Kenneth over at Culture Monk has recently been exploring some biblical/cultural themes, especially what I jokingly refer to as trying to reconcile God’s love with the seemingly Cranky God of the Old Testament.
There are several things in the Old Testament that give some people pause, especially as we try to view the bible through modern Western eyes, by what we believe is our new and improved progressive morality. We don’t “believe” in things like sex slavery, rape, tortuous executions, or assorted barbarism. We don’t even want to believe such things are possible.
I must say, one of the most disturbing things about living in the Western world for me is the way we deny the nature of ourselves, the way we perceive civilization as “normal,” as our natural state, as that which defines all else. It’s like being forced to live in a dual reality, with a split personality. In our safe little bubble, people are just naturally courteous to each other, cruelty is an abstract idea, and safety while walking in the world is all but assured, barring a few random accidents. Morality is all innate, it’s simply learned behavior and everybody just wants to be good because that is just our nature. Barring some wounding or a good head injury, we’re all like this!
We embrace this mutually agreed upon delusion about ourselves, this honor code that we consensually agree to uphold and it serves to disconnect us from the genuine nature of ourselves, from any dark and negative aspects of the world around us. Not all of us in the world live in this blessed bubble of bliss. Civilization is a thin veneer indeed. Even in the modern Western world, many of us have the misfortune of discovering this truth, that the stories we tell about ourselves are only ideals, they are hopes and dreams, things we want to see manifest in the world. They are not reality or the truth about ourselves as human beings.
So, with all our progressive modern outrage and fury and disgust, we tend to perceive some of these old testament laws as barbaric, and shake our fists at them accordingly. Selling your daughters in to sex slavery? Simply paying 50 shekels for rape? Forced marriage? What is this stuff? Misogyny! Either God is mean and cranky or the bible was written only by power-hungry men who hate women! Men not like us at all, but bad men, rather.
It’s a terrible thing to have to say, but “we” ARE the bad men. Stripped of our modern mores and Christian virtues, we are an appalling species. Heck, such values even momentarily forgotten in the heat of the moment, speak to our horrific nature, over and over again. How quickly we have forgotten that we first passed laws preventing animal cruelty, hardly more than a century ago. It wasn’t until decades later that someone thought to ask, shouldn’t some of these laws apply to women, too?? I mean, if you can’t beat your donkey on a Sunday or let your dog slowly starve to death in the front yard, how come it’s still legal to do such things to your wife? Less than a century ago we asked these question, and in spite of these laws, such atrocities continue to this day.
Yes, it isn’t all goodness and light that lurks in the hearts of men! Women either, women have their own issues. The cruelty and stupidity of women is also evident in the modern world of so-called progressive values and advanced morality, too. I’ll spare you the links to all those dark things. Just saying, human beings are capable of some atrocities that will take your breath away, and not just “those people” either, but us, all of us. Outside this mutually agreed upon veneer of civilized behavior, we aren’t so pretty.
There’s a story told in Matthew 14, about a king and a dancing girl, and the king is well pleased with her. She seeks his favor, gains it, and he seeks to reward her. Does she ask for gems or gold or perhaps and closet full of shoes? Oh no, she wants the head of John the Baptist delivered to her on a silver platter. The King having given his oath, has little choice but to accommodate her and so the damsel receives John’s head on a platter. The head is for her mother, who felt judged and offended by John. She has won, she has proven her worth, shown her power over a king! She holds life and death in her hands, she can control and manipulate events with her sexual prowess. It’s heady stuff. It also speaks well to the nature of women, now since long repressed, but ever-present just the same. Sexual politics were not invented in the 1960’s by the feministi and their academic exercises, they actually have ancient roots.
Evil is not a simple gendered thing, even evil exists in a kind of symbiosis between the two genders.
We forget so many things, like in our outrage over the sex slavery portrayed in the bible, we forget that in the world today there may be more slavery going on than any other time in human history. That today, even with our modern mores and morality, we have failed. Even our self-righteous outrage has not been able to rid the world of people selling their kids into slavery. But still we would believe ourselves qualified to judge biblical law, to judge God Himself, to go on to claim the bible must have been written by bad men? We cannot see the truth of the matter, that those biblical laws regarding sex slavery are no more barbaric then our very own written in just the last century. Those laws were not designed to promote an atrocity, they were designed to assign limits and protection for women and children.
There are children right now smack dab in the modern Western world of so-called progressive values, that would give anything to have the protections handed down in the olden days by old-fashioned biblical laws. They may not be much, but they were something. Today we haven’t even got the courage to look at sex slavery honestly, let alone try to institute some rules and regulations. Today we simply deny its existence entirely, as if lying to ourselves about the nature of human beings is somehow more morally righteous than then laws handed down in biblical times. In our outrage, in our great offense, we deem ourselves worthy to judge not only scripture, but God Himself.
Like it or not, those old biblical laws were tailored made for an un-godly people, not by a mean God who hates us, or a cranky God who advocates such things, but by an honest God who sees us as we really are.
We are hardly even able to see the nature of our own selves clearly and yet we so often feel worthy to judge the very nature of God! There’s an old bit of gallows humor that comes from the world of sex workers, “if I had 50 shekels for every time, my father would be a rich man.” I give great credit to those stuck in sex work, they may have little else but they have the eyes to see the world as it really is.