The Incompatibility of Judeo-Christian Religion with Contemporary Human Rights

Chima Williams Iheme

It is oftentimes claimed by Christians that the Bible is the main source of morality, and Christian organizations involved in humanitarian activities usually give copies of the Bible alongside their aid to give the impression that they are motivated by the Bible. This article challenges that notion and argues that the Bible is devoid of good moral teachings and rules and indeed conflicts with contemporary human rights. If developing countries must outgrow superstition and human rights abuses to make scientific progress, they must begin to see the Bible as any other literary work of fiction and not a collection of unchallengeable facts and truth.

Introduction: Entry Point of Incompatibility

All religions have similar characteristics in that they teach precepts that are not usually supported by facts and evidence but by wishful imaginations. Inherent in religion is the concept of faith, which is parallel to factual evidence and mandates that huge claims can be accepted solely on the basis of wishes and superstition. In fact, the weirder and more contrary to facts and evidence a particular claim is, the more it is likely to appeal to religion. As Christopher Hitchens rightfully opined in one of his brilliant writings, religion was our first attempt to answer the philosophical questions about life; it was our first attempt to be scientific, and given that it was the first attempt, it indeed provides the worst answers to issues about life in our contemporary world.

Admittedly, facts and evidence are not easy to grasp or contend with and are emotionally difficult for us, given that we are perhaps the only living species whose members are conscious of their eventual demise and decomposition. The discomforting fear of death is cardinal to the existence of religion. Also, the limited knowledge of cause and effect in our environment and the awe-inspiring nature of the universe could easily trigger belief in the existence of a powerful being who set all this in motion. Thus, in the absence of scientific answers for any issue about nature and life, religion easily fills the gap by providing a conspiracy theory to soothe our curiosity. Further, issues about evil, rewards, and punishment, especially in an ineffective justice system, may lead to the question of whether there is life after death where all outstanding scores will be settled. Although a question about an afterlife is apparently nonsensical and self-contradictory, its validity is acknowledged by religion, because such questions provide a useful tool with which religion entrenches its fantasies in the minds of individuals.

It is appealing and enticing to hold the view that one will live perpetually and perhaps have the opportunity to lead a better life after a miserable one on Earth or to continue to lead the same good life after death, if one was leading an enjoyable one on Earth. This is perhaps why religion and its claim of an afterlife appeal both to the poor and the rich in society and why a substantial percentage of the human species needs religion to thrive. As religion dwells mainly on wishful thinking rather than on facts and evidence, it is often a comfort while enduring the harsh realities of life. As Karl Marx rightly put it, it is the opium of society.

The human civilization has witnessed the extinction of many gods; more than two thousand gods were once worshipped and caused psychological effects in the lives of those who believed in them during their reigns. As Sam Harris put it in one of his YouTube debates, “These gods have been buried in the mass grave that is now called mythology.” However, of all these gods, the Abrahamic god (God)—which is said to dwell in the sky—is argued by Christians, Muslims, and Jews to be the almighty god that created other rival gods, even though the three monotheistic religions are divided over which of them is exclusively entitled to the sky god. Even within Christendom or Islam there are several sects, and each claims to be the right agent chosen by God to convert unbelievers or believers of other rival gods, at all costs, even if it requires the use of force and arms.

This article argues that the Judaeo-Christian religion and its foundational text—the Bible—are incompatible with contemporary human rights regardless of the fact that certain religious organizations nowadays have backtracked to involve themselves in human rights advocacy. It is argued that the Judaeo-Christian Bible contains categorical rules and teachings that are said to have come from God and, by that very claim, are inerrant rules and teachings. The Bible being allegedly the inerrant word of God, its teachings are cast in stone and cannot be modified; there is no right bestowed on any Christian to edit its contents, and any such reform done to suit contemporary human rights can only be null and void and contrary to God’s word. Thus, it is argued that scriptural rules—that is, the alleged inerrant word of God—are incompatible with contemporary human rights as chiseled in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other rights documents.

The Incompatibilities

Right to Freedom of Expression

Thomas Aquinas, one of the early church fathers, postulated in his Summa Theologiae that “blasphemy, which is a sin committed directly against God, is more grave than murder, which is a sin against one’s neighbor.” With this, one may have a peek at how serious the early church considered heresy or blasphemy. Blasphemy is a negation of the right to freedom of expression; it is religion’s strong tool to highly discourage criticism that challenges its weak evidence to big claims about life. In the Bible, there are numerous passages that are dedicated to restricting free expression, especially as it relates to challenging the validity and soundness of religious rules and teachings. Thus, in Psalm 14:1, the Psalmist categorically states that only a fool can say that there is no God; this pushback continues even in Psalm 19:1 where he concludes that the universe, considering its orderliness, could only have been made by God, and any contrary view is blasphemous.

