What Every Atheist Need To Learn From The Bible
It seems to me that no group takes the Bible more literally than atheists which is a shame because as a result they lose the true meaning and wisdom that is contained within its pages. It’s just a bit ironic that many atheists are perfectly comfortable interpreting various other documents and philosophies however they see fit, but when it comes to the Bible they seem to have a real chip on their shoulder. Let’s see if I can shed some light on the subject, but I must ask that Christians and Jews reserve judgement and accept the fact that my intent is not to denigrate either religion.
Essentially, for the purposes of this article, I am going to take God out of the Bible and suggest that the lessons and admonitions it contains are timeless and deserve our attention and consideration. There is a reason for the oft repeated claim (paraphrased) that those who forget, or ignore, history are doomed to repeat it. In fact, much of the Old Testament, using Christian nomenclature, is the history of a group of people we now call the Jews. Let’s see what some of the rules were that God laid down for “His” people.
It seems that God, and His people, weren’t really that trusting of human beings and thus to insure that the laws were not arbitrary and capricious we find that God’s rules were considered to override anything which man might wish to impose on his own. It might be said that God’s laws took a similar position as our Constitution. In both cases what was written was what was written and the laws of the State (God) were to be observed not in the breach, but exactly as presented in the founding document.
Why would this be? Could it be that God knew full well that left to their own devices whoever was in charge would either rewrite or reinterpret the laws to their own liking? How many times in the Old Testament do we read about “God’s wrath” being visited upon his people due to the fact that they strayed from what had been written? If, for the purposes of this essay, we agree to dismiss the notion of God, shouldn’t we then take a more scientific look at what may have caused the various misfortunes to befall the people of Israel? In other words, what was it that God was suggesting His people needed to do to be successful.
If we assume that any society needs a system of justice, is it not also true that it needs to be relatively impervious to change and be based on more than whatever those in control wish it to be? In other words, who controls the leadership? The commandments of God, as given to the people, would seem to serve a number of practical purposes. God is everywhere, which means that He has His eye on His people even when they may be otherwise alone.
God is also above the leadership and as a result the leadership owes fidelity to Him, and thus we find that even they are not above the Law. In addition, to keep them in line, should they decide to reject God’s Laws for personal gain, the likely result is to destroy the very society which they wish to rule. Even the fact that Moses was forbidden from crossing into the promised land suggests that God eliminated the one person from the group who might later let something slip about the origins of the most famous set of laws in the Western World: The Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments…Are they important in today’s world?
King James Version
And God spake all these words, saying,
I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
What could this mean to an atheist? Is this not the epitome of what every atheist should stand against? Perhaps there is a lesson here which atheists are unwilling to see due to their bias against anything pertaining to God and religion.
In a very real sense, what this suggests to me is that even God knew that in order to be a successful society every member would have to agree to play by the same rules. There could be no conflicting rules and regulations, no competing systems of morality which might cause dissension among the people and eventual disillusionment of the society. And does the history we read in the Bible support God’s understanding of human nature?
Yes, of course it does. There are numerous examples, but for the full story on what I am about to relate click here. In the article we learn about the three Kings of the united kingdom: Saul, David, and Solomon. Lessons can be learned from the reign of each, and thus I again suggest that you read the entire article, but by way of an example let me first provide a quote from the same article, followed by some thoughts.
The high points of Solomon’s reign were no doubt the construction and dedication of the temple. His downfall came late in his life. Solomon married many foreign wives, and eventually his heart was turned to worship their pagan gods:
1 King Solomon fell in love with many foreign women (besides Pharaoh’s daughter), including Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites. 2 They came from nations about which the Lord had warned the Israelites, “You must not establish friendly relations with them! If you do, they will surely shift your allegiance to their gods.” But Solomon was irresistibly attracted to them. 3 He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines; his wives had a powerful influence over him. 4 When Solomon became old, his wives shifted his allegiance to other gods; he was not wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord his God, as his father David had been. 5 Solomon worshiped the Sidonian goddess Astarte and the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. 6 Solomon did evil before the Lord; he did not remain loyal to the Lord, like his father David had. 7 Furthermore, on the hill east of Jerusalem Solomon built a high place for the detestable Moabite god Chemosh and for the detestable Ammonite god Milcom. 8 He built high places for all his foreign wives so they could burn incense and make sacrifices to their gods (1 Kings 11:1-8).
As a result of Solomon’s folly, God announced that he would lose his kingdom. Because of his father David, God would delay this judgment until after Solomon’s death:
So, what happened? Solomon failed to observe God’s first commandment which is to say that he failed to realize that for his kingdom to survive the people within it must worship the “same God”. He no longer cared as it (apparently) no longer meant anything to him, but the cost that his kingdom paid was a high one indeed. He did not realize that although he may no longer feel the need to follow the ancient rules of God that there is a difference between the needs of an individual withing a society and the needs of the society itself.
