A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible

A nonbeliever's SECOND reading of the Bible
Hunc tu caveto.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Destroying Altars


Okay, I was a bit misleading last time. Yahweh doesn't ask the Israelites to drink the blood of animals, rather he asks them to a) sacrifice an animal, b) pour the blood out all over the altar, and then c) eat the flesh. Satan probably wasn't invented yet, but Satanists (the devil worshipping kind, not the 'atheist' kind) today might recognize the ritual as one of their own.

Moses also instructs the Israelites to go out and completely destroy the altars and groves of the nations surrounding them. He's basically trying to shore up Yahweh as the only god for the Israelites. This violent backlach against other religions suggests that these other religions were a bit of a problem for the budding Yahwists. It seems feasible at least that at least a few Israelites were a little too interested in the religions of their neighbors, and the political infrastructure of Israelite society wanted to stop this curiosity.

In the words of Moses (Deuteronomy 12:30), "Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise."

Moses then brings up the human sacrifices of their neighbors as a reason not to follow them. Which is odd, because this is the same society that has no problem executing disobedient sons, women who had sex before their wedding day, and killing the children of the nations they conquer (or should I say, "happily dashes the little ones on the rocks?).

I'm getting this weird picture here. And it goes soundly with the principle that "History is written by the conquerors." The Israelites were a sort of rogue militaristic nation amongst many other similarly cultured Sumerian/Canaanite nations. It was the Israelites who had the strongest drive to go out and conquer their enemies. These other nations didn't put up a very good resistance either.

Some might say it's because Yahweh was on their side. I'd have to disagree. It might've 'seemed' like Yahweh on their side, in the same sense finding an empty parking space in front of Walmart might seem like God reserved it just for you. But I think the Israelites were just a lot more organized then their neighbors. They had a great propaganda machine going on. And they probably had a charismatic leader. Then again, it's also quite likely that a lot of this is early stuff about Israel is legend. Many scholars don't even think Moses was real; but I'm sure that some cult leader was responsible for the upstart religion/nation.

A lot of what is said in the Book of Numbers and most of the Pentateuch isn't supported by archaeology, either. The places might correspond, but the events as they are recorded in the Bible don't match up (like millions of people wandering the wilderness).

Anyways, the Israelites continue to have problems with other religions until the later 'reformist' kings begin their rule. Right now, Deuteronomy is trying to describe a time when the Israelites were just getting a foothold in the region.

Next time, we'll discuss why Yahweh nor the Israelites would not have liked John Lennon much.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Andrew said on 1-29-10:
"Even if I'm trying to be sympathetic to these guys in the Old Testament, I can't. It's just so easy to see through their facade. This is really just politics of fear. "If you're not with us; you're against us."

But that's cool, I have read this in the past, but not as critical. Now, as I read the Bible I am increasingly amazed that people think this is the "greatest book of all time," especially when it is most emphatically NOT. Shakespeare is better than this. Hell, reading Hegel's ramblings on the Zeitgeist is better than this!"

To have a converstaion in this format is difficult. You asked where you used the term "facade." Here it is, in this quote. I asked you to explain where you find an attpempted deception in this passage. You haven't done that yet.

I don't buy your argument that modern countries don't use overwhelming force and fear to get their way. They do. Perhaps you personally have not ever been on the receiving end of government coercion. Perhaps that is why you don't seem to be fully aware of the huge police/military apparatus all governments use to get acheive their way.

Your statement that the Bible is not the greatest book can only be considered a statement of objective fact, if we are limiting our discussion to your state of mind. Perhaps your statement will be persuasive for people who are willing to accept your opinion as sufficient evidence to determine the value of a book. People who look for objective evidence will ask for more.

Dennis

Anonymous said...

On 2-3-10 Andrew said:
"Moses then brings up the human sacrifices of their neighbors as a reason not to follow them. Which is odd, because this is the same society that has no problem executing disobedient sons, women who had sex before their wedding day, and killing the children of the nations they conquer (or should I say, "happily dashes the little ones on the rocks?)."

I disagree with your implication that banishing human sacrifices is no big deal. Banishing human sacrifices is a great milestone in human moral development. It provides an important foundation upon which the Jewish people could build their moral edifice. The violence of war is not equivalent to violence against peaceful citizens perpetrated in the name of God. We reject the Nazis because of the holocaust. However, in WWII we probably killed as many or more people as did the Nazis. The difference is that we killed people who were actively trying to destroy us. The Nazis also killed during war without crossing the line. When they turned their killing machine on innocent civilians, they rightly became a moral pariah.


Andrew said:
"...Then again, it's also quite likely that a lot of this is early stuff about Israel is legend. Many scholars don't even think Moses was real; but I'm sure that some cult leader was responsible for the upstart religion/nation.

A lot of what is said in the Book of Numbers and most of the Pentateuch isn't supported by archaeology, either. The places might correspond, but the events as they are recorded in the Bible don't match up (like millions of people wandering the wilderness)."

Overall, I tend to agree with you here, but with a note of caution. I'm not sure how much we can rely on the missing evidence from archaeology. That being said, I am inclined to agree with you that later records, at least as we understand them, probably exaggerate the size and the violence involved in the development of the Israelite nation. If one takes the records of violent confrontation over hundreds of years and condenses them into a short narrative, it distorts the picture. Based on their research, some archaeologists even postulate that the Israelites were mostly indigenous Caananites rather than invaders from outside.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Thanks for your response, Dennis. It is difficult to spread the conversation over different posts. So, I apologize for the confusion, and we can keep the conversation here.

I did respond to that question you asked earlier, with this (it's in the post where you quoted me from): "Ok Dennis, I see where you got it from. This post.

My impression is that there is a political elite who is using this newly established religion to control the Israelites.

They seem to be having a continuous problem with people going off and worshiping other gods. And doing so undermines their attempts to establish this new Israelite society."

You also said you don't buy my argument that modern countries don't use overwhelming force. I don't think I was making an argument against using overwhelming force. I understand the necessity of using military action.

But that point is difficult for me to address because I'm not too sure where you got this from. Was it implied in what was written?

As for banishing human sacrifices, that's great that the Israelites did that and were able to catch up with philosophies that had already deemed human sacrifice as immoral.

Besides, the point that I think you're making is a strange one. It almost sounds like you're saying that the surrounding population of Canaanites were soooo bad that it was actually an improvement to come up with a coherent list to kill your neighbor.

The Bible is used as a guide for morality. Yet, in it we are faced with such utter barbarism that nowadays we ignore lots of its advice on how to treat rebellious children or people who are different than us. Why do we ignore these passages? Because it's moral to do so. Right?

Since truth is something that withstands the test of time, and since much of the morality in the Bible has NOT withstood the test of time; it's only logical for me to conclude, objectively, that the Bible is not the greatest book ever written because it doesn't serve its purpose. And on top of that, it's full of scientific inaccuracies, and even some obvious historical ones.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"My impression is that there is a political elite who is using this newly established religion to control the Israelites.

They seem to be having a continuous problem with people going off and worshiping other gods. And doing so undermines their attempts to establish this new Israelite society."

It seems reasonable that there is an element of control in the Old Testament. It is impossible to maintain a society without some control from the ruling class. I don't see any reason to criticize the Israelites for doing what every other successful society has done.

Obviously, Israel had a problem with people straying into polytheism. For a monotheist, that is not a good thing. Why shouldn't the authors of the Bible remonstrate against those who strayed?

Andrew said:
"As for banishing human sacrifices, that's great that the Israelites did that and were able to catch up with philosophies that had already deemed human sacrifice as immoral."

I believe you are assuming facts which have not been established. Obviously, if people in the Levant had long since given up human sacrifices, as you imply, the Bible authors wouldn't have bothered condemning them. The strong moral condemnation against human sacrifices was and is an important product of ethical monotheism which can not be so readily dismissed.

"Besides, the point that I think you're making is a strange one. It almost sounds like you're saying that the surrounding population of Canaanites were soooo bad that it was actually an improvement to come up with a coherent list to kill your neighbor."

What do you mean by that? I don't remember making any value judgments against the Canaanites. I believe what I said is that most of the Israelites were probably Canaanites themselves.

If we want to evaluate these passages objectively, we have to begin with reasonable expectations for the Israelites. I am unaware of any society which has managed to survive without going to war to defend themselves and their culture. War is violent. People get killed in war. The Israelites lived in a very dangerous neighborhood and gloried in their ability to wage war successfully.

Are you prepared to extend your criticism to the philosphers and religious thinkers in Western Society who have worked out rules for a just war. Aren't they also making up rules to "justify killing their neighbors"? Is that what you are getting at?

Andrew said:
"Since truth is something that withstands the test of time, and since much of the morality in the Bible has NOT withstood the test of time; it's only logical for me to conclude, objectively, that the Bible is not the greatest book ever written because it doesn't serve its purpose. And on top of that, it's full of scientific inaccuracies, and even some obvious historical ones."

Since you have a degree in pilosophy, perhaps you can educate me on this point. Upon what factual basis do you propose to support your claim that "the morality in the Bible has NOT withstood the test of time"? In order to judge the morality in the Bible, you must have a moral code, completely independent from the Bible, which you can use to critique the Bible. To establish your argument on a firm logical basis, you also have to prove that your moral code is better. Are you prepared to do that? Perhaps you prefer Neitzsche's morality? Marx? Plato? Darwin? Hinduism? Shintoism?

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

You said, "I don't see any reason to criticize the Israelites for doing what every other successful society has done."

I'm not complaining about war. As I said before, I'm not concerned about war here. To clarify further, I'm only concerned with truth and I'm merely explaining to my 4 or 5 readers the reasons for why the Israelites were so intolerant of polytheists.

You also said you didn't understand me when I said: "It almost sounds like you're saying that the surrounding population of Canaanites were soooo bad that it was actually an improvement to come up with a coherent list to kill your neighbor."

I was basically clarifying what you were saying, that since all the surrounding nations and the other Canaanites were practicing human sacrifice, that the creation of the rules of Leviticus (a coherent list of reasons to kill your neighbor) was an improvement over the general barbarity of the time. That's what you were saying, and I thought it was odd.

I can prove that morality is independent of the Bible, which is something that you seem to be implying when you say: "In order to judge the morality in the Bible, you must have a moral code, completely independent from the Bible, which you can use to critique the Bible."

The morality of the Bible, like killing your wife on her father's doorstep if she wasn't a virgin on your wedding day (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), is ignored today precisely because morality is separate from the Bible. This should be evident to anyone.

The morality that allows me to reject Deuteronomy 22:20-21, but appreciate a statement like "love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), is a product of thousands of years of secular dialogue (conversations between theist and nontheist philosophers).

What morality are you using when you choose which Biblical verse is moral? Does it come from the Bible, or does it come from within your own mind?

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I can prove that morality is independent of the Bible, which is something that you seem to be implying when you say: "In order to judge the morality in the Bible, you must have a moral code, completely independent from the Bible, which you can use to critique the Bible"

I actually asked you upon what moral platform you are judging the morality in the Bible? To be sure my question was clear, I gave you a list of possible sources for your alternative moral system. I'm still puzzled. Do you base your moral pronouncements on a rational alternative to the Judeo-Christian moral system? If so, what system are you using?

Andrew said:
"The morality of the Bible, like killing your wife on her father's doorstep if she wasn't a virgin on your wedding day (Deuteronomy 22:20-21), is ignored today precisely because morality is separate from the Bible. This should be evident to anyone."

Andrew, your argument that "this should be evident to anyone" appears to be an appeal to self evident truth. Unfortunately, there are millions of rational people who still believe that it is a moral imperative to stone women who have committed adultry. They don't buy what you consider self evident truth. If you were talking to them, what would you say to them about their alternative moral system?

Andrew asked:
"What morality are you using when you choose which Biblical verse is moral? Does it come from the Bible, or does it come from within your own mind?"

My own moral belief system comes from the Bible. I accept the Biblical believe that there is one God who cares about how we treat other individuals within His creation. Furthermore, I believe in progressive revelation. That means that the laws of Moses are not an infallible moral guide in themselves. Instead, they do contain fundamental truths which serve as the foundation upon which further Biblical theology is based. These fundamental truths are often unspoken assumptions which underly all Biblical theology. I also believe that to properly understand the Bible, it is necessary to place every passage in its proper historical context, including the discoveries of archaeology.

Andrew P. said...

The moral platform that I'm using is the same one that we all use; an amalgation of instinct and culture. At its most basic level, it's the same thing that prevents ants from killing each other; and a little bit closer to home, it's what causes all the intriguing politics of sex and power within ape communities.

But moreso than apes, we humans who happen to live in the developed world subscribe to a morality that has evolved after thousands of years of dialogue by people.

Morality didn't stop at the Bible, and I think you agree with me when you say: "I believe in progressive revelation."

You're right.

It might be a lame definition, but I define 'truth' as 'that which remains true over all time and space.'

With about 2000 years of hindsight, we see that the passages in the Bible that we use to justify morality are becoming fewer and fewer. We see that lots of the stuff passed as 'morality' isn't moral at all. As moral statements, they are false.

The passage of time has laid bare only those moral insights that are 'true'. For example, back in Biblical times it was perfectly acceptable to own slaves, treat women as second class citizens, murder a rebellious child (or other tribes' children), and and execute people for not calling God by the right name. Nowadays, those are all signs of insanity.

The same process of exposing 'true morality' is seen in any ancient religion.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"The moral platform that I'm using is the same one that we all use; an amalgation of instinct and culture. At its most basic level, it's the same thing that prevents ants from killing each other; and a little bit closer to home, it's what causes all the intriguing politics of sex and power within ape communities"

"Instinct," "ants," "apes" are all examples of evolutionary sociobiology. I agree with you that any moral system must start with the evolutionary impertive for the culture to survive. This is exactly what we find in the books of Moses, the survival of the fittest. From the standpoint of Darwinism, I see no basis to criticize a group struggling to survive. What is more in keeping with the edicts of Darwins than to completely wipe out competing groups which threaten your own surivial. Also, the imperative to severely punish adulteresses is instinctual. Most men don't want to spend their precious resources raising the children of other man conceived through adultery. To insure this doesn't happen, it is essential to scare the women so much that they won't even think of straying. This is why many societies, today, still publicly kill adultresses. The religion simply codifies what evolution has already established.

I think what passes for modern scholarship (sociology, anthropology, etc.) is to a large extent a rebellion against the harsh dictates of evolution. In many ways, modern society is at war with science. For example, it turns out that Margaret Mead's anthropological "rearch" which largely lead to the sexual revolution is based on a hoax.

If you do decide to use Darwinism as a basis to critique the laws of Moses, that will be a very interesting study. However, I suspect you will find little in Moses laws to criticize. Do you want to try? I'm interested in the results.

Western culture is so infused with the Judeo-Christian morality, that I don't see how you could possibly use culture as a basis to reject Biblical morality. It would be like asking the Bible to reject itself. This is expecially in the United States.

In the past 250 years or so, there have been some outside additions to the Christian culture which are still untested at best. The French version of the Enlightenment tried to break away from Christian morality but had to turn back after the Reign of Terror. Marxism is supposed to serve as an atheistic philosophical substitute for traditional Western morality, but it has been very destructive. The Marxists have killed approximately 100 million people so far and still counting. Even Marxism light, which modern thinkers are drawn to, ends up ruining a society. This is inevitable with any moral system which ignores evolution. It is very likely that socialist European society is now in a death spiral with Islam. Islam is a more robust moral system (from the Darwinian perspective) in which, often, adulterous women are stoned.

I appreciate your answer, but for the reasons I have outlined, I still don't understand where you are coming from. For my sake, would it be too much to ask for you to start from the beginning and explain, apart from the Bible, how you know that there is such a thing as morality, and how you know your morality is better than other people's morality? What would you say to the hundreds of millions of people who still believe they should stone women who commit adultery? I know
they exist, I have talked to them. What would you say to them?

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Andrew,

I hope you understand that my comments and questions are not hostile. I'm seriously attempting to elicit informatin from you. Since you have a degree in philosophy, these questions can't possibly be a surprise.

I am attracted to your project because you are attempting to reevaluate the Biblical story from the perspective of a trained thinker. I hope my questins haven't derailed your project. I an seriously curious about how the laws of Moses stack up with sociobiology. As I said in my previous post, I suspect that the laws of Moses agree almost exactly with what one would expect from the scientific laws of nature.

What do you think?

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Apart from the Bible, I know that morality exists because we can pick up a book like the Bible and see which parts are immoral and which are not. That’s the same reason why I can say morality is separate from the Bible.

If I was to speak to one of those individuals who think it’s okay to stone women who commit adultery, I’d tell them they are wrong because the punishment does not fit the crime, and it’s especially wrong because a woman isn’t merely property or secondary to men. As fellow humans, women must enjoy the same political rights as a man.

My main contention with your statement is your equivocating “Christian morality” with what I would call “western morality”. I can’t let you get away with calling western morality “Christian morality”. Christian morality, to me, is only relegated to following the teachings of Jesus. True, western morality may have begun from Christian origins; but we do not follow many of the tenets of Jesus. And that’s because there’s serious flaws with his teachings.

Jesus touched on some great things that have been understood by multiple people throughout time, evem before him. “Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you” is a great example of a moral statement from Jesus that has been reiterated in some form by Confucius, the Buddha, and other moral philosophers. But then again, Jesus didn’t have a second thought about slavery; he thought that we should sell or give away ALL of our belongings before we follow him; and he taught that when struck, we should turn the other cheek. He also said we should hate our families.

Most Christians go around all this by not following Jesus’ morality (which would mean they’d have to give away property and alienate their family), and instead follow the words of Paul. Either way, ‘Christian morality’ is hardly a viable option in western culture.

Instead, what we have today is a morality that is the result of thousands of years of dialogue. Today, women are more politically equal to men then ever; slavery has been abolished; and we have a society that is mixed with capitalism, socialism, libertarianism, and a democratic republic; all of which wouldn’t be possible under a system based purely on ‘Christian morality’. So you see, morality isn’t ‘Christian’; it’s natural and it’s further defined by human ideas and concepts. The origin of western morality may have started with something akin to your ‘Christian morality’, but it’s not the same thing. Likewise, we humans may trace our origins to single-celled organisms; but we're not the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:

"Apart from the Bible, I know that morality exists because we can pick up a book like the Bible and see which parts are immoral and which are not. That’s the same reason why I can say morality is separate from the Bible."

If I understand your answer, you are certain that morality exists because you have had personal experiences which you interpret as morality. Obviously, no one can argue against the fact that you have had personal experiences. If your definition of morality is your personal experience, then for you morality exists. From this definition, it follows that private personal experience is the sole standard of morality, and that there are as many moral systems as there are people alive? (sociopaths excluded).

In this case, my morality is whatever I believe is moral, and your morality is based on your own feelings. So if you say the laws of Moses were wrong, for you they are wrong. If I say that they were good, then for me they are good. See, we are both right!

Other than your own personal experience of moraltiy, (which you acquired in the setting of a Christian environment), do you have any evidence to indicate that there is a universal human trait which we would recognize as morality?

Andrew said:
"My main contention with your statement is your equivocating “Christian morality” with what I would call “western morality”. I can’t let you get away with calling western morality “Christian morality”. Christian morality, to me, is only relegated to following the teachings of Jesus. True, western morality may have begun from Christian origins; but we do not follow many of the tenets of Jesus. And that’s because there’s serious flaws with his teachings."

Let me clarify my thoughts here. Although my remarks could be misunderstood, I do not believe that Western Civilization comes exclusively from the Bible. Traditional Christian theology has a strong Greek philosophical tradition. In addition, Christianity was founded in the Roman Empire, and is heavily influenced by ancient Roman culture. The guiding principles which have determined how Greek and Roman culture have been integrated into Traditional Western Civilization is the Bible. The basic assumptions about human worth and morality are rooted in Biblical theology.

In the paragraph I quoted above, you are willing to admit that traditional Western morality has "Christian origins". That should be sufficient for our discussion. To logically make your case, that you have found a moral platform which is capable of overthrowing Biblical morality, you must be able to define a moraly system which is completely separate from any possible Biblical origins.

The only way that I can envision a successful attempt to overthrow Christian morality by using a moral system which has Biblical origins, is if you are limiting yourself to a demonstration of inconsistencies in the Bible. That is one way to help people who are trapped in circular reasoning escape their mental trap. Perhaps that is what you are attempting to do here? Is it possible that you are not trying to present a better morality, but are simply saying Christian morality is inconsistent? That would work for those people who are using circular logic. But if your claim is that you have something better, then you will have to establish a completely new moral system, completely independant from Christian morality, to replace the supposedly defective Christian morality.

Anonymous said...

Andrew answered:
"If I was to speak to one of those individuals who think it’s okay to stone women who commit adultery, I’d tell them they are wrong because the punishment does not fit the crime, and it’s especially wrong because a woman isn’t merely property or secondary to men. As fellow humans, women must enjoy the same political rights as a man."

Since I have talked to them, I will try to respond as they would. My apologies to any Muslims if I don't get things quite right, I'm doing my best.

Muslims don't accept your premis that they have demeaned women. They would probably begin, first, by telling you that, of course, they know that women are people. Women benefit from an ordered society just as much as do men. Besides, men are sometimes killed for adultery also.

The Muslims would then point out that the majority of converts to Islam are women, who believe that it is Western culture which demeans women by denying their essential nature as women, and by turning them into sex objects. They would reject your assertion that the punishment does not fit the crime. They would insist that adultury is so disruptive to a society that it must be dealt with harshly.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

I see now where your argument fails. You seem to think that because the West can trace it's roots back to the 'Christianized' Late Roman Empire, in the Iron Age, that we are STILL the same thing today.

All I'm saying is that morality has evolved since the Bible, and you've said that too. Whatever western culture is, we can safely say that it isn't merely 'a Christian context.' Morality isn't merely personal experience, also. It's instilled in us by both our biology and our culture. Biologically, we are social animals that are xenophobic by nature (i.e. tribalism); and our culture, language, philosophy, etc. is just what defines it, spreads it, and can even break past some of those xenophobic tendencies.

That's what I had written previously (more or less), and you never addressed that. Instead, you insist western culture is really dictated by Judeo-Christian morality. I don't think it is.

Western culture isn't merely a "Christian context". It's a lot more than that. Yes, Judeo-Christian thought is part of it; but so is Kant, the Greek philosophers, libertarianism, socialism, capitalism, secularism, utilitarianism, Rawlsianism (justice as fairness), skepticism, etc. And nowadays, there is also eastern influence as well (i.e. Buddhism). It's the result of thousands of years of dialogue between people.

And there doesn't have to be a successful attempt to replace Christian morality; because there already has been one, and it probably started with the Catholic Church. And if not then, it happened with the Enlightenment.

Think about this. As a modern Christian, you probably reject slavery, execution over petty things, kidnapping, baby killing, rape, ritualistic animal abuse, plundering virgin women from the conquered, and all sorts of moral laws as dictated in the Old Testament. If you reject any of these, that means your morality has been shaped by something OTHER than Judaism.

And most Christians, maybe even you, reject many of the things said in the New Testament as 'metaphor', like giving away ALL of your belongings, or Jesus's advice to slaves, or turning the other cheek, or hating your family, or killing someone because they didn't give all their money to the church after selling their land.

If you reject any of those as being immoral, or even if you think it's just a metaphor and you don't have to follow it, that means your morality has been shaped by something other than Christianity.

Therefore, to summarize: 1) Western morality isn't merely Judeo-Christian morality; it's lots of things. 2) I'm not introducing anything new, it is what it is because of our biology and culture. 3) Both of us reject parts of the Bible as immoral because 4) we subscribe to a different morality.

Anonymous said...

Andrew said:
"I see now where your argument fails. You seem to think that because the West can trace it's roots back to the 'Christianized' Late Roman Empire, in the Iron Age, that we are STILL the same thing today."

To an extent, you are correct. My understanding is that in Western Civilization, we are still completely dependant upon the Judeo-Christian ethics today as ever. How we apply these principles has changed, but the basic assumptions remain the same. The tree is still nurtured by its roots. Cut the roots and the tree dies.

Andrew said:
"...and can even break past some of those xenophobic tendencies.

That's what I had written previously (more or less), and you never addressed that. Instead, you insist western culture is really dictated by Judeo-Christian morality. I don't think it is."

I'm a firm believer in cultural evolution. However, cultures don't evolve by cutting themselves off from their roots. Evolution is only possible when a culture (or an organism) builds on its past achievements, as it faces new challenges and acquires new knowledge. One of the beauties of our Judeo-Christian heritage is that the Bible provides a flexible framework which enables this societal evolution. There are many other moral systems, such as Islam, which, so far, have not provided that necessary flexibility.

Now it is my turn. You have still not answered how you propose to judge our Judeo-Christian heritage, after you have severed yourself from your own roots? Do you have any objective standards by which you can decide what is moral and what is not? What are they? Do you have any universal principles?

Andrew said:
"Western culture isn't merely a "Christian context". It's a lot more than that. Yes, Judeo-Christian thought is part of it; ...It's the result of thousands of years of dialogue between people."

I believe we are in agreement, on your last sentence. It would be a gross oversimplification to claim that traditional Western Culture is not "merely" Christian doctrine derived from the Bible. On the other hand, what you have presented as "Western Culture" is an eclectic mix of ideas, along with bits and pieces of various cultures, which are often mutually contradictory. What I'm still trying to discover is your moral center. It appears that the only part of the mix which you are certain is wrong is the Judeo-Christian part.

Andrew said:
"Think about this. As a modern Christian, you probably reject slavery, execution over petty things, kidnapping,...If you reject any of these, that means your morality has been shaped by something OTHER than Judaism."

I'm afraid I must disagree with you here. Since you have mentioned a great number of issues, I will limit myself to addressing only one right now; slavery. Some of the strongest advocates for abolition were dedicated Christians, who based their arguments on Biblical principles. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe was the daughter of a protestant minister and a deeply religious Christian mother. They rejected slavery on Christian moral grounds. William Wilberforce began his lifelong quest to abloish slavery after his conversion experience to evangelical Christianity. We can discuss the other issues which you have raised in the future, if you wish. How do you account for the fact that of all the major cultures in the world, Western Civilization is the one which rejected slavery?

Dennis

Anonymous said...

Continued

Andrew said:
"Therefore, to summarize: 1) Western morality isn't merely Judeo-Christian morality; it's lots of things. 2) I'm not introducing anything new, it is what it is because of our biology and culture. 3) Both of us reject parts of the Bible as immoral because 4) we subscribe to a different morality."

I disagree on #2. Our biology is "survival of the fittest." So far, I not seen anything in the laws of Moses which are against human nature. I agree with #3 with qualifications. Because our environment is so different from that in which Moses lived, it is difficult to judge him negatively. As cultures evolve, they change their evnironment, and hence what would be immoral now was not necessarily immoral then. I disagree with your conclusion #4 I reject some of the things which I find in the books of Moses BECAUSE my moralty is based on the Bible.

Described, in the Old Testament, is a fully functional bronze age culture, which laid down important moral principles, upon which future generations have built. The culture evolved, not by rejecting itself, but by adapting and expanding on those fundamental principles. The beauty of that ancient society is that it was flexible enough to enabled the Israelites to grow and adapt over time. That shows its strength. Many other societies have stagnated because they lacked that flexibility.

Dennis

Andrew P. said...

Dennis said, "My understanding is that in Western Civilization, we are still completely dependant upon the Judeo-Christian ethics today as ever."

Overall, I think we're almost in agreement. The only difference seems to be your emphasis on Judeo-Christian thought, as if it is the end-all and be-all of all our ethics.

It isn't.

I wouldn't even say Judeo-Christian theology is the roots of western morality. It's part of the history of western morality, which actually goes back a bit further than Christianity, but it's not "the roots".

The roots of western morality may very well be with the Greek philosophers. Ancient Israelite 'theology' didn't have much of an impact on western nations until a few centuries after Christianity began. There was interaction with Jews, but Judaism wasn't the dominant religion.

But even moreso then the earliest philosophers, the roots of morality is largely biological. Theology, ethics, etc. all stem from, and are in fact only possible because of, those biological tendencies.

Fairness and compassion account for large swathes of what philosophy and religion have sought to explain about our perception of morality. Those traits seem to be hardwired into all social mammals; and even get more complex in larger brained species.

I really don't understand your point when you said, "I reject some of the things which I find in the books of Moses BECAUSE my moralty is based on the Bible."

Why do you reject slavery?