There’s Too Much Evil and Cruelty in the Bible

Topped off with bad theology and silliness

The first comment on my article here last week was offered by skepticCO, who quoted the apostle Paul in Romans 1:28-32:

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God decided to show them compassion and love and to do what ought to be done. They were filled with all manner of empathy, love, optimism, hope. They are full of beauty, desire, peace, reverence. They are lovers, teachers, mentors, helpers, inventors. They know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve all that is good, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

After which, skepticCO wrote, “Oh…wait.” Don’t go running to your Bible to find this kind, compassionate text: this is cleaned-up Paul! Vindictive, brutal Paul actually wrote the following in Romans 1:28-32, his famous list of those who deserve to die:
 “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to an unfit mind and to do things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of injustice, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.”
Notice that gossips, rebellious children, and ruthless people are on Paul’s death-wish list. Based on this list alone, how does Paul himself not qualify as ruthless? “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude,” he wrote in I Corinthians 13. If he really believed that, he would have written the version of Romans 1:28-32 that skepticCO imagined! 
This text in Romans 1 illustrates one of the biggest con-jobs in human history pursued by the church, and it’s ongoing: convincing people that the Bible is The Good Book. Of course, there are many admirable Bible texts, such as “love is patient and kind,” but these are obliterated by far too many evil and cruel texts, too much bad theology and silliness.   
The first hint we get that Bible-god is far too nasty is right in the opening chapters of Genesis: his horrible curses on people. How does it possibly make sense that the creator-god didn’t want humans to be wise, didn’t want them to know the difference between good and evil? Moreover, the ancient author was prone to magical thinking: the gift of wisdom and knowledge was there for the taking, i.e., eating the fruit of a tree. The misogynistic author presents the woman as the cause of human downfall, and depicts the furious god pronouncing forever-curses on both the man and the woman. 
Very early in my serious study of the Bible I learned about etiological myths, that is, stories imagined to explain why things are the way they are. This is the god’s curse on the woman, to explain why childbirth is painful:
“I will make your pangs in childbirth exceedingly great; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  (Genesis 3:16
A full blast of misogyny is directed at the man, to explain why humans are fated for hard labor: 
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife…cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17-18)
A loving, compassionate, forgiving father-god is missing here.
In Genesis 6 we find the story of this furious god’s ultimate rage: “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of humans was great in the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) And whose fault was that, since it was god himself who had created the first humans? Somehow Noah found favor with this grumpy deity, and he was ordered to build a big boat to survive a massive flood that was coming. Noah and his family were the only humans selected for survival—and two of every kind of animal—well, according to Genesis 6. Read Genesis 7 for a conflicting tradition of how many of each kind of animal. The torrential rains came, and all humans and animals not on the ark were drowned. Genocide. The furious god set this precedent. When it was all over,    
“Then Noah built an altar to the Yahweh and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when Yahweh smelled the pleasing odor, the Yahweh said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humans, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth…” (Genesis 8:20-21) Again, whose fault was that?
Christians have done their best to divert attention from the flood-genocide. Children’s books focus on the parade of animals entering the ark—and how bizarre is this: fundamentalists have even built a theme park, for family fun, The Ark Encounter
Yet another example of this god’s cruelty we find in Exodus 12, in the struggle to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites leave Egypt: 
“At midnight Yahweh struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon and all the firstborn of the livestock. Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians, and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.” (Exodus 12:29-30)        
The story of Israel’s conquest of “the promised land” provides many more details of the evils ordered by this brutal god. 
Don’t Things Get Better in the New Testament? 
Outside of fundamentalist/radical evangelical circles, it is commonly not grasped that Jesus is presented in the first three gospels as an apocalyptic prophet. He will descend from heaven in a great cataclysmic event. Sentimental Christian hymnology disguises this element of the gospels, e.g., What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and C. Austin Miles (1868-1946) wrote the lyrics for another favorite:
“I come to the garden alone, While the dew is still on the roses; And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, The Son of God discloses. And He walks with me, and He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there, None other has ever known.”
This is the Prince of Peace, the loving, soothing savior.
But a primary focus of the early Jesus cult was the anticipated arrival of the kingdom of god, and this would involve a lot of disruption, stress, and suffering:

“I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and how I wish it were already ablaze!
  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:49-53) Luke makes matters worse with his famous Jesus-script in 14:29, i.e., hatred of family and even life itself is required of those who wish to be his disciples.

“For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now and never will be.” (Mark 13:19) Read all of Mark 13 to appreciate just how scary it is.  
“For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too, will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:37-39)
These are indeed examples of bad theology, and there are other weird, troubling verses:
“Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’”?  (Mark 2:9) The assumption here is that catastrophic illnesses or disabilities are caused by sin. And that a superior magician can eliminate the problem.

“When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret [mystery] of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything comes in parables, in order that ‘they may indeed look but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”  (Mark 4:10-12) This makes no sense whatever: Jesus taught in parables to mislead people? To prevent them from repenting and being forgiven? Note especially the words, “To you has been given the secret [mystery] of the kingdom of God.” This is privileged knowledge for those in the inner circle of the cult. Devout scholars have been in a quandary over this text for a long time. 

Another symptom of cult fanaticism is the insistence on correct belief—to escape a horrible fate—hence we find these texts:

Mark 16:16: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Belief in god’s son is the key to not perishing, which is emphasized by two other verses in the same chapter:

John 3:18: “Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

 John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life but must endure God’s wrath.”

Of course there are devout Christians who have read the Bible cover-to-cover, but do they make a habit of continually reading it? I’m sure many have been troubled by the evils, cruelty, bad theology, and silliness they’ve found in its pages, especially in the teachings of Jesus. Hector Avalos spoke the truth when he wrote, “If we were to go verse by verse, I suspect that 99 percent of the Bible would not even be missed.” (The End of Christianity, edited by John Loftus, page 109)
David Madison was a pastor in the Methodist Church for nine years, and has a PhD in Biblical Studies from Boston University. He is the author of two books, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: a Minister-Turned-Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, now being reissued in several volumes, the first of which is Guessing About God (2023) and Ten Things Christians Wish Jesus Hadn’t Taught: And Other Reasons to Question His Words (2021). The Spanish translation of this book is also now available. 
His YouTube channel is here. At the invitation of John Loftus, he has written for the Debunking Christianity Blog since 2016.
The Cure-for-Christianity Library©, now with more than 500 titles, is here. A brief video explanation of the Library is here