Tuesday, September 24, 2019

"Sorry Guys, It's Still Immoral" - A Response To CMI (part 2)

In this series of articles, I am responding to the Creation Ministries International article, 'Is The Bible An Immoral Book' by Lita Cosner.

As both the article and my replies are lengthy in nature, each post in the series will focus on each of a consecutive series of paragraphs under different headings.

After the introduction section, the first paragraph is "Misunderstanding The Old Testament".

(Note: CMI have a plethora of articles available to peruse over at https://creation.com/qa, including some which may already answer points I have made in this series. Head on over, have a read, compare both sides of the argument!)

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But now on to the particulars. The first Youtube video we'll discuss tries to criticize some Old Testament laws by envisioning a dictator who institutes four laws that are meant to be analogous to the OT laws (explained in detail below). But this comparison is flawed.

I don't know if CMI's web editor forgot to include the link to the YouTube video they are discussing, or if CMI are just being petty by refusing to even share the link.
But either way, it's very hard to know if CMI's analysis of the video they're trying to respond to is accurate because they won't tell us what video it is they're criticising!

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First, it fails to realize that the Old Testament Law is largely made up of case law—that is, it presents examples, but gives some leeway for judges to decide individual cases

I don't buy this for a second. While I don't necessarily disagree that the concept of case law is present in the Old Testament, I do disagree with the idea that case law makes up a large proportion of the Old Testament. It's there in dribs and drabs, but it requires an imaginative (re)interpretation to say the OT is '
largely made up of case law'.

As an example, it is widely believed (though subject to interpretation) that the Torah is comprised of 613 commandments that incorporate the classic 10 that make up the Ten Commandments. In light of this, there is no reasonable way you can say "it's mostly case law" when commandments from God number in the hundreds.

Second is the concept that judges (or tribal leaders) had leeway in deciding cases. Again, I won't disagree that the concept is present, but I have to say it is incredibly minimal, if ever mentioned at all. There are very few (if any) examples of people going to tribal leaders to have disputes settled or tribal leaders settling disputes. Most of the dispute settling that we explicitly see in the OT was done either by the regent of the day, the prophet of the time, or the cases went straight to God.
So in light of this, I disagree that the Old Testament society was built upon leaders using judgement based upon the concept of precedent. 

To me, it looks like Cosner is earnestly trying to inflate a concept that has scant evidence and tenuous support in order to facilitate a method of deflecting criticism, namely that of trying to make it seem that the Old Testament isn't so dissimilar to what we have in the modern West.

"What we have in modern Western society is what was also in the Old Testament. You don't hate modern Western society, do you? Then you simply can't hate the Old Testament because they're really very similar!"

No. No. A hundred times, no.

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The Mishnah (codification of oral traditions) reveals the flexibility that the Jews understood the Law to have...

Hold up - why is an author discussing Bible ethics by relying on extra-biblical texts? We are not discussing the Mishnah. We are discussing the Bible.  The article isn't "Is the Mishnah immoral?", or "Was ancient Jewish society immoral?" - the article is "Is the Bible immoral?".

If you want to defend the Bible, stick to the BibleTalk about having your cake and eating it too.
If the author wants to make a case that the entirety of the Law as given to the Jews (supposedly by God himself) was moral, then they have to discuss the entirety of that law.
We can't deflect criticism of the Bible by saying that the Mishnah gave Jewish societal leaders flexibility - this only says that the Jewish society of the time allowed flexibility and interpretation in to how they made decisions.

But all this opens up two gaping holes that Christian apologists will soon sink in to:

1. Christians will hide behind the Mishnah when it suits them (e.g. like this author when they're trying to defend the Old Testament), but then completely ignore its value or its existence (or even regard it as heretical) any other time.

For example, one of my previous posts Five Uncomfortable Facts - Part 2 showed that the Mishnah (as well as other non-Biblical Jewish texts) state things that fly directly in the face of the Christian anti-abortion narrative, such as that a child does not have any rights to life or personhood until it is halfway down the birth canal, or that a foetus is nothing but water for the first 40 days after conception.

