Now I’m slowly getting caught up on some of last week’s comments. In this article I address a comment in response to my essay “Should lazy teenagers be stoned?” I will then address the comments in “Would Jesus stone a misbehaving child?” Finally, I will address comments on morality and naturalism in “Can objective moral value exist without God? Revisiting the Question”
In “Should lazy teenagers be stoned?” I drew the reader’s attention to the shocking prescription in Leviticus and Deuteronomy for child rebellion: stoning. Given that many religious conservatives will attempt to justify that moral prescription for misbehavior by explaining it as an accommodation to ancient near eastern (ANE) standards of parenting, I then juxtaposted it against the Psalmist’s view of the law as glorious, perfect and unchanging in Psalm 119.
This prompted Alex to ask, “Randal – why did the Psalmist and the author of Leviticus so flagrantly violate your Natural Law?”
By “Natural Law” I take it that Alex is referring to my moral intuition that it is wrong to execute obstinate children by pelting them with stones. (In fact, my moral intuition is more general. I believe it is wrong to execute obstinate children by beheading and lethal injection and firing squad as well. But our focus is execution by stoning.)
By “your Natural Law” (emphasis added) I take it that Alex is suggesting he doesn’t share that intuition. Perhaps news accounts of children being stoned to death in the Swat Valley give Alex no moral pause. If that is the case (I doubt it is) then my analysis will have little impact on Alex. But for all people who are appalled by child execution, my appeal to moral intuition shall have probative force in reasoning toward an ethical conclusion and with it alternate readings/responses to the biblical texts in question.
As I said, I doubt it is. I often encounter Christians who aver that they don’t share my moral intuitions that it is wrong to sacrifice infants in war and commit genocide on entire populations and stone children to death for obstinant behavior. In most cases I believe what is going on is a sort of self-imposed moral retardation. I don’t mean that description as an insult but rather as a correct analysis of the situation. I talk about this in “Christians who are skeptics about moral perception“.
Alex asks “why did the Psalmist and the author of Leviticus so flagrantly violate…Natural Law?” They misapprehended the moral law because they are fallen and finite human beings. Alex’s question seems to presume a moral inerrancy on the perspectives of the human authors of scripture (as opposed to an inerrancy simpliciter on the sensus plenior of scripture which would be my view). Alex’s position is indefensible. As I pointed out, even Christian conservatives who read these texts as accommodations to a fallen world are thereby disagreeing with the moral views of the Deuteronomist and Psalmist. And that is a huge disagreement. How huge? Consider: It is tantamount to disagreeing over whether divorce is an optimal end for a marriage versus whether it is a concession to broken marriage in a fallen world.
Let’s camp on that point for a minute. You all can gather the firewood and pitch the tent while I explain the point.
The contemporary conservative Christian with properly functioning moral faculties winces at the thought of a child being stoned to death. If he were forced to observe the event, he’d probably need counselling for PTSD. If he were forced to take up a rock and participate, he’d probably need to be sent to a psych ward for extensive counseling. As a result, the way that conservative attempts to justify hammering a child’s skull and pelvis with rocks until the child finally dies is by saying it is an accommodation to the standards of ANE justice.
Note the striking contrast between that position and that of the psalmist who declares:
Praise be to you, Lord;
teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:12-16)
Note that all the laws and decrees are to be taught, and all of them are a cause for rejoicing. So the contemporary religious conservative who cries “accommodation” is denying the psalmist’s appraisal of the same law. And as the contemporary religious conservative melts into a puddle of weeping PTSD, the psalmist hurls rock after rock with eager aplomb.
The difference between the contemporary religious conservative and the Psalmist is indeed equivalent to one person saying “Divorce is a horrific accommodation to a broken world” and another person echoing that infamous billboard erected by a law office that read “Life is short. Get a divorce.”
So is Alex shoulder to shoulder with the psalmist in thinking of the stoning of children as a cause to rejoice? If he is then frankly he terrifies me. Is he shoulder to shoulder with the contemporary religious conservative who views such practices as an accommodation to the ANE? If he is then he’s saying the Psalmist is flat out wrong in his appraisal of the law. On that view killing obstinate children is not a cause for rejoicing but for weeping. But if you’re going to go that far in saying the Psalmist is wrong, why not go the whole way and drop the rock altogether?