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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Difficult-to-Accept-but-Do-It Solution

It is too late to choose the ignorance option, so let's investigate the idea that hard as it may be, we should follow the guidance from Exodus and Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

Hypothetical
You receive a phone call from your sister. She is hysterical. Her husband has gotten into trouble with his gambling again, and this time, to raise the money he worked out an arrangement where your fifteen year old niece was sent to a buddy of his in Fakistan. The guy is an American he knew from when they were in Iraq together. It is unclear whether your niece will be forced to "marry" the guy or the guy's son. Your sister says that her husband told her that the guy would not harm their daughter and that it was the only way for him to raise the money.

Just then, your niece beeps in on the call waiting. She is in the bathroom at the airport about to leave for Fakistan. Her dad's buddy ordered her to talk to no one. She doesn't know whether she can call the police or not. She wants to know whether she should obey this guy or call the police.
Okay, so I am assuming that all who read this would tell the girl to call the police, the sister to divorce the husband and call the police, and maybe make a telephone call to the authorities themselves. But, of course, there are other hypotheticals in which we would do X,Y & Z, despite knowing that the conduct is wrong. And give ourselves a pass saying that no one is perfect.

So, how close a call is this? How sure are you that it would be wrong to advise the girl to obey her new master and tell your sister that it sounds like her husband did everything in accordance with God's law?

It is not a close call for me. I am 100% positive that what I've suggested most readers would do is the right thing to do. It is what God would have us do. But I'm only one person. I'd be interested to hear other opinions.

4 comments:

Matt Dick said...

I'm not your primary audience here, but what evidence do you have that God's will is that you stop this? Obviously the entire point of this exercise is to try to discover the origin of our morality, but it seems to me that you have no evidence other than the weight of centuries of Western philosophy to support you.

JimII said...

I want to avoid rushing the discussion. So, let me just say, I think you have a fair point that the sense that everyone has that it is wrong to sell your daughter into slavery could have evolved out of Helenist Culture.

And that notion might compell a literalist to accept tis as a difficult to accept, but nonetheless valid, instruction.

I would say at this point in the analysis I am left with an enormous contradiction to work through. I know from the teachings of Jesus and from my personal experience with the church that all God's children are equal in God's eyes. I know that we are to lift up the oppressed and be a voice for the down-trodden. And yet, we have these scriptures accomodating conduct that today would be the opposite of all that.

For me, I can't answer the contradiction by accepting this as a difficult to accept but valid instruction. I will have to resort to one of the other two solutions I have suggested.

Matt Dick said...

The passage has so many fascinating ins and outs. So on the surface Paul is sort of casually instructing you on the particulars of selling your daughter. It's clear from his instruction that you can't sell her like you would an old oxcart, you owe her something more than that. That her status is discussed that, is even more horrendous, because by doing so, he makes it abundantly clear that the selling itself is perfectly fine.

But by the same token, he makes it clear that the slave and the owner are equal in God's eyes. This is what is so discordant with our current philosophy. Is it possible that 1st century Pharisees had the same expectation that you saw in 19th century westerners that slavery was just a station given to some of humanity? That it didn't really confer a lower level of "worth", it just was some people's place to have a crappy life of servitude? It seems impossible to hold that idea in your head, but people clearly are capable of such a philosophy. But it sure is hard to imagine believing someone *should* be a slave but at the same time they are seen in the eyes of God the same way you are.

Then again, this is the guy whose entire claim to fame as an apostle is saying, "No really guys, I *saw* him, I swear! Back there on the road... no, not 30 years ago, just now! you know if you hurry..."

The the final way to interpret this is more nuanced and leveled. It's to recognize that Paul really was a 1st century zealot and in that context it was pretty loving of him to say, "Now hold on a minute, your daughter is still of God, and her well-being is still your responsibility and God will not countenance you selling her to people who will mistreat her or will separate her from her God."

Honestly, I find that charitable to Paul. It's hard to change society all at once. Of course as charitable as that is, it condemns Christianity at the same time as a faith without fixed standards. That's the hard part of this for literalists, and while it makes it easier for (religious) liberals like you to build a better Christianity, it also makes it harder to call yourself a Christian in any sense that someone like Paul would recognize.

It's passages like this that make me believe that if they were around today, the Apostles would be holed him in cave on the border of Afghanistan cursing Oral Roberts for being so liberal with his women.

JimII said...

It's not a major point, but the passage about selling your daughter comes from the Torah. The bit about obeying your master comes from Paul.

Actually, Paul's letter is considerably more defensible by modern standards than the slavery rule from Exodus. If someone instructed 19th century slaves that their salvation lies not in this world but the next, and as a result they should be obedient to their masters, I don't know that I would call that person evil.