04 February 2010

Feb 4

Blind guides! You strain your water so you won't accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel! - Matthew 23:24

Reference links:
Old Testament

God gives Moses the some commandments. The division of the commandments into ten varies from group to group. Here are the commandments, using the division which makes sense to me (which happens to correspond to the Orthodox division).
  • I am the Lord your God. You must not have any other God but me
  • You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea
  • You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God
  • Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy
  • Honor your father and mother
  • You must not murder
  • You must not commit adultery
  • You must not steal
  • You must not falsely testify against your neighbor
  • You must not covet your neighbor's house or wife or anything else of your neighbors
Four of these are irrelevant to non-religious people and the rest seem like common sense. Upon inspection, the ten commandments do not provide the amount of insight you would expect given their cultural importance.

The commentary on the second commandment (by my listing) includes the following:
I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
The standard apologetic for this verse claims that sin tends to propagate from generation to generation because of the fallen nature of man. Accepting that apologetic requires ignoring the first two words of the passage. God lays the sins of the parents upon the children, not fallen human nature or whatever else apologists claim.

Another standard apologetic has to do with Biblical attitudes towards slavery. Apologists claim that slavery was a common practice at the time and God's commands regarding slavery served to improve the conditions of slaves. (According to some apologists, the same apologetic supposedly explains Biblical attitudes towards women too, especially in the New Testament.)

Today's reading weakens that apologetic. God gives Moses instructions for the treatment of Hebrew slaves. Even if slavery was an inevitable consequence of warfare between tribes, a good God would forbid the Israelites from enslaving each other.

God tells Moses how people should be punished for mistreating each other. One should be put to death for murder, kidnapping, or striking or dishonoring one's parents. Death for striking or dishonoring one's parents, seems rather extreme.

In contrast, people are not killed for beating their slaves. If the slave dies, they are punished, but not with death. If the slave does not die, they get off free. The assailant owns the slave after all. Going back to the apologetics about slavery, one would think that a good God would treat murder of a slave like murder of anyone else.

New Testament

Jesus rags on the Pharisees some more. Mostly just boring ranting, but there are some entertaining ones, like the one that won the "quote of the day" position.

Psalms and Proverbs
I pray to you, O Lord, my rock.
Do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you are silent,
I might as well give up and die.
I was never actually religious enough to find becoming  an atheist painful. However, the passage above seems an apt summary of the feelings of deeply religious people who are losing their belief. Fortunately, people seem to move beyond such feelings of despair and realize that the universe is an even more amazing and fascinating place without some God pulling the strings.

It seems that even the people who named today's section from Proverbs were starting to feel my frustration with the excess concern of the proverbs with immoral women (section titles, like chapter and verse divisions, were not part of the original text). Today's section is titled "Another Warning about Immoral Women". Maybe we can move on to something else soon. Please?