So to me, it is intellectually dishonest for Christians to hide behind the Mishnah when it says something they agree with, then conveniently forget (or even oppose) the Mishnah at other times.

2. By stating that it was the Mishnah that clarified the Jewish law, Cosner is admitting that the Old Testament is incomplete.
If God's perfect, holy and inerrant word needs subsequent sets of texts to give it interpretation (and to deflect criticism), then it's not perfect, holy or inerrant.

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For instance, they didn’t understand ‘eye for eye’ to mandate literally gouging out eyes and knocking out teeth—they instead understood it to teach the general principle of proportional punishment. It was actually a limitation of private vendettas, so a huge advance over other law codes that might command ‘life for eye’.

And this highlights yet more problems for those who take a literalist interpretation of the Bible.

It is simply and plainly intellectually dishonest to live and die by a plain and literal English reading of the Bible (Do the words "The Bible says in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. There are no two ways about it!" sound familiar?), then turn around and tell us that 'eye for an eye' or 'tooth for a tooth' didn't really mean to gouge out the eyes or to pull out the teeth of transgressors.

Which leads to the question: when and how do Christians decide when to take the English reading of the Bible literally, at face value, and when not to? When it gets uncomfortable? When they can hold up a Mishnah or one of the Talmuds as a shield?

But this gets even more uncomfortable because we see that 'eye for an eye' wasn't based on case law - it was a direct commandment from God.

Leviticus 24:17-22 (ESV, emphasis added):
“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal's life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the Lord your God.(emphasis added)

"For I am the Lord your God"? This indicates a direct commandment - not case law. Where does it say that a direct commandment from the creator of the universe could be relegated to flexible case law? Does that mean any and every commandment from God can be reinterpreted to mean something that we don't want the plain literal reading of the text to when it gets uncomfortable?

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Furthermore, as pointed out in the above linked article, Deuteronomy is a suzerain-vassal treaty between God and Israel. 

I'm cool with the whole suzerain-vassal treaty thing - except that I'm not.


To understand why, let me take you through a hypothetical - I hold a loaded gun to your head and tell you to hand me your wallet. Could I then say to the cops or to the judge that you gave me your wallet of your own free-will, thus I am free of blame or guilt? If your answer is no, then congratulations, you're one step closer to realising that God is a mob boss.

So did the Israelites have any reasonable option to say no to the suzerain-vassal treaty? Did they have any negotiating power? Did they truly have free-will to enter into the treaty in question?
If God asks you a question, wants an answer on the spot, and you know this God has a history of killing people who give the wrong answer, then you cannot honestly say that the Israelites agreed willingly and wholeheartedly to this treaty of their own free-will. It's exactly the mob boss or the robbery at gunpoint analogy.


To back up my case and show you how God reacts when things don't go his way:

In Numbers 11:4-35, God became angry with the people who wanted to go back to Egypt because they wanted to go back - so God had them killed.


In Numbers 14:36-38, God killed the ten spies who gave the bad report on the spot (by plague) because they gave a bad report.

In Numbers 11:1-3, God kills people simply for complaining.

You can't claim to give people free-will when you keep killing the people who don't do what you want, then hang it over the head of the others as a threat.
Any defence of theology that requires you to ignore this is not an honest and rational defence.


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Those who are not signatories to this treaty are not bound to many of the conditions which were specific for that time, and designed to prepare the Messianic People for the coming Messiah.

Woah woah woah! The OT was only for Israel and only until the Messiah came? Is this an admission that the Old Testament no longer applies? If it no longer applies, why are things like homosexuality, cross-dressing, adultery and bestiality still considered sin? 

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So it seems that some Christians, in particular Biblical literalists, want the Old Testament to apply - except when they don't want it to.

On top of that, to defend the Bible they will reach out to other texts and traditions that they either steadfastly ignore or consider corrupted.

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In the next post, I will tackle the paragraph headed "Was Sabbath Keeping Serious?".

Until next time, stay rational and healthy!

-Damien

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