Religious Selectivity: Ignoring Some, Emphasizing Others

How good is this book given to us by this so called good god. He seems to have a very interesting a look on the moral of today. Maybe humans wrote it? That would explain why it sounds like a person of the time wrote it.


Avi Shore

The Old Testament's Torah isn't just known for its bold claims about science, but also for its rules about right and wrong. These rules often show a time when society was much stricter than it is now. For example, the death penalty was used often, while other serious crimes like rape were not seriously punished. In fact, the text even suggests that a rapist should marry his victim if he wants to.

Some people who believe the Torah comes from God and not humans of the time say that our understanding of what's right and wrong changes over time. But this idea is puzzling. If we only pay attention to parts that seem good to us now, then why do we need the book at all? It just makes things confusing. Shouldn't a God who knows everything make his rules clear? Actually, the text does say that these laws are permanent and should be followed always. And why would a God who knows everything offer a guide to right and wrong that seems to just copy the rules of society back then?

If God truly knows what's best for people to be happy, why does it seem like he got it wrong?

religious traditionalists believe these laws show an "ideal world" and think that changes in society have sadly messed up this perfect plan from God. They are looking forward to the arrival of the messiah, who they believe will bring back these laws from the Bible. If that were to happen, there would likely be a big increase in the number of people being executed, and we might all end up living in fear. How do we know this? Just look at countries today that are ruled by religious law, like Pakistan or Iran.

Here are a handful of charming decrees straight from the good book:

1. Exodus 21:15 - "Anyone who strikes their father or mother shall surely be put to death."

2. Exodus 21:17 - "Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death."

3. Exodus 22:18 - "You shall not permit a sorceress to live." This verse has historically been interpreted to condemn witchcraft, with the penalty being death.

4. Exodus 22:20 - "Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction."

5. Leviticus 20:10 - "If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

6. Leviticus 20:13 - "If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death."

7. Leviticus 20:27 - "A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death."

8. Leviticus 24:16 - "Whoever blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death."

9. Numbers 15:32-36 - A man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day was stoned to death as God commanded Moses.

10. Deuteronomy 13:6-10 - "If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” ... you must certainly put them to death."

Even if we set aside the instances of capital punishment, it is evident that the societal norms and values depicted in some Old Testament texts may seem highly immoral by today's standards. One cant even consider some of these texts, no matter how much of a believer they claim to be.

The following verse illustrates the perspective of that era, highlighting the view of justice regarding a rapist and the perceived value of women as her fathers property (note, i don't have a favorite verse, they are all so good):

"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives" Deuteronomy 22:28–29

when it comes to the overall religious framework, I find numerous inconsistencies and contradictions. This leaves me confused about whether this is the kind of world we aspire to when the messiah arrives. Do we truly desire this?

I completely understand that many of my moderately religious friends might not enjoy this discussion. "God didn't really mean it," they'd say, "he intended for the morals to evolve over time, or "he provided guidelines suitable for that particular era." But if that's the case, I must wonder, why didn't he make it more explicit?

Consider that this book—let's take the Bible, for instance—is revered and strictly followed by countless individuals worldwide. If God didn't intend for his followers to act strictly upon the rules in it, why does he declare so emphatically that they should? For instance:

Deuteronomy 4:2 states, "Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you."

A verse like this seems to be disregarded by the vast majority—let's say 99%—of religious Jews today. And you certainly don't want to be around the remaining 1% who take it to the extreme. Yet while overlooking this verse, they emphasize this one:

Deuteronomy 28:15 : "However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you."

The notion that God would painstakingly emphasize a multitude of rather minute details and then neglect to mention an "Oral Torah" or how rabbis could adapt it over time seems quite unlikely for an all-knowing deity who understands the human tendency to take things to extremes when provided with such a book. I'd wager that during the first Jewish millennium, many of the harsh, brutal verses from the Torah were actually enacted within the Jewish kingdom. A cursory glance at the Tanakh generally reinforces this impression of the era. So much for being the most moral religion.

