Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Old Testament

A whole batch of apolgetics articles, with my commentary attached. It's like reading the Fox News version of Cliffs Notes.

No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

An interesting concept in the first section is that we know have the resources to allow dissent to exist. There are enough forces holding our societies together that an assault by some other ideology will not cause it to fragment to the misfortune of all. The Spanish Inquisition only looks severe and outrageous to us because our society could easily handle such statements. At the time, the Cathar heresy was an existential crisis for medieval Europe.

Later, by the standards of the time, the Inquisition was quite lenient, so much so that the Inquisators feared mob violence. For example, "Why are you being so nice to this evil wretch? You must be a secret friend of his! HERETIC!"

Kill a man, you're a murderer...

Probably the most shocking part of this review of God's judgement is his comparison with other Ancient Near East cultures. When we read the OT, descriptions of the wholesale destruction of cities are rather disquieting. When the peoples of the ANE read the OT, they must have been like, "Dude, these are some nice people! You mean you don't get to gang rape everyone?"

The high points of the article are summarized near the end, after point four, and if you don't want to read all the supporting documentation for, (a) why the Canaanites deserved to be forcibly deported, (b) why he used human, rather than natural means, (c) how the innocents of Canaan were spared, despite appearances, and (d) how the judgment of God remains consistent.

In the pushback, after the summary, he replies to some critics. The description of defining land ownership in terms of diety makes deporting the Canaanites fit the international law of the time. Your god was supposed to protect your land. If your god couldn't protect it, then he was merely a usurper.

After Being a Litterbug

This article is much more specific, about why the Israelites fought the Amalekites. A very good article, it's worth reading the whole thing.

Interesting distinction: execution for a crime is legally self-caused. It's not a punishment, you did it to yourself by your actions. Thus death by execution is not the fault of the judge or executioner. What this means is that, if suffering is caused by continued resistance, it is the consequence of those who continue to resist. Whether that is a correct moral judgment depends on the circumstances. Those people who were injured at the hands of the Nazis as they were hunting the Resistance could trace the causality of their deaths to the activities of the Resistance, but I doubt that anyone would blame them, for a lack of resistance in that circumstance would be immoral.

Perhaps the best quotation from the article: "In the face of unreasonable, consistent, and oppresive violence against your family and your kin, you are stuck with the imperative and responsibility for serious war. It is naive at best, and morally irresponsible at worst, to deny this. To defend one's family against unprovoked and destructive violence is a fundamental moral obligation." To obtain such results against a nomadic people, you have to destroy the warrior class, which is essentially the destruction in toto for that kind of society. He has a discussion afterwards about the options available.

And to lighten things up a bit...

Spare the rod and spoil the child.

The best part of this article is the "baptizing" aspect of religious work. Cultural traditions are harder to change than religious beliefs, since few of the members of a society are truly devoted to their religion (most are of the Christmas-and-Easter variety, for a modern example). Religious workers would therefore "baptize" cultural traditions so that people would more readily incorporate new religious traditions. It was easier to adopt Aristotelean philosophy than to overturn it. The downside is that, once cultural and scientific beliefs change, the religion that has adopted them is left behind.


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