29 June 2006

The Christian Hell

In yesterday's post I may have given the impression that the Muslim Hell is worse than the Christian. If so, I apologize. Hell is hell, whether Christian or Muslim.

But hell is, at least for the most part, a Christian invention. The early Christian literature described hell in detail, particularly the Apocalypse of Peter (AP).

The AP was probably written in the first half of the second century and was considered to be scripture by Clement of Alexandria. It consists mostly of visions of heaven and hell, with hell described every bit as vividly as it is in the Quran. (In fact, the Quran's hell may be derived from the traditions stemming from the AP.)

Here's what it's like in hell according to the AP.

  • Blasphemers are hung by the tongue over a lake of fire.

  • Women who adorned themselves for adultery were hung by their hair over a bubbling mire, with the men who sinned with them hung by their feet with their heads in the mire.

  • Women who had abortions were immersed in a lake of gore and forced to watch their aborted children cry.

  • Homosexuals, male and female, were thrown off a cliff and forced to climb back up, repeatedly forever.

So I really don't know which is worse, the Muslim or the Christian hell. But here is a famous painting by Hieronymus Bosch to help you decide.

28 June 2006

Which hell is worse, the Bible's or the Quran's?

This would be an easy one, if only the Bible were as clearly written as the Quran. But it isn't. In fact, the Bible is so unclear about hell, that Christians disagree about whether or not there is one, and if there is, who goes there, and what it's like. Is it just a place without God (sounds good to me) or a place where you are eternally tortured by the God of Love?

The Quran doesn't have such problems. It spells out exactly what hell is and who goes there. Here a just a sampling of what it has to say.

Lo! Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment. 4:56

They will wish to come forth from the Fire, but they will not come forth from it. Theirs will be a lasting doom. 5:37

For them is drink of boiling water and a painful doom, because they disbelieved. 6:70

And the dwellers of the Fire cry out unto the dwellers of the Garden: Pour on us some water or some wherewith Allah hath provided you. They say: Lo! Allah hath forbidden both to disbelievers (in His guidance) 7:50

If thou couldst see how the angels receive those who disbelieve, smiting faces and their backs and (saying): Taste the punishment of burning! 8:50

On the day when it will (all) be heated in the fire of hell, and their foreheads and their flanks and their backs will be branded 9:35

Hell is before him, and he is made to drink a festering water, Which he sippeth but can hardly swallow, and death cometh unto him from every side while yet he cannot die, and before him is a harsh doom. 14:16-17

Thou wilt see the guilty on that day linked together in chains, Their raiment of pitch, and the Fire covering their faces. 14:49-50

We shall assemble them on the Day of Resurrection on their faces, blind, dumb and deaf; their habitation will be hell; whenever it abateth, We increase the flame for them. That is their reward because they disbelieved Our revelations. 17:97-98

Lo! We have prepared for disbelievers Fire. Its tent encloseth them. If they ask for showers, they will be showered with water like to molten lead which burneth the faces. Calamitous the drink and ill the resting-place! 18:29

The guilty behold the Fire and know that they are about to fall therein, and they find no way of escape thence. 18:53

If those who disbelieved but knew the time when they will not be able to drive off the fire from their faces and from their backs, and they will not be helped! 21:29

Behold them, staring wide (in terror), the eyes of those who disbelieve! 21:97

But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, Whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; And for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would go forth from thence they are driven back therein and (it is said unto them): Taste the doom of burning. 22:19-22

The fire burneth their faces, and they are glum therein. 23:104

For those who deny (the coming of) the Hour We have prepared a flame. When it seeth them from afar, they hear the crackling and the roar thereof. And when they are flung into a narrow place thereof, chained together, they pray for destruction there. 25:11-13

It will be a hard day for disbelievers. On the day when the wrong-doer gnaweth his hands, he will say: Ah, would that I had chosen a way together with the messenger (of Allah)! 25:26-27

But as for those who disbelieve, for them is fire of hell; it taketh not complete effect upon them so that they can die, nor is its torment lightened for them. Thus We punish every ingrate. And they cry for help there, (saying): Our Lord! Release us; we will do right, not (the wrong) that we used to do. ... Now taste (the flavour of your deeds), for evil-doers have no helper. 35:36-37

Those in the Fire say unto the guards of hell: Entreat your Lord that He relieve us of a day of the torment ... although the prayer of disbelievers is in vain. 40:49-50

