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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, April 30, 2012

CIVILIZATION AND ITS ETHICS

"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine."
-Song of Songs, 1:1

Dirty Bible
Part of the structure of civilization is that it has rules; if you remove the rules, traditions, and patterns of a civilization, it collapses until those are replaced by another set. If no other set is offered, there will be no civilization, that's impossible to avoid. The reason for this is that in order for there to be any semblance of a shared culture and society required for advancement and civilization, the people involved must have a natural affinity toward a certain view of life, and a common structure of behavior and thought behind their differences.

This is why the push for diversity, destruction of tradition, and efforts to wipe out shared identity (called "nationalism") by some is so stupid and self-destructive. To be sure, they have a plan for their ideal society they would replace it with, but the ideal is absurdly impossible (to the point of being childish) and the attempts to replace it are so destructive they just end up ruining instead of deposing.

Yet sometimes, perhaps often, these rules aren't necessarily good. A culture can be built around, say, intertribal warfare and hate as so often happens in less civilized areas, and should be replaced. Sometimes the problems are more subtle, such as a culture in which mockery, selfishness, and envy are the primary characteristics (western culture, far too often).

In Christianity, there's a sort of prim pietism that often is built around the church which is cultural, but isn't necessarily part of the faith. I have written about this before, in brief. Christians are loathe to talk about sex, and as a result leave out significant portions of the Bible, such as the beautiful Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon, in older reference). There are portions of the Bible its self which are frankly embarrassing to Christians and even other people.

Not only are parts of the Bible incredibly violent (great slaughters, staking heads to the ground, assassinating a king and then telling his guards he's out to take a leak, and so on), but some of the Bible is really, really racy. As in, the kind of thing Christians would be shocked if you said out loud. These are the verses that Bible studies tend to avoid. For example:
For she lusted for her paramours,
Whose flesh is like the flesh of donkeys,
And whose issue is like the issue of horses.
-Ezekiel 23:20
Yes, that means exactly what you think it does: Egyptians are really well hung. No doubt a favorite verse of the Coptic Christian men. From Lot being seduced by his daughters, to Lot offering his daughters to be raped so his guests could be protected, to Jacob sleeping with his daughter in law who thought she was a prostitute, to the particularly lustful verses of the Song of Songs such as these:
2:3 - I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4:5 - Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.
4:16b - Let my beloved enter his garden
5:4 - My beloved put his hand By the latch of the door, And my inmost being yearned for him.
7:1b - The curves of your thighs are like jewels, The work of the hands of a skillful workman.
Now, these verses and the whole of the book are so starkly sexual and physical in their nature that for a long time Christians have tried to allegorize them. This doesn't actually mean sex, he's not really describing her amazing funbags, this is about pure, Christ-like love, its about the church and Jesus! Which isn't completely wrong; in a certain sense the whole Bible is about Jesus Christ. But it is also, and primarily, about two lovers and their desire for each other.

See, one of the things a lot of non-Christians, and even some Christians, don't seem to understand is that God made things, He likes things (declared them "good" at creation), and he made sex fun and pleasurable on purpose. That wasn't a result of the fall, it was a result of God's blessing. Paul makes it abundantly clear in Corinthians that married couples are not to go without sex for very long except in extreme circumstances (great injury, for example). In other words: God commands you to get it on.

And its not just sex that's avoided by Christians sometimes. Some are very squeamish and uncomfortable with the war and bloodshed in the Bible, often told in horrible, graphic terms like stories of babies having their heads bashed out against rocks. But almost every Christian avoids some parts because they seem... crude, and unChristian.

Take Paul's writings on self righteousness. Paul was extremely concerned that everyone understand that their own efforts and holiness would never, ever save them. He wanted everybody to understand that they were completely, helplessly dependent up on the grace of God to save them through the work of the holy spirit on account of the doing and dying of Jesus Christ.

And to make that point, he'd use terms that would shock people out of their complacency. Take this verse:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
-Philippians 3:8
Well that's kind of strong right? Except when you look at the Greek original, Paul didn't use "rubbish," he didn't even use the word "dung" which some translations offer. He used the vernacular. He said "my righteousness is shit." And he did it on purpose, to try to force people to understand something about salvation and works.

Isaiah made the same point:
"But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteous acts are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Isaiah 64:6
Well that sounds bad, but once you get to the actual Hebrew term, its a bit more powerful a point. The word translated "filthy rags" actually means "bloody menstrual rags" as in "used tampons." If there's any one untouchable icky concept left in western culture, its this one: all together now ewwwwww. And that's why Isaiah used it.

Now, if you talk to almost any pastor in America (or elsewhere, for that matter) he will admit that this is what these words mean. Then he'll say something like "but I can't say that or the church will start looking for a replacement." And that bothers me.

If the Bible is honest and open enough to talk about this, to use this language, upon what possible basis can we claim higher moral authority to avoid it? I avoid using profanity on this blog on purpose, I want it to be G rated and something I wouldn't mind my dear departed Grammy reading. I know that kids read blogs, and I want this to be something I wouldn't mind children reading.

At the same time I have to deal with certain concepts and topics which aren't necessarily appropriate for children (usually sexual in nature) or avoid large portions of the news. When I wrote about that sick man arrested for sex with a horse, my point was how corrupt society has gotten when they had to gin up an animal cruelty charge to bust the pervert instead of just nailing him for having sex with a horse. But to write about that point, I had to talk about a guy sexing up a barnyard animal, which isn't exactly appropriate for young eyes. I try to put that content under the "read more" fold, so parents can move on but I don't want to avoid the topic if I have something I believe is important to say on it.

Here's my point: I avoid profanity here for the audience I'm trying to reach. I try to avoid it elsewhere because I am a Christian and am trying to make a specific statement about Jesus Christ and the church, to avoid some things the culture engages in to show a distinction. And as my mother wisely said, swearing shows a "bankrupt vocabulary," if you can't come up with any other way of making your point, apparently your vocabulary and education are lacking.

But at the same time, there's a time and place for swearing, and not just when you hit your close your hand in the car door. Its an empasis in our language, like some languages have. Russian, for example, can add the word "zhe" (difficult to transliterate into English) which has no real meaning of its own, but acts to enhance the word it is connected to. Like saying "where the hell are you?" instead of "where are you?"

And when the Bible uses this kind of thing to make a point, who am I to say it cannot be used for at least that same point? It seems like as a culture we've built up a series of rules which maybe are taking things a little too far, at least in Christian circles. When we think we're better than the Bible, that's when we're wrong.

Which is why Martin Luther was such a fresh, powerful voice. He wasn't afraid to drink beer, swear, and throw things. He was earthy and powerful and fearless. He would say and do things that frankly shocked people at times, and today are stunning to read from a Christian, but were not wrong, just violate certain social mores we've come up with. Maybe we as Christians should have a bit more of that - not too much more, but at least some?

1 Comments:

Blogger Chris said...

Pretending we're something we're not isn't going to win anyone to the kingdom of Christ. I'm sometimes vulgar and rude, but if people ask me, I tell them Jesus died to make me righteous, not good.

This is one of the reasons why I love Steve Brown. He isn't afraid to air his dirty laundry and say things that everyone thinks but for some reason don't want to voice. Grace is a radical idea if you take it seriously, and it makes us into used tampons.

6:24 PM, April 30, 2012  

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