on your own thinking”, then that tells me that someone is selling total bullshit, but they don’t want you to figure that out. After all, thinking won’t hurt something that’s true. You can investigate and question something that’s true all day long, and it’ll stand up. But if questioning an idea makes it fall over, then it wasn’t very good in the first place.

That’s why I have this sticker on my laptop.

One of the things that unstuck things for me during my deconversion was a talk that the Stake President gave in Elders’ Quorum. He talked about “man’s reasoning” and how you couldn’t rely on logic and reason. You needed to rely on God. (Looking back, I wonder if that talk was aimed at me. It would have been about the right time.)

Now that the church has had to publish several back-tracking essays, we’ve all seen what happens when you rely on God’s reasoning: you get contradictions and unconvincing rationalisations, which no one would believe unless they were already on board and using all their logic-blocking faculties.

But at the time of the Stake President’s lesson, I thought, “Wait, isn’t this a bit of a giveaway? If logic and reason worked in his favour, you can bet that he’d be appealing to logic and reason! But he’s not! What does that tell me?” And then I realised that he didn’t appeal to logic and reason because he didn’t feel that his own religious views were logical or reasonable.

So this scripture is the giveaway. When a religious system says, “lean not on your own understanding”, this is a tacit admission that the system can’t withstand your scrutiny, and they’re asking you not to think about it, kthanx. They’re demanding that you treat their bullshit with a special kind of reverence and respect — respect it hasn’t earned. This idea is intended to extinguish rational thought, and for too many of us, it works far too well. Don’t buy it. Use your brain, and ignore anyone who tries to discourage you from thinking. They know they don’t have the goods.

Additional ideas for teaching

An evil spirit from God

The Bible says that the evil spirit that troubled Saul was from the Lord.

1 Samuel 16:14 (KJV) But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.

Thanks goodness for the lesson manual, which goes out of its way to assure us that God isn’t sending evil spirits around (except for Satan and 1/3 of the hosts of heaven).

The Holy Spirit departs from Saul, and an evil spirit takes possession of him (16:14–16; note that the Joseph Smith Translation corrects these verses to show that the evil spirit was not from God). (italics in original)

Okay, so let’s take a look at Joseph Smith’s super-duper inspired reworking of the Bible.

1 Sam 16:14 (JST)  But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit which was not of the Lord troubled him.

Wow, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that Joseph Smith just stuck a not in there to resolve any problems.

Any other creative uses of not in the JST? How about the story of Lot’s daughters?

Genesis 19:8 (KJV): Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.
Genesis 19:13 (JST)  And Lot said, Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, plead with my brethren that I may not bring them out unto you; and ye shall not do unto them as seemeth good in your eyes;

Terribly unconvincing stuff, and the main reason why even as a believer, I could never have very much confidence in the JST. It was such an obviously convenient and ham-handed re-write job.

Anyway, do we really need spirits to explain why Saul is depressed? God’s just rejected him! And he doesn’t exactly reject a whole lot of people.

David and Goliath is a good example of a composite story

There are some inconsistencies in the D+G story.

  • For one thing, David is a little kid, tending sheep. But in the previous chapter, he’s a “brave man and a warrior.”
  • For another, Saul has no idea who David is in the Goliath story. But in the previous chapter, David played the harp for Saul, and found favour in his sight.

How do we explain these contradictions? The best answer is that this is a composite story. We’ve already seen examples of the same story getting retold in different places:

  • two different creation accounts
  • two different flood narratives
  • both Abraham and Isaac saying his wife is his sister (twice, in Abraham’s case)
  • baby Moses and baby Jesus almost getting killed
  • and in this very lesson, going into battle outnumbered, and confusing the other army into killing each other.

And now here’s another. It appears that Bible writers took competing versions of the same story, and wove them together at compilation time. And then elements of old stories would get remixed into new stories. Very human. But not very indicative of real events.

The Lord looks on the heart, but the church looks on appearances

One of the really worthwhile scriptures comes in chapter 16. Samuel is trying to find a more pliable figurehead that he can work with.

16:6 And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.
16:7 But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.

A very worthy sentiment. Unfortunately, as someone who’s been to BYU, I have been disappointed to find that good religious folk often evaluate people by a more superficial metric than this scripture would predict. Here’s an interesting article from Dialogue Magazine (PDF) about how BYU prez Ernest Wilkinson used failed political ambition and Reds-under-the-bed paranoia to turn BYU into outward-appearance heaven, as it still is today.

Hugh Nibley was a Mormon apologist who used his intellectual gifts for evil and not for good. For all his faults, though, he sometimes got it right. Here’s Nibley’s characteristically tart comment against the overly harsh and Pharisaical dress standards at the university:

“The haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.”

This hypocrisy is perhaps an inevitable consequence for an organisation that needs to determine worthiness based on intangible and unobservable qualities. How do you know if someone’s ‘spiritual’?  That’s such an undefinable quality. Looking on the heart is difficult. Judging based on appearances is much more practical.

OT Lesson 19 (Judges)

The Reign of the Judges

Judges 2; 4; 6–7; 13–16

LDS manual: here


You think Joshua was messed up? Welcome to Judges. Now that there’s no real leader of Israel, the violence begun by Moses and continued by Joshua just sloshes around the community at large.

Last week, we saw a quote from proto-atheist Robert Ingersoll about the book of Joshua. He continues, regarding the book of Judges:

Is there anything in Joshua—with its wars, its murders and massacres, its swords dripping with the blood of mothers and babes, its tortures, maimings and mutilations, its fraud and fury, its hatred and revenge—calculated to improve the world?

Does not every chapter shock the heart of a good man? Is it a book to be read by children?

The book of Joshua is as merciless as famine, as ferocious as the heart of a wild beast. It is a history—a justification—a sanctification of nearly every crime.

The book of Judges is about the same, nothing but war and bloodshed; the horrible story of Jael and Sisera; of Gideon and his trumpets and pitchers; of Jephtha and his daughter, whom he murdered to please Jehovah.

Here we find the story of Samson, in which a sun-god is changed to a Hebrew giant.

Now I don’t want to say any book that contains violence is bad. There’s a difference between portraying violence and approving of violence. Mormons I have known are slow to see this distinction, until it comes to Judges. Here’s a Christian saying basically this very thing:

I’d like to raise a point now that many people think that the Bible endorses everything it states. That because it’s “God’s Word,” that everything is caused and approved by God. That’s simply not so.

The book of Judges mostly describes what happened during those years. It’s not prescribing or commanding. It’s actually showing what the people did when they were left to themselves, not to worshipping and obeying God.

So anyone that brings up these chapters has to recognize this isn’t an endorsement of what’s being described.

Well, this writer hasn’t read Judges. When you do, what’s noticeable about the violence is how kosher it is. In almost all the cases, the killing was expressly commanded or motivated by the god of the Bible.

So during this lesson, we’re going to keep track of the times that the Bible says that a killing was approved of the Lord, and how many times it wasn’t.

• Kings’ thumbs and big toes cut off

1:5 And they found Adonibezek in Bezek: and they fought against him, and they slew the Canaanites and the Perizzites.
1:6 But Adonibezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes.
1:7 And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath requited me. And they brought him to Jerusalem, and there he died.

Not sure if they killed the kings in addition to the phalangectomies, but this one’s approved of the Lord. ✔

Looks like God’s got a new plan though: whereas before he promised that he’d wipe out the Canaanites (a promise he couldn’t keep), now he’s decided to keep them around as a snare.

2:3 Wherefore I also said, I will not drive them out from before you; but they shall be as thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare unto you.

