Monday, July 9, 2007

God is a Liberal, Part I

Let's begin with the basics: Anyone who believes in the Bible should be a liberal. Why? Because according to the Bible, God is a liberal. The traditional liberal view sees every human being as having certain unalienable rights. The Bible says these rights are grounded in the very act of creation, when God created human beings in God's own image (Genesis 1:26). And not just men. Women, also, are created in God's image (Genesis 1:27).

This is an oft repeated statement, that we take for granted, but rarely consider the implications. As someone recently pointed out to me, we need to stop and consider what the first listeners of these verses would have thought. In most civiliztions of the time, the king, or members of the royal house, were the only ones considered to have a close connection to the divine. They were the representatives of the gods on earth. Or they were descendants of the gods. They were set apart from ordinary people.

So to the first listeners, something extraordinary and revolutionary was being said in Genesis: All humanity -- men and women -- were created in God's image. No human being could lord it over any other human being as having some sort of hereditary advantage to the divine. All people enjoyed the same standing with God, participating in the Divine act of bestowing It's own image in Its creation.

So from the very beginning, we see that what was considered a very liberal idea in the 18th century, already had been said millenia sooner by the author of Genesis.

What are the implications of this? To be explored next time.


David Anderson said...

Hello Bilbo,

I think you've overlooked the significant difference between the modern concept of "human rights" and the Bible's teaching.

The Genesis 1 teaching that we are made in the "image of God" is essentially a teaching about human dignity, rather than human rights. As it is then applied in the rest of the Bible, it is applied in terms of:

* not cursing our fellow man (James 3:9) because he is made in God's image

* that the murderer must be put to death as justice for his defacing of God's image in his fellow man (Genesis 9:6).

The outcome is not that man has rights as such, but that God has rights, and man must be treated with dignity. A photograph of my wife has no inherent rights because it is just a piece of paper; but if someone shreds that photograph and stamps on it, they've offered my wife a great insult.

The modern "human rights" concept is used in connection with supposed human autonomy and independence, and the array of rights supposed to exist is staggering. On the other hand, the Bible's concept is used in connection with God's majesty and human responsibility - as image bearers, we must behave appropriately.

Ultimately the Bible's teaching is that that image has been horribly defaced through the fall, and is restored only in Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:49, Col. 1:15ff, 3:10ff). The modern human rights doctrine knows nothing of these essential parts of the teaching and is just a tool for radical individualism. The interesting question is why some descendants of fish get such an incredible array of rights when others don't...

David Anderson

David Anderson said...

I forgot to say... I do agree with some of your points. The teaching that all men and women are made in the image of God is very significant. It rules out chauvinism, racism and many other -isms as Christian options. On the basis of Darwinism, one could argue (as many early Darwinists did, because they were being consistent) that genetic differences within humankind were a basis for discrimination; the "image of God" doctrine though teaches that this is quite wrong.


William Bradford said...

Hi Bilbo. I second what David has stated in both comments. I noticed your blog listing at TT. Hope things are well with you.

Bilbo said...

If I have dignity as a human being, that means I have a right to be treated with dignity by others. It also means other things, which I will get to in my next blog.

aag said...

Hi David Anderson,

"On the basis of Darwinism, one could argue (as many early Darwinists did, because they were being consistent) that genetic differences within humankind were a basis for discrimination; the "image of God" doctrine though teaches that this is quite wrong."

Yet unfortunately enough, many recent creationists have subscribed to racism anyway. Bob Jones University,a bastion of young earth creationism, prohibited interracial dating until the year 2000, when it became a campaign issue when Bush scheduled an appearance there.

David Anderson said...

aag: The question is not whether someone somewhere holds both the theses of racism and Darwinism/Bible belief, but whether it is consistent to do so.

aag said...

Hi david anderson,

And until quite recently, many of the people who believed most fervently in creationism believed that their racism was also consistent with the Bible; people such as the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, who established whites-only christian academies to prevent court ordered segregation. He argued that God's separation of the races was a basis for segregation. It would be interesting if you could explain why the region which rejected evolutionary theory most emphatically and embraced young earth creationism most fervently was also the most racist region of the country. If you want to argue that they misapplied the Bible to justify racism, I would say there is nothing about evolutionary theory was justifies racial discrimination, it is a misapplication of it to do so, and there is very little evidence that racism in America has been justified by evolutionary theory, but there is a great deal of evidence that it has been justified biblically.

William Bradford said...

aag, David's point is not altered by your remarks about Falwell. Falwell, like others, is judged by biblical standards. Using the Bible to argue for racism is simply wrong. Do you criticize Senator Byrd for his prior association with the KKK?

aag said...

Hi William Bradford,

Of course Senator Byrd was wrong to support the KKK. David's basic point was that Darwinism could be used to support discrimination and the Bible couldn't. This point is obviously false, as two centuries of American history amply illustrates.