God Hates Crippled People

Leviticus 21 is a fascinating chapter in the Bible, containing the rules for priests who must offer up the sacrifice of food to God. The priests must remain “pure” and avoid anything that is “unclean.” And anyone who has the slightest defect is not allowed near the altar of God.

The Lord said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy.’”

I’d love to know how a Christian defends this passage. Because to me it sounds like a primitive society that is incredibly superstitious about people with disabilities and thinks they are unclean. Oh, there’s also verse 9:

If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire.

But remember, this is an eternally loving God who tells his followers to burn people and stone them to death. Because that’s so loving.


  1. raven says

    I’d love to know how a Christian defends this passage.

    All xians are cafeteria xians.

    Even Ken Ham, who is a creationist but rejects Geocentrism and the Flat Earth.

    God may or may not hate crippled people these days. But he apparently hates fundie xians. He is always sending tornadoes and hurricanes into their heartland of the central-south USA. They never catch on though.

  2. jba55 says

    “I’d love to know how a Christian defends this passage.”

    In my experience they defend passages like this by saying “oh that’s the old covenant, Jesus fixed all that.” When I then ask them if it’s the same omniscient god I get word salad.

    I remember once asking an LDS friend why her god took so long to tell the church to treat brown people as equals and her response was “people weren’t ready to hear it until the 70’s”. I found that deeply unsatisfying but typical of the types of justifications you get to those types of questions.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    In those days, everything bad was supposed to be caused by evil spiritts, what later christians called demons. So the fear of the “unclean” was at least in part caused of fearing the badness rubbing off on others.
    Not that this is an excuse, just an example of a very primitive kind of thinking.

  4. says

    Oh, please! God doesn’t hate cripples. He just doesn’t want them to be too close to Him or to feed Him. For “…they be icky, saith the LORD”. He said the same thing about ugly broads.*
    * ‘And the LORD said to Moses, “Woof, amirite?”‘

  5. says

    Standard response to pretty much any atrocity in the bible is a) it’s just describing what the laws of the people were at the time and not what God actually wanted (even when it seems to be saying that God did, indeed, command these things… obviously the people just misheard) and b) Jesus said “love thy neighbor” is the most important thing, so anything in the bible that contradicts that particular line is obviously being interpreted wrong (of course, there’s no way anyone is interpreting that line wrong).

  6. Don Williams says

    Also some other parts of Leviticus 20:

    “10: And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
    11: And the man that lieth with his father’s wife hath uncovered his father’s nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
    12: And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them.
    13: If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.
    14: And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.
    15: And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. ”

    Hmmmm. That pretty much takes out the entire Republican Caucus.

  7. anubisprime says


    I’d love to know how a Christian defends this passage.

    Aww that be easy…they make it up on the spot.
    Usually some spurious, vague, and irrelevant bit of gobbly gook…and usually the more spurious, vague and irrelevant the better all buried in a biblical sounding word salad of no particular taste or cogency!

    Mostly they dismiss the embarrassing bits by claiming ‘ah yea but jeebus!’…thereby dismissing the basis and the very heart of the historical foundations of their fairy tale just like that!

    It is akin to claiming evolution is true without the literary basis of Darwin, Lamarck, Wallace, and Mendel then claiming Dawkins was the source of all knowledge!

    But then in other asides the whole bible is inerrant therefore never ever wrong…even the OT so yep it is a pick ‘n’ mix of whatever gets them outta jail!

  8. Sastra says

    All human beings have a natural inclination to value purity — things which are as they ought to be, uncontaminated by defects, disease, or deficiencies. We’d evolve this naturally, wouldn’t we, given what happens when animals can’t distinguish what is rotten from what is not?

    Religions then draw from this common tendency and run with it, amplifying the issue into the realm of supernatural essences — childish reasoning about the category of ideal identities. If something is wrong it is contaminated. It is far from the sacred, holy, ideal essential form it came from (like comes from like.) One of the characteristics of religion and spirituality is a preoccupation with purity and cleanliness … and with that comes the ability to define this purity in arbitrary ways, making up arbitrary rules on what is and isn’t dangerous based on folk instincts elevated into sacred truths. The material world is coarse and fights against God; therefore, avoid X (unlike the unenlightened tribes which don’t.)