• The manual skips one of the gorier murders in Judges:

3:14 So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years.
3:15 But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab.
3:16 But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh
3:17 And he brought the present unto Eglon king of Moab: and Eglon was a very fat man.
3:18 And when he had made an end to offer the present, he sent away the people that bare the present.
3:19 But he himself turned again from the quarries that were by Gilgal, and said, I have a secret errand unto thee, O king: who said, Keep silence. And all that stood by him went out from him.
3:20 And Ehud came unto him; and he was sitting in a summer parlour, which he had for himself alone. And Ehud said, I have a message from God unto thee. And he arose out of his seat.
3:21 And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into his belly:
3:22 And the haft also went in after the blade; and the fat closed upon the blade, so that he could not draw the dagger out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

Ehud is praised as a deliverer: I think we can say this one’s approved. ✔

• We also see the start of the mass smitings of the Philistines.

3:31 And after him was Shamgar the son of Anath, which slew of the Philistines six hundred men with an ox goad: and he also delivered Israel.

Tick! ✔

• Heber’s wife Jael kills Sisera by pounding a tent stake into his skull.

4:18 And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in, my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in unto her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle.
4:19 And he said unto her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
4:20 Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? that thou shalt say, No.
4:21 Then Jael Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died.
4:22 And, behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, and said unto him, Come, and I will shew thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead, and the nail was in his temples.
4:23 So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the children of Israel.

The Lord evidently approved this murder, as seen in the song of the prophetess Deborah.

5:24 Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.
5:25 He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish.
5:26 She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen’s hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples.

It’s a hit! ✔

• Gideon and friends make a lot of noise, and the opposing forces set upon each other.

7:22 And the three hundred blew the trumpets, and the LORD set every man’s sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host: and the host fled to Bethshittah in Zererath, and to the border of Abelmeholah, unto Tabbath.

The Lord did this one himself. ✔

• The Danites slaughter the peaceful and unsuspecting people of Laish.

18:26 And the children of Dan went their way: and when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back unto his house.
18:27 And they took the things which Micah had made, and the priest which he had, and came unto Laish, unto a people that were at quiet and secure: and they smote them with the edge of the sword, and burnt the city with fire.
18:28 And there was no deliverer, because it was far from Zidon, and they had no business with any man; and it was in the valley that lieth by Bethrehob. And they built a city, and dwelt therein.
18:29 And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, who was born unto Israel: howbeit the name of the city was Laish at the first.

While the record doesn’t say Jehovah was behind this, it wasn’t out of character for Israel. Let’s be generous and say this was off the Danites’ own bat. ✘

The Danites would eventually lend their name to a particularly frightening Mormon vigilante group, which you can read about on MormonThink.

• Finally, the gang rape and murder of a concubine. In a repeat of the Lot story, men surround a house and demand sex with a visitor.

19:22 Now as they were making their hearts merry, behold, the men of the city, certain sons of Belial, beset the house round about, and beat at the door, and spake to the master of the house, the old man, saying, Bring forth the man that came into thine house, that we may know him.

And as Lot tried to do with his daughters, the host throws them a concubine instead.

19:24 Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you: but unto this man do not so vile a thing.
19:25 But the men would not hearken to him: so the man took his concubine, and brought her forth unto them; and they knew her, and abused her all the night until the morning: and when the day began to spring, they let her go.
19:26 Then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her lord was, till it was light.
19:27 And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way: and, behold, the woman his concubine was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold.
19:28 And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going. But none answered. Then the man took her up upon an ass, and the man rose up, and gat him unto his place.
19:29 And when he was come into his house, he took a knife, and laid hold on his concubine, and divided her, together with her bones, into twelve pieces, and sent her into all the coasts of Israel.
19:30 And it was so, that all that saw it said, There was no such deed done nor seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt unto this day: consider of it, take advice, and speak your minds.

Truly a shocking story, but unlike the others, this one’s probably intended as a moral commentary and not a hero story. ✘

The real message of the Book of Judges

One of the things I notice from the real lesson manual is how Mormons take all the wrong lessons from the Bible. They make a big deal out of the Cycle of Apostasy. Wondering where Joseph Smith (or whoever) got it from when they were writing the Book of Mormon? It’s all right here in Judges. Here’s the chart you’ll see in this week’s Gospel Doctrine.

No wonder Mormons are terribly afraid of apostasy; they think it’s going to lead to bondage and warfare! They’re wrong about this, just as they’re wrong about everything else. Apostasy is awesome! It allows you to cast aside blinkered parochial notions without fear that a spirit will punish you. For once you can make your choices in life. No wonder the church can’t stand it. They need you to keep propping up the church in a ceaseless stream of activities that don’t really benefit you.

Also it’s no wonder they Mormons don’t have very good boundaries; they’re convinced that the apostasy of other people will cause bad things to happen to them, which makes it okay for them to police the behaviour of other people.

As it turns out, apostasy won’t lead to the collapse of society (Denmark and Sweden are doing fine.) It will, however, lead to the collapse of the church, and that’s why the church teaches against it. It’s the exact same reason why Jehovah commands the Israelites to destroy the religious icons of their neighbours. Remember, the primary goal of [ a god | the church | a corporation | any memeplex ] is self-perpetuation. Any entity that doesn’t do a good job of this doesn’t survive. So it’s normal for the church to act the way it does, but you must remember that it acts in its own interests, not in yours.

To my way of thinking, the so-called apostate times in Judges seem quite ideal. I don’t like war, I think having different cultural influences makes things interesting, and I’ve heard that genetic diversity is good for a population. And that’s what we’ve got here between the wars: Israel and the Caananites are living amongst each other, they’re marrying each other, and there’s a growing tolerance of each other’s religious beliefs.

3:5 And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites:
3:6 And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods

Such a situation is potentially very positive; contact allows cultural and technological transmission, the end of tribalism lowers the risk of tribal conflict, and there’s a rise in religious pluralism. That’s really healthy! This could become a really advanced society if it could continue.

Unfortunately, it’s not what the god of the Bible has in mind. Diversity is bad for religious monocultures, which is turn is dangerous for gods, so it’s no wonder Jehovah (or Jesus) isn’t having any. He wants Israel to be an insular society, rejecting cultural advances by its neighbours and engaging in continual tribal warfare.

The Book of Judges does have a great lesson to teach humanity, but it’s not the one that it intends. Societies are always in cycles, swinging between — not apostasy and faithfulness — but fundamentalism and secularism. And just look at Judges — the times when people veer away from religious totalitarianism are the good times. That’s a cause, not an effect. Secular pluralistic societies do quite well. Then when the religious monoculture asserts itself, we get wars and strife. There’s a reason why we called the most religious time in European history “the Dark Ages”.

So my chart looks a little different, because I don’t see the process as entirely cyclical. It’s upward progress through secularism and science, interrupted by periods of religious influence.

All units approximate.

Jephthah sacrifices his daughter

For some reason, the manual doesn’t cover this chapter.

Jephthah, under inspiration, goes to kill some of those pesky Ammonites.

11:29 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 he promises that when he gets home, he’ll sacrifice the first thing that comes out the door to meet him.

11:30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
11:31 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.

The battle goes well.

11:32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
11:33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

But who should come to greet him? His daughter. Epic facepalm.

11:34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

But a deal’s a deal.

11:35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

She’s game. What a little trooper.

11:36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
11:37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
11:38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.

Remember that when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac, God put a stop to it. No such luck here.

11:39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man.

You know, when I discuss genocide in the Old Testament with Christians, there’s one justification that they always come back to: The Canaanites sacrificed their children to the god Molech (so that makes it okay for Israel to have murdered them all). But the story of Jephthah shows that human sacrifice is acceptable to Jehovah. Isn’t it a bit rich for Christians to claim that genocide is okay if you’re wiping out people who sacrifice children, when here in Judges, we have a God-approved case of child sacrifice? And when in fact their entire religion is predicated upon human sacrifice?

