As a reminder to newer readers, I am not a Christian anymore, although I was a highly devout one for thirty years. For an explanation of why I left my religion behind, you can read the posts In The Cleft of the Rock, The Man Behind The Curtain, and The Emperor's New God. I am now a humanitarian agnostic. In other words, I'm not sure if God exists, but I believe morality and ethics have meaning even outside the context of God.
While I don't agree with everything the Bible says, I certainly understand the perspective of those that do. Having studied the Bible for decades, I'm convinced that the biblical authors had a similar perspective-- that the true measure of morality and immorality is whether an action helps or hurts humanity. Furthermore, religious authorities in the Bible had no problems revising laws when the new law provided a greater benefit to humanity.
The clearest statement of this philosophy comes from Jeremiah 7. Jeremiah has received a message from God for the people is Israel and soundly chastised them for their idolatry and other immoralities. Then in verse 19, it says:
"But am I the one they are provoking?" declares the Lord. "Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame?"In other words, no amount of immorality can possibly harm God. The whole reason things like idolatry are sinful is that they harm the sinner, by pushing them away from a God that loves them and will bless them with his presence.
This is a crucial argument. Given the premises of the Christian religion, it is absolutely impossible to harm God. Because God loves humanity, he wants them to prosper. Therefore, the only things that God considers sin are those things that work against the humans he loves. So if something doesn't harm any portion of humanity, it cannot be a sin.
Things are only sinful if they harm humanity.
I encourage Christians to stop thinking about God as a random set of likes and dislikes. "God liked Jews and hated pigs. Then later he decided pigs were alright, but homosexuality was still bad." That's just irrational. If you believe in intelligent design as most Christians do, then you need to accept that your God is rational and work from there. God likes stuff that helps humanity and hates stuff that hurts humanity. He might have a better understanding of what "help" and "hurt" mean, but that's as simple as it gets.
When you view the evolution of religion as a gradual improvement on rules that benefit humanity, many stories in the Bible make more sense. For example, in Genesis 9:3-4, Noah has just survived the Ark, and God changes the law of what food humans are allowed to eat. Before the flood, humanity was supposed to be strictly vegetarian, but now God says it's okay to eat animals. Why did God revise his law? Animals were no different than they were before the flood, and now there are fewer of them. Either you think this story is factually true, in which case God must have changed his mind. Or you think this is just a story, so at least the Bible's author has revised the religious law. In either case though, the reason for the revision is clear-- the new law benefits humanity more than the old law did.
God isn't the only important religious figure who revised the Judaeo-Christian religion. Jesus did too, in his Sermon on the Mount. Starting at Matthew 5:17, Jesus says:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.He then proceeds to give nearly a dozen different examples of things people should do different from what the Torah (the law from Moses) instructs or permits. Here are some of these:
- Insulting people is sinful
- Looking at a woman lustfully is as bad as adultery
- Divorcing a woman who has not been unfaithful is sinful
- You should not seek retribution on people who have offended you
- Love your enemies
If God was willing to revise his own law and Jesus could revise the law God gave to Moses, then everyone who believes the stories in the Bible must logically conclude that revising religious laws can be a good thing, as long as the new law does a better job of loving your God and neighbor. Sometimes the Bible got it wrong and needs to be improved with a good dose of common sense. If Jesus did it and Christians are supposed to act like Jesus, they should not be afraid to apply common sense to their religious text either.
And while I'm not a Christian anymore, this is the reason I believe that every Christian should be pro-gay. There is nothing about homosexuality that is inherently harmful to any human. It makes the couple happy, so logically there's no reason it should offend God. If there are rules against it in the Bible, then maybe those authors just didn't hear from God correctly and people should reconsider whether a ban on homosexuality actually embodies "love your neighbor". It's not at all loving to telling two consenting adults that they cannot marry each other just because they are of the same gender.