Not So Bad After All

When it comes to Judeo-Christian beliefs, one focus of the skeptic’s ire is the presumed dictatorial nature of the Old Testament law. When they aren’t tsk-tsk-ing about the laws that dealt with slavery, marital faithfulness and idolatry they are guffawing over the legal minutia surrounding food preparation and personal hygiene. The nexus of this criticism really centers around personal freedom – how could Jews and Christians see morality in law that is so personally restrictive and antithetical to the pursuit of personal happiness?

And yet, as we look at our own society, we have to admit that such criticisms are at least hypocritical, if not downright contradictory. Our own jurisprudence is certainly more widely restrictive when considering the range of behaviors it deals with. We have laws that deal with every aspect of our lives from food production to building codes, how we run our businesses to how we are able to transport ourselves. In terms of sheer volume, when one considers every aspect of our law from Federal codes down to those which govern municipalities or even neighborhoods, the volume of law we encounter each day renders miniscule the mere 600 some-odd statutes in Mosaic law.

And while it could be argued that the majority of laws in the Old Testament derived from certain moral principles that applied to the entire Israelite society, our law is increasingly driven by a patchwork of special interests and political gain. One might decry the stoning of an individual for idolatry as draconian, but one couldn’t argue it was motivated by greed or personal advancement.

And while the average citizen of Israel’s past might be expected to adhere to certain customs, his lack of obedience was only problematic if others took the time to drag him or her before a judge and provided witnesses or evidence to wrongdoing. Now there are large entrenched government agencies whose entire purpose is to seek out wrongdoing and prosecute it with all the force and authority of a national government. A citizen in effect pays to be prosecuted but rarely has the resources to fight against such an agency should the piercing eye of the bureaucracy land on him. A mere accusation is punishment in and of itself.

And it is less than clear that our freedom from the moral law of the OT actually leads to the personal happiness we desire. We have entire urban areas where immorality and promiscuity are so common that marital fidelity is the exception, places which are marred by entrenched poverty, crime and violence. Coveting isn’t stigmatized in our society, but considered a virtue that primes the economic pump – driving individuals and governments into overwhelming debt which threatens everyone’s prosperity. And in lieu of precepts requiring us to honor our parents and discipline and instruct our children, we have created costly and often ineffective agencies to do the job for us.

While many skeptics consider the penalty for transgressing certain OT laws to be too severe, the reality is the consequences of our modern ideas of personal ‘freedom’ are certainly as costly, if not more so. The difference here is that while the Biblical penalty was directly attached to the individual committing the crime, the current consequences of our choices effect all of society – and often the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the suffering.

Take the impact of promiscuity, adultery and no-fault divorce. We consider ourselves superior because we have few if any laws regulating such behavior – we have no legal penalties to fear, unlike denizens of ancient Israel. And yet, these behaviors are primary factors behind poverty, crime, and violence. Women and children and the elderly are victims of a society that disregards familial fidelity. Millions suffer in poverty and thousands are exploited and die violent deaths because of the violence that is born out of such choices. It is difficult to insist in light of this suffering that our lack of a penalty is superior to the penalties proscribed in Scripture.

I think it’s legitimate to question whether Old Testament law, much of which surrounded the Levitical priesthood and the civil structure of Israel is applicable in modern society. As a Christian I am certain much of it isn’t. What the modern secular West can’t do is pretend it has developed a superior set of laws to that articulated in the Old Testament in terms of moral clarity, ease of application to everyday lives, fairness or harm done to the most vulnerable segments of society.

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8 Responses to Not So Bad After All

  1. The Judge says:

    Brilliant last paragraph.

    One consideration: And it is less than clear that our freedom from the moral law of the OT actually leads to the personal happiness we desire. I am troubled with the notion that it is possible to identify a discipline, object, idea, or whatever that ‘leads’ to happiness. My impression is that while it is perfectly possible to say, of an action or behaviour, that it leads to unhappiness (such as a murder, drug abuse or totalitarianism), finding something that leads to happiness depends too largely on the individual and his subjective background, needs and personality. What do you think?

    I would also argue that the term ‘happiness’ is an artifice and doesn’t apply, but that’s a wholly different argument, so feel free to ignore this bit. 😉

  2. kenetiks says:

    Now this could be a lengthy discussion. One that I’d gladly take part in.

    The comparisons of mosaic law to our legal system of today is very interesting. Or the comparison of any theocratic legal system for that matter.

    I feel that you’re both correct and incorrect in many aspects. There is quite a lot to say, too much I’d like to go into but I’m on my phone at the moment and trying to type out a lengthy rebuttal would prove a bit problematic. I’ll post more in depth when I get the time.

  3. jackhudson says:

    @Judge
    I actually I have a tendency to agree with this – happiness is fairly ephemeral, and isn’t some level someone reaches. It is always subject to the vagaries of changing circumstances.

    Marriage is a good example – I don’t think a one can really talk about being ‘happy’ in marriage like some dipstick we use to sample the level of happiness we have at any given moment in a marriage. It has ups and downs, difficulties and triumphs. I think there can be a cumulative joy and contentment to be had in a marriage, but that may only come after years of work and perseverance. It may be the final satisfaction of having been faithful to one’s vows and enjoying the fruit of one’s family or the satisfaction that come from being a contributing member of one’s community. There seems to be little patience in our times for such eventual satisfaction.

    So I think you are right – there are choices that certainly undermine opportunities for happiness, but making the right choices don’t guarantee a particular measure of happiness.

  4. jackhudson says:

    @kenetiks

    Look forward to your thoughts on the subject.

  5. jackhudson says:

    As you by and large appear not to have read or been capable of understanding what was written above, let me re-cap.

    While people can certainly disagree with the implementation of the punishments proscribed by OT law (which I think was fairly clearly a civil matter particular to the ancient nation of Israel) the fact that we don’t ascribe to the moral principles in that law don’t make us more ‘civilized’. In fact our destruction of the unborn, our utilization of women as objects of pleasure for consumption, and our abandonment of our wives and children to poverty makes us increasingly one of the most destructive societies to have ever existed.

    So while we might criticize Old Testament law as an intellectual exercise, we certainly have no moral authority to question it’s efficacy.

  6. […] When unable to articulate response yourself, congratulate others on what you cannot do, and attack the blogger. It’s amazing that TOF (TruthOverFaith) is still among the living. One would think natural selection would have culled this mental weakling from the herd by now. ” we certainly have no moral authority to question it’s efficacy.” […]

  7. jackhudson says:

    Umm, maybe your incoherent Jesus brain can’t question the “efficacy” of servile Stone Age garbage foisted upon impoverished peasants, but those of us free from the reason-draining effects of religious lunacy are quite capable of doing so.

    Perhaps you can, you have as yet shown no propensity do so.

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