The Religious A priori
The OT and Soical OPression
I was recently conversing with an atheist, who for lack of anything better to say, pulled out the old bit about how oprressive the Bible is. Of course he had to multiply examples with quote after quote about stoning the women and killing others and making slaves obey, yada yada yada, like I haven't thought about this. Iike I was a political organizer in the central America movmenet for years and a seminary student in a very liberal seminary, and I never gave a thought to the social relations in the Bible!
I said the verse about slaughter of the Amalektie infants was an interpolation. He responds with bo'd coup verses, one after another, all suppossedly saying the same things (of course they realy didn't say the same thing, just many things that offend the twentieth century sensiablity). Since there are just way too many veres to respond once for one, and it's all just mulitplying examples, I will list some general princples that I think answer the over all situtation viz God and social opression, especially as it realtes to the OT.
(1)But first, it's important to recognize the objective.
The atheist has to show that belief in God, speicifally the Hebrew God, made the situation worse. If it didn't worsen the lot of the people of that era, then where's the blame? To do that they have to do two things:
(a) compare to sourounding culture
(b) show that the problem comes directly from belief in the kind of God hte Hebrews had, as oppossed to other types of the day.
(2) Can't hold up ancient world people to modern standards.
We can't expect people in the ancinet world, who live prior to the modern western concepts of autonomy, indivuidualism and democracy and expect them to have leanred better at Woodstock. They didn't have Woodstock to learn from and they weren't hippies, they had no sexaul revoltuion and they couldnt' go to corner drug store and read about it in a teen magazine or a tabloid.
(3) Social Evolution not Revoltuion
Christ didn't explain to people how to build nuclear power plants or th theory of germs and anticeptic surgery, he didn't write medical books to make their lives better. He did some religious thing and went away again. That's becuase his mission was primarily spiritual. He was not a social revolutionary, even though what he said would be very revolutionary if it were practiced.
But basically God keeps pace with the understanding of people. The atheists seem to think that eveyrthing should be a vast revelation, unfolding of the new world before everyone's eyes. I've already sketched out my theory of soeteriologial drama in which God wants an individual search in the heart, and that's why he doesnt' pull back the veil of the sky, reveal heaven and set up shop on earth.
God allows us to make the journey. He allows us to set up our own socieity to apply the principles we learn to internatlize on our spiritual search as part of our ethical understanding concerning living in the world. Thus God allows Society to evolve at it's own place and allows the understanding of people to guide social reform and revolution.
Naturally things will look a lot rougher at the begining than at the end. The ancient world will be a lot more primative and barbarck than the modern world. That's just the conept of social evolution.
(4)The Bible is personal revealation not a guide to social utopia
What throws a lot of people off is that God seemed to be leading a nation in the OT. One would then expect that he would introduce that nation to the proper social enlightement. We forget a lot of those texts were polotical propaganda. The basic funciton of the OT is to form a cultural background so the mission of messiah makes sense. The real narue of Biblical revolation is the dialectical relationship between the reader and text. In other words, don't be suckered by ancient nationalism.
(5) The God led society was progressive
When you compare those barbaric practices of the Hebrews with those of sourrounding cultures they were better. They were more progressive. Consider the nature of war; most slaves were captives taken in war, for most nations around that day a woman captured in war was just a thing to be used as the captor saw fit. She would never again have any kind of rights or consideration and in a many cases be killed. In Hebrew culture she was protected form rape and in seven years had a chance to free herself.
*poor people could glean parts of the harvest for thsemselves
*everyone got land
*women went to Moses and demanded their fair share and it was given them
*Women takne in slavery protected from rape
*in Jubalee year the captives could free themselves.
*court sysetm set up to hear compalints of people
actually most of this stuff is more progressive than Bush's social agenda.
(6) Christian principles led to modern concepts of personhood and human rights.
the slave owners in the American south followed their econimic interest. But the workers int he underground RR who tended to be christains, and quakers and abolitinoists over all followed their reilgious princples,and they oppossed salvery, and closed down the slave trade in the 1820's before the civil war, and latter supported the union and helped end the insittution of slavery in the Confederacy and went on to push for women's rights as well.
*First Women's sufferage group in America Pheobe Palmer and Methodist Woen's Association
* firstt organize Abolition groui in America, very same people, Methodist women
*Chrarles Finney crusaded agisnt slavery and supported the abolution movment,and brought the entire second great awakening into the cause. He said "revolution is of God when the intellegence and understanding of the people exceeds the oppression being done to them."
*Pesant revolts in south Germany for rightrs of the poor
*Olypia, Deconess of Constantinople gave her personal fortune to free slaves. St. John Crysostom led social reform movment that was headed by man Deconeses of his diocesies.
*Christians for Socialism in 20th century chile
*CLamb Central america
*Snadinistas printed bibles tought Bible in literacy campign
*Father Ernesto Cardinal in Nicaragua, Father Camillio Tores in Boliva, all over Latin America Preists and nuns lead social and poltiical revolution against US cold war poltiics and social oppression.
*1930s America Chrsitians for socialism and industrial ation
*Dorothy Day supports christian socialism and starts comminites to bring soup kitchens to poor and share all goods in common.
In every time and place, in every social setting some chrsitrians have wored against the oppression to be the salt and light.
It's a journey of hte individual heart but it plays itself out in the way we relate to each other.
The Religious A priori