Those who deny the Scripture and that wherewith We send Our messengers. But they will come to know, When carcans are about their necks and chains. They are dragged Through boiling waters; then they are thrust into the Fire. 40:70-72

Lo! the tree of Zaqqum, The food of the sinner! Like molten brass, it seetheth in their bellies As the seething of boiling water. (And it will be said): Take him and drag him to the midst of hell, Then pour upon his head the torment of boiling water. 44:43-48

Those who are immortal in the Fire and are given boiling water to drink so that it teareth their bowels. 47:15

So which is worse? I'm not sure. I'll leave that for the Christians and Muslims to fight about.

26 June 2006

"Thine eye shall not pity her"

In a previous post I mentioned that the Quran (5:38) requires the amputation of a thief's hands. Many Christians, no doubt, would consider such a punishment cruel, yet the Bible requires the very same punishment for much different crime.

What crime would be punished so severely, you ask? Well, I'll let the Good Book tell you directly:

When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of the hand of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand, and taketh him by the secrets: Then thou shalt cut off her hand, thine eye shall not pity her. -- Deuteronomy 25:11-12

So the Bible says that in certain circumstances we must cut off a woman's hand, and we must do so without pity.

There are some Christians who believe that the Bible's laws (including the one above) should be enforced today just like they were in the time of Moses. I suspect, however, that most Bible-believers would disagree.

I'd like to understand the reasoning of believers who would refuse to follow God's law -- that is, who would refuse to cut off a woman's hand without pity as commanded in the verses quoted above.

Would it be right or wrong to enforce the law today (assuming a woman was guilty of the "crime" described above)?

Would it have been right to cut off her hand a few thousand years ago but wrong today?

24 June 2006

The Ten Commandments: Jesus couldn't name them all either

Last week on the Colbert Report, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (co-sponsor of a bill requiring the display of the Ten Commandments) couldn't name the Ten Commandments. He only listed three on the show, although his office claims he got to seven, but the other four were edited out.

If he did make it to seven, then he should feel pretty good about it, since Jesus only came up with five when he was asked the same question in the gospel of Matthew, and the last one on Jesus' list is from Leviticus 19:18, not the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21).

. . . if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He [the rich young man] saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. -- Matthew 19:17-19

(Notice that the only commandments that Jesus lists are the good ones -- the secular humanist ones that deal with relationships among humans. Nothing about worshiping one god, making graven images, honoring the Sabbath, or taking the Lord's name in vain -- nothing that is about God.)

So let's give Westmoreland a break here. If he couldn't name all the ten commandments or named a few that aren't in the Big Ten, then so what? Not even Jesus could name them all correctly.

As Westmoreland's press secretary said, "I challenge anybody outside of the clergy to try to (name them all)." Both Jesus and Westmoreland failed that challenge; but then, they're not members of the clergy.

Here's a fun video about the Ten Commandments numbering problem.

21 June 2006

Oral Sex according to the Scriptures

There's a debate raging among feminist bloggers on the merits (or demerits) of women performing oral sex on men. So I thought I'd search the scriptures to see what I might find.

The results can be found at the SAB on the following pages: What the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon say about oral sex.

For a summary of what the New Testament Epistles have to say about marriage and oral sex, be sure to check out the Brick Testament's Instructions on Marriage.

Instructions on Marriage

20 June 2006

How to punish a thief: The Bible vs. the Quran

The Bible says that poor thieves, who cannot make restitution for what they have stolen, are to be sold into slavery.
If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. ... If he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. -- Exodus 22:1-3

The Quran says that we should cut off their hands.

As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. -- Quran 5:38
So what should be done with poor thieves? Should they be sold into slavery or have their hands cut off? (Or should we cut off their hands and then sell them into slavery?)

19 June 2006

The Good Stuff in the Quran: A summary

In yesterday's post, I compared the amount of good stuff in the Bible to that in the Quran and found that about 1% of the verses in each are (at least what I would call) good.

But what are the good things in the Quran? Here's a summary.

