Thursday, 27 April 2017

"Day Of Wrath And Doom Impending"

Some Christian apologists, including CS Lewis, have argued that morality is not subjective (agree), therefore that we are morally accountable to a transcendent person (non sequitur). We are certainly accountable to ourselves and to each other. I think that guilt is internalized shame and that this social origin gives morality all the authority over individuals that it needs.

There was no commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," before there was a community of self-conscious individuals, i.e., persons. Animals killed each other but with no moral significance. "Thou shalt not steal" is even more historically specific, requiring the existence of a property-owning society. There was a time before the production of possessable artifacts and there can be a time when artifacts are so abundant that property in them has become redundant.

If, as I believe, morality is a here-and-now affair, then how should we understand prophecies of a future transcendent Day of Judgment? Poul Anderson's Edh/Veleda presents a pagan and historically specific version. Preaching war against Rome, she prophesies that:

"...a day would yet dawn. Abide it, and be ready when that red sun rose." (see here)

Such prophecies combine moral force with future tense but present focus: " ready..."

I think that they mean something like: "This is true; you will see it!"

The transcendent reality, which I think is either impersonal or transpersonal, is always present and will be seen by those with eyes to see it. We, both individually and collectively, can judge ourselves here and now. Who else can do it? These are our moral concepts and judgments, no one else's. Every day is the Day of Judgment if we can see it.

Veleda's prophecy of the fall of Rome expresses an aspiration that was realized with the fall of the Empire, followed by the emergence of different kinds of societies. Veleda is a prophet like her Biblical counterparts:

"David's words with Sybil's blending..."


S.M. Stirling said...

By the way, there isn't actually a "Thou Shalt Not Kill" in the Bible, either. That's a mistranslation, like the KJV's mistranslation of "poisoner" as "witch". It's a magnificent piece of literature but as a translated text, no so much.

Hebrew, like English, uses different words for "kill"; some general, as in "take human or other life", but one specific as in "murder".

The Hebrew world "ratsach", used in the Commandment, is much more specific and means specifically "unlawful killing" or "killing that incurs blood-guilt".

There are other words which mean "killing in general", as in "slay" -- from the verbal roots MOT and HRG.

These are words which require -qualification- to mean unlawful or murderous killing; if the Bible describes capital punishment or killing in war or in self-defense, it uses MOT and HRG.

So what the Sixth Commandment actually says is: "Thou Shalt Not Do Murder".

Paul Shackley said...

Mr Stirling,
Thank you. You did mention this point once before (somewhere!) on the blog. It does make a lot more sense of JudaeoChristian morality to know that "Thou shalt not kill" is not what it seems.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

I did know, somewhat vaguely, that the Sixth Commandment has often been inadequately translated. That it meant more what we call "murder" than "killing in general."

I've often been dissatisfied with modern translations of the Bible. Too often, they seemed flat and colorless, often removing the earthy vigor and colorful metaphors seen in older translations like the Douai-Reims-Challoner. But I certainly agree ACCURACY is desirable and the sixth commandment should now read, in English, "You shall not murder."