Friday, February 20, 2009

Are Ancient People Less Human than I Am?

In this post, I rattled on about a disturbing political trend of valuing the lives (or well-being) of foreigners as less important than our own.

Now let's talk about religion. It's not surprising that religious perspectives are so closely related to political stances on such matters of "foreign relations." Open a Bible, read a few pages, and you'll be smack-dab in the middle of the argument.

Some Christians contrast the "Israel-centric" nature of the Old Testament with the "universal" audience of the New Testament. And, in fact, it's true. The Old Testament is, in large part, a history of the wars that Israel fought against anyone and everyone. Sometimes they attacked, sometimes they were attacked. Sometimes God ordered Israel to kill civilians, sometimes God used Israel's enemies to slaughter Israel's civilians. Or to be more accurate, in God's eyes, no infidel was a civilian.

While there are some notable exceptions, the idea that people in ancient Israel were more valuable than anyone else is fundamental to the Old Testament.

Much has been claimed about the religious revolution the New Testament writings initiated. But foreigners had always been permitted to join the Hebrew religion, as long as they joined the nation of Israel. If the New Testament really was revolutionary, perhaps it was not so much in a religious sense as in an ethnic sense. In a culture whose religion preached that non-Jews were worth little, Jesus and his followers suddenly asserted that human value is (at least relatively) independent of nationality or culture.

In modern politics and religion, the liberal-conservative split still seems to revolve around this issue. How much is your life worth compared to mine?