Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Biblical Inerrancy and Christian Morality

I've read some interesting posts about the integrity of the Bible and the place of Christian morality, one christian blog and another atheist blog (I suggest a look at these last two links if you have time). There are several questions on the table in these posts. The first is just how literally should the Bible be read (if at all). The second is how can a God who both created the Universal Moral Standard also be connected with largely immoral OT (and NT to a lesser extent). I've done a great deal of thought on both subjects, and while I have no definite answers, I have sorted out some of my views (though they are subject to change!).

In response to the integrity of the Bible, I've gradually moved from one end of the spectrum (literal truth) to the middle. This is NOT because I think that the Bible is any less relevant or any less important in my faith, but rather because I have grown in my understanding of literature, history, and philosophy/theology as a whole. I used to read the Bible as though the events took place or were written in this era, bringing in all of my modern baggage. This is dangerous, obviously, as the context of both the OT and NT are worlds away from our own. As Pastor Chris says, it's important to remember that the Bible was written FOR us (our benefit, to better understand God and his relation with the world) and not TO us (with our culture/context specifically at hand). Of course even after grasping this concept, it's frighteningly easy to read our own morality into the texts (ie, enlightened humanism, of sorts). So we must strike the balance between a) understanding the context within which God was working with humanity and b) being as carefully to learn what God expects from us and not what we expect from Him. I'm of the opinion that the Bible is the written witness to God's revelation of himself to humanity. From the beginning to the end we have learned more about God's character and his will for us in our lives, culminating in Jesus' commands and salvation. Is it possible, and likely, that some of the OT authors praised (or at least didn't condemn) some (extremely) morally questionable acts. For some (see the 2nd and 3rd link), this is a deal breaker for the Christian God (or at least Bible).

Take Lot, as an example. He was entertaining guests (angels, we're told) in Sodom. A mob comes demanding the men so they can have a giant orgy sex fest (didn't know the Bible was so racy huh?). Instead of defiling his guests, he offers up his virgin daughters instead. What a wonderful father. Now, the Bible is clearly full of sinners. We often forget that every character has a dark side. Every David has his Bathsheba. So why does Lot's story (along with the rest like it) anger the non-believers? Because God did not explicitly condemn Lot for his proposal. In fact, God saved Lot from the destruction of the city. If our God really is behind the Moral Code, then he can't be the same God that appears in the Bible. The Bible is full of morally questionable acts, many of which are not condemned and even venerated by (at least) the authors of the Bible. So that's the complaint. Here's my response...for what it's worth...

The story of Lot shows us only the events as perceived by Lot (who, I would assume, thought he was making the best decision) and not as perceived by God. It's a bit of a stretch to read God's lack of condemnation into the story (as God's thoughts on the matter weren't recorded), especially because the angels stopped the gang-rape from going down: "But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door" (19:10-11 NIV). Though, even if they had allowed it, that still doesn't make us privy to God's judgement of the decision. It's a bit arrogant to assume you know what God was thinking (though I'll admit, Christians do it all the time). They still object that even if God didn't say he approved of Lot, he certainly must have because he didn't let Lot die along with the rest of the city. But how is that an objection?? God saves sinners all the time! If he only saved the morally upright, well we'd all be done for. God didn't have to think Lot's actions were commendable in order to save him. Perhaps he had more in store for Lot, who knows. Some still object that the author didn't condemn Lot, and Lot never repented, and of all the stories in history why include one that is so morally shady... Well, that's what you expect from your construction of what a God like ours should do. Unfortunately for you, if God really does exist, he needn't be obliged to act as you decide he should.

Let me reiterate something. Even if the authors didn't see some actions as wrong, that doesn't entail that God doesn't see them as wrong. Yes, the OT contains many instances of God making his opinion on such matters known, but it is by no means exhaustive. Nor do the shaky morals of the authors condemn God, even if he largely inspired the OT. God is under no obligation to include an exhaustive list of moral judgements. Also, our so called *enlightened* morals of today only seem so to us, just as the OT authors thought that they too had it right. It's hypocritical to blame the OT writers for doing when you do the very same thing in the process. There is no guarantee that our morals are correct. So don't be so quick to judge. As a philo student, I've studied more than enough philosophers who've thought they they'd finally discovered the true moral code (and who were wrong, at least in part) to know that we shouldn't be so arrogant.

But then again, I operate under the assumption that while there's a great deal for us to learn, we can by no means possess a complete and flawless grasp of morality (makes you wonder if my study of philosophy is a bit futile). I do see what the non-believers want out of a Christian God, but wanting God to operate a certain way doesn't make it the case that he does or even should. Nor does God failing to act the way we want or expect him to disprove his existence or his morality. At least, not in my opinion.

1 comment:

Logismous Kathairountes said...

I followed you here from that Debunking Christianity blog. I like what you had to say there, and I like what you have to say here, or at least this one post, which is the only one I read.

Keep it up.