Ask: Is this story meant to show how awful it was, in the context of Israel’s apostasy?
Answer: No, verse 29 shows that the Spirit of the LORD was on him when he made that vow, and Jehovah must have known in advance what would happen. Notice also that Jephthah makes his vow, and then Jehovah (or Jesus) delivers the Ammonites into his hands. This is a bargain made and accepted. ✔

Ask: Did Jephthah suffer any negative social consequences as a result of killing his daughter? Did he become a pariah to his group?
Answer: No way; in the next chapter, his friends are dead keen to go kill some more Ammonites! They’re so mad they missed the last slaughter, they’re gonna burn his house down!

12:1 And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.

And Jephthah’s like: No, guys, c’mon, let’s go get some more. With friends like these, right?

There’s a hand at the back. Yes, Brother Hickenlooper?

Brother H: Did later revelation clarify Jephthah’s actions?

Yes, indeedy. The apostle Paul specifically mentions Jephthah as someone who did great deeds because of his faith.

Hebrews 11:32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:
11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions.
11:34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.

Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Experience referenced Jephthah in particular when vaporising this Christian caller John. Both parts worth watching.

Part 1:

Matt: Have you not read the story of Jephthah, who offers to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house to God, if God would let him win this battle? God supposedly does let him win the battle, knowing in advance that it would be his daughter, therefore God endorses human sacrifice— did you not read that part of the Bible?
John: Uh — no.
Matt: Then how can you tell me that the Bible is an accurate representation of God?

John: Did they go through with the sacrifice?
Matt: Yes!
John: Okay, so then at that point, if God allowed that sacrifice to go through, if he allowed that individual to sacrifice that other individual, then there was a bigger purpose and a bigger plan for that.
Matt: Okay, I’m glad you said that, ’cause now we’re done. And here’s why. You just said that if that’s what happened, — and it is; you can go read your Bible; I’m sorry you don’t know it as well as we do, but it’s there — that to me tells me is that if there is a god, and this is an accurate representation of his standard, then mine is superior. I don’t care what his standard is; I don’t care that I don’t live up to it, because he supports slavery. He supports child sacrifice. He rewards belief over deeds. He doesn’t care a whit what your life is like. He cares what you believe. He endows salvation — depending on what your soteriological claims are — based on faith or grace or anything else, yes, deeds come along afterward. But the tenet of Christianity, at least for most believers, is that you can live a good, decent life and still fry in hell.

Part 2:


Samson is everyone’s favourite murderous lunkhead. How could you not love a guy who evades capture by carrying off the gates of a city? What he lacks in brains, he makes up for in raw bull-headed determination.

Samson was the son of yet another barren woman, the type that were so common in those times.

13:2 And there was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren, and bare not.
13:3 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.
13:24 And the woman bare a son, and called his name Samson: and the child grew, and the LORD blessed him.

Samson’s not a bright boy, but he knows what he wants.

14:1 And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.
14:2 And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.

Nice going, Samson. You’ve just made the list of Top 10 biblical ways to acquire a wife. The rest are right here on pages 14–15 of this Sunstone issue.

The thing that strikes me about Samson is not his strength as such, but his murderous rampages, and the equanimity with which the townsfolk accept them as part of life.

• He kills 30 men to pay off a debt when his friends trick him in the riddle contest.

14:19 And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house.

Ask: What do you think of as ‘the feelings of the Spirit’?
Answer: Love, joy, peace, and according to Judges, the desire to smite the ever-living tar out of a bunch of dudes. ✔

• He causes ‘a great slaughter’ when the Philistines burn his wife and father-in-law to death over the Foxtails Incident.

15:4 And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails.
15:5 And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives.
15:6 Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.
15:7 And Samson said unto them, Though ye have done this, yet will I be avenged of you, and after that I will cease.
15:8 And he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter: and he went down and dwelt in the top of the rock Etam.

We can only assume God’s okay with this — he doesn’t revoke Samson’s powers. ✔

• He kills a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass.

15:11 Then three thousand men of Judah went to the top of the rock Etam, and said to Samson, Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us? what is this that thou hast done unto us? And he said unto them, As they did unto me, so have I done unto them.
15:12 And they said unto him, We are come down to bind thee, that we may deliver thee into the hand of the Philistines. And Samson said unto them, Swear unto me, that ye will not fall upon me yourselves.
15:13 And they spake unto him, saying, No; but we will bind thee fast, and deliver thee into their hand: but surely we will not kill thee. And they bound him with two new cords, and brought him up from the rock.
15:14 And when he came unto Lehi, the Philistines shouted against him: and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands.
15:15 And he found a new jawbone of an ass, and put forth his hand, and took it, and slew a thousand men therewith.

Approved of the Lord. ✔

• Then he takes a break and goes to see a prostitute. God’s unfazed by this; Samson’s strength is uncurtailed.

16:1 Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her.

• No, what causes his strength to fail is a simple haircut. By Delilah’s treachery, he is blinded and mocked. But Jehovah gives him the strength to kill just one… more… time!

16:27 Now the house was full of men and women; and all the lords of the Philistines were there; and there were upon the roof about three thousand men and women, that beheld while Samson made sport.
16:28 And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O Lord God, remember me, I pray thee, and strengthen me, I pray thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.
16:29 And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood, and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand, and of the other with his left.
16:30 And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house fell upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.

And tick. ✔

There are a number of problems with the story of Samson.

First, God’s moral commands seem especially arbitrary here. He punishes Samson not for murdering over a thousand people, nor for having sex outside of marriage — that’s all okay. No, what really tears the deal for God is Samson getting a haircut that he didn’t even want. How does that square with divine justice?

But the other problem is: why does God have different deals for different people?

One of the things about Mormon doctrine is that the same requirements apply to everyone. Fair’s fair. You’re gay? No sex before marriage, just like straight people. You lived and died before Jesus? Well, you have to get baptised just like everybody else. God’s no respecter of persons.

But what the story of Samson shows is that God is a respecter of persons. If you’re a Nazarite, you follow a different set of rules to everyone else. So how does that fit into the system? Is Samson not supposed to cut his hair because cutting one’s hair is morally wrong? That would be weird. So why is this the thing that undoes Samson?

(This takes us into the territory of Euthyphro’s Dilemma, which we’ll discuss in a future lesson.)

Is it all about the kind of deal you make with God? If so, is it possible to hold out for a better deal? Do you just have to invent a sect, and God will respect it? This seems distinctly post-modern to me, like the new age friend who once implored me not to be an atheist, because if I thought there’d be nothing after death, that’s what would happen to me! Having God honour the deal you make with him would be terrific, if you could write your own deal. If it’s a custom-made deal that God handed down to the Nazarites, then not so much.

Additional ideas for teaching

Gods can take care of themselves.

Ask: What would you think of someone who committed an act of religiously motivated vandalism?

Such was Gideon, one of the heroes of Judges.

6:28 And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was cast down, and the grove was cut down that was by it, and the second bullock was offered upon the altar that was built.
6:29 And they said one to another, Who hath done this thing? And when they enquired and asked, they said, Gideon the son of Joash hath done this thing.

The men of the city go to Gideon’s father Joash, who says something quite sensible: Why does your god need protection? If he’s such a hotshot, let him do his own dirty work.

6:30 Then the men of the city said unto Joash, Bring out thy son, that he may die: because he hath cast down the altar of Baal, and because he hath cut down the grove that was by it.
6:31 And Joash said unto all that stood against him, Will ye plead for Baal? will ye save him? he that will plead for him, let him be put to death whilst it is yet morning: if he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar.

Ironic, coming from an Israelite, but a good point nonetheless.

The Abrahamic god must be truly powerless to need a small army of apologists, legislators, missionaries, and defenders to make his case for him.


