Re: [asa] A question on morals (OT and NT)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Sun Nov 08 2009 - 23:15:42 EST

Hi Merv,

Merv Bitikofer wrote:
> p.s. imagine a father who loves his son but then asking "what is the
> minimum I can do for my son and still be considered a good father?"
> Those who want the formula are essentially doing exactly the same
> thing. What can I get away with? Jesus sighs, and then patiently
> persists in trying to get through...

Some nice stuff in there and I wanted to add one observation which actually comes from a lady in my congregation so I claim no originality!

Her basic objection to the Law is not just that it defines what is "out" but that it also allows one to engage in behaviour which is - technically speaking - "in" but still on shaky moral ground.

So if the Law says "love your neighbour" then the obvious way to minimise the number of people one is obliged to love is to define the term "neighbour" in a sufficiently restrictive sense.

Against this background I take it as quite natural for Jesus' command "love your neighbour" to be met with the question: "And who is my neighbour?"

Jesus, of course, refuses to offer an "out" by defining "neighbour" such that one could evade the commandment to love. Indeed, by calling us to love our enemies, all Jesus is really doing is removing ANY constraints on the circle of people we classify as "neighbour."

But I waffle - the point is essentially that the Law offers opportunities for such linguistic shenanigans; so that under the Law one can put exactly the question you have above: "what is the bear minimum I can do and still fulfil my obligations under the Law?"

Now, that's just an extended preliminary to the real point I wanted to make: One of the reasons I simply can't see the Sermon on the Mount as a form of "new" or "higher" morality is precisely because I think Jesus is wanting to critique the entire practice of using moral rules as an excuse to avoid one's moral duty. So, for instance, if Jesus' command "turn the other cheek" is a new moral rule which we can analyse to arrive at a precise set of moral obligations, then the Sermon on the Mount does not, in fact, advance our moral understanding one iota. So "if you hit me in the cheek, I will turn the other cheek. But if you kick me in the shins, I will beat you to a pulp." Which is, of course, quite within the letter of Jesus' teaching.

So - long story short? - I agree that efforts to subject Jesus teaching in the Sermon of the Mount to detailed analysis in order to arrive at a clear position on moral issues is contrary to the point.

I might only add that my recommended course of action also comes from the Sermon on the Mount: "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Mat 5:44). Critics of the faith may think such advice is not very "rational" - but, then, I don't agree with the thesis that reason will get you to the same place as following Christ.


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Received on Sun Nov 8 23:16:10 2009

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