Morality & Politics

Biblical Morality: Family Values

What are family values? This is a loaded question. Right-wing Christian fundamentalists would have us believe that family values revolve around sexuality: that they are entirely based on the importance of shielding children from sexual language or images, while freely permitting them to see violence and murder. This is the foundation for the MPAA movie rating system, in which nudity, sexually suggestive scenes, or the word "fuck" can all garner an R rating, but it's perfectly acceptable for children to see a hundred people getting killed in a PG-rated James Bond film.

You can probably guess that I strongly disagree with the right-wing fundamentalists' definition of family values. A real definition of family values, as drawn from cultures all over the world, has to do with loyalty and does not obsess over sexuality. The values of family are the values of loyalty and love. Children must be loyal to their parents, and parents must be loyal to their children. They must love one another, support one another, care for one another, and protect one another. In a larger, societal sense, family values are generally accepted to describe our collective loyalty to our children, ie- we as a people must protect our children from harm, and look out for their future.

So the obvious next question is: does the Bible promote family values? Unfortunately, the answer is: not really. Consider the following passage from Genesis 22 (NIV):

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"

Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.
The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, "I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me."

Disturbing, is it not? Abraham lies to his own son, so he can trick him into helping him carry the wood to his own funeral pyre! It's not enough that he murder his own son because God told him to, but the bastard is too damned lazy to carry the wood to the sacrifice himself, so he tricks his son into doing it for him! I picture young Isaac looking up at his father with trusting eyes, and I picture that monster Abraham looking down at his son and lying to him about his impending doom. Does this disturb you? It disturbs me, but the fundamentalists apparently have no problem with it, because any atrocity is acceptable as long as you think God wants you to do it. Abraham is praised for his willingness to murder his own son, and God promises to make his descendants as numerous as the "stars in the sky" (thus proving that God doesn't know how many stars are in the sky, which is rather unfortunate for the Biblical inerrantists out there).

Is Abraham the only man in the Old Testament who's praised for being loyal to God and shamefully disloyal to his own children? Unfortunately not. Job was highly praised for remaining unwaveringly true to God despite the fact that God murdered his offspring, while his wife was vilified for becoming angry at God for murdering all ten of her children. Lot, supposedly the only "righteous" man in Sodom, was perfectly willing to sacrifice his daughters to a rape gang in order to protect a pair of male house guests who were supposedly angels:

Genesis 19:8 (NIV): Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.

The Biblical stance on family values is clear: family loyalty is of little or no importance compared to your duty to obey God and worship him. Abraham and Job had no problem with God murdering their children, so they were praised, while Job's wife was anguished and angry over the death of her babies and she was a "foolish woman" (note that the Hebrew word which is translated as "foolish" actually denotes moral deficiency). Lot was praised for his willingness to sacrifice his daughters. And what about our collective loyalty to our children, as a society? Does the Bible support that? Hardly, as we shall see in Deuteronomy 21:

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (NIV): If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death.

Whew! Interesting view of family discipline techniques, isn't it? But isn't this the same God who said "Thou Shalt Not Kill?" Yes, but if you examine the order of the original Ten Commandments, you will find that "Thou Shalt Not Kill" comes after "Honour thy father and mother". Therefore, according to the hierarchy of laws established in the original Ten Commandments, it is perfectly acceptable to murder your children if they won't honour you because they have broken commandment #5, which sits higher than "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (#6). As an aside, if you examine Deuteronomy and Leviticus in depth, you will see that they both contain a great many situations in which it is supposedly acceptable to kill. Perhaps this helps explain why the United States, the last strongly religious nation in the G-7, is the only one which retains and regularly implements the death penalty for criminals.

Back to the subject at hand: what have we learned so far? We have learned that family loyalty has no value in the eyes of God, so you should be willing to murder your own children or hand them over to rapists if you think God wants you to. Moreover, you should kill them if they are disobedient. And how does God himself treat children? Let us examine Kings 2 for an example of his disciplinary style:

Kings 2:23-24 (NIV): From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

In other words, God himself caused bears to come out of the woods and maul 42 young boys for the crime of making fun of Elisha's baldness! Obviously, the Bible's message on child-raising techniques is questionable, to say the least. Kill them if they disobey, kill them if you think God wants a sacrifice, and kill them if they make fun of "holy men". Are these the "Family Values" that modern society needs to learn from the Bible? If so, I'll have no part of them, thank you very much.

Last but not least, we come to the inevitable Christian apologist argument that we are ignoring the improvements that Jesus made. However, Jesus' improvements were not as sweeping as the apologists would have you believe. He advocated a non-violent approach (which the vast majority of Christians throughout history have failed to obey), and he thought that other races should be able to follow God (although they would be distinctly inferior in status to the "Chosen People"). However, his attitudes toward other religions were the same as those found in the Old Testament, as were his attitudes toward family loyalty:

Matthew 12:46-49 (NIV): While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers."

In other words, he feels no loyalty whatsoever to his family, and he won't even deign to speak to them. He regards the other members of his cult as his new family, and he has completely abandoned his mother and brothers. He made this message quite clear in Luke 14:26, when he said that "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters, yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.". Harsh doctrine, is it not? It is probably noteworthy that an insistence on abandoning your true family in favour of religious brethren is considered a symptom of a harmful religious cult by Christians today, even though Jesus himself did precisely the same thing two thousand years ago.

And what about Paul, whose interminable ramblings consume the bulk of the New Testament? His attitude toward family can be summed up in his infamous line from 1 Corinthians 7 (NIV): "It is good for man not to marry". He considered family an unhealthy distraction from your primary goal of worshipping God, and he considered celibacy the ideal way to live. When you ask yourself what kind of family values the Bible preaches, consider this: according to Paul, the most pious and righteous among us will not have families at all!

Continue to 5. The Status of Women

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