Note: For the purposes of this discussion it should be understood that when I’m referring to that which is properly “Christian Ethics,” I’m referring to the idea that that which is Christian is also Biblical. So for the purposes of this post and any discussion about it, think of Christian Ethics as Biblical Ethics and, more specifically, the ethics demonstrated in the New Testament and by the early Christian Church as described in the New Testament.
Recently I’ve discovered a new and masochistic pastime of listening to a Christian talk-radio station called American Family Radio on my long trek home from work at night. I discovered this program on the night of the election, looking to confirm the news when NPR called the election for Pres. Obama, and heard a number of exclamations about the apparent lack of ethics and morality in our once Christian nation. Christian ethics, the lack thereof, or the symptomatic persecution of Christians seems to be the rotational topic of this station, or at least the programs that are on while I’m in the car.
These programs have featured a number of guests who all lay claim to the idea that Americans are moving away from their heritage of Biblical Christianity being intimately entangled in every facet of life, most especially government and politics. They claim that Biblically grounded Christian Ethics ought to be the guide for the way Christians vote and, as a result, should be the foundation of the laws of our nation.
Stopping abortion, refusing homosexual equality, guarding capitalism, and protecting both monuments and prayer to their god in the public square are examples of these supposed Christian ethics I’ve heard lauded on this program and in my daily conversations with believers. But are they truly? Are they even Biblical principals ?
A quick disclaimer: Because I know this is a touchy subject – I’m not using this as an argument for legitimizing abortion, I’m not qualified to have that particular debate. Simply put, what I’m trying to convince you of is this: if you believe abortion is evil because the Bible says so, I think you’ve chosen the wrong document to argue from , because not only does the Bible NOT condemn abortion, as we’ll see, it promotes it. Personally, I have major reservations about late term abortions, and I’m glad that they are rare. Obviously I also believe that personal responsibility should never be shirked, but I also believe that women should have safe ways to deal with undesired pregnancies (and at the earliest time that they can).
Somewhere down the line, surely soon after Roe v. Wade, abortion became a “front and center” issue of the evangelical Christian discussion when it had previously been more of a non-issue. Pro-life advocates use such verses from the Bible to justify their morally superior position as:
Luke 1:44b , “…the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”
Jeremiah 1:4-5 , Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, ” Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”
Exodus 21:22-24, If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
These verses on their own might lead one to think that the authors of this text believed in the sanctity of the fetus in the womb, but do these themes exist consistently throughout the Bible?
Not only were infants not counted in the census of Numbers 3:15-16 until they were at least 1 month old, they held no value until that time as well (Leviticus 27:6). Furthermore, there are numerous occasions in which YHVH gave direct orders to kill infants or fetuses still in the womb:
Hosea 13:16 - Samaria shall become desolate; for she hath rebelled against her God: they shall fall by the sword: their infants shall be dashed in pieces, and their women with child shall be ripped up.
Numbers 31:17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him.31:18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.
Christian ethics? Maybe. But it doesn’t seem like the pro-life position is very much a Biblical one. All this not enough to convince you? What if the Bible included the equivalent of a morning after pill that was administered by a priest in a ritual used to determine whether or not she had been defiled by another man?
It does in Numbers 5:21-31:
21 Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The LORD make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the LORD doth make thy thigh to rot , and thy belly to swell; 22 And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell , and thy thigh to rot : And the woman shall say , Amen, amen. 23 And the priest shall write these curses in a book, and he shall blot them out with the bitter water: 24 And he shall cause the woman to drink the bitter water that causeth the curse : and the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter. 25 Then the priest shall take the jealousy offering out of the woman’s hand, and shall wave the offering before the LORD, and offer it upon the altar: 26 And the priest shall take an handful of the offering, even the memorial thereof, and burn it upon the altar, and afterward shall cause the woman to drink the water. 27 And when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass, that, if she be defiled , and have done trespass against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her, and become bitter, and her belly shall swell , and her thigh shall rot : and the woman shall be a curse among her people. 28 And if the woman be not defiled , but be clean; then she shall be free , and shall conceive seed. 29 This is the law of jealousies, when a wife goeth aside to another instead of her husband, and is defiled ; 30 Or when the spirit of jealousy cometh upon him, and he be jealous over his wife, and shall set the woman before the LORD, and the priest shall execute upon her all this law. 31 Then shall the man be guiltless from iniquity, and this woman shall bear her iniquity.
