Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The surpassing love and tenderness of God

When our iniquity had come to its full height, and it was clear beyond all mistaking that retribution in the form of punishment and death must be looked for, the hour arrived in which God had determined to make known from then onwards His loving-kindness and His power. How surpassing is the love and tenderness of God! in that hour, instead of hating us and rejecting us and remembering our wickednesses against us, He showed how long-suffering He is. He bore with us, and in pity He took our sins upon Himself and gave His own Son as a ransom for us - the Holy for the wicked, the Sinless for sinners, the Just for the unjust, the Incorrupt for the corrupt, the Immortal for the mortal. For was there, indeed, anything except His righteousness that could have availed to cover our sins? In whom could we, in our lawlessness and ungodliness, have been made holy, but in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange! O unsearchable working! O benefits unhoped for! - that the wickedness of multitudes should thus be hidden in the One holy, and the holiness of One should sanctify the countless wicked! (The Epistle to Diognetus chap. 9)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflections on Beauty

There are many defects of the modern mind, but surely one of the most serious is its being conditioned to prize mere functional utility at the expense of beauty. When we consider the value of something, we almost always do so in terms of its usefulness. What’s it good for?  What function does it perform?  Is it efficient?

The question we rarely seem to ask is, “Is it beautiful?” How often do we purchase something simply for the pure aesthetic delight we take in it?  Are we not inclined to think such an expense a waste of money?

Yet God has given us senses that appreciate beauty – sights, sounds, and smells that have a pleasing effect. Sadly, however, Christians often fail to cultivate their aesthetic sense. It is thought to be unspiritual to “waste time” on such things. But God’s delight in things beautiful is displayed in his handiwork. Think of the varieties of color he splashes on the sky at sunset, the thousands of hues of green in nature (with none of them clashing), the sparkling heavens at night, the smell of honeysuckle, the sound of birds singing their songs to God, the taste of a good wine. To a modern utilitarian it might seem that God wasted an awful lot of creative energy on things that serve no useful purpose other than to ravish our senses. But God was pleased not only to ensure our survival in the world by providing us with what is necessary, but also to ensure our enjoyment of it by providing us with what is beautiful and pleasing.

Created as we are in God’s image, we are drawn to the beautiful, and unless our aesthetic sense has been stifled by a crass utilitarian brain-washing, we pursue the beautiful, not merely in purely artistic pursuits like painting and sculpture, but in everyday ordinary activities, like how we dress, how we speak, how we set the table, how we worship.

Below are some quotations from various sources that might help us recover a sense of the importance of beauty.

“Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Gen. 29:17).

“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty” (Ex. 28:2).

“See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Ex. 31:1-5).

“Sound theology leads always to the love of beauty. When there is no love of beauty, we may say, reasoning modus tollens, that there is no sound theology” (Douglas Wilson, Angels in the Architecture, p. 26).

“We were created to make beautiful things - in music, in stone, on canvass, in sculpted gardens and in wonderful buildings” (Douglas Wilson, Angels in the Architecture, p. 31).

“Beauty is never ‘necessary,’ ‘functional,’ or ‘useful.’  And when, expecting someone whom we love, we put a beautiful tablecloth on the table and decorate it with candles and flowers, we do all this not out of necessity, but out of love. And the Church is love, expectation and joy… As long as Christians will love the Kingdom of God, and not only discuss it, they will ‘represent’ it and signify it, in art and beauty” (Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 30).

Note:  Angels in the Architecture by Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson has been instrumental in shaping my views on this subject.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Reflections on the sin of Korah

In Numbers 16 we read about a man by the name of Korah, who along with some men from the tribe of Reuben, accused Moses of exalting himself in Israel. “They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (16:3) It adds an interesting twist to the story when we realize that this Korah was Moses’ cousin. Their fathers were brothers.

The charge that Korah brought against Moses and Aaron had to do with the greater access to God they enjoyed with respect to officiating in the tabernacle. Only they and Aaron’s sons were allowed to serve as priests. Because of this Korah accused them of “exalting themselves above the assembly of the Lord,” claiming that “all in the congregation are holy, every one of them.” Psalm 106 says, “Men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord” (Psalm 106:16).

Two things might be said in response to this. First, Korah overlooked the fact that this prerogative was not something that Moses and Aaron claimed for themselves on their own initiative, but something that was given to them by God. As the writer of Hebrews says, “No one takes this honor [of the priesthood] for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was” (Heb. 5:4). The priesthood was a divine arrangement. Therefore, in finding fault with Moses about this, Korah was finding fault with God.

Second, Korah himself enjoyed a highly privileged position. Not only was he from the tribe of Levi, thus possessing the right to share in the privileges of that tribe’s unique calling (Num. 1:50-54; 18:1-7, 21-32), but he was also from the clan of Kohath, and as such had greater access to God than the two other clans of Levi (Gershon and Merari). The clan of Kohath had been given the great honor of caring for the holiest items of the tabernacle in Israel’s march through the wilderness (3:31-32; 4:4-20; cf. 7:9). Korah, in fact, had everything but the priesthood. But this was not enough for him. As long as there was something to be had that was off limits to him, he would not be satisfied, especially if someone else was given access to it. Korah challenged Moses on the point of fairness. “It’s not fair that you have something I don’t have!” He was true egalitarian.

Dathan and Abriam, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, joined Korah in his rebellion. They were from the tribe of Reuben (16:1). Reuben camped to the south of the sanctuary, the same side as Korah and the Kohathites (cf. 2:10-11; 3:29). Thus, Korah and his associates and the men of Reuben would have had “ample opportunity to commiserate” with each other in their grievances against Moses.[1]

The men of Reuben may have had an additional objection to the ordering of Israelite society. They may have objected to the fact that their tribe had not been given the traditional right of the firstborn (Gen. 49:3-4).

Moses, however, upheld God’s right to appoint whomever he pleased to the priestly office, and likewise to deny that honor to whomever he pleased.

When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him… You have gone too far, sons of Levi!” (16:4, 7)

Moses turns the charge around. It was not he who had gone too far, but Korah.

Hear now, you sons of Levi:  is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also? (vv. 8-10)

Korah was ungrateful for the high honor the Lord had been pleased to confer upon him. He considered it “too small a thing” and grasped for more than what God was pleased to give.[2] This is very instructive. It could be said to be the essence of all sin. Consider Adam and Eve. They had been blessed beyond measure:  created in the image of God, called into his fellowship, enjoying the delights of Paradise. One thing only was prohibited to them—eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They could eat from all the other trees in the garden except from it. And this is where the devil focused his attention. He aroused their discontent so that they overstepped their bounds and reached for a position which God had denied to them. 

This was the great sin of the king of Babylon, too, who said, “I will ascend to heaven; I will sit on the mount of the assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:12-14).

Jealousy is an insidious evil which can manifest itself both personally and politically. (Think the Occupy Wall Street movement or Progressivism generally.) Envy of the success or privilege of others is base, although it has the advantage of appearing virtuous when indulged in in the name of fairness or equality.

We should do our best, with God’s help, to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness and contentment for all the good we enjoy, even if it is not as abundant as we might wish (Phil. 4:12) or as abundant as what others enjoy. Rather than being jealous of their good fortune, we should rejoice with them in it (Rom. 12:15). Not everyone is called to be rich. Not everyone is called to positions of great influence. God distributes his gifts as he sees fit (1 Cor. 12:4-6).  

For not from the east or from the west
      and not from the wilderness comes lifting up,
but it is God who executes judgment,
      putting down one and lifting up another (Ps. 75:6-7)

This is not an excuse for passivity but rather a call to beware of envy and to seek contentment in God’s providence. 

[1] Timothy R. Ashley, The Book of Numbers in NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), p. 303
[2] Later Uzziah would fall into the same transgression. Though he had the great honor of being king, he was discontent that he did not also possess the priesthood and suffered the terrible consequences of his envy (2 Chron. 26:16-21).

"Why don't they teach logic at these schools?"

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself.
“Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”
- C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe -

I recently came across this picture, which seems to be making the rounds on social media in one form or another. What do you suppose is its purpose, its intended meaning? What conclusion does its creator wish us to draw? Is it simply that blacks, whites, gays, straights, religious people, and atheists all have the same basic skeletal structure? This is true enough, of course, but also so obvious as to scarcely need pointing out.

So what is its meaning? Given the social and political climate of the day, it seems to be this:  that blacks, whites, gays, straights, religious people, and atheists are all morally equivalent. The picture contains an argument that might be expressed in the following syllogism:

People who have the same skeletal structure are morally equivalent.

Blacks, whites, gays, straights, religious people, and atheists have the same skeletal structure.

Therefore, blacks, whites, gays, straights, religious people, and atheists are morally equivalent.

So what are we to think of the logical value of this argument? Is it valid? That is, does the conclusion follow from the premises? Yes. If it is true that people with the same skeletal structure are morally equivalent; and if it is true that blacks, whites, gays, straights, religious people, and atheists have the same skeletal structure, then it is necessarily true that such people are morally equivalent.

However, while the argument is valid, it is not sound. Let us pause for a moment and remind ourselves of the difference between validity and soundness. A valid argument is one in which the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, regardless of whether or not the premises are true. Consider an example:

All men have beards.
Doug Enick is a man.
Therefore, Doug Enick has a beard.

This argument is valid (the conclusion—which also happens to be true—necessarily follows from the premises), but it is not sound because one of the premises (the first) is false.[1] Soundness is stronger than validity. To say an argument is valid is to say that its conclusion follows from its premises. To say that an argument is sound is to say not only that its conclusion follows from its premises, but also that its premises are true.

The argument implied in the picture above, though valid, is not sound because the first premise (“People who have the same skeletal structure are morally equivalent”) is false. What does skeletal structure have to do with morality? This point might become clearer if we add a couple skeletons to the picture. Label one, Hitler, and the other, Mother Theresa. They have the same basic skeletal structure. Shall we therefore conclude they are morally equivalent?

We should further observe that the minor term (“blacks, whites, gays, straights, religious people, and atheists”)[2] compares apples and oranges. The color of one’s skin is an immutable physical characteristic and has no moral bearing. Sexual behavior, on the other hand, is…well, behavior, and as such has moral implications. The same can be said with respect to acknowledging or refusing to acknowledge God (religious people and atheists).

The implied argument, then, clearly fails. The most the picture “proves” is that all people, regardless of skin color, sexual behavior, or religious viewpoint, have the same skeletal structure. But then again we already knew that.

[1] Some uncharitable readers might think the second premise false also!
[2] The minor term of a syllogism is the subject of the conclusion. The minor premise is the premise that contains the minor term.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Bible and Torture: A follow up

I want to respond to some questions and comments on my previous post, “The Bible and Torture.”

One commenter asked,

“Would you condone the torture the Catholic church inflicted on thousands? Simply because the Pope said so.”

And again,

“Would you condone the torture, by the army of England against those who fought for liberty here in the Revolutionary war? Would you condone torture by Abraham Lincoln against those men who fought in the south during the Civil War.”

The answer to all three questions is contained in my original post, especially the part where I said,

I want to stress that we are talking about the use of inflicting pain to extract information only in exceptional cases."

Exceptional means, “forming an exception or rare instance; unusual; extraordinary.” (Italics added for emphasis.) In my post I go on to give the only example I can think of.

What qualifies as an exceptional case?  One in which there is an imminent threat of attack which is likely to result in the loss of life, especially on a large scale. This is sometimes referred to as the ticking time bomb scenario.

This rules out all or very nearly all the instances of forceful interrogation that are detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. I have not read the six thousand page report, but none of what I have seen reported in the news meets the “exceptional case” standard. Certainly what happened at Abu Ghraib was reprehensible and in no way justifiable. Any interrogation technique, even within the exceptional case standard, must not inflict permanent harm, much less be lethal, nor should it be inherently humiliating (Deut. 25:3b).

My post should not be construed as an apologetic for the government’s actions. It is an attempt to consider the question of forceful interrogation techniques per se in the light of Scripture. When, if ever, are they permissible? Under what circumstances? With what limitations, and with what kind of accountability?

It has been suggested that my argument is utilitarian. Actually, it is rooted in God’s law with the recognition of the distinction which Jesus makes between weightier and lesser matters of the law (Matt. 23:23). Let me give an example:  the fourth commandment requires rest on the Sabbath, but when Jesus encountered opposition for healing on the Sabbath, he asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill” (Mk. 3:4). He judged the obligation to “save life” a weightier matter of the law than resting on the Sabbath. It seems to me that the use of forceful interrogation techniques—in exceptional cases and with the specified limitations and accountability—in order to save life follows the same principle. Under all normal circumstances we are to avoid inflicting pain on our fellow human beings. God requires this of us. But there is also the obligation to save life (which is also the first and most foundational responsibility of government). The question is, how do we reconcile these two obligations? The answer is, we look to the weightier matter of the law.