Pay the poor due.
2:43, 83, 110, 277; 5:55; 7:156; 9:18, 71; 22:41, 78; 23:4; 24:37, 56; 31:4; 58:13; 73:20; 98:5

Help the poor and less fortunate.
2:83, 177, 215, 220; 4:2, 10, 36; 5:89; 17:26, 34; 22:28; 30:38, 51:19; 90:12-17; 93:9-10

Be kind to your parents and relatives.
2:83; 4:36; 6:151; 9:60; 16:90; 17:23, 26; 29:8; 30:38; 42:23; 46:15

Seek the truth. Don't lie.
2:42, 111, 113; 3:66; 6:152; 17:36; 20:114; 22:30; 53:28

Value justice.
4:135; 6:152; 22:41; 42:42

Treat women fairly.
3:195, 4:25; 9:71; 30:21

Free the slaves.
2:177; 5:89; 90:12-17

Be tolerant toward other religions. Don't force your religion on others.
2:256; 43:88-89; 109:1,6

Don't steal from orphans.
4:2, 10; 17:34

Do good.
2:195; 4:85

Seek peace.
4:114; 8:61

Don't lend money at unfair rates of interest.
3:130; 4:161

Treat everyone fairly.
3:195, 5:8

Don't kill innocent people.
4:29, 5:32

Be kind to one another.
49:11-12; 90:12-17

Fight evil by with good.
28:54; 41:34

Don't kill your children.
6:151; 17:31

Don't fight wars of aggression.

Don't hate people.

Forgive others.

(The total doesn't work out to the number on the Good Stuff list since some verses are listed more than once.)

Let me know if there are any that I've left out and I'll add them to this list and highlight them at the SAQ.

Which has more good stuff, the Bible or the Quran?

In previous post I compared the amount of cruelty in the Bible and Quran. The Bible had more than twice the number of violent verses (843 vs. 334), but the Quran was about twice as violent when size was taken into account (5.36 vs. 2.71%).

But what about the good stuff? How do they compare? Here's a summary:

Number of good passages
Bible 260
Quran 67

So the Bible has nearly four times as many good verses as the Quran. But then it's about 5 times as big. Here's how it looks when size is taken into account.

Good Stuff Total verses Percent
Bible 260 31102 0.84%
Quran 67 6236 1.07%

So when expressed as a percentage of verses, the Bible and the Quran are about equal. About 1% of the verses in each could be considered good.

At least I consider them good; you might disagree. Is Leviticus 19:18 ("Love thy neighbor as thyself.") good? I think so, but that's just my opinion. How about Quran 5:32 ("Whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.")? I think that's good too. But each person must make up his or her own mind.

I'll try to delve into this a bit deeper in a future post.

17 June 2006

Why did God hate Esau?

Okay, the answer to yesterdays bible question (Who does God hate?) is Esau. He is the only person in the Bible (so far as I know) whom God is said to hate. (Malachi 1:3, Romans 9:13)

But why did God hate Esau? Does God hate redheads? (Gen.25:25) Hunters? (Gen.25:27) Polygamists (Gen.26:34), or what?

Can some Bible-believer explain this to me?

16 June 2006

Whom does God hate?

I’ve often heard that God loves everyone. He hates the sin, but loves the sinner. And that might be true about some gods. But the God of the Bible hates people, right along with the sin (and figs, rags, shrimp, cephalopods, and Christmas trees).

Consider these verses:

I hated them: for the wickedness of their doings I will drive them out of mine house, I will love them no more ... yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb. -- Hosea 9:15-16
And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them. -- Leviticus 20:23
I will ... cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you. -- Leviticus 26:30
And when the LORD saw it, he abhorred them ... for they are ... children in whom is no faith. -- Deuteronomy 32:19-20
The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. -- Psalm 5:5
The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. -- Psalm 11:5
These six things doth the LORD hate ... A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. -- Proverbs 6:16, 19
I hated Esau. -- Malachi 1:3, Romans 9:13

So the Bible-God hates some people (foreign nations, workers of iniquity, wicked people, and liars, to name a few). But there is only one person (that I know of) that God hates by name. What is the name of this God-hated person?

Is anything cruel to a believer?

I am often struck by how difficult it is for a believer to identify cruelty. Take this verse from the Quran, for example.
The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom. -- Quran 5:33

Is it cruel? Read the verse in its context. Take your time. Think about it. Talk to your friends and fellow believers, and then let me know.

(I’m especially interested in what the Christians think about it. But Muslims can chime in as well.)

