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This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the immorality of the bible? Why is the Bible morally hypocritical?

The Bible and other religious texts are filled with immorality and acts that would be considered unacceptable by modern standards. The immorality of the Bible shows why religion should not dictate morality.

Read more about the immorality of the Bible.

The Immorality of the Bible

What’s the immorality of the Bible? Far from providing the basis for our morality, religion actually does the very opposite. In reality, religious texts promote abhorrent values that are totally at odds with modern morality. 

Take the Old Testament—considered a holy text in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—that celebrates:

  • A cruel, jealous, and vindictive God who drowns all the men, women, children, and animals in the world (save for Noah) when he feels that they are not sufficiently pious and obedient
  • Lot inviting a group of men, who wish to sodomize the two angels he is harboring in his home, to instead gang-rape his daughters (with whom Lot later commits incest) 
  • Abraham’s unflinching willingness to slaughter his son Isaac in cold blood simply because God commanded him to do so (God eventually saves Isaac after being convinced of Abraham’s loyalty)
  • The warrior Jephthah sacrificing his daughter in an act of ritual murder in order to give thanks to God after the latter grants him a military victory
  • Joshua’s destruction of the city of Jericho and the genocidal slaughter and enslavement of its citizens

Although the figure of Jesus Christ in the New Testament is far more gentle and benevolent than the domineering bully God of the Old Testament, the later text still has its share of barbarism. The gruesome story of Jesus’s crucifixion and martyrdom on behalf of our collective sins is incredibly psychologically damaging to the billions of people around the world who have been forced to learn it. It instills in the believer a lifetime of guilt and self-hatred, knowing that the only Son of God died on the cross because of your wickedness and sinfulness (even if the crucifixion happened nearly two millennia before you were born). These are just some examples of immorality in the Bible.

Changing Times, Changing Values

Almost no one today, even the most pious believer in the Bible, thinks that collective punishment, gang-rape, incest, child murder, slavery, or genocide are practices worth emulating. Most religious people concede that we shouldn’t take everything in it literally. But this is just part of the immorality of the Bible.

But if even the self-proclaimed faithful are going to pick and choose which parts of the Bible they like and which parts they don’t like, they are implicitly acknowledging that the Bible isn’t a universal standard for morality; obviously, they’re using some other, non-biblical standard.

What standard are they using? They, like non-religious people, are using the common standards of modern morality that are in place in most advanced 21st-century societies. Whether we consciously acknowledge these values or not, the overwhelming majority of people in modern societies accept ideas like representative democracy, freedom of speech, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, religious toleration, and equal rights for women and minorities. But these values exist in spite of religion, not because of it. This is all part of the immorality of the Bible.

So how do moral values change over time? It often begins with forward-thinking leaders like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi, who use the power of their moral vision and clarity to open people’s minds to new ideas and new ways of thinking. Their ideas spread through word of mouth, amplified by modern communications technology like the telegraph, telephone, and, today, the internet. Beyond the advocacy of moral leaders, advances in science, technology, and broader access to education help us achieve a more inclusive definition of humanity.

It’s why we no longer believe that people of different faiths should be stoned to death or why people of different races are biologically inferior and must be sterilized. The process of learning and discovery teaches us that what unites us as humans is much stronger than what divides us. This is why the immorality of the Bible is so dangerous; claiming religion is moral but having an immoral text doesn’t make sense, and leaves room for extremists.

The Immorality of the Bible: Morals Are Not Absolute

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Richard Dawkins's "The God Delusion" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The God Delusion summary :

  • Why Dawkins thinks religion has exerted a harmful influence on human society
  • How Dawkins concludes that the existence of God is unlikely
  • The 3 arguments that challenge the existence of God

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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