That Old Testament Religion

Over Easter weekend, I picked up an Easter present for myself. It was a magazine called the Austrralian Rationalist published by the Rationalist Society of Australia. I had never heard of it and I picked it up to read its feature story on euthanasia. After spending over a week with the magazine, I’m not quite sure what my opinion of the society is, but it has given me many things to think about.

In particular, the piece on the Old Testament gave me pause. It discussed the denial of the Old Testament that some more liberal Christians have started doing. The God of the Old Testament is notorious for making his people commit genocide, killing children himself and a whole host of other atrocities. Frankly, if the Old Testament God were a human being, he would be on trial for serious war crimes. For this reason, some more liberal Christians have emphasized the New Testament and the comparatively touchy-feely Jesus as the more important portrayal of their deity. It is with these people that the article takes issue.

Can Christians plausibly deny the Old Testament God without consequences? The answer is no, of course. Even without having read the article, that was my conclusion and it is the only conclusion that is possible after examining Christian teaching. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, of its prophecies and the promises of the Old Testament God. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament has no meaning beyond some guy who said a bunch of good things. It is the combination of the two texts that makes Christianity a divinely inspired religions.

That argument is made in the rationalist piece, but there were some arguments that I had never thought of. The claim that the Old Testament should be treated as fable, for instance, creates some radical conclusions.

“Adam’s misdemeanor in eating a forbidden fruit meant that all future humans were deemed to be sinners at birth and condemned to eternal damnation. In order to be saved from this punishment Jesus had to come to earth and be crucified… Well, if the Old Testament is just a book of fable, then the story of Adam and the apple is just that — another fable. In that case there was no need for Jesus to come to Earth in order to save us from a mythological sin.”

Frankly, that idea had never occurred to me. Reading it on paper was a bit of a revelation.

I am not one to support any religion. Readers of this blog know that I consider religion a man-made institution that cannot reasonably claim any divine mandate. But if you are going to adhere to a religion, it makes sense that you should not and cannot pick and choose what to believe from it. So-called “liberal” Christians who try to do so put themselves in a difficult situation, if not an untenable one.

I’m not going to endorse the Rationalist Society. After reading its publication, I have some issues with it. While I never expected to agree with everything in it, I did expect a high standard of publication, which I found lacking. But this article and the way it discussed its subject blew my mind.

The lesson for me is that some things are not justifiable within Christian thinking. Trying to explain away the role of God in the OT as a perpetrator of evil acts results in unreasonable positions. By trying to do some good, you can actually end up destroying the very foundations of your faith.

So what do you do? The choice set forward by the article is pretty clear: either accept your religion the way it is or admit that something is very wrong with it and go from there. No doubt the author’s choice would be leaving religion behind completely as the only “rational” choice. Still, I have sympathy for those trying to twist themselves in knots to make sense of their religion. It can be a hard thing to give up, rational or not.

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