Do I Detect a Double Standard?
Over the years, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out the Bible. When it comes to ancient history, particularly the Mesopotamian era, you can’t find a better source. There are other documents and artifacts from that period of course, but they tend to be random and insignificant. You might, for example, find a detailed inventory list from a storehouse in Uruk, or a depiction of a particular battle over irrigation, but these won't provide the full picture. There's just so much that's missing. Entire cultures have been wiped out without leaving behind a single artifact to document their existence. If not for the Bible, there are many nations we wouldn't have known existed.
But many argue that the Bible only tells one side of the story, and a very skewed one at that. They're right. And yet it's still the most comprehensive account that we have for this critical period in history, which many scholars consider the 'dawn of civilization.' Distorted or not, it's pretty much all we've got to go on if we want to know how our ancient ancestors lived.
From a historical point of view, I think there's value in the many little prejudices and contradictions we find in the Bible. They give us insight into the earliest politics, which were fueled by just the right combination of tribal superiority and fear, and was often corrupt. Some things never change.
When conducting research for my books I use all available resources from that period, but for the purpose of this article, I'm referencing only the ‘holy’ texts believed by so many to be the ‘Word of God.’
While I recognize the value of the Bible as a history book, I have difficulty understanding how it came to be the Word of God. I mean, doesn't everybody see the double standards?
According to the Bible, God “…despises double standards of every kind.” (Proverbs 20:10, New Living Translation). Yet, they run rampant throughout His supposed book. I only list a few of the most blatant ones below. You'll notice that I've included a lot of scripture in my examples. This isn't just so you'll be able to see the context, but also because I think this stuff is truly fascinating. I wish they would write history this way today. Imagine if you had this kind of blunt honesty in our modern day history books!
So let's start with the double standard on love...and hate.
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT LOVE AND HATE
“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44, Jesus speaking)
This advice does indeed seem godlike. But have a look at how God supposedly instructed his people to handle those who would laugh at them:
“Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies. So he stood at the entrance to the camp and shouted, ‘All of you who are on the Lord’s side, come here and join me.’ And all the Levites gathered around him. Moses told them, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Each of you, take your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other. Kill everyone—even your brothers, friends, and neighbors.’ The Levites obeyed Moses’ command, and about 3,000 people died that day. Then Moses told the Levites, ‘Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers. Today you have earned a blessing.” (Exodus 32:25-29 New Living Translation)
This shocking incident isn’t a rare occurrence. It happened all the time in the Old Testament. I remember asking about this when I was a little girl and it was explained to me this way: ‘God sees into our hearts. If God killed those people, you can rest assured that every last one of them was evil.’ This seemed reasonable at nine years old. I mean, God would know, right?
But then again, is it even possible that every single individual in any given place could be evil? And in fact, isn’t this concept the very definition of what we recognized today as a hate crime?
A hate crime is described as a criminal act (I think we can all agree—even Moses—that murder is a criminal act) that is motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation…etc…the list goes on but those three pretty much represent the driving motivation for hate crimes in the Bible. There are too many examples of these hate crimes to cite, but they're all chillingly similar:
“One day Samuel said to Saul, “It was the Lord who told me to anoint you as king of his people, Israel. Now listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: ‘I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for opposing Israel when they came from Egypt.’ Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalekite nation—men, women, children, babies, cattle, sheep, goats, camels, and donkeys…Then Saul slaughtered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the Amalekite king, but completely destroyed everyone else. Saul and his men spared Agag’s life and kept the best of the sheep and goats, the cattle, the fat calves, and the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality.” (1 Samuel 15: 1-9, New Living Translation)
Even Hitler would never have dared to spell it out so blatantly!
But even putting aside this issue of whether an entire race could be evil and deserving of death, we still find similar double standards within the 'chosen' society as well. In fact, the entire concept of law and order is constantly being trampled on by double standards in the Bible.
THE BIBLE ON LAW:
The basic laws, as defined in the Ten Commandments, are reiterated throughout the Bible. For example, “You must not murder.” (Exodus 20:13, New Living Translation) It’s the sixth commandment and it’s pretty simple and to the point. Notwithstanding the above referenced destruction of evil races, it appears that murder is still considered bad. Though acceptable for those acting on behalf of ‘God,’ it’s a whole different matter for individuals acting on their own. People can’t just go around killing each other. Not within a non-evil society. Certainly not among the 'chosen' ones, where supposedly every life has value.