While he fiddled around in his palaces and such caring only about his individual pleasure he allowed the glue which held his kingdom together to lose its’ adhesiveness to the point that the society decayed to a point from which there was no return. He ignored God’s Law which required that he be the protector and steward of the State and in enjoying the pleasures afforded to him by his various wives and his immersion into their cultures he failed to realize that he had abdicated his responsibility ensure the continuation of his own. He seemed unable to realize that what had been his people no longer had the same allegiances nor did they even have the same culture.
Why did “God….delay this judgment until after Solomon’s death”? Perhaps it wasn’t “Because of his father David”, but perhaps it was because, much like Tito in post-war Yugoslavia, the state was held together by force of personality and the dying remembrances of those who remembered what had once been. The traditions and practices remained intact of their own accord while the structure which had originally supported it was rapidly being destroyed from within. The corruption and tension was always just beneath the surface and only needed the spark of their respective deaths to light the flames which would consume that which they were governing. Point to God, with some real lessons for today.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Here again, a commandment that makes plenty of sense if we only choose to understand what it is that it is suggesting. How one obtains material goods is often just as important, if not more so, than the total amount of material objects a society is able to amass. It’s what is in the heart that counts, so to speak. While it may be true that great fortunes can be made by cutting corners, history shows us that the eventual result is a society which is so corrupt and dysfunctional that it soon falls under the weight of its’ own lack of ethics and/or morality.
Interestingly, whether we look to China or Ireland or somewhere in between, it seems that most societies have a proverb invoking the rule of three’s. James E. Hughes, Jr. quotes several versions in his book on the subject of family fortunes, one of which states “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”, although there are plenty more if you click here. The point is that whether or not the reader wishes to invoke God, there is a lot of truth contained in this Second Commandment. Point 2 for God.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Many folks of a religious nature seem to concentrate on decrying the use of such phrases as “God damn”. I’m not going to take a position on that particular concern, although I don’t tend to use the language myself, but I would suggest that there is a more important underlying premise that often gets overlooked. Here’s where even some atheists might nod their heads as what I am about to point out is that using profanity pales in comparison to the use of the Lord’s name in an attempt to obtain some personal advantage.
“God wants this”. “I prayed that the Raven’s would win the Super Bowl, and they did”. What I see this commandment as suggesting even goes beyond the examples I have provided. In a political and social sense the “Lord’s name” should not be simply considered as another chip to play in hopes of gaining a personal advantage. However, this is not to suggest that there can be no “appeal to authority”. The problem is that the entire process, think back to the Second Commandment, is sullied when it is twisted and corrupted so far out of shape that it results in a loss of respect by all that are governed by it. I alluded to the Constitution earlier, but one doesn’t have to look very far to find examples of how the general respect for the document has been negatively affected by those who use its’ “name in vain”.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Everyone deserves a day off to think, relax, take some family time, or consider one’s many blessings. I often see unions being praised for such things as the 40 hour week and yet here we have the Bible ensuring that every individual, regardless of status, be assured of no more than a six day work week. What I find even more interesting is how many of these very same people, or those like them, protested against the so-called “Blue Laws” which required that the majority of all businesses close on Sundays. I also found a certain irony in how many have begun to protest and question the efficacy of opening on holidays when not so long ago it was Christians who were being maligned for making some of the very same points. In any event, let’s give God another point.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Family values. Learning from one’s elders. The cycle of life. For those who prefer the arbitrariness of the Rule of Man over the protection of the Rule of God nothing can fill their hearts with more joy than to see the assault by the government against the family unit. The complete annihilation of the family unit is a must have for those who wish to completely control every aspect of our lives and our society. Some may argue on this one, but I have to give God the point here as well.
6. Thou shalt not kill (some translate this as “not murder”)
This article is already a bit long and I can’t really imagine too many people arguing over the validity of this particular commandment. Perhaps I should mention that, even with capital punishment, the Sixth Commandment should be considered a protection against arbitrary and capricious actions by the State.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Once again, in the interest of brevity I won’t make much of a comment. The arguments against adultery are well-known, regardless of whether one agrees with them.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
Enough said? Including the leadership I might add. It’s “God’s rule”, not to be ignored by those with the power to do otherwise.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Can’t see too many arguing against this one, but feel free to suggest otherwise in the comment section.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
There is much more to be said regarding how these commandments, as well as other rules and restrictions, have objective and productive purposes whether or not you wish to invoke God’s Name. Obviously one of the problems in eliminating God from the equation is that the society loses many of the benefits granted by God, not the least of which is a set of rules to which even the leadership must give lip service. In fact, it is that “lip service” which motivates many to vote for “Christians”, or other religious persons, even in the face of hypocrisy. There is something to be said for a good set of rules that cannot be changed by the leadership on a whim.
In any event, perhaps another article will follow, but I hope that you enjoyed this one.
As always, feel free to make your opinions known in the comment section.
The Ten Commandments can be found here.