Post Biblical Morality

December 20, 2006 | By | 59 Replies More

There are simple reasons to reject Biblical authority. Very simple. One above all others–the Bible assigns people to roles from which, by virtue of divine mandate, they cannot abandon. It accords thinking beings no grant to be other than what the Bible says they should be.

Now, a lot of people treat this in one of two ways. The benign way is to simply ignore these restrictions until such a point where the deviations cannot be ignored. For instance, in the case of gay marriage. There has been a sliding metric of tolerance leading up to the point past which those professing a christian character simply cannot go. They sort of make these restrictions cases of, well, in an ideal, christian world these laws would hold, but we don’t live in that world, and since we all have to get along, well, we’ll just pretend they aren’t there for the most point. Because, you see, if they took them seriously, there would be a lot of public executions.

Which leads to me to the malign way of dealing with them–extremist posturing. These rules are god’s rules and we ignore them at out peril. Such people condemn people who are different, rail against the establishment, and actually work toward putting these rules into practice, either through mainstream legal institutions or by joining cults who leave mainstream society and set up little compounds here and there. The leaders of such groups become right vicious little tyrants and a peak inside their precincts shows what would be in store for all of us were they to get their way nationally. Some go so far as to commit murders (god spoke to me and said kill the woman!), blow up private property, and generally harass anyone who disagrees with them.

Both kinds of folks feed into the periodic resurgence of religiosity that muddies our political waters and gets us all in a froth over individual rights, civil rights, and various other community issues which we ought really to have figured out and solved by now.

The question is asked how I can have the chutzpa to claim the Bible should be ignored. Good question. And I don’t say it should be ignored. There’s history there–some of it bad, some of it apocryphal, some of it outright fable–but history nevertheless. There are examples of law making, of civic institution building, of all manner of human endeavor we would do well to study, if only as counterexample. But as a moral guidebook?

Some of what Jesus said is pretty good. But it is when he is speaking about the nature of community and the worth of individuals that he’s at his best. Some of his life lessons are fascinating. As I’ve noted before, whoever Yeshua bar Joseph was, he was a pretty fair philosopher, and a lot of what he had to say was radical.

Iterestingly enough, when he made his claim about bringing a sword and pitting son against father and so on, he was right. Look around. Families often dissolve over differing interpretations of his words. His philosophy has been divisive. He wasn’t doing individuals of conscience any favors by giving them a program that would set them at odds with the society in which they lived. But to me, these were not the words of a deity telling us what he wanted, but of a savvy political thinker who knew the consequences of his philosophy. It was a warning–follow my teaching at your peril.

So most people claiming to be his followers don’t actually follow his words. They substitute belief (faith) for change. They get to go on living peaceably within their communities while feeling they have a good bead on how to get to heaven. That’s how many of them can support Bush and still claim to be good christians–because they believe, not because they’re doing anything Jesus told them to do.

My problem with the rest of the Bible, though, is twofold. One, it is based largely on the national epic of a nation that, in spite of the fact there is today a country by that name, no longer exists. Israel is not run the way it was under Saul and David, Solomon or the Macabees. The essence of that nation is long dead. At best, modern Israel is an homage. So the question I have is, what does the national epic of a country two millennia gone have to do with me? The answer is, about as much as Rome under Caesar does, or Babylon, or Thebes under the Seven, or the Mogul Empire. What we are today is part of the long, twisted road of history, but I am not a Roman, a Mogul, a Hittite, a Celt…or an eighth century B.C.E. Hebrew.

The other reason is that the human program advocated throughout most of the Bible is, to my mind, unethical and immoral. Slavery is a given throughout. Even Paul supports it, going so far as to tell slaves to be good and make no trouble. Women are chattel. People are stoned for personal insult (a son or daughter who disrespects their parents can and ought to be put to death; my question is, what if mom and dad deserve the disrespect?). Rampant, bloody nationalism is the rule–the modern day butchers in Darfour are the natural political descendents of Joshua and his band of invaders.

In short, the worth of an individual is sublimated by ideology, and that, we have seen from Columbus to Chechnya, is a horrid, ghastly state of affairs.

Jesus, by the way, said several things that suggest he felt otherwise, but they get mixed with a latent kind of demagoguery which may or may not have been grafted onto his words later. (I have always believed that the lesson of the woman at the well is not that her adultery and fornication were so bad, but that Jesus couldn’t abide her lying about it. Novel interpretation, I know, but he also spared the prostitute from stoning, and he treated Mary and Martha with as much respect as the men. According to Bart Ehrman, Mary’s status among the disciples has been consistently weakened by later chronographers.)

But very simply, to make someone a slave and therefore less than yourself–to treat a woman as something less than a human being (the standard for human being, being a man)–to be willing to slaughter your own child because of the commands of a voice in your head, unquestioning as to how your child might regard this usurpation of his or her right to live–to sort people, even their children, by virtue of a difference in their ideas and then condemn them to death for it–this is patently immoral.

