Thinking Meat’s review of Dawkins’ The God Delusion pointed me to a great psychological study showing how the Bible doesn’t provide very good moral guidance.
Dawkins reported on a study done about 40 years ago by Israeli psychologist George Tamarin that looked at how Israeli children reacted to a passage from the Bible about Joshua and the battle of Jericho, something we might today describe as a massacre. When over a thousand Israeli schoolchildren were asked whether they totally approved, partially approved, or totally disapproved of what Joshua and the Israelites had done in taking over the city of Jericho and slaughtering its inhabitants, 66% totally approved and 26% totally disapproved. When asked to explain their thinking, they gave religious justifications, including statements about the danger of learning bad ways from others of a different religion. (And some of those who disapproved did so on the grounds that property was lost as well as lives, and that property could have been put to good use by the Israelites.) When a smaller control group was given the same story, but with the names and places changed so that it was about a fictitious general who lived in China 3,000 years ago, only 7% totally approved and 75% disapproved. This was a striking and discouraging instance of the influence of religious prejudice on the moral sense of children. (You can read more in this Skeptic paper by John Hartung.)