You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

27 May

Thus does Leviticus put all hairdressers out of business: Chapter 19 Verse 27. And of course there is much worse in there, as Richard Dawkins is currently pointing out on TV, but also as Bishop John Shelby Spong has equally pointed out in The Sins of Scripture; but it is, as I said here last week, a mixed bag, Leviticus. Perhaps we, with our capitalist society, our current workplace laws, and our treatment of asylum seekers, might do worse than take note of other verses in the same chapter.

9: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
10: And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
11: “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another…
13: “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning.
14: You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
15: “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
16: You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand forth against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD…
32: “You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
33: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.
34: The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
35: “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity.
36: You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

So I am a shameless cherry-picker, not only from the Bible but from other philosophies and traditions as well. Rather like a Quaker or a Buddhist, I see the Spirit of God anywhere and everywhere, but nowhere exclusively, whatever fundamentalists may like to believe. Or I could be more pretentious and say I am postmodern, a spiritual flaneur. Nothing wrong with that either; I refuse to be bullied into the certainties of others, even those of Dawkins.

I don’t expect you to agree with me, but it satisfies me. I like the work of Bishop Richard Holloway, for example Godless Morality. See also here and here. I found a more recent interview, Entering the Moral Maze – A discussion on religion and ethics with Richard Holloway, on Three Monkeys Online, an arts and current affairs site I must add to my links.

Joan Bakewell wrote of Richard Holloway, the former Anglican Archbishop of Edinburgh, in the New Statesman, that “he has always been a radical living in the real world, ready to come to terms with its hectic demands and constraints”. The Anglican Archbishop of South East Asia, Moses Tay, described his 1999 book Godless Morality as “horrendous and heretical”, an opinion that, no doubt, had a certain amount of support from fellow prelates shocked by Holloway’s advocation of gay rights and drug liberalisation, amongst other things.

“It would be difficult to exagerate the moral confusions of our day and the urgency and importance of finding an agreed basis for our conduct towards one another as sharers of life on this planet”, Holloway wrote in the epilogue to Godless Morality, inspiring Three Monkeys Online to enter the moral maze. Via an email interview, Dr. Holloway was kind enough to be our guide…

A common refrain from conservatives and religious leaders is that the permissive society of the ’60s and ’70s has led to an erosion in ‘moral values’, and thus to a more violent and less cohesive society. Do you think we have a less moral society at the start of the 21st century?

In some ways yes, in some ways no. Human development – and I don’t mean ‘progress’ – zig zags morally, with losses as well as gains. There have been losses in fidelity and discipline, but there have been gains in kindness and care for others, including the other animals with whom we share the planets. We may be more sexually promiscuous, or just more honest about it, nowadays, but we no longer send kids down coal mines or up chimneys; we no longer send men to prison for loving other men; we no longer burn witches; we no longer torture people – except, of course, in the US torture gulag. I could go on and on. It depends what you mean by morality, anyway. I am less concerned with what people do sexually – as long as they do not harm or damage others – than what they do politically, the cruelty they show to others. And a final point: the most revolutionary movement in recent history has been the global market economy, beloved of certain kinds of conservative Christians. It has had a profound effect on culture and society everywhere. It’s the only game on the globe, but, whatever you think about it, it is based on love of wealth – something Jesus wasn’t too keen on…

See more on Radical Faith; indeed, check the Faith and Philosophy section of my links page — see the quick guide in the side bar — to find some of what I cherry-pick from. I have this possibly fatuous sense that the spirit of God may guide us in that picking… Just begin with the Tao, a good place to begin.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

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Posted by on May 27, 2007 in Faith and philosophy, Personal, Religion



2 responses to “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

  1. Legal Eagle

    May 27, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Well, the whole Bible was an exercise in cherry picking in the first place – ruthlessly edited to decide what stayed and what went. I think they finally decided which books made up the bible at the Synod of Hippo in 393 CE.

    So I don’t see why you shouldn’t cherry pick what you like from different faiths – exactly what I do myself!

  2. ninglun

    May 28, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Thanks, LE. The canon you refer to was what we now call the New Testament, which had generally taken shape before that late recognition, though some books like Jude and Revelation were in dispute, and some like the Epistles of Barnabas and Clement and the Didache were later left out; what we tendentiously call the Old Testament and Jews call the Tanakh was settled rather earlier, but much later than traditionalists have had it. The Torah or Pentateuch as we know it is post-Exilic, that is around the time of Ezra and the Persian Empire, having been codified and edited between the 9th and 5th centuries BCE. The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible included a number of additional books, various of which may be found in Greek and Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Coptic Bibles but not in Protestant or Jewish Bibles.

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