    It wasn’t just the ancient Hebrews who have this fetish about impurity. From what I can tell pretty much every supernatural system has rules which come down to getting rid of the ‘contaminants’ before you try to approach the Holy.. Unlike humanistic systems, however, they don’t have to make sense. They just have to be special and distinguish you as special.

    I’d love to know how a Christian defends this passage. Because to me it sounds like a primitive society that is incredibly superstitious about people with disabilities and thinks they are unclean.

    My guess:
    1.) God was helping the Hebrews survive through time by preventing them from being wiped out by mass sickness. Since these primitive people were not yet “ready” to learn about germs and disease prevention, it was just easier to address this by making the guidelines so general that the handicapped were lumped in with the contagious. In the long run the restrictions were necessary for the continued health of the Chosen People and fulfillment of God’s ultimate plan for humanity. Obviously, God makes it up to the disabled later.

    2.) Since the Hebrews were already prejudiced against the handicapped it made sense at the time for God to use this to impress on them how very, very important worshiping Him was. In the long run the restrictions were necessary for the continued health of the religion and fulfillment of God’s ultimate plan for humanity. God makes it up to the disabled later, obviously.

    3.) Oh, for crying out loud — of course this was a primitive society that was incredibly superstitious about people with disabilities and they had the usual fetish about cleanliness. We know that. The Bible was a product of its time. But that doesn’t mean that the overall message of the Bible — with its powerful story of love, forgiveness, redemption, and reunion with God — is false, does it? No. In fact, if anything these human flaws in the overall narrative convince me even more that it was divinely inspired — not dictated. A God worthy of worship would have worked His revelations subtly, not with the sort of rote perfect rule-book banged over the head which you apparently require. Really. Your criticism is off base. You know nothing of God or genuine theology — and it shows.

    Take your pick.

  9. says

    It says no man who has any defect may come near. OK, so no blind people, that’s clear – but what about people who need glasses? Is that enough of a defect to be disqualified? Because that would disqualify a whole lot of clergy…

  10. Don Williams says

    1) If you think Leviticus is a curious relic of social mores from 3000 years ago, think ago. Look at Ed Snowden.

    1) The government goes to great lengths to ensure the “unclean” voters cannot approach the altar of holy “classified” information. But that’s okay — everyone knows the government priesthood takes such heavy sacrifices from us in taxes so that they can look out for our best interests.

    2) And Snowden has definitely committed several abominations:

    a) Embarrassing High Priest Obama by revealing that Obama’s subordinates have been hacking the hell out of China at the very moment Obama was gearing up to make a much publicized assault on the Chinese Premier for China’s hacking. What ever happened to that US demarche, by the way?

    b) Yesterday, embarrassed High Priest Obama by revealing how the US and Britain have eavesdropped on diplomats at past summits hosted in London by bugging the communications provided to the Diplomats. This just as Obama is about to kick off a G20 summit in Northern Ireland.

    I particularly liked the idea of providing an Internet café to your house guests that is deeply infested with password keyloggers, backdoors, recording software, etc.

  11. says

    Um, why did God need to be fed? Does the Bible ever explain that? I mean, on a meta level I understand that Yaweh needed to be fed because Gods in general needed to be fed. And Gods needed to be fed because killing and cooking an animal as a ritual produced food for everyone in the community, which was a nifty way to distribute resources. You can see that this is what is going on because of the line saying that the disabled people can eat both the “holy food” and the “most holy food,” just not be the one to offer it to God.

    But internally, does the OT explain why they are feeding an omnipotent being in the first place?

  12. Pen says

    Because to me it sounds like a primitive society that is incredibly superstitious about people with disabilities and thinks they are unclean.

    I think the idea behind these rules was that the priest was ‘set aside’ for God, almost a sacrifice himself and therefore had to be perfect, or something like that. It was the same for the animals being sacrificed.

    You’d have to be nuts to try to defend biblical rules in today’s society but I suppose the Christians’ best bet is that whatever else they are, they are very much not members of the ‘chosen people’ of the Old Testament, do not perform the sacrificial rituals described or maintain a priestly caste to perform them and don’t need to defend the activities of a people they don’t belong to. I don’t know why some Christians are so blurry about this issue because leaving the Old Testament and its rules behind was the whole point of Christ’s existence (according to most Christian belief).

