The superhero God is unjust, untrustworthy, unintelligent 1

But Dennis Prager, like billions of others, think he’s nice, smart, fair, and honest.

Dennis Prager is a perceptive conservative writer, but unfortunately he’s afflicted with religion.

He writes at Townhall:

If no one goes to prison for actor Alec Baldwin’s accidental killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, our society will have failed a crucial moral test.

We will be saying human life is not sacred; that it, in effect, is of little or no consequence.

The killing was, we presume, unintentional (though we do not know for sure, as the possibility remains that someone had motive to load the gun with real ammunition). But that does not mean that no one should be held culpable and punished. Society must regard the taking of human life — even when unintentional — as something terrible.

So if you accidentally fall from a height on top of someone and kill that person, you must be punished? How just is that?

If Alec Baldwin did something wrong, but only if he did something wrong, may he be punished. We don’t like him, but that’s irrelevant, and it is not the Alec Baldwin shooting that we are concerned with here. It is Prager’s and God’s morality.

Prager goes on:

I get this principle from the Bible …

Ah, from the Bible! No surprise then.

… which was, until the last century, the source of America’s and the Western world’s moral values.

To the extent that it was, much injustice resulted. Fortunately there were also laws which in many codes, some much older than the Books of Moses, distinguished crime from accident.

This principle is repeated over and over in the Bible’s first five books (the Torah), the source of all biblical laws. This repetition strongly indicates how seriously the Bible takes this issue.

The five books of Moses are full of God’s capricious and often cruel decisions and actions. One of them, Exodus, has its chief hero, God, fiddling with the mind of the Pharaoh of Egypt so that one moment he’s prepared to let Moses lead the Hebrew slaves out of bondage, and the next moment he isn’t. And this happens over and over again. It’s a tease. Promise given, promise broken. It’s only when God has all the Egyptian boy children in Pharaoh’s city killed  – the Angel of Death enabled to distinguish which household with a boy in it must suffer the loss because God gets the Hebrews to mark a sign with animal blood on their front doors so his messenger passes over their dwellings (which were well away and apart form the Egyptians’ anyway) – that Pharaoh lets Moses lead the slaves away. And even then God “hardens his heart” yet again, so he sends enforcers after them to bring them back.

Now don’t say that’s not dishonorable of God! And how about unjust and cruel to the Egyptian parents? On the whole, not great examples of moral behavior, wouldn’t you say? 

And after the Pharaoh chapters, this supreme moral guide, the Torah, gets even sillier.

We could offer many examples of its silliness, but we’ll stick to Dennis Prager’s text for precepts he considers supremely admirable. They are silly enough:

He writes: 

Example one:

Exodus 21:28: “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned …”

The obvious question is: Why would the ox be put to death? It is surely not guilty of murder; oxen have no free will. The reason it is put to death is that the killing of a human being cannot go unpunished.

The Jewish Bible scholar, professor Nahum Sarna, wrote:

The execution of the ox was carried out in the presence, and with the participation, of the entire community (the animal was stoned, not merely killed) — implying the killing of a human being is a source of mass pollution and the proceedings had an expiatory function. The killing of a homicidal beast is ordained in Genesis 9:5-6: “For your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast … Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in His image did God make man.” The sanctity of human life is such as to make bloodshed the consummate offense, one viewed with unspeakable horror. Both man and beast that destroy human life are thereafter tainted by bloodguilt.

You see? Man is made “in God’s image” therefore the ox must be stoned to death. Okay?

Example Two:

Deuteronomy 19:5: “(If) a man goes with his neighbor into a grove to cut wood; and as his hand swings the ax to cut down a tree, the ax-head flies off the handle and strikes the other so that he dies, that man shall flee to one of these cities and live.”

Again, the Bible describes a homicide that is entirely accidental. But the person who accidentally committed the homicide is not free to live a normal life. He cannot go on with life as if nothing happened. While he is not to be executed, he must flee to one of three “cities of refuge” in ancient Israel. There he may not be killed or otherwise hurt by a member of the killed man’s family. But he is not a completely free man.

So there were sanctuary cities even in those days! To be a punishment, they were probably derelict, crime ridden, filthy, with many living on the streets.

Prager continues:

In my Bible commentary, The Rational Bible, I quote Leeor Gottlieb, a professor of Bible at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University: “The Torah is morally ahead of some modern societies, in which people’s lives go on nearly uninterrupted if they killed unintentionally.”

As the Bible explains five verses later:

Thus blood of the innocent will not be shed, bringing bloodguilt upon you in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you.

Human bloodshed brings bloodguilt upon the land.

A tremendous lot of human blood, the innocent sort included, is shed on that land in the five books. At least as much as anywhere else in the inhabited world. And much has been shed on it in the three thousand years and more that has passed since Moses died. So bloodguilt is upon it. What is God or man going to do about it?  Rationally now: what?

Ah, there is something that can be done to cure bloodguilt when the cause is not a particular known person. A prayer can be said. An incantation. Apparently it does the trick:

Example three:

Deuteronomy 21:1-4 and 7: “If, in the land that the Lord your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known, your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns … And they shall make this declaration: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.’ And they will be absolved of bloodguilt.”

Unlike the previous instance, in which the (unintentional) killer is known, the killer of the slain man found “in the open” is not known. Nevertheless, the community is still held accountable and must ask for forgiveness for not preventing a homicide.

The message is, they should have known the murder was going to be committed. It was immoral of them not to know.

Prager’s last example is not from the five books. But his attitude to what happens is set by the biblical rules.

Example four:

The final example is not biblical but from my radio show. Many years ago, a woman called to tell me about an ostrich raised on her family’s ostrich farm. One day, this ostrich kicked her father to death.

 I asked the woman what was done to the ostrich. “Nothing,” she replied.

Given my biblical background, I was taken aback.

“So you tell people who visit your farm, ‘This is the ostrich that killed my father’?”

“Yes,” she responded.

In my view, that cheapened her father’s life and death.

So Prager would have had the ostrich killed, not because it was a danger to other people which would be rational, but as condign punishment. Because? Because man is made in God’s image. Because human bloodshed brings blood upon the land. Because of mass pollution, and expiation is required to cleanse it. Ideally, the woman should have summoned her neighbors to help stone the ostrich to death.

And this code of behavior, this ancient prescription for the provision of justice, is, according to the sage Gottlieb and to Prager himself, morally advanced!

The Bible has lots of dramatic, exciting, shocking, amusing, puzzling, frustrating, and satisfying stories in it. (We like the one about God refusing Cain’s offer of vegetables, preferring Abel’s meat.) It also has – at least the so-called “Old Testament” has in the King James translation – lots of very beautiful poetry in Isaiah, Job, Psalms, Daniel, Ecclesiastes … Parts of it are a good read,  and it is essential to a proper education.

But it is not a moral guide.

Posted under Ethics, Judaism, Law by Jillian Becker on Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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