A shibboleth is often a word or phrase that identifies someone as a member of a group. The word comes to us from Judges 12. It seems that child-killer Jephthah took his friends the Gileadites to battle against the Ephraimites. The Gileadites won, and cut off the Ephraimites’ route of escape. The problem then became: how to tell the Gileadites from the Ephraimites when everyone was leaving the site of battle? The solution was linguistic: The Gileadite dialect used a /ʃ/ sound, as in shin; the Ephraimite dialect didn’t. So they got everyone to say the word shibboleth, which meant ‘ear of grain‘, and if they couldn’t say the /ʃ/, that marked them as an Ephraimite. They killed 42,000 people that day.

12:5 And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay;
12:6 Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

The takeaway here: A knowledge of phonology could save your life.

God can’t beat iron chariots

Perhaps his omnipotence was a later invention?

1:19 And the LORD was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron.

Shoot, what’s an almighty deity to do?

Iron Chariots is also the name of a wonderful counter-apologetics site. Worth a look!

And the murder tally is:

God: From the above, I get 46,704 dead people, plus an entire army of Midianites and an unspecified Samsonian ‘great slaughter’ of Philistines. (That’s not counting the 300 foxes.) All commanded, inspired, or actually performed by the god of the Bible.
Man: One concubine, plus the City of Laish. I think I was being generous there.

Activity for Gospel Doctrine attenders: If the instructor tries to pull the old ‘reporting is not approval’ trick, just show them the stats. Don’t let them get away with it. The violence in Judges is mostly god-approved, and in fact the whole setup is Jehovah’s doing for deciding to keep the Canaanites around, contrary to his earlier promise in Joshua. The cycle of violence between Israel and its neighbours — and all its attendant misery — is worth it to Jehovah (or Jesus), so that Israel will remember him.

Thanks for playing, and we’ll see you next week.

OT Lesson 18 (Joshua)

“Be Strong and of a Good Courage”

Joshua 1–6; 23–24

LDS manual: here


After the last few lessons, I’ve gotten a bit tired of slaughter and genocide. Anyone hoping we’d get a break after the death of Moses will be disappointed; Moses has an able successor in Joshua, whose genocidal tendencies (also known as obedience) helped him to, in the words of the lesson manual: “ably [direct] the conquest and settlement of the promised land.”

The atrocities in the Book of Joshua are well known to every child in Sunday School. In addition to the siege of Jericho, the Israelites are alleged to have conducted the slaughter of multiple cities, including men, women, children, and animals.

Again, why is this slaughter necessary? Because Jehovah forgot to reserve some land for the Israelites.

We must conclude that God is an incompetent doofus who murders people to get around the problems that he himself set up. This isn’t out of character, and in fact forms the basis for the Atonement.

Chs. 12: Joshua and the Israelites are to besiege the city of Jericho. Joshua sends to spies to check the place out, and they find a sex worker named Rahab, who tells them everyone in Jericho is terrified of Israel. She hides the spies, and in return they promise that she and her family won’t be killed in the ensuing carnage.

Ask: Would you describe Rahab as a moral person?
Rahab is held up as an example of faith later in the Bible, but it’s hard to see how her actions are moral. She certainly sees which side her bread is buttered on. She lies to protect the enemy of her people, and made a deal for herself and her family. All these things we wouldn’t exactly call moral, but it was to the benefit of the Israelites, and that’s the only kind of morality the Bible seems to be concerned with so far.

This is a pattern we’ve seen all throughout the OT: Murder is wrong, unless God (or the leader) does it. Israel gets what it wants, and no one else matters.

To my way of thinking, this functions like a set of moral blinders, possibly the same set the believer will have in heaven, happy while their disbelieving family and friends are being tortured — or isolated, take your pick — for eternity. And this moral failure will continue through to the last chapter of Revelation.

Chs. 3 – 5: Joshua parts the waters of the Jordan — eh, Moses did it first — and the Israelites cross over. Joshua circumcises the men (owie owie owie), and the magical manna that’s been falling all this time stops.

Ch. 6: Joshua and troops surround the city for six days, walking around it and blowing horns. On the seventh day, they blow their horns and shout, and what happens next is the subject of songs and stories told to children: the walls came a-tumbling down. The kids’ stories gloss over what happens next:

6:21 And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword.
6:24 And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.

Ch. 7: The Israelites lose the next battle against the people of Ai, so when they try to figure out why, blame falls upon Achen, who’d hidden some of the spoils for himself. They murder him — and his family.

7:24 And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son of Zerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, and his sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and his sheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought them unto the valley of Achor.
7:25 And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubled us? the LORD shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned him with stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned them with stones.

Robert Ingersoll was an atheist back in the time of the US Civil War. It’s hard to imagine someone giving fiery denunciations of religion at that time, but that’s what he did. Here’s his commentary.

Joshua took the City of Jericho. Before the fall of the city he declared that all the spoil taken should be given to the Lord.

In spite of this order Achan secreted a garment, some silver and gold.

Afterwards Joshua tried to take the city of Ai. He failed and many of his soldiers were slain.

Joshua sought for the cause of his defeat and he found that Achan had secreted a garment, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold. To this Achan confessed.

And thereupon Joshua took Achan, his sons and his daughters, his oxen and his sheep—stoned them all to death and burned their bodies.

There is nothing to show that the sons and daughters had committed any crime. Certainly, the oxen and sheep should not have been stoned to death for the crime of their owner. This was the justice, the mercy, of Jehovah!

After Joshua had committed this crime, with the help of Jehovah he captured the city of Ai.

Ask: Are children responsible for the crimes of their parents?

Chs. 8 – 12: More genocide:

The city of Ai

8:25 And so it was, that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai.

Tricksy Gibeonites: They were local — and therefore marked for death — but they pretended they’d come from far away, and made an allegiance with the Israelites. When they realised they’d been tricked, the Israelites honoured the deal (plus points for them), but made the Gibeonites slaves forever (many minus points for them).

9:22 And Joshua called for them, and he spake unto them, saying, Wherefore have ye beguiled us, saying, We are very far from you; when ye dwell among us?
9:23 Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.

Killing Amorites: The Israelites are killing the Amorites, and this gives God such a hateboner that he decides to wade in and kill them too. He makes sure to kill more of them with hailstones than the Israelites kill with weapons. Apparently this is a big-dick contest for him.

10:10 And the LORD discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them along the way that goeth up to Bethhoron, and smote them to Azekah, and unto Makkedah.
10:11 And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword.

God’s not through; he makes the sun stand still for a day so that more killing can be done in daylight.

10:12 Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

More cities: none left alive

10:40 So Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the LORD God of Israel commanded.


11:11 And they smote all the souls that were therein with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them: there was not any left to breathe: and he burnt Hazor with fire.

The Anakims

11:21 And at that time came Joshua, and cut off the Anakims from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel: Joshua destroyed them utterly with their cities.

Ch. 13 contains a memorable passage.

13:1 Now Joshua was old and stricken in years; and the LORD said unto him, Thou art old and stricken in years, and there remaineth yet very much land to be possessed.

I remember reading this on my mission, and God seemed like some kind of evil sprite or something. “Come on, come on! There’s still so much more to kill!” I’m thinking Ryuk, if Kira were an old man. But slightly smaller and more impish.

Chs. 14 – end: A very long denouement, with lots of boring bullshit. The Book of Joshua does end with this well-known verse:

24:15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

I’d just like to point out that at this stage of the action — with the slaughter of entire cities; men, women, children, and animals murdered; kings hung on trees; children punished for the crimes of their parents, and all at the command of a being who has an absolute and unchanging standard of morality — I’d say yes, it does seem evil to serve this being. As for me and my house, I’ll have nothing to do with him.

