Springingtiger's Blog

A Break from Leviticus, Hooray!

York Minster

One wonderful thing about this being a leap year is that the extra day occurs in Leviticus. No that’s not another name for February. What I mean to say is that my Bible arranged for reading in a year has no February 29 and that gives a very welcome day’s relief from ploughing through the book of Leviticus. Oh dear, I do find Leviticus turgid and tedious.

If there is one lesson I have learned from Leviticus it is that religion is set up primarily for the benefit of the priests. Whatever happens to the ordinary people, the priests are never going to go naked or hungry. The populace are expected to provide the priests with the very best of the produce in exchange for a few prayers and offerings and why? Because the priests tell them that is what God commands and anyone who questions gets killed. Now I am not an atheist, but I can’t understand why people let the priests away with it, talk about gullible!

Now before anyone starts accusing me of being anti-semitic let me stress I am referring to Leviticus merely because I am reading it right now. However if we look at any priest ridden religion we’ll find the same. In fact I might suggest that the best thing that happened to the Jews was the Diaspora because it rid them of the tyranny of the priesthood. Christianity derives from Judaism and its laws tend to be equally barbaric. Despite the influence of Jesus of Nazareth Christian laws seem to be derived primarily from the Old Testament with its emphasis on racism and exploitation. I know some will think that a little steep, but the two traditions enshrine the idea of a community set apart from the rest of humanity. The rules foster a sense of entitlement and superiority that justifies the slaughter, enslavement and exploitation of other races and protects the priesthood from the scrutiny of ordinary people who are expected to defer to the priesthood in all things. Obviously religious law is primarily an instrument of political control.

The Abrahamic religions are not unique in their abuses. The Laws of Manu to which many Hindus defer are as much a tool of political oppression as the Church derived laws of the Europeans and Americans. Another set of laws designed to oppress and exploit whole sections of society. Interestingly whether in the West or East the one group who always seems to come off badly are women. Throughout history priests of every god have been sending people to the slaughter and telling them it was the will of Bel, Baal, Ishtar, Adonai, Odin or whoever they professed to serve.

I think we should pause for a moment, however, to reflect that for all their barbarism and injustice, most of these codes did actually serve a useful purpose and were generally an improvement on what preceded them. We may complain about the treatment of women in Islam, but we should remember that the Prophet Mohammed enshrined in law rights and protections for women they had never enjoyed before. The Jewish law too contained, at least for the people of Israel, many positive provisions about the treatment of others, animals and fair trade. All these laws were an attempt to bring about some sort of order and justice to society and I think it fair to say that they were all probably progressive in their day.

Those days are gone now and in the past they must remain. If humanity remains enslaved to the laws and thinking of the past we will never advance and mature. Indeed every political, social and scientific advance of humankind has incurred resistance and violence from the religious orthodoxy of the day. It does not matter how often you repeat that the Earth is flat or that it is the centre of the Universe it doesn’t make it true. We cannot go back to the disproven truths of the past: women are perfectly capable of making their own decisions, homosexuals are as capable of love as anyone else and as responsible, people without wealth have as much right as anyone to participate in how their country is run, and no one race or nation (with the possible exception of Scotland, chuckle!) is any better or more deserving than another.

Reforming the hereditary laws of our religions should not be seen as a rejection of God, but as a recognition that his people have grown up. There is no reason why any religion cannot honour their God by reforming their laws to enshrine advances in science and human rights. To do so is an affirmation that their God is still relevant in their lives. To do otherwise is a declaration that neither their God nor their religion has any continuing relevance and so those with spiritual inclinations will look elsewhere to satisfy their religious inclinations. It is not the letter of the law that matters but its highest intent for humanity.


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