Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Christianity and Ethics

In a previous blog post entitled Who Was Jesus Christ? I recapitulated and clarified my views on what it means to me to be a Christian. As I stated in that post, I have no doubt that those views will alienate me from many people who consider themselves to be "true Christians." Similarly, I have no doubt that this post regarding Christianity and ethics will alienate me from even more self-confessed Christians. So be it.

As I stated in the previous post to which I referred above, I do not accept the Bible as a canonical source of Christian wisdom, nor do I accept the gospels as an accurate account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, much less their claim that Christ was physically resurrected and later ascended into heaven. What I do accept at face value is the extraordinary claim that Christ was God, and that scripture is one of the most authoritative sources of Christian wisdom to be found. As such, I frequently turn to scripture for spiritual and moral guidance.

If you are prepared to accept scripture as the Word of God, then I think it is fair to say that God demands blind obedience of you. To wit, there is no shortage of scripture wherein God lays down the law and persecutes or destroys those who disobey it. At the same time, as evidenced by the Book of Job, God is just as likely to allow Satan to persecute those who uphold God's law. So, in the final analysis, there is no reward for blind obedience to God other than the empty consolation that you did exactly what God told you to do.

Unlike most people who turn to scripture for spiritual and moral guidance, I am prepared to question its authority. Indeed, to the extent that scripture demands any sort of obedience, I am prepared to question its authority. Moreover, I am unwilling to worship a God who demands blind obedience. Accordingly, to the extent that scripture might be correct in demanding such obedience, I am prepared to withhold my worship from God. Even so, when I am in doubt, I am prepared to accept scripture as a more or less objective moral authority.

There is no doubt in my mind that people can and should use their own reason to make decisions about ethics and morality, putting scripture into its proper perspective. To wit, the scripture found in the Bible was not written by God. It was written over several millennia by dozens of human beings who believed in God, then it was copied and translated by countless intermediaries who interspersed it with their own viewpoints. Finally, it was assembled into some semblance of a biblical canon and published in one of the many versions of the Bible that are currently available to modern man[sic]. With these limitations in mind, it is incumbent upon those who turn to scripture for moral guidance to reconsider some of the strict laws that God purportedly laid down.

Christ himself pointed out that God did not make man for the law. (See Mark 2:27.) Rather, the law was made for man. (Ibid.) What makes this assertion so compelling is not the person who made it, but the soundness of the reasoning on which this assertion is based. However, to some extent, the message cannot be separated from the messenger, a man who many Christians believe was the Word made flesh, a belief that gave rise to the Christian sacrament of Communion. To wit, by eating sacramental bread, one can become one with the Word of God, and by drinking sacramental wine, one can become one with the Spirit of God.

In my humble opinion, the combination of the Word and the Spirit in the sacrament of Communion is the key to understanding what is truly moral in the eyes of God. To wit, we can obey the letter of the law and still not understand the spirit of the law. Similarly, we can disobey the letter of the law and yet be faithful to the spirit of the law. Ideally, we should obey both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. However, in the final analysis, I believe that the letter of the law is for those who do not understand the spirit of the law, and that those who are one with the spirit need not always obey the letter of the law to be right with God.

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