In the New Testament, Paul appears to be obsessed with blasphemy and even admonished Christian slaves to continue to obey their masters in 1 Timothy 6:1. Paul also argued in 1 Timothy 3:16 that those who maintain the view that the Bible is a mere collection of human works that is not inspired by God have committed blasphemy. In Mathew 12:31, it is said that all sins and blasphemy may be forgiven unto men, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven; it would allegedly be punished in hell regardless of the offender’s repentance on Earth. Although the Bible did not state what exactly would constitute an unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the various Christian sects have chosen to whimsically create a list from Mathew 12:31 and use it to discourage their adherents from opposing or criticizing some of their teachings and rules.

While the New Testament maintains that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would ultimately be punished in hell, in the Old Testament the punishment for blasphemy is torturous death as recorded in Leviticus 24:10–23, where God instructed that the son of Shelomith (a child) who was accused of blasphemy be put to death by stoning, thereby depriving him of his right to life. Thus, whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, it is very clear that the Judeo-Christian god maintains a zero-tolerance approach toward criticism, regardless of the age of the blasphemer. Given that these provisions of the Bible were inspired by God as Paul claims in 1 Timothy 3:16 and are inerrant and unchangeable, it is therefore hard to argue that the Judaeo-Christian faith supports the human right of freedom of expression. Neither are Christians allowed under the guise of free expression to offend the Ten Commandments, which mandate that the name of God shall not be called in vain, thereby eliminating jokes and humor that target God.

In the seventeenth century, Galileo Galilei was tried and found guilty of heresy by the Catholic Church because he championed the concept of heliocentrism when society at that time believed in geocentrism because of Joshua 10:13—where it is written that the sun stood still until Joshua and his army were able to defeat their enemies. Self-evidently, many scientists and their important works at the time of Galileo were at great risk because of the superstitious belief in Joshua 10:13. Today, many Christians still believe in geocentrism despite the overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, and this pseudoscience is passed down to new generations, thereby denying them their right under Article 27 of the UDHR, which entitles them to enjoy the benefit of scientific progress.

Right to Freedom of Religion

Article 18 of the UDHR states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” However, the Bible strongly opposes this right through its teaching of apostasy. In Deuteronomy 13, God instructs very firmly that apostates must be put to death, and this is regardless of the executioner’s relationship with the apostate. Thus, if a family member discovers that another family member has lost his faith in God, the former is entitled to kill the latter without any sentiment. According to God in verses 9–11, “Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” Apparently, in the Bible, whether in the Old or New Testa­ment, there is no respect or toleration for unbelief (atheism or apostasy), and the consequence is usually a torturous punishment, just as Zacharia was punished in Luke 1:18 with deafness and dumbness for asking “How shall I know?”

Islam has yet to experience a reformation like Christianity did in the sixteenth century. In Islam, apostasy is still harshly punished as exactly stipulated in Deuteronomy 13; in contemporary Christianity, apostates are not often murdered by their family members or people of the same faith as they were in the Mediaeval era but are now blackmailed emotionally, harassed on deathbeds to convert, or generally discriminated against as a result of their unbelief. Thus, even though apostasy is alluded to in Luke 8:13, 1 Timothy 4:1, and Hebrews 3:12, the punishment is no longer the immediate death of the apostate; his or her apostasy would allegedly be punished in hell at the end of time. This is not to discountenance the hatred and secret killings of atheists in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and Africa; the difference is that it is not often commanded publicly from religious pulpits. In all this, what is always true is the ample set of provisions in the Bible that contradict Article 18 of the UDHR.

The demonstration of religious intolerance or the zero tolerance for criticism of any kind to “God’s servants” can be found in 1 Kings 18:40, where Elijah murdered over four hundred prophets of Baal for serving a rival god. The imagination of the events surrounding this account is not only gory and messy but cruel and religiously intolerant. If we are to judge based on our contemporary morality, Elijah would be tried either in a national court or the International Criminal Court for a crime against humanity. A similar criminal charge would also go against Elisha in 2 Kings 2:23–25 for murdering forty-two kids who pointed out a factual condition about his appearance: his baldness.

Right against Discrimination

Article 2 of the UNDR states that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” This right is contrary to biblical teachings on many counts. First, the concept of a preferred race is well documented in the Bible as God never hid his special love for the people of Israel, whom he supported in wars against their neighbors, including the injunction to murder the Amalekites as well as the “inspired” instruction of Moses in Numbers 31:17–18 to kill all Midianite boys, elderly men, and women, except the virgin girls whom the soldiers could keep for themselves. Today, Numbers 31:18 may be an inspirational source for soldiers who sexually exploit women in war-torn areas.

