On May 12, 1797 while living in Paris, France Tom Paine wrote the following letter to a Christian friend who was trying to convert Paine to Christianity. Paine’s response fits perfectly with this page regarding the origins of the Bible.
"In your letter of the twentieth of March, you give me several quotations from the Bible, which you call the Word of God, to show me that my opinions on religion are wrong, and I could give you as many, from the same book to show that yours are not right; consequently, then, the Bible decides nothing, because it decides any way, and every way, one chooses to make it.
"But by what authority do you call the Bible the Word of God? for this is the first point to be settled. It is not your calling it so that makes it so, any more than the Mahometans calling the Koran the Word of God makes the Koran to be so. The Popish Councils of Nice and Laodicea, about 350 years after the time the person called Jesus Christ is said to have lived, voted the books that now compose what is called the New Testament to be the Word of God. This was done by yeas and nays, as we now vote a law.
"The Pharisees of the second temple, after the Jews returned from captivity in Babylon, did the same by the books that now compose the Old Testament, and this is all the authority there is, which to me is no authority at all. I am as capable of judging for myself as they were, and I think more so, because, as they made a living by their religion, they had a self-interest in the vote they gave.
"You may have an opinion that a man is inspired, but you cannot prove it, nor can you have any proof of it yourself, because you cannot see into his mind in order to know how he comes by his thoughts; and the same is the case with the word revelation. There can be no evidence of such a thing, for you can no more prove revelation than you can prove what another man dreams of, neither can he prove it himself.
"It is often said in the Bible that God spake unto Moses, but how do you know that God spake unto Moses? Because, you will say, the Bible says so. The Koran says, that God spake unto Mahomet, do you believe that too? No.
"Why not? Because, you will say, you do not believe it; and so because you do, and because you don’t is all the reason you can give for believing or disbelieving except that you will say that Mahomet was an impostor. And how do you know Moses was not an impostor?
"For my own part, I believe that all are impostors who pretend to hold verbal communication with the Deity. It is the way by which the world has been imposed upon; but if you think otherwise you have the same right to your opinion that I have to mine, and must answer for it in the same manner. But all this does not settle the point, whether the Bible be the Word of God, or not. It is therefore necessary to go a step further. The case then is: -
"You form your opinion of God from the account given of Him in the Bible; and I form my opinion of the Bible from the wisdom and goodness of God manifested in the structure of the universe, and in all works of creation. The result in these two cases will be, that you, by taking the Bible for your standard, will have a bad opinion of God; and I, by taking God for my standard, shall have a bad opinion of the Bible.
"The Bible represents God to be a changeable, passionate, vindictive being; making a world and then drowning it, afterwards repenting of what he had done, and promising not to do so again. Setting one nation to cut the throats of another, and stopping the course of the sun till the butchery should be done. But the works of God in the creation preach to us another doctrine. In that vast volume we see nothing to give us the idea of a changeable, passionate, vindictive God; everything we there behold impresses us with a contrary idea - that of unchangeableness and of eternal order, harmony, and goodness.
"The sun and the seasons return at their appointed time, and everything in the creation claims that God is unchangeable. Now, which am I to believe, a book that any impostor might make and call the Word of God, or the creation itself which none but an Almighty Power could make? For the Bible says one thing, and the creation says the contrary. The Bible represents God with all the passions of a mortal, and the creation proclaims him with all the attributes of a God.
"It is from the Bible that man has learned cruelty, rapine, and murder; for the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man. That bloodthirsty man, called the prophet Samuel, makes God to say, (I Sam. xv. 3) `Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not, but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.’
"That Samuel or some other impostor might say this, is what, at this distance of time, can neither be proved nor disproved, but in my opinion it is blasphemy to say, or to believe, that God said it. All our ideas of the justice and goodness of God revolt at the impious cruelty of the Bible. It is not a God, just and good, but a devil, under the name of God, that the Bible describes.
