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Judaism, Christianity, Islam; the Torah, Bible, Qur'an, etc.

Part 1 of 2: Editing, changing, reinterpreting,
and/or ignoring passages in holy books in
order to modify beliefs & alter behaviors

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bulletAlfred North Whitehead: "The religion which stays in place is the last refuge of human savagery."
bullet Blaise Pascal: "Men [sic] never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
bulletDeuteronomy 7:2: "... thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them."
bulletDeuteronomy 20:16-17: "...thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. But thou shalt utterly destroy them."
bulletDeuteronomy 2:26-35: "...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." 


One of our web site's policies is to avoid criticizing the religious beliefs of any individual or group. In this essay, the author recommend that certain passages from the Bible and other holy texts be edited to remove passages that promote or condone genocide; mass murder; human slavery; oppression of women; torturing prisoners; execution of homosexuals, religious minorities, children, and persons guilty of trivial offenses; etc. The essay is based on the belief that deeds are evil and immoral and can promote religious hatred, discrimination, and violence today.

We realize that believers who regard their holy text as God's word might interpret this essay as an attack on their beliefs. However, with the world sliding so rapidly into religiously-motivated mass terror, we felt that we should bend the rules in this case. If you are easily distressed, we recommend that you not read this essay. Alternately, you may wish to submit your own rebuttal in the form of an essay for our visitors' essays section.

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We will primarily cite Christian examples here because it is the main religion in North America, which is our main service area.

People's behaviors are greatly influenced by their beliefs. Thus, the elimination of religiously-motivated hatred, discrimination, intolerance, oppression, violence, terrorism, murder, genocide, etc. requires that we first have to replace our current beliefs with better ones. We will have to discard some of what we have been taught, and change some of our traditional patterns of thinking.

Humanity cannot continue to resolve twenty-first century dilemmas with 1st or 7th century CE guidelines, much less guidelines that came during the 6th century BCE or earlier. Present and future generations must not be held hostage to beliefs and practices originating in an ancient parochial world organized in tribal groups. We need to deal with the problem of religiously-motivated hatred and oppression at its source, by introducing major changes into our "sacred texts." This will be extremely difficult to achieve.

To break the spiral of violence and intolerance in the world, we need to eliminate the sanctification of wrong attitudes and evil deeds which are contained in our "sacred texts." Consider two modern-day examples inspired by the book of Joshua in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a. Old Testament). You will recall that this book records numerous genocides committed by Joshua against the Canaanites.

bullet In Vietnam, a few American soldiers "quoted from Joshua to condone the My Lai massacre. They claimed that butchering babies would purge Vietnam of the 'commie stain,' and that they [the soldiers] were on God's side." 1

bulletDuring the " 'ethnic cleansing' of the Muslims in Bosnia. [some Serbian Orthodox Christian believers]... quoted the book of Joshua to justify slaughter. They saw it as 'god's will' to slay the infidels." 1

Other examples from the Hebrew Scriptures that inspire oppression -- and worse -- include the condoning and regulation of human slavery, genocide, oppression of women, execution and oppression of homosexuals, transferring sin from the guilty to innocent persons, and many other activities that are considered profoundly immoral by most faiths today.

Progress can be seriously impeded by the rigid attitudes of religious leaders against change. More flexibility will be needed, particularly with regard to the inerrancy, immutability, and universal applicability of sacred texts. Literalist and absolutist interpretations will have to be challenged before change will be possible.

As humanity's intellectual and spiritual capacity grows, so does our ability to understand complex phenomena. Our imperfect ideas are gradually replaced by more adequate ones. Our judgments are not final and often need to be modified. These attitudes should extend also to our consideration of our Scriptures. Unfortunately, reason cannot tell us how to treat logical problems created by traditional religious doctrines that do not seem to make coherent sense in today's world, but which claim to present eternal truth. Trying to overcome intolerance by simply reinterpreting existing holy texts may well be insufficient. More basic changes may be needed.

The Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- with which most of the Earth's population identify, will probably be very resistant to change. These faiths have no need to retain references to historical atrocities and immoral behaviors in their scriptures. However, there is little hope that they will be easily persuaded to effect changes to the text, such as removing those offensive commandments that serve no positive purpose. Still, retaining these commandments is dangerous, because some of the passages provide a ready-made pretext for many types of hatred and violence.

Perhaps the most that can be hoped for in the near future is a change in attitude towards the existing scriptures. This was largely accomplished over a century ago with the biblical passages that recognized, condoned, and regulated slavery. They are largely ignored today. Hopefully, religious leaders will proactively teach that passages promoting genocide, oppression of women and sexual minorities, religious intolerance, etc. are devoid of value and must also be ignored.

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Further comments on Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity & Islam):

bulletSome scripture passages are being used as a religious imperative for war, terrorism, and the formation of mass suicide groups, while turning a blind eye not only to tolerance, but also to genocide, the misuse of nature, the maltreatment of animals, etc.

bulletMany faith groups find change very difficult. They obstinately cling to doctrines which cannot be reconciled with modern culture.

bulletMany faith groups fear change. They are extremely reluctant to alter religious passages, even where obviously needed -- such as the biblical injunction to execute a child for cursing a parent. 2 They feel that any changes would undermine the "word of God," and thus reduce their group's authority. Many faith groups are motivated by a desire to preserve status quo -- to teach "The faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" 3 -- and to maintain their spiritual authority.

bulletOrganized religions find it helpful to teach exclusivity -- that their way is the only way; their belief system is the only truth. This helps Churches seek, acquire, and retain members, and thus, to grow in size and influence.

bulletIt is a well known that the various sacred writings contain contradictions, that obviously impossible claims are made, that commandments are given that cannot be complied with, and that there are statements that cannot be proven in spite of many hundreds of serious attempts. Recently, there has been a strong tendency to gloss over or avoid discussion of such matters.

bulletScholars from the third world are the main voices calling for a Bible that will reflect the realities and possibilities of today's world. 4 They are joined by progressive Christians and some others.

The concept of progressive revelation:

"Progressive revelation" is the concept that some instruction that was originally revealed for a particular age may be superseded by later revelations. These do not necessarily negate the earlier beliefs; they may simply bring them up to date. 5 This concept also contains the understanding that revelations that are considered still valid today, may well be superseded in the future as cultures change.

Prominent among the faith groups that believe in progressive revelation are the Unitarians / Unitarian Universalists and the Baha'i's. Also, the Sikhs allow, in each generation, for a change in interpretation of their revelation by the Panth, the Sikh community.

bullet Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists do not accept the idea of a final or 'sealed' divine revelation. They do not accept revealed truth as immutable. Rather, they view knowledge as continually evolving. They also accept the teachings of all religions and faith groups as worthy of examination.
bullet Leaders if the Baha'i religion' assert that because God is, in essence, unknowable, religious truth relative, and our consciousness only gradually expanding, human progress must be facilitated by a progressive and continuous revelation of God's word. According to them, no religion, including the Baha'i' faith itself, can claim to be the final revelation of God to humanity. Revelations are both recurrent and progressive.

bullet The Mormon movement also accepts a limited type of progressive revelation. They believe that they received an instruction from God to at least temporarily suspend polygyny -- the practice of one man marrying multiple wives. This is referred to as the "Great Accommodation" of 1890. In 1978, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received another revelation from God: to eliminate racism within the denomination.

This topic continues in the next essay.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Christ Yes! Christendom No," at:
  2. See: Exodus 21:17.
  3. See: Jude 3.
  4. book cover image Canaan S. Banana, "The Case for a New Bible," in: Rasiah S. Sugirtharajah, Ed., "Voices from the Margin," Orbis/SPCK, (2004). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  5. book cover Mel Thompson, "Philosophy of Religion," Teach Yourself book series, McGraw-Hill, (3rd edition, 2010). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

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Copyright © 2006 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-27
Latest update on: 2015-FEB-16
Author. Vladimir Tomek, supplemented by contributions by B.A. Robinson

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