14 June 2006

God's Fiery Serpents

And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. - Numbers 21:4-9
These verses have long fascinated both believers and skeptics. What were the mysterious "fiery serpents" that God sent to bite the people, causing many of them to die? Well, parasitologists say it may have been the guinea worm (The nematode Dranunculus medinensis).

To understand why the guinea worm is suspected, you must understand its life cycle.

Guinea worm larvae are released by their mothers into a body of water. The larvae thrash about vigorously until they attract and are eaten by a copepod, which is a small, nearly microscopic, crustacean. The copepod is, however, just a temporary home for the worm. It cannot complete its life cycle unless it can somehow get inside its definitive host: a human being. This is accomplished when someone drinks water containing the infected copepods.

The copepod's body is destroyed by the stomach acids, releasing the guinea worm, which then burrows its way through the intestinal wall. It begins to migrate through the abdominal cavity and into the connective tissue, stopping to mate with another migrating worm that it runs into along the way. By this time females have grown to be nearly a meter in length, while the males are only a few centimeters. After the worms have sex, the little male wanders off to find a place to die, while the female continues her journey through the human host's body.

While the migration of the female worms causes great pain and discomfort, it is when the worm reaches its final destination that the torment really begins. The worms end up just beneath the surface of the skin, usually in the legs or feet, where they remain for a month or more. Their metabolic wastes and the host's allergic reaction cause a blister to form, resulting in intense itching and burning pain. One of the few ways to relieve the pain is to immerse the blister in water, inducing the worm to break through the surface of the skin releasing millions of guinea worm larvae. A copepod eats the larvae, completing the guinea worm life cycle.

But the human suffering is far from over when the worm breaks through the skin, for although the female worms die soon after releasing the larvae, their dead meter-long bodies are not easy to remove. And even if the dead worms can be extracted without rupturing, serious secondary infections often occur.

So how is the worm removed? Well, the traditional way, which is still used today, is to carefully wind the worm around a stick. The only other option is surgical removal, but this is extremely difficult and not often successful.

Well, now that was interesting. But were the "fiery serpents" of Numbers 21 guinea worms in disguise? I'll leave that for you to decide, but some aspects seem to fit the description in Numbers.

The pregnant females are rather large worms and cause excruciating pain when breaking through the skin to release their larvae. So it is easy to see how they could be called "fiery serpents".

Guinea worms would have been present in the region at the time of the Exodus, as they still are today. If the Israelites encountered drought conditions, as they did according to the account in Numbers, it would have facilitated the transmission of the disease by concentrating worm larvae, intermediate hosts (copepods), and infected humans at the same water source.

And the serpent on a pole could well represent the most common form of treatment, then and now: pulling out the guinea worm by winding it on a stick.

Okay, let's assume the "fiery serpents" were guinea worms. If so, what message should we take from all this? What is God trying to tell us here? And what can we learn about God from this passage in Numbers?

One thing that should be clear to us all, of course, is the moral of the story: Don’t whine. God can’t stand a whiner. So if you or your children don’t have enough to eat or drink, well, just keep quiet about it. Whatever you do don’t mention it to God. If you ever get tempted complain about it, just look at this as a reminder.

So we know why God did it. What isn’t so clear, to me at least, is how. Did he simply infect the drinking water with guinea worm larvae? Or did he specially create guinea worms just for the occasion? If so, why didn’t he clean up afterwards? Why did millions of people have to suffer (and still suffer today) because the Israelites complained to God about their living conditions?

And what should we make of the “serpent on a pole” thing? The bible says that people were cured just by looking at it. Would it still work today? If so, then someone should let people know because the current treatment is much more involved (and painful) than that.

You also have to wonder why God didn’t explain how to prevent further infections, because prevention is much easier than treatment. All that is needed is to filter the drinking water through a fine-mesh cloth to remove the copepods. (The World Health Organization has nearly eradicated the disease by using this method.) Wouldn’t that be better than the Moses’ magic brass serpent - or the real treatment that this may have represented? Didn’t God know how to prevent the disease that he created?

But the last question is most important of all. Why are there guinea worms? Did God specifically design these worms to live inside the body of humans? Or were they created by Satan? Or did they just evolve, and God had nothing to do with it? If the first is true, then God is evil. If the second, then there are at least two gods. If the third, then God cannot control his own creation. Which do you think it is?

06 June 2006

The Bible's War on Marriage

There's a war on out there. A war on marriage. But the attack is not from gays or atheists, or even from academic feminists. It's from the Bible. Consider these verses that:
Encourage polygamy.

