Love offsets the distress of our own fragile mortality.
Imagine the baffled reactions of ancient individuals upon hearing the passage of Leviticus where they are firmly instructed to eat their own children should they disobey God:
“If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters.” (Lev. 26:27 – 30).
In a sparsely literate world, even the highly superstitious may have wondered, “Did I hear that right? Eat my children? Are you sure you’re reading that the right way?”
It is a daunting threat, no less mitigated by the fact that people didn’t have a cheat sheet citing the enormous list of actions that would displease an already angry God (if they did, they probably couldn’t read it).
The direct promise that “I myself will punish you for your sins” is the Hebraic version of “Don’t make me come down there and make you eat your children! I mean it!”
Early Jews and Christians were quick to shun their child-eating responsibilities for good reason—it’s a fully absurd and challenging command to follow.
There were plenty of other rules to piously abide by to please God. Plus there’s a good chance if you have full-grown children, they might be resistant to lopping off a parcel of their hide for dinner.
All major Abrahamic faiths purport their scriptures to be perfect holy books that are the unchallengeable word of God (or Yahweh, or Allah or Bahá’u’lláh). Yet, even those Swedish masterminds at IKEA couldn’t have crafted a more confusing instruction manual.
Biblical scholar Professor Bart Ehrman notes that there are more organized sects of the Christian faith than there are words in the Bible (roughly 774,746, give or take a few depending on your translation). The obvious lack of clarity has lent itself to countless interpretations, ranging from the viciously cruel to the sincerely charitable.
With apologies to IKEA, getting into arguments with persons of faith over these more offensive passages is beating a dead horse. It is a tiresome exercise to ask why, for example, those who declare themselves followers of a biblical faith ignore the child eating dictum but proudly cite (accurately) the many passages where God decrees homosexuality to be an especially heinous sin (Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Rom. 1:26-28 if you’d like some extracurricular reading from both Old and New Testaments).
I’d rather people don’t eat their children.
Likewise, I’d rather homosexual people be treated with full equality and respect, with the same legal rights as heterosexual individuals.
As a secular atheist I can do this without any nagging echoes that I may be displeasing some cosmic being in the sky. I’m glad that people ignore the child-eating command, much like they blow off biblical orders to avoid tattoos, to not wear mixed fiber clothing, not eat shellfish or in many cases, be a woman.
I encourage this brand of progressive religious thinking and wish that it would widen out to a larger, more compassionate circle when human equality and dignity are concerned.
Being human is hard work. We need to nourish and sustain our bodies, we need to find productive means to sustain our expenses and we are subject to a complicated world whose mechanics we barely understand.
In the mix of all this, we have to learn to tolerate and evaluate our differences. Being able to bond freely with whomever we wish (be it a man or woman, a dog, a knitting group, whatever) is not just a coping mechanism; it is a necessary expression of love that connects us in intimate ways.
Like the baffling reality of our own existence, the laws of affection are equally as mystifying. Love offsets the distress of our own fragile mortality, redefining this unknown chemistry as a place of comfort and security.
And this is why I encourage religious hypocrisy, especially when it eases the burden of human existence for any oppressed individual or group.
Nearly all people of any given faith do not uncover their religion through deep study or personal revelation. Most are branded with religion from a young age from elders who otherwise supply a steady dose of love, encouragement and support.
It is unfair to expect a child to doubt those who shape their young world. The fearful hatred blended within a message of hope and redemption is an ugly seed that is easily pruned in adulthood.
Over thousands of years, it may be noted that God has done very little to follow up on his bluff to punish those who don’t eat their children. In fact, it looks like he’s been laying low for at least 20 centuries now, which really doesn’t do much for his credibility. Maybe he’s just busy doing other things.
The numerous divisions of religious groups gives plenty of wiggle room to be a decent human being and still retain a religious identity.
There will always be some people who simply cannot be reached, and this is an unfortunate effect of the potency of faith. However, many religious folks are very good people with good hearts and kind values—and I suspect, reluctant oppressors.
Biological evolution and religious doctrine both have proven that change for the best is a good thing, as evidenced by the fact the majority of human parents opt not to eat their progeny.
Removing oneself as an obstacle to human dignity is a bold and compassionate gesture. Like so many directives in scripture deemed unworthy of a loving deity (such as feasting on your children), defiance of cruel and unjust directives ennobles the individual and elevates the faith—all while easing the burden of another.
James Dziezynski is a professional author and writer from Boulder, Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter (James_DZ), Facebook (www.facebook.com/jamesdziezynski) and on his own website at www.mountainouswords.com/mountain-air.
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Ed: Stephanie V. & Brianna B.