Many readers will proclaim that this simply isn’t the case, that this is some sort of godly endeavor to determine whether or not a woman sinned, but read it again. This is precisely what happens with chemically induced abortions – the uterus swells and contracts and issues all of the tissue lining it, including the zygote.
Homosexuality and Marriage
It’s no secret that many Christians find themselves enthralled in a fervent pursuit to preserve for what they call “traditional marriage.” Strangely enough, this fight has had little to do with how churches deal with marriage and has done even less to curb the divorce rate among Christians in this country. From the Phelps Family of Westboro Baptist Church picketing any funeral they can think might grant them some TV air time to American Family Radio’s constant barrage of ads, blurbs, and shows that tout the dangers of “gay marriage” and the value of “traditional male/female marriage”.
Unfortunately for those with such a penchant against homosexuality, there have been no credible reasons to find any possible or likely harms that might come about as a result of homosexual marriage. Even when the excuse comes down to the fear that children adopted into such a family might be exposed to dangerous things and end up with some grave abnormality as adults, these claims fall flat in light of any study that’s ever been done to determine the validity of such a claim.
Even with perceived harms, those who calls themselves a believer must ask whether or not this is a fight they are actually instructed to take on and, like abortion, any serious attempt at determining the answer to this will end in a profoundly loud NO!
The Bible DOES indeed discuss homosexuality, it NEVER discusses the marriage of homosexuals.
Once again, it’s unfortunate for the believer that the Bible says the same thing about homosexuality that it does about polyester blends and putting cheese on your burger: It’s against the Law, corrupts you, and makes you unclean. Still, Christians persist on attempting to outlaw unions between two homosexuals, but not meat and cheese, or cotton and polyester.
Because it’s easier to pick and choose what you want to reject – it’s even easier when society makes it permissible to bully and condemn people that aren’t within the accepted status quo. Furthermore, the few verses that actually discuss homosexuality and condemn it apply directly to the nation of Israel. The Laws of the Old Testament were never intended to be followed by anyone who wasn’t a Jew. These were G-d’s laws for G-d’s people. Likewise, as Christians in the New Testament weren’t people with any sort of power over the political system, they had no ability nor intent to control the morality of others – unless, of course, it was through converting them. The New Testament Christians and the Early Church’s only prerogative in having any control over morality was inside the Church itself. They disciplined one another, but never anyone who didn’t adhere to their belief system.
Somewhere in American history, and I’m not sure where – but the argument could be made that it happened at the very beginning – Christianity became synonymous with the virtues of capitalism. From the American Revolution to The Civil War, McCarthyism, and even now with the Religious Right’s insistence on President Obama’s dedication to Islam and the Communists, the banner of capitalism is waved proudly by a great number of Christians.
Recently while listening to AFA, I heard one of their trademark talking heads taking listener calls and one lady asserted that Pres. Obama was an evil socialist and a Muslim. About 10 minutes later, an advertisement played for a type of medical insurance company called MediShare – boasting:
“For over 19 years, Medi-Share members have been helping one another through medical bill sharing—over $675 million has been shared and discounted! It’s God’s way of helping His people care for one another while providing healthcare that works.”
It seems that the socialists are spending advertising dollars with AFA, not recognizing they they are precisely what they fear so greatly.
I’m not disparaging MediShare, either.From what I can tell they are practicing a sort of compassionate Christianity that takes care of one another vs. the very dog eat dog version that many have adopted. Socialism, sharing what you have with your community, is a Biblical concept outlined by the early Church in the Acts of the Apostles in Chapter 2 verses 44-46.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.