Whenever I think of God’s ‘chosen’ ones, King David always comes to mind. You might remember him as the young upstart who killed Goliath the Giant, using only a slingshot and the Holy Spirit. Most religions acknowledge him as one of the great, godly and good. He’s HUGE in Jewish and Christian faiths, and he’s among the top twenty good guys in Islam.
So what expectations should we have of one so great, godly and good? Mine were obviously too high, considering that at age 13, a Bible story about him offended my sensibilities so much that it shattered my faltering faith altogether. Of course I'm referring to the story of David and Bathsheba. And here it is, right from the source:
“Late one afternoon, after his midday rest, David got out of bed and was walking on the roof of the palace. As he looked out over the city, he noticed a woman of unusual beauty taking a bath. He sent someone to find out who she was, and he was told, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ Then David sent messengers to get her; and when she came to the palace, he slept with her. She had just completed the purification rites after having her menstrual period. Then she returned home. Later, when Bathsheba discovered that she was pregnant, she sent David a message, saying, “I’m pregnant.” (2 Samuel 11:2-5)
This is by no means the end of the story, but I'm pausing here to point out a few of the more blatant double standards at play already. To give you a little background, when this incident occurs, David is a rich king with six wives and ten concubines. Yet there he is, like some kind of creepy Peeping Tom, watching a woman bathe before ultimately ordering her to be brought to him.
Meanwhile, this was the law David was strictly enforcing upon his people as the king of Israel.
“You must not covet your neighbor’s wife.” (Exodus 20:17, New Living Translation)
“You must not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14, New Living Translation)
“If a man is discovered committing adultery, both he and the woman must die.” (Deuteronomy 22:22, New Living Translation)
I’m not even going to address how much David's behavior resembles rape. Let's not forget that he is a king over Israel. He sends for the young woman and she is compelled to obey. What if she happened to love her husband? However, Bathsheba’s feelings are not even mentioned as yet.
If nothing else, I would've liked to have seen a little fear at this point. I mean, David's God always struck me as terrifyingly punitive. Where was the trembling and gnashing of the teeth one would expect in lieu of repentance?
“So the next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and gave it to Uriah to deliver. The letter instructed Joab, ‘Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed.’ So Joab assigned Uriah to a spot close to the city wall where he knew the enemy’s strongest men were fighting. And when the enemy soldiers came out of the city to fight, Uriah the Hittite was killed along with several other Israelite soldiers. Then Joab sent a battle report to David. He told his messenger, ‘Report all the news of the battle to the king. But he might get angry and ask, ‘Why did the troops go so close to the city? Didn’t they know there would be shooting from the walls? Wasn’t Abimelech son of Gideon killed at Thebez by a woman who threw a millstone down on him from the wall? Why would you get so close to the wall?’ Then tell him, ‘Uriah the Hittite was killed, too.’ So the messenger went to Jerusalem and gave a complete report to David. ‘The enemy came out against us in the open fields,’ he said. ‘And as we chased them back to the city gate,the archers on the wall shot arrows at us. Some of the king’s men were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.’ ‘Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged,’ David said. ‘The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow. Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!’ (2 Samuel 11:14-25, New Living Translation)
The calculated way in which David plots Uriah’s death, not just putting him on the front lines, but giving explicit instructions that will ensure the soldier’s death, surely qualifies as murder. And what about the soldiers who were put in that forward position along with Uriah? We may not be able to 'see' into David’s heart but his cavalier attitude about his dead soldiers is very telling.
Finally, Bathsheba is mentioned:
“When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him.” (2 Samuel 11:26, New Living Translation)
How ironic—especially when talking about double standards—that the name Bathsheba has become synonymous with wantonness and adultery. She had absolutely no say in the matter, and yet the entire thing was blamed on her.
