Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Revolutionary Morality of the Old Testament

You all know the story of Jonah and the whale. ("It wasn't a whale, it was a big fish," I hear you Creationists complain. Whatever). What few of you realize is the revolutionary morality that the story contains.

God tells Jonah to go warn the city of Nineveh that God is about to destroy it, because of its evil ways. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire, which was the major existential threat to the nation of Israel. The best thing that could happen to Israel would be for Nineveh to be destroyed. So naturally Jonah, a patriotic Israelite, does what he thinks best for Israel. Instead of going to warn Nineveh, he goes in the exact opposite direction, by boarding a ship destined for Tarshish, at the other end of the Mediterranean Sea.

God, who is not easily fooled and whose plans are not easily thwarted, causes a storm to rise and tosses the ship about. The sailors cast lots to see who is responsible for angering the gods. The lot falls to Jonah, who explains to the sailors that yes, indeed, it is his god, Yahweh, who is causing all the storm because of Jonah, and that if they want to live, they should throw him overboard. The sailors reluctantly comply and the sea becomes calm. Jonah is swallowed by a, big fish. After three days of surviving in the fish, Jonah cries out to God for mercy. God has the fish throw him up on dry land, and Jonah goes to Nineveh and fulfills God's wishes.

Well, the people of Nineveh repent, and God changes his mind and doesn't destroy the city. Jonah is pissed off, because this is exactly what he didn't want to happen. He wanted Nineveh destroyed. He's been waiting outside the city to see what happens. God causes a plant to grow, to give shade to Jonah. Then God causes the plant to die. Jonah mourns the death of the plant. The story ends with God asking Jonah why he thinks the death of the plant is such a tragedy, but not the death of thousands of men, women, and children, not counting all the animals in the city.

The moral of the story is that God loves even our enemies, and expects us to love them, also.

So when someone (especially someone who doesn't understand his own heritage) writes:

"Religious morality appears to change under only two conditions: either secular morality moves ahead of religious morality, causing it to change (e.g., treatment of women and gays or, in this case, condom use and birth control), or scientific advances show that the scriptural basis of religious morality is simply wrong (e.g., there’s no Adam and Eve and hence no Original Sin),"

go tell him to read the story of Jonah and the wha...big fish.

No comments: