Are you a moral relativist?


#48

Mike, if the slave is “just money/property” then why is the master punished if he kills him on the same day? It’s just property.

I’d wonder what the word “avenge” means in this context. Does it mean punished at all, as you seem to suggest? Or does it mean a specific penalty of some sort?

The passage is entirely about consequences; it doesn’t suggest that slave beating is morally good at all, as you seem to infer.


#49

Okay, they’re not really slaves. Slaves are people owned by other people. In Torah law, you never have complete ownership over anything. These slaves rest on the seventh day and Jewish holidays, cannot be physically or sexually abused and are obligated in many mitzvot. So they are really more like indentured servants.

I twice brought up the analogy of a town that allows for rape 6 days a week, and it’s because of handwaves like this. Other slaveowners made their slaves work 7 days a week, but Hebrew slaveowners were to only make their slaves work 6 days a week. Slightly less evil is still evil.

Slaves “cannot be physically” abused? We’ve already shown that to be false.

Slaves cannot be “sexually abused”? Tell that to the daughters who were sold to “please” the master or one of his sons.

[quote=Maimonides]It is permissible to work a non-Jewish servant harshly. Yet, although this is the law, the way of the pious and the wise is to be compassionate and to pursue justice, not to overburden or oppress a servant, and to provide them from every dish and every drink.
[/quote]

So there are no punishments or even restrictions in being harsh to one’s slave.

As far as feeding one’s slave, so what? A cowboy feeds his horses and a farmer feeds his oxen. That’s just practical. It’s not indicative of good.

On the other hand, Torah is the essence of all things. As the sages called it, “the blueprint of the universe.” So the Torah effects change not by imposing an exogenous order, but by revealing the inner, hidden order latent within all things. Torah is very much like a good teacher, one who shows you who you really are–which may be very different, even the opposite, of who you think you are.

How exactly did the Torah effect change? How did it reveal this alleged hidden order? No amount of Doublespeak (and that’s exactly what this all is) will give credit to the Torah or Bible for outlawing slavery. No Doublespeak will manifest a call in those books to stop the practice. Claiminng those holy books ended legal slavery is like saying Jack Daniels can cure alcoholism. It’s right there in black and white where God gives great detail as to how one is to acquire, keep, blackmail, hurt, and even kill a slave.

Take an agrarian society surrounded by hostile nations. Go in there and forcefully abolish slavery. The result? War, bloodshed, hatred, prejudice, poverty and eventually, a return to slavery until the underlying conditions change. Which is pretty much what happened in the American South when the semi-industrialized North imposed their laws upon the agrarian South. And in Texas when Mexico attempted to abolish slavery among the Anglophones there.

Not a good idea. Better idea: Place humane restrictions upon the institution of indentured servitude. Yes, it’s still ugly, but in the meantime, you’ll teach people compassion and kindness. Educate. Make workshops. Go white-water rafting together. (Hey, why didn’t Abe Lincoln think of white-water rafting?) Eventually, things change and slavery becomes an anachronism for such a society.

First of all, as I’ve noted several times (with no one else disputing or even address it) the Torah and Bible says the Hebrews were held captive for upward of 400 years and when they got the how-to-enslave from God they were in the desert without slaves. So we can not equate this with trying to end slavery in a society that had it.

Second, God is supposed to be purely good, yet he gives the go-ahead for his people to commit truly evil acts without punishment. This isn’t letting a society finding their way this is a deity saying what is right and what is wrong and getting things in the wrong columns.

Third, it’s usually best to take the moral high ground even if others won’t listen. The phrase is “being on the wrong side of history” and Yahweh fits the bill when it comes to slavery.

Fourth, it talks about the North trying to “impose” their laws for slavery on the South as though this was a gray area. Slavery is wrong always.

Fifth, this whole passage – in fact, this whole article – is moral relativism. Slavery was allegedly slighly less bad when performed by the Hebrews, so it must be ok, right?

So you can see where I’m getting to with the slavery thing. If G‑d would simply and explicitly declare all the rules, precisely as He wants His world to look and what we need to do about it, the Torah would never become real to us. No matter how much we would do and how good we would be, we would remain aliens to the process.

