This is a response to “Havoc”, with whom I have been having a conversation. He peppers his replies with smiley faces, so I take that to mean that he really wants to have a constructive exchange of ideas, without a need to “win” the argument. That’s what I want too, so here is a continuation of the exchange. To see what led to this, go to Consistent Dissonance.
First, Havoc said early on that “Biblical morality” is so out of step with what we today actually call “moral” (slavery and genocide are considered “bad” things these days) that any “literal” reading of the bible is useless (unless you think slavery is a moral good?). Hence the need for rational dialog.” He’s certainly not the first to wonder why the Bible seems to tacitly accept slavery without God or Jesus telling us it’s wrong. And many individual passages seem to do just that. But that is not the way to read the Bible .
The Bible’s synergism
The Bible is a collection of writings penned over a period of hundreds or even thousands of years, in several different languages, and from within several different cultures. The thing that careful students can see as we study it, however, is that there are many prophecies that have been fulfilled, many of them in the person and life of Jesus of Nazereth. It also tells a story of God’s love for humans, and His plan for their salvation. And it corroborates what we have been able to discover through archaeology and through other evidence. That Jesus lived a human life is among the most historically verifiable of any story about any historical figure. The world reset the calendar to zero because of Him!
The Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, and Moses was “drafted” by God to bring them out of that slavery. Why would He do that if he endorsed the idea of slavery? Jesus, in his teaching, many times mentioned slaves and masters. That slaves existed is not really up for debate. But far from teaching that slavery was good, he taught that one of the most important commands – equal to number one, which is to love God with all of one’s heart, soul and mind – is to love our neighbor as ourselves. When a lawyer wanted to know who his neighbor was, he told the parable of the good samaritan.
Who is my neighbor? You are! What must be my attitude toward you? I must love you! What does love mean? It means that I have to actually care about you – your welfare, your safety, your security, your need for food, clothing and shelter, and your ability to pursue happiness – and I must be willing to go out of my way to help you secure those things. Some would could call that altruism, and it is not simply writing a check to buy someone food. It goes further. It goes all the way to doing things we would do for ourselves if we had a need. It involves money, yes, but also time and effort and resourcefulness. Nobody gets it right, yet without it, we have no freedom.
The birth of freedom.
“We hold these truths to be self evident…” We here in the USA take those words for granted. We should not. First, because men and women have been suffering, bleeding and dying for centuries to create the freedom we enjoy, and second because if we do not do the same, we will rob our children of the privilege. Freedom, as they say, is priceless, but it is not free. Watch this trailer to the recent release by the Acton Institute.
Get the full video and watch it. It will be time very well spent.
The words of Robert P. George deserve to be repeated and even meditated upon. “Think of what a scandal it would be if we were to say “The abolitionists should have kept their Christian faith out of the struggle against slavery. “Rev. Martin Luther King should have kept his Christian faith out of the struggle for civil rights.” “The people who fought against the terrible crimes committed in the name of eugenics should have kept their faith out of politics.” It was Christian ideals, working through men and women who had much to lose, but acted not out of self-interest, but out of love that brought an end to all of them. Sadly, all three evils are doing their best to make a comeback.
William Wilberforce, after coming to Christ, felt God calling him to two “great causes”: the reformation of the moral fiber of his society, and the abolition of the African salve trade. His story, briefly told in the excellent movie “Amazing Grace”, is little known, but should be taught to every grade school student. Even though he was born to great wealth and prominence, he chose not to live the profligate life of so many of his contemporaries. He worked tirelessly, and with little moral support toward the realization of those two ideals, and after a mere 40 years of diligent, persistent effort, he pulled it off.
Societies since the dawn of man have been pursuing prosperity for their citizens. Most start out with noble ideals. They really want everybody to participate. They really do want to eliminate poverty and disease, and crime and all manner of social ills. The problem they all must deal with, though, is the desire in every human heart to gratify self. And unrestrained, that desire will produce the ruination of the society and all its noble ideals. There are basically two ways to restrain people’s desires for self-gratification. The obvious one is by force. “There outta be a law”, the citizens cry, so one is created. Then the state has to enforce it. So the government grows in size, power, and the need for funds. But as the state gains power, the state itself becomes more and more subject to the evil they are trying to control. Eventually, the government that came to office promising a ‘chicken in every pot’ becomes all-powerful, and when it does, it corrupts itself from within. Many people are murdered, imprisoned and robbed of their pursuit of their own happiness, all in the name of creating a fair society for everyone.
The other way of restraining that desire is to change the hearts of the people, so that they WANT to act in a way that does not gratify self, but that serves others. Individuals, instead of purely self-interest, are motivated to act altruistically. They sacrifice time, money or effort in doing good not for self, but for others, and the benefits also accrue very much to the benefit of their societies. This kind of society does exist in nature. An example is leaf cutter ants. Through specialization, they build extraordinary underground cities. Scientists have determined that certain members of the community have developed genetic makeups that are not consistent with the ‘survival of the fittest’ assumptions made by Darwin. They rather facilitate the survival of the colony.
So, of course, the naturalists – the atheistic scientists claim that natural phenomena are responsible anyway. For more on this, see Darwin Evolves Beyond Evolution. But, I wonder, what causes the genes to decide to preserve the colony instead of the self? What causes them to act altruistically? I’d really like to know! That’s only peripheral to the main point here, so perhaps we can delve into that a bit more in another post.
The bottom line is that the Christian Bible, which includes the Old and the New Testaments, paints a picture of the code by which God “advises” us to live. It’s been tested again and again. It has worked better than any other system. It is not and never will work perfectly, because we the people, although we understand the validity and the utility of altruism, we just can’t bring ourselves to do it.
The United States of America was founded on Christian principles. The fact that founding fathers held as self-evident that “All men are created equal” was strong evidence of their Christian Worldview. The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew they would likely have to fight and perhaps die. They were men of means who would have been treated favorably by the “Crown” if they had succumbed. Yet they valued their freedom from tyrannical oppression so much that they made the following pledge to each other:
“For the support of this declaration,
with firm reliance on the protection of the divine providence,
we mutually pledge to each other, our lives,
our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Those were my kind of guys!