Davies: Biblical Ethics not the Basis of our Civilization

The renowned biblical scholar agrees with the New Atheists, at least in part.

In a post that is drawing fire from Christian biblical scholars, Philip Davies argues that biblical ethics have little to do with our western values. See Philip Davies’ post

Davies' conclusions are not really that different from my argument that the Bible is largely irrelevant to modern society in terms of its ethical values (The End of Biblical Studies [2007]). But I would add that the appeals to biblical authority are still causing a lot of ethical problems in modern society.

I particularly appreciated Davies’ criticisms of those who see the prophets as paradigms of ethics. To me, many of these prophets are simply promoters of Yahwistic imperialism. In addition, many Christian readers uncritically assume that the prophets’ critiques of their society were accurate. This would be like assuming that Glenn Beck’s tirades against President Obama are always correct or ethical. Actually, it may be the kings labeled as “evil” who are being imitated in our society (at least in some very limited areas such as a more liberal religious pluralism for which the prophets often attacked them).

In any case, to read what other biblical scholars are saying, see Responses to Davies

I have covered a lot of the issues mentioned by these responses in Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005) and in The End of Biblical Studies (2007).


Gandolf said...

"But I would add that the appeals to biblical authority are still causing a lot of ethical problems in modern society"

I agree.For instance personally i cant see that it actually does a whole lot towards teaching humans worldwide to learn to be much more inclusive of each other.

Most faiths seem to argue from some type of exclusive angle where supposedly their ways are to be thought to be the best,even if they can manage to sift through all the jumbled wreckage to hopefully be able to try to find a little something that still seems to try to suggest some type of inclusive attitude.

These little inclusive sparkling gems would maybe be really great,but sadly to gain control the overbearing basis these folks often mostly learned to use to be able to try to gain the upper hand was division.

If these beliefs were made too inclusive how could they ever hope to try to enforce peoples need to join them?,without creating a division there was little hope of ever gaining control.

___________________________ said...

I have to agree with the overall thrust of this kind of perspective. I mean, Christians like to take credit for Western liberal democracy, however, the view is not clearly framed in the bible, not only that but the ethical conclusions derived clearly disagree with Christian scriptures.

The thought process really seems to be driven by whether something is perceived as good and whether it can be read back into the theology. So, really, we end up at the extremes with the presuppositionalists, who believe that we all secretly derive our opinions from their ancient text, and who even read their crazed, scripture-centered philosophy back into scripture, which is the really weird part.

Blake Stacey said...

Hello again! I noticed your post here and thought that the remarks of Terry Eagleton quoted here might be of interest to you. I figured that an obvious point could be made in reply to his statement that "Yahweh is presented in the Jewish Bible as stateless and nationless", but that the reply might be better made by someone more practised than myself.

I hope the time since our meeting at the SBL conference has been treating you well.

Rob R said...

Agree with the biblical interpretation or not, it is historically irresponsible to deny the role of Christianity and the Bible in guiding our ethics in slavery for example. Most of the most important movers and shakers in the abolitionist movement where motivate by their Christianity and their understanding of scripture.

Like the scriptural handling of slavery or not, even as slavery was regulated, the system was undermined as slave trading was termed abominable, A christian was instructed to recieve a runaway slave as a brother and runaway slaves were protected by even the mosaic law.

Rob R said...

While scripture never explicitely gives us an ethical system, there are definitely ins and outs of ethical systems within scripture.

Most of the harsh punishments of the death penalty in the Mosaic law for example are linked to our status in the image of God. Why are sexual sins punishable by death? Because God created man in the image of God - male and female he created them, and so our reflection of the image of God is as important as life itself as it goes to the very heart of what we were created to be.

holy_crows said...

Perhaps you should consider this,
maybe it is the government that has refused to acknowledge Biblical standards, rather than the Bible's fault for not forcing itself into our government.
It's just a thought.
Another note to keep in mind is that although (If you were to read the Bible from the "believers" stand point) God instructs his followers to construct a ruling body, he never mandated the type of civil government that was to be established. He left it up to the people whether they wished to Biblical principles in their ruling body. So in essence, "Biblical ethics is not the basis of our civilization" is indeed true, but it is hardly sensical to point blame to the Bible itself for not inundating itself into society. Rather, point blame to the spineless "Christians" that refuse to stand for their faith.