Friday, September 19, 2014

Animal-based ethics

Many on the left often advocate the rejection of Christian sexual ethics with the argument that lifelong monogamy is unnatural. And by unnatural they mean not merely among human beings, but among animals. In their worldview, of course, man is simply an animal—a highly evolved animal, to be sure, but an animal nonetheless. And how better to gain an understanding of ourselves than to study what is “natural” in the animal world? David Barash, author of The Myth of Monogamy, tells us:  “There has been quite a revolution in scientific understanding of the lives of animals and we can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at other creatures.”[1] Presumably, Barash would take exception to Pope’s famous line, “The proper study of Mankind is Man.” Perhaps he would wish to rewrite it to something like, “The proper study of Mankind is Manimal.”

Meghan Laslocky, author of The Little Book of Heartbreak:  Love Gone Wrong Through the Ages, opined for CNN, “The bottom line is that flings are far from folly, at least in the animal kingdom.”[2] Her piece was accompanied by a slideshow telling us such helpful things as:  Penguins mate for a year and then move on to a new partner; male elephant seals have harems of as many as 100 females; Bonobos regularly engage in frequent sex with multiple partners; swans, which have been traditional symbols of fidelity, really aren’t monogamous.

At the Huffington Post we learn what can only be regarded (by some at least) as a startling statistic: “Only 3% to 5% of all the mammal species on earth practice monogamy.”[3]

In all these observations there is an implicit argument that runs something like this:

What is natural for animals is natural for human beings.
Having multiple sex partners is natural for animals.
Therefore, having multiple sex partners is natural for human beings.

There is another argument implied, too, one that uses the conclusion as the minor premise.

Everything natural is good.
Having multiple sex partners is natural.
Therefore, having multiple sex partners is good.

Looking to the animal kingdom to find norms for human behavior, however, is an instance of what Paul refers to as worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:25). As Rushdoony has pointed out, “in any culture the source of law is the god of that society.”[4] The same can be said of ethics, for law is simply the institutionalization of ethics for application to society. Looking to the animal world for guidance in ethics is, in effect, the divinization of the animal world.

Animal-based ethics is an inversion of the created order. The pre-fall order was:


The fall involved man paying heed to an animal and asserting a right to overrule God so that the order was inverted.

God [5]

This is essentially the order which is now being advocated. But are we really sure we want to travel this road? I happened across this article yesterday, Chimps are naturally violent, study suggests. As it turns out, chimps will attack other “communities” of chimps in order to increase the size of their territory, gain access to greater supplies of food, and have more females with which to mate.

For years, anthropologists have watched wild chimpanzees “go ape” and attack each other in coordinated assaults. But until now, scientists were unsure whether interactions with humans had brought on this violent behavior or if it was part of the apes’ basic nature.
A new, 54-year study suggests this coordinated aggression is innate to chimpanzees, and is not linked to human interference.
“Violence is a natural part of life for chimpanzees," Michael Wilson, the study's lead researcher and an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Live Science in an email.

You can watch an example of this aggression, including chimpanzee cannibalism, here.

Since this is “natural” is it also good? Should it be used as a guide for human behavior?

The evolutionary presuppositions of those who advocate animal-based ethics deny the most important thing to know about man, namely that he is created in the image of God, which means that he is qualitatively different from—and superior to—the animal kingdom (Gen. 1:26-28). Scripture admonishes us, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Ps. 32:9). Peter echoes this when he describes certain men who “count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime” and who “have eyes full of adultery” as being “like irrational animals, creatures of instinct” (2 Pet. 2:12).


Animals are irrational. They are governed by their instincts, their appetites, their urges. But as bearers of the image of God, we are called to better things.

[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 4 (emphasis in the original)
[5] I am indebted to Steve Schlissel for this insight.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jurisprudence without the prudence

We have seen much in the news recently about attempts by those who call themselves the Islamic State (IS) to establish a new Caliphate—a sovereign state governing the entire Muslim world under Islamic law (Sharia), derived from the Quran and the Sunnah (the example of Muhammad).

Here is an example of the “wisdom” of Quranic jurisprudence:

As for the thief, both male and female, cut off their hands. It is the reward of their own deeds, an exemplary punishment from Allah. Allah is Mighty, Wise (5:38).

Pardon me for not thinking this very wise. We might call it jurisprudence without the prudence. A thief, presumably, is unwilling to work for his own support. After the imposition of Sharia, he is rendered unable to work, at least not at full capacity. How, exactly, is this any better for him or for society? And lest you are tempted to think that this is an archaic penalty no longer applied, you might want to view this video, but not if you have a weak stomach.

Contrast this with Biblical law. In the Bible, two things are required of a thief:  (1) he must return what was stolen (or the exact equivalent, if it has been disposed of), and (2) he must pay an additional amount as a penalty. This additional amount also goes to the victim rather than to the state. The amount varies from twenty to four hundred percent of the value of the stolen property. The precise amount depends on a number of circumstances that either aggravate or mitigate the guilt of the crime. If the thief does not have the means to make restitution immediately, he is required to work off his debt…not an easy thing to do if he is missing a hand, as per Islamic law. How is the victim to be restored if the perpetrator is maimed? Much better is the admonition of the apostle Paul,

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need (Eph. 4:28).

