Though most religions have deities that do some good for man, we are always reminded also of the power and viciousness of their gods via their holy text. I guess they believe it's supposed to keep us in line. It is commonplace in some religious lore to show their deities as cruel as possible, especially when provoked. A "Don't mess with Texas" theme comes to mind.
How is it that one can believe, follow and worship such cruel gods? Some ancient South American beliefs for instance have very cruel gods that wish for them to sacrifice virgins, rip the hearts out of young men or eat the flesh of their enemies. How can one believe these stories are true and still define, in part, their god/s as "loving"? A "beautiful and wonderful father"? Fear of eternal torture, fear of breaking tradition and fear of being ostracized by friends and family, keep many of the faithful believing despite obvious cruelties and problems.
For the believer of many a stripe in our more modern age, I'd ask if they could possibly believe in a loving god that creates senseless, wanton destruction, created HIV, drowns babies, puppies and kittens. Most decent, religious people respond "Heck no"! Yet, some actually still do believe in murderous and bloodthirsty gods even today! They just don't know what their text says. In most cases, people tend to pick and choose what they want to believe in their "holy" texts and ignore whats uncomfortable. Piccadilly theology.
What is one's litmus test to determine if a god is just too cruel to believe in? Shouldn't we have a cutoff? For instance.. if a holy text had a "true" story in it about how a god, Kaliki Wanka.. sent wild animals to kill many children, just for calling a man bald, I'd have serious doubts about the goodness of that being. I'd probably begin to wonder if such a story is even true as this story doesn't mirror what goodness even means. I'd probably start to wonder, if that's not a true story.. what else isn't true? I suppose I could continue worshiping that being out of fear. But how can true love reside in my heart if I'm in the belief only for fear of my god's wrath?
Would you worship a god that kills children just for calling a man bald? Well, that story is actually in the Christian Holy Bible!
II Kings 2:23-25 (KJV). Reads:
"And he (Elisha) went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.  And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.  And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria."
Didn't hear this story in Sunday school now did we?
If you think the KJV is a horrible translation. View the NIV's Version below:
"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."
No matter what version, it's pretty horrible. Are either of these versions honest and accurate though? Let's look at the Hebrew.
The word used here is "baqa'". Baqa` means to cleave, to tear, to break open, to rip in half. Looks like the KJV is closer to the truth than the NIV. Looks like the NIV version tried to soften the blow slightly by saying mauled. Because obviously, one can survive a mauling. I don't know of anyone that has survived being cleaved in half. Imagine that scene at the Theatres, directed by Clive Barker. And to think we worry about violent video games and bloody movies.
* Why didn't God just send the bears to scare them away?
* How is it possible that these two "she bears" killed all 42 of these children? Were the kids legless? If not, must have been Super Bears to move that fast. Why would God grant them extra power to conduct such a murderous act?
* How in the Hell did this story end up in the "Good Book"?
* Since when is calling someone a bald head worthy of death? It goes on and on.
As mentioned in my Steve Well's interview (visit my show archives @ infidelguy.com), Bears are usually solitary animals and they don't attack large crowds. I suppose they would if they are mentally ill, or under the influence of something. Heh, I guess they were... under the influence of God! Yahweh, had to completely change these bears normal and natural way of living to get them to kill these children. These were essentially, innocent bears.
One apologetic reply is that these children were really adolescents. A gang of vicious teens. This excuse would almost work if it wasn't for the plain reading of the text itself. Elisha, ".. turned back.." or he "turned around.." He was out of harms way. He decided to stop walking away, and turned around to face these "evil teens". He got 'sinfully' angry, "the nerve of those kids insulting a Prophet" (sound familiar?) and cursed them in the name of the Lord.
Some have tried to argue that Elisha did this and not God. Oh really? Now remember, no man has any such supernatural power besides God. Remember Moses? Did he turn a snake into a staff and vice versa? Did Moses have this power? Or was it God? Exactly! Most say it was power bestowed by God. Therefore, God's power was responsible. God is the true source of the curses and miracles in the Bible. Sadly, the Bible never condemns Elisha for this act. And why not? Because God did it. Can't chastise God now can we?
My children can say some crazy stuff now and again such as "pooty head" and "biscuit face" but I would never sic some wild animals on them for being kids. A good scolding should be sufficient.
The II Kings 2:23 story is a reminder of the vengeful, blood-thirsty mindset many believers had during that period. Biblical literalists have a peculiar position to take on this. If the story is 100% true, the Old testament God is cruel and malicious. Who would want to worship that!? Especially in these more enlightened times
Jesus' timing is just right though. As societies began to grow and become more sophisticated and more morally conscious,Yahweh simply did not have the same appeal. Jesus is ushered in as a much needed political replacement. The New Testament however, isn't a replacement for the Old Testament. In fact Jesus makes it clear in:
"Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall nowise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven."
So Jesus himself supports many of the OT laws. Isn't this the same God then? Breaking OT laws is punishable by death in most cases.
Is Jesus Yahweh?
Some Christian churches teach that Jesus was here with God since the beginning. In fact, it's believed by many that Jesus is the god Yahweh. But if true, doesn't this mean that Jesus condoned 2 Kings 2:23? World-wide floods that killed cute little bunnies and sleeping babies? Jesus turned people into salt? Jesus is a killer? Jesus did all that? Something is amiss here.
This passage is so disturbing, as well as many other passages, that one has to convince themselves that these stories aren't relevant theologically. They dismiss it as petty. I think this story is just as relevant theologically as God killing the first born of every person and animal in Exodus 11:5. It's an issue of truth and morality.
I ask my Christian friends: Why would you believe and support a father that possesses such cruelty?
As I mentioned above, there are many other horrible stories in the Bible. These are a few of hundreds.
SkepticsAnnotatedBible.com is a wonderful resource for discovering those aspects of the Bible that your pastor and ministers will NOT mention or don't even know themselves.
I beg of you. Go! Read The Bible: All of it!