Why are books of faith, such as the Bible or Koran, seething with so much violence? Do you think that there is a relationship between the violence that has been perpetrated in the name of religion and the books of faith?

Atheist View

The Atheist Perspective

Holy books contain so much violence because they were written by primitive peoples in primitive times in which violence was a routine aspect of life and an accepted means of realizing power and justice. The attitudes of their authors is thus reflected in their writings.

Insofar as these scriptures can be used to support the use of violence in the cause of religion, they do contribute to religious violence. Because people revere the texts, they often regard them as an authority uncritically, and thus follow leaders who purport to find justification in their holy texts for whatever violence they wish to promote. Or people who wish to resort to violence themselves will find whatever support they can in their holy texts, believing that will justify them. The world would certainly be a better place if everyone approached their holy texts more critically and questioned their authority or the authority of those who claim to interpret them, and placed compassion before anger when deciding what is right.

The world would also be a better place if such scriptures had actually been enlightened to begin with. Had they been inspired by a wise and compassionate deity, they would contain clear and consistent denunciations of religious and other unjust violence, and would anticipate and thus speak to those who would use these texts to justify violence, explaining what they are doing wrong and what they should do instead. That holy books never do this is among the many evidences naturalists find that such texts were authored by ignorant and fallible men and are not in fact holy at all.

The worst thing these books do is portray God as condemning unbelievers to cruel and hideous eternal torments. If God thinks unbelievers are fit for eternal misery and degradation, the believer can have no reason to think any more highly of unbelievers (since they cannot imagine themselves being more compassionate than their own God). This nourishes an attitude in which the believer concludes it is morally acceptable to kill or torture or abuse unbelievers, or dehumanize them or treat them inequitably. For God thinks unbelievers are so despicable as to deserve such terrible things, it must be okay with his subjects to think the same. Naturalists conclude that better-written holy books would have condemned such a notion of hell as barbaric and immoral. That instead holy texts support such hells as supremely moral and just is to naturalists another sign of the barbarism and ignorance of their authors.

Cruelty and Violence in the Bible

Atheist view Christian view

Christian View

The Christian Perspective

The word "violence" often carries with it a connotation of evil. However, the definition of the word does not necessitate any kind of moral association. According to dictionary.com, the first definition of violence is "swift and intense force". Thus, we could comfortably say that a batter hits a baseball with violence, or a carpenter drives a nail into a piece of wood with violence. I can think of no one who would find these violent tasks to be inherently evil.

Thus, violence, according to the dictionary, is neither good nor bad. It is simply swift, intense, and forceful.

Violence, as should now be clear, can be used for moral evil and it can also be used for moral good.

It should be rather obvious that different people choose to define "morality" in different ways. The terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center thought of their act as being a great moral good. Most of the rest of us find it to have been despicably morally evil. Are we right, are they right, or are morals just a matter of personal preference? What makes things right or wrong?

We'll answer that in a minute. First, we'll go back to the question at hand.

The Bible is a collection of 66 different books by various authors written over the course of multiple generations. Many of the books in the Bible are historical narratives, or in other words, they are simply retelling historical events. If there was a war, the Bible tells us there was a war (Genesis 14:2, Judges 11:4, 1 Kings 15:16). If there was a murder, the Bible tells us there was a murder (Genesis 4:8, Judges 19, 2 Samuel 11:15, Mark 15:7). If there was a rape, well... you get the picture. From this aspect, the Bible has violence in it because it is describing a world where violence is sometimes done.

These historical narratives are called "descriptive" because they simply describe things. There are other portions of the Bible that are called "prescriptive" because they do not simply tell us what happened, but rather prescribe certain behaviors for us (or for others), telling us what we should do. Just as the Bible sometimes describes swift, intense, and forceful things that have been done, there are also times when it prescribes swift, intense, and forceful actions that should be done (Genesis 9:6, Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:16, 1 Samuel 15:3, Proverbs 13:24).

Now we need to get back to the associated question that I introduced up above: What is morality?

In the Christian worldview, morality is recognized as compliance with God's absolute moral law, which is written on our hearts, and is still discernible in spite of the corruption of sin (Romans 2:15). Refusal to comply with this absolute moral law is called immorality. In the nonChristian worldview, the concept of morality is ultimately utterly meaningless. In the nonChristian worldview, morality either becomes personal opinion (known as "relativism"), as in Atheism, in which case the morality of Hitler is not better or worse than the morality of anyone else and thus morality itself becomes meaningless; or else it is based upon an "absolute" moral system lacking in perfection, justice, forgiveness, love, knowledge, purpose, or authority, in which case it again becomes meaningless.

Only within the Christian worldview does morality have any kind of comprehensible meaning.

When people carry out the swift, intense, and forceful actions prescribed by God in the Bible, they are doing that which is morally right. When people refuse to carry out the swift, intense, and forceful actions prescribed by God in the Bible, they are doing what is immoral (1 Samuel 15, Proverbs 13:24).

Further, when people carry out swift, intense, and forceful actions that God has forbidden in the Bible, they are doing that which is immoral. When people refuse to do the swift, intense, and forceful actions that God has forbidden, they are doing that which is morally right (1 Samuel 26:9).

That is the rather simple relationship between the Bible and any swift, intense and forceful acts (ie. "violence"), no matter the supposed reason for perpetrating them.

Some good follow-up questions that an interested person may wish to investigate would be:

"What is the basis for violence perpetrated in the name of evolution or atheism, such as the works of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or Chairman Mao?"

"What is the basis for any kind of moral judgment against the only Creator God?"

"What makes my personal moral judgments better than anyone else's personal moral judgments?"

"Is it morally wrong for the God who created life to choose to take it? If so, why?"

Atheist view Christian view