One more time for this graphic:

Main points from this lesson

Celebrating genocide is the mark of a small moral circle

In my missionary days, I was part of a singing quartet. Apparently something that talented young blighters do in the mission field. One of our songs was indeed “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”. We sang “And the walls came tumbling down” with great gusto. Now I hate thinking about that. We didn’t seem to realise that we were celebrating genocide, and if we did, I don’t know if we would have minded.

Since becoming an atheist (and part-time humanist), I’ve become aware of the work of moral philosopher Peter Singer. The metaphor he uses is a circle. We start off caring about the people in our circle — people like us. But if we’re doing it right, we expand our circle of concern so that we care about people who are less and less like us, continuing to animals. Here’s his talk from the Global Atheist Con of 2012.

The view of morality presented by the Bible is firmly focused on the tribe. In a way, we can’t fault them for that; that’s where humanity was at the time. One would think that having input from a timeless, transcendent, all-loving god would have expanded their circle, but quite the contrary. Jehovah has no interest for people beyond his favourite tribe, and participates in the slaughter himself.

This is a hopelessly narrow kind of morality. As humanists, we can do better than religion.

Evidence for Jericho?

Did Jericho really happen? Fortunately, the evidence from archaeology has disconfirmed the Jericho story. Not only did the walls not come tumbling down

Unfortunately for believers in biblical literalism, no strata of destruction that would correspond with such an invasion has yet been identified.

…but at the time of the alleged Jericho story, there was no wall at all.

Most significantly, although the LB was the period when an Israelite conquest would have happened, there was no trace of any fortifications during this period…. Therefore, although the Book of Joshua depicts Jericho as a mighty walled city when the Israelites encountered it, during this period it was in fact a meager, unfortified village. There were no walls to come tumbling down.

Does that mean I’m getting worked up over a genocide that never happened? Perhaps, but there’s more to the story than ‘did it happen’. Also significant is that there are millions of people who think it did happen, think it’s good that it happened, defend the god who they imagine made it happen, and are in fact disappointed and troubled to think that it didn’t happen. To me, it’s the best news I’ve heard all week.

I’m also amused to think that a group of people who today we consider bookish and intellectual imagined up for themselves a history of bloodthirsty carnage. Everyone overcompensates for something.

Did the sun stand still for a day?

According to Joshua, God himself stopped the sun in the sky so the carnage could continue.

10:12 Then spake Joshua to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon.
10:13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies. Is not this written in the book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day.

Now you must’ve heard the story about the NASA engineer who found the missing day:

They called in the service department to check it out and they said “what’s wrong?” Well they found there is a day missing in space in elapsed time. They scratched their heads and tore their hair. There was no answer. Finally, a Christian man on the team said, “You know, one time I was in Sunday School and they talked about the sun standing still.”

Hallelujah! Science confirms scripture! But science communicator Dr Karl debunks the story in his wonderful style:

But ignore the lies and exaggerations, and just think about the idea of a Missing Day. You can measure the length of a piece of string only if you can get to both ends of the string. In the same way, you can find a missing day only if you have known dates on each side of the missing day. Eclipses are ideal for this purpose, because they are such well-documented and memorable events. But at the time of Harold Hill’s lectures, the earliest documented eclipse was in 1217 BC, nearly two centuries after Joshua battled the Forces of Evil. In Harold Hill’s day, there were no eclipses documented before the time of Joshua, and so there was no way to find a Missing Day. It’s mathematically impossible.

The story is so thoroughly implausible that even Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International don’t believe it, and list it as an example of arguments Christians shouldn’t use.

The morality of selective Bible study

Let’s have a look at the real lesson manual. Did they run through all the carnage?

a. Joshua 1. The Lord calls Joshua to succeed Moses and commands him to be strong, have courage, study the scriptures, and keep the commandments. Joshua prepares the Israelites to possess the land that the Lord has promised them.
b. Joshua 3–4; 6. The Israelites cross the Jordan River on dry ground and place 12 stones as a memorial of their crossing. Through the Israelites’ faith, Jericho is destroyed.

Had to stop here. “Through their faith”. I suppose the swords and fire had nothing to do with it.

c. Joshua 23; 24:14–31. Joshua and his people covenant to serve the Lord.

Nope, they stop at Jericho, and skip over to the end. I guess class time is limited, and they would want to skip the bits that might disturb the membership. But is this an honest presentation of scripture?

How about the church’s presentation of Brigham Young? Even to this very day, his bio on the official church website says:

1824: Marries Miriam Works (23).
1832: Baptized into the Church and ordained an elder. Wife dies (31).
1834: Marries Mary Ann Angell.

First wife dies, marries another. There are no mentions of any of his other 53 wives; anyone would come away with the impression that Brother Brigham was a monogamist.

Mormonism has a culture that encourages obfuscation, prevarication, and lying by omission. Check out this video of this Mormon guy, explaining how to sidestep tough questions.

The manual is guilty of lying by omission, and this is a pattern in the church, as FlackerMan points out.

To get into the temple, a member has to affirm that they’re honest in their dealings with their fellow men. Members who can affirm this are certainly doing better than their church. But then what are we to expect from an esoteric mystical religion that teaches that the greater knowledge of godliness is to be held in reserve for those who have been initiated into the mysteries?

Additional ideas for teaching

Evolving ideas about the afterlife

Joshua is about to die, and there’s a curious thing about his death speech:

23:14 And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls, that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the LORD your God spake concerning you; all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing hath failed thereof.

“Going the way of all the earth” is how he describes it. But do you notice that there’s no follow-up:

  • “And I testify that I shall come forth…” Nope.
  • “My body shall rise again…” Nothing like that.

We won’t see anything about people rising from the dead until Job, and even then it’ll be vague and isolated from anything else in the Old Testament.

At this point in the Bible, the idea of an afterlife seems absent from Hebrew mythology. It’ll be one of Jesus’s big innovations, along with the idea of eternal punishment in Hell for unbelievers and evildoers.

Animal cruelty

In addition to killing all the land’s inhabitants, God commanded them to ‘hough the horses’.

11:6 And the LORD said unto Joshua, Be not afraid because of them: for to morrow about this time will I deliver them up all slain before Israel: thou shalt hough their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.

A ‘hough’ is a hamstring — the word is related to ‘heel’ — and to hough a horse is to cut its hamstrings, rendering it lame.

I suppose the idea is that Jehovah doesn’t want the Israelites to become good fighters on horseback. He wants them to be hobbled in battle, so that when they win, his big dick gets all the credit. That’s what it’s all about. And really, isn’t that worth a few hocked horses?

Remember this if anyone tells you that God cares for animals.

Leaving Joshua

Let’s wrap up the book of Joshua with a reading from “Skinny Legs and All“. You like a bit of Tom Robbins? I do.

The protagonist, Ellen Cherry, is talking to a Jewish character named Spike.

“You’re not exaggerating, Mr. Cohen? Wasn’t Canaan kind of a wilderness area that was open for settlement?”

“Hoo boy! You young people today, you’re knowing nothing very much. An advanced civilization, we’re talking about here. Already two thousand years old when the Hebrews invaded it. A lot of our culture comes from Canaan. You believe, darlink, that God told Moses go invade an advanced civilization, pilfer its territory, and kill all its people? Suppose in Westchester you had a nice house, and I stayed there the weekend as your guest, and then years pass and one day I come back and say, ‘God promised me your house.’ You would believe such a cockamamie story? No, you would not. So, okay, I murder you and your kids and your grandmother what’s in a wheelchair and your cat and your dog and your three goldfishes. And I say to the neighbors, ‘It’s my house now, don’t be peeing on my lawn.’ Hoo boy!”

“I guess we got America the same way,” ventured Ellen Cherry. “From the Indians.”

Spike ran his index finger, stubby and liver spotted, along the rim of his dry glass. “Okay, yes,” he said, “but at least John Wayne never said that God promised it to him. He honestly stole it.”

