Friday, September 01, 2006

Parableman Stops By:

Parableman Jeremy Pierce (who has great taste in music) leaves a thoughtful comment on my post about Heather Mac Donald and Hermeneutics. He writes:

Paul makes statements to slaves about what their life should look like given that they are slaves and can't do anything about it. That doesn't constitute endorsement of slavery. That Paul tells slaves how to influence those around them by serving those they are slavery to does not mean that he thinks it's morally ok to own those slaves. It's just that what he says to all Christians (to serve others) applies when you happen to be a slave as well. The only place he addresses a slaveowner is in Philemon, where he strongly implies that Philemon should set Onesimus free as his brother in Christ but thinks it will only be a righteous act if Philemon sees why he should do it and thus doesn't command it outright.

I think the slavery issues is more complicated than that, though, and presenting the Bible as simply endorsing slavery without getting into exactly what kind of slavery it's endorsing seems way too quick to me. I've written about this before, so I'll just point you there.

On the more general issue, I don't see why inerrantists have to be seen as minimizing passages arbitrarily to make sense of others. Whether it is arbitrary depends on whether there is a plausible contextual limitation on the passage in question. Boswell has few supporters on his contextual limitations of what seem otherwise to be very clear statements. On the other hand, the New Testament very clearly defines the new covenant in such a way that any sense of a Christian nation with laws based on God's law for the old covenant people is just nuts.

There are difficulties in how to put together old covenant and new covenant teachings if all scripture is supposed to be fulfilled in Jesus, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. But that doesn't mean that all such ways of putting them together are incoherent. I'll give you one other link for an example of how I've put together some of these issues, including homosexuality, that I don't think involves any arbitrariness is which parts of scripture are interpreting other parts.

I tend to agree with you on revolutions, by the way. I think the Christians involved with the American revolution were violating the clear teachings of scripture. I can't see how a Christian who follows the Sermon on the Mount could endorse such a thing.

Finally, I do want to say one thing about the Phelps/Rankin issue. Phelps is right insofar as there are some (but few) biblical passages that involve someone hating a person for the person's sin. This occurs in one psalm, and there is that nice "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" that occurs once in the OT and once in Romans. But I'm not convinced at all that the kind of hate in mind is contradictory with love. We see love and hate as mutually exclusive, but I'm not sure the Hebrew mindset worked that way. The Jacob/Esau bit was clearly not about just some inner attitude but was about how God was disposed to act toward Jacob and Esau. The kind of love that wasn't involved was love that chooses someone to provide for and lead. That doesn't mean there wasn't the kind of love that appreciates the goodness of the creation, the image of God, and so on among those God loves in general. Hating someone in the former sense and loving someone in the latter sense could then coexist.

So I'd say that Rankin is right in terms of how he uses the terms for love and hate, and Phelps is thus wrong. But Rankin ought to say something different about the biblical texts to arrive at this view, and he does seem to dismiss hate language too quickly.

Regarding the slavery issue, I think it's an "at best, at worst" scenario. At worst, one could read the Biblical passages as explicitly endorsing slavery -- that is the practice of people owning other people. At best, one could say that the Bible simply recognizes the social institution without endorsing it. But the Bible still does not abolish or forbid slavery. This is no small issue to confront if one is to claim seriously that the Bible is *the* book in which we ought to comprehensively derive our moral system. As Ed Brayton pointed out:

This is one of the primary reasons why I can no longer accept the Bible as the word of God, as I once did. It makes no sense that God could have found the time or interest to inspire men to pass on his commandments regarding the most mundane of things - whether to cut one's hair, whether to wear mixed fabrics, how to dress, and so forth - yet never does he bother to say "don't own slaves". And this even when he had the perfect opportunity to do so when the events regarding Philemon present themselves to Paul. If God was indeed inspring Paul to write, why on earth would he not have Paul condemn slavery as contrary to the teachings of Christ? It simply makes no sense, nor do any of the apologetic rationalizations for it.


Anonymous said...

Brayton's point is similar to mine. One would think the Decalogue would have a proscription against "harm to others." The only tangible harms identified are deception, theft, and murder -- not a particularly extensive list. Adultery is prohibited (while polygamy sanctioned) because women are men's chattel, and the tenth commandment is against covetousness, not particularly high on my list of social ills. The commandment to obey parents seems a tad bit absurd, especially if a a child is commanded by a parent to do one of the above crimes. Indeed, a son's disobedience may justify the parents and elders stoning him to death (Deu. 21:18ff), a rather radical and disporpotionate punishment, even for a patriarchical community.

