Sunday, February 15, 2009

Religion's "Duty" and Ethical Choice

My pastor's sermon today was about the Christian "call" to "love" all people, even those different from oneself. This is moral perfection in holiness circles, because "love fulfills the law".

Why does "love fulfill the law"? Because love will do no wrong to a neighbor. What is doing wrong to a neighbor? Breaking the law. So, love knows the neighbor and chooses to do what is right by fullfilling the law through love. There is no justice here, for love doesn't ask questions, or seek answers according to the "model of Jesus". "He was led as a lamb to slaughter". "He answered not a word"., etc.

Justice is doing what is ethical, not necessarily "moral". The higher principle of "right" applies to the other text used in my pastor's sermon. The one on Cain and Abel. Cain's sacrifice was not pleasing to the Lord and so, he slew Abel. What was point of the story? My pastor pointed out that there are many theological understandings of "why God chose Abel over Cain". But, he said this was not what the text reads. It was wrong to kill, period! The moral calls for Cain to bear consequences, which the text describes as a banishment and and a wandering upon the earth.

The theological calls for a "forgiveness", a wiping the slate clean, no matter what has resulted from the "sins of the heart". But, the ethical calls an acknowledgment of humanity's systemic need to compete for these innate desires of the human heart. The desire for God's favor, the desire to "get ahead", the desire to be the "top dog", the desire for "leadership", the desire to benefit from another's work or life, the desire to control, the desire to demand, etc. All of these desires were the warning of God to Cain before Cain did the "evil" in killing his brother. God warned that "sin was croutching at the door"....

I find that the religious justify their actions, just as those "in the world". There is no difference, just a difference in "ends", which justify in their minds, actions that would otherwise be abhorrent. The ends never justify the means, if the means is a human life.

Human life is what our laws protect, in free societies. Free societies allow choice to individuals, and do not demand "allegiance" of life, other than a "call for duty to protect" the nation against enemies.

The call for Jesus' life was a call to protect the nation (better for one to die than the whole nation). Jesus' life was a life given, but it was also a life taken. A life taken by those who benefitted through the peace it protected, as the crowds wanted Barababas to be released, not Jesus. For fear of the crowds, the rulers killed Jesus. They did what was wrong because it was expedient for the greater cause of "peace".

I find it interesting that Christians use Jesus life as an exempliary one, as his life, though lived in acknwledgement of the inclusion of sinners, was a life that allowed "evil to prevail". The theologians would not think this, no it has become the epitome of what being a Christian is about...a belief that Jesus died for me, so that I might live. Jesus was a sacrificed life, which others threw their guilt upon. He was scape-goated, so that others might find a "free conscience", not by doing what is "right", as God called for in Genesis, but doing what is in self-interest.

Theologians bring a "new understanding" in a "new time" to what the gospel's message means. Today, the ethical and scientific questions regarding "life" is at the forefront of "making meaning". I find that without ethics, we will continue to live in isolated and defined theologically justified ways. I don't consider living this way is the way of breaking down walls, but upholding them.And that certainly is not the way of love.

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