The ideal expressed in the Bible is that men should make their living as independent yeomen such as pastoralists or the equivalent and women should support them. However, the reality is that at many times and places this is not possible. Not everyone is capable of that level of independence and there are often not enough resources to go around. Hence there needs to be a way for people who can’t provide for themselves to be looked after. One such way is slavery. The slaves do useful work for the master and in exchange the master keeps the slaves in line and provides for them, often to a greater degree than they are worth due to familiarity and pride of ownership. The Bible sought to regulate slavery so that everything was fair and above board.
But, you say, the Bible must be evil because slavery is wrong. Why is it wrong? Because people should live as they choose. Most people don’t get to live as they choose and when they do the results are often a disaster. Because it is an imposition by force. In the ancient world slavery was generally seen as a voluntary institution and defended on libertarian-type grounds. Because slaves might be abused. Anyone might be abused, and the Bible seeks to address this in the case of slaves. A problem the Bible perhaps doesn’t address enough is slave labour displacing free labour and thereby damaging the society, but perhaps that wasn’t an issue in those days.
The mentions of sex in the New Testament are mostly Paul telling Christian communities to straighten up and fly right, and probably should not be generalised. The important points are made on the Old Testament books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
The goal of the Bible, like in all adaptive cultures, was to create an environment of stable marriages where children could be properly raised, where men would know children were their children and thereby be incentivized to provide them with resources and where men could trust each other without worrying about being cuckolded. Anything that challenged that state of affairs was forbidden.
Hence the ideal was that females would marry young as virgins. Seducing or raping a virgin was bad, with the man having to compensate the girl’s father for diminishing her value as a wife and offer to marry her. Adultery, defined as sex between a married woman and a man other than her husband, was a capital offence. Female prostitution was allowed, and this reduced the temptation for men to commit adultery or seduce normal females.
Monogamy was the rule, although it was permissible for a man to take additional wives in some circumstances, which makes sense when there is a shortage of men due to wars and accidents. It is possible that the verses in Leviticus generally thought to prohibit male homosexuality actually prohibit polyamory.
Jesus said love your neighbour. This seems to be widely misunderstood, despite Jesus making himself clear in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The first thing to realise is that throughout most of history, neighbourhoods tended to be functional communities of people who interacted with each other in a positive way and were often related. It is mainly in dysfunctional modern society that you get people with nothing in common placed together. Hence it is perhaps surprising that Jesus anticipated this situation with his parable.
Your “neighbour” you are called to love is someone who participates in your community, feels some kind of bond to you and others in the community and tries to help make things better for the community. As in the parable, the person might not be of exactly the same race or religion as you, although there is of course nothing wrong with organising a community along racial or religious lines. You are NOT required to love random people next door you don’t know or people the government is bringing in to destroy your neighbourhood or whatever. They are not what is mean by your “neighbours”.
The Bible also calls for you to love your neighbour as yourself. This means that once you have decided someone is a member of your community, there should be some element of unconditionality to your wishing the best for them, just as you presumably want the best for yourself, even if you don’t always live up to your own standards.
The concept of Purgatory comes from dissatisfaction with the idea that when people die their souls are either sent to eternal bliss in Heaven or eternal torment in Hell with no in-between. This seems counter-intuitive and unfair to a lot of people.
There is some Biblical and other evidence for the afterlife not just being the Heaven-Hell dichotomy. In Matthew 12 Jesus talks about sin that will not be forgiven in this or the next age, implying that some sin will be forgiven in the next age. In Luke 12 Jesus gives the parable of the four servants, implying different punishments for different levels of sin. In 1 Corinthians Paul talks about purification by fire, which some have taken to mean we can be redeemed after death. There is a Long-standing Christian and quasi-Christian tradition of praying for the dead, which would make no sense if the dead were already permanently assigned to Heaven or Hell.
To resolve the problem the Catholics came up with the concept of Purgatory around the tenth century. The idea was that the saints would go straight to Heaven and the unrepentant sinners would go straight to Hell, but those in between would go to Purgatory where they would suffer a Hellish fate for a while, but after a designated time had expired could then proceed to Heaven. This had the virtue of being a simple concept that average people could easily understand as well as having a measurable component – the time you needed to spend in Purgatory – which could be lessened depending on how much favour one courted with the Catholic Church.
My opinion is that the case for the afterlife not being as simple as just Heaven or Hell is well supported, but the existence of an actual physical place called Purgatory is speculative at best.
A point with Christianity some people wonder about is the idea that even horrendous crimes will be forgiven when the party repents while unrepentant sinners, though their sins are minor, will be punished. This doesn’t seem fair. The thing is that it doesn’t make sense to select people for eternity based on particular actions in the few years we are on earth, which may depend on a lot of things beyond our control. Concerning morality, it is more about how our characters are progressing.
Take one example (and props to C S Lewis for this). Say you have three men. They are all prone to go into violent rages and want to physically harm people who annoy them in the slightest way. One is confined to a wheelchair and his violent rages only cause people to laugh at him. Another is a healthy, strong man and injures or kills a few people before being imprisoned. The third finds himself in charge of an air force and so can kill millions.
Human justice would rightfully judge the men differently based on their actions, but in the eyes of God it makes sense that they would be judged the same, with the difference in their actions merely stemming from their particular circumstances.