Under Israeli law, David should have been put to death. And he would have been too, if he had been anyone but the king. But alas, the Bible account does acknowledge that ‘the Lord was displeased.’ (2 Samuel 11: 27, New Living Translation) In fact, He sent a prophet to speak to David:
“So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: ‘There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.’ David was furious. ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ he vowed, ‘any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.’” (2 Samuel 12:1-5, New Living Translation)
Let’s set aside, for the moment, that Bathsheba's value here amounts to little more than that of a sheep, and David’s crime little more than theft. Let’s also forget that the man in the parable isn’t even killed by the rich man who steals his sheep. The crimes described in the parable don’t come close to the crimes that David has committed. And considering David's own recent crimes, one would expect a little compassion from him. But the record says David was ‘furious.’ He shows no mercy. He wants the man put to death, after he pays his victim four times the amount of the theft.
So Nathan tells him; ‘You are that man!’ (2 Samuel 12:6, New Living Translation)
It’s interesting how quickly David’s fury dies at this point. Now we get to see God’s compassionate side:
“Then David confessed to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the Lord by doing this, your child will die.’” (2 Samuel 12: 13, New Living Translation)
David’s punishment is that his child will die. Of course, David already has a passel of kids littering the castle from his multiple wives and concubines, so I’m thinking this was just one more loss for Bathsheba and, of course, it was the ultimate punishment for her poor unborn child. And here again, we’re left having to trust that Bathsheba and her baby are just more of those insignificant evil ones whose hearts God can see.
This is a classic example of the double standards that make up the theme of the Bible. In the same conversation, we see the law go from one extreme to the other, depending on who it’s being applied to. The lowliest in the social order (in this case Bathsheba) will always take the brunt of these double standards.
And speaking of the lowliest…
THE BIBLE ON WOMEN:
“But suppose the man’s accusations are true, and he can show that she was not a virgin. The woman must be taken to the door of her father’s home, and there the men of the town must stone her to death, for she has committed a disgraceful crime in Israel by being promiscuous while living in her parents’ home. In this way, you will purge this evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21, New Living Translation)
This is the standard for women who are about to marry, and it's reiterated many times throughout the Bible, both in word and deed.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t find any standard at all for the men. But from their general conduct I think we can conclude that it was acceptable for men to take multiple wives, have concubines and even, in a pinch, visit a prostitute (provided she didn’t belong to another man). This behavior is so commonplace as to be the unspoken standard.
I often wondered: Why did the people put up with it? For although I never believed these standards came from any 'god,' I never doubted their existence. It's clear that this is how the people of Israel lived. It’s taken many years for me to understand why so many people would accept—and even support—these double standards, but I think I’ve finally figured it out.
THE BIBLE ON FAITH:
Faith, in itself, is a double standard. One must violate one’s own common sense in order to follow something that makes no sense at all. Here, then, is the true genius behind the Bible: that the faithful will believe those things they cannot see, and disregard the things they can. This is glory! This is greatness! And this is really convenient for whoever's on the receiving end of these double standards.
The double standards benefit a select few, most of whom are either the authors, or in the same social status as the authors, of the Bible.
Does God really want entire races wiped out so that his ‘chosen’ people can confiscate their land? Does He really expect women to present themselves as virgins to men who have wives, concubines and prostitutes...or else be stoned to death? What would be God’s reasoning for these laws? For what purpose would he take part in these petty and self-centered pursuits?
Faith can always be relied upon because people crave a connection with their creator. Religious faith is born out of many sentiments, some of which are quite noble. Some people genuinely appreciate life, and they want to show that appreciation to the one who gave it to them. Others are afraid of death, and are hoping to get on God’s 'good side' just in case. And there are other, less noble reasons too, like having power over others.
When I was only 13 years old I asked myself: Who are people really putting their faith in? Is it God? Or is it the men who authored the Bible—a few of which we can’t even identify with a hundred percent accuracy? It’s like believing something you find written on the bathroom wall.
Wouldn’t it be more faithful to God, if there is one, not to believe? Wouldn’t it show more loyalty to our creator to trust that He would never, under any circumstances, participate in hate crimes, nor do anything else that is considered generally abominable by decent people?
But how else can we get to know God, ask the religious, if not for the Bible? And this is perhaps the most deceptive of all the double standards; that to believe in God you have to believe in something that’s been said about him. If you'll recall, the Bible was written as a result of the beliefs that existed at the time. The belief in God came first, and then men capitalized on those beliefs by speaking for Him.
Though I'll always value the history the Bible contains of our ancestors, I think it’s time to set the hatred, hypocrisy and double standards aside and have faith that our instincts about God, whatever they may be, are surely more reliable than what’s been written.