    Maybe they have chosen people envy?

  13. busterggi says

    Yahweh loves cripples – that’s why he doesn’t heal them, he loves them just the way they are.

    (please read w/ sarcasm)

  14. Artor says

    I understand that God would want the bestest and shiniest spaceship around, but that begs the question; Why does God need a spaceship?

  15. dogmeat says

    When my grandmother was taking my mother to the Mayo Clinic for surgery to save her life (cancer), she was chided by multiple people who told her that she should just let my mother die, “God would prefer her dead to blind.”

    Stories like that played a rather strong role in my long journey to becoming an atheist.

  16. naturalcynic says

    God isn’t the one that needs sacrifice. You, his measly subjects, are specially chosen and need to be reminded that God is always #1, so you need to be reminded of that. You need to give the best fruits and the best of your livestock to remind you how privileged you are to have one so mighty reigning over you. And, after all, God’s most humble priesthood has to eat, too. Think of the sacrifice that they have to endure acting as intermediaries. They have to eat, too. And you wouldn’t want them to actually have to work to feed themselves. So, give them the USDA Prime.

  17. Childermass says

    Are we really expecting God to have a tender spot in His heart for cripples and bastards and broken things? That is clearly expecting too much from a omnibenevolent being.

  18. baal says

    Lamarck <–he doesn't belong on the list. Lamarck was terrible on his science and is credited with back writing of somatic cell changes to the germ line (total bs). Lamarck was cited by the early soviets as a scientific basis for quashing the 'too western' idea of breeding and subsequent starvation & drop off in yields (along with the other idiotic changes to agriculture at the time).

  19. hypatiasdaughter says

    #2 jba55
    This always gives me a chuckle. So the people were “ready” to be ordered by God to cut off the end of their penis (in an age before anesthetics and antibiotics) and to stone any lawbreaker – son, daughter, spouse, parent, friend or neighbor. But just weren’t able to handle God telling them not to keep slaves or to abandon superstitions about cripples. Shouldn’t “God said it. I obey.” over ride their primitive social beliefs?
    I find the idea of anything in a world that God created being “unholy” or “unclean” to be absurd. Or that unclean things can be kept from the sight of an omniscient being. It always proved to me that the Jehovah of the Bible grew our of a more “human” material god, like Zeus or Poseidon.

  20. dogfightwithdogma says

    For a handy reference to all such foul and obnoxious rules, doctrines, dogma, etc. in the bible I commend to your reading pleasure The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by C. Dennis McKinsey. Its a great read. Contains enough reason for me to reject the bible and the religion to which it belongs.

  21. gertzedek says

    Jew here. Not sure how a Christian would defend said passages, but I should point out that the sacrifices offered to G-d were also supposed to be unreasonably perfect & deformity/blemish-free. Also, I’d point out that we’ve still got jobs for which physical attractiveness is a requirement — try being a television or movie actor if you’ve got physical deformities. We like perfect people acting in our movies; they liked perfect people acting out their rituals. Not that different, when you think about it.

    Also, keep in mind the Torah wasn’t just a moral text in ancient Israel…it’s an actual Iron-Age law code, including parts about civil and criminal law. You didn’t imprison people in the Iron Age (it wasn’t practical — they didn’t have enough extra food), you fined them or you executed them. And considering we still persecute sex workers and label them criminals, I’m not sure we’re in a position to condemn the Torah’s approach to bat-kohein sex workers.

  22. raven says

    We like perfect people acting in our movies; they liked perfect people acting out their rituals. Not that different, when you think about it.

    You are equating watching a movie with going to church to worship god, supposedly the all powerful creator of everything? Yeah, they are vastly different.

    Who ever persecuted or killed people for watching the wrong movie? This is an absurd statement..

    And considering we still persecute sex workers and label them criminals, I’m not sure we’re in a position to condemn the Torah’s approach to bat-kohein sex workers.

    Another absurd statement. A prostitute who gets fined or a week in jail is not equivalent to a torture murder where you burn someone alive.

    Hitchens rule: Religion poisons everything.

    It’s poisoned your mind to human reason and even human empathy. I was a xian when I started actually reading the bible. I didn’t try to defend the kludgy old book of atrocities and obsolete morality. I’m now an anti-religion atheist. It was the right and ethical thing to do.

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