I am quite sympathetic to many of the concerns raised on the other side. “How do you know the person even has the knowledge you seek?” This is a good question, and it is why I said there must be reasonable guarantees. These guarantees must have a high standard, like catching them in the act of putting the plot into motion, or catching them with other incriminating evidence. I am sympathetic, too, with the concern for the psyche of the interrogator. But the same could be said for the person who is lawfully authorized to administer the stripes of Deut. 25:1-3 and for the executioner in capital cases (e.g., Ex. 21:12). I am also sympathetic to the dangers of the slippery slope. If such interrogation techniques are approved in the very limited circumstances mentioned, will it not lead to a broader use? There is certainly the possibility of this. But it is not inevitable.

While I am sympathetic to these concerns, I have not found the position that forceful interrogation techniques are always wrong in all circumstances to be compatible with Scripture. I am open to be convinced otherwise. But to do that, you will actually have to engage with the argument presented in the article and expanded upon here. Show me where and how I have misinterpreted or misapplied the texts.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Bible and Torture

What is a Christian to think of torture? This question has forced itself upon us with the release last week of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These EITs, as they are called, were used in the questioning of suspected terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. According to CNN, “The report found that CIA tactics were more brutal than previously known and accused the agency of keeping the Bush White House and Congress in the dark.”[1]

Responses to the report have varied. Dick Cheney was unapologetic. He vigorously defended the CIA, calling the report “a terrible piece of crap,” while Kenneth Roth, executive director of the Human Rights Watch, called for the prosecution of senior Bush officials who authorized and oversaw the program.

A number of people have raised concerns about the partisan nature of the report, its neglect of historical context, the hypocrisy of leading Democrats in condemning techniques which they once approved, and the committee’s failure to interview the key figures who established and ran the program.

CIA director John Brennan said, “In many respects the program was uncharted territory for the CIA, and we were unprepared. But the president authorized the program six days after 9/11, and it was our job to carry it out.”

Brennan also said the agency made mistakes within the program, especially early on, and that some of the techniques were “abhorrent and should be repudiated by all” involved. “None of these lapses should be excused, downplayed or denied,” he said.[2]

Our interest here is not so much with the report itself, or with the specifics of the program, much less with defending or condemning its participants. Our interest is to consider the ethics of torture per se.

The Question
The question at its most basic level, it seems to me, is this:  Is it ever permissible under Biblical law to inflict pain on another human being? The answer is clearly yes. We can cite cases as diverse from one another as these:

  • The discipline of children (Prov. 13:24; 22:15; 23:13-14; etc.)
  • Corporal punishment of criminals (Deut. 25:1-3; Ex. 21:23-25)
  • Capital punishment (Gen. 9:6; Ex. 21:12, 16; Lev. 20:2; etc.)
  • Self-defense (Ex. 22:2-3)
  • Just war (Ex. 17:8-16; etc.)

The Discipline of Children
It should be noted that the pain inflicted in these cases ranges from very mild to quite severe. The mildest, of course, is the loving administration of corporal punishment in the discipline of children. While some overly zealous, ideologically driven child welfare advocates might object, most reasonable people accept the notion that the board of education modestly applied to the seat of learning can have a very salutary effect in leading children to responsible behavior. “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24).  

The Corporal Punishment of Criminals
While the corporal punishment administered to children is rather mild, under Biblical law the punishment meted out to criminals could be quite severe. Consider Deuteronomy 25:1-3.

If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight.

Note well that Biblical law assumes some men “deserve to be beaten” for their criminal behavior, with the severity of the beating being tied to the seriousness of the crime. One would be hard pressed to describe the upper limit (forty stripes) as causing anything less than rather intense pain.

The same might be said of a literal application of lex talionis, the law of retribution:

If there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (Ex. 21:23-25; cf. Lev. 24:17-20; Deut. 19:19-21).

Some think this law was never intended to be applied literally and doubt whether as a matter of fact it ever was so applied. On this view, “paying an eye for eye” means giving a monetary compensation for the loss of an eye. However, in the case of murder, monetary compensation would violate Numbers 35:31, “You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but he shall be put to death.” Here is a clear command to apply lex talionis literally (“life for life”), which leaves open the possibility of other literal applications as well, [3] many of which would undoubtedly have caused intense pain.

Capital Punishment
Various forms of capital punishment are authorized in the Bible.[4] Some of them must have entailed a fair amount of suffering. Consider stoning. The physical suffering prior to the fatal blow (or at least the one causing unconsciousness) must have been quite intense.

Self-Defense and Just War
In authorizing the use of force in self-defense (Ex. 22:2-3), Scripture implicitly authorizes the infliction of pain. The inevitable result is the wounding, maiming, or killing of the aggressor. The same is true with respect to divine authorization for war.

To Extract Information?
We come now to consider the question of the infliction of pain for the purpose of extracting information. This, of course, was the point at issue in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report—the infliction of pain in order to gain information leading to the prevention of further terrorist attacks. Is this permissible under biblical law? I do not see how it can be denied. If Scripture authorizes the use of force resulting in the wounding, maiming, or killing of an intruder in order to save life (Ex. 22:2-3),[5] and authorizes the infliction of pain in the punishment of criminals, why might forceful interrogation techniques not be used to extract information from a terrorist in order to save the lives of innocent people?

I want to stress that we are talking about the use of inflicting pain to extract information only in exceptional cases. What qualifies as an exceptional case?  One in which there is an imminent threat of attack which is likely to result in the loss of life, especially on a large scale. This is sometimes referred to as the ticking time bomb scenario. I know this sounds all Jack Baueresque, but is such a scenario in today’s world really all that far-fetched? We know that terrorist groups are intent on obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction against us. If a plot to detonate such a weapon in a major metropolitan area should be uncovered with the potential to kill hundreds, if not thousands of people, and one of the terrorists should be apprehended, I would hope that the authorities who have him in custody would have the moral courage to use forceful interrogation techniques to extract whatever information is necessary to stop the attack. Those who argue the other side suggest that the comfort of a terrorist (a monstrous criminal by definition; an actual or would-be mass murderer) is more important than the lives of the innocent. 

Of course, numerous provisos must come into play. First, there must be a reasonable guarantee of the suspect’s guilt. Second, there must be a reasonable guarantee that he has the information being sought. Third, innocent parties close to the suspect (e.g., his wife and children) cannot be harmed in order to force him to talk (Deut. 24:16). Fourth, the least painful means ought to be used first; the more severe ones only as needed.

Can such power be abused? Of course it can. What power is not subject to abuse? God places the sword in the hand of the civil magistrate (Rom. 13:1-7). But many who have had this power entrusted to them have abused it. What is the answer? Should we abolish civil government? Of course not. The cure would be worse than the disease. Instead we should labor and pray for godly leaders who will use the power entrusted to them with wisdom and under the restraints of God's law.

Update:  Please see my follow up that address some of the comments below.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/10/world/senate-torture-report-world-reaction/
[3] This is not to say that the law must be applied literally in other cases. The fact that in the case of murder, and only in the case of murder, it is said that no ransom may be given suggests that a ransom (monetary compensation) may be given in other cases. See Barch A. Levine, Leviticus (The JPS Torah Commentary), Excursus 9:  Retaliation and Compensation in Biblical Criminal Law, pp. 268-270; Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy (The JPS Torah Commentary), p. 185
[4] E.g., being shot with an arrow (Ex. 19:13), stoned (Lev. 20:2; etc.), run through with a sword (2 Sam. 1:15); etc.
[5] The intent of the intruder cannot be known for certain, but the Bible grants the homeowner the right to assume the worst—that the intruder intends, or at least is willing to kill. This is the only way to explain the permission to use lethal force.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Animal-based ethics

Many on the left often advocate the rejection of Christian sexual ethics with the argument that lifelong monogamy is unnatural. And by unnatural they mean not merely among human beings, but among animals. In their worldview, of course, man is simply an animal—a highly evolved animal, to be sure, but an animal nonetheless. And how better to gain an understanding of ourselves than to study what is “natural” in the animal world? David Barash, author of The Myth of Monogamy, tells us:  “There has been quite a revolution in scientific understanding of the lives of animals and we can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at other creatures.”[1] Presumably, Barash would take exception to Pope’s famous line, “The proper study of Mankind is Man.” Perhaps he would wish to rewrite it to something like, “The proper study of Mankind is Manimal.”

Meghan Laslocky, author of The Little Book of Heartbreak:  Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages, opined for CNN, “The bottom line is that flings are far from folly, at least in the animal kingdom.”[2] Her piece was accompanied by a slideshow telling us such helpful things as:  Penguins mate for a year and then move on to a new partner; male elephant seals have harems of as many as 100 females; Bonobos regularly engage in frequent sex with multiple partners; swans, which have been traditional symbols of fidelity, really aren’t monogamous.

At the Huffington Post we learn what can only be regarded (by some at least) as a startling statistic: “Only 3% to 5% of all the mammal species on earth practice monogamy.”[3]

In all these observations there is an implicit argument that runs something like this:

What is natural for animals is natural for human beings.
Having multiple sex partners is natural for animals.
Therefore, having multiple sex partners is natural for human beings.

There is another argument implied, too, one that uses the conclusion as the minor premise.

Everything natural is good.
Having multiple sex partners is natural.
Therefore, having multiple sex partners is good.

Looking to the animal kingdom to find norms for human behavior, however, is an instance of what Paul refers to as worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). As Rushdoony has pointed out, “in any culture the source of law is the god of that society.”[4] The same can be said of ethics, for law is simply the institutionalization of ethics for application to society. Looking to the animal world for guidance in ethics is, in effect, the divinization of the animal world.

Animal-based ethics is an inversion of the created order. The pre-fall order was:


The fall involved man paying heed to an animal and asserting a right to overrule God so that the order was inverted.

God [5]

This is essentially the order which is now being advocated. But are we really sure we want to travel this road? I happened across this article yesterday, Chimps are naturally violent, study suggests. As it turns out, chimps will attack other “communities” of chimps in order to increase the size of their territory, gain access to greater supplies of food, and have more females with which to mate.

For years, anthropologists have watched wild chimpanzees “go ape” and attack each other in coordinated assaults. But until now, scientists were unsure whether interactions with humans had brought on this violent behavior or if it was part of the apes’ basic nature.
A new, 54-year study suggests this coordinated aggression is innate to chimpanzees, and is not linked to human interference.
“Violence is a natural part of life for chimpanzees," Michael Wilson, the study's lead researcher and an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Live Science in an email.

You can watch an example of this aggression, including chimpanzee cannibalism, here.

Since this is “natural” is it also good? Should it be used as a guide for human behavior?

The evolutionary presuppositions of those who advocate animal-based ethics deny the most important thing to know about man, namely that he is created in the image of God, which means that he is qualitatively different from—and superior to—the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:26-28). Scripture admonishes us, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Peter echoes this when he describes certain men who “count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime” and who “have eyes full of adultery” as being “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct” (2 Pet. 2:12).


Animals are irrational. They are governed by their instincts, their appetites, their urges. But as bearers of the image of God, we are called to better things.

[1] http://www3.scienceblog.com/community/older/2001/E/200115758.html
[2] http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/21/opinion/laslocky-monogamy-marriage/
[3] http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/are-humans-really-meant-to-be-monogamous/51c475de78c90a474a00046e
[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 4 (emphasis in the original)
[5] I am indebted to Steve Schlissel for this insight.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jurisprudence without the prudence

We have seen much in the news recently about attempts by those who call themselves the Islamic State (IS) to establish a new Caliphate—a sovereign state governing the entire Muslim world under Islamic law (Sharia), derived from the Quran and the Sunnah (the example of Muhammad).

Here is an example of the “wisdom” of Quranic jurisprudence:

As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise (5:38).

Pardon me for not thinking this very wise. We might call it jurisprudence without the prudence. A thief, presumably, is unwilling to work for his own support. After the imposition of Sharia, he is rendered unable to work, at least not at full capacity. How, exactly, is this any better for him or for society? And lest you are tempted to think that this is an archaic penalty no longer applied, you might want to view this video, but not if you have a weak stomach.

Contrast this with Biblical law. In the Bible, two things are required of a thief:  (1) he must return what was stolen (or the exact equivalent, if it has been disposed of), and (2) he must pay an additional amount as a penalty. This additional amount also goes to the victim rather than to the state. The amount varies from twenty to four hundred percent of the value of the stolen property. The precise amount depends on a number of circumstances that either aggravate or mitigate the guilt of the crime. If the thief does not have the means to make restitution immediately, he is required to work off his debt…not an easy thing to do if he is missing a hand, as per Islamic law. How is the victim to be restored if the perpetrator is maimed? Much better is the admonition of the apostle Paul,

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Eph. 4:28).

Further Details
If a thief has a change of heart and voluntarily comes forward to confess his crime without otherwise being found out, he must return what was stolen and add twenty percent of its value (Lev. 6:1-7; Num. 5:6-7). This is the smallest penalty prescribed in the law and encourages repentance and voluntary restitution.

If a thief does not have a change of heart, but is caught with the stolen property in his possession unharmed, he must restore what he has taken and pay an additional amount equal to the value of the stolen property. Scripture supposes a case of stolen livestock. “If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (Ex. 22:4; see also vv. 7, 9; and cf. Isa. 40:2; Rev. 18:6). The thief must restore the stolen property and add one hundred percent of its value.

If a thief kills or sells stolen livestock, he has a much higher cost to pay:  five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep (v. 1). As the table below demonstrates, this constitutes a penalty of three hundred percent in the case of a sheep, and four hundred percent in that of an ox.[1]

Thief gains
Thief pays
Net loss

Two questions present themselves at this point. First, why the greater penalty for livestock killed or sold as opposed to found alive in the thief’s possession? According to Cohn, it is because the killing or selling of the stolen animal implies the thief is a persistent offender.[2] Cassuto offers a different explanation.
The reason…is possibly this:  if the owner of the animal is able to recover his own beast, which is dear to him, it is sufficient for the thief to add another beast like it, but if the thief is unable to restore the stolen animal, he must give the owner additional compensation.[3]
It may be better however to think something more than simple theft is in view. In other words, the thief is not stealing for his own personal use, but in order to turn a profit from his thievery. He is trading in stolen goods—slaughtering stolen animals to sell the meat or else selling the live animals. This is a more serious crime. Consequently, the punishment is greater.

The second question is why should a greater penalty be imposed for disposing of (killing or selling) a stolen ox than for doing the same with a sheep? The answer may be that the theft of an ox imposes a greater hardship on the owner since he is deprived of its labor value, which a sheep does not possess.[4] In stealing an ox, a thief is stealing a man’s livelihood and thus putting his life and the life of his family at risk. As Bush explains,
This higher degree of penalty was annexed to the theft of oxen on account of their great value in the rural economy of the Israelites; for they used no horses in their husbandry. The ox did every thing [sic] on their farms. He plowed, he threshed out the corn, and he drew it when threshed to the barn or garner. If therefore the theft of an ox was more severely punished than that of any thing [sic] else, it was on the same principle on which an increase of punishment is inflicted for the crime of stealing from the farmer his plough, or any part of the apparatus belonging to it.[5]
Others explain the difference as being due to the greater effort that must go into the raising and training of an ox.[6]

In light of the requirements laid out above, what are we to make of what Solomon says in Proverbs? 
If a thief is caught, he will pay sevenfold;     he will give all the goods of his house (Prov. 6:31)
In this context, “sevenfold” is hyperbole. It means abundantly (cf. Gen. 4:15, 24; Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28; Ps. 12:6; 79:12).

[1] The Code of Hammurabi requires thirtyfold restitution for the theft of “an ox, or sheep, or ass, or pig, or boat, from a temple or palace,” and tenfold restitution for stealing the same from a freeman (§ 8). The Hittites originally required thirtyfold restitution for theft, but moderated the penalty to fifteen-fold, without making distinctions between victims (§ 57ff.).
[2] Haim H. Cohn, The Principles of Jewish Law, Menachem Elon, ed., (Jerusalem, Israel:  Keter Publishing House, 1975), col. 496
[3] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 282. Italics added.
[4] Soncino Chumash, p. 479
[5] George Bush, Commentary on Exodus, p. 323
[6] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 282