So, too, with slavery (and there are many other examples): In the beginning, the world starts off as a place where oppressing others is a no-qualms, perfectly acceptable practice. It’s not just the practice Torah needs to deal with, it’s the attitude. So Torah involves us in arriving at that attitude. To the point that we will say, “Even though the Torah lets us, we don’t do things that way.”

God told his people how to wear the fringes on their clothes, when not to pick up sticks, when to marry a brother’s widow, yet this article claims God didn’t explicitly declare all of the rules. When Moses didn’t circumcise his kid in a timely manner the stories say God almost killed Moses until his wife used a rock on her child in the last moment. Think about that: Whether you take the stories figuratively or literally God takes circumcision far more seriously than centuries of slavery.


#50

Yes, it’s about consequences are there are none for beating a slave that doesn’t die the same day. God in speaking to Moses makes sure to specifically point out that there would be no punishment for that act as part of a long speech about punishments are rights.

Jesus, in his only mention of slavery, uses the beating of slaves as analogy for those who do wrong without knowing it. God is fine with the beating of slaves and that’s why we see so much moral relativism to try and explain it away.


#51

Okay, which passage are you referring to here?


#52

I also notice that you didn’t respond to any of my points.


#53

Mike, that Exodus quote has to do with consequences for slave masters who beat their slaves. If they beat their slave so severely that the slave is killed that day, they are to be “avenged.” I’d be interested in studying that word in context, because I can easily see it meaning something along the lines of “eye for an eye,” or the law of retaliation. In other words, the writer of the passage may have been trying to indicate the severity of the punishment if the slave dies, not that merely a punishment exists, as you seem to assume.

Suppose, as a grammar example, someone were to say, “A man who rapes a child should receive the death penalty, but not if he rapes a woman.” Does that sentence mean the speaker thinks men who rape women should not be punished at all? Of course not. The speaker of that sentences believes that child rape is more severe. It really says nothing about the proposed consequences for raping an adult.

Here is the commentary I found regarding the Exodus passage you quoted (“for the slave is his own money”)

“The notion is, that unless the death follows speedily it must be presumed not to have been intended; and this might be especially presumed in the case of a man killing his slave, since thereby he inflicted on himself a pecuniary loss.”

So the writer of Exodus sees a distinction between a master intending to kill and accidentally kill. This is a distinction that we make in our own legal system as well (e.g., between murder and manslaughter). It in no way proves that God is okay with light beatings. The writer believes that a master who beats and kills his slave has already been “punished,” because he loses something valuable to him. I’m okay with conceding that this is a rather light consequence for killing a man. I think our sense of crime and justice has evolved; that doesn’t make me a moral relativist.


#54

My view on the Old Testament atrocities is that human history, and especially the activities and rules in the Old Testament, are a play laid out by God to teach us something at the end. The Old Testament in particular is a play that is fulfilled and understood in the New Testament. E.g. unclean animals not suitable for eating existed to symbolise the difference between God’s chosen people and the Gentiles (Leviticus 20:23-26), and is no longer relevant now that there is no longer such a distinction and the Church is open to all.

Likewise with the killing of entire cities, women and babies included. It fits into the play, and has a purpose in the bigger picture (I don’t always know what).

Is it immoral for God to decree such annihilation? I’d say no - God decides when everyone will live and die; some die peacefully, some die in natural accidents, some die in war.

Was it immoral for the Israelites to perform such killings? I would say yes. Killing innocents is always wrong, now and then. God’s action is legitimate, his use of Israel as a tool to perform the action is legitimate, but the hearts of those killing babies were black with sin, perhaps with mitigating factors (see later).

Abraham agreeing to sacrifice Isaac - same thing. He lived in a different culture, and that culture made it easier for him to think human sacrifice might please God, so when told to sacrifice Isaac, he could do so with greater ease than we could today. If someone today got a message from God saying they should sacrifice their children on an altar, we’d rightly lock them away. For them, and for Abraham, killing their child would be a terrible act. Abraham was rescued at the last minute, but I think agreeing to it was a huge moral error on his part in terms of absolute morality. But I think there were mitigating factors.

