[StBernard] God Squad for Thursday August 16, 2012
westley at da-parish.com
Thu Aug 16 21:56:41 EDT 2012
By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Media Services
The best of modern morality is rooted in the Bible
Q: The entire realm of human morality was not brought to mankind by biblical
religion. What was brought by biblical religion was the first religious
intolerance and religious wars -- the whole one God grandiosity. It also
solidified cultural misogyny in the Bronze Age. The thing that's probably
transcendent is the ability of human beings to confuse their ignorant awe at
the universe with some kind of insight into the nature of reality. Miracles
don't happen. Belief in miracles happens all the time. Your comments? -- S.,
via godsquadquestion at aol.com
A: Why believers and non-believers can't agree to disagree bewilders me. I
know some religious folk are rude to non-believers, but the level of
anti-religious polemic I receive, witness and read far exceeds the
anti-atheist sentiments in our culture, though both are regrettable. Your
e-mail saddened me and reminded me of the bad weather of modern civilization
for religion in our time.
Let me begin by wholeheartedly agreeing with your belief (mentioned
elsewhere in your letter) that, "The whole universe operates without the aid
of the human mind." This is precisely the belief of the world religions
which affirm that the universe operates through the mind of God. Perhaps
we're not so very far apart, after all.
I hope you'll reconsider your view that the Bible had no role in developing
our morality. I'm not sure where you think it came from if not the Bible. Do
you have in mind Immanuel Kant, who was a religious Lutheran? Or do you
believe that Nietzsche, Hitler's favorite philosopher, is the source of our
In the meantime, I would ask you to examine the central gift of biblical
morality to the moral understandings of the West: the idea that human rights
come not from the state, but from God, who made every person in God's image.
Our rights are not granted by government, which can convey or withhold them
for a variety of prejudiced reasons.
If there is no God, no sanctity of human life, then the state is the highest
power and the final moral arbiter of our rights. If that state is Nazi
Germany or antebellum Mississippi, then you are powerless to claim your
God-given rights. This idea that God is superior to any nation is found in
Isaiah 40:17: "All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted
to him less than nothing, and vanity." It is found in the pleas of the
prophet Samuel to the people not to want a king in 1 Samuel 8:11-18.
Is this elevation of the sanctity of the individual over the imperious power
of king and state the biblical morality you despise?
Let me also urge you to reconsider the still revolutionary concept of
charity brought to us by biblical religion. Under our modern morality, we
keep what we earn and that's that; private property is ultimate. The poor
may or may not be supported by us, but we're under no moral obligation to
give away what we get and own. That is secular morality.
In biblical morality, God owns everything, including our bodies and the
earth. God commands us to share with others what we ultimately don't really
own anyway. In biblical time, when the barley was cut each year, harvesters
were forbidden to pick up fallen sheaves or to cut the corners of the
fields. All the fallen and unharvested grain was to be left for the poor
(Leviticus 19:9 and 23:22). That is biblical morality, and we have yet to
live up to its compassionate, loving kindness.
The key elements of the best of modern morality sit on biblical foundations.
It was the Bible that demanded the freeing of slaves. It was the Bible that
commanded a rest time for the fields. It was the Bible that prohibited child
sacrifice. It was the Bible that prohibited murder, theft, perjury, adultery
and covetousness. It was the Bible that prohibited the mistreatment of
prisoners of war. It was the Bible that prohibited cutting down fruit trees
during a siege. It was the Bible that prohibited magic and astrology and
I can't defend every biblical utterance, law, ritual, scientific
speculation. God was not through with us 4,000 years ago. However, we must
never deny our roots, and our moral roots are in the Bible. This is more
than a personal belief; it's an historical fact. I hope your head and your
heart can come to see this. Now, that would be a miracle.
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