Friday, February 27, 2009

Sound Off 02-28-09

So Scrip and Biggums are on their belated honeymoon, and I wish them the best. My own honeymoon was a bit of a letdown. My now ex-wife wanted to go to Orlando, which didn't excite me all that much, but it wasn't like I had any better ideas. She was very much a type A personality, and I am type B; she wanted everything planned, I was content to go with the flow and be spontaneous. In short, there arose far more arguments than romance; it was a week-long battle of wills set to the tune of "It's a Small World After All".

Today's question:

(If you're married or divorced) How was your honeymoon?
(Whether you're married or not) What would you consider a perfect honeymoon?

Signing Out Until March 9th...

Hello All,

Biggums and I (Script) are leaving in two hours for a cruise on the Caribbean. It is unlikely that I will have internet access or the time for such access while away. Philo has kindly offered to stay at our place as a resident zoo keeper, so be sure to toss him a thank you on our behalf. With us gone, the number of new posts will probably drop a little, but we will see you upon our return.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sound Off 02-26-09

Is giving stuff up for Lent a Catholic thing? I'm not sure. When I was in middle school, I once gave up TV for Lent. It was a long 40 days when you couldn't watch the "Dukes of Hazzard". Greater love hath no man...

What, if anything, are you doing or giving up for Lent? If nothing, have you ever done or given up something in the past?

Butt[er] Morality

Kyle Butt, a contributor at Apologetics Press an online database of conservative Christian apologetic material, makes a number of pejorative statements that relate to atheism and ethics outside of a theistic framework. His article "Beware of Dawkins' 'Common Sense' starts out with the statement that Richard Dawkins' "atheistic assumptions" make it "impossible to arrive at a legitimate set of ethical judgments." Butt makes the faulty assumption that Dawkins is some type of a figure head for all atheists as he faults atheism in general for the views of Dawkins. This brief review of Butt's article will unveil the unjust criticisms that he makes of Dawkins and atheistic morality while emphasizing the humanity of pseudo-theistic ethics.

In The God Delusion Dawkins makes the point that indoctrinating a child in a religion is a form of mental child abuse. Dawkins then asserts that it is against "common sense" to teach a child to be religious. Regardless of what one's opinion is of Dawkins' position about childhood religious indoctrination, Dawkins unmistakably draws upon "common sense" as a source of morality. To Dawkins, common sense is a sufficient, though fallible guide to making appropriate moral decisions. Dawkins does not posit that common sense is perfect or incapable of misleading. He, as Butts points out, is willing to concede that common sense will sometimes lead us to think or observe the phenomenal in ways that are misleading due to evolved limitations.

Butts asks, "Should we trust our 'common sense' when making moral decisions?" The implied answer is, "No." Butts asserts that it is necessary to look to the "Truth revealed by the Creator" to establish morality. Butts then faults non-absolute moralities, like those of most atheists, for being non-absolute and hence illogical. What Butts fails to acknowledge is that there is no explicit and consistent ethical "Truth" in the form of a comprehensive and relevant ethical workbook for mankind. We have the Pentateuch, a smattering conglomerate of irrelevant laws and backward ethical assumptions. We have the Gospels which build upon and universalize the Jewish Scriptures but which are likewise limited in scope. How does possessing an infallible source of ethics serve one if that source is ethically oblique and often contrary to modern values? How does Butts, for example, establish women suffrage, civil rights, freedom of religion, and freedom of sexual choice from the Bible? These are ethical matters that he accepts, to some degree, but that are often contrary to biblical patterns of relevance to the same.

Infallible authority always borders on abuse. If one is not capable of being critical of a source, because it is deemed infallible, it is impossible to ameliorate an ethical conclusion that is otherwise based on the infallible source. What if, for example, the findings of science and medical research finally catch up with the pastoral world, convincing it that homosexuality is largely genetic and/or predetermined before birth? Will the fundamentalist pastor embrace the ethical implications of this, or will she continue to assert her majority perspective to the un-Constitutional deprivation of others from legal rights? Will she jettison the Bible as she should in the daylight of reason and moral burden? No, she will likely continue to hide herself from the devil's details in the guise of the "Creator's Truth" revealed by an ancient tribal numen and repeated by the homophobic Paul. But, that is another issue.

Butt's position on the absolute "Truth" would be bettered if he had a perspicuous written revelation. The fact is the Bible is so shrouded in interpretive red tape that it is foolish to assert that one actually relies on it for morals. Morals are relative, and it's high time that the Christian believer realizes and acknowledges that her ethics are not in line with the Bible—they exist regardless of the Bible's teaching. She is just as much reliant on "common sense" in moral judgment as the atheist. But, the atheist is in a better position because she is willing to accept that her standards are fallible and open to consideration. Amen.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sound Off 02-24-09

People of many stripes--religious fundamentalists, environmentalists, atheists, etc.--feel that humanity is on the pathway to destruction or extinction. Today's question relates to these sentiments.

Today's question: Is humanity on the brink of extinction? How much longer does humanity have, and what will be the reason for the end of humanity?