What these Christians, trembling in fear at the threat of Socialism or Communism, are actually protecting is an idea of Christianity that is entirely anathema to it’s roots. A Christianity built upon the ideas of American Exceptionalism and an Anglo-supremacy that reinforced selfishness and greed even at the expense of other peoples lives, homes, and health. If Biblical Christianity has anything going for it at all it was demonstrated by the Apostles in these few verses – verses often forgotten in today’s ear tingling sermons.
The Public Square
Despite belonging to an overwhelming majority and having enjoyed the fruits of hundreds of years of previously embedded Christian heritage, many Christians, and especially those at AFA, are convinced that evil atheists and the gay mafia (no, seriously, I heard this said) are encroaching on their religious freedoms. Whether it’s because secularists are demanding equal treatment or attempting to remove the monuments to faith from schools and government buildings – where we don’t think they belong – many Christians believe doing so is an affront to their faith as opposed to a struggle to enforce the Rule of Law.
First, it’s important to understand that the goal of the secularist isn’t, at least in any case I’ve seen, to inflict any harm or to oppress the members of any religion. Instead, what we want is for the religion of the believer to belong to them and not be automatically indicted upon those to whom it doesn’t belong simply by our mutual association as Americans. Much like today’s Christians would find themselves at arms were Sharia law being imposed upon them, we too are unwilling to have any Judeo-Christian ethics imposed upon us if their sole claim to morality is that they are Judeo-Christian or Biblical in origin.
Next, in order to appeal to our Christian friends taking this effort as their own, can we defend the idea that Christianity is inherent to the public sphere Biblically?
I don’t think we can.
Often times these Christians like to point to a collective morality, as if the direction of our nation is somehow a reflection of what they believe. They often point out the godlessness of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of what we should collectively avoid if we want to be saved from God’s Wrath. They often think that if we remove monuments to god or “remove prayer from schools” it somehow prevents them from having their own monuments to god and prayer when and wherever they like – and I don’t think any of us have any intention to remove from people the right to pray.
This idea of collective sin is very Old Testament, it’s very Judeo-centric and doesn’t really have any bearing on an alleged “Christian Nation”. The early church pillars instructed believers to not be conformed to the world, they never said anything about being political activists to see to it that everyone in a nation upheld the morals of Christianity:
Rom 12:2 KJV – And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
The new testament looks at the Church as it’s own nation of sorts, a group of people so separated from the rest of society that they built a communal living environment so that they could support one another as they crucified themselves daily. Their ministries included discipline and molding minds, but only those already within the confines of the Church. What they dissipated to their communities was much different. Justin Martyr, when addressing the morality of early Christians and any possible ill affects they might have on the Roman Empire, said in his First Apology to the Empire of Rome:
XI: And when you hear that we look for a kingdom, you suppose, without making any inquiry, that we speak of a human kingdom; whereas we speak of that which is with God, as appears also from the confession of their faith made by those who are charged with being Christians, though they know that death is the punishment awarded to him who so confesses. For if we looked for a human kingdom, we should also deny our Christ, that we might not be slain; and we should strive to escape detection, that we might obtain what we expect. But since our thoughts are not fixed on the present, we are not concerned when men cut us off; since also death is a debt which must at all events be paid. (Source)
The tension between Christianity and what it refers to as “the world” is a long standing one. In no way does the Bible ignore that there is a great difference between what ought to be expected of Christians and what ought be expected from the rest of the world – but in the ways it recommends dealing with those outside of the faith there is a great disparity between what the New Testament authors encouraged and what actually occurs today.
I don’t recall reading anywhere in the Bible that my sins had any affect on you, nor do I recall the Church being encouraged to force me out of my sinful ways lest it be by Grace. Yet, because it is so easy to look at and punish the alleged sins of others rather than deal with the planks in your own eye, this is the popular route of the Christian Faith today.
Christian ethics have been transformed from what was once a struggle to destroy one’s carnal desires and selfishness into a populist collectivism too busy critiquing the rest of the world to see it’s failures and achieve it’s most fundamental goals.
Here I am, again, an atheist encouraging Christians to read their holy book and do what it says.
(Jam 1:27 KJV) – Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.