If he take him another wife.... -- Exodus 21:10

If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated.... -- Deuteronomy 21:15

Encourage adultery.

And the LORD said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms. -- Hosea 1:2

Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress.... So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley. -- Hosea 3:1-2

Encourage the buying and selling of wives.

And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.... And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well.... Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king's son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife. -- 1 Samuel 18:25-27

Discourage marriage.

It is good for a man not to touch a woman. -- 1 Corinthians 7:1-2

For I would that all men were even as I myself.... I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. -- 1 Corinthians 7:7-9

Discourage sex in marriage.

But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none. -- 1 Corinthians 7:29

Encourage divorce.

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her.... -- Deuteronomy 22:13

When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife. -- Deuteronomy 24:1-2

So in the war on marriage, the republicans are fighting the wrong enemy. It's not gay marriage that needs to be outlawed; it's the Bible.

05 June 2006

And it came to pass

Anyone who reads the Book of Mormon (BoM) will notice that the phrase "and it came to pass" is used way too often. Mark Twain had this to say about it:
The author labored to give his words and phrases the quaint, old-fashioned sound and structure of our King James's translation of the Scriptures.... Whenever he found his speech growing too modern -- which was about every sentence or two -- he ladled in a few such Scriptural phrases as "exceeding sore," "and it came to pass," etc., and made things satisfactory again. "And it came to pass" was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet. Roughing It, Chapter 16

The phrase is also, of course, frequently found in the King James Version of the Bible, which is no doubt why Joseph Smith used it in the BoM; it just sounds so darned biblical. The trouble is that he liked it so much that he got carried away with it. Here's a summary of the occurrences of "it came to pass" in the Bible and the BoM.

Bible BoM
it came to pass 452 1424

The phrase occurs more than three times as often in the BoM as in the Bible. That doesn't seem so bad until you look at the size of the two books. The Bible is nearly five times as big as the BoM. Here's how the comparison looks when size is taken into account.

Bible BoM
it came to pass 452 1424
number of verses 31,102 6553
Occurrences per 100 verses 1.45 21.7

So "it came to pass" is found in more than 20% of the BoM's verses -- 15 times as often as in the Bible! But, actually, it's a bit worse than that. The original 1830 edition of the BoM had even more uses of "and it came to pass." But since I can't find a searchable version of the 1830 edition, I can't quantify it for you.

Of course all of this can be explained. Brant A. Gardner in Meridian Magazine tells us that there's a good reason for all the and-it-came-to-passes; Joseph Smith used this phrase to mark the beginning of paragraphs. It's just that simple.

Still it seems strange that he would have had 30 paragraphs in the 39 verses of 1 Nephi 16. I guess the original translation didn't have any punctuation, but still 30 paragraphs in 45 or so sentences seems a bit excessive.

And if the and-it-came-to-passes were used to mark new paragraphs, why do some verses have more than one. Here's Alma 47:11, for example:

And it came to pass that when Lehonti received the message he durst not go down to the foot of the mount. And it came to pass that Amalickiah sent again the second time, desiring him to come down. And it came to pass that Lehonti would not; and he sent again the third time.

Did Joseph Smith really think there should be three paragraphs in this verse?

No, it looks to me like Mark Twain had it exactly right. Joseph Smith thought the and-it-came-to-passes made it sound like scripture, and it would make his rather short book a bit longer. So he couldn't resist.

04 June 2006

Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands

And it came to pass as they came, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, that the women came out of all cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet king Saul, with tabrets, with joy, and with instruments of musick. And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands. And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward. 1 Samuel 18:6-9

At the time that these events took place, David was a young man who had only recently been chosen and anointed by God. From that moment on, though, he was God's special hero, for the Bible says that "the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward." (1 Samuel 16:12-13)

Saul, too, was impressed with David, especially after seeing him kill the ten foot tall Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4) with just a sling and a stone. But when the dancing girls praised David for killing tens of thousands, while saying that Saul had only killed thousands, it was simply more than he could bear.

It wasn't that Saul couldn't compete with David in the number-of-people-killed category. Saul was one of the all time leading killers. One of his first acts, for example, after being anointed by God (1 Samuel 10:1), was to hack a yoke of oxen into pieces, sending the bloody pieces throughout Israel (1 Samuel 11:6-7). He did this marvelous act after "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him." In this way "the fear of the Lord" came upon all the people.

