Sunday, October 08, 2006

Holy Guardrails, Batman


The Olympian Online fails in the followup:

Detractors of biblical law find mirthsome sport pointing out dietary laws against shellfish and pork in Leviticus 11 and 20. Deuteronomy 22 is also a favorite with silly prohibitions against mixed-fiber clothing and roofs without safety rails. Why don't Christians obey the Bible literally and completely, they ask?

A simplistic argument follows - that some seemingly ridiculous or cruel edicts are proof enough that the Bible should be laughed out of the arena of legitimate public discourse. They claim the Bible holds no currency against modern mores and enlightened thought. Clever ridicule and coffeehouse sophistry argue that the Bible and its adherents are outdated at best, fools at least and hate-mongers at worst...
While a simplistic argument might follow (and while I agree with the author's major points) it would be nice if people would answer the questions occasionally as well. They are not difficult.

Rather than being a "silly prohibition," putting a railing on an Israelite roof served precisely the same function as putting a railing on a modern deck: it's a matter of safety and liability. The Israelites didn't build decks, they built flat-roofed houses upon which they held gatherings. Deuteronomy 22:8 makes the principle perfectly clear: "When you build a new house, you shall make a railing for your roof, so that you will not be held responsible if any man falls from there." That our own houses don't have flat roofs is no excuse for writing someone else's legal safety regulations off as silly.

Mixed-fiber clothing regulations were part of the process the Lord used to establish and protect his people in a hostile land. The Mosaic Law kept Israel separate from their pagan neighbors through distinctive and ceremonial dress, diet, and hygiene. Through these rules God carved out an eternal people with a singular culture; without them, the Israelites would have in all probability been subsumed into their more numerous neighbors. That there are Jews today but no Canaanites shows the program was a successful one.

But while that answers the little questions, it does not answer the big one: why don't Christians take these "literally," putting fences on our roofs and never wearing cotton/poly blend shirts? The reason is as same as why we don't all build arks: God never told us to.

The Bible is a not cookbook where one reads the ingredients, follows the directions, and bakes a perfect bundt cake every time. And Christians are not Israelites, given a treaty under which we are promised land, peace, and affluence in exchange for obedience to Moses. We are gentiles, grafted like a wild branch into the tree of God's promises, promises which predate the law by half a millennium.

This is one reason I consider the whole 10 Commandments controversy no more than tilting at sanctified windmills. Instead of trying to ban work on Saturday because it's in the commandments (or getting them posted everywhere and then ignoring the inconvenient ones) we should look for the principles that can guide us no matter when we live, what days we work, or where we hold our parties. And that spirit says that if you love your neighbor as yourself, you'll put a railing on your deck so your neighbor doesn't break his neck when he flips the burgers. Even if moderns think because it was God's idea, it's necessarily silly.

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