Sunday, January 28, 2024
The Dark Side of the Bible: "wipe them out" passages.
I was recently conversing with an atheist, who for lack of anything better to say, pulled out the old bit about how oppressive the Bible is. Of course he had to multiply examples with quote after quote about stoning the women and killing others and making slaves obey, yada yada yada, like I haven't thought about this. Like I was a political organizer in the central America movement for years and a seminary student in a very liberal seminary, and I never gave a thought to the social relations in the Bible!
I said the verse about the slaughter of the Amalektie infants was an interpolation. He responds with bo'd coup verses, one after another, all supposedly saying the same things (of course they really didn't say the same thing, just many things that offend the twentieth century sensibility). Since there are just way too many verses to respond once for one, and it's all just multiplying examples, I will list some general principles that I think answer the overall situation viz God and social oppression, especially as it relates to the OT.
(1)But first, it's important to recognize the objective.
The atheist has to show that belief in God, specifically the Hebrew God, made the situation worse. If it didn't worsen the lot of the people of that era, then where's the blame? To do that they have to do two things:
(a) compare to surrounding culture
(b) show that the problem comes directly from belief in the kind of God the Hebrews had, as opposed to other types of the day.
(2) Can't hold up ancient world people to modern standards.
We can't expect people in the ancient world, who lived prior to the modern western concepts of autonomy, individualism and democracy and expect them to have learned better at Woodstock. They didn't have Woodstock to learn from and they weren't hippies, they had no sexaul revoltuion and they couldnt' go to a corner drug store and read about it in a teen magazine or a tabloid.
(3) Social Evolution not Revoltuion
Christ didn't explain to people how to build nuclear power plants or the theory of germs and antiseptic surgery, he didn't write medical books to make their lives better. He did some religious thing and went away again. That's because his mission was primarily spiritual. He was not a social revolutionary, even though what he said would be very revolutionary if it were practiced.
But basically God keeps pace with the understanding of people. The atheists seem to think that everything should be a vast revelation, unfolding of the new world before everyone's eyes. I've already sketched out my theory of soteriological drama in which God wants an individual search in the heart, and that's why he doesnt' pull back the veil of the sky, reveal heaven and set up shop on earth.
God allows us to make the journey. He allows us to set up our own society to apply the principles we learn to internalize on our spiritual search as part of our ethical understanding concerning living in the world. Thus God allows Society to evolve at its own place and allows the understanding of people to guide social reform and revolution.
Naturally things will look a lot rougher at the beginning than at the end. The ancient world will be a lot more primitive and barbaric than the modern world. That's just the concept of social evolution.
(4)The Bible is personal revelation not a guide to social utopia
What throws a lot of people off is that God seemed to be leading a nation in the OT. One would then expect that he would introduce that nation to the proper social enlightenment. We forget a lot of those texts were political propaganda. The basic function of the OT is to form a cultural background so the mission of the messiah makes sense. The real nature of Biblical revelation is the dialectical relationship between the reader and text. In other words, don't be suckered by ancient nationalism.
(5) The God led society was progressive
When you compare those barbaric practices of the Hebrews with those of surrounding cultures they were better. They were more progressive. Consider the nature of war; most slaves were captives taken in war, for most nations around that day a woman captured in war was just a thing to be used as the captor saw fit. She would never again have any kind of rights or consideration and in many cases be killed. In Hebrew culture she was protected form rape and in seven years had a chance to free herself.
*poor people could glean parts of the harvest for themselves
*everyone got land *women went to Moses and demanded their fair share and it was given them
*Women takne in slavery protected from rape
*in Jubilee year the captives could free themselves.
*court system setup to hear complaints of people
Actually most of this stuff is more progressive than Trump's social agenda.
(6) Christian principles led to modern concepts of personhood and human rights.
the slave owners in the American south followed their econimic interest. But the workers int he underground RR who tended to be christains, and quakers and abolitinoists over all followed their reilgious princples,and they oppossed salvery, and closed down the slave trade in the 1820's before the civil war, and latter supported the union and helped end the insittution of slavery in the Confederacy and went on to push for women's rights as well.
*First Women's suffrage group in America Phoebe Palmer and Methodist Women's Association
* first organized Abolition group in America, very same people, Methodist women
*Chrarles Finney crusaded against slavery and supported the abolition movement,and brought the entire second great awakening into the cause. He said "revolution is of God when the intelligence and understanding of the people exceeds the oppression being done to them."
* *Pesant revolts in south Germany for rights of the poor
*Olympia, Deaconess of Constantinople gave her personal fortune to free slaves. St. John Crysostom led a social reform movement that was headed by man Deaconesses of his diocese.
*Christians for Socialism in 20th century chile
*CLamb Central america
*Snadinistas printed bibles tought Bible in literacy campign
*Father Ernesto Cardinal in Nicaragua, Father Camillio Tores in Bolivia, all over Latin America Priests and nuns lead social and poltiical revolution against US cold war poltiics and social oppression.
*1930s America Christians for socialism and industrial action
*Dorothy Day supports christian socialism and starts comminites to bring soup kitchens to poor and share all goods in common.
In every time and place, in every social setting some chrsitrians have wored against the oppression to be the salt and light.
It's a journey of the individual heart but it plays itself out in the way we relate to each other.