Thursday, January 26, 2006

Morality and Moralism, pt. 1

HypoChristians: Morality and Moralism, what's the difference?

Any secular humanist or atheist interested in understanding the Bible, or the mindset of those who claim to follow it, should start with the passage at Exodus 32; v. 25-29:

...Moses realized that...Aaron had let the people run wild.
He...cried, "Whoever is for the lord, let him come to me!"
All the Levites then rallied to him, and he told them,
"Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:
Put your sword on your hip, every one of you!
Now go up and down the camp, from gate to gate and slay your own kinsmen,
your friends and neighbours!"
The Levites carried out the command of Moses, and that day there fell about three thousand of the people.
Then Moses said, "Today you have been dedicated to the Lord,
For you were against your own sons and kinsmen,
to bring a blesssing upon yourselves this day"

So, we see the morally outrageous act here is to dance around the Golden Calf, and its morally defensible remedy to be the mass murder of 'about three thousand people'. (Notes to this passage, from the New American Bible, state that the original Hebrew says 'about twenty and three thousand.' St. Paul cites this passage in a threatening manner in a couple of his epistles, and he uses the number 23,000). This illustrates the difference between
being moral
(having your own behaviour conform to some standard of virtue or right)
and being a moralist
(declaring that you have the right to force someone else to conform to your standard)
and it illustrates the horrific danger posed by those who indulge in moralism rather than morality.
One other inescapable observation about this passage is that this is the exact point in Biblical history where the Levites ascended to a position of privilege above the 12 tribes of Israel. Henceforth, all of the Israelites would automatically owe the Levites 1/10th. of their income (known as the tithe) plus a few other tributes (a shekel a year 'head tax', and various sin offerings, etc.). Most of this is described in fine detail within the text of Exodus, explaining why the word levy is defined as 'a collection of tax, or raising of men for war, especially under compulsion'.
While we're on the subject of the book of Exodus, I've actually read the thing. Before I read it, I believed what everybody else believes, that it is the story of the liberation of the Jews from slavery under the Egyptians. It's not. What actually is described is the TRANSFER of ownership of the Israelites, from the Pharaoh to Aaron, Moses, and the Levites. If you don't believe me READ IT YOURSELF. I especially refer you to the 21st chapter, which by the way comes right after the ten commandments, and could be considered the fine print to them.

Meanwhile, about 5,000 years later, we have the unholy alliance between the Republican Party and the hypocritical Christian Right (or, as I call them the hypoChristians). Its not much of a stretch to see the connection I'm trying to draw here. What may be suprising though, is that I, an atheist/secular humanist, who believes in unholy things like Evolution and stemcell research, think that Jesus would be on my side in this argument. Because, unlike the hypocrites who call themselves Christians, I've actually read the New Testament. But I think I may have gotten more out of it than they did, because I read it without any preconceptions that it was the Word Of God, and without the fear that I would Burn In Hell if I didn't believe everything it said.
No wonder the hypoChristians are such psychotics. How can anyone's sanity survive when they are not allowed to see the hundreds of contradictions in their so-called message of salvation? How does one reconcile, for instance Jesus' gentle admonition 'suffer the little children to come unto me' with the vitriolic in Revelations 2:20ff.?
(speaking about Jezebel):
'I mean to cast her down on a bed of pain; her companions in sin I will plunge into intense suffering...and her children I will put to death'
The bible has to be read with the idea that some of it is true, and some of it isn't. No logical analysis can proceed without this assumption. And if you do read the bible with this open-minded attitude, one of the first things you'll discover is this: Jesus and St. Paul were on opposite sides in practically every possible point. Jesus was a liberal, and strongly anti-authoritarian. Paul was a conservative, and very judgemental. Jesus was very down-to-earth, and said, 'know what is before your face, and what is hidden will be revealed to you'. Paul said the opposite, "we do not fix our gaze on what is seen, but on what is unseen". Jesus speaks in the language of liberation, Paul in the language of slavery. Jesus in the language of equality, Paul in the language of privilege. Jesus the language of concrete, practical reality. Paul the language of nebulouse mysticism.
Paul, the counterrevolutionary to Jesus' revolution, was a Pharisee who had trained with the Saducees. His only goal was to reestablish the idea that 99% of humanity was born owing their livelihoods (and now, under Christianity, their very lives) to a small privileged hereditary class. Who would make all their 'moral' judgements for them. And tax the hell out of them. And criticize and condemn them at every opportunity. So, if you call yourself a Christian, EXAMINE THAT PREMISE. Look for the contradictions in the doctrine, and decide which side you're on when you detect a conflict. Are you justified by faith (St. Paul) or by works (St. James)?
And, by the way, don't accept that a book is right just because it's in the canon, or wrong because its not. I just quoted Jesus' words from the book of Thomas (not canon), but most scholars believe he actually said those words. Many quotations from the canonical Jesus were put into his mouth by someone else long after he died. One objection I have to the hypoChristian thought process is that it is so intellectually disengaged. The hypoChristian assumes they've already found the truth, so they don't examine the truly exciting and REVEALED materials like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Library (the latter being the source of such extra-canonical material as the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Philip, etc.)
Which, kinda brings me back to my main subject, that being the difference between morality (good) and moralism (bad), and the exploitation of that difference by the Religious Right. Because the one thing the hypoChristian leadership depends on the most is the intellectual disengagement of the hypoChristian followers. And here they can feel very confident indeed. They are relying on something as dependable as gravity. It is a basic characteristic of the religious fundamentalist that the leadership is not to be questioned. This particular attitude is so diametricly opposed to my own that I find it hard to comprehend. Let me get this straight. This set of ancient documents is so important to me that I'm going to let it make all the most important decisions in my life for me. But I'm going to let someone else (say, Pat Robertson, maybe. Or Jim Jones, or David Koresh...) decide what it really says, and which parts of it are more important than which other parts of it.
Why not let me tell you what it DOESN'T say? At least you can depend on me not to misinterpret a negative.
It doesn't say 'Blessed are the capitalists'. It doesn't praise free enterprise, profiteering, creative accounting, hostile takeovers, or corporate lobbying and the institutional corruption of government. (sorry, RALPH REED, former head of the Christian Coalition and good friend of Jack Abramoff).
It doesn't say anything about abortion. Not at all. The hypoChristian leadership talks about this all the time, but they don't really care about it. Their pollsters just told them it was a key issue to a lot of voters, who would accept any position on all the other issues if a politician said they would fight to restrict reproductive choice. The strength of feeling on this is so high that it creates a readily exploited vulnerability in a significant segment of the electorate.
The bible definitely does not give George W. Bush the power to hold hundreds of people in jail without being charged, and without access to basic legal rights, either as a criminal defendant or as a prisoner of war. It does not give him the authority to spy on thousands of his own citizens at a time, or to declare the Constitution to be invalid. No more than the Koran gave Osama Bin Laden the right to send suicide bombers into the World Trade Center.
The bible does not require or expect you to be stupid, or ignorant, or compacently sheepish.
So, if you call yourself a Christian, and don't think of yourself as a hypocrite, maybe you could consider the difference between morality (once again, good) and moralism (still bad). And think about this:
You who are without sin, cast the first stone.
Do not strain at the mote in your neighbours eye, when there is a beam in your own.
And maybe think about the good Samaritan too. Even though he wasn't in the right group, his behaviour was righteous. And maybe I, who am an atheist/secular humanist, can cause you to think about the difference between morality and moralism. Believe me, there is a difference.