About the (non)sense of violence in the Bible

Last week, talk show host Jeroen Pauw was reprimanded in his own show for stating that holy books like the Bible and the Koran only lead up to violence. In order to support his case he had a bunch of quotes from the Bible and the Quran which were violent. He was referring to terrorist attacks around the world which are sometimes supported by these violent passages (like slaying infidels, ect).

The program had a couple of guests who would defend such violent texts in Bible and the Quran. The discussion intrigued me. What is the sense of discussing violence in holy books, which are advocated to be about love. In this discussion I will focus on the Bible as I know next to nothing about the Quran.

Actually, for me it is also not clear why a holy book like the Bible has so much violence in it. Of course I refer here to the Old Testament in which God appears as a jealous and wrathful God. In the New Testament things seem to be changed. God is loving and caring but still he sends his only Son to be crucified. But, because the Christians have included the Old Testament in their Bible, they agree with that content as well. And because it is a holy book, it is not possible to downplay or exclude certain parts.

And yet this was exactly the defence which the talk show guests were making: 95% of the Bible is love and only 5% is about violence. Why was Jeroen Pauw only focussing on the bad parts? But for me it raises the question: does this make it right to speak about and call for violence in a holy book at all? If I would domestically abuse my wife for only 5% of the time, would I not be arrested and prosecuted? Would it not be strange if I were to defend myself by saying: verse this and this in the Bible states that it is OK to beat my wife when she does such and such? And yet this kind of reasoning does exist. Not in court cases obviously, but in certain Christian communities it works like this. And to be honest: it is not strange that certain people would do certain things when it is stated in a (for them) holy book. ‘Use your common sense!’, the Bible defenders said, ‘everyone knows that this is an ancient book with ancient customs’. But excuse me for replying: might it not be more common sense to edit the Bible and take the parts out which are outdated or simply wrong?

Let’s get this straight: I am not a pacifist per se. Sometimes you might need to resort to violence. For example, in order to protect yourself against a physical attack. I am not an expert in the ethics of violence, but I consider violence not bound by certain conditions to be evil. Violence must be proportionate and just.

Some people state that the violence in the Bible should be taken in a symbolic way and not literally. So let’s discuss the reasons for violence or calling up for violence in the Bible. In the Old Testament, God himself is quite often violent. He has wiped out mankind a couple of times because they did not fulfil his commandments in the way he wanted us to. But he did make us to his own liking. Why would we not be able to choose to live our lives the way that we see fit? This issue is about free will and the consequences of it. But I am able to live with this kind of violence. Over all the ages religion has fulfilled a role in order to explain the harsh and bitter reality of Nature. ‘Oh, my dear! A flood! I must have done something wrong!’

But there is also the God calling mankind to have violence against other people who are apparently non-believers and who should be obliterated. This simply is discrimination against religion and this is banned in constitutions of many civilised countries. I believe that God is One and for all of us. A God who divides and puts people against each other sounds more like the Christian Satan to me.

If God is love he would not call for violence between people with different belief systems. I read the Psalms from time to time. Here the prayers seem to call God for punishing their enemies on a harsh way. Praying for the physical harm of other people: does this not sound like black magic?

That violence (or punishment) can have a symbolic purpose as becomes clear in the Greek mythologies. These mythologies include a lot of violence as well. But often the people who were punished by the Gods were done so because they violated the nature of the Gods. Prometheus stole the fire from the Gods and was punished eternally by an eagle why would eat out his liver on a daily basis. Although harsh, this punishment is not cruel. There is a symbolic meaning in this kind of punishment. The same goes for the story about the hunter who sees the Goddess Diana naked: he is torn apart by his own hunting dogs. There is a profound truth in this symbolism. Violence by ordinary people which is not just according to the will of the Gods is not condoned. Orpheus’ slaying of the Cyclops was against Zeus’ will. It would take him many long and hard trials to make up for this sin.

After this discussion, I have to agree with Jeroen Pauw: violence in the Bible is often not just and proportionate. Violence for no good reasons is evil and it is wrong to propagate this in holy books. As a reaction of many Muslim the terrorist attacks, some Muslim leaders have publicly rejected the use of violence by jihadists (see for example the king of Morocco: https://goo.gl/8ANsbl ) To be honest: in the 21st century, I also expect that Christians would renounce violence in the Bible as well instead of defending it.