In the Old Testament, God hated other tribes that had misunderstandings with his chosen people of Israel and went to the extreme length of genocide. God’s hatred for other tribes he allegedly created, for the sake of the Israelites, is an endorsement of racism and tribalism and therefore in conflict with Article 2 of the UDHR. Racism or the appetite for a pure race as recorded in Genesis chapters 6–9—where God allegedly preserved the lives of Noah’s family and select species of animals from drowning—must have inspired Adolf Hitler’s belief in racial purity, that is, the Aryan master race, and was the reason for the various Jim Crow laws in the United States at one time in history.

Similarly, whether in the Old or New Testament, women are on the receiving end of unfair treatment. First, in the Ten Commandments, women are among the items that a man must not covet from his neighbor. As part of her punishment for being a conduit for the fall of man, God in Genesis 3:16 cursed that he “will make childbearing unbearably difficult for the woman, and shall make her desires contrary to her husband’s, who shall rule over her.” This is a strong endorsement of patriarchy, male chauvinism, gender inequality, and a blank check for violence against women by men. For instance, apart from the teaching in Genesis that woman was created from the rib of man, thus suggesting that the woman was an afterthought, Deuteronomy 22:28–29 and Exodus 22:16–17 appear to strongly suggest that the only punishment for a rapist is his marriage to the victim.

The New Testament also does not make a good case for women, as Peter and Paul fought hard in their various sexist letters to reinforce patriarchy. Thus, in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul maintains that women should not teach or assume authority over men; they should be quiet. In verses 13–15, Paul emphatically states that women are less intelligent and can only be saved by childbearing if they remain in the Christian faith. With this particular teaching, Paul established what has perhaps caused women, especially in developing countries, to be subjected to the animal routine of breeding and the belief that men are more intelligent than women. In Islam, for instance, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man.

Paul corroborated the forgoing view in Ephesians 5:22–33 and Colossians 3:18, just as Peter in 1 Peter 3, where both strongly emphasized that women should be submissive to their husbands just as they are to God. This equation, or the degree of submissiveness required of a woman to her husband, flies in the face of gender equality and is perhaps the basis upon which women are violated and mistreated by men all over the world. Even in instances where a woman seeks to save her husband from being hurt in a fight but touches the private part of his opponent in the process, Deuteronomy 25:11 mandates that the man must cut his wife’s hand off without any pity to her. Similarly, to also stone her to death in front of her father’s doorstep if he discovers shortly after marrying her that she was not a virgin—Deuteronomy 22:21.

As of this writing, same-sex marriage has been recognized in many countries, including but not limited to Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United States. The 2015 American case of Obergefell v. Hodges and other similar court decisions or legislation are a huge accomplishment of human rights. However, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 have a contrary and unchangeable perspective and unequivocally instruct that homosexuals and lesbians should always be put to death. These provisions, in addition to Paul’s condemnation of homosexuals in 1 Timothy 1:9–10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, are the sources of hatred by many Christians and the reason for the strong pushback on the rights of LGBTs.

It is easy to argue nowadays that these discriminative teachings against women or the order to kill homosexuals as highlighted above were made at a time when it was culturally permissible and that things have changed since then to recognize women’s equal rights with men as well as same-sex marriage. While it is true that the human civilization has accomplished several milestones in women’s rights and human rights generally, the credit cannot of course be given to religion because these instructions are still in the Bible and were once the reason for many deaths and much violence in the past centuries when it was strongly considered that the Bible—which embodies these instructions and teachings—is inerrant and the primary source of morality that must not be deviated from. To still maintain that the Bible is inerrant is to say forcefully that Paul and Peter’s sexist teachings and the Old Testament orders against human rights are still morally sound and should continue to be our moral compass.

Human Dignity

Slavery is now legally and morally wrong, because it completely denies people their liberty and freedom as well as allows them to be treated as property that can be bought and sold in the market. Slavery goes against human rights and dignity and has been abolished internationally and under international law. Article 1 of the UDHR states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Yet, this abhorrent practice (slavery) was enthusiastically encouraged in Exodus 21:2–6, Leviticus 25:39–55, and Deuteronomy 15:12–18.

Even though slavery existed at the time of Jesus, there was nothing in the synoptic gospels to show that he was dissatisfied with it or condemned it. There was such an opportunity to condemn slavery in Luke 7:1–10 when he encountered the Centurion who requested that his servant be cured of an illness. Jesus and the Centurion had a fairly lengthy discussion on the necessity or otherwise of Jesus’s physical presence in the Centurion’s house to cure the servant. Before and after pronouncement of the alleged healing words, Jesus had the opportunity to condemn the practice of slavery but refused to do so. This unwillingness to emphatically condemn slavery was because he believed in the practice, and this is confirmed in John 15:15 where he broke the news to his disciples that he no longer called them servants but friends.