He paused. “I can tell you something?” He paused again, and Ellen Cherry could detect tearwater magnifying the green gooseberries of his eyes. “I can tell you something? Why I changed my birth name? Abu knows this, but no other body. I quote to you from the Old Testament. Joshua ‘carried off all the livestock of these cities,’ meaning the cities of Canaan, ‘but all the people he put to the sword, not sparing anyone who breathed.’ Joshua ‘plundered,’ Joshua ‘burned,’ Joshua massacred,’ Joshua ‘wiped them out,’ Joshua ‘put to death,’ Joshua ‘turned his forces,’ ‘all were taken by storm . . annihilated without mercy and utterly destroyed,’ Joshua ‘subdued,’ Joshua ‘slew,’ Joshua ‘left no survivors.’ In your Christian Bible you will find this nice story of this nice guy Joshua. You think I could go on living when I wear the name of such a man?”

Joshua (or Yeshua) was the successor to Moses. Later on, there will be another successor to Moses, and coincidentally another Yeshua. This’ll be Jesus. Looks like he didn’t have a problem with that name. Telling.

OT Lesson 17 (Deuteronomy)

“Beware Lest Thou Forget”

Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32

LDS manual: here


The real lesson manual has cherry-picked some scriptures from Deuteronomy — only four books out of the original 34. That’s okay, I suppose; the whole thing is kind of a rehash of Exodus and Leviticus. And in fact the word Deuteronomy means ‘second law‘ — we’ve already seen it the first time. But cherry-picking is not how we roll around here at GDG, so here’s a quick rundown of the whole book.

Moses is giving a final pep talk. “Hey,” he says, “remember the time we killed all the Amorites? And all those giants we defeated?”

2:11 Which also were accounted giants, as the Anakims; but the Moabites called them Emims.

“And we killed all the Heshbonites, including the children?”

2:33 And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.
2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain:

“And Og, the king of Bashan? and sixty cities, killing everyone?”

3:3 So the LORD our God delivered into our hands Og also, the king of Bashan, and all his people: and we smote him until none was left to him remaining.
3:4 And we took all his cities at that time, there was not a city which we took not from them, threescore cities, all the region of Argob, the kingdom of Og in Bashan.

“Well, you have to obey Jehovah, the one who commanded all these killings — in his mercy. ;)”

4:31 (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

I assume, since the winking smiley emoticon hadn’t been invented yet, that the 😉 in the above paragraph was a typographic convention in Jacobean times.

“So remember to kill everyone when you take their land.”

7:2 And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
7:16 And thou shalt consume all the people which the LORD thy God shall deliver thee; thine eye shall have no pity upon them

“Oh, but love them.”

10:19 Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

“But destroy the symbols of their religions.”

12:2 Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree:
12:3 And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place.

“And if anyone — even in your own family — worships a different god, kill them.”

13:6 If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
13:7 Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
13:8 Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
13:9 But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.
13:10 And thou shalt stone him with stones, that he die;

God hates trees. Deforestation is kind of a problem in our day, but in Moses’s day, it was something of a goal.

16:21 Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.

“When you go to destroy a city, give them a chance to become your slaves first. (That’s called a peace offer.) But if they put up a fight, kill the men and take the women.”

20:10 When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it.
20:11 And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that is found therein shall be tributaries unto thee, and they shall serve thee.
20:12 And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it:
20:13 And when the LORD thy God hath delivered it into thine hands, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword:
20:14 But the women, and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which the LORD thy God hath given thee.
20:15 Thus shalt thou do unto all the cities which are very far off from thee, which are not of the cities of these nations.

“Unless God really hates them. Then just kill them all.”

20:16 But of the cities of these people, which the LORD thy God doth give thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth:
20:17 But thou shalt utterly destroy them; namely, the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee:

“If you take over a city, and you see a woman you like, take her home and shave her head. Then after a month, she’s yours.”

21:10 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive,
21:11 And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
21:12 Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;
21:13 And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

“Kill rebellious children.”

21:18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
21:19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
21:20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21:21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

“If a woman’s not a virgin when you marry her, kill her.”

22:13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
22:14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
22:15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
22:16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
22:17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
22:18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
22:19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
22:20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
22:21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.

Stoning for adultery still happens. Brunei will be starting it up next year. Here’s a handy infographic about it.

Just to be clear, religious belief has convinced some people in the 21st century that this is a perfectly acceptable way of dealing with people who cheat on their spouses.

“Also, don’t let your wives grab other men’s junk, not even as a method of conflict resolution.”

25:11 When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets:
25:12 Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her.

The always wonderful Brick Testament, ladies and gentlemen.

“Speaking of junk, here’s the list of people who can’t attend church: Nobody with testicle wounds or dickless; no bastards, and no Ammonites or Moabites. Geez, God really hates them!”

23:1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
23:2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
23:3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:

“However, he doesn’t mind blind people, strangers, the fatherless, or widows.”

27:18 Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
27:19 Cursed be he that perverteth the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.

“If you don’t obey all these things, then God’s going to give you haemorrhoids.”

28:27 The LORD will smite thee with the botch of Egypt, and with the emerods, and with the scab, and with the itch, whereof thou canst not be healed.

This video by nonstampcollector is fitting in so many ways.

28:30 Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man shall lie with her: thou shalt build an house, and thou shalt not dwell therein: thou shalt plant a vineyard, and shalt not gather the grapes thereof.

“And you’ll eat your own babies when your neighbours besiege your cities.”

28:53 And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters, which the LORD thy God hath given thee, in the siege, and in the straitness, wherewith thine enemies shall distress thee:

Notice that the Israelites brag about their ability to do this to other people when they besiege their cities — they just don’t want it to happen to them.

And endeth Moses: “I think that’s about it.”

Remember: this is God’s chance to give a message to mankind. He could have given us any kind of knowledge: about science, medicine, anything.

What he did instead was tell who you can own, and who you should kill. Spoiler alert: Everyone. And all in the name of brand protection!

Which is why Richard Dawkins was accurate in describing him thus:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

And check out Steve’s blog post, giving scriptural support to each of these charges.

Main points from this lesson

“Beware lest thou forget”

In Dueteronomy, there’s a big emphasis on always remembering the god of the Old Testament.

6:12 Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

In two separate places, God commands the Israelites to put his words on their hands, foreheads, and the posts of their houses.

6:6 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
6:8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
6:9 And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

An unusual choice of fashion accessory, to be sure.

The lesson manual picks up this theme:

Why do you think Moses told the people to place passages of scripture between their eyes, on their hands, on the posts of their houses, and on their gates? How would such constant reminders affect our actions? What can we do in our homes to remind us of the Lord, his words, and our covenants with him? Do the pictures on our walls, the books we read, and the movies and television shows we watch remind us of the Lord, or do they suggest a longing for the world?

Let’s talk about pictures on the walls for a second. In the last ten years or so, Mormons have invented a tradition of putting pictures of their leaders on the walls of their homes. You can go to the homes of many Latter-day Saints and find a picture like this official portrait:

Or this:

Maybe this excellent Photoshop job:

Please not this:

Chillaxin’ in the temple.

There’s like a cottage industry for these things.

Whoops, wrong leaders. Only two of them. But does anyone else get a North Korea thing off of this? Why the leader worship?

Ironically, the “First Presidency portrait” meme is probably in violation of the “no graven images” meme.

4:23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.

Now my memory is as bad as the next person, but what’s behind the constant exhortation to remember? If this god is as great as they say, why would someone need to keep him on their mind all the time? Wouldn’t it be obvious that he was real and powerful? Why is his existence and his influence so tenuous that it’s possible to forget it? Why does it need constantly shoring up?

Things that are true don’t need shoring up. They need to be publicised, of course, because information works best when it’s distributed. But things that are true don’t need to be believed in and constantly reiterated, like religious doctrines do.