Judaism was once a harsh but successful and powerful religion. Around 200 CE, the Mishna was introduced, known as the first book of an ever-lasting-chain of books that are considered the "Oral Torah". Over the centuries, as societal morals evolved, people began to question the Torah's teachings and reinterpret them. For instance, they did not want to sacrifice their children for disobedience, so they argued that God must've intended a different meaning. The same arguments are used today about controversial verses that some people want to ignore. The Mishna was like a relief to those who were taking the Torah literally.

This was the first official time someone popular in Jewish society wrote a book to formally document these interpretations. He decided which interpretations were true and which were not. He interpreted many revolutionary ideas that hadn't been considered before. While people had already started interpreting the text, disagreements were getting out of hand, so it was important to officially set the new rules. For instance, the Mishna established that a person had to be warned before being executed.

However, traditional Jews at that time, known as Tzadokim, didn't agree with this. They were firm believers in the divine book that God gave them and didn't believe in changing anything as it was explicitly forbidden. So, the Tzadokim saw the changes as wrong. They held onto their traditions, probably viewing the authors of the Mishna in a similar way to how Orthodox Jews today view Reform Jews - as rule changers.

The Tzadokim eventually faded away due to their refusal to adapt to societal progress. It's challenging to remain extreme when the world around you is evolving. Another theory is that the "progressive" Jews of the time eliminated the Tzadokim for having the wrong beliefs, a common reason to lose one's life back then.

I think, if anything, the Tzedokim were right. they knew god wasn't stupid and wouldn't give a book to humans and leave them with the task of completely changing it around with interpretation. Is it fair to anticipate that humans—particularly those who might not be well-educated—would read this book and comprehend the deep interpretations that have emerged as morals have evolved over time? I've yet to come across a satisfying argument that God actually intended for the teachings in this book to change over time. From an objective standpoint, I'd argue that he made his intentions quite clear. He repeats many of the more intense verses and continually affirms that these rules are the everlasting moral compass for our nation.

Traditional Jews often assert that not a single letter in the Torah is spare and all has deep interpretations. God Gave us a set of rules with it we can interpert the Torah. except the set of rules are also not clear which leads do much disagreement between many. However, I must respectfully disagree. The incessant threats and repeated tales throughout these five books seem to suggest otherwise.

most religious individuals would acknowledge that some of these teachings are radical. So, what is the purpose behind all of this? Why do we completely disregard certain parts of religious texts while placing great importance on others, especially when it comes to teaching our children about the afterlife and how their seemingly insignificant actions can have enormous consequences? It almost feels like an unnecessary burden, where a simple misstep like tying your shoelaces wrong could jeopardize your place in the grand scheme of the afterlife.

11. Deuteronomy 17:2-5 - "If a man or woman living among you in one of the towns the Lord gives you is found doing evil in the eyes of the Lord your God in violation of his covenant... stone that person to death."

12. Deuteronomy 17:12 - "The man who acts presumptuously by not obeying the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die."

13. Deuteronomy 18:20 - "But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak... that prophet shall die."

14. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 - A stubborn and rebellious son who doesn't heed his parents' discipline can be stoned to death by the men of his city.

15. Deuteronomy 22:20-21 - "If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the young woman’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death."

16. Deuteronomy 22:22 - "If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die."

18. Deuteronomy 23:2 - "No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation."

19. Deuteronomy 25:11-12 - "If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand."

20. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 - If you do not obey the LORD your God... all these curses will come upon you and overtake you. The curses include harsh punishments and death.

This is why I don't feel ashamed to disrespect and challenge religious beliefs. The fact that some people consider these teachings as the moral standard and insist that we should strictly adhere to them can lead to dangerous radicalism.

Sam Harris points out the issue with moderate religious individuals inadvertently validate the extremists because society promotes a notion of respecting all beliefs, even when they have no clear boundaries or limitations.