Friday, September 18, 2009

The Best Available Exegesis

Here's where I have been trying to go with the racial question. My question is, is just anything purported to come out of special revelation closed to moral evaluation based on natural moral knowledge? People have used special revelation to justify slavery, to justify flying planes into towers, to justify Indian genocide, to justify racial discrimination (the infamous curse of Ham), etc. Of course, all of these justifications came through interpretation, and those interpretations wouldn't be accepted by our best exegesis today. But could they have been refuted by the best exegeses at the time?

Suppose someone gave me an argument for Negro inferiority based on the Curse of Ham. Suppose I didn't know how to refute the exegesis. The best Bible scholar in town says it's what the Scripture means. But I am troubled. Even though I can't refute the exegesis, I just can't believe that God would curse a whole race of persons in perpetuity for the indiscreet act of their ancestor. I can't believe God would justify keeping those people enslaved for that reason. If God is like that, then God doesn't make sense. But my Bible student friend says "God said it, I believe it, that settles it. Do you dare answer back to God?" Of course, there's a problem with the interpretation, but I don't have access to good Bible scholarship, so I can't know that.
If I were in that situation, must I believe that blacks are inferior? The best exegesis available to me (flawed though it might be by seminary standards) says that I must.

17 comments:

Crude said...

I understand where you're going with this one, Victor, but I'll be frank: It's a problematic example, especially since (in my view, utterly nonsense-bogus) charges of racism have been big political news as of late. It's coming close to the sort of problem of bringing up Hitler as an illustrative example. It just distracts from the point.

That said, I get what you're saying. I think what's important here is humility - and I don't mean 'Be humble and just accept the best exegesis!' but A) A humility that recognizes you could be missing something in your judgment of the situation, while at the same time B) A recognition that you're ultimately trusting in God's goodness. In both cases, everything is going to work out regardless of your ability or inability to refute that particular exegesis (Either because you've missed something in your rationale about what is moral, or you've missed something in your attempt to refute the exegesis). What's incumbent on you is to try and honestly understand the relevant views and accord yourself to what you think the truth is in the matter. Or that's how I see it.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

I just can't believe that God would curse a whole race of persons in perpetuity for the indiscreet act of their ancestor.

So you don't believe in original sin?

Glenn said...

I'm curious, Victor, as to how you will answer your own question here. Should you follow the best exegesis available or not when it just seems to lead to conclusions that you reject on other grounds?

normajean said...

Dom, and even with original sin there are various thoughts on how that works. Ever read Witherington?

Anonymous said...

Normajean, ever gonna post an argument, or is "go see my footnote" all you have?

Blip said...

Victor,

How far would you go privileging your moral intuitions? I mean, if God wrote in the sky "Listen Victor! Calvinism is true, alright?", would you argue that that can't be God because your moral intuitions just tell you that Calvinism can't be true?

I don't think that there needs to be a conflict between moral intuitions and Calvinism anyway. Instead of setting them up against each other, you can just claim that the moral intuitions in question have been subtly mistransferred. In other words, that the moral intuitions are actually focused against a scenario of type A, but that Calvinism isn't a scenario of that type, it merely (perhaps strongly) resembles scenarios of that type according to certain incidental features.

Victor Reppert said...

I went over this in another post. I am using examples related to racism because I think it's something most of us would agree is morally wrong, and our conviction on this is going to be pretty tough to shake. Or I think so. I'm in no way implying that Calvinism is implicity racist.

I will divide the claims of Calvinism into two propositions.

1) There exists a supremely powerful being who has predestined some to heaven and others to hell.

2) That being is morally justified in so doing.

2 seems false to me, but if 1 were true, I would certainly have to entertain some questions about 2. That's where the humility comes in.

However, what I won't accept as an argument for 2 boils down to argument from might to right. So the writing in the sky wouldn't persuade me of the rightness of these actions, because that would only show might and would not be a moral argument.

Steven said...

Why not accept (2) on the grounds that scripture teaches (a) God is holy, and (b) God does (1)?

Victor Reppert said...

Because the Bible has credibility only on the basis of its being God's word, and God exists only if there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being. So biblical arguments beg the question.

Victor Reppert said...

In this context.

Steven said...

Because the Bible has credibility only on the basis of its being God's word, and God exists only if there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being. So biblical arguments beg the question.

I don't understand this here.

I said you should accept (1) and (2) because scripture teaches both. How am I begging the question?

Victor Reppert said...

Because Scripture can only be authoritative if an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good God exists. So in order to use Scripture as an authority I have to assume that an OOP being exists, and that is precisely what I am in doubt about.

Steven said...

Because Scripture can only be authoritative if an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good God exists. So in order to use Scripture as an authority I have to assume that an OOP being exists, and that is precisely what I am in doubt about.

I thought the authority of scripture was assumed here.

I thought your problem was whether (1) and (2) are both true:

(1) God elects some unto salvation and others unto damnation
(2) God is morally upright and wholly good

What you seem to be saying is scripture is not assumed to be authoritative here, and in order to determine the authority of scripture, you've gotta prove that (1) God exists, and (2) scripture is from God.

I don't know why this is the question, but alright.

Victor Reppert said...

Why can't I say that my intuitions derive from God, and that God is an Arminian or a universalist God. I don't actually think Calvin's God exists. I don't think the biblical arguments are up to snuff. I think there are perfectly plausible readings of Calvinist proof-text that avoid the Calvinist implications quite nicely.

Steven said...

Why can't I say that my intuitions derive from God, and that God is an Arminian or a universalist God. I don't actually think Calvin's God exists. I don't think the biblical arguments are up to snuff. I think there are perfectly plausible readings of Calvinist proof-text that avoid the Calvinist implications quite nicely.

You can say that, I guess. If you don't think Calvinist exegesis is persuasive or compelling, well, then, who can blame you? That's fine by me; arguing against exegesis on the basis of moral intuition is what I see as weak and unconvincing. Saying that your moral intuitions derive from God is kind of a worthless suggestion; Attila the Hun can say the same thing, or perhaps, if Calvin was particularly hateful towards unregenerate men, or at least men he didn't like, he could say that his moral intuitions are derived from God and therefore, God hates those men just as Calvin does. (I am not saying this is how Calvin was; I am only using his name for an example.)

Victor Reppert said...

I suppose you could accuse anyone of being biased in their reading of Scripture on behalf of what one believes true. I don't believe in neutral perspectives. We do like for our beliefs to cohere with one another. At least I do.

I don't claim expertise in biblical exegesis, so my opinion is pretty much that of an amateur.

At the same time, since I think moral values are objective and knowable independently of special revelation, and I do think that God's goodness is at least analogous to human goodness.

Anonymous said...

"I don't claim expertise in biblical exegesis, so my opinion is pretty much that of an amateur."

Yet you also claimed that the falsity of Calvinism had a high degree of certainty for you . . .