The constant admonishment to remember religious norms is really about creating a bubble where the religious views won’t be challenged. The accompanying graphic in the manual resembles nothing less than an ideological bubble, where competing ideas just bounce off.


Again, when someone constructs a religious bubble, what they’re saying is that their ideas can’t compete with others on an equal footing. It’s a sure sign that the idea is weak.

Failed prophecies

How do you know if a prophet is a prophet? According to Deuteronomy, a prophet is fake if his prophecies don’t come true.

18:20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
18:21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
18:22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

By that definition, Moses fails the prophet test. More to the point, Joseph Smith fares no better.

Additional ideas for teaching

Rape in the Bible

How can you get a wife, according to Deuteronomy? Here’s one way: If you “lay hold on” a girl, just pay her father fifty shekels, and she’s your wife!

22:28 If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found;
22:29 Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

Now Christian apologists don’t like this very much, and to get around it, they play some word games.

The best apologist explanation I could find is that in the Torah, the word used for ‘seize’ is ‘tabas’. The word ‘tabas’ has multiple uses and doesn’t necessarily mean seized by force. For example, it could be used to describe the handling of a harp. From what I can tell, there is no formal word in the Hebrew language for ‘rape’, although I could be entirely wrong about the whole thing.

Of course! Since words have multiple meanings, just pick the one that corresponds to what you want. So when it says lays hold on her, it really means: he plays her like a harp. Yow. That’s some imagery.

I suppose that in Deut. 21:9, when parents are supposed to lay hold on their rebellious children (and stone them), it really just means caress them. With stones.

A quick and handy guide to biblical rape:

One more.

An unusual approach to crime investigation

If you find a dead body in the field, and you don’t know who killed him, here’s what you do: Cut off a cow’s head, and wash your hands over it. This will remove the sin.

21:1 If one be found slain in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it, lying in the field, and it be not known who hath slain him:
21:2 Then thy elders and thy judges shall come forth, and they shall measure unto the cities which are round about him that is slain:
21:3 And it shall be, that the city which is next unto the slain man, even the elders of that city shall take an heifer, which hath not been wrought with, and which hath not drawn in the yoke;
21:4 And the elders of that city shall bring down the heifer unto a rough valley, which is neither eared nor sown, and shall strike off the heifer’s neck there in the valley: 21:5 And the priests the sons of Levi shall come near; for them the LORD thy God hath chosen to minister unto him, and to bless in the name of the LORD; and by their word shall every controversy and every stroke be tried:
21:6 And all the elders of that city, that are next unto the slain man, shall wash their hands over the heifer that is beheaded in the valley:
21:7 And they shall answer and say, Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it.

Well, that would certainly make CSI a touch more surreal. And a lot shorter.

OT Lesson 16 (Genocide)

“I Cannot Go Beyond the Word of the Lord”

Numbers 22–24; 31:1–16

LDS manual: here


Let’s start with a bit of review, just to see where we are in the narrative.

God’s been on a particularly blood-thirsty tear lately. He’s already commanded the slaughter of the Amorites, kicking off the waves of genocide that will typify this part of the Old Testament. But he hasn’t just caused violence against outsiders; he’s also killed the men of Korah by swallowing them up in a great hole, and then killed those who questioned it.

Let’s just pause for a moment, and look at the purpose for this lesson in the real manual:

Purpose: To encourage class members to submit to God’s will without hesitation.

Ponder that for a moment. “Submit to God’s will without hesitation.” Perhaps because of what God’s going to do to you if you hesitate to submit.

I can’t help but think there’s some Stockholm syndrome at work here on the part of believers. What else could be going on in your mind when you worship a murderous jerk who’s got a hair-trigger and a reputation to protect? You hear stories in church every week about how he kills people who get in his way, and you know that unbelievers are going to cop it, but you just try to make sure it’s not you. You’ll be happy eternally in heaven, while others are going to be suffering, but it’s good and just that they’ll be suffering, and God wouldn’t make that happen unless it were the right thing. There’s got to be some numbness going on in the part of your brain that does empathy. There’s a brokenness.

Add in the fact that “submitting to God’s will” translates into “submitting to the will of leaders” and you’ve got a potentially toxic formula. Psychologically, it would be a lot healthier to tell this god to fuck off. Have nothing to do with him and his works of murder.

Ch. 22: Balaam was a prophet, but he was copping some flak from his boss, the Moabite king Balak. Balak had gotten the news about the Ammonite genocide, and wanted Balaam to curse Israel. But Elohim appeared to Balaam, and put a little heat on him. Balaam was no fool and saw which way his bread was buttered; He decided to bless them instead.

Now to the famous story: In the morning, Balaam saddles his ass (LOL semantic shift) and heads off to see the king. Standing in the way is an angel that only donkeys can see, apparently. Balaam thinks the donkey’s just being an ass. After three smotes, the donkey’s had enough, and complains to Balaam using human speech, asking why it’s getting beaten. Balaam takes this with equanimity, and has a bit of discourse with the animal.

This is, of course, not the first inter-species communication in the Bible; that would be the talking snake in the Garden.

Chs. 23 & 24: Balaam refuses to curse Israel, even when the king offers him a houseful of dosh. Instead, he predicts a win by Israel, in bloodthirsty terms:

23:24 Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion, and lift up himself as a young lion: he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain.


24:8 God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows.

Ch. 25: God’s brand is threatened, so it’s time for more murders. He plans a plague…

25:3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.
25:4 And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people, and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.
25:5 And Moses said unto the judges of Israel, Slay ye every one his men that were joined unto Baalpeor.

But then someone puts a spear through a couple who are (one supposes) having sex. God thinks that’s pretty cool, so he calls off the plague.

25:6 And, behold, one of the children of Israel came and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
25:7 And when Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from among the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand;
25:8 And he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly. So the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

The guy who committed the murders gets a special treat: the Priesthood! (Gee, all I had to do was turn twelve. It’s like God gives it to everyone these days.)

Didn’t this happen in one of the Friday the 13th films? I forget which one. No, wait, it was “Bay of Blood”. If you don’t like horror, don’t watch this link, but remember: it’s fine to throw a Bible with the exact same scene to children because it makes them more moral.

Brother Brigham felt that such a course would in some cases have salubrious effects.

Possible irksome question for those trapped in a real Gospel Doctrine class: Ask if this is a justification of body piercing.

Chs. 26, 27, 28, 29: God is going to show Moses all the land he’s giving to the Israelites, and then Moses will die. But not before some more burning lamb! Mmm… smell that sweet savour.

28:6 It is a continual burnt offering, which was ordained in mount Sinai for a sweet savour, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD.

Ch. 30: Any vow a woman makes has to be okayed by her husband or her father.

Ch. 31: The Midianite massacre: see below.

Chs. 32 and 33: Aaron dies. God tells Moses that they have to conquer people and destroy their religions, or else…

33:55 But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell.
33:56 Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them.

Ask: If you were the supreme being of the universe, would you be a little more secure in your supremacy? Wouldn’t you think you could ease up on the brand dominance? After all, since you knew everything, you’d know that other gods were non-existent. Yet, Elohim doesn’t seem to know this. He acts like he’s the number-two dog. It seems likely, then, that at this point that’s what he was.

Main points for this lesson

Balaam, unlike modern LDS prophets, rejected the profit

You can say what you like about Balaam’s state of mind, talking to donkeys and all, but what you have to admire is his refusal to say what the king wants. Balak offers him loads of dough if he’ll curse Israel, but he won’t.

Compare this to modern so-called prophets, who are willing to tone down unpleasant doctrines if it keeps people coming in. In 1988, when church leaders were mulling about changing some of the stranger and more off-putting parts of the endowment session, they sent around a survey to thousands of Latter-day Saints.