Might we not recast the Bible, then? Not as a series of examples to embrace thoughtlessly, but as a compendium of stuff that doesn’t work? That maybe, along with the supposed lessons of proper behavior, these are also examples we must reject?

Implicitly, we do. I’ve said elsewhere that we live in a Post-Levitical World, and that not even most of the most extreme fundamentalists would assent to living according to those rules. Without actually saying out loud “That’s absurd!” we have moved on from the Pentateuch.

But maybe it would be a good, healthy thing to say “You know, there’s a lot worth paying attention to in the Bible, but there’s also a lot of real garbage. I wouldn’t treat a dog that way.”

I have a standard. I see people as people first, and accord them ALL the rights and privileges I expect for myself. Everything else about them comes second, third, or not at all–whether they be women, gay, different races, nationalities, or philosophies. I don’t judge based on any of these things.

Didn’t Jesus say something about a beam in the eye…?

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Category: American Culture, Civil Rights, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Good and Evil, History, Law, Politics, Religion

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Comments (59)

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  1. Vicki,

    Laudable attempt. The trouble is, this is a case of the Procrustean Bed. The bed, in this instance, is the Law, and people must be made to fit it, regardless of circumstance. No one heard the girl scream, therefore she was a willing participant and must die.

    (Yes, Erik, I know that's a simplification, but that's what it boils down to.)

    The question that gets lost in this is still, by what right does the girl get condemned in any instance? Consensual sex…well, those were the days when women were not people, they were chattel—property. If our property disobeys or does something you don't like, you get rid of it.

  2. Vicki Baker says:

    Mark, I guess I'm giving Erik the benefit of the doubt that he would be almost as horrified as you or I at the reality of Old Testament morality. I think he would not be entirely happy at forcing Elizabeth Smart (the Salt Lake City girl who was abducted from her home) to marry her molester, for example. But that is clearly what would be required by the Bible passage under discussion.

    One of the points of the scenario I described is that since the time those OT rules were laid down, we've developed the concept of statutory rape. We consider an adult male who has sex with a 14 year old to be a sex offender, regardless of how much force he used or how the girl reacted.

    I think Erik would side with modern moral reasoning on these issues rather than rules created for a much different society. However, he can't admit it, because to admit that he is using his own judgment rather than an ancient rule book would deprive him of the stick he thinks he can beat us up with.

  3. Erik Brewer says:

    • Mark Tiedemann

    In order to be truly informed on something one must do the ground work of study (claiming ignorance does not work with God). I studied the genealogies in context (cultural, historical, Biblical). Everybody has that same opportunity (especially today in the age of internet). The problem is most people do not want to do any work. They want to be spoon fed everything so they (like you) run to someone’s view on the topic, read it, and take it as “what the Bible says” without having the slightest clue what the Bible really says. Again, claiming ignorance does not work with God, especially in today’s age. Again, Doctor Luke (Gentile convert) was very well educated and knew how to research (he looked up the records/genealogies himself and wrote it out, allowing the readers to check his facts. For those who have not been gifted with education there are alternatives as well. There are others who have worked out the genealogy and again in the age of info it is not hard to find. Also, I am happy to help the “others” you refer to study the topic on their own. I see you are trying to shift the focus of the point once you cannot disprove what I wrote.

    You have your beliefs and I respect that, even if they are wrong. Respect does not mean agreeing. I do not want to change you or try to convince you, that is God’s job. Plus, if I can talk you into Christianity then someone else can come and talk you out of it, therefore I share the message and allow God to do the convincing.

    • Mike Pulcinella

    As I have said, I have studied world religions. Once I began to study the Bible and became a follower of Jesus Christ I began to see the fallacies in religions. The best way to spot something fake is to study the real thing well. When I look at the core teachings of other religions I see the fake/false, man made elements that prove the religion to be false/man-made. Truth is exclusive, there is only one, so the rest cannot be right. When you look at the others compared to the Truth the mistakes become evident.

    So, I am already settled on Christianity (Biblical Christianity) and while studying other religions I find that my choice was right.

    I am glad that you are interested in people, so is God and so am I. I study culture (by living in the culture). I have noticed that just as the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun, people are the same everywhere you go (aspects of culture are different but the fundamentals are the same).

    I do not have a façade, what you see is what you get. God wants us to be transparent and take off all of the different masks that we wear. He did that to me when I became a follower of Jesus Christ. I had a mask that I wore at school (language, actions, etc) and another mask for my parents and another for my friends and so on. I threw all of that junk away when I was born again.

    I would love to discuss anything with you (that is descent of course) but I must advise you, I cannot be separated from the Bible. It is who I am (that is something that many on this site do not understand). The Bible leads every part of my daily life; the way that I think and speak, the actions that I take, the decisions that I make, the way I treat my wife and child. It is my existence. Here some would say “what would happen if we were to take away the Bible?”. Two things, It will never pass away (cease to be) and if I do not have a physical copy I have It hidden (stored) in my heart (memorized).

    [Admin's note: These following portions of this comment constitute "preaching." These paragraphs are attempts to announce what "God" thinks or what "God" wants, as though there is no alternative viewpoint. In my opinion, such presentations are distracting to our discussions, which (though such comments might well be motivated by a commenter's religious beliefs) should be based on what commenter's themselves think. Such comments seem to invite an endless and unproductive back and forth focused on the authenticity of such claims. Further discussion of what is starkly presented as "God's" opinion, or any quotation to any religion's Sacred Literature to the extent that it is intended to be unquestionable on any ground, is subject to pruning pursuant to the commenting guidelines regarding "preaching"].

    "so is God and so am I."

    "God wants us to be transparent and take off all of the different masks that we wear. He did that to me when I became a follower of Jesus Christ."

  4. Erik Brewer says:

    • Mobius 1

    The uneducated swear (spend some time with people in the real word). It is a bit of a generalization (I realize that). But for the most part, the more vulgar the language the lower the education level (get out and meet different people and you might see that).

    Also, when a person cannot argue his point then he turns to personal attacks being very aggressive, ranting and raving (thanks Mobius for being an example for us in order to prove my point).

    I gave an answer to the geographical location question. Sorry if you did not like the answer because it was the right one.

    So now you have the power to see into my mind (interesting because God is the only One who can do that). But of course you think you know more than God anyway . . .

    God speaks on the subject of words (just transmitting the message). God can change your foul mouth (He did so for me). I am glad that you are educated (why not speak like an educated person then?). Plus, it is not nice to walk out in public and have to explain to my daughter why people use such bad language or ask what does “explicit” mean Daddy? You want to swear, do it to yourself.

    [Admin's note: The final two paragraphs of this comment constitute "preaching." These paragraphs are attempts to announce what "God" thinks or what "God" wants, as though there is no alternative viewpoint. In my opinion, such presentations are distracting to our discussions, which (though such comments might well be motivated by a commenter's religious beliefs) should be based on what commenter's themselves think. Such comments seem to invite an endless and unproductive back and forth focused on the authenticity of such claims. Further discussion of what is starkly presented as "God's" opinion, or any quotation to any passages from any religion's Sacred Literature, to the extent that those passages are intended to be unquestionable on any ground, are subject to pruning pursuant to the commenting guidelines regarding "preaching"].

  5. Erik Brewer says:

    • Vicki Baker Says:

    Concubines were condemned by God. Plus it happened among the elite of society. Your average Joe did not have concubines so please do not overstate the point. Plus look at all the problems that those who had concubines experienced because of the concubines (Abraham, David, Solomon).

    Sexual sin was a major issue in the world during the OT days (that is why God had to give the commands about sexual purity). Israel was a unique nation because God set them apart and gave them the Law for their protection. Generally speaking their morality was higher (until they were influenced by their immoral neighbors, so you see, promoting immorality is dangerous).

    Also God lays out the boundaries for sex in the very beginning (one man and one woman in marriage).

    I have more to write so do not jump the gun.

  6. Erik Brewer says:

    • Mark Tiedemann

    Sorry Mark but it plainly reads that if no one hears her scream then she is innocent and not to be punished (you are adding what is not there).

    Again you are generalizing about the times. Yes, in society as a whole, there was not equality but that does not mean that God made it that way. If you read Genesis then you will see that God created them in His image (equals before Him). When sin came into the picture man began to seek inequality. Again you try to blame God for man’s sin. Plus, the entire world treated women as property then (not that it was right but it is a fact).

    [Admin's note: Part of this comment constitute "preaching." That portion is an attempt to announce what "God" thinks or what "God" wants, as though there is no alternative viewpoint as to what God "thinks" or "wants." In my opinion, such presentations are distracting to our discussions, which (though such comments might well be motivated by a commenter's religious beliefs) should be based on what commenter's themselves think. Such comments seem to invite an endless and unproductive back and forth focused on the authenticity of such claims. Further discussion of what is starkly presented as "God's" opinion, or any quotation to any passages from any religion's Sacred Literature, to the extent that those passages are intended to be unquestionable on any ground, are subject to pruning pursuant to the commenting guidelines regarding "preaching"].

  7. Erik, thank you for your answer. I have another question. Was homosexuality one of the sins that devotion to God has helped you overcome?

  8. Erik Brewer says:

    Mike,

    You are welcome. No, I have never had a problem with homosexuality. I did struggle with sexual sin before becoming a Christian. I still battle it today but the difference is I have victory (overcome the temptation).

  9. Erik, I'm with ya there! I think we all battle with sex from time to time! I'm curious though, what do you define as "sexual sin"?

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