Sunday, July 3, 2011

What I don't like about Christianity Part 1: The Old Testament

I have been feeling rather angry, depressed and disappointed lately so I have decided to vent some of that by writing about all the things I do not like about Christianity. Yes my disappointment has to do with Christianity and Christians but instead of getting into that I want to discuss the Old Testament.

I really do not like the Old Testament. I don't like it in the same way that I do not like brussels sprouts. They are one of the few vegetables I hate. I mean I like the idea of them they are like tiny cabbages and I want to eat them by peeling off the little leafs one by one. The only thing stopping me is the taste. It is really horrible. My brother actually loves brussels sprouts so I know this dislike is not universal by any means. It is merely my opinion. No reading weird stuff into this and saying I am implying no one should eat brussels sprouts or they are a bad thing, no one should infer anything like that about the Old Testament either.

I was not always a disliker of the writings of the Old Testament. I used to enjoy the fun stories a lot as a kid. I did have some trouble reconciling it with the New Testament but I compartmentalized it in my head and no problem. As I got older I started to understand the Old Testament better and being able to reconcile it with the New Testament in my own way. Also as I did this my dislike of it grew. I have no idea why this is. I have no real reason to dislike the book just people's interpretations of it and the way they try to defend it.

What do I think the old testament is? This would be a good question to answer at this point. It is the chronicle of the Jewish people. It is their story. Christianity was an outgrowth or Judaism and therefore the main influence on the New Testament. It was heavily cited by Jesus and others in it. That is the simple answer that I can articulate with no problem. The long answer that I have a harder time putting into words is: What does it mean to me? Part of my acceptance of the apparent contradictions of the book and understanding them was phasing the Old Testament out in importance. Just like the New Covenant is greater than the Old, the New Testament is greater. I see the Old Testament as incomplete. It is attempting to state the same thing as the New Testament without Jesus and failing at it. Instead of Jesus it uses the law and gets tangled up in it and spans twice the pages of the New and fails to make the point. The New Testament, however, has Jesus and makes the point already in the Gospel of Mathew.

What I mean is I find references to salvation, or hints of it all over the Psalms. They are the one book of the Old Testament that lets its hair down and forgets about the rules and merely revels on the greatness of God. Rest of the time it is all about the rules, how we should follow the rules and stories about people trying to follow the rules and usually failing at it.

There was one story that bothered me as a child. I cannot find the exact location because I cannot figure out what words to use exactly. It took place while Moses was leading the people of Israel to the promised land. They attacked a town and no one was supposed to keep any loot for themselves. God told Moses someone had kept some loot so they threw lots to determine the tribe then on down until they got down to the nuclear family unit and the culprit. He confesses and gives back the item he had taken. Then in true Old Testament style he gets killed and so does his entire family unit, his kids wife and, if I remember, pack animals.

This was really hard to swallow. When my mother read it to me as a child out of her grown up Bible I really shocked and confused me but I tried not to think about it. As a little child it seemed so wrong, so contradictory of the God I believed in. With the faith of a child I shut the entire story out off my mind and separated that cruel petty unforgiving God from the one I believed in. Still it stayed with me and as I got older until I had to think about it and wonder at it. I had to either accept it as a story of my God or reject it.

It was at this time I considered the Old Testament as a whole and I considered weather or not to reject the whole thing because it seemed to me this was not the God I wanted to believe in. I have always had very well defined ideas of right and wrong, sure they have evolved over time and have incorporated a lot more gray area but they are still very well defined. The God of the Old Testament seemed to me to be so cruel, petty and xenophobic. This God did not seem to give a hoot about the rest of the people he created just his chosen people. F those pagans. Lets not even try to make them one of the Chosen people He loves. They can just go die in a fire set by the Chosen.

So you can see what a dilemma I had. The image of the Old Testament god contradicted so fiercely with the truth God had set in my heart from birth about what I saw as my God. What to do? I was able to reason away the problems I had with bits of the New Testament a lot easier. In the end I realized something. The Old Testament was given to us to show what a world with out grace was like. I personally think they could have done it in a fewer pages but it seems to make the point very well. Only a very few people are capable of even being good enough to communicate with God personally and no one is perfect and transgressors get destroyed instead of forgiven. As the Psalms hint, salvation was still there but much harder to find and not available to everyone. When Jesus came he fulfilled the law and swept it aside and we no longer had to be tangled up in it to attain salvation. We can just go to Him and be forgiven. The message of salvation is so clear when seen through the lens of Jesus and an impossible jungle of confusion and fear when seen through the lens of the law. The law can only show us our sin it cannot save us. Jesus can save us and remove the sin that the law showed us.