Discussion at Mormon Curtain | Exmormon | LDS-Mormon | MormonThink

We don’t have access to the results of the survey, but we do know that the penalties — in which temple attendees would mime their own murder in various grisly ways — disappeared in the 1990 revision.

We’ve seen the same pattern more recently: tone down the anti-gay rhetoric when it doesn’t fly, adapt doctrines about race that are distasteful, and do whatever it takes to keep the bottom line from being affected.

So Balaam certainly had more integrity than prophets today. Too bad he doesn’t survive past chapter 31.

The Midianite genocide

God commands the wholesale slaughter of the Midianites. First, they kill the men — including boys.

31:7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the LORD commanded Moses; and they slew all the males.

They take captives, burn the cities, and take the booty.

31:9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, and all their goods.
31:10 And they burnt all their cities wherein they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire.
31:11 And they took all the spoil, and all the prey, both of men and of beasts.

But Moses is pissed, because they didn’t kill the women.

31:14 And Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.
31:15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive?
31:16 Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the LORD in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the LORD.

So they kill all the male children, and all the non-virgin women.

31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.

The female children become sexual slaves, or at best, victims of forced marriages.

31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Verse 34 counts 32,000 women.

For as long as I’ve been an atheist, people have asked me where I get my morals from — even wondered how someone could be moral without religion. And religion is often recommended as a way of instilling ‘good moral values’.

This one lesson, all by itself, obliterates any claim that the Christian god is a moral being. Not only is he not the source of all morality, he’s not even a moral being. There are not many moral decisions that are easier to make than “Is genocide okay?” The Bible gets that wrong. And if it gets such an easy question wrong, how is it going to do on the hard ones?

Naturally, Christians have many explanations for why Old Testament genocide is actually fine. Christians of many denominations have cheerfully explained to me that God commanded it, and that means it’s just fine by them. Here’s what happened when I brought the issue up with a couple of very nice Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Here are some of the arguments apologists offer for this repugnant deity:

  • The Midianites were bad people! They sacrificed their children to Molech.

There’s some disagreement as to the extent and the origin of child sacrifice in Canaan, but it’s hardly a remedy for child sacrifice if one kills every available male child. I find it highly likely that just as Bible writers demonised the Moabites as the result of incest, they demonised the Canaanites as child murderers. This allows a community to externalise their enemies as subhuman ‘others’, at which point you can do as you like to them.

  • ‘Destroy’ doesn’t mean ‘entirely eradicate’.

This is a case of redefining words, a favourite apologetics tactic. If the Israelites didn’t wipe out tribes person for person, it was contrary to the commands of Jehovah, and that’s the real problem here.

  • It was better than other cultures at the time.

This is an odd argument. Is God a transcendent being, outside of space and time, presenting an unambiguous and absolute moral code? Or is he not? This line of reasoning reminds me that sometimes if you push a religious absolutist, they inexplicably turn into a moral relativist. They have to. There’s no other way to justify this slaughter.

  • God gets to judge. Everything he commands is right, and he made us, so he gets to decide what to do with us. I’m just going to keep believing, and trust that he knows all.

This is chicken shit. It’s moral abnegation. If someone takes this view, they’re trying to feel okay about something that strikes a normal person as deeply wrong. They are in the process of removing the part of themselves that feels compassion, and replacing it with submission. To say, as in the title of this lesson, “I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord” is really a form of moral cowardice.

I had an experience when preparing for this Godless Doctrine lesson.

I’ve always been kind of haunted by a sense that I wouldn’t have handled moral controversies in the church very well. I’ve never had the chance to be tested in a big way though; I was too young for the ‘Race and the Priesthood’ issue, and I was out of the church by Prop 8. So would I have passed the test? Or would I have sung myself to sleep, convinced that the church was right, no matter what?

Well, when preparing for this lesson, I found something. I went through my old Sunday School notes on the computer, and found the file for this lesson when I taught it in Gospel Doctrine so long ago. And I noticed this sentence:

Does anyone else have a problem with the genocide besides me?

And then I remembered how I agonised over this issue as a Gospel Doctrine teacher. I really didn’t have an answer for it, and it really bothered me. Usually I was good at coming up with rationales, but this one was so obviously wrong.

So this was the question I dropped right in the middle of the lesson.

Does anyone else have a problem with the genocide besides me?

It caused the class to shift uncomfortably in their uncomfortable seats. A few people volunteered that, yes, they did. Others offered weak explanations. One RM ventured that the winners write history, which I suppose is true in this case. In the lesson, I left it as unresolved.

So when I read that entry in my lesson plan, I felt relieved. I almost cried, in fact. No, I hadn’t left the church over this issue, but it was a crack in my Mormonness. I knew the Bible was wrong on this issue, and in time I would find more things wrong. The religion had not dulled my sense of what a normal person would see as right. I felt like I was not ‘utterly cast off’.

The other thing I noticed from my lesson notes is that we used to do a whole lesson on Leviticus, but it’s been cut from the current manual. Obviously they didn’t do any of the bits I talked about in the previous lesson.

Additional ideas for teaching

‘Revelation’ can come by petition

The ‘Ordain Women’ movement has been on my mind and in the news lately. Again this year, women asked to be admitted to the Priesthood Session of General Conference, and again they were turned away.

The response to ‘Ordain Women’ from many Mormon men has been a colossal ‘harrumph!’ Why, those women think they can counsel the Lord. They think that revelation comes through them, and not through the prophet. And so on.

I don’t think Mormon women need the priesthood; they need atheism. But things would certainly be better for many Mormon women if they were taken seriously on an administrative level, on an equal footing in the priesthood.

So it was interesting to see this story where women petitioned Moses for property rights for daughters.

27:1 Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.
27:2 And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying,
27:3 Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons.
27:4 Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.

And God says “Oh, that’s a good idea; I hadn’t thought of that.”

27:5 And Moses brought their cause before the LORD.
27:6 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,
27:7 The daughters of Zelophehad speak right: thou shalt surely give them a possession of an inheritance among their father’s brethren; and thou shalt cause the inheritance of their father to pass unto them.
27:8 And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter.

Actually, Mormons should be able to think of lots of cases where a revelation has come because someone asked a question. This is one of the earlier cases that worked to the benefit of women.

Unfortunately, women are put back in their place in chapter 30, when God says that any vow they make has to be approved by their husband (or father).


This is the first Bible verse where unicorns are mentioned —  the first of nine times in the Bible. With nine mentions, this is something to deal with.

23:22 God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.

So did the biblical unicorn exist? Come on down to the Unicorn Museum and find out!

Oh sure, we could explain the biblical unicorn away by saying it’s a fictional beast, like God or Satan.

But the folks at Answers in Genesis think that since it’s in the Bible, it’s totes real.

The Bible describes unicorns skipping like calves (Psalm 29:6), traveling like bullocks, and bleeding when they die (Isaiah 34:7).

It might be extinct now:

The absence of a unicorn in the modern world should not cause us to doubt its past existence. (Think of the dodo bird. It does not exist today, but we do not doubt that it existed in the past.).

or it might have described a real animal.

The elasmotherium, an extinct giant rhinoceros, provides another possibility for the unicorn’s identity. The elasmotherium’s 33-inch-long skull has a huge bony protuberance on the frontal bone consistent with the support structure for a massive horn.

This post shows two of the biggest tricks that apologists use when confronted with something foolish in their scripture:

1) Appeal to ignorance: Just because you can’t find a unicorn doesn’t mean it’s not real!

I suppose there might have been unicorns and they might have pooped Lucky Charms,

but with no evidence — no photos, no sightings, no bones, no scat — there’s no reason to believe in them. The same thing goes for leprechauns, genies, or gods.

2) Redefine words until they mean what you want. A unicorn can be a rhinoceros, and a horse can be a tapir.

Isn’t it nice to know that apologists are pretty much the same everywhere you go?

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