Take another example. You have two men. One starts out as impulsively violent in his youth but over time realizes the error of his ways, repents and changes. The other starts out mellow in his youth but becomes more bad tempered over time, but maybe this doesn’t result in violence because his testosterone and physical ability lowers with age. Human justice would judge the first man more harshly than the second, but with God it would make sense for it to be the other way around.
If I keep posting original content every day I’ll eventually run out of things to say, so here is a C S Lewis essay, I guess commenting on the Pelagian Heresy – that is the question “Can I lead a good life without needing to care whether Christianity is true or not?”. The answer is no.
If a triune God was a way for people who knew Jesus personally to understand the situation – the creator God (The Father) incarnated Himself in human form (The Son/Jesus) and infused Him with something called The Holy Spirit, or some scenario to that effect – then that is fine.
The problem is that some reason people want to explain the eternal God in terms of some kind of metaphor for this or otherwise describe God as being triune in some form, which there just doesn’t seem to be any logical or Biblical justification for. Typically they say the incarnation and existence of Jesus is somehow eternal without any convincing explanation, or else they go on about how we can’t mentally conceive of a triune God. Well, if we can’t conceive of it then why believe it to be the case or talk about it in the first place?
Unless and until someone can come up with a plausible explanation for the trinity and show why this is Biblical and why this is needed, I propose the concept should be shelved for Christian ministries.
To have scientific advancement and an advanced society you need a few things.
You need a belief in a stable, knowable universe.
You need to know there are laws and a cohesive long-term plan behind that universe.
You need a moral belief that it is your duty to study and communicate the nature of that universe.
To meet these conditions, you need a moral, monotheistic, all-mighty God behind the universe. Why? If the universe is chaotic, there is no point in studying it, because what is true today is not going to be true tomorrow. Indeed it would not occur to anyone to study such a universe. If there are many gods with capricious human-like natures, as in most polytheistic religions, then the state of things will depend on the whims of one of many gods at a given time and place. If there is no plan behind the universe and no moral compunction to know it then there is no reason why the universe should be stable, and no-one would bother to expend the needed resources or risk upsetting the status quo, often for little or no short term reward, to find the truth.
Christianity is the only religion to meet these requirements. But what about Islam? You could see Islam as a heretical Christian sect that made much of its largely defunct contribution through Christians under dhimmi status. But what about atheist scientists? Where effective, they are operating under an implicit Christian worldview. Without Christianity this worldview will fade with time, causing their science to devolve into nonsense, as has now largely happened. If you want to live in an advanced society, you need Christianity back.
A reasonable Christian perspective would be that the entire reason for the existence of the Jewish people was to provide a springboard for Christianity. A figure like Jesus needed to arise among a people with a strong monotheistic religion that had a strong moral code. They also needed to be on the edge of empires, both for their appropriate development and, when Christianity arose, to allow it to spread.
To this end God first established the Jews from nothing with Abraham, nurtured and grew the population while adding genetic diversity in Egypt, established monotheism and moral laws after the Exodus and then subjected them to a series of conditions to trim the dead wood while retaining a loyal core. With Ezra the Jews became ethno-nationalist and held together with a mixture of religion and racism. This served to retain the religion while allowing it to become hypocritical and externalised enough for Jesus to eventually distinguish himself from.
Because of the monotheism of Judaism, the identification of Jesus with God by Himself and His followers had an impact that only the identification with an all-powerful monotheistic God could have had. Because people knew of the Jews and respected their long established moral system, as well as the Jews’ location on the edge of the Greek Cultural Empire and the Roman Military Empire, this belief was transmissible to the wider world. A monotheistic God with an established moral code was crucial to the rebirth of Western Civilization after the inevitable collapse of the Roman Empire. It was really beautifully done. Nice one God.
Real science applies in principle to things which we can examine under laboratory conditions. Anything we can’t get our hands on in time or in space is necessarily the subject of speculation. Despite this, an entire mythological cosmology has become associated with “science”. This mythology borrows extensively from mythological and storytelling traditions. I will summarise it here and then contrast it with the Christian cosmology in later posts:
Matter and energy can neither be created nor destroyed, except in one particular instant when all the matter and energy in the universe came into being (age of miracles/profane age). This exploded, but whereas most explosions lead to chaos, this one led to stars, planets and galaxies through the agency of gravity, a magical force instantaneously attracting everything in the universe to everything else.
On one of these planets that we know about, through some infinitesimally small chance, some self-replicating protein or nucleic acid or whatever came into existence and life was born. Life developed theoretically randomly, but in practice made inexorable progress to more complex forms. For a time, huge reptilian monsters ruled the earth, but through cunning and grit, first mammals generally and then from mammals humans took over from their larger opponents (underdog, ugly duckling).
Humans continued to progress, becoming more self-aware, eschewing the primitive gods of their own creation, inventing things and eventually becoming modern scientific people. So it looks like we are headed for an awesome future.
But not so fast. In the final analysis we are only aggregations of molecules bumping into each other in deterministic billiard ball fashion merely creating the illusion of consciousness. In time we won’t even get that. Our sun will burn out. All usable energy in the universe will become exhausted and result in “heat death”. All was futile and in the blink of a cosmological eye we have come from nothing and will return to nothing. (Ragnarök in Norse mythology).