This article is part of an ongoing Blaze series called, “Ask an Atheist.” Millionaire secular activist Todd Stiefel answers readers’ most pressing questions about the atheist activist community. Part One of the series can be read here. The second installment is below.
Earlier this month, atheist activist Todd Stiefel commenced his Blaze question-and-answer series, “Ask an Atheist.” In the first installment, the philanthropist shared his personal faith journey, how he views the “reason for life” and why he doesn’t believe that an omniscient being created and oversees the universe, among other sentiments.
In Part Two, he takes the conversation even further, answering more in-depth questions about the Bible, the Ten Commandments and the role of religion in government.
The first question Stiefel tackles focuses upon the centerpiece of Christian belief — the Bible. One of our readers asked, “What is it that turns you off so vehemently to the Bible?” Rather than disparage the entire book, the atheist leader attempted to frame the issues he has with select portions of the literary work that believers hold dear:
“I am not turned off by the whole Bible, just portions of it. It is many books, not one. Much of the Bible provides fascinating insights into morality, history and culture. Much like any great work of literature, it has its share of quotable passages and good advice. I agree with many of its lessons, including most of the teachings attributed to Jesus. For example, I very much like Bible quotes such as, “do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12), “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:36-40) and “love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:9-10).”
But — as could be expected — there’s much in the holy book that Stiefel rejects. He provides an extensive overview of some of the more controversial and problematic elements that he contends exist in the Bible:
“On the other hand, I reject parts of the Bible which reflect the corrupt ethics of primitive civilizations. Even in context, all atheists and Christians should reject lessons reflected in: ‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property.’ (Leviticus 25:44-46), ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet’ (I Timothy 2), ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26), and “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3). It is truly frightening that so many people take the Bible literally, attempting to rationalize such passages as anything other than repulsive.”
While Stiefel says that these verses are “repulsive,” many believers and theologians would refute this statement, claiming that these words, in context — both in text and cultural placement — often have understandable explanations. Regardless, the atheist philanthropist also tackled the Ten Commandments in this round of questioning.
A reader wrote, “If the 10 Commandments reflect morality and obedience to ‘right conduct’ that translates to ‘public virtue,’ why are you so intent on eliminating these symbols from American society?” Here, too, Stiefel attempted to showcase his mixed-bag view in claiming that the Ten Commandments are not a full-proof indicator of morality in its purest form:
“First, I disagree with the assumption that the Ten Commandments are a reflection of ideal morality. Many are excellent moral guidelines, such as prohibitions against murder, theft and lying. Other commandments have no place in a top 10 list of ethics. How did ‘remember the sabbath beat out ‘slavery is forbidden?’ Further, the punishments associated with the commandments are far from what American society considers reasonable. For example, death is the Biblically mandated penalty for violating these commandments: working on the sabbath (Exodus 31:15), adultery (Leviticus 20:10), blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16), believing in other gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-5), and cursing of one’s parents (Matthew 15:4).
In addition, the Ten Commandments directly conflict with America’s founding laws. The Constitution of the United States gives us ‘freedom of speech’ over ‘thou shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.’ The First Amendment also protects the right to ‘free exercise’ of religion over, ‘Thou shall not have any gods before me.’ How can anyone claim this is a Christian nation when the Constitution explicitly clashes with the Ten Commandments? We certainly have a Christian majority, but not a Christian constitution.”
When it comes to placement of the moral code on public land, he stands firmly against it, claiming that it is wrong for the government to choose one form of religious morality over another:
“I am not intent on eliminating the Ten Commandments from American society, nor are other atheists. We are in favor of Americans having the right to put copies in their homes, church lawns and other private property. We are intent on stopping the government and its representatives from displaying them (and other sectarian doctrine) on government land.
The government should not choose the Protestant Ten Commandments over the Catholic (yes, they are different). It should not choose Jewish morality over Mormon morality. It should not choose to promote any religious doctrine over any other. When the government grows to the point of choosing which religious teachings are correct and which are incorrect, it has begun to erode our freedom. Religious liberty requires the state to not make judgments about which citizens’ religious beliefs are superior to others.”
In the third installment of “Ask an Atheist,” Stiefel will focus upon Jesus Christ and some of atheism’s more philosophical underpinnings.