Thursday, April 15, 2004

Can Jesus Do (or Did He Do) Anything Immoral or Objectionable? (Sogn Mill-Scout)

I never accused Jesus of “being a sinner like the rest of us,” though I’m sure He “didn't understand some things” since He admitted as much (e.g. not knowing when He would return) and He was fully human. I haven’t worked out a satisfactory conclusion on the matter of Jesus’ treatment of animals, but I’ve admitted that I find it very difficult to attribute certain actions to Him. For instance, it strains my imagination to picture Jesus slitting a lamb’s throat . . . I believe Jesus is absolutely Lord and God and Savior of the world; I believe He rose from the dead (this is technically redundant since He couldn’t be Lord and God if He were dead), and I fully affirm the Nicene Creed (in its Eastern pre-filioque form), and I make an effort to honor Christ and become more like Him through prayer and scripture reading. That is quite sufficient to establish my bona fides as a Christian in good standing.

[Dave] He [Jesus] would recommend, I think, that a quick method of killing these poor creatures was adopted, regardless of the loss of profit. But He would not recommend a total cessation of all killing of animals, nor vegetarianism.

This image of Jesus is repugnant to me. It portrays Him as less merciful and compassionate than many people, including me. And I know how abysmally far I am from sainthood!

Fish flop around for quite some time in a frightfully long process of asphyxiation. They drown in air much slower than we drown in water. That they suffer cannot be denied by any reasonable and sensitive observer. Given that fact, along with your contention that Jesus ate fish and supported the fishing trade, it follows necessarily that Jesus, either directly or indirectly, inflicted suffering on fish. The same logic applies to the case of Jesus’ alleged consumption of lamb and His implied approval of their slaughter. What do you propose to do with these cases? Do you deduce, in violation of plain fact, that fish don’t suffer in death simply because you must believe that, given the premise that Jesus was morally flawless and yet ate fish? I don’t play games with logic and facts in that way. I know fish suffer and I know Jesus is Lord and God. How those facts fit together if in fact Jesus ate fish (or other meat) is an enigma for me.

I didn’t say Jesus was a sinner, much less that He was less holy than me! I merely observed that reasonable questions can be raised about some aspects of His teaching and/or behavior. That can’t be denied by sticking one’s head in the sand. Reasonable and morally sensitive inquirers of our time will naturally wonder why Jesus didn’t address the problems I mentioned, just as they may wonder whether Jesus cared about the slow deaths of fish. You seem to want to start from some theological premises and deduce reality from them, ignoring any inconvenient empirical facts that might get in the way. I don’t think that way. That method doesn’t strike me as an exemplary degree of intellectual honesty. I don’t mean to assert or imply that you are intellectually dishonest; I just don’t comprehend how you approach these issues; it’s a mystery. And if I were to try to follow your apparent reasoning, it would feel like I was trying to cover up reality.

Although I am not contending that Jesus did sin, I must note the fallacy in your syllogism:

(1) God cannot sin.
(2) Jesus is God.
(3) Therefore Jesus cannot sin.

Compare this to:

(4) God is omnipresent.
(5) Jesus is God.
(6) Therefore Jesus is omnipresent.

Since this argument is obviously false (Jesus was very specifically located in Galilee and certain other parts of Palestine roughly two thousand years ago), the first argument may be (not necessarily is) equally unsound. That is, we must believe Jesus was morally flawless for reasons other than the mere fact of the incarnation.

I do not deny that Jesus is God, but I’m grappling with problematic data, not all of which seems consistent.

What you demean as “playing around with the bible” is what I call honesty. I won’t make up stuff to fit my pre-established theological premises. I don’t understand the filter through which you and your co-inerrantists read the bible, but when I read it I sometimes stumble over things that are puzzling or disturbing. I don’t know how anyone could fail to notice such things in the bible. Be that as it may, I can neither pretend these things don’t exist nor can I magically alter my own conscience by some kind of self-hypnotic fiat. I just have to make the best of these situations in light of my fundamental commitment to follow Christ.

