Sunday, September 4, 2011
Epstein and Pope Benedict, Cont'd
I'm afraid that this is going to come off disjointed. The starting point is that I've been reading Deuteronomy (which means the second telling of the Law). From the very beginning Christians have been debating what role the Old Testament Law Code should have in the life of a Christian. Almost no Christians believe that every Mosaic law is binding upon Christians. Some Christians go to the opposite extreme of antinomianism, which says that the law has no role in our lives. I suspect that the vast majority of Protestant Christians come somewhere along the lines of the reformers, who believe that the sacramental laws are no longer binding, but that there are certain of the laws that are moral laws that serve functions separate from any kind of works righteousness: they can be moral guideposts for what is expected of a sanctified life, for example.
One problem is where is the dividing line between the sacramental and the moral law? I think that most Christians wouldn't have any trouble putting the prohibition against weaving together two types of cloth or clean and unclean foods in the former category. But what about the prohibition against tattoos? According to my study Bible, tattoos were a sign of cultic paganism. But what about today, when that connection has been lost? Maybe we should see this law, given its ancient cultural context, as essentially sacramental. But if we are going to make cultural drift a part of the distinction between sacramental and moral laws, where do we stop? Does that lead us to surrender ALL of our moral values to our culture?
I think that most Christians would argue that the 10 Commandments form the core of an unambiguous moral law. But if we stop with the Decalog, what do we have to guide the kind of moral context for economic life that I mentioned in the last post? One: "Thou shall not steal" is pretty good. And bearing false witness could include all kinds of deceit and fraud. But much of what forms our debate on economic policy is found in the extra-decalog Mosaic rules: the restrictions on usury, the jubilee and tort codes, and so forth. So are the rules against usury like the rules against theft or like the rules against tattoos?
Another approach is to note that the 10th Commandment is unique in that it prohibits a particular way of thinking: coveting your neighbor's stuff. And that's where this all loops around back to Deuteronomy. It is in Deuteronomy that Jesus pegs "the Greatest Commandment", and it is another rule about our thinking and not our actions: "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" (Mark 12:29, quoting Deut 6:4-5).
But how, you may be asking, does this get us back to economics. Well, just 2 chapters later is an amazing command from God that is also a "right thought" command and it certainly goes to the heart of our economic life. From Deuteronomy 8:
"Take good care lest you forget your God by not keeping his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up and you forget the Lord your God....Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the Lord your God for it is he who gives you the power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day."