To get back into the swing of things I decided to address an issue I see far too often in the atheist activist community. Is it right to mock something we don’t understand? Let’s take a look.
If you’ve spent any amount of time reading some of my articles you’ll find I am a huge supporter of understanding the cultural background in regards to Biblical verses and even theology. Understanding how people in Biblical times functioned is a vital step in understanding doctrines such as the atonement and even our place in our relationship with the creator. Unfortunately, most critics of the Christian faith completely abandon this field of study, and when lack of knowledge in that area is paired with the New Atheist debate tactic to mock whatever sounds ridiculous, the results are anything but enlightening. Allow me to provide an example.
The “Atheist Republic” facebook page, despite majoring in anti-religious propaganda, sometimes attempts Scriptural exegesis by way of a single comment under a specific verse. I’ve looked at one of their earlier attempts in link 1 below, but despite being misguided, that mistake was understandable. This time the verse in question is Leviticus 19:27, which gives the instruction to,
“….not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.”
The instant reaction from the skeptics is that of laughter and shock. “How could such a ridiculous command be in the Bible? Doesn’t God know how stupid that would look?!” Hilarious, right? Not so fast. Before we can make a joke about something we should attempt to know what we’re making fun of first. As it turns out these verses in Leviticus have to do with something known as ritual purity. I’ve written about the purpose of such laws in link 2 below, but I’ll paraphrase the purpose of the laws here:
The ancient world was one which was always bordering on destruction. This constant threat was accompanied by a sense of chaos and disorder. The laws regarding ritual purity were, at their core, purposed to provide order and to aid Israel in returning to the image of a faultless God….In a world on the edge of destruction, these reminders (i.e. Leviticus 19:27) were needed in order to maintain a sense of order, and this order was purposed to reflect a holy deity who was worthy of such unflinching adoration and worship.
The verse in question is an example of a cultural practice, a way of keeping order in a world of chaos and thus keeping the focus on survival and well-being. We may anticipate a response here such as, “But no one seriously follows those laws today, so why not laugh at them?” The truth is ritual purity laws are not outdated or abandoned. Many cultures and religions have their own purity laws and they follow them even today. The Japanese religion Shinto, for example, commands a form of ritual purification known as misogi which involves immersing oneself in natural, running water. The point is ritual purity laws reflect cultural diversity which, whether we agree with their practice or not, we should respect.
As for the example in Leviticus, I would go so far as to say they are some of the most important passages in the Bible. How so? If we understand their purpose we can see how far we have come since then. How far God has taken us. Most of us don’t live in a world bordering on chaos and we don’t have to think about our survival each day. It makes me incredibly thankful for the life I have been given when I know there are others who don’t and didn’t share that experience. How could we laugh at that? Yet, in an effort to spread anti-religious propaganda and the “enlightenment” of atheism some have gone that far. Case in point, here’s a comment from that page in response to my objection, “Lucas, this is funny for us because it is poking fun at religion, which we see as complete and utter bull….”
I want to note what I am not arguing as some may take this the wrong way. I am not saying that all forms of mockery and rhetoric are wrong. I use them myself. The point is we need to understand what we want to mock and think about why we are willing to do so. I mock the position of Jesus Mythicism because it’s such an obviously false theory with incredibly weak and faulty arguments to support it. But I don’t mock arguments that ask how God could allow evil, or why there’s a Hell, or why some religious people have done terrible things. Some arguments deserve serious consideration while others nothing more than a chuckle. We need to discern how we should respond to each argument we come across and that can only be done if we know the argument or position that’s being presented.
Mocking cultural diversity, only because we don’t understand it, is no better than mocking someone because of skin color or ethnic background. Yet, as seen above, if it’s in regards to religion it’s perfectly acceptable. That’s an excuse I don’t buy. Think before you speak, that’s the best advice I have ever been given and I believe it’s true for us all.