Further Details
If a thief has a change of heart and voluntarily comes forward to confess his crime without otherwise being found out, he must return what was stolen and add twenty percent of its value (Lev. 6:1-7; Num. 5:6-7). This is the smallest penalty prescribed in the law and encourages repentance and voluntary restitution.

If a thief does not have a change of heart, but is caught with the stolen property in his possession unharmed, he must restore what he has taken and pay an additional amount equal to the value of the stolen property. Scripture supposes a case of stolen livestock. “If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (Ex. 22:4; see also vv. 7, 9; and cf. Isa. 40:2; Rev. 18:6). The thief must restore the stolen property and add one hundred percent of its value.

If a thief kills or sells stolen livestock, he has a much higher cost to pay:  five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep (v. 1). As the table below demonstrates, this constitutes a penalty of three hundred percent in the case of a sheep, and four hundred percent in that of an ox.[1]

Thief gains
Thief pays
Net loss

Two questions present themselves at this point. First, why the greater penalty for livestock killed or sold as opposed to found alive in the thief’s possession? According to Cohn, it is because the killing or selling of the stolen animal implies the thief is a persistent offender.[2] Cassuto offers a different explanation.
The reason…is possibly this:  if the owner of the animal is able to recover his own beast, which is dear to him, it is sufficient for the thief to add another beast like it, but if the thief is unable to restore the stolen animal, he must give the owner additional compensation.[3]
It may be better however to think something more than simple theft is in view. In other words, the thief is not stealing for his own personal use, but in order to turn a profit from his thievery. He is trading in stolen goods—slaughtering stolen animals to sell the meat or else selling the live animals. This is a more serious crime. Consequently, the punishment is greater.

The second question is why should a greater penalty be imposed for disposing of (killing or selling) a stolen ox than for doing the same with a sheep? The answer may be that the theft of an ox imposes a greater hardship on the owner since he is deprived of its labor value, which a sheep does not possess.[4] In stealing an ox, a thief is stealing a man’s livelihood and thus putting his life and the life of his family at risk. As Bush explains,
This higher degree of penalty was annexed to the theft of oxen on account of their great value in the rural economy of the Israelites; for they used no horses in their husbandry. The ox did every thing [sic] on their farms. He plowed, he threshed out the corn, and he drew it when threshed to the barn or garner. If therefore the theft of an ox was more severely punished than that of any thing [sic] else, it was on the same principle on which an increase of punishment is inflicted for the crime of stealing from the farmer his plough, or any part of the apparatus belonging to it.[5]
Others explain the difference as being due to the greater effort that must go into the raising and training of an ox.[6]

In light of the requirements laid out above, what are we to make of what Solomon says in Proverbs? 
If a thief is caught, he will pay sevenfold;     he will give all the goods of his house (Prov. 6:31)
In this context, “sevenfold” is hyperbole. It means abundantly (cf. Gen. 4:15, 24; Lev. 26:18, 21, 24, 28; Ps. 12:6; 79:12).

[1] The Code of Hammurabi requires thirtyfold restitution for the theft of “an ox, or sheep, or ass, or pig, or boat, from a temple or palace,” and tenfold restitution for stealing the same from a freeman (§ 8). The Hittites originally required thirtyfold restitution for theft, but moderated the penalty to fifteen-fold, without making distinctions between victims (§ 57ff.).
[2] Haim H. Cohn, The Principles of Jewish Law, Menachem Elon, ed., (Jerusalem, Israel:  Keter Publishing House, 1975), col. 496
[3] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 282. Italics added.
[4] Soncino Chumash, p. 479
[5] George Bush, Commentary on Exodus, p. 323
[6] Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Exodus, p. 282

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Court Rules Founding Fathers Unconstitutional

JESTER NEWS— In a move that was widely expected among court-watchers, the Ninth District Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that reading the Founding Fathers in public schools and appealing to them in legal arguments is unconstitutional. “We have been watching this court for sometime now,” said Gary Shyster, a lawyer with the ACLU, who filed a brief in the case. “We knew that it was only a matter of time.”

Christa Phobe, executive director of Hysterical Americans United for the Removal of all Traces of a Christian Past, was elated with the court’s decision. “We knew we had a strong case since the court had previously ruled against the posting of the Declaration of Independence in government buildings because of its appeal to ‘the Creator.’ If the Declaration had to go, we knew the rest of the Founding Fathers’ writings couldn’t be far behind.” 

The case originated when Ima Bigot of Berkely, California objected to an assignment her son was given in his high school government class. He was to play the part of our first president and deliver Washington’s Farewell Address to the class. “It’s offensive from beginning to end,” Ms. Bigot said. “I can’t believe they would subject our children to such blatant religious indoctrination.” 

The portion of Washington’s Address which was found to be especially troublesome is found near its midpoint:  “Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.” “Can you believe this guy?” asked Bigot. “What does Washington know about patriotism?  All this God and country stuff doesn’t mix. It’s just un-American.” 

Writing for the majority, circuit judge Stephen Reinhardt said, “The members of this court have long held that to appeal to the Founding Fathers on legal questions is to foist a religious point of view on matters of state, and of course we can’t have that.” 

The ACLU hailed the decision. “We see this as the huge step toward our ultimate goal, which is to see the court rule the Constitution unconstitutional,” Shyster said.