"What makes this pretended order to destroy the Amalekites appear the worse, is the reason given for it. The Amalekites, four hundred years before, according to the account in Exodus xvii. (but which has the appearance of fable from the magical account it gives of Moses holding up his hands), had opposed the Israelites coming into their country, and this the Amalekites had a right to do, because the Israelites were the invaders, as the Spaniards were the invaders of Mexico. This opposition by the Amalekites, at that time, is given as a reason, that the men, women, infants and sucklings, sheep and oxen, camels and asses, that were born four hundred years afterward, should be put to death; and to complete the horror, Samuel hewed Agag, the chief of the Amalekites, in pieces, as you would hew a stick of wood. I will bestow a few observations on this case.
"In the first place, nobody knows who the author, or writer, of the book of Samuel was, and, therefore, the fact itself has no other proof than anonymous or hearsay evidence, which is no evidence at all. In the second place, this anonymous book says, that this slaughter was done by the express command of God: but all our ideas of the justice and goodness of God give the lie to the book, and as I never will believe any book that ascribes cruelty and injustice to God, I therefore reject the Bible as unworthy of credit.
"As I have now given you my reasons for believing that the Bible is not the Word of God, that it is a falsehood, I have a right to ask you your reasons for believing the contrary; but I know you can give me none, except that you were educated to believe the Bible; and as the Turks give the same reason for believing the Koran, it is evident that education makes all the difference, and that reason and truth have nothing to do in the case.
"You believe in the Bible from the accident of birth, and the Turks believe in the Koran from the same accident, and each calls the other infidel. But leaving the prejudice of education out of the case, the unprejudiced truth is, that all are infidels who believe falsely of God, whether they draw their creed from the Bible, or from the Koran, from the Old Testament, or from the New.
"When you have examined the Bible with the attention that I have done (for I do not think you know much about it), and permit yourself to have just ideas of God, you will most probably believe as I do. But I wish you to know that this answer to your letter is not written for the purpose of changing your opinion. It is written to satisfy you, and some other friends whom I esteem, that my disbelief of the Bible is founded on a pure and religious belief in God; for in my opinion the Bible is a gross libel against the justice and goodness of God, in almost every part of it."
Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
Here’s how it happened: About five thousand years ago, a bunch of religious and political hustlers got together to figure out how they could control people and keep them in line. They knew people were basically stupid and would believe anything they were told, so these guys announced that God God personally had given one of them a list of ten commandments that he wanted everyone to follow. They claimed the whole thing took place on a mountaintop, when no one else was around.
But let me ask you something: When these guys were sittin’ around the tent makin’ all this up, why did they pick ten? Why ten? Why not nine, or eleven? I’ll tell you why. Because ten sounds important. Ten sounds official. They knew if they tried eleven, people wouldn’t take them seriously. People would say, “What’re you kiddin’ me? The Eleven Commandments? Get the fuck outta here!”
But ten! Ten sounds important. Ten is the basis for the decimal system; it’s a decade. It’s a psychologically satisfying number: the top ten; the ten most wanted; the ten best-dressed. So deciding on ten commandments was clearly a
marketing decision. And it’s obviously a bullshit list. In truth, it’s a political document, artificially inflated to sell better.
I’m going to show you how you can reduce the number of commandments and come up with a list that’s a bit more logical and realistic. We’ll start with the first three, and I’ll use the Roman Catholic version because those are the ones I was fed as a little boy.
I AM THE LORD THY GOD, THOU SHALT NOT HAVE STRANGE GODS BEFORE ME.
THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN.
THOU SHALT KEEP HOLY THE SABBATH.
Okay, right off the bat, the first three commandments pure bullshit. “Sabbath day,” “Lord’s name,” ’strange gods.” Spooky language. Spooky language designed to scare and control primitive people. In no way does superstitious mumbo jumbo like this apply to the lives of intelligent, civilized humans in the twenty-first century. You throw out the first three commandments, and you re down to seven.
HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER.
This commandment is about obedience and respect for authority; in other words it’s simply a device for controlling people. The truth is, obedience and respect should not be granted automatically. They should be earned. They should be based on the parents’ (or the authority figure’s) performance. Some parents deserve respect. Most of them don’t. Period. We’re down to six.
Now, in the interest of logic-something religion has a really hard time with-I’m going to skip around the list a little bit:
THOU SHALT NOT STEAL.
THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS.
Stealing and lying. Actually, when you think about it, these two commandments cover the same sort of behavior: dishonesty. Stealing and lying. So we don’t need two of them. Instead, we combine these two and call it “Thou shalt not be dishonest.” Suddenly we’re down to five.
And as long as we’re combining commandments I have two others that belong together:
THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY.
THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S WIFE.
Once again, these two prohibit the same sort of behavior; in this case, marital infidelity. The difference between them is that coveting takes place in the mind. And I don’t think you should outlaw fantasizing about someone else’s wife, otherwise what’s a guy gonna think about when he’s flogging his dong?
But marital fidelity is a good idea, so I suggest we keep the idea and call this commandment “Thou shalt not be unfaithful.” Suddenly we’re down to four.
And when you think about it further, honesty and fidelity are actually parts of the same overall value. So, in truth, we could combine the two honesty commandments with the two fidelity commandments, and, using positive language instead of negative, call the whole thing “Thou shalt always be honest and faithful.” And now we’re down to three.
THOU SHALT NOT COVET THY NEIGHBOR’S GOODS.
This one is just plain stupid. Coveting your neighbors goods is what keeps the economy going: Your neighbor gets a vibrator that plays “O Come All Ye Faithful,” you want to get one, too. Coveting creates jobs. Leave it alone.
You throw out coveting and you’re down to two now: the big, combined honesty/fidelity commandment, and the one we haven’t mentioned yet:
THOU SHALT NOT KILL.
Murder. The Fifth Commandment. But, if you give it a little thought, you realize that religion has never really had a problem with murder. Not really. More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason.
To cite a few examples, just think about Irish history, the Middle East, the Crusades, the Inquisition, our own abortion-doctor killings and, yes, the World Trade Center to see how seriously religious people take Thou Shalt Not Kill. Apparently, to religious folks especially the truly devout murder is negotiable. It just depends on who’s doing the killing and who’s getting killed.
And so, with all of this in mind, folks, I offer you my revised list of the Two Commandments:
THOU SHALT ALWAYS BE HONEST AND FAITHFUL, ESPECIALLY TO THE PROVIDER OF THY NOOKIE.
THOU SHALT TRY REAL HARD NOT TO KILL ANYONE, UNLESS, OF COURSE, THEY PRAY TO A DIFFERENT INVISIBLE AVENGER THAN THE ONE YOU PRAY TO.
Two is all you need, folks. Moses could have carried them down the hill in his pocket. And if we had a list like that, I wouldn’t mind that brilliant judge in Alabama displaying it prominently in his courthouse lobby. As long he included one additional commandment:
““Today is Good Friday, observed worldwide by Jesus buffs as the day on which the popular, bearded cultural figure, sometimes referred to as The Messiah, was allegedly crucified and according to legend died for mankind’s so-called sins. Today kicks off a ‘holy’ weekend that culminates on Easter Sunday, when, it is widely believed, this dead ’savior ’who also, by the way, claimed to be the son of a sky-dwelling, invisible being known as God mysteriously ‘rose from the dead.’
“According to the legend, by volunteering to be killed and actually going
through with it, Jesus saved every person who has ever lived and every person who ever will live from an eternity of suffering in a fiery region popularly known as hell, providing so the story goes that the person to be ’saved’ firmly believes this rather fanciful tale.””—George Carlin (When will Jesus bring the porck chops?)
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” ― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion