Why the Bible is a poor moral compass

by Diogenesister 21 Replies latest watchtower child-abuse

  • StrongHaiku

    CalebInFloroda, I have to say that I am totally confused and maybe you can help me.

    Based on your comments it seems to me that you are saying that the Jews had a notion/idea/relationship with G-d (predating the OT) which, over time, was codified over time in the OT. And, that the OT reflects both cultural and religious ideas that cannot be well-understood let alone be used as a foundation for other religions because of the very specific and unique perspective (e.g. one needs to have the context of the Jewish religion and cultural history otherwise you end up with problems). If I got it wrong, my apologies.

    However, I am still fuzzy on how ideas are reconciled. For example, how would you would address G-d's endorsement of mass genocide of men/women/children, slavery, stoning, and all sorts of things that we (as a society) and Jews would now find indefensible, immoral, etc.?

    When you read those passages from the OT is your perspective "that was then, this is now"? Do you look at these acts as a reflection of the character of the G-d of the OT or is it strictly tied to the character of the people of the time?

    I guess I am trying to better understand how you reconcile the G-d of the OT as it relates to some of the things you say. Thank you for your patience.

  • CalebInFloroda

    Wonderful questions. Never be apologetic for asking questions, at least not with me.

    First, we Jews in general aren’t in the business of fooling ourselves into believing we have always been holy or faithful worshipers of G-d. We acknowledge coming from a pretty savage race that was the product of a savage time. Like all other races we probably gave ourselves far more credit in the Scriptures for being far more blessed by G-d than we should have, and we often claimed that G-d was behind things we ourselves clearly did on our own.

    Now you have to let go of the idea that just because it’s in the Bible and attributed to G-d that it really happened that way. That’s an ancient narrative device that doesn’t reflect a theological reality. It’s similar to what you read in Psalm 22 where the psalmist asks G-d why he has been forsaken.

    Well, obviously the psalmist got it wrong. If he had been forsaken then how on earth did the psalm become an inspired piece of work in the Hebrew Scriptures? That doesn’t mean the psalmist who composed it didn’t believe at the time that G-d had abandoned him or at least felt that way. He did indeed. The theological reality is that his feelings and viewpoint didn't match G-d's, who was obviously paying attention, and this false point of view of the psalmist got transferred into the psalm as we have it today.

    In the same sense you will read in Scripture how G-d commanded us to do certain things, like attack people who were living in the Promised Land. In reality what this means is that we attribute our “successes” or “victories” to G-d. If a battle went well, it was because "G-d was behind it." If we failed, it is because "we were being bad." It is a primitive mentality. And it’s there in the Scriptures for everyone to look at.

    But such battles and "commands" that claim that G-d was behind certain slaughters or demanding the stoning of people is no more true than the Bible’s claim that we were monotheistic throughout our history. The truth of the matter is we weren’t.

    What can be gathered from historical and archeological records and finds is that Israel wasn’t monotheistic until the Davidic dynasty made worship of YHWH the state religion. Up till that point the archeological record proves that we Jews loved our idols and worshipped tribal gods. The Bible states that we only infrequently fell into such idolatry, and that when we did it was the fault of those pesky Gentiles that surrounded us or lived in our land. But in reality, idol worship was the thing until King David made it illegal to worship any other G-d but his own. The idols disappear from the archeological record when the Temple appears, and this happened in the Biblical record as well by redaction.

    Does this mean the Bible is therefore a book of lies? Well it's definitely not a book of facts. It's very much like the history of the United States that has George Washington chopping down cherry trees, Lincoln growing up in a tiny log cabin, and Paul Revere riding around declaring: "The British are coming! The British are coming!" None of these things actually happened, but there are values and truths transmitted through these legends.

    The Bible is no different. It says things in ancient ways, not literal. You have to rely on the intention of the writers and study whether stories were originally meant for oral transmission over written medium (and other critical methods) to understand the what and why behind these texts. They are definitely not light reading.

    So yes, these texts that describe savage behavior are more connected to the people of the time and how they expressed ideas. They aren't meant to reflect the type of "unchangeable realities" that JWs attribute to them.

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