And Yahweh makes known that one's financial prosperity is a measure of his favor (Deu. 8:18), which is directly at odds with Jesus's gospel (passim), but makes Calvin's work ethic quite viable. Paul's tacit approval of slavery comports with with numerous O.T. passages. Barring "those of an illicit union" and their progeny to the tenth generation visits wrath on the victim, not the perpetrators (Deu. 23:2), which is a gross injustice for a "just" being. Aliens are barred from the Israelite community (opposite of Jesus), but then the community is told to support "resident aliens, orphans, and widows" (Deu. 14:29), kind of what we'd call a "mixed message."

This Yahweh proscribes consumption of certain foods and combinations of foods (passim), but Jesus proclaims it's not what goes in a person, but what comes out that matters. And if Yahweh proclaims his creation "good," why the strict dietary codes barring consumption? And a deity who has affection for a solitary tribe of the Middle East (Deu. 10:15), while approving the slaughter of everyone else, cannot be the same "God of Love" that John talks about (1 jn 4:15b). Yet Jesus insists he and the Father are one, so go figure.

The Psalmist says "the boastful will not stand before Yahweh's eyes, who hates evidoers, who destroys those who speak lies, and abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful" (Ps 5:5f). Indeed, the Psalmist prays for Yahweh to avert his anger, wrath, indignation, derision, contempt, jealousy, etc. (e.g., Ps. 78), while killing the infidel. This Yahweh seems to have a very odd emotional disorder, a rather arbitrary preference for a backward nomadic tribe, and then contradicts everything prior by becoming incarnate.

The Psalmist says, "the fool says in their hearts, 'There is no God'" (Ps. 14:1). I say anyone who has Yahweh for a god really is a fool.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Jon, I think that's a theological and historical argument that doesn't make use of the tools of theology or even history. The literalist view of Christianity is pretty easy to pick off, not so easy is the evolutionary view, starting with the Torah (which is certainly problematic in itself).

In short, the Torah's understanding of man and G-d grows as it goes on. It was not written in one go. Others are the bad guys at first, but the later prophets focus on Israel's own iniquities, and in fact they're delivered into slavery in Babylon as punishment for them.

And the New Testament was not about a Kingdom of this world, of toppling the Romans and changing the existing political order.

Now Luther's view of sola scriptura, that the Scriptures are the be all and end all, might accommodate a view that Jesus should have proscribed slavery, but you'll find the modern conception of human rights developed if not initiated in Aquinas, who predates Luther by a couple hundred years. (Which dovetails with arguments that the D of I has philosophically Christian origins.) Man's understanding of the divine vibe grows.

And neither is ancient slavery the self-evident violation of human rights it would be today. Enslaving your defeated foes was still more merciful than annihilating them. A more perilous argument, but since slavery appears in virtually every culture of mankind, we cannot say it was a cultural aberration (that's to say, capriciously inconsistent with man's nature), or that it would be consistent with Jesus to have initiated something like the American Civil War and its half a million dead.

Anonymous said...

Non-sequitir: A does not follow from B.

Aquinas did proscribe slavery, but approved of feudalism, which to most minds is an equivalence. He also approved of the poor stealing from the rich. He also approved of the divine right of kings, but I don't see either a rejection of slavery, sactions of the poor stealing from the wealthy, or the statement of the divine right of kings in the D of I. So how did Christianity, particularly Aquinas's brand of Christianity, enter into the D of I? Surreptitiously, in the noesis of a casuist, perhaps, but not overtly in any intelligible sense.

Next, someone will propose that Aquinas's natural law is the same as Suarez's natural law as Locke's natural law as Newton's natural law as Strauss's natural rights, and they are all in the D of I. But I don't see "natural law" anywhere in any founding document, anymore than I see a single "Christian" notion in any founding text. One would think "God is Love," if any biblical or Christian notion was to enter, would be central. Nope. Nada. Maybe the non-sequitir can be unpacked by van Dyke, but not by any means I know.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Neither Aquinas nor Suarez embraced a divine right of kings: both rested sovereignty with the people. As a polemicist, you learn just enough about your targets to appear to know what you're talking about. But unfortunately you do not. Your readings of the Bible are shallow and ignorant, willful or otherwise, of those passages that contradict your screeds. And you do not separate the Christian philosophical tradition from the dogmatic, as Thomas explicitly does with his notions of general and special revelation. By the time Locke, et al. got rolling, the political philosophy of the medievals had already been absorbed into the philosophical tradition. Sequitur.

And it's "Tom," or Mr. Van Dyke, with a capital "v", thank you.