This is my opinion on the subject and I guess I don't like the Old Testament because to me it is a scary vision on a world where grace is so rare and the Law so abundant. I know I am incapable of being good. Even with grace I fail daily, no hourly, and the thought of not having forgiveness and understanding for this fills me with dread. This is why I hate it when people quote the Old Testament or try to defend the law so profusely as to make it seem like it is a good thing instead of a failed method only conceived to show us how woefully deficient we are. In my opinion, if you cannot make you point using the New Testament you are making the wrong point. If there are no relevant scripture in the New Testament it is simply irrelevant. Also if Jesus did not speak about it it obviously was not the point. The rest of the New testament after Jesus's death was written to answer questions people of the time had and they were written by biased flawed men about their biased flawed opinions. I am not saying they are not worthwhile and useful, I merely am saying I do not hold them nearly in the same esteem as the words of Jesus. If I can understand all that Jesus said, or nearly all, and attempt to live based on that I think I am in good shape. I have decided to focus on Jesus and his words because they are more than adequate. They are perfect and the rest is just periphery.


  1. Oh boy I am right there with you. I tried to read the Old Testament last year and I got seriously depressed half way through. I don't find it inspiring at all. I find it disturbing.

    I too find the words of Jesus to be my North Star. I don't consider the words of Paul, or any of the other authors, to be 'gospel' truth. Paul wasn't God or Jesus. He never even met Jesus.

  2. I understand your aversion to the OT, what with a vengeful God, a God who orders His "chosen" people to go into a land a slaughter every living thing, a God who gives very strict laws violation of such was cause for execution.

    However, maybe the real problem lies with our view of revelation and inspiration. You see I am coming to see that God reveals Godself within faith communities. People within these communities struggle with what this revelation means and how to communicate it for posterity and the other faith communities.

    In light of this maybe, just maybe God told Israel to love. Love God and love everybody else. Now the community to which God commanded that they love has to struggle with that. As I see the law it is a codification of what love looks like, only instead of saying what love is they say, "Well if you love God then you won't make idols. If you love your neighbor then don't kill him, steal from him, don't sleep with his wife because to do these things means you don't love him." The great rabbi Hillel said, "That which is hateful to you, don't do to others. This is the totality of the law, the rest is commentary." Hillel states it in a negative. Enter Jesus who says essentially what Hillel says when He says, "Do to others what you would want them to do to you." The difference is slight on the surface, yet makes a world of difference. Jesus states the same law in the positive. Instead of defining love as what we do not do, Jesus shows us how to love by what we do do.In this Jesus is the embodiment of the completion of the law, Love. And maybe God tried to say that all along and the communities of faith just didn't communicate that revelation so well?

    Maybe because they come out of the ancient near east where the pagan tribes are sacrificing to their gods for rain, crops to grow, etc. these faith communities think that love of God requires sacrifices (Isaiah tells us that sacrifices and burnt offerings were not what God wanted, that He wanted us to love one another, to not oppress, etc.)

  3. paul, I agree with you and you make a great point. What about all those times God tells them to do the destrying instead of them missaplying love? I was left with that question after reading what you wrote.

  4. Me too. I think I want to see this as them attributing to God rationalization, but not sure that I can. I do find these passages hard to reconcile with a loving God who creates. (I tend to not read those passages so much.) But with Sodom Abraham is able to talk God out of destroying them IF there are a number of righteous people, unfortunately there weren't. And the time God wants to kill of the fleeing Israelites and Moses convinces Him to change His mind (and I really don't know where I'm going with this.)

    I came to faith after being an atheist scientist most of my life. I had a hard time with creationism, a view I thought that I had to accept, but cannot. So I ignored Genesis 1 for a long time. But when I actually read it I didn't see a problem anymore, then I found theistic evolution. Maybe something like that has to happen for these passages where God who is Love tells the people of Israel to kill everyone including the livestock. Until then I live with the dissonance. (and virtually ignore the passages).

  5. I LOVE the Old Testament! :) Read my blogpost on it. I didn't really delve too much into why I love the OT, but you may get the general idea: