Religion Roulette

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2015-04-28 – No one follows biblical law to the letter. Everyone picks and chooses. St. Paul rejected some or all of the law of the Torah (Old Testament), depending on who you talk to, because Jesus instituted a new covenant. According to Jews, there are 613 laws in the Torah, but laws relating to priestly and sacrificial ritual were done away with when the Temple was destroyed (in 70 CE) and laws relating to matter that can only be observed in the Land of Israel were abrogate when the Jews were driven from the land. Both are hoped to be restored when the messiah comes.

Americans have pretty universally decided to ignore about half of the 10 commandments. There is no day of rest in the land of 24/7. Adultery is standard operating procedure for about half the country. Bearing false witness is no big deal. Coveting your neighbors’ possessions is the foundation of our free enterprise system. And have you ever heard of a politician who could resist taking the name of the lord in vain?

So when a politician tells me to follow biblical law, I have to ask: which selection of biblical law are you talking about. Because, no politician approves of it all. (For example, Ex. 23:8 prohibits the taking of bribes.)

It seems kinda random which laws a person accepts as true and authoritative and which are rejected out of hand. So I got to wondering, what a religion would look like if its selection of biblical law were truly random.

The Rules of Religion Roulette

To generate a random religion, I accessed two source lists:

Both lists are numbered, which allows you to use a random number generator to pick laws that your imaginary religion accepts and which it does not. (In Excel, I used the =RANDBETWEEN function.)

From the Ten Commandments, I randomly selected five to be honored, leaving five to be ignored. That seemed comparable to standard practice these days in America. From the 613 Torah Laws, I randomly selected 10 laws to be honored as second rank observances and I randomly selected three laws to be outright rejected.

I did this two times to create two random (imaginary) religions. (The numbers are taken from my source list so you can go back to it, if you wish.) Here they are:

Religion 1: Spirit People

The Spirit People are deeply into ritual and have little interest in temporal matters. This is seen in the 5-of-the-10 commandments they choose to emphasize. It is also seen in their rejection of the prohibition of witchcraft and of Passover, which is the biblical holiday that is most solidly tied to ideas of equality. Spirit People are not entirely removed from concerns of the world, as evidenced by its second rank commandments, but they are second rank.

5-of-the-10 commandments followed by Spirit People:

(Bold denotes accepted commandments, italics denotes ignored commandments.)

  1. I am the Lord thy god, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shalt not murder.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.

10 other commandment of the Spirit People (and three rejected commandments):

(Bold denotes accepted commandments, italics denotes rejected commandments.)

  1. That an Ammonite or Moabite shall never marry the daughter of an Israelite (Deut. 23:4).
  2. Not to commit sodomy with a male (Lev. 18:22).
  3. Not to wrong a slave who has fled to the land of Israel (Deut. 23:17).
  4. Not to decide, in capital cases, according to the view of the majority, when those who are for condemnation exceed by one only, those who are for acquittal (Ex. 23:2).
  5. Not to pervert the judgment of a sinner (a person poor in fulfillment of commandments) (Ex. 23:6).
  6. Not to rob by violence (Lev. 19:13).
  7. Not to crave something that belongs to another (Deut. 5:18).
  8. That the uncircumcised shall not eat of the flesh of the Paschal lamb.
  9. That one who sanctifies to the L-rd a portion of his field shall pay according to the estimation appointed in the Scriptural portion (Lev. 27:16-24).
  10. That he shall not eat of the skins of the grapes (Num. 6:4).

 

  1. To rest on the seventh day of Passover (Ex. 12:16; Lev. 23:8).
  2. Not to eat any food containing chametz on Passover (Ex. 12:20).
  3. Not to suffer any one practicing witchcraft to live (Ex. 22:17)

 

Religion 2: Down to Earth

The Down to Earth People have randomly adopted a more temporal code. They focus on 5-of-the-10 commandments that deal most with interpersonal relationships.  They don’t neglect spirit entirely. They don’t like you to take the name of the Lord in vain and, in their second tier, they retain a number of ritual observances.

5-of-the-10 commandments followed by Down to Earth People:

  1. I am the Lord thy god, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shalt not murder.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.

10 other commandment of the Down to Earth People (and three rejected commandments):

  1. To lend to a foreigner at interest (Deut. 23:21).
  2. Not to commit incest with one’s brother’s wife (Lev. 18:16).
  3. Not to consult yid’onim (wizards) (Lev. 19:31).
  4. Not to plant a tree for worship (Deut. 16:21).
  5. That a woman should not wear men’s clothing (Deut. 22:5).
  6. To show honor to a kohein, and to give him precedence in all things that are holy (Lev. 21:8).
  7. To eat the flesh of the Paschal sacrifice on the night of the fifteenth of Nissan (Ex. 12:8).
  8. That the leper shall shave all his hair (Lev. 14:9).
  9. That anyone who is unclean shall not enter the Camp of the Levites (Deut. 23:11).
  10. To have a place outside the camp for sanitary purposes (Deut. 23:13).

 

  1. Not to exceed the statutory number of stripes laid on one who has incurred that punishment (Deut. 25:3).
  2. That every sacrifice be salted (Lev. 2:13).
  3. That a woman, having a running issue, defiles (Lev. 15:25-27).

 

Nonrandom Selections

Of course real beliefs are not random. People select observances that make them feel righteous. Clearly, though, people don’t agree on what is right. That’s why we have a multitude of religions all claiming allegiance to the same Bible. I kinda like my random Down to Earthers, but I think I can do better by making it deliberate. So here are my personal choices (some of which are aspirational rather than reflecting complete adherence).

5-of-the-10 commandments followed by EightOh9:

  1. I am the Lord thy god, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
  2. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
  5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
  6. Thou shalt not murder.
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
  8. Thou shalt not steal.
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
  10. Thou shalt not covet anything that belongs to thy neighbor.

10 other commandment of the EightOh9 (and three rejected commandments):

  1. Not to stand by idly when a human life is in danger (Lev. 19:16).
  2. Not to cherish hatred in one’s heart (Lev. 19:17).
  3. Not to refrain from maintaining a poor man and giving him what he needs (Deut. 15:7).
  4. To love the stranger (Deut. 10:19).
  5. To honor father and mother (Ex. 20:12).
  6. Not to do wrong in buying or selling (Lev. 25:14).
  7. To lend to a poor person (Ex. 22:24).
  8. To pay wages to the hired man at the due time (Deut. 24:15).
  9. Not to favor a great man when trying a case (Lev. 19:15).
  10. Not to defraud (Lev. 19:13)

 

  1. To rebuke the sinner (Lev. 19:17).
  2. Not to commit sodomy with a male (Lev. 18:22).
  3. To keep the Canaanite slave forever (Lev. 25:46).

 

When Someone Tells You They Are Following the Bible . . .

Remember: when someone tells you they are following the Bible, they are not. They’ve combed through the text to find evidence to support their own personal views. The Bible says a whole lot of things—enough to support diametrically opposed viewpoints. So the next time you hear this argument, think about the choices the spokesperson has made. And why. It’s not because it appears in the Bible.

* * *

In Sunday’s post (Criminalized Christianity? I Think Not), I talked about the absurdity of suggesting that Christians are persecuted in this country. I compared the life of a Christian to my life as a Jew.

I said that I would save the hot button issues for another day. Abortion. Gay Marriage. Racism. So here’s what I have to say about that:

Folks that tell you that their positions are based on what they read in the Bible are just playing religious roulette. They are comfortable with their views and just want the additional comfort of seeing support in the Bible. It does not matter to them if the support is a stretch or is vague or even that it is flatly contradicted in another part of the Bible.

That’s roulette. That’s not religion.

#firstammendment #churchandstate #separationofchurchandstate

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