Friday, 11 September 2015

Pharisees


This woman in the USA who was jailed for refusing a marriage certificate to a gay couple - I wonder if she has ever thought about Jesus' aims?

I've heard many people say that the Old Testament covenant is dead, as the New Testament is a whole new contract. I have to say this is generally in response to criticisms of the more barbaric punishments contained in the OT. However, they still hark back to the OT when it suits them, quoting chapter and verse selectively to justify some bigotry or other.

What they don't seem to realise is that Jesus had the utmost respect for the OT - it was, after all, the basis of Jewish law and he was a Jew. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil," - Matthew 5:17.

Where Jesus departed from the mainstream was in interpretation. What was suitable for a tribe of a few thousand bedouin following Moses about a hostile desert inhabited by hostile tribes was not necessarily suitable for the settles nation the Jews had forged. Jesus's insight was targeted at the basic principles behind the Mosaic injunctions (and their validity in a new milieu) and not their literal meaning. 

The problem with many religious people is they are not willing to reform that which has lasted a long time. They maintain that simply because it has lasted a long time it must be right - the appeal to tradition.

This reverence for existing usage, which is always strong in human nature, was even stronger in antiquity than it is now. The belief in the wisdom of ancestors, which seems to be caused by the curious delusion that ancestors must necessarily be old and therefore deeply experienced men, stems not from history but poetry. Some of us, who may well be proud of our ancestors, realise they were essentially barbarians and their musings are certainly not incapable of revision in light of modern life.

The prohibition on homosexuality makes sense when you are a member of a very small tribe that needs to increase its numbers for mutual protection. It was valid in the day, but less so in Jesus' time and even less valid today.

Jesus never got round to revising the laws on homosexuality - he had bigger fish to fry in the few short years of his mission. Had he the time, doubtless he would have dug behind it to reach the principle and reappraise its validity, as he did with many other Mosaic laws. Moses proscribed death for the dishonoring of parents and idolatry - the New Moses was infinitely more tolerant. No amount of disobedience would persuade Jesus to condemn a man or refuse him admission to his company.

Self-professed Christians should perhaps take a leaf from Jesus' book, where strict adherence to laws was in fact looked down upon. He had no time for Pharisees and was more interested in people's hearts and minds.

What's ironic about the American experience with religion is that the country was founded by those fleeing religious persecution; however, the persecuted have become the persecutors, as is invariably the case.

What's doubly ironic is that there was no such thing as Christian marriage prior to the 9th Century, and it wasn't ritualised till the 12th or 13th Century. All marriages were civil and Christianity only introduced it to clarify inheritance rights for the establishment.


8 comments:

  1. I like this CB. Can I add a few things?

    The Hebrews were polygamous to a degree, so banning homosexuality would not necessarily increase the birth rate. Would just lead to frustrated women wondering why their husbands were so much more interested in interior design than they were.

    There's a lot of questions about the homosexuality the Hebrews were actually trying to ban. Was it a loving partnership of equals? They could imagine that (without hanky panky) in David and Jonathan. Or was it related to the religious cults around them?

    And most Bible scholars reckon that the laws in the first 5 books of the Bible weren't written as they wandered through the desert in that form. They would have been clarified and codified (especially Deuteronomy) much later - when that desert tribe was trying to work out how to live in its new nation state.

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    1. Not much scope for decorating the interior of a camel skin tent though...

      Yup - I'm aware of the codification being more 5th CBC, but the oral tradition of hundreds of years must have had an impact, and where writing materials are scarce and scrolls difficult to reproduce, the oral tradition is long lasting - e.g. the Iliad, the basis of which which I doubt changed much between inception and writing down by Homer.

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    2. Absolutely on the oral tradition. But gathering together and pruning gave an editorial control to someone.

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  2. CB, spot on, although I think attempting to rationalise the prohibitions on homosexuality through context (i.e. they needed the babies etc.) is dubious IMO.

    Wouldn't it be much more likely that the bigotry was simply an “us and them” phobia encouraged by a male (“jock”) dominated society, there are plenty of men around today who are insecure and emotionally retarded enough to have such phobias (religion is just the codification of the phobia, i.e. an excuse for it) Put people like that in positions of unaccountable (unfalsifiable) authority and hey presto, basic Human nature, we’re just monkeys with shoes after all.

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    1. I suspect, if you're in a desert fighting other tribes, then you're gonna want to impose some kind of uniformity on the guys. Anyone wearing lady's dresses or having relationships with other blokes out in the woods is going to be seen to have a bad impact on discipline. You get people being individuals, you're going to lose your solidarity when the day comes. Not sure about "insecure" so much as "we're all fighting for our wives and kiddies..."

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    2. Patriotism - a double edged sword. Brings a nascent nation together, but also demonises those not of the tribe.

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    3. Patriotism - a double edged sword. Brings a nascent nation together, but also demonises those not of the tribe.

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  3. A very interpretation of the condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible, if indeed it is so! Another interesting point is that if this woman is so adamant about following the Bible to the letter, it should be noted that adultery is a sin, and she is a sinner in that respect! She also has divorced and remarried several times; definitely not something granted in the Old Testament!

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