Similarly, in Ephesians 6:5 and 1 Timothy 6:1, Paul admonished slaves to obey their earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as they obey Christ, so that God’s name is not blasphemed by their disobedience. He further demonstrated his view in relation to a slave’s undivided loyalty in his letter to Philemon; Paul encouraged a runaway slave—Onesimus—to return to his slave master Philemon, notwithstanding the risk that Philemon might choose not to forgive Onesimus and consequently kill him to serve as a deterrent to other slaves.

The forgoing confirms that belief in God is hardly personal; oftentimes, it encroaches into the lives and wellbeing of other people, who are either attacked or killed as a result. Two quick examples might suffice. First, in Genesis 22:1–18, the allegedly omniscient God decided to conduct a test to know whether Abraham truly loved him. The test was an instruction to Abraham to slaughter his son Isaac. Immediately and without any discussion with Isaac, Abraham tricked his son to accompany him on a journey, where he bound him and was on the verge of murdering him before the test was canceled. Assuming this story was true, one can only imagine how highly traumatized Isaac must have been both as a child and an adult and why an all-knowing god needed such a test to confirm what he already knew, at the expense of Isaac’s mental health. Despite this attempted murder, this singular act of Abraham is still eulogized in the monotheist religions as heroic and laudable, even though based on our contemporary morality, Abraham ought to be in jail for being extremely dangerous.

Second, a more unfortunate incident occurred in Judges 11:29, where Jephthah promised God that if he assisted him in conquering the Ammonites in battle, he would offer him a burnt sacrifice with whatever comes out first from his household to greet him. Already, there is a standing order in Deuteronomy 23:23 to keep whatever vows one made to God, regardless of any resulting hardship. So, when Jephthah’s daughter ran out to greet him upon his return, he could not renege on his promise to sacrifice her as a burnt offering to God. In these two examples, one sees how religious beliefs can defeat parental love and cause people to murder their children for the love of God; indeed, with God, “all things are possible.”

Conclusion

Developing countries, especially those in Africa, will continue to find it difficult to outgrow superstition and embrace science because of biblical rules and teachings. Religion is dangerous to people if the quality of education is poor or nonexistent. The Judeo-Christian religion eulogizes faith—belief in claims without evidence. This has made a substantial population of Africans very servile and easy to manipulate and exploit, given that almost anything is believable because the believer has no critical thinking skills to independently filter information.

Most Africans, including the educated ones, believe in witchcraft; it is one subject that Christians and other African religious worshippers have in common. It continues to destroy Africa, because the belief condemns women and children as capable of effecting grievous harm. And oftentimes, this leads to their being arrested and stoned or burnt to death. Similarly, albinos are hunted and killed in some parts of Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, while children who are left-handed are discriminated against and superstitiously considered to be evil. Homosexuality is still taboo because Africa has yet to grapple with the scientific justification for it, and more so, it is condemned in Leviticus 20:13, while the order to kill witches is in Exodus 22:18.

The Bible and Qur’an do not promote critical thinking and are at loggerheads with science and skeptical inquiry; to ask critical questions about Christian or Islamic dogmas could at best be viewed as blasphemous, with the blasphemer being considered to be acting under the influence of an evil spirit that requires exorcism or, at worse, punished by death as is prevalent today in many Islamic countries. Today, it is almost impossible to teach science in African schools without being branded a dangerous person seeking to corrupt and lead the students astray from God. For instance, by teaching students that the universe did not actually come into being in six days, based on the overwhelming weight of facts and evidence; that the age of the Earth is way more than six thousand years; or that evolution, which is excluded in many African schools’ curricula, better explains the origin of life than Creationism, one could be threatened if not hurt.

Christian organizations in the West should feel the moral burden to invest more in quality education that can transfer critical thinking skills to Africans as the surest way of unwinding what the Christian missionaries did for centuries by foisting the Bible on them. Today, given the lack of quality education, the Bible as well as the Qur’an have become the main sources of underdevelopment in Africa, because their cast-in-stone teachings and rules and their high sensitivity to criticism flatly contradict contemporary human rights and advocacy.

Chima Williams Iheme

Chima Williams Iheme obtained his doctorate degree in legal studies from the Central European University (an American institution in Hungary). He is an advocate and defender of human rights and strongly promotes open society values through writings and lectures. He is a member of the Atheist Society of Nigeria, as well as the Brights Movement, both organizations are dedicated to promoting science and critical inquiry. Iheme derives fulfillment and joy in courtroom advocacy for the protection of human rights and in assisting young people to attain intellectual independence.


It is oftentimes claimed by Christians that the Bible is the main source of morality, and Christian organizations involved in humanitarian activities usually give copies of the Bible alongside their aid to give the impression that they are motivated by the Bible. This article challenges that notion and argues that the Bible is devoid of …

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