Obviously, there are no right answers; share what you think is reasonable or what resonates with your gut.

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה – Pre-Marital Sex

In the previous ethical reflection on Pentateuchal legislation, I pointed out the inadmissibility of indirect evidence in biblical jurisprudence. In both testaments it was shown that direct evidence in the form of witnesses is required to indict a man of an accusation. I mention "man" in this previous sentence not to be sexist but rather because there are exceptions when a woman cannot invoke the need for witnesses to protect herself from punishment for promiscuity. One of these cases already covered relates to the "spirit of jealousy" and a trial by ordeal prescribed in Numbers 5 in which the accused wife is made to drink a potentially lethal or sterilizing solution to "determine" her innocence. The man who is suspected of being her accomplice is not required to submit to any trials by ordeal, and, unless there are witnesses to adultery, he gets away without consequence. The next case is prescribed in the following:

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a virgin: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth [the tokens of] the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel's father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech [against her], saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these [are the tokens of] my daughter's virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him; And they shall amerce him in an hundred [shekels] of silver, and give [them] unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days. But if this thing be true, [and the tokens of] virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

Tokens of Virginity

In case the reader is not familiar with this term, "tokens of virginity" (בְּתוּלִים, plural for virginity) refers to the custom of keeping a stained garment or sheet from the deflowering of a virginal bride. This sheet becomes an acknowledgement that the virgin bride's hymen was intact until the wedding night and hence is deemed an evidence of the bride's virginity. This passage presumes this practice which is otherwise not directly prescribed in the Pentateuch.

The quality of this evidence must be openly questioned. The hymen is a poor attestation to the virginity of a woman. The hymen does not always create a full obstruction and may even remain intact after years of intercourse. Additionally, the hymen will often break or tear from non-sexually related activities. Hence, the hymen is not a reliable barometer of sexual activity. Unfortunate for the Israelite bride, her life may depend on the integrity of her hymen—a membrane which she may have no control over. The admissibility of the "tokens of virginity" in this case represents a break from the general Pentateuchal requirement for direct witnesses and places many a potentially innocent bride at risk with no risk to any potential male accomplice.

The Elders..Shall Chastise Him

This passage does prescribe a punishment for the husband who wrongfully accuses his wife of pre-marital unchastely behavior. He is required to pay off a monetary fine and he is required to maintain his wife without the possibility of divorce. Though, honestly, divorce at this point seems a mercy to the wife, it allowed for her financial security in a patriarchal society where men owned property and the means of production.

Stone Her with Stones

If the "tokens of virginity" cannot be produced to absolve the bride of guilt, she is punished with loss of life. There are a number of telling descriptions here. Christians generally accept that pre-marital sex is forbidden in the Bible. Though they are partially correct in assuming this, few would be willing to accept the biblical qualifications for why the act is evil. This text plainly states that her fault is in bringing shame to her "father's house." Hence, the woman's action is not a violation of personal dignity or value as it is seen today in post-feminist cultures; rather, it is defined by the impact that it has on male or patriarchal prestige. In reference to this passage and others, Brueggemann (2002) states,

…the way in which the laws in Deuteronomy 20:14, 22:13-20, and 24:1-5 "construct" sexual roles of man and woman … are profoundly sexist. While evidences of partnership exist, for the most part the laws articulate the woman as the property of the man, certainly subordinate and without equal entitlement. The prohibition against coveting (Exod. 20:17, Deut. 5:21) thus parallels "wife" to "field," indicating the two prize possessions that are to be honored and respected as the man's possession (p. 192).

In the same vein, it is worth noting that Pentateuchal adultery is qualified by the marital status of the woman, not the man. Brueggeman (2002) notes,

Indeed, adultery committed by a man is not adultery if with an unmarried woman. The act is only adultery if it is committed with the wife of another man, whereby the affront is fundamentally against the husband of the woman… (p. 193).

The Pentateuch is hardly sexually egalitarian. It prescribes one set of standards, albeit both risky and strict, for the woman and then does not apply the same to the man. The married man is able to have sexual relations with any unmarried woman. The married woman must remain exclusive as the property of her one husband. The married woman can be accused at any time of infidelity and punished without direct evidence. The man can only be punished with direct witnesses to his misconduct.

I realize that most Christians distance themselves form the "old Jewish law" and now look to the "law of Christ" as their guide. They are often willing to accept the fact that the Old-Testament God is cruel and sexist, but the Jesus of the Gospel is merciful and egalitarian. I do not buy into this paradigm. If the Paul of the New Testament can declare, "…the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good" (Romans 7:12), then truly Paul would not have accepted such a frame of God as bipolar or schizoid. The God of the Old Testament is the theologically the God of the New Testament. I know that Jews and Christians do not apply Deuteronomy 22:13-21 in their congregations, but I ask biblical theists to consider the ethics of a God who is partial against the plight of the woman. The atheist is morally free from the regressive implications of this passage, where the theist is forced to ignore the same.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sound Off 02-22-09

Today's Question:

Which of the contributors or readers of this blog do you identify with the most?