You may notice my addition of “objectionable” to “immoral.” I distinguish between the two concepts, the former being rather subjective and inherently relative to particular situations and cultural contexts, while the latter is objective and transcultural. Now, as to Jesus, I find it mind-boggling to suppose that He never did anything that a reasonable observer might have found objectionable. For example, I can’t imagine that He never irritated His parents and never gave them reason to scold or correct Him. I don’t know how a human being could grow from infancy to adulthood without encountering some parental reproval; that’s just part of the human maturation process, and Jesus was fully human.

But that’s not really important. What’s important for theological and liturgical reasons is whether Jesus could have done anything immoral and still have been God incarnate. It seems that the answer to that must be No; at least I can’t make any sense of two different moral frameworks, one essential to divinity and the other not. Let me now introduce an analysis and a conundrum I’ve been pondering pertaining to this issue.

Premise 1: Jesus was a vegetarian.

Implications: (a) The gospels are considerably less reliable than traditionally believed, and exegesis is considerably more problematic. (b) Jesus may have been an exceptionally great and wise man, but there may not be an adequate basis to identify him as Lord and God, given the dubious reliability of the gospels.

Premise 2: Jesus ate fish, did not object to the fishing trade, and may have eaten lamb and other meat as well.

Implications: (a) This seems consistent with a high degree of gospel reliability. (b) If these aspects of Jesus’ behavior are immoral, then he was a sinner, in which case his divinity seems impossible; hence the preeminently defining doctrine of Christianity - the incarnation – is false. (c) If these aspects of Jesus’ behavior are innocent, then it seems that panzoism (strict vegetarianism among other things) cannot be morally mandatory; hence panzoism – strictly defined – is false.

In line with this analysis, here is an unpleasant little conundrum I’ve devised. As you will notice, it is structurally parallel to the classic Problem of Evil [(i) God is omnipotent; (ii) God is omniscient; (iii) God is perfectly good; (iv) The world contains much pointless evil; these propositions are not mutually compatible; at least one of them must be false.]:

1. Jesus was and is God incarnate, meaning that He is both Lord of the world and the infallible moral authority for humanity.

2. Panzoism (entailing strict vegetarianism) is true; it is immoral to needlessly harm or exploit sentient beings.

3. Jesus ate fish, did not object to the fishing trade, and may have eaten lamb and other meat as well.

It would seem, prima facie, that these propositions cannot all be true; at least one of them must be false. My nasty conundrum is this: Is there any way that all three propositions can be true? Perhaps, as in the case of the problem of evil, there is a logical solution entailing an affirmative answer to my question. If so, however, the solution is not apparent.

Here’s the important point for me: My primary data, my basic premises, are 1 & 2. This is my starting point as a Christian panzoist. If I lack a solution to the conundrum then I am ‘guilty’ of a condition of cognitive dissonance and of living with an apparent contradiction. It does not, however, imply that I’m not really a Christian, nor that I’m intellectually dishonest - as long as I’m seeking a solution.

Getting back to my remark about Jesus vis-à-vis slavery and Roman imperialism, I don’t know how any sensitive reader of the gospels can fail to at least notice and wonder about those things. Maybe they’ll settle on one of your ‘explanations’, but not to even register these items strikes me as odd if not morally obtuse.

How could Jesus have preached love of one’s enemies and turning the other cheek while also believing that Joshua’s army was obeying His Heavenly Father as they butchered women and children? Maybe Jesus lived with a contradiction at the heart of His beliefs? At least I’d be in good company!

[Dave] Then why did He eat lamb and fish if to do so necessarily involves a lack of compassion?

I’ve admitted that I don’t know the answer to this. But how do you deal with the fact that fish do suffer when they are caught? I think you admitted this in a previous exchange. I don’t see how you could deny that fact, in which case you must believe that Jesus observed fish in the process of slow asphyxiation and somehow was unmoved by the spectacle. I think that’s no less a conundrum than the one I’ve admitted to grappling with.

Paul was noticeably insensitive regarding animals. He also wrote some nonsense, such as Titus 1:12-13: “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true.” This is as blatant a statement of bigotry as one could find! It’s also a clear refutation of inerrancy, though I’m sure there’s some kind of ‘explanation’ for it.

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