Well, okay, that was oxen, not people. But Saul could kill people too. In fact, the reason he killed the oxen was to force the Israelites to kill Ammonites. You see, when each tribe got a piece of a dead ox in the mail, they'd know it was a call to war. And if they refused to come, Saul would chop up their oxen - or worse.

And it worked too. Saul got 330,000 soldiers to enlist in his war against the Ammonites. That’s more than twice what Blair and Bush have in Iraq! Maybe they should hack up an ox or something.

Anyway, the war turned out great. It only lasted a few hours or so with the Israelites killing the Ammonites "until the heat of the day." Only a few Ammonites survived the day's slaughter, and although the bible doesn't tell us how many were killed, Saul must have racked up tens of thousands on that glorious day.

The Bible tells us that Saul continued to kill others throughout his reign (1 Samuel 14:47-48). Besides the Ammonites, he killed the people of Moab, Edom, and Zobah. And as for the Philistines, wherever he went "he vexed them." But he really outdid himself with the Amalekites. He killed enough of them to satisfy everyone. Everyone, but God, that is.

For some reason, God really hates Amalekites. Way back in Exodus (17:16) he said, "The Lord has sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." And I guess he meant it, because in 1 Samuel 15:3, hundreds of years later, God orders Saul to kill every last Amalekite, "both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."

Now killing women and children was no big deal to a world-class killer like Saul. Yet somehow, in a moment of ungodly weakness, he let the Amalekite king, Agag, and some of the animals, live. He killed everyone else, though - every man, woman, and child, just as God commanded.

God never forgave Saul for that single act of mercy. He had told Saul to "Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites," and yet he did "not obey the voice of the LORD." Because Saul rejected the word of the LORD, God rejected Saul from being king.

Then David came along and God knew he'd finally found his killer-king.

And yet according to one of Donald Rumsfeld's aids, The news out of Haditha is "really, really bad -- as bad or worse than Abu Ghraib." But it was nothing compared to what God commanded Saul to do to the Amalekites.

Aren't Rumsfeld and Bush Bible-believers? Why are they ashamed of killing a couple dozen unarmed civilians? They should remember God's command to Saul and take their inspiration from that. "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens of thousands." How many have Rumsfeld and Bush killed lately?

Behold, it was very good.

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31

Everything that God made was, at least at the time and according to him, very good. But things seem to have changed since then.

This is a problem for believers (and not just bible-believers, but all theists and deists, as well). Where did all the predators, parasites, disease, death, and suffering come from? Since they exist, they must have been designed. And although the design may have been intelligent enough, it could hardly be called benevolent.

But Christians believe in a benevolent God. So what's with all the nasty stuff out there?

Well, as you might have guessed, it's all right there in the Bible. But like everything else in there, it depends on who you ask.

  1. Some say that the original creation was just like God said it was in Genesis 1:31: very good. No predators, prey, suffering, death, or disease. Every living thing was immortal and would have lived happily ever after, if only Adam (who cares about Eve?) didn't sin. But he did, so God changed everything. Creatures prey upon one another in a painful struggle ending in a pointless death.

  2. Others say that death and suffering are all a part of God's grand design. Nature is red in tooth and claw because God likes it that way.
    [W]e like to think of God as being the God of love. However, God's character is multifaceted and complex. The God of love is going to throw plagues against the earth, eventually burn it up in judgment, and ultimately sentence the unrepentant to eternal torment. Animal death is certainly no less loving than these things.
    The God of love tortures people forever in hell; he also enjoys watching cats play with mice.

  3. Others say that God's creation was perfectly benevolent, but then Satan snuck in and ruined everything. They quote Matthew 13:28 where the servant asks the master where the weeds came from and he replies, "An enemy has done this." Satan has power to change God's creation, and he has done so with a vengeance. There is a war going on within nature and God is just another enemy combatant.

  4. Others say that in the beginning God started it all in a big bang billions of years ago, but he didn't know where it was going and didn't intervene along the way (except for maybe a tweak now and then when nobody was looking). He's as surprised (if he still exists) and as shocked by what he sees as you are.

  5. And others just pretend that nature is kind and ignore it when it appears otherwise. Just like they do with the Bible.

I'd be interested to know what the believers think about these options. Which do you prefer? And did I miss any?