Mitigating factors:

Abraham was told to do this by God, and believed it was God telling him to do this. As misguided he may have been regarding the appropriateness of human sacrifice, he still trusted God fully. Perhaps he expected God to raise Isaac to life again, perhaps immediately or in the future. But that faith and trust of God, in his context and warped environment, outweighed, morally, the evil of human sacrifice, and so he is credited with having faith. Had he killed Isaac, it would have been an evil act on his part, and a sin, but the culpability for his sin would have been diminished by his circumstances. As would the culpability of someone today trying the same thing.

Imagine three people amongst the Israelites who went and killed babies in 1 Samuel 13.

Person 1 - they believe God has instructed them to do this, and they get great joy from the killing. I don’t believe that someone who experiences joy in a situation like that has a good heart. Whether or not their specific act of killing is a mortal sin (see below) or, due to their belief, only a venial sin, I would think their state is mortally sinful.

Side note: CCC 1857: For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”

Person 2 - they believe God has instructed them to do this, but they experience it as terrible, spend months recovering from the emotional trauma, and saying to God, “You asked me to do this, but why???” Their state is one of confused repentance, despising what they did, mingled with faith in God’s will. Their hearts are much purer than Person 1’s.

Person 3 - they reject the instruction as abominable. God zaps them dead for refusing to obey (similar to the guy who, in apparent good faith, touched the Ark of the Covenant when he tried to prevent it from falling over). They arrive in the afterlife, and God says to them, “1. I zapped you for not obeying, because that will show people a bigger part of my plan. 2. Welcome to heaven, your heart is pure and your love and compassion great.”

I’ll probably get a fair bit of flack for some of this, but it’s one of the ways I think one can approach this without moral relativism (there may well be better ways to do that).


#55

I have no problem accepting that in older times slavery was not considered particularly immoral in law even amongst the Hebrews. Though compared to nearby cultures of the time they do seem to have been softer on it - ultimately to the point that Christianity transformed the concept to something almost acceptable. Why would you see something difficult in this being so?


#56

I see no problem with this. The problem is the adamant denial that morality is relative. Almost all the posters deny that they are relativists, but their actual words belie their assertions.

We are ALL moral relativists, however some of us admit it, while others deny it. If you (in general) say that “action X” was an acceptable custom in a specific society at a specific time of their history, then you ARE a moral relativist.


#57

‘Was’ revealed? That’s past tense. Yet we will continue to learn. So His law is still being revealed. You don’t see a contradiction there? Or maybe there are some other aspects of morality that haven’t been revealed yet.

But anyway, it was OK then, because God hadn’t told us it was wrong, but now it’s immoral. Isn’t that what any normal person would describe as relativism?

And where are the new instructions you received telling you that it’s now immoral? Aren’t you just reinterpreting existing scripture to fit wih modern views on morality? Which again is almost a dictionary definition of relativism.


#58

No contradiction. Revelation was time bounded. Understanding and learning not.

Your 2nd and 3rd paras don’t seem to be based on anything I’ve said.


#59

Well I don’t understand why the emphasis on labelling people into categories such as moral relativist…all such categories end up being defined in different ways by different groups so such stereotypes don’t really go too far in my book.

It’s probably more important to tease out what you actually mean by a moral relativists and see if I think that is a correct understanding how I see the OT wrt that way of thinking?

I see no incompatibility thus far with what I just expressed and some form of objective morality also.


#60

Certainly, definitions change, but what we are trying to establish that people who follow the Bible with any degree of sincerity must concede that the morality of people is relative to the times that you live in. Otherwise, you cannot explain the reasoning behind the Bible’s acquiescence to slavery in the Old Testament and even in the New to some extent. In today’s world, it is clearly defined that slavery is a blatant degradation of the human person, but for thousands of years (over a thousand of which Christianity was the main religion of the west) slavery was allowed and was even a common practice even among those who profess to follow Christ’s teachings of love and acceptance.

Likewise with the killing of entire cities, women and babies included. It fits into the play, and has a purpose in the bigger picture (I don’t always know what).

Is it immoral for God to decree such annihilation? I’d say no - God decides when everyone will live and die; some die peacefully, some die in natural accidents, some die in war.

This is kind of sad. Basically, if you decide that God has told you to commit genocide against an entire nation, you would carry his command out? I think this is one of the main problems with the Bible. It gives people the idea that if God commands it, it must be done. This can be hugely problematic in many cases, and can be used as an excuse to commit horrible atrocities (which has happened before, take the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Muslim invasion of the Byzantine empire, and most recently the escapades of ISIS). If you do not recognize that you have no moral obligation to obey a command telling you to sin, I really don’t know what to say.


#61

Who is the “we”, I was addressing VL who is an atheist while you are a Catholic?

When you say definitions change I think you may be on the wrong tack - I was referring to definitions of “moral relativism” not really slavery. I am not into labelling complex views with two words…so while I have no issue with saying that the OT law clearly had little problem with “soft” slavery I do not yet see that as necessarily intrinsically incompatible with, say, Scholastic objectivism on the matter.

“It is clearly defined that slavery is a blatant degradation of the human person,”

I think we need to be a bit careful here. It depends how you define “slavery.” I think the forms of “slavery” described by the NT was severely attenuated form and probably a rather attractive life option for many persons back then in a society that was not “upwardly mobile” from the circumstances one was born into.

Can you perhaps provide a Magisterial source for your statement above?

While many nominal Christians clearly practised slavery, and even the worst forms in Southern USA (more a Protestant thing than a Catholic one?) I am not sure why that is relevant to this discussion. Human beings religious or not often do not live up to their ideals or tjhose of the institutions they nominally belong to.

This is kind of sad. Basically, if you decide that God has told you to commit genocide against an entire nation, you would carry his command out? I think this is one of the main problems with the Bible. It gives people the idea that if God commands it, it must be done. This can be hugely problematic in many cases, and can be used as an excuse to commit horrible atrocities (which has happened before, take the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Muslim invasion of the Byzantine empire, and most recently the escapades of ISIS). If you do not recognize that you have no moral obligation to obey a command telling you to sin, I really don’t know what to say.

You are responding here to something that I didn’t write and I am not sure who posted that.


#62

He was quoting me. He seemed to agree with the unquoted portion of my post.


#63

Your ascribing your own understanding to phrases used by Catholics which have a specific meaning to a Catholic, and you are showing you don’t understand the Catholic understanding of those phrases/terminology. I would say the same to some others here.

I know what you are getting at, but the Catholics and atheists here are just talking past each other.


#64

No Catholic can be a moral relativist. I don’t understand the point of this thread.


#65

Amen. The OP isn’t really asking a question–i.e the thread title. If it were titled, “Why I think Catholics are wrong about absolute morality,” at least that would be honest.


#66

The role of affection, love, desire for unity or whatever one may call it should not be underplayed in the deepening of self knowledge of oneself and of a society.

I think of my wife as a prime example. When I look back at the beginning of our relationship I clearly see what a selfish a*&hole I was a lot of the time. I also see that I gradually changed because I came to realise from her tears that that I had habits that weren’t conducive to a married relationship (let alone any relationship really).

So here is a strange thing. There is nothing about myself I know now that I didn’t know then…except how those same old habits affect significant persons in my life. Maybe I even knew that back then. But the reality that I do not want to lose this particular person forced me to change my ways and live in a way conducive for my wife’s flourishing and my own. Not a new revelation exactly but a fleshing out of implicit knowledge I already possessed as Socrates might say. Anamnesis.

I see the “evolving” morality of the Hebrew and Christian peoples similarly before their God. It’s not pure relativism, there is an underlying perceived better way of acting that promotes true flourishing for both parties instead of just one party. Morality is ultimately about becoming more catholic in one’s understanding of “self” …spiritually including more and more persons into the circle of care we naturally give to our own self.

Such is the Church’s growth of understanding of slavery, and many other things, it seems to me. Even when it was tolerated by law due to hardness of most hearts the best amongst us new it was not right.


#67

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