Thursday, March 17, 2005

Perfectly Put:

In the comments section for this post on In the Agora, Jason Kuznicki responds in a way too perfect to let sit there to a poster who argues that "The Bibe is the best guide that any society can have to establish law." So let's prominently feature the comment here.


It seems you're way out of your depth when you talk about the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries too. In fact, you don't even know your Bible.

The tradition of individual rights from which we now benefit is a creation--at the earliest--of the English Civil War, in which the major religious authorities generally preferred one form of despotism or another (though they did fight viciously to determine which kind it would be).

During that era, only a small minority of freethinkers gave newer, more liberal (!) interpretations to the Bible, allowing it to be read in the fashion that most people now do. The American founders drew heavily on this liberal religious tradition--but biblical exegesis has not always been this way. While the American founders were influenced by the Bible, it is a gross historical error to conclude that Biblical times enjoyed the same freedoms that the founders sought to enact.

For example, the quote on the liberty bell falls laughably short of establishing a system of government. It did no such thing in the Bible. Liberty in that context meant freedom from slavery--for some people. (The institution of slavery continued, however. And at no point did this verse grant individual rights of the type that we mean today.

To prove my point, consider the Bible itself.

Where within it can we find the principle of freedom of expression? You may find a sound bite here or there that seems a little bit like it, but the laws against blasphemy were rather strict during the entire span of the Bible's history--as Jesus Christ himself discovered.

How about freedom of religion? There's not even a trace to be found. Those who practice other religions are to be killed or made slaves, but preferably the first, so that they don't contaminate the chosen people.

Where, in this freedom-loving book, do we find the right to a trial by jury? Or freedom from unreasonable search? Or the right to bear arms? Where is there the idea of representative democracy? How about the idea that the people are sovereign?

What about abolition of slavery? The slavery practiced in the Bible may not have been so bad as most, but clearly slavery flourished throughout the Old and New Testaments (Paul even recommends that Christian slaves remain as slaves rather than rising up--a verse that the South later used to support chattel slavery in America).

How about women's rights? Women are systematically excluded from leadership roles in both testaments. They are treated as more unclean, as less objectively valuable than men, and as outright property in several instances. Perhaps a religion may do this if it likes--but a civil government may not.

There is only one place in the Bible where an explicit system of government is established, and this is the bloodthirsty theocracy found in the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Kings, and Chronicles. (Judges is an interesting anomaly, though it's very vague about what sort of government actually existed.)

But I suppose so long as it says--in one single place--"Proclaim liberty throughout the land," that you may give whatever meaning you wish to this verse, strip it of all historical context, declare victory, and use the rest of your comment to repeat the tired old put-downs you heard on FreeRepublic.

Fine with me. It only demonstrates your near-perfect ignorance--even of the Bible that you claim to love. A more thoughtful Christian would concede that we've learned about freedom slowly, over time, and that most of our civil liberties can't be found in the Bible, a book whose main benefit lies within the soul of the believer--not as a manual for government. Even mainstream conservative Churches have come to this understanding (witness the Catholics, for one, who were understandably hostile toward democracy when the French Revolution came, but who have lately stood up to communism quite admirably and defended the cause of human freedom).

But your way is typical, I suppose, of an entire generation of politically-involved people in the United States, who have been raised to view Ann Coulter as the best of the right and Ted Rall as the best of the left. All it takes is a single sound bite to convince such people that their preferred beliefs were right all along; sustained, thoughtful analysis escapes them, and for them all nuance is a sign of pure weakness. For people like these, that a belief be steadfast is far more important than that it be well-considered or well-argued. And, although I do not say it lightly, this is the intellectual origin of fascism.

Politics now becomes an exercise in shouting and making up mean names (for which you can arguably find justifications in the Bible, provided that you go by the letter of the book, although it does seem rather contrary to the spirit). I will have none of it.

I may not be a Christian, but I am certainly a better Christian than this. Goodbye, Sirc. I no longer consider your deranged ravings to